Wednesday, February 17, 2016

İrmashli Temple

  Around the mountains of Shamkir Rayon of Azerbaijan, 50 kms far from rayon center, there is a very old church ruin. The temple, which is called Irmaşli Piri by local people,  or Daşbulaq Albanian Church by few internet sources, is located in Dağ-Daşbulaq village of Şəmkir Rayonu of Azerbaijan. This small village with its habitants around 300 people, in other words, 80 houses, during a few decades was a part of İrmaşlı village, and was considered as high part of İrmaşlı, and called Dağ-İrmaşlı, which means Mountainous Irmashli. Before soviet period, ancestors of habitants of today's
Irmaşlı Temple Site
villages like Şiştəpə, İrmaşlı, Şeyidlər, Əhmədli etc were semi-nomadic turkish tribes and after sovietism all of them settled in lands which their children live today. New settlements (Şiştəpə, İrmaşlı) municipal center was elected as Eichenfeld, abondoned germen settlement, later named as Engelskənd. In 1960, this two villages separate, İrmaşlı was officially called Engelskənd, till 1992. And a few years ago, mountainous part of the village separated again and named Dağ-Daşbulaq. But locals still call it as Dağ-İrmaşlı. Persons who will try to visit the temple should remember that information, so could find easily.

  After this short information about the village, it’s the time to give information about the temple.

 First scientific information about the church we can find from armenian historian Samvel Karapetyan, researcher of Foundation of Research on Armenian Archicture (RAA). According to 
General view of Temple, 1985
Samvel Karapetyan
him, the temple’s name is Huskan Natahak Vank (
Հուսական նահատակ վանք), and it’s church part is named Surb Gevorg (Սուրբ Գևորգ եկեղեցի).[1] But personally, I asked to old locals, they never heard such names, even from armenians of neighbour village Bada (8km far from Dagh-Irmashli), which today is Alasgarli. And more interesting, they had never seen massive visits of armenians from Bada, during Soviet Period.

From Samvel Karapetyan’s book, we read that the church was mentioned as Martyr Huskan Church (Հուսկան նահատակ վանք – Huskan Nahatak Vank) first time by certain “Kajikian” in Armenian newspaper like Mshak (1883) and Ardzakank (1888) in his articles named “Travel notes”. According to these articles, church was built in 1590. According to information, inscription on northern side of church reads “May Holy Cross protect Maghakios, 1592” and “This Holy Church was built in 1590” under it.  But, these gravestones obviously were not original part of building and somebody put them there in later period. Samvel Karapetyan and azerbaijani experts[2], like Fatullayev-Figarov Shamil also confirm it.
An unknown hermit is said to repose in this sanctuary, which is also known by the names of Voskan Nahatak and Voskiants Monastery: “A small, cell-shaped structure standing in the south of the chapel (St. Gevorg Church - S.K.) retains the remains of an unknown saint named Voskan Nahatak. It is a pilgrimage destination even for Turks who call it Balajekh.”
 I can’t stop myself asking who is this Kajikian, and his unknown source? Who put these cross-stones there? Even Samvel Karapetyan does not have information; only he knows some articles from past century. And suddenly he calls this church, Saint Gevorg[3]. But why?
Unfortunately, we don’t have opportunity to check his Armenian sources[4] [5] [6] [7] [8]. The only truth is that Turks also visit temple as sacred place, but today local turks-azeris don’t call the temple as Bulanlıq, neither Balajekh. They only say Pir.
But let’s keep reading his story. After giving some dramatic information about the situation of temple during end of XVIII – beginning of XIX centuries, author says that there was no cross-stones during his visit to church, in 1985, except one, which was in good condition.

Northern Artsakh, 2004
Samvel Karapetyan
“The gravestone bore beautiful reliefs, “...including a horseman with a hawk in his hand and another person standing in front of the animal with a wine glass and a hazrabesha (?) in his hand. Close to them, sitting at a table are two people: one of them is por- trayed filling his glass with wine, while the other is playing the saz, with spits of meat being barbecued over a nearby fire. One of the sides of the tombstone bears the following words.”[9] When we compare reading of gravestone, Kajikian version and Karapetyan versions, there are some differences. By the way, Samvel Karapetyan says there are serios mistakes commited by Kajikian.[10] When we think that there is no any khachkars, which Kajikian mentioned on his articles, there are some trust questions about his informations. There are 3 options: Khachkars, which mentioned by Kajikian were destroyed by locals, or Kajikian (still we don’t know who is he and even if he existed) lied, or as nobody can control his sources, Karapetyan invented some sources. I think in soviet schools it is normal. On the other hand, of course, it is easy to blame Turks that they destroyed the temple, which they use as pilgrimage (!).
Samvel Karapetyan introduce in his book Kajikian version of gravestone as:

