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Azerbaijan from ancient times to the advent of islam

Azerbaijan is surrounded by the Greater Caucasus Mountains in the north, by Alagoz ranges in the west including Gokche Lake and Eastern Anatolia as well, Caspian Sea in the east and Sultaniye-Zenjan- Hamadan frontiers in the south. Azerbaijan is one of the oldest spots of civilization, a country with a rich and ancient history. A rich cultural heritage has been created on its territory over the span of many millenniums, contributing to the treasure-house of World culture. The people of Azerbaijan, who at present constitute the second most prominent Turkic group of the world after the Turks of Anatolia, have developed a distinctive and unique culture in this land and thereby rich traditions of statecraft and governance.

In historical perspective, the territories of Azerbaijan were inhabited by the great forefathers of the present Azerbaijani people, who founded the oldest civilizations in the lands comprising Caspian-Aral Sea and the Persian Gulf regions. The old ethnic groups of this region contributing to the emergence of the Azerbaijani people led to the formation of the ancient cultural environment and Sumerian-Babylonian civilization and played a very important role in the history of ancient state system and politic-military life in the regions of the Middle and Near East. The main traces of civilization are viewed in Azerbaijan. This is evidently displayed by the scholarly researches, especially by the archeological excavations within and outside Azerbaijan. The ancient monuments spread all over Azerbaijan amply prove that this land was one of the oldest habitations of the mankind. The discovery of Azykh cave, one of the earliest habitations of man to be found in the world, and a number of other habitations of the ancient Stone Age prove that Azerbaijan enters the zone of anthropoids to reveal the birthplace of mankind. The archeological discoveries at the caves of Qazma (Nakhichevan), Azykh, Taghs, Damjili, Dashsalahli as well as in the monuments found elsewhere in the country pertaining to 300-400 millennia BC, together with the unearthing of the remains of lower jaw bone of the first Homo sapiens in Azerbaijan conclusively ascertain the evolution theory as to how the human formation had taken place. In view of these rare discoveries, the Azerbaijan territory has been included in the map of Europe’s oldest inhabitants.

Azerbaijan is one of the rare countries that can be called the cradle of humanity in the true sense of word. As it is evident from the discoveries made at the grotto of Azykh, life began very early here. The excavations carried out at this primeval cave prove that Azerbaijan was a habitat to the oldest primitive human beings. The pictures and petrographic inscriptions engraved on the rocks of Qobustan and Gemiqaya as well as the artifacts of the material culture belonging to Kur-Araz and Khojali and the findings at Kurqan demonstrate that even thousands of years before the Christian era, Azerbaijan possessed a highly developed culture and advanced civilization.

Azerbaijan has been one of the oldest habitations of mankind since the primordial Paleolithic age. The people of Azerbaijan had started breeding an elaborate ancient culture from that time. Becoming property owners in the course of the Mesolithic and Neolithic ages, they started cultivating a settled life, tilling soil and engaging themselves in different trades and handicrafts. The spheres of economic and cultural development in the territories of Azerbaijan gradually expanded towards the end of the 4th and the beginning of 3rd millennia BC, which led to the formation and spread of Kur-Araz culture in different regions of North and South Caucasus as well as in Eastern Anatolia. Archaeological excavations carried out in this region resulted in the discovery of rich specimens of culture, especially grain residues, plowing instruments, welfare related equipments and various types of handicrafts. All these discoveries attest the fact that the Azerbaijani people were the creators of one of the oldest sedentary civilizations of the world.

The people of Azerbaijan possess a rich history of statehood which extends over approximately 5000 years. The people of Azerbaijan had started establishing the oldest traditions of state governance system since ancient times. The state organizations, more precisely the ethno-political unification of the separate units in the Azerbaijani territories first appeared in the Urmiya basin at the end of 4th millennium and beginning of 3rd millennium before our era. It was there that all the oldest Azerbaijan states were formed. These states played an essential role in the politic-military history of the entire region. Azerbaijan had a close interaction with the ancient imperial states of Sumer, Akkad and Assyria which were established in the Euphrates and Tigris valleys as well as the Hittites state of the Asia Minor.

