|A BRIEF HISTORICAL INTRODUCTION ON NIZH VILLAGE||1 2 3|
Location.Nizh Village is situated in a large plain lying on the left bank of the river Durkan, 18 kms south-west of the district centre of Kutkashen, Republic of Azerbaijan, between 390 and 460 metres of average altitude above sea level. It has preserved the appearance it had a hundred or more years ago, the following lines of description sounding actual even at present:
The village lies in a large plain resembling a thick forest from afar _*1.
A newcomer takes this settlement for a large ancient wood... _*2.
A Historical Introduction. The Uti are a people of Albanian origin:
Probably, the Uti, a Lezghin people who have inhabited Caucasia since time immemorial, are the descendants of the Albanians mentioned in some Armenian sources. Most of them were baptized by the Armenians in earlier periods, but Christianity did not take root among them so that after the Tartar incursions, they embraced Islam. At present the Uti language is spoken in two villages throughout Nukhi District: Vardashen and Nizh, the latter having a population of about 10,000. There are also some other Muslim settlements where this language has been preserved to some extent. Although the present-day Uti language has been greatly influenced by the Tartar language and comprises a good many Armenian words, it has retained the peculiarities typical of Lezghin languages _*3.
The inhabitants of Nizh were liberated from the Persian dominion through Prince Madatian's efforts..."_*4.
Religion and Conversion. Throughout many centuries, the Uti inhabitants of Nizh faithfully adhered to the Armenian Church, but in the 18th century some of them adopted Islam, yielding up to the Muslim rulers. An archive document entitled "The Uti's Appeal to Peter I" (1724) gives an eloquent picture of that period:
With our faces downcast and our eyes filled with tears, we are kissing your feet's sole, informing you with entreaties and supplications about what trouble the infidels have caused us. First they burnt down our churches and maltreated us cruelly, fighting against our ancestors' faith. They forced our priests to repudiate their religion and killed some of them; moreover, they captured the women and seized children from their mothers. Our churches and monasteries were abandoned and even today those surviving are still consigned to torture: we are neither alive nor dead. We are the Uti, a people of Albanian origin: our forefathers believed in God, having Elisha the Apostle as their preacher, and we live near the place where the Holy Apostles suffered martyrdom. Your Majesty knows that in earlier times our people were deprived of any authorities to build a magnificent monastery in the site of the Apostle's ordeal: they erected only a small church which gave us our spiritual bread of life. The infidels, however, burnt it down and compelled us to renounce our faith. We secretly remain faithful to our religion but they make everybody, both the old and the young, embrace Islam using the power of their swords... Written on 20 March 1724... _*5.
The inhumane torture proving too difficult to bear, the inhabitants of most of the Uti and Armenian villages of the district had already declared themselves Muslim by the mid-18th century:
Many Turkish villages located in the vicinity of Nizh were once inhabited by the Uti, as attested by some elderly people. At present, however, their population consists of Muslim converts who have lost the Uti language altogether and speak Turkish. These settlements include Vardanlu, Ghutghashen, Boum, Tikanlu and Khachmaz, where up till the present some Armenian cemeteries and ruined churches are preserved, a fact proving that they were once Uti- or Armenian-inhabited. According to the old during the Persian dominion, the khans forced the Uti to repudiate their religion and embrace Islam: for fear of persecution, the Armenian and Uti population of the nearby villages renounced not only their faith but also their Mother tongue and national customs. The Uti people of Nizh, however, remained faithful to their creed, preferring to die as the followers of their ancestors' living and holy religion rather than adopt Islam spread by the khan-tyrants' and caliphs' threats. Hadji Chalapi, a Persian khan who once ruled Nukhi and its neighbourhood, ordered that Petri Youzbashi, the head of the Uti community, should be brought into his court. He commanded that the latter convert to Islam together with all his people, but Petri Youzbashi gave him very brave and confident answers saying, "I had better turn into a dog than become a Muslim." The khan was at first astonished to hear those words, but then he got irritated and ordered to kill him immediately. Petri Youzbashi was buried in Nukhi: his grave has been preserved up to our days. Their hero's cruel murder imbued the people of Nizh with more encouragement to die a valorous death rather than become Mohammedans. Seeing that it was impossible to convert them, the khan subjected them to bitter persecution, finally imposing a double tax upon them known as "Din-ipaki"_*6.
