Azerbaijan’s city of Shusha is set to host an exhibition and camp that will bring together artists and photographers from Islamic countries this year. The event will feature a range of competitions among emerging artists and photographers from Islamic nations, encompassing an online competition focused on visual arts.
This event aligns with the initiatives specified in the “Action Plan for the Declaration of the City of Shusha as the Cultural Capital of the Islamic World” for the year 2024.
Shusha was officially declared the “Cultural Capital of the Islamic World” during the 12th Conference of Ministers of Culture of the Islamic World. Following this announcement, on November 21, 2023, President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree, detailing the preparation and execution of an action plan for Shusha to fulfill its role as a year-long Islamic cultural capital.
In 2023, Shusha marked a significant cultural milestone as the “Cultural Capital of the Turkic World”. The city hosted a series of noteworthy events, including the First Turkic World Cultural Forum, the Third “Gorgud Ata” Turkic World Film Festival, a Turkic gastronomy festival, and various other cultural programs and festivals.
In May 2021, shortly after liberation of Shusha, President Aliyev proclaimed the city as the cultural capital of Azerbaijan, reaffirming its enduring significance in the country’s cultural heritage.
Shusha’s importance is rooted in its historical foundation under the rule of Panahali Khan, a leader of the Azerbaijani Karabakh (Garabagh) khanate. Over the years, Shusha has evolved into a major cultural, economic, and administrative center of Azerbaijan, gaining prominence due to its geographical location and historical legacy. In the late 18th century, the city emerged as a crucial trade hub in the South Caucasus, facilitating trade with cities like Baku, Sheki, Nakhchivan, and Ganja. The city fostered trade relations with the Ottoman Empire, Russia, Iran, India, and various European countries, with merchants actively participating in renowned fairs in Leipzig, Germany, and Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.
Furthermore, Shusha played a vital role in developing Azerbaijan’s carpet-weaving industry, evolving into the Karabakh region’s center for carpet weaving in the latter half of the 19th century, exporting carpets globally.
In the realm of music, Shusha holds a cultural significance comparable to Vienna in Austria or Naples in Italy. Recognized as “the temple of Azerbaijani music,” it served as a leading conservatory in the South Caucasus. Shusha is credited for nurturing the distinguished mugham tradition, a traditional Azerbaijani genre influencing music across the Caspian and Middle Eastern regions.
Unfortunately, Shusha, originally inhabited by ethnic Azerbaijanis, faced challenges after its 19th-century occupation by Tsarist Russia. The Russian Empire relocated Armenians to Azerbaijani territories, including the Karabakh region, leading to the displacement of indigenous Azerbaijanis.
With the Soviet Union’s establishment in 1922, repression of indigenous Azerbaijanis intensified. Granting autonomy to the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh region marginalized Shusha, affecting the quality of life and resulting in the destruction of historical monuments. The Azerbaijani population declined from 44,000 in 1917 to 14,000 in 1970 due to mass expulsions.
Following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, Armenia launched a full-scale military aggression against Azerbaijan. The war, which ended in a 1994 ceasefire, saw Armenia occupying 20% of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories. This occupation led to the deaths of over 30,000 Azerbaijanis and the expulsion of one million others in an ethnic cleansing campaign conducted by Armenia.
On September 27, 2020, tensions flared when Armenia’s forces stationed in the occupied Azerbaijani lands shelled military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. In a 44-day counter-attack, Azerbaijani forces liberated approximately 300 settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, and Shusha. Shusha’s liberation played a crucial role in Armenia’s retreat, leading to a tripartite agreement signed on November 10, 2020, by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia. As part of the agreement, Armenia also returned Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin to Azerbaijan.
The restoration of Shusha’s cultural significance and heritage is now a top priority for Azerbaijan. Efforts are underway to revive the city’s rich musical traditions, promote its historical and architectural treasures, and foster cultural events and festivals.