The early states of Azerbaijan safeguarded their territories from external aggression by pursuing a vigorous foreign policy. The Kutis, who composed one of the main tribal kindred unions in ancient Azerbaijan, had defeated even the powerful neighboring kingdom of Akkad and thereby, expanded the frontiers of their rule up to the Persian Gulf for over a hundred years’ time. Along with benefiting greatly from the highly developed administrative skills of the conquered states of Akkad and Sumer, the Kutis had also implanted the emergent governmental system of the ancient Azerbaijan in the territories of the countries under their subjugation.

The Kutis and Lullubian confederacies initially started their rule from the vicinity of Lake Urmia. At times, their state included the valleys of Euphrates and Tigris right up to the Persian Gulf, which left its deep imprints not only on Azerbaijan but, generally speaking, on the entire history of the state system in the ancient East. A distinguishing feature of the Kutis which differentiated them from the other neighboring states of the ancient Orient was the method of the selection of their rulers. The succession was hereditary. The Kuti rulers ruled their country through kinship of successors. The heirs to the throne enjoyed a vast degree of independence in administrative matters. This system had its impact on their long rule in ancient Azerbaijan over a vast stretch of land extending to the valleys of Euphrates and Tigris right up to the Persian Gulf.

With the passage of time, the state culture of Azerbaijan attained new heights as new states encompassing vast territories emerged on its soil. In the 1st millennium BC, the powerful states of Albania and Atropatena as well as kingdoms of Manna and Skit were established in the territories of Azerbaijan. These states played a vital role in unification of the people and strengthening of the administrative governance system in Azerbaijan as well as enhancement of the economic-cultural and ethno-political life.

The Manna State which emerged in the 1st millennium BC was a continuation of the traditional state system of Azerbaijan and represented an important phase in the administrative history of the country.

Initially founded in the territories around the Urmiya Lake, the Azerbaijani state of Manna occupied a significant place in the history of the whole world in terms of its administrative governance system, not only because of its antiquity but also due to its evolved form as a state. The state of Manna unified all the petty states adjacent to Urmiya Lake under its rule. By this means, the territories of Azerbaijan controlled by the state of Manna extended up to the Araxes (Araz) River (sometimes even beyond that) in the North and up to the Caspian Sea in the North East.

The state of Manna was deeply involved in warfare as well as in political events affecting the entire region. It waged successful wars against the powerful neighboring states of Assyria and Urartu, which were trying to seize the territories of Azerbaijan. The Sumerians and the Skit tribes who had by then settled in Azerbaijan, joined hands with the people of Manna in fighting the Assyrian and Urartuan aggression.

The absolute leadership of Manna was regulated on hereditary basis. Nevertheless the country was administered with the help of the Council of Elders which was evidently of an advisory nature in the old administrative setup of the state.

The fact that the state of Manna withstood the repeated attacks of powerful neighbors in the southern region of Azerbaijan for almost 300 years corroborates the existence of strong traditions of state governance system in Azerbaijan right from the earliest times.

By the end of the 8th century BC and beginning of the 7th century BC, Saks and Massagets, who had a close kinship to Cimmerians and Skits, began to play an important role in the politic-military history of Azerbaijan. The Saks and Massagets were old inhabitants of Eurasia, who moved in family groups from the foot hills of Greater Caucasus during the various periods of history to the south through passes of Greater Caucasus and the Derbent route. They first established themselves in the northern parts of Azerbaijan and later moved from there directly to the lands of Manna and spread to the eastern Anatolia.

