Tovuz

Traubenfeld

The present-day settlement was founded by German settlers in the second half of the 19th century. Named by Germans as Traubenfeld the area was also known as Shamshadil and Toush in the ancient times. Places with the same name still exist in Central Asia, Morocco, Siberia and China. The capital of South Azerbaijan, Tabriz, has a district called Tovuz.

Note

Located on the western part of the country, bordering Georgia and Armenia, Tovuz is on the 430th km of Baku-Gazakh motorway on the Qazakh-Ganja plain, 330 m above sea level. It is covered with forests and is rich in flora, fauna. It has a dry climate. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipelines pass through Tovuz.

Peacocks

A billboard at the entrance to Tovuz has an image of a peacock. Those seeing the picture naturally link Tovuz to the peacock. However, the place-name has a long history. The totem of a peacock symbolized eternity for all ancient Turkic cultures. History sources say that Genghis Khan and even the Hun emperor Atilla used the totem in their army. At that period Turks had strong beliefs in totems: they worshipped the wolf, bird, tree, river, sea, mountain and even considered some creatures their ancestors. Names linked to totems still exist but Tovuz has nothing to do with the peacock.

Place-name

Taus in Arabic means angel. The concept of it turning into a bird emerged in the East, namely in Central Asia. The name of the town relates to two Turkic tribes – Ohguz and TOghuz. In Turkic-Shumer sources the word denoted a sacred mountain, a place for nine Oghuz Turkic tribes. Tovuz was first mentioned in Alban History by Albanian historian Musa Kalankatli in the 7th century.

People of Tovuz

Men in Tovuz are relatively tall, have round faces, dark-skinned, with black and blue eyes, thick eyebrows and straight nose. They have a positive attitude. They value mustache, which is considered the sign of manhood. Men without mustache are frowned upon. The sides of the mustache are trimmed. Almost all men who pay attention to their appearance try to marry a beautiful woman. Women in Tovuz are tall, beautiful and capable, as were their Oghuz ancestors.

Quote

“During the Goyturk empire, Turkic lands included the Oghuz which consisting of nine tribes.”
Turkic historian Faruk Sumer, “The Oghuz”

The Oghuz

Tovuz is the home of Oghuz Turks. 7th century sources mention three, six and nine Oghuz Turkic tribe unions. Orhon-Yenisei sources describe the Oghuz as a bellicose, courageous and combatant tribe of the Goyturk empire. 6-7th century sources say that highly influential Oghuz Turks have established Seljuk, Atabay, Garakhani, Ottoman, Aggoyunlu and Safavid empires. Legends and folk eposes about the Oghuz are known as Oghuzname.

Note

The emergence of Tovuz dates back to ancient times. There is archeological Bronze Age, Iron Age and medieval evidence to confirm this fact. With the emergence of the Great Hun empire “the great migration of nations” began in the 1st millennium. The process contributed to the strengthening of Turkic ethnicities in Azerbaijan in the early last millennium. Turkic tribes, including the Oghuz who entered the Caucasus in 378, spread on a vast area and took part in the ethnogeny of the Azerbaijani nation.

Rivers

Tovuz is located in the Kura river valley. The Tovuz, Zayam, Asri and Axinca rivers flow through the district. Local people say that the “Tovuz emerged when God was in a good mood”. With its fertile, beautiful and fascinating surroundings, it consists of four valleys.

  1. Agdara
  2. Axinca valley
  3. Asrik valley
  4. Xinna valley

All are worth visiting and promise an adventurous journey.

Agdara

It is called the Tovuz or Oksuzlu valley. All the villages scattered along the Oksuzlu river share a 69-km border with Armenia and have been on the frontline since 1989.

Alibayli village

The last residential settlement of Tovuz located on the frontline is only 3 km from Armenia. Fierce battles took place here before 1994. There are still bullet traces on the walls of houses. Local people have lived together with soldiers 20 years. They are already used to occasional gunfire and go about their routine lives. They have not left the village. The village used to be populated by noble men and belong to Ali Bay. Due to its favorable climate, the village was a summer residence for noble people from Ganjabasar region in the 18-19th centuries. Those buildings have been preserved to the present day.

