Saturday, March 3, 2012

Ganja; a Historic City in Azerbaijan

Ganja (Azerbaijani: Gəncə) (Arabic: جنجا) (Urdu and Persian: گنجہ) is Azerbaijan's second-largest city with a population of around 313,300. It was named Yelizavetpol (Russian: Елизаветполь) in the Russian Empire period. The city regained its original name—Ganja—from 1920–1935 during the first part of its incorporation into the Soviet Union. However, its name was changed again and called Kirovabad (Russian: Кировабад) during the later Soviet Union period from 1935 to 1991. Finally, the city regained the original name after Azerbaijan's independence in 1991.


Origin of the name:

Modern historians believe that the name Ganja (گنجه / Ganjeh) derives from the New Persian ganj (گنج: "treasure, treasury") and suggests that the city existed in pre-Islamic times and was likely founded in the 5th century A.D. The area in which Ganja is located was known as Arran from the 9th to 12th century; its urban population spoke mainly in the Persian language.


According to medieval Arab sources, the city of Ganja was founded in 859-60 by Mohammad b. Khaled b. Yazid b. Mazyad, the Arab governor of the region in the reign of the caliph Al-Mutawakkil, and so-called because of a treasure unearthed there. According to the legend, the Arab governor had a dream where a voice told him that there was a treasure hidden under one of the three hills around the area where he camped. The voice told him to unearth it and use the money to found a city. He did so and informed the caliph about the money and the city. Caliph made Mohammad the hereditary governor of the city on a condition that he would give the money he found to the caliph.
Foundation of the city by Arabs is confirmed by the medieval historian Movses Kagankatvatsi, who mentions that the city of Ganja was founded in 846-47 in the canton of Arshakashen by the son of Khazr Patgos, “a furious and merciless man”.

Historically an important city of the South Caucasus, Ganja has been part of Sassanid empire, Great Seljuk Empire, Atabegs of Azerbaijan, Khwarezmid Empire, Il-Khans, Timurids, Jalayirids, Qara Qoyunlu, Ak Koyunlu, and the Ganja Khanate. Ganja is also the birthplace of the famous poet Nizami Ganjavi.

The people of Ganja experienced a temporary cultural decline after an earthquake in 1139, when the city was taken by king Demetrius I of Georgia and its gates taken as trophies, and again after the Mongol invasion in 1231. The city was revived after the Safavids came to power. City was also managed by Ottomans between 1578–1603 and 1724-1735.

16th-19th centuries:

For a short period, Ganja was renamed Abbasabad by Shah Abbas after war against the Ottomans. He build a new city 8 km to the southwest of the old one, but the name changed back to Ganja during the time During the Safavid rule, it was the capital of the Karabakh (Ganja) beylerbey, one of the four such administrative units and principalities. In 1747, Ganja became the center of the Ganja Khanate.

Russian expansion into the South Caucasus met strong opposition in Ganja. In contrast with spreading suzerainty over Christian Georgia and Sunni Daghestan, military attack on the khanate in 1804 led by Pavel Tsitsianov was seen as a direct challenge to Iran being an incursion into a mainly Shia-populated territory. The capture of the city was followed by a massacre of up to 3,000 inhabitants of Ganja by the Russians. 500 of them were slaughtered in a mosque where they had taken refuge, after an Armenian told the Russian soldiers that there might have been "Daghestani robbers" among them. Thosaunds of Azeris left Ganja and fled to Iran following the capture.

According to the October 1813 Gulistan Treaty, the Ganja Khanate, together with most of Azerbaijan, was recognized as part of the Russian Empire after Persia's defeat in the Persia-Russia wars except Persian occupation between 1826-1827. It was renamed Elisabethpol (Russian: Елизаветполь) after the wife of Alexander I of Russia, Elisabeth, and in 1868 became the capital of Elisabethpol Governorate. Elizavetpol was an uyezd of Tiflis Governorate before 1868. The Russian name was not accepted by Azerbaijanis who continued to call the city Ganja.

20th century:

In 1918, Ganja became the temporary capital of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, at which point it was renamed Ganja again, until Baku was recaptured from the British backed Centrocaspian Dictatorship.

In April 1920, the Red Army occupied Azerbaijan. In May 1920, Ganja was the scene of an abortive anti-Soviet rebellion, during which the city was heavily damaged by fighting between the insurgents and the Red Army.

In 1935, Joseph Stalin renamed the city Kirovabad after Sergei Kirov. In 1991, Azerbaijan re-established its independence, and the ancient name of the city was given back.

For many years the 104th Guards Airborne Division of the Soviet Airborne Troops was based in the town.

Administrative organization:

Ganja is divided into:
  • Kəpəz Rayon, with about 160,000 people
  • Nizami Rayon, with about 140,000 people

The economy of Ganja is partially agricultural, partially tourist based, with some industries in operation. Ore minerals extracted from nearby mines supply Ganja's metallurgical industries, which produces copper and alumina. There are porcelain, silk and footwear industries. Other industries process food, grapes and cotton from the surrounding farmlands.