The composition of the Cimmerian-Skit-Saks society had its roots in different ethnic stocks. Turkic ethnic groups were in dominance among these unions which had originated the Cimmerian-Skit-Saks society. The personal observations of the Father of History, Herodotus (5th century BC), fully substantiate the veracity of this information. According to the writings of Herodotus, the Skits used to feed themselves with the milk of horses while the Massagets who held a kinship with the Skits, dressed in the same manner and led their lives in a similar way. They worshipped Sun as their only God and offered the most beautiful living creature on earth- the horse-as a sacrifice to the God of Sun. As successors to the Mannaeans, the Skits founded a powerful kingdom in the northern parts of Azerbaijan and contributed to the process of unifying all the people of Azerbaijan in one land. The Skit — Massaget rulers successfully defended the territories of Azerbaijan from the invasion of foreign occupiers.

The kingdom of Massagets inflicted a heavy defeat upon the majestic Akhemenids dynasty of Iran— one of the strongest imperialist powers of all times. The Akhemenid ruler Cyrus II, who had conquered vast lands in the regions of the Middle and Near East, was in possession of the southern territories of Azerbaijan as well. Thereafter, he revealed his intention to occupy north of the country too. And for this purpose he proposed his marriage to queen Tomiris, the widow of the King of Massagets. However, queen Tomirus, being well aware of his cunningness, refused the offer of the Iranian ruler. In doing so, she kept the honor and independence of her country. She went to war after vowing in the name of the God of Sun and routed the unbeatable troops of her powerful neighbor in 530 BC. The “invincible” Cyrus was also killed on the battlefield. The abject defeat of Cyrus II formed a brilliant chapter in the history of Azerbaijan. Tomiris had bravely vanquished Cyrus II, the grand emperor who had won the title of Cyrus the Great for having destroyed powerful states like those of the Midian Empire, Lydia and Babylonia and annexed Parthian territories and extended his empire from Central Asia to the borders of Egypt.

The contacts between the Azerbaijani and Skit culture which had spread over large area of Eurasia during the rule of the Skit kings, created mutually beneficial conditions for interaction between the two. This led to a new prosperity in the evolution of the old culture of Azerbaijan. The artifacts of material culture discovered as a result of the archeological excavations and preservation of old names at various places of Azerbaijan dating back to the Skit-Saks-Massagets period plainly bear this out.

Despite the extremely complex politic-military situation in the Middle and Near East and artful contrivances of the neighboring countries to seize Azerbaijan due to its very important military-strategic location and rich natural reserves, the ancient statehood traditions of Azerbaijan were carried on. Neither the long- lasting repressive regime of the imperial Iranian-Akhemenids dynasty, nor the ruinous invasions of Alexander the Great could annihilate the established state system in Azerbaijan.

Following the decease of Alexander the Great, the old statehood traditions were revivified in Azerbaijan. The historical territories of Azerbaijan were incorporated into the states of Atropatena and Albania in the southern and northern regions of the country respectively.

As mentioned above, the state of Atropatena covered the southern regions of Azerbaijan. In fact, this part of Azerbaijan had seen the revival of the independent statehood long before the invasion of Alexander the Great. Together with the lands of the vanquished state of Midia, the territories of the South Azerbaijan were delivered to the authority of the Akhemenidian governor, Atropat who was governing South Azerbaijan independently even during the rule of the Akhemenids. That’s why South Azerbaijan was mostly referred to as Midian Atropatena, Midia Minor, Atropat’s Midia, Atropatia or Atropatena.

As a foresighted politician and renowned warrior, Atropat was appointed to command the front troops of the Akhemenids king, Dara III, to fight the invasion of Alexander the Great. These troops were mainly composed of the military units involving the soldiers recruited from the northern and southern parts of Azerbaijan. Although Alexander the Great overcame the military forces of Dara III, he reconsidered invading Azerbaijan since he was well aware of the competence and politic-military influence of Atropat as an intrepid warrior and deemed it wiser to get closer to the governor of Azerbaijan instead of occupying it.

Later on, this affinity was further deepened by the kinship as Atropat got affiliated with one of the associates of Alexander the Great through marriage. By this means, Atropat converted Atropatena to the first independent state of the East released from the Greek-Macedonian enslavement.