«Պեկիխանս, որդին իմ Որոյ խանս, կանգնեցի սուրբ խաչս բարեխոս ի դուռն Տարս(աի)ճին»

 Translated as: "I Peki Khan, with my son Voroy Khan, erected this holy cross to the memory of mister Tarsaich (1621)".
But, even me, with my basic Armenian skills, can detect some errors. Samvel Karapetyan also
Grave-Stone found on wall of the temple
Foto: Sabir Taghiyev
approve that and says Kajikian made several serios errors. After all, why we should believe him and his information about disappeared khachkar translations? Scientifically this is so questionable.
Samvel Karapetyan, which is main researcher till today about the church, introduce another solution:
Ես Պեկիխանս, որդին իմո Լոյինս կ(ա)նկ(են)ցի(ցի) ս(ուր)բ խաչս բ(ա)րէխաւս պ(ա)րոն Տ(ա)րս(ա)իճէն թվ(ին) ԴՀ

Which means, “Me, Pekikhan and my son ..loyin erected this Holy Cross by petition of baron Tarsayich (1070)[11]

As Armenian Calendar starts AD 552 of Gregorian calendar, year ԴՀ (1070) means 1622. But in reality, the information about the year does not exist on inscription. It cannot be read. When we remind this fact to Samvel Karapetyan, his answer is so far from science: “Although there is no year, we can be sure that this temple made in XVII century, according similar type of inscriptions.” Again I can’t stop myself asking why Mr. Karapetyan invents exact year? May be he thought that nobody has knowledge on old Armenian, so he can write whatever he wants.

However, there is another scientist, Professor of Caucasian languages of Goethe University, Jost
Prof. Jost Gippert
Goethe University
, who has different explanation about the names mentioned on inscription. And his solution is more accurate:


"I, Beg Elkhan, son of Toloykhan, had this holy cross set up for the merciful Baron Tarsayich, year XXX." [12]

After the independence of Azerbaijan Republic, the temple was investigated by scientist-researcher of Azerbaijan National Academy of Science (ANAS), Sabir Taghiyev. Since 2004, he visited the area with some archeologists and architechtos of ANAS, as Shamil Fatullayev. With his financial support there were some reconstruction works. S.Taghiyev in his articles mentions the name, Bilanliq, which probably is the same toponym as mentioned by Kajikian that I wrote above.  Historical architector of ANAS,  Prof. Shamil Fatullayev underlines that cross-stones engraved on facades of temple are not original were engraved in later periods.

In late 2015, I made a visit to temple, which was in bad condition. A lot’s of vandalism signs on walls show how people don’t care about historic buildings due to the lack of understanding the importance of such historic findings. Still, easily animals can enter and make mess in the monastery. However, local people respects to the temple. They have a lot of mystic stories about the temple. Even though, Irmashli Turks are Muslims, by the way, Armenian sources also prove this, they make some sacrifice rituals in this temple - Pir. They have no idea whose tomb is there, why there is cross on walls, and what language there is written.

On my personal view, however most of church ruins there are some labels in Armenian, it doest not mean there was Armenian population in region. i don't try make nationalist propaganda against Armenians. I can give example; as almost all mosques on Earth you find easily arabic texts, muslim pray in arabic, but it does not mean all muslims are arabic, we can apply same logic for local christians of Caucasus, Karabakh and other regions of todays Azerbaijan. As official language of Albanian church changed to Armenian during Middle Age, christians of Karabakh were armenized by Church during years, centuries. Only Udins save their national identity and language.

At the end i want to add, as Azerbaijan government did not organize any special protection for this old temple, I think the only thing that will protect it, is mythic believes and toleration of local people.

Check my related video from my Youtube Channel.

 Afgan Khalilli
 Philologist, Translator

[1] Northern Artsakh, Samvel Karapetyan, RAA, Yerevan, 2004, p. 478
[2] Video Published by Sabir Taghiyev.
[3] NorthernArtsakh, S.K, p. 479
[4] National Archives of Armenia, fund 53, list 1, file 3877, p. 29
[5]  “Ardzagank,” 1893, No. 44, p. 2.

[6]  “Mshak,” 1883, No. 74, p. 1.

[7] “Ardzagank,” 1888, No. 7, p. 87.

[8] “Nor-Dar,” 1893, No. 133, p. 2.
[9] Northern Artsakh, Samvel Karapetyan, RAA, Yerevan, 2004, p. 480
[10] Northern Artsakh, Samvel Karapetyan, RAA, Yerevan, 2004, p. 480
[11] Russian text was sent by Samvel Karapetyan through his Facebook account to me:  Я, Пекихан, и сын мой — Лоин поставили сей Святой Крест во ходатайство господину Тарсаичу, в году 1070 (1621).
[12] Translation was sent me by official e-mail of Jost Gippert.

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