Mulkulu village

The 2nd-3rd century Torpaq Fortress is one of the most ancient historical sites in Tovuz. The village was built on the ruins of a town belonging to previous civilizations. Some sources say that predecessors of Assyrian, Albanian and Oghuz tribes, as well as the Arabs of the early Caliphate period, lived here.
The Caliphate army who invaded the Caucasus in 645 faced stiff resistance of the local people. Having suffered serious losses, the Arabs had to retreat. The first march of the Arabs on Azerbaijan during the Caliph Omar’s rule began from the town of Khunan, Armenian and Georgian sources say. The ruins of Khunan are now in the Mulkulu village.

Torpaq Fortress

Its total area is close to 6 hectares. First written evidence about it is “Arxas” written by M. Barxudyan in 1895. The fortress was first explored by well-known Soviet archeologist Prof Y. Pakhomov in 1938: “These are the ruins of a reinforced town and there is no doubt that it played a great role in Azerbaijan’s life in the 11-13th centuries.”

Oksuzlu village

The biggest village of the Agdara valley is divided into two parts – Yukhari and Ashagi Oksuzlu. In local dialect it is pronounced as Oysuzlu and this is how it is mentioned in a number of written sources. Oksuz is an expression in Turkic. In Turkey, Central Asia the word means an orphan. The mansions built by Nasib Bay and Yusif Bay Yusifzade brothers in 1872 have been preserved up to now and are now a school and a hospital.

The Qizildag mountain is located in Ashagi Oksuzlu. It becomes of red and golden colors under the sunlight, hence the name. There is a well-known historical site at the top of Qizildag, which dates back to the 13th century. The slopes of Qizildag, local people’s biggest pride, are full of tombstones believed to belong to ancient Oghuz people. Human bones buried in pots and precious metals have been discovered here. It takes 45 minutes to reach the top. All the villages in Agdara valley are visible from there. The two buildings on top are believed to have been observation towers. They are called the House of Koroglu, 16-17th century folk character.

Historically, local people have been bellicose. According to the motives of Koroglu epos, those who escaped the unfairness of rulers took refuge here and continued to struggle. The buildings popular in the western zone are widespread here and were built over 200 years. They are the reminder of the Caucasian Albania. The number of Albanian temples indicates that there was a strong Albanian influence. Most of these unregistered sites can be seen in Asrik and Xinna valleys.

Axinca valley

The Axinca river originates from Gadabay’s Mormor region and id fed by a thick layer of snow from the Murguzdag mountain. The villages of Yekallar and Bozalqanli, which are part of the valley, are noted for historical sites.

 

Yekallar village

This is the biggest village of Tovuz with a number of unstudied sepulchers in an ancient cemetery. The best-known historical monument of the village, the Sultan bridge, is several kilometers from here. The age of the bridge is unknown. It was built over the Axinca river and is the only operational historical site. The canyon below the bridge is magnificent. The rapid and loud flow of water makes it impossible to hear anything else. Local people say the bridge was built by Indian masters. Milk and eggs were used in the construction, which is why it has proved resistant to fast water impacts. The magnificent view of the area makes passers-by stop to have a look at the canyon and the river.

Bozalqanli village

The Bozalqan tribe known since the third millennium B.C. contributed a lot to the formation of Turkic-speaking peoples. Representatives of the tribe chose Tovuz as their home. Bozalqanli holds a special place in Azerbaijan’s Ashig folklore. Just like everywhere else in the western zone, all parties are accompanied with Saz music. According to sayings, an Oghuz had three friends: a horse, a Saz and a woman. The only Saz museum in Azerbaijan is in Tovuz.

