1) The background of the kingdom of Kashatagh
Kashatagh was an Armenian kingdom situated between Artsakh and Syunik which existed in 1475-1730. It was one of the regions of the historical province of Syunik which was one of the Ashkhars (Provinces) of Greater Armenia. Even before Christ, this area was densely populated by Armenians.
Contrary to stereotypical opinions, Kashatagh has never been part of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) – it has always been part of Syunik province. It has been located on the province’s border with Artsakh, which may be where the misconception comes from.
Until the middle of the 11th century, Kashatagh was part of the Armenian Ani Kingdom ruled by the Bagratuni dynasty. Until the beginning of the 13th century, the Ani kingdom was ruled by the Zakarian dynasty and then by the Orbelians.
2) Brief history of the kingdom
The Kashatagh kingdom was founded in 1475 by Haykaz I Proshyan. The new dynasty was named Haykazyan (after Haykaz Proshyan). Before the Haykazyans, the Kashatagh region was ruled by the Shakhurnetsi family and before them by the Orbelians. Haykaz I was succeeded by his son Akhnazar I.
The most prominent representative of the clan was Melik Haykaz II who was a Melik (Prince) from 1551 to 1623 and was an active supporter of Persia during the Turkish-Persian wars for the possession of Transcaucasia. Arakel of Tabriz mentions Haykaz II as one of the noble Armenians and advisers to the court of Shah of Iran Abbas I.
The names of Haykaz I, Akhnazar I, Haykaz II, and their descendants are found in lapidary inscriptions throughout the Kashatagh region. The inscriptions preserved on the gravestones of the 16th-18th centuries in Kashatagh contain the names of many Armenian meliks.
In 1699, Prince Emirbek, son of Prince Martiros, participated in the Angeghakot Assembly where the Armenian meliks decided to authorize a delegation led by Prince Israel Ori to negotiate with the leaders of European powers (including Peter I) on the liberation of Armenia.
The names of Melik Akhnazar and his brother Haykaz are marked in the 1682 inscription on the facade of the entrance to the Church of the Holy Virgin in the village of Mirik.
3) The fate of Kashatagh after the fall of the kingdom
In the early 1730s, the Kashatagh principality fell, and persecution of the local ethnic Armenian population began. This marked the beginning of the settlement of Kurdish tribes in the area.
In 1810, Kashatagh became part of the Zangezur district of the Elizabethpol Governorate of the Russian Empire. By this time, the Armenian population had been almost completely replaced by Muslims, mainly Kurds and partly Turks. By the beginning of the 19th century, Armenians as a result of ethnic cleansing of 1730-1810 prevailed only in the north of Kashatagh, in the region of Berdzor (Lachin).
But the persecution of Armenians did not end there. As a result of ethnic cleansing in 1905, 1918, and the 1920s, the last remnants of the local Armenian population were destroyed or expelled from their homeland. Dozens of Armenian villages of Berdzor which had been thriving at the beginning of the 20th century became empty.
In place of the Armenians, the Kurds began to prevail in this area which would be titled “Kurdistan County”. However, the Kurds were deported from here in 1937 and replaced by Azerbaijanis (Tatars).
In the territory of Kashatagh, 3 districts were formed – the districts of Lachin, Kubatly, and Zangelan. The population of these 3 districts during the Soviet period consisted of Azerbaijanis settled here between 1937-1953. Only the ruins of Christian churches and fragments of khachkars and tombstones with Armenian-language texts reminded of the former Armenian presence.
4) The return of the Armenians and the expulsion of foreigners
On May 18, 1992, the Armenian armed forces established control over the city of Lachin and the strategically important Lachin corridor. By November 1, 1993, the Armenians controlled the entire territory of the modern Kashatagh region.
On December 2, 1993, by resolution of the Presidium of the NKR Supreme Council, the Kashatagh region of the NKR was formed in the territory of the Akari River Valley (Lachin, Kubatly, and Zangelan districts of Azerbaijan) with its center in Lachin (renamed Berdzor). The first governor of the district was Aleksan Hakobyan, candidate of historical sciences and a member of the Karabakh committee.
In the period from May 18, 1992, to December 2, 1993, all Azerbaijanis who had been living here (124,000 people in total) in the Soviet years left Kashatagh. The indigenous people of the region, the Armenians, would gradually repopulate the area.
As of 2005, 9763 people lived in Kashatagh.
5) Kashatagh today
Today, the Kashatagh district is one of the 7 districts of the Artsakh Republic (Nagorno-Karabakh).
The total area of the Kashatagh region is 3377 square kilometers which, for comparison, is close to the areas of South Ossetia (3900 square kilometers) and Ingushetia (3685 square kilometers).
The population of Kashatagh today is approximately 10 thousand people, which is 12 times less than before the war and even less than it had been during the years of the Katashagh principality in the 15th-17th centuries.
Modern Kashatagh is more reminiscent of a military training ground. With its destroyed housing stock, it needs to be revived and settled.
In Kashatagh, there are 94 settlements and 3 cities – Berdzor, Sanasar, and Mijnavan. There also are 3 large rivers in Kashatagh – Araks, which borders Iran, and its 2 tributaries Aghavni and Akari. Over the past 20 years, on the banks of these rivers, 6 hydroelectric power stations have been built to provide the region with electricity.
Kashatagh is home to 30 churches and chapels built between the 4th century and the beginning of the 18th century. An important monument is the Tsitsernavank Monastery built in the 5th-7th centuries. This monastery is considered one of the most beautiful temples not only in Artsakh but throughout Armenia. On the territory of the monastery are the tombs of medieval Armenian princes with stone-carved texts in ancient Armenian.
The village of Melikashen houses the palace of Kashatagh meliks built in the 1480s. The Melikatun (Melik House) complex is surrounded by a fortified wall with a tower and a gate. The palace consists of two-story chambers with vaulted rooms and other buildings. This structure was built by Melik Haykaz in 1480.