From The History Of The Armenians Of Dagestan

Armenia, an ancient country located at the junction of international routes linking the East with the West, has always been a theater of war for neighboring states.

In ancient times, military clashes of eastern despots – Assyria, Babylon, and Iran – have occurred on its territory. In the 5th century, becoming the object of rivalry between the Roman Empire and Sassanian Iran, Armenia lost its state integrity and independence.

Scholar Musa Omarov claims that under the Armenian kings Trdat IV (reigned in 287-330) and Khosrov II (reigned in 330-338), Christianity spread not only in Armenia but also in Albania, an area of modern Dagestan.

Dagestan Armenians have mostly lived in separate settlements. Based on chronicles, historians believe that the first Armenians appeared in the area of the strategically important fortress of Derbent (the Armenians traditionally called it Choga) in the 5th century AD. And having established an apostolic temple with a patriarchal throne here, they became the first Christians in Dagestan.

The culture of Armenians historically has significantly influenced the tribes of the Caucasian Albans living in Dagestan and what now is Azerbaijan – the ancestors of the Lezgins, Tabasarans, Udis, and Rutuls. Their influence has been especially strong in religion – the Armenians converted many Caucasian Albans to Christianity.

Together, Armenians and Dagestanis have fought against the Persians and Arabs advancing in the Caucasus. In particular, the Armenians and Caucasian Albanians fought side by side in the legendary Avarayr battle on May 26, 451, against the superior Persian army.

In the very south of Dagestan, on the shore of the Caspian Sea, Armenian missionary Saint Grigoris, the first Armenian bishop of Caucasian Albania, died a martyr in the 3rd century. At the site of his martyrdom in the village of Nyugdi (Derbent district of Dagestan), one can find the small old Armenian Christian church of St. Grigoris. It has recently been restored.

The creator of the Armenian alphabet, Mesrop Mashtots, is believed to have even invented the unique alphabet for the Caucasian Albanians – the Aghvan (Albanian) alphabet. Nowadays, this alphabet is rarely used, but Lezgins have Albanian writings on their national flag and sometimes make T-shirts and other items with Albanian scripts.

Modern Armenians are the descendants of the 16th-19th-century Armenian immigrants from Iran and Turkey. They have decided to settle here after Dagestan had become part of the Christian Russian Empire.

In the 18th century, Karabakh Armenians founded their trading settlement Karabagly near the city of Kizlyar. Now, it is the only settlement in Dagestan with an Armenian population. Derbent used to have a large Armenian quarter (Magal) at the beginning of the 20th century.

Many Armenians have moved to Dagestan from Baku at the very beginning of the 1990s. Now, the Armenian community in Dagestan is feeling pretty good. About 7 to 10 thousand Armenians live there. For the most part, these are citizens from Makhachkala, Derbent, and Kizlyar.

In regard to people from Makhachkala, social research by the Rostov State University branch in Makhachkala carried out in 2005 is remarkable. Most of the respondents did not want to leave Makhachkala “because of attachment to the city and people”, while some didn’t want to leave “due to family ties.” Dissatisfaction with social status and financial situation was observed only in a small part of the respondents.

On the other hand, the reasons why locals would like to leave Makhachkala were mainly as follows – the lack of prospects (mainly for children), concern for the future of children, and desire to improve the financial situation. Among other reasons were the desire to return to their homeland, “family reasons”, and the turbulent political situation.

Makhachkala residents emigrated to various locations throughout the world, but most of the people moved within the Russian Federation.

Armenians, as the heirs of the ancient culture of their homeland, transfer the cultural traditions of the Armenian people to the countries which they migrate to. The role of the Armenian population in the life of Dagestan is likewise significant.

The musical life of the city of Kizlyar at the end of the 20th and at the beginning of the 21st century is impossible to imagine without t R. Melikyan, N. Mkrtychyan, and D. Soghomonyan. All of them were born in Kizlyar, the place where they would begin their musical career. One of the music schools in Yerevan is named after R. Melikyan.

Everyone in Dagestan knows the Aghababov family. The father of the family, A. Aghababov, was a native of Western Armenia. His wife’s parents were from Nagorno-Karabakh.

His eldest son Sergey Aghababov made a great contribution to the musical culture of Dagestan. In 1946, Sergey Aghababov entered the Dagestan Medical Institute. At the same time, he studied at the theoretical & composer department of a local music school. In his student years, Aghababov would organize a choir at the medical institute and establish a student stage ensemble.

Sergey Aghababov contributed to the sport of Dagestan as well – particularly, he was a striker, captain, and then coach of the volleyball team of the republic.

In 1951, Sergey Aghababov entered the Moscow Conservatory which he would graduate from in 1956 with honors. Throughout the decades of his activity, he would create over a hundred songs, cantatas, instrumental plays, and symphonies.

The cause of Sergey was continued by his younger brother Arkady Aghababov. He was a famous composer, associate professor, and head of the department of the St. Petersburg Conservatory in Dagestan and in Russia.

Arkady Aghababov received his primary musical education at the Makhachkala Music College after G. A. Hasanova.

Another brother, Yakov Aghababov, and sister Maria Aghababova devoted themselves to medicine. Yakov worked and defended his thesis as a surgeon. Maria was an experienced pediatric infectionist who has helped thousands of children and wouldn’t become indifferent to others’ issues even after retirement.

For many years, honored doctor of the Republic of Dagestan, candidate of medical sciences, and associate professor Maria Ivanovna Churukyan brought health and happiness into the lives of Dagestanis. She has gone a long way, having served as an intern, assistant, doctor, and the head of the department of general surgery of Dagestani Medical Academy. For 40 years, Maria Ivanovna has taught at the academy. She is still active as a surgeon.

Some Armenians have a good command of difficult local languages – they can easily communicate with people from in Kumyk or even Avar. Even in the most troubled years of the confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Karabakh, no conflicts between Armenians and other peoples were observed in Dagestan.

Armenian Church of the Savior (Amenaprkich) in Derbent 1870
Church of St. Grigor Lusavorich in Nyugdi

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