In spite of that, however, the majority of Nizh people made many sacrifices to remain loyal to the Armenian Apostolic faith, which their ancestors had once professed so that only a small number of them became Islamite:
The local inhabitants total about 5,000, including 4,000 Uti and 1,000 converts who adopted Islam under the khans' rule _*7.
The Christian Uti regarded their converted co-villagers as simply Turks _*8.
After the district had joined Russia, the indifferent attitude of certain Armenian clergymen and their neglect of their duties marked the beginning of another, actually more painful period of conversion among the Uti of Nizh some of whom desperately applied to be re-baptized in the bosom of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The fact that some of the Uti people, the adherents of the Armenian Apostolic Church for about 1,600 years, abandoned it to be re-baptized as followers of the Russian Orthodox Church is the result of an imprudent policy of denationalization continually exercised by the Armenian spiritual powers.
It should be noted, however, that this most painful phenomenon does not teach any lessons to the latter, such facts becoming inevitable in our reality. The eloquent proof of the aforementioned is the following letter Archbishop Sargis addressed to the Synod, "...they are the Uti who adhered to the Georgian Church in 1818, being no longer able to tolerate Archbishop Hovhannes Karbetsy's illegal demands. These people can again do the same out of despair; therefore, their wish should be immediately realized" _*9.
The continual rejection and delay of the fulfillment of the Uti's request to ordain Sexton G. Palchiants as priest served as another reason for conversion. The fact that Nizh inhabitants always aimed at seeing their representative in the post of priest created a particularly tense atmosphere ("...our strong desire is that our pastor be a representative of our people, for although we belong to the Church of St. Gregory the Enlightener, our language is different: we are the Uti and we know that this people lives in no other country except for the villages of Nizh and Vardashen. We do not have the slightest command of the Armenian language; nor have we any idea about what the Gospel says...") _*10, since the ecclesiastical leaders did not always meet their requests.
Below follows one of those letters that the Uti often wrote out of great disaffection, "We, the Uti people, are well-aware of the fact that we are of no importance to the Armenians. ... We have generally been regarded as the useless, rotten and compromising element of the Armenian nation. By this letter, we exempt ourselves from our duties: be it known to Your Supreme Holiness that if our entreaty is again ignored, yes, we are ready to join the Russian Church, which is headed by a priest like ours. It is Your Holiness' business to believe this or not. Your Superior Holiness, please, help us and ordain Sexton Galust Stepanian Palchiants, whom we have chosen as our spiritual shepherd, and thus prevent us from fulfilling our intention..." _*11.
Construction Activity. In 1879 Nizh had three main residential quarters: Malbel, Darabagh and Pitzilu (Pitzyulu) _*12.
In the 1890s the village, which abounded in gardens, was about 8 versts long and between 2 and 3 versts wide. Its straw houses which were of great danger in case of fire were already being replaced by tiled ones _*13.
The unusual largeness of Nizh was due to the fact that the gardens were situated within the village:
As the gardens of Nizh are located within the settlement, its houses are very far from each other; for this reason, it is divided into several quarters. It has three churches one of which is in Gyanjalu, the other in the Palchians' Quarter and the last one in the Jotaniants'... _*14.
Up till the period between the '60s and '70s of the 19th century, most of the local houses were of straw but their roofs were gradually being tiled.