Resurgence of the independent statehood traditions resulted in the economic and cultural revitalization of the southern regions of Azerbaijan. The powerful state of Atropatena had developed close bilateral trade relations with the countries of Caucasus, Middle Asia, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Volga river basin and etc. Atropatena was the main determining power in the international relations of the whole region.

The mutual interaction and correspondence between the Greek civilization and Eastern culture had a shaping effect on the enhancement of the state governance system in Atropatena. The wide use of the Greek language brought about the improvement and perfection of the judiciary structure as well as other fields of society. The monetary system of the country had advanced too. It played a central role in the internal trade.

Deriving its roots from the ancient statehood traditions of Azerbaijan and state systems of the early Greek and Eastern civilizations, the authority and influence of Atropatena was further strengthened by the following rulers. Thus, Atropatena firmly withstood the invasions of the states of Parthia and Selefki and crushed the military forces of the Roman Empire with the help of the subject Parthian forces. The army of Atropatena was considered to be one of the best equipped and powerful military forces of the entire region. In order to surmount the military forces of the Roman Empire, Atropatena had mobilized 40 thousand infantrymen and 10 thousand combat forces.

The following years saw the emergence of close relationship between the Roman Empire and Atropatena. The Roman Empire was giving a special weight to Atropatena in its foreign policy regarding the Eastern countries due to the politic-military influence and strategic location of Atropatena. The delegates of Atropatena had paid numerous visits to Roma in order to hold diplomatic negotiations with the emperor Octavian August during the years of 27-14 BC. The emperor had even entrusted the governance of the neighboring Armenian kingdom to the rulers of Atropatena. This was the reason why the Armenian tsars were cautious not to spoil the relations with Atropatena. Wary of the politic-military dominance of Atropatena, the Armenian tsar Tigran had married his daughter with the ruler of Atropatena, Midridat as a safety measure. Later on, the Armenian kingdom was brought under the full dependency and control of Atropatena.

The state of Albania that was created in the northern part of Azerbaijan encompassed the territories starting from the high lands surrounding the Iori and Alazan rivers and stretching over to the Caspian Sea in the east, from Greater Caucasus Mountains to the Araxes (Araz) River in the south and basin of the Gokhche Lake in the west. Initially the capital of Albania was Kabala, but later on it was transferred to Barda.

During the rule of the Albanian state, North Azerbaijan saw the further growth of both the material and spiritual cultural expansion in its territories. At this period, there were more than 30 cities in the country that were considered important trade and business centers. New schools were opened and new Azerbaijani script was introduced which was called an Albanian alphabet.

As a country situated at the intersection of North and South, connecting East with West, Albania was a convergence point of different ethnic groups, religions and cultures. It was namely because of this factor that the rich civilization formed in Albania had a very unique and exceptional makeup characterizing the distinctive features and qualities of diverse cultures. The Turkic ethnos who were outnumbering the other groups had a vital role in the administration and management of the country. They were worshipping the Moon, Sky, Sun and God to whom they referred as Tanri which signified oneness of God. Along with this, Christian tenets were also freely disseminated in the country. It’s noteworthy that the independent Albanian church had direct liability before the Roman Empire.

During the reign of the Albanian state, the state governance culture of Azerbaijan had reached to new heights. The rulers of the state were considered both the secular and religious leaders of the country who were also entitled to issue orders, formulate laws and command the military forces. By that time, the number of the military forces of Albania had already surpassed 80 thousand.

There was an Advisory Council functioning at the palace of the Albanian rulers. The Albanian rulers were supposed to head the Advisory Council and religious gatherings which were held to regulate the governance of the country. Like Atropatena, Albania had also developed its own monetary system. Possessing the powerful state structures and necessary military power to safeguard its territories from foreign invasion, Albania had resolutely withstood the constant attacks of Parthia and Roman Empire. Having suffered overwhelmingly heavy defeats by the Albanian warriors repeatedly, the Roman Empire had been forced to come to terms with the politic-military potential of Albania. That’s why later on the Roman Empire had established close bilateral ties with Albania as a more prudent way of dealing with its formidable rival. Like the diplomats of Atropatena, Albanian delegates were frequently sent to Roma to hold talks with Octavian August. Along with the Roman Empire, Albania had also fostered close trade relations and political ties with the other countries. Inter-state trade routes which linked the Middle and Near Eastern countries and the Khazar Khanate with Eastern Europe passed through Albania which contributed a lot to the external trade relations of the country.