The city has one of the largest textile conglomerates in Azerbaijan and is famous for a fabric named Ganja silk, which received the highest marks in the markets of neighboring countries and the Middle East.


Ganja is the second largest city of Azerbaijan after Baku with about 313,300 residents.

Historic Armenian community:

In addition to Persian- and Turkic-speaking Muslims, the city has had a numerically, economically and, culturally significant Armenian community. Among the Armenians, the city is known as Gandzak (Գանձակ) The name Gandzak derives from gandz (Arm. - գանձ), the loan word from Old Iranian, which means treasure or riches. The city's historically important Christian figures include Kirakos Gandzaketsi, author of the History of the Armenians), Armenian philosopher Mkhitar Gosh author of the Code of Laws that was used in Armenia, Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia and Armenian diaspora groups in Europe, 13th century polymath Vardan Areveltsi and Grigor Paron-Ter, Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem. Among the modern time's prominent Armenian person's of the city were Russian-Armenian architect Karo Halabyan, secretary of the Armenian SSR Communist Party Askanaz Mravyan, and the Olympic champion Albert Azaryan.

The founder of the Hethumid dynasty, Oshin of Lampron was an Armenian nakharar and lord of a castle near Ganja who fled to Cilicia in 1075 during the Seljuk invasion of Armenia.

Buildings, landmarks and museums:

In the 11th century, a local blacksmith named Ibrahim produced the well known the Gates of Ganja.
  • Nizami Mausoleum, built in honor of Nizami Ganjavi, stands just outside the city of Ganja, Azerbaijan. It attracts nearly 35000 visitors per year.
  • Shah Abbas Caravanserai, At present it is in use of the Ganja State Humanitarian college.
  • Juma (Shah Abbas) Mosque, the mosque was under construction in 1606 under the project of Sheikh Baahaddin Mahammad Amilin mosque and currently is biggest mosque of the city.
  • Khan Bagi. The 17th century built garden
  • Chokak Bath, center of the applied art
  • The European bath of 19th century.
  • The Armenian Church. Built in the 17th century.
  • The Armenian Church. Built in the 18th century and currently, it is in use of the Ganja State Philharmonic Chamber.
  • Russian Orthodox church.

Ganja is home to four major institutes for post-secondary education.
  • Ganja State University
  • Azerbaijan State Agricultural Academy
  • Azerbaijan Technological University
  • Azerbaijan Teachers Institute, Ganja Branch



Ganja International Airport is the only airport in the city. The airport is connected by bus to the city center.


Ganja sits on one of the Azerbaijani primary rail lines running East-West connecting the capital, Baku, with the rest of the country. The railway provides both human transportation and transport of goods and commodities such as oil and gravel.


Most of the population in Ganja speaks Azerbaijani.


The city has one professional football team competing in the top-flight of Azerbaijani football - FC Kəpəz currently playing in the Azerbaijan Premier League. 

Notable natives:

  • Adil Isgandarov — director, actor, People's Artist of USSR (1959).
  • Artur Rasizade — Prime Minister of Azerbaijan (1996–2003 and since 2003)).
  • Elbrus Allahverdiyev — National Hero of Azerbaijan.
  • Enver Arazov — National Hero of Azerbaijan.
  • Eyyub Khanbudagov — chief of the Azerbaijani Extraordinary Commission (Azerbaijani Cheka) (1920–1921).
  • Fikret Amirov — composer, People's Artist of USSR (1965), Hero of Socialist Labor.
  • Javad Khan — khan of Ganja Khanate (1786–1803).
  • Igor Makeyev — National Hero of Azerbaijan.
  • Khalil Zeinal — Azerbaijani poet and playwright, Honored Art Worker of Azerbaijan SSR.
  • Madat Guliyev — National Hero of Azerbaijan.
  • Mahsati Ganjavi — poetess.
  • Mammadbaghir Sheikhzamanly — 1st chief of the "Organization to struggle against counterrevolution" of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (1919).
  • Mammadrza Sheikhzamanov — film and theater actor, People's Artist of Azerbaijan SSR (1974).
  • Mirza Shafi Vazeh — Azerbaijani poet.
  • Murtuz Alasgarov — Speaker of the National Assembly of Azerbaijan (1996–2005).
  • Museib Baghirov — Hero of the Soviet Union.
  • Nagi Sheikhzamanly — chief of the "Organization to struggle against counterrevolution" of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (1919–1920).
  • Nasib Yusifbeyli — Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (1919–1920).
  • Nigar Rafibeyli — writer.
  • Nizami Ganjavi — famous poet.
  • Parviz Samadov — National Hero of Azerbaijan.
  • Rafael Asadov — National Hero of Azerbaijan.
  • Surat Huseynov — Prime Minister of Azerbaijan (1993–1994).
  • Namiq Sheikhzamanov — surgeon, MD, Ph.D.
  • Tamerlan Sheikhzamanov — lawyer-politician, сounsellor in the National Assembly of Azerbaijan Republic.

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