Saz

One of the oldest musical instruments. The Saz, made of dried mulberry tree, is built around figure Nine. It consists of nine parts and has nine strings.

Figure Nine

Nine symbolizes victory, strength, discipline and a strong will. This Oghuz belief goes back to B.C. times.

Tovuz Xingal

This is another attribute of Tovuz parties after Saz. Some dishes in Azerbaijan are named after places where they are traditionally cooked. It also indicates that there are different types of that dish. You must definitely try the Tovuz Xingal.

Sini Xingal

Sini is wide and shallow dish made of copper. Xingal is served on a Sini. According to the tradition, everyone eats from one plate. The Tovuz people also add potato to Xingal. It is the only dish that brings together pasta, butter, onions, meat or chicken, and potato. Here is the recipe:

Ordinary dough is made of flour and water, and divided into small balls. Each ball represents a portion of the dish. Water is boiled in a separate pot. Some salt is added. Dough is rolled out and divided into leaf-shaped parts before it dries out. Then, chopped potato is added to the boiling water. Shortly afterwards, the leafs are poured inside, cooked for 3-5 minutes and then filtered.

The Xingal is ready. The pasta is put at the bottom of Sini, topped with potato and fried onions with tomato. Sour slotted milk mixed with garlic is also served. Considering the high fat content, Tovuz people add cherry sauce to lend it a sour taste. Cherries are first cleaned from stones and frozen. This produces a mixture of pleasant flavors. Doesn’t it make your mouth water?

Aksagalax-Axsoglax

This is the most practical dish in mountain villages of Tovuz. It is made of churned butter, eggs, sour clotted milk and garlic, as is also known as Tovuz-style scrambled eggs. First, churned butter is warmed in a deep pan. Several eggs are mixed up until they foam and cooked in the butter. The sour milk with garlic is poured into a wide pot and cooked eggs placed on it. Highly nutritious, the dish is eaten with Tandir (oven made in the earth) bread and keeps you full for a long time. The local weather and physical work in mountain villages make this food very popular.

Asrik valley

It is local people’s most favorite place in summer. It is a must-see destination for visitors. If you come to Tovuz and miss the Asrik valley, then, according to local people, it is a shame. The Asrik river’s name has been known since Middle Ages. In an ancient Turkic language Asrik meant “excited” and “anxious”.
According to another theory, Asrik means “blood being sacrificed”. It is said that most place-names here originate from the Assyrian language. The villages are located on mountain slopes along the Asrik river. The biggest asset is the forest. Its beauty is fascinating. The nature, greenery, the air, landscape and mineral waters of the place, described as local Switzerland, is not any worse than in European Alps. Tovuz is a health resort. It rains here almost every day. Sometimes it is drizzling but more often there are short but torrential rains shower followed by sunny days. The clean air makes you feel dizzy. The Ashagi Qushchu village is the first village in the valley. The first stop in the valley is the Asrik waterfall. The last settlement of the road stretching as far as Gadabay’s Sinix region is 55-60 km from the centre.

Boyuk Qishlaq village

This is the last settlement in the Asrik valley. Its best-known site is the oval mosque. It has no minaret. It used to be known as a “fire temple” built in the style of Alban temples. Its windows face the east. The building is believed to have been used by fire-worshippers. With the emergence of Islam local people called the building “mollaxana” (Muslim religious school). The building was neglected in Soviet times, therefore, it is run down and covered with weed.

Catax village – Turshsu (sour water)

There is a sour water spring in the village. Because of its sour taste, the waters is described as Turshsu. It contains various chemical minerals and is used for treatment purposes. In total, there are 586 waters springs in Tovuz, including four possessing the characteristics of mine water. In Asrik alone there are 36 water springs. Findiqli, Maral, Shalala water springs among the best-known. There is a restaurant by every water source. The air in all resorts is amazingly clean, the views are fascinating. Every evening there is live Ashig music. The musicians work on a seasonal basis and mainly live on tips by visitors. The Asrik valley forests are full of gazelles and deer. Surrounding mountains contain quality rocks used in construction.