The Albanian ruler, Javanshir ably defended his country against the ferocious attacks of its opportunistic and expansionist neighbors such as the empires of Byzantine, Sasanids, Arab Caliphate and Khazar Khanate. Despite the military dominance of these powers over Albania, he had been able to maintain and uphold the independence of his country due to his farsighted, sagacious vision as well as immense aptitude and valor as a warrior.

At the beginning of our era, Azerbaijan faced one of the most turbulent periods of its history. It was occupied by the Sassanids Empire of Iran in the 3rd century and by the Arab Caliphate in the 7th century AD. The occupation by Iran and Arabia brought a large number of migrants from the interior of those two countries who were settled in Azerbaijan. These migrants were settled in militarily important strategic locations as well as on the highly productive lands of the country. They were given countless privileges. These foreigners started to pursue a policy of assimilation and extermination of the native population of Azerbaijan. However, despite the cruelties and excesses committed by the Iranians and Arab occupiers for a period of more than 600 years, the old Azerbaijani traditions of the state governance system could not be eradicated. Despite the insufferable agonies at the hands of exploitive regimes and ensuing tough conditions, the integration and amalgamation of the people into one united association continued in Azerbaijan.

Nonetheless, the strategies worked out by the occupying powers to wipe out the native population by way of assimilation and absorption backfired. In reality, the fact that the people of Azerbaijan remained under the rule of those empires for a very long period of time in an integrated and undivided form actually resulted in establishment of the interregional links within the entire country which eventually led to the expansion of internal trade. Growth of internal trade accelerated the ethnic, political and cultural unification between the northern, southern, eastern and western regions of Azerbaijan. In fact, the prolonged common struggle for independence against the aggressive Iranian and Arab forces brought the Turkic and non-Turkic inhabitants of Azerbaijan closer to each other and helped them intermingle with each other. This, in turn expedited the process of unification and coalescence of the diverse ethnic groups into a single united nation.

Constituting majority of the population in the first centuries of our era, the Turkic ethnic groups who were stronger and more organized from the politic-military point of view played an essential role in unification of the masses in Azerbaijan. Amongst the ethnic Turkic tribes the Oghuz Turks were the most powerful and influential. Initially, like other Turkic tribes the Oghuz groups had also moved to the Southern Caucasus, which had been a part of their early dwelling place since ancient times. Later on they shifted from there to the territories of Azerbaijan through the Derbent passageway, called by their ancient forebears as “Iron Gate”. Many of them crossed different other passes of the Greater Caucasus Mountain and spread all over the Azerbaijani lands. (One of these passes located in the Qakh District of the Republic of Azerbaijan is still called by the local people as the “Hun Beli” which means “Hun waist” signifying migration of the Hun Turks through this passage.) This fact is demonstrated by the information gleaned from the earliest sources about the Mausoleum of the Oghuz saint Dede Qorqud at Derbent and one of the gates of Derbent named after him as Bayat Gate (“Bayat” is a name of one of the Oghuz tribes). Including the Oghuz Turks, the early Turks who had abided in vast Eurasian lands were trying to keep the important pass of Iron Gate in their hands as it was the main connecting route linking the northern regions of the Turkic habitations with the southern parts, that’s to say the Qipchak Steppe with the Southern Caucasus planes.

