As the former capital of Nagorno-Karabagh, Shushi has played a pivotal role in the cultural and economic life of the entire Caucasus—particularly in the period prior to the 20thcentury. Today, the region stands as an architectural reserve and continues to recover from decades of turmoil.
Situated in the Varanda province is an impregnable fortress that was strategically used by Azerbaijan to combat the Armenian side in the Karabagh War. The entire town was subjected to Azerbaijani rule as a military base for the war. From 1991-92, militia from Shushi intensely fired upon locals in Stepanakert, Karintak, and other Armenian settlements, killing hundreds. Constant bombing and raids significantly damaged the region. On May 9, 1992, Shushi was finally liberated and new horizons opened for its longtime Armenian inhabitants. As of late, approximately 3,000 Armenians reside in the town, of whom a considerable part are refugees from Sumgait and Baku.
Many artists and intellectuals in various fields—including culture, science, government, and military—were born in Shushi during the Soviet era. Some celebrated individuals include the following: Aram Manukyan, a leading member of the Dashnaktsutyun Party; Major-General Nelson Stepanyan, a Soviet bomber pilot in World War II; and Major-General Andranik Ghazarian. All three men were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union; Manukyan and Stepanyan received the honor twice. Other prominent figures include Arakel Babakanian, an authoritative historian on Armenia, author of the multi-volume History of Armenia; economist Artashes Arakelian; Soviet statesman and politician Ivan Tevosian; painter and People’s Artist of the USSR Stepan Aghajanian; actor and People’s Artist of the USSR Vagharsh Vagharshian; actor and People’s Artist of the USSR Gurgen Gabrielyan; famed doctor Rafael Gabrielyan; and Soviet architect Samvel Safarian.
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