NAḴJAVĀN, present-day Nakhchivan (lat 39°12′ N, long 45°24′ E), the administrative center of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic (NAR) with its own elected representative assembly, within the Republic of Azerbaijan but separated from it by Armenia. The region covers 5,363 square miles and has a total population of 398,000, in which Nakhchivan city’s population is 71,200 (2009 figures).
The city lies to the northwest of the great southern bend of the Aras (classical Araxes, q.v.) river, which forms the southern boundary of the NAR and the rest of the Republic with the Iranian provinces of West and East Azerbaijan. The city is situated in the Aras valley, in the highly active earthquake zone that runs through northern Iran into Anatolia, but to its northeast and south are high mountain ranges with peaks rising up to 3,901 m/12,800 ft.
The town is mentioned by Ptolemy as Naxouana (Pauly and Wissowa, XVI/2, p. 2095), and in the early Christan period of its history it fell within the Armenian districts of Vaspurakan or Siunikʿ. According to Mosēs Xorenacʿi, the Armenian king Tigranes I (r. 159-123 BCE) settled at Naḵjavān “Median” prisoners of war, whom Vladimir Minorsky opined were in fact Kurds (Markwart, p. 177; cf. Minorsky, 1953, pp. 126-27). In the early Islamic sources (e.g., Balāḏori, pp. 195, 200, etc.; Ebn Ḵordāḵbeh, p. 122; Eṣṭaḵri, pp. 188, 194; Moqaddasi, pp. 382, 383), the town is mentioned as Našawā, and Samʿāni has al-našawi for the nesba (XIII, pp. 101-3), but from Buyid and Saljuq times onwards, forms like Naḵjavān, Naḵčevān, Naqčevān become usual (e.g., Rāvandi, pp. 298, 299; Mostawfi, pp. 80, 89).
Naḵjavān was conquered from its Armenian ruler by the Muslim Arabs in the caliphate of ʿOtmān, when the commander Ḥabib b. Maslama appeared in Arrān and received the submission of Naḵjavān on the basis of a peace treaty (Balāḏori, p. 200). “In 87/705 the Arabs hanged a large number of Armenian notables, and thereafter the town acquired a Muslim character” (Minorsky and Bosworth, p. 922). The Armenian Bagratids temporarily captured it in about 900 CE, but it was speedily regained for the Muslims by the commander Moḥammad b. Abi’l-Sāj; and the Sajids, who did much to extend Muslim power into Arrān and Armenia, controlled Naḵjavān for the next thirty years or so. The rule of these Arab Sajid governors in northwestern Iran and the adjacent regions of Arrān and eastern Armenia was followed by that of various Deylami and Kurdish chieftains. Meskawayh (II, pp 148-49, tr. V, p. 157) records how a former commander of the Sajids, Daysam b. Ebrāhim, backed by a largely Kurdish body of troops, contended for supremacy in Azerbaijan during the years 327-45/938-57 and from a base at Ardabil expanded into Armenia and captured Naḵjavān and Dvin or Dābel. Subsequently, control of Naḵjavān was contested by the Shaddadids, who were apparently of Kurdish stock and whose main branch became based on Ganja and Dvin, by the Mosaferids, and by the Rawwadids, who were probably Kurdicized Arabs.
The Saljuqs appeared in northwestern Iran and then Arrān, first in the time of Ṭoḡrel Beg and then in greater strength under Alp Arslān, who began the systematic conquest of Armenia, but it was under the Ildegizid Atabegs of northwestern Iran (see ATĀBAKĀN-e ĀḎARBĀYJĀN) that Naḵjavān especially flourished in the later 6th/12th century. From their time there remain some fine buildings in the town, including a tomb built in 582/1186 by Šams-al-Din Ildegiz for al-maleka Jalāl-al-Donyā wa’l-Din Moʾmena Ḵātun, whom Minorsky surmised was the former wife and then widow of the Saljuq Sultan Ṭoḡrel (II) b. Moḥammad b. Malekšāh (Minorsky and Bosworth, p. 922; Hillenbrand, pp. 286, 528, 535). When in 622/1225 Jalāl-al-Din Ḵᵛārazmšāh seized control of Azerbaijan and attacked Georgia, Naḵjavān was being ruled by an Ildegizid princess, al-Maleka al-Jalāliya, daughter of Pahlavān Moḥammad b. Ildegiz (Nasavi, pp. 147, 268-69; tr., p. 194).
The Mongols devastated Tabriz and Marāḡa in Azerbaijan and also Naḵjavān, massacring their people (Jovayni, I, p. 116; tr., I, p. 148). In 1253 William of Rubruck (p. 265) found it still “almost a wilderness.” It must nevertheless have speedily revived, since in 740/1339-40 Ḥamd-Allāh Mostawfi found it an attractive, flourishing place, with most of its buildings of fired brick and being called Naqš-e jahān (the World picture); legend attributed its foundation to Bahrām Čubin [see BAHRĀM (2), no. 7] (Mostawfi, p. 89; tr. p. 90). But it further suffered in the warfare of the late 10th/16th and early 11th/17th centuries between the Ottomans and Safavids over control of eastern Transcaucasia and Azerbaijan, and in 1664 and 1673 respectively the travelers Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (I, pp. 53-55) and Jean Chardin (I, p. 179) again found it in ruins. With the decline of the Safavids, eastern Transcaucasia, including Naḵjavān, came under the control of first the Ottomans, and then of local khans who acknowledged the suzerainty of the Afsharids, Zands, and early Qajars sporadically or in merely a theoretical fashion. The town only really revived, and was rebuilt, after 1828, when the khanates of Erivan and Naḵjavān were ceded to Russia by Iran under the terms of the Treaty of Torkamānčāy (see Hurewitz, I, pp. 231-37); the last autonomous chief in the town was Karim Khan Kangarli. It now enjoyed a modest prosperity, with a population in 1896 of 7,433 inhabitants, about two-thirds Azeri-speaking Turkish Muslims and one-third Armenian Christians (Minorsky and Bosworth, p. 922).
After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, most of what had been the khanate of Naḵjavān was racked by civil warfare during 1918-20 between Azerbaijanis and Armenians, until the Red Army appeared in Transcaucasia in July 1920. It then became in 1924 an autonomous region of the newly formed Azerbaijan SSR, and since the town of Nakhchivan (Russ. Nakhichevan′) lay on the Baku to Erevan railway line, it became under Soviet rule an industrial center of some significance. The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1990 caused fresh warfare in the region between the Azerbaijanis and Armenians of their respective new republics, affecting what had been the old khanate, and the unsettled conditions causing large-scale emigration in the 1990s and early 2000s of the local Nakhchivani population to core Azerbaijan and to Turkey.
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(C. Edmund Bosworth)
Last Updated: February 8, 2013