In addition to the other early sources, the facts presented in the Book of Oghuz named as “Kibabi- Diyarbekriyye” written by Abubakr Al-Tehrani Al-Isfahani on the order of the most prevailing ruler of the Agh Goyunlu Empire Uzun Hasan (1453-1478) prove that as the ancestors of the present Azerbaijani people the Oghuz Turks, the Agh Goyunlu and Qara Goyunlu tribes were the oldest inhabitants of the entire Southern Caucasus and Inner Asia. Having conducted thorough researches on the pedigree of Gara Yuluk Osman Bek, the founder of Agh Goyunlu state and grand father of Uzun Hasan, the abovementioned author had concluded that the begetter of this lineage goes back to the Oghuz (Khaqan) emperor. The book recounts the territories composing the powerful Turkic state headed by Oghuz Khaqan, the forefather of all Turks. The book also narrates that the said Oghuz emperor died in the vicinity of the Gokche Lake. The fact that Azerbaijan was a constituent part of the powerful state headed by the great Oghuz emperor and his death occurred in the vicinity of Gokche Lake verifies that the territories of Azerbaijan had been one of the oldest habitats of the Oghuz Turks.

The author of Kitabi-Diyarbakriyye further writes that “the grandson of the Oghuz emperor Bayandir used to spend his life in winter huts of Karabakh and in summer houses around Gokche Lake. It was there that he summoned the great assembly and divided his great empire amongst his sons according to their capabilities. After this he responded to the call of Allah and breathed his last there”. According to Abubakr Al-Tehrani Al-Isfahani, Sungur Bek who was the 20th great-great grandfather of Gara-Yuluk Osman, was a contemporary of the prophet Mohammad as well. He had waged a fierce war against the blasphemers on the frontiers around the summer pastures of the Alagoz Mountains and Gokche Lake and perished in one of the skirmishes. Qara-Yuluk Osman Bek’s 14th inline predecessor, Shektur Khan and a contemporary of Caliph Haroon Ar-Rashid, Gipchak Khan had also fought against the infidels with great bravery for the release of Alinja Fort. They both had inflicted heavy defeats on the enemies and liberated the Alinja Fort from long drawn-out besiegement.

These facts are in complete consonance with the narrations related in the Book of Dede Qorqud about the Oghuz tribes. The consistency of these facts with the events which took place during the rule of the prophet Mohammad and Arab Caliphate not only prove the veracity of the abovementioned happenings, but also reaffirm the fact that the people of Azerbaijan had managed to preserve their strong independent statehood traditions despite having been subjected to the subordination of the superior powers.

Unlike other nationalities and ethnic groups, the Turkic tribes who constituted majority of the population in the country were spread all over the territories of Azerbaijan from north to south. That’s why since the very beginning of the first centuries of our era, the Turkish Language became the principal medium of social intercourse between the non-Turkic minority communities and other ethnic groups as well. The Turkish Language played a key role in development of the interrelationships between the northern and southern parts of the country and, thereby, ensured integration of the entire country. Over a period of time this factor played a very important role in the process of unification of the masses in Azerbaijan. It happened so, because during the period under discussion there was no concept of a united monotheist religion for the whole country to embrace. Till that time, worshipping of Tanri, the principal God of the ancient Turks which was the main concept of divinity in the country, had not squeezed out other religious notions prevalent in the land, nor had it been able to completely eradicate them. Zoroastrianism, worshipping of Fire, Sun, Moon, Sky, Stars, Land and Water were still in vogue at that time. In the northern regions of the country though, especially in the mountainous western parts of the Albanian territory Christianity was spreading at a fast rate. The Albanian independent church was in a vigorous and strong rivalry with the neighboring Armenian and Georgian Churches.

Under these composite historical circumstances, it was specifically the powerful Turkic ethnic groups, the leading politic-military power of the entire region who had become the main bearers of the statehood traditions of Azerbaijan. The Turkic ethnic groups played an enormous role in protection and preservation of the independent state system in Azerbaijan. They were the corner stone of the state governance system in Azerbaijan. Indeed, at a time when there was a lack of united religious belief in one Allah, only Turkic ethnicity and Turkish language played a unifying role in the north and south as well as in the entire length and breath of the country.

Author: Yagub Mahmudlu


Translated by: Nigar Madatli

Edited by: Dr. Eynulla Madatli

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