With its 30000 springs, hundreds of hot and mineral water sources, over 4000 plants and different minerals, this land is described as a natural museum, while Kalbajar mountains can easily be compared to a green pharmacy. There are more than 200 healing herbs here. The Istisu resort 2200 meters above sea level is as beautiful as the famous Karlovy Vary.
“Only someone who hasn’t walked in the Tartarchay valley can admire Swiss nature.”
Geologist V. Abix
The distance to Baku is 458 km. Kalbajar is 139 km from the Barda railway station, off the Barda-Istisu road in the Tartarchay river valley. It is 1500-3800 meters above sea level in the Lesser Caucasus mountains and is Azerbaijan’s highest district. The tallest summit, Camisdag-Murov, is 3724 meters high. The Shahdag, Sarqi Bayazit, Basarkecar, Mixtokan, the Qarabag range and Qarabağ plateau are also here. Winter in Kalbajar is mostly dry, with a cold and alpine tundra climate. The longest river is the Tartarchay. There are lakes Alagollar, Zalxa, etc. The district used to be known for its long-lifers. Of architectural sites, the Xotavang temple (13-18th centuries) on the Tartarchay is worthy of note. There are ancient rock engravings in Kalbajar as well. Forests cover an area of 280,000 hectares. Established in 1930, the district borders on Armenia.
History of occupation
132 settlements, 24 historical and five religious sites are under occupation. Kalbajar’s gold deposits have been looted by the Armenians.
Lakes, rivers, mountains and zones
There are 13 lakes in local plains and mountains. Kalbajar’s longest river is the Tartarchay. Its tributaries are the Tutxun, Lev, Zaylik, Alolar, Qaraarxac (Sarkar) rivers. There are also 20 well-known water springs. 70-80 per cent of the district is made up of mountains and each of them has a name. Since motor traffic in mountains is limited, local people have divided the district in different zones:
1. Upper zone – territories stretching from the center westwards
2. Ayrim zone – north-west
3. Qamishli-Lev zone – north-east
4. Tutqu zone – area around Zulfuqarli-Baslibel
5. Sarsang SES zone – forests in the east
6. The Dalidag-Sariyer-Keyti zone consists of bare mountains and plains
Since the district is quite big, the Sariyer, Murov, Keyti and Dalidag areas are used by about 30 Azerbaijani districts as summer pastures. Many Azerbaijani families used to come to Kalbajar from June to September in hot weather. Most of them had rest in Istisu, Taxta duzu, Ceyran bulagi and Tutqu zone along the Tartarchay river.
Since Kalbajar’s climate is rather severe, cattle-breeding was the key occupation here. However, bee-keeping was also well-developed. The demand for Kalbajar honey was so great that even a bee-keeping farm was established here.
Kalbajar is often described as a monument to ancient times. Its history is truly long. Rock engravings, 3rd millennium dwellings and clay pots discovered in them, hundreds of ancient caves are evidence of ancient life here. The 1-km-wide cave discovered in Boyuk Guney in the 1980s has aroused tremendous archeological interest. The Lok, Comard, Uluxan, Qalaboynu, Xotavang temples and fortresses are further evidence of Kalbajar’s ancient history.
There is no exact information about how the name emerged. Local elders link Kalbajar to Karbalai (pilgrim) Hajar. The dome built on his grave was part of the district cemetery until 1993. There is also a legend about the place-name.
A khan named Ulukhan used to live here in the past. He had a strong army and soldiers. One morning, he saw a girl named Becan milking a buffalo, while the bull next to her was playing pranks. Angered by the bull’s naughtiness, Becan lifted it from the ground and threw it down the mountain. The bull landed in a village on the Tartarchay river. The khan kept his observation secret. One day, strangers attacked khan’s lands. He had 18 courageous fighters. According to the tradition, before the stand-off could begin the parties were to nominate one person each for a wrestling fight. The strangers had beaten all of khan’s 18 fighters when he remembered Becan. She was invited to wrestle and emerged as the winner. However, after realizing that she was a woman, her opponent wounded her with a knife. Enraged Becan overpowered him again and cut off his head. Khan won but the young woman lost too much blood and died. In an effort to perpetuate the brave woman, Ulukhan ordered that an engraving be made on the town walls depicting Becan throwing a bull down the mountain and killing an alien fighter. The engraving is still there. The ruler went even further by naming the place Kalbecan.
Land of Ashigs
Until occupation in 1993, the local population was largely made up of the descendants of Alpana and Mammad tribes which lived here in the 14-15th centuries. Kalbajar is also noted for its Ashigs and poets. The Ashigs, folk musicians divided in Saz and Zourna-Balaban categories, have been in the status of refugees since 1993, playing their instruments mainly in Shemakha-Pirqulu and Nabran resort restaurants and at wedding parties.
Ashig Samsir (1893- 1980)
He was a prominent Azerbaijani master of speaking. As a child, he was raised in the spirit of outstanding Ashigs Ali, Alasgar, Qurban from the Goycha-Kalbajar Ashig school. Despite becoming famous, he hadn’t published his works until 1955 when he met poet Samad Vurgun at the Istisu resort. Years after his death, in 1992, his native village was burned by the Armenians, as were all his handwritten poems. Many of his relatives were killed.
Soyudlu-Zod has been a well-known gold field for centuries. The tapping of Zod started in the 3rd millennium B.C. The geological exploration carried out at Soyudlu in the 1970-80s discovered ancient pits, caves, wells, rock and ore fragments, as well as tools used in the extraction of gold. This is evidence that people produced gold here 4-5 millennia ago. The Zar village went down in history as “Shahrizar”, i.e. golden town.
The village known until Soviet years as Sahrizar was one of the most ancient dwellings. It was populated by the Oghuz descendants of the Jafaris dynasty. Sahrizar was a large city in the Alban rule. The gold ore produced from the Keyti mountain was subsequently processed at the gold plants built by Alban ruler Jahankhatun. The name of Sahrizar directly relates to local gold fields. One of the ancient gold plants has survived to the present day under the name of Dasdirakli dam. In Soviet years it was renamed into Zar. There is a large cave in the village.
First information about Istisu mineral water springs was provided by 12th century sources, but geological researches have revealed that terminal springs and mineral waters of Istisu existed even earlier. First chemical analysis of Kalbajar’s Istisu was conducted in 1927, while resort construction commenced in the late 1920s. Medical bath resorts, hospitals and hotels were built in Upper Istisu in 1951. The Kalbajar mineral water comes out to the surface at a temperature of 62 to 75 degrees. In some wells it is even higher. Since ancient times people have been coming to Istisu to cure their health problems. The baths formed around mineral water fountains are used by visitors from all over the world. Along with mineral water, there is a lot of carbon gas here, which is used in bottling the water. In fact, the abundance of carbon gas enables its exports…