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D. G. Kertmenjyan


Compositional peculiarities of Muslim religious buildings of Shoushi town

Shoushi town is the place of residence of Armenia during the last 300 years, which, according to historical events, together with its town-planning and architectural heritage, appeared in unfavorable condition. The liberation of Shoushi continues its process together with the rise of culture of the Armenian nation, including the reconstruction of residential places and modern development. From this point of view, the partially ruined town dictates that the spread town-planning and architectural research measures should be done with historical and theoretical meaning. The historical and town-planning sub-meaning, monumental heritage and their retention problems are subject to studies, including dwelling, public and production buildings as well as religious buildings. Similar to all the D. G. KertmenjyanArmenian cities, Shoushi also had multi-national population, and, as a consequence, there were corresponding buildings, including Muslim religious monuments. Before the Great Armenian Genocide years, Muslim buildings existed in Eastern and Western Armenia’s cities as well as in prevailing residential places of Historical Kilikia. In fact, the Muslim religious buildings existing in Armenian cities are considered to be local heritage as well, if we take into account that mostly Armenian masters worked on their construction. These buildings have cross-cultural seals and from historical point of view, there are unanswered questions in its layers. Therefore, their study is a necessity; let it be from point of view of documentary, typological, compositional, construction skills and monument retention. In fact, those Muslim buildings are an important part of historical town heritage as well as town-planning wealth.
The aim of this report is to characterize the Muslim religious buildings of Shoushi according to the initial data. The scientific tasks are: on the example of Shoushi town to reconsider information that reached us about Muslim religious buildings, graphic and other documentary materials. We should compare them with Islamic architectural, historical and theoretical data in order to make possible their cognitive interpretation, classification of appropriate monumental convention and implementation of retention means. Thanks to the works done in the fields during the last years, today we have around 20 semi-documents on Muslim religious monuments from Shoushi town, which were done by “Shoushi” Charity Foundation. It was done on the program “Study of Shoushi town-fortress and its cultural heritage and complex program for town development”. In fact, there is no work dedicated to Shoushi’s Muslim religious buildings. A. V. Salamzade in his book “Architecture of Azerbaijan in 16-19 centuries” (Baku, 1964, p. 38, 146) devoted a little passage to Gokhar Agha Friday Mosque of the town. A little more detailed information about problematic buildings can be found in Eltouran Avalov’s work dedicated to town and monuments retention (Baku, 1977).
There is no work in Armenian reality on the study of Muslim buildings of Shoushi. There is some information about the town in the work of the geographer Ruben H. Gasparian (Yerevan, 1993), in the book “Shoushi” (old postal envelopes) collected by the author Shahen Mkrtchian (Yerevan, 1990), in the “Town-planning study” by Manvel Sargssian (Yerevan, 1996), in the study dedicated to the history of Shoushi by Bakour Karapetian (Yerevan, 2000) as well as in other works. Small information about the architecture of Shoushi is written in Mourad Hasratian’s encyclopedic article (SAE, volume 8, p. 601), which was re-printed with almost the same content in “The dictionary of Armenia and its neighboring territories’ names” (volume 4, p. 161-163). However, it’s a fact that none of the Muslim religious buildings of Shoushi was included on the pages of the works studying Islamic architecture, probably, because of the ordinary value of their architecture. At present, all the Muslim religious buildings of Shoushi date back to the 19th century. Of course, one can think that there could be buildings belonging to the 18th century among them as well, because at that time, together with Armenians, Muslim population also lived in the town. In fact, these religious buildings, with their peculiarities, have appropriate geographical environment, which takes the middle place between Tavriz, Baku, Gandzak, Tbilisi, Yerevan, Van, Karin, Sebastia and other territories.
Muslim monuments, which are represented in three standard groups, with their town-planning information, are situated in district areas, and one of them, Mosque of Gokhar Agha, is situated in the center of the town. Therefore, the existing materials witness that the plan of Shoushi town has a typical medieval structure and the division of districts was done according to parochial religious buildings. In other words, every Christian district had its Church and every Muslim area had its mosque. This is a useful circumstance to go deep into details about the planning structure of the town (see ill. 1). From this point of view, the other important circumstance is that depending on the ethnic population of the town, its trade and public complex was divided into two parts in the way that Armenian part had its Cathedral, and the Muslim part had its Mosque or Friday Mosque, mentioning Gokhar agha’s place of worship.
To make clear about the architectural characteristics of mosques of Shoushi town, let’s turn to some historical and theoretical issues of Islamic architecture.
Usually, the religious buildings (*1) of Muslim architecture are divided into 3 groups: mosques, Madrasahs (spiritual schools) and memorials (*2). The mosque by its functioning is supported by Ivan (lobby or vestibule of a mosque) or entrance assembly combined (*3) with affiliated washing ritual and the minaret. The entrance assembly leads to the hall of praying or Sahn (the praying hall of a mosque), which can be done with the solutions of either hall with obelisks or basilica. The ritual in the hall of praying is done towards the bay of the mosque, which must be directed by its frontal platitude to Mecca Kaaba.
Types of the mentioned Muslim religious buildings and mainly the mosques are divided by their size and territorial belonging. According to the size, the mosques are subdivided into Mesdgid, Dgami, and Idkah and monastery center (*4). Mesdgid is an everyday praying place, which is usually situated in the house-adjoining areas of the dwelling districts of the town. Mesdgid, contrary to memorials, must have a mihrab. Memorials are also different: here we speak about small ziarets, which are also situated in the house-adjoining areas as well as can be separately standing buildings or can exist in the structure of other complexes. The latter is, in fact, not for praying, but rather for visits (*5). Gdami, contrary to Mesdgid, has a minbar (pulpit of a mosque) or pedestal for preaching. In many cases it is called Friday Mosques.

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*1 This and other information about the architecture of Muslim religion were taken from Architecture of the Islamic World, Its History and Cultural Meaning, edited by George Michell, Presented by Dar Al-Handasah Consultants, Tames & Hudson Ltd. London, 1978.
James Dickie (Jaqub Zaki), All and Etirnity: Mosques, Madrasahs and Tombs, Architecture of the Islamic World, Its History and Social Meaning, edited by George Michell, Presented by Dar Al-Handasah, Tames & Hudson Ltd. London, 1978, pp. 15-47.
*2 James Dickie (Jaqub Zaki), All and Etirnity: Mosques, Madrasahs and Tombs, Architecture of the Islamic World, Its History and Social Meaning, edited by George Michell, Presented by Dar Al-Handasah, Tames & Hudson Ltd. London, 1978, pp. 15-47.
*3 The same source, pp. 21-22.
*4 The same source, p. 18
*5 Oleg Grabar, the Architecture of Power: Palaces, Citadels and Fortification, Architecture of the Islamic World, Its History and Social Meaning, edited by George Michell, Presented by Dar Al-Handasah, Tames & Hudson Ltd. London, 1978, pp. 56-61.


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