Qarabag shikasta (eastern melody)
I am truly yours, Qarabag
Shaki, Shirvan, Qarabag
If the world turns into a paradise
Qarabag will not be forgotten

What is Shikasta?

This is a lyrical genre of Ashig music which appeals to human sentiments. It is based on Bayati (kind of Azerbaijani poem). Shikasta is a Farsi word, which means cutting or chopping in Turkish. Qarabag Shikasta has a long history. It is the gem of folk art and a wonderful example of Azerbaijani music. Shikasta is based on a certain rhythm. Consisting of three parts, the vocal and instrumental composition includes three Bayatis separated by instrumental music.

When I was a little child I often saw my mother and granny weeping to the sound of Shikasta. Originally from Qarabag, my grandmother lost all her family in World War Two and moved to Shirvan where she spent the rest of her life. When it was still possible to travel to Qarabag, she said there was no other place in the world where she could feel at home. She died without seeing it again. Interestingly, I can’t help crying when hearing Shikasta either. I have always wondered why. I haven’t been to Qarabag and all I know about it is bare statistics.


The Upper and Lowland Qarabag include Kalbajar, Tartar, Barda, Agjabadi, Agdam, Fizuli, Jabrayil, Zangelan, Qubadli, Lachin, Shusha, Khojali and Khankandi districts. It is located in western Azerbaijan on the border with Armenia and Iran. Historically this Azerbaijan territory was populated by Azerbaijanis and ethnic Armenians. Today it is occupied by the Armenian armed forces.


In February 1988, ethnic Armenians of Upper Qarabag started putting forward different unfounded territorial claims on Azerbaijan. The extraordinary session of the Council of People’s Representatives of the Upper Qarabag Autonomous District (UQAD), held 20 February and attended only by its ethnic Armenian members, passed a decision on “seceding from Azerbaijan and uniting with Armenia”. Following Azerbaijan protests at the decision, ethnic Armenians launched a series of rallies in Khankandi and other parts of the UQAD, while half a million ethnic Azerbaijanis living in Armenia were driven out of their homes before the end of 1988. By 1992, Azerbaijanis were ousted from a total of 860 villages, while their villages were burnt and wiped out.

Nazim Tapdiqoglu, Aydin Aliyev “Agdam district and its place-name”, Baku, Tehsil NPM-2006, p. 19

Occupation and implications of war

A total of 20,000 Azerbaijanis were killed, 100,000 wounded and 50,000 crippled in the war. The number of refugees and IDPs exceeds one million people. According to official reports, Armenian occupiers have taken 4,861 Azerbaijanis hostage, including 314 women, 58 children and 255 elderly people.

“Qarabag: questions and facts”, Baku, Qismet-2005, p. 43

How did the notion of Upper Qarabag (UQ) emerge?

Due to its terrain, Qarabag was divided into lowland and upper parts. After the Dashnaks seized power in Armenia, they started fighting for the Armenian-populated upper part. From then onwards Upper Qarabag assumed vital political importance.

“Qarabag: questions and facts”, Baku, Qismet-2005, p. 24


After the feudal Qarabag khanate was occupied by the Russian empire in 1813, thousands of Armenian families started settling here from Ottoman and Iranian lands. As a result of the demographic explosion ensuing from this resettlement, the Upper Qarabag Autonomous District was established within the Azerbaijan SSR in 1923. In 1989, the Azerbaijan parliament scrapped the autonomy. The ethnic stand-off which erupted in 1988 following Armenia’s demands to annex UQAD led to a war between the two countries. The Armenian army has occupied Upper Qarabag and six districts adjacent to it.

“Qarabag’s borders are as follows: in the south, it is the Aras river from the Khodaafarin to the Siniq bridge. The Siniq bridge is now used by the people of Gazakh, Samsaddin, Damirchi-Hasanli, while Russian officials call it “Krasniy most”, i.e. “Red Bridge”; in the east, it is the Kura which joins the Aras river in the Cavad village and then flows into the Caspian; in the north the border with Yelizavetpol is the Goran river; while in the west, it is the tall mountains Kushbak, Salvarti and Arikli.”

“Qarabag history”(1847)

Qarabag khan’s vizier Mirza Jamal Javanshir (1773-1853)

Qarabag etymology

While explaining its meaning, one should start with the word Artsakh. It covered an upland part of Qarabag, one of ancient Alban provinces, and a part of the Mil plain. Artsakh, Arsag, Arshag meant a brave man in an ancient Turkic language, while Sags were a Turkic-speaking people living in Central Asia and Azerbaijan.