Kiran village

One of the most interesting village names in Xinna area is Kiran. Yaqut Hamavi, a 13th century writer, wrote about a castle called Kiran between Tabriz and Beylaqan. In an ancient Turkic language Kir meant “a slope, mountain path”. Local landscape confirms that the name is linked to the area’s geography. Villages in this direction sit on the slopes of the Chinaldag range. A local travel route passes through Kiran. Its total length is 40-50 km. The last settlement along this route is the Qalaboynu village. There is an Alban fortress on the top near the village, which local people call the Koroglu house.

Nacaf Talasi

A resort called Nacaf Talasi was a popular pioneer camp in Soviet years. It is 30 km from the centre, 2000 meters high and inside a thick forest. The place is now a resort.

Xinna valley

It is also known as Zayam valley because it is by the Zayam river. Its previous name was Xunanyurd. According to ancient authors, the Hunans were first owners of Alban lands. In one of his researches about the ethnogeny of Azerbaijani nation, Academician Ziya Bunyadov said the modern territory of Azerbaijan was populated by Turkic tribe unions, the Huns, in the 5th century. The Hunans lived along the Kura river in western Azerbaijan. The ancient town of Hunan was on the territory of modern Tovuz. There are many names linked to Hun and the Huns.

Yukhari Agbashlar village

The last village of the Xinna valley has 50 houses. Beekeeping, cattle-breeding, potato-growing and blacksmith’s are key occupations here. There is a must-see canyon in the village with a fascinating view. Atlibulaq is the biggest water spring. In summer, all vehicles heading for mountain villages stop by the spring.

Abdal village

Ii is a mountain village in the Xinna valley. One of the most ancient sites of Tovuz is located in the forest here. It takes one full day to reach it. After a long journey on a car one still has to walk for three to four hours. One can get lost in the forest looking for the temple. As you walk, you can see all colors and smells of flowers, hear the sound of bugs, the buzzing of bees and see wildly growing strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, etc. The search of the temple goes on for such a long time that you almost lose hope when suddenly, out of nowhere, there is a proud Alban temple. On seeing it you understand the journey was well worth taking.

Alban temple

With its 9-meter internal columns, the temple is a 5th century Caucasian Albania monument. There are crosses of different forms on external and internal walls of the temple. The cross was a symbol fire-worshippers engraved on tombstones and temples. Following Islam, ancient Albanians remained committed to their religion for a long time and led secluded life in remote places. Such temples served as shelters for dervishes who led ascetic lifestyle.

The Abdal village takes its name from an ancient tribe. The Abdals were a Turkic-speaking tribe widely spread in Transcaucasia in the 1st-4th centuries. There are many villages with similar names in Azerbaijan, especially in Qarabag. In the 5th century, Roman authors wrote that indigenous Alban residents were descendants of the Huns. In an ancient Turkic language Abdal meant “the God of hunting”.

Isakand

The village is also known as Qarabaglar. It is one of the highest and most beautiful villages of the Xinna valley. There is an Alban temple on its highest peak. It is assumed that the temple was built around the same period as others. There are images of crosses of different shapes on the walls. In ancient times the cross was put over bread or in a palm with henna. The tradition of dividing the arch of a watermelon into four pieces and making a wish still exists today. The cross was a totem symbolizing god for fire-worshippers. On the way from Isakand to the Qalaboyun village, 1600 m above sea level, there is a cemetery with several burial mounds dating back to Alban times.

Yaniqli village

This village in the Xinna valley was once the ancient town of Hunan. It was here that the army led by national movement leader Babak, who seized Tovuz in 830, offered the stiffest resistance to the Arabs. According to local people, following the battles the Arabs moved along the Asrik and Xinna valleys and settled down in Azerbaijan.