Residential Quarters. Nizh consisted of 12 large and small intersecting quarters which are presented as follows in a plan of the village kept in the Photo Archives of the History Museum of Armenia: Melikli, Verin Tagh (Malbel Mahla),Yalaghaj, Mijin Tagh (Dara Mahla), Jer Mahla, the Palchians' (Palchli), Dalyakli, Abdali, Nerkin Tagh (Darabagh), Ghojabeyli (Khojabeklu), Kyarimli and Pitzili. Verin, Mijin, Nerkin Quarters and Pitzili were regarded as the main residential blocks of the village, each having a church. In this respect, a record by Lalayan should be quoted, "In earlier times Nizh was divided into three quarters, excluding Maliklu considered a separate village: Malbel in the north-west; Darabagh in the south-west and Pitzellu in the south-east. They are sub-divided into 12 quarters at present: thus, Malbel has been sub-divided into 3 parts, i.e. Malbelu, Falchlu and Dallaklu; Darabagh consists of 2 parts, i.e. Darabagh and Daramahla; Pitzellu has 3 sections, i.e. Pitzellu, Ghoja-beklu and Jir Mahla. There is a Turkish quarter in each of the original three blocks: Yala-Ghashlu, Abdallu and Karmlu. The twelfth quarter is the old village of Maliklu" _*15.
Meliklu, that extended at the north end of the village, bordered on Verin Tagh (Malbel Mahla) in the west and Yalaghaj in the south-east:
Meliklu Village, which can be considered as one of the quarters of Nizh and is, therefore, called Nizh, is situated near this settlement. It is a small settlement of about 40 houses purely inhabited by the Uti people. It would be more fertile and richer in fruit than Nizh, were not its water resources so poor... The stream Tyurgyan, which takes source in a swampy forest called Novur (Khorkhorot), flows near Nizh, almost beside Meliklu... _*16.
Nerkin Tagh (Darabagh) was situated in the area between the village centre and its south-western part:
...the centre of Nizh which is very convenient... _*17.
By 1867 about half of the local 170 families had abandoned Darabagh, founding Pitzili Quarter _*18.
Verin Tagh (Malbel Mahla) occupied the north-western part of the village, bordering on Melikli in the east and Dara Mahla in the south.
Verjin Tagh (Pitzili Mahla), which was founded in 1867 by some families from Nerkin Tagh, was situated at the south end of the village and bordered only on Ghojabeyli (Khojabeklu) in the north.
The Local Population. Nizh was distinguished for its favourable geographical position, large fertile lands and populousness.
The Uti of Nizh "generally call each other 'Kshton', i.e. 'Christian,' but in communication with foreigners they name themselves 'Ermani'. They also use the names of 'Kshton' and 'Armi' with reference to the Armenians, while Armenia is called Kshton Land" _*19.
An eye-witness attests that the Uti of Nizh, who "...adhered to the Armenian Church, were faithful, hospitable, vivacious, enterprising people fond of hunting. They were famous for their courage throughout the districts of Shaki and Shamakhi" _*20.
Apart from general information, the available archive documents also include some statistical data regarding the quarters of Nizh Village:
Formerly, the village had 900 Armenian houses with about 7,000 inhabitants whose number has dropped to 747 at present: the rest either died or abandoned their settlement which now comprises 82 Tartar families. Between July and October 1918, Nizh represented a bloody scene of widespread Armenian massacres which took away the lives of the best young men, 300 in number. Once one of the richest villages in the district, it now lies with all its houses plundered, the encroachments going on under different excuses. In July, August and September, the local people were compelled to give the Turkish army 20 bulls, 20 sheep, 50 hens and chicken, 2 poods of oil, between 150 and 500 poods of flour and bread, as well as sugar, tea, onion, etc. per diem: it was only in late September that the Turks began paying the prices they themselves had fixed. One of the villagers named Thaddaeus Ter-Ghukassian mentioned in his report that he had suffered a loss of 175,000 rubles during the year (at the prices set the previous year). In late April the residents of Nizh commenced some agricultural work _*59.
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