It is beyond doubt that the Qara+bag word combination has a long history, but it took some time before it began denoting a location. It started being used in the 7th century. Initially it applied to a specific place, while later it covered a larger area. The word Qara has several explanations.

“Qarabag: questions and facts”, Baku, Qismet-2005, p. 3


Key changes in Qarabag’s history are linked to the occupation of the Arab caliphate (7th century) and the resulting abolition of the Albanian kingdom. Before the Arab occupation Qarabag’s territory was ethnically homogenous, while the Arab policy, which proved tragic for Azerbaijan, led to Armenian hegemony in its upland part. The population of the Artsakh region was converted to the Gregorian church and Armenianized. According to Armenian historian S. Yeremyan, Armenians had assimilated most of the Alban provinces of Artsakh and Uti by the 8th century. The Armenians living in Qarabag were not Armenians initially but were Armenianized as a result of these developments. Following the signing of the Turkmenchay agreement between Russia and Iran, the process of Armenianization of Russian-occupied Northern Azerbaijan territories gained pace. The 1829 Edirna agreement led to the Armenian resettlement from the Ottoman empire, and Qarabag lands were its main destination. Russia’s division of Azerbaijani lands made Armenians much more active. The decree of Peter the Great from 10 November 1724 whereby Russia was assuming patronage of the Armenian people was of tremendous importance to the Armenians. In essence, Armenians became a tool in the empire’s regional policies. As part of those policies, Armenians were extensively settled on Azerbaijani lands. Russian historian S. Solovyev (1820-1873) wrote that in order to strengthen the occupied territories, Peter thought it was important to increase the Christian and reduce the Muslim population there.
Since Armenian uprisings against the Ottoman state in the 1890s were unsuccessful, the struggle unfolded in Northern Azerbaijan.


The Armenians were not contented with the bloody massacre which went down in history as the Armenian-Muslim stand-off, and attempted to take advantage of the situation which emerged due to World War One. After their further attempts to stage riots against the Ottoman state failed in 1915, they turned their genocidal policies against Azerbaijanis in the South Caucasus. The 1917 socialist revolution led to anarchy in the Caucasus. Serving the Russians, armed Armenian Dashnaks joined forces with the Bolsheviks and perpetrated a major massacre in March 1918. Their efforts to seize control over Qarabag continued in the years of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (1918-1920), as they raided civilian population.

“Qarabag: questions and facts”, Baku, Qismet-2005, p. 22
“Qarabag: questions and facts”, Baku, Qismet-2005, p. 19

Qarabag carpets

Carpets, rugs and tapestry hold a special place in Qarabag. Carpets with and without piles were an important component of decorative art in Qarabag in the 17th century. This tradition has been preserved to the present day. Qarabag carpets are divided in Barda, Shusha and Jabrayil groups. Starting from the 18th century, the center of Qarabag’s carpet craft was Shusha. A Georgian researcher who visited Shusha in 1886 wrote that almost all carpets are woven in Azerbaijani families and that Armenians should learn carpet-weaving from them…

“Qarabag: questions and facts”, Baku, Qismet-2005, p. 63


The first achievement in the negotiations to resolve the Qarabag conflict was the ceasefire agreement reached in Bishkek on 12 May 1994. It is still in force, but sometimes silence is broken by the sound of fire. The civilian population is worried about that.

Occupied on 2 April 1992.
Occupied on 2 October 1992.
Occupied on 23 July 1993.
Occupied on 18 May 1992.
Occupied on 8 May 1992.
Occupied on 26 February 1992.
Occupied on 23 August 1993.
Occupied on 23 August 1993.
Occupied on 31 August 1993.
Occupied on 29 October 1993.
Occupied on 7 July 1992.
Occupied on 26 December 1991.
No connection since 1992.
No connection since 1992.

I could not visit, walk, see, taste and experience Qarabag. There is nothing I can say.


I have an unfulfilled wish.

When we were preparing a program in the Karcivan village of Agsu in May 2005, local people gathered around us. They happened to be refugees from Shusha and Lachin. An old woman said to us with a sweet Qarabag accent:

“Aren’t you the girl who walks about these mountains with a backpack? When will you visit Shusha? That’s what you should film, dear.”

She hugged me and started crying. I felt helpless because I had no answer. One million people have been waiting to return to their native lands for 17 years.

A whole generation of Qarabag people has grown up without ever seeing it.

Azerbaijan lives with the Qarabag dream.

So do I.

Let’s hope that this dream will come true one day…

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