There is a 10-meter deep water well in the Yaniqli village. Local people use it as a source of drinking water. The Shah Abbas mosque and the Khan bridge over the Zayam river are also nearby. All three sites were built in 1772. The mosque is very similar to the Shah Abbas mosque in Ganja. There is a similar mosque in Tabriz as well. The road along the Zayam river is called the Shah Abbas road.

The villages in Asrik and Xinna valleys can be divided in three categories for their age. Some are populated by people who were given the lands for their courage and service to the Shah (Isakand and Qalaboyun villages).

Some are settlements which emerged during Alban-Aran period. For this reason even nowadays residents of mountain villages say “I am going to Aran” when traveling to the villages on the Kura river bank.

The rest moved here from Turkey, Tabriz, Ardabil and Qarabag. Some consider themselves natives of Tovuz, such as the residents of Qarabaglilar, Ashrallar and Agdara villages. The villages of Lazlar and Agbashlar are believed to be aboriginal.

At the entrance to the Xinna valley, in a place called Chinarli, there is a shrine under two huge plane-trees. Following the arrival of the Arabs to Azerbaijan, sanctuaries linked to Imam Ali emerged in Tovuz. Two of them are very well-known: Chinarli and Hacaqaya.

Hacaqaya

The road from the Xinna valley to Hacaqaya, located between Tovuz and Gadabay, lies on a very steep slope. Even though the area is part of Tovuz, there is a much more comfortable journey here from Gadabay’s Slavyanka village. It is a 2-3 hour trip along the 21 km road from Slavyanka. The place is the biggest shrine in Azerbaijan’s western zone with water springs and fascinating mountain views. As you go up the hill, you can see huts built by those living in summer pastures.
The Hacaqaya is a natural site. As look as if it were divided into two parts. There is a place called Kumbez in the vicinity. There is a rock here bearing the image of a hand believed to be Imam Ali’s. This is why the rock enjoys great respect. The place is frequented from May to October. As temperatures drop, the number of visitors decreases. The first snow falls on the 2200-meter-high sanctuary in October. The Hacaqaya is seen as a miracle. According to a legend, Imam Ali divided the rock with his sword and prayed to God here. Since then the place has been called Hacaqaya, i.e. a mountain divided in two. Here is a legend about its name.

Legend

Imam Ali was once informed that a strong man called Salsal oppresses Muslims in Tovuz, Gazakh region. Ali got on his horse Duldul, met Salsal in the mountains of Hacaqaya. He hit the man with his sword but the sword did not do any harm. Imam Ali got angry and hit the mount with it, dividing it in two. He raised hands asking: “God, what miracle is this?” A voice from the skies told him that the strong man wore a piece of cloth with names of 124,000 prophets written on it, therefore, the sword could not harm him. Then Ali lifted Salsal and threw him into the Zayam river. Visitors usually take a piece of rock with them.
It is the place where people come to speak to God. It is also possible to enter an orifice and climb 400 steps. One is gripped with fear when entering Hacaqaya and feels like an ant inside. Water drops from rocks throughout the year. It is believed that the drops are tears of the rock following the blow by the sword. It is tiring to complete the tour but very interesting. After the visit one feels physical and moral satisfaction.

Chinarli shrine

Following the fight with Salsal, Imam Ali relaxed, had some food and prayed under the plane-trees on the mountain slope near the Ibrahimhacili village. The rock also bears the imprint of Imam Ali’s elbow. The place has become a sanctuary for Muslims.

Ocaq

Shrines are known as “ojax” in the western zone and water sources near them are said to have miraculous power. The biggest ocaq is the Hacaqaya. People from all surrounding districts visit the place. There are many sanctuaries known as ocaq (fire). Some signs and rituals of fire-worshipping have been preserved up to now. Local people say “I swear to fire”, which is evidence of how ancient traditions are preserved. It is surprising that people remain committed to some rituals although they run counter to Islamic beliefs. Ancient Huns, Assyrians and the Oghuz considered the family sacred and referred to it as “ocaq” while the head of the family was called “pir” (sacred).

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