Photo Series: Spring in Iran – Kaleybar, East Azerbaijan Province

Kaleybar is a city of 9.030 inhabitants (2006) in East Azerbaijan Province, Iran. This county produces beautiful pomegranates, excellent figs and grapes that are dried on fires (because the sun is always obscured by thick clouds). In recent year the city has become a tourist destination thanks to its proximity to Babak Castle.

History
Kaleybar was the stronghold of Babak Khorramdin who in 816 AD revolted against the Arabs. Babak’s resistance was ended in 836 when he was defeated by the Iranian General Afshin. The events of the two decades long tumultuous times subjected the town to the reports of early Islamic historians.

Language
The spoken language in Kaleybar is the Azeri dialect of Turkish. The name Kaleybar could have Tati origins, meaning a town built on rocks. The Kaleybar region with mountainous terrain, shepherding and cultivation of hillside possess the isolating features for the development of a sophisticated whistled language. The majority of males are able, and perhaps addicted, to masterfully mimic the melodic sounds of musical instruments using fingerless whistle. Melodic whistling, indeed, appears to be a private version of the Ashug music for personal satisfaction.

Ashugh music
The mountainous region of Qaradagh, due to its remoteness and inaccessibility, was a guardian of Ashugh music. This frequent allusions of this music to mountains, with the intention of arousing an emotional state with a tone of mild melancholy, is consistent with the geography of Kaleybar.

Aşıq Hoseyn Javan, born in Oti Kandi near Kaleybar, is a legendary Ashik. Hoseyn Javan’s music emphasizes on realism and beauties of real life in line with the mainstream world view of Arasbaran culture.

Surroundings
The locals cherish the landscape of their town mingled with the vivid yellow blossoming zoghal (cornelian cherry) trees in early spring. The berries will be sun-dried on flat roof tops and sold to the market as an ingredient of ash reshteh. Unfortunately, the local version of this thick soup is not offered in restaurants. In recent years, the regional government has organized zoghal festivals as a means of promoting tourism.

The relatively well preserved Babak Castle at an altitude of 2300m is located some 3km away from Kaleybar. This Sassanid era fortress is named after the ninth century Iranian resistance leader, Babak Khorramdin, who resisted Arab armies until year 839.

The mountain ranges south-west of Kaleybar are still used as summer camp of pastoralists belonging to Arasbaran Tribes. This provides an opportunity for observing the relaxed idyllic life style of bygone times. They generally welcome visitors as long as their cultures and mode of life is not ridiculed. The visit should be on sunny days when the shepherd dogs feel lethargic.

Further links:

  1. The other Iran | Castles in Iran since pre-Islamic times
  2. The other Iran | Photo Series: Spring in Iran – Arasbaran, East Azerbaijan Province

Sources: Mehr News Agency | Photos, Wikipedia | Kaleybar

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Iran’s East Azerbaijan Province: Saint Stepanos Monastery near Jolfa

The St. Stepanos Monastery (Armenian: Maghardavank) is an Armenian monastery about 15 km northwest of Jolfa, East Azarbaijan Province, northwestern Iran. It is situated in a deep canyon along the Arax river on the Iranian side of the border between Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and Iran. Since 2008 it is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List together with the St. Thaddeus Monastery and the Chapel of Dzordzor.

The general structure mostly resembles Armenian and Georgian architecture and the inside of the building is adorned with beautiful paintings by Honatanian, a renowned Armenian artist. Hayk Ajimian, an Armenian scholar and historian, recorded that the church was originally built in the ninth century AD, but repeated earthquakes in Azarbaijan completely eroded the previous structure. The church was rebuilt during the rule of Shah Abbas the Second.

History
The first monastery was built in the seventh century (AD 649) and completed in the tenth century. However, St Bartholomew first founded a church on the site around AD 62 but it was partly destroyed during the wars between the Seljuks and the Byzantine Empire in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

Following the conquest of the region by the Mongols of Hulagu, grandson of Genghis Khan, in the middle of the thirteenth century, Christians benefited from the favorable Ilkhanid dynasty, and a peace agreement is signed between the Armenian Church and the Ilkhans. The monastery was restored in the second half of the thirteenth century.

The monastery was completely rebuilt in 1330 under the leadership of Zachariah. St. Stepanos Monastery found the height of its cultural and intellectual influence in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The monastery produced paintings and illuminated manuscripts, in areas as diverse as religion, history and philosophy.

In the early fifteenth century, the new Safavid dynasty protected the Armenians but the region is at the center of the rivalry between the Safavids and the Ottomans, who invaded Western Armenia in 1513. St. Stepanos in the sixteenth century observed a gradual decline until Shah Abbas I decided to evacuate the region from its inhabitants in 1604. The monastery then was abandoned. From 1650, the Safavids, however, decided to occupy the region again, and the damaged and abandoned St. Stepanos monastery was restored in the middle of the century.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the area became a challenge for the conquest of the Russian Empire. Yerevan was conquered by the Russians in 1827. The border between Persia and Russia was established on the Araxes by the Treaty of Turkmenchay. Consequently part of the population was displaced by force to Russian Armenia. The Qajar rulers continued to protect the Armenians. They encouraged the rebuilding of St. Stepanos Monastery between 1819 and 1825.

The monastery has undergone several restorations recently twentieth and twenty-first centuries, especially since 1974.

On UNESCO World Heritage List
The Armenian monasteries in Northwestern Iran have borne continuous testimony, since the origins of Christianity and certainly since the 7th century, to Armenian culture in its relations and contact with the Persian and later the Iranian civilizations. They bear testimony to a very large and refined panorama of architectural and decorative content associated with Armenian culture, in interaction with other regional cultures: Byzantine, Orthodox, Assyrian, Persian and Muslim. The monasteries have survived some 2,000 years of destruction, both of human origin and as a result of natural disasters. They have been rebuilt several times in a spirit in keeping with Armenian cultural traditions.

Further information: Iran Chamber Society | Church of Saint Stephanos

Sources: Wikipedia | Saint Stepanos MonasteryIran Chamber Society | Historical Churches in Iran, Tishineh | St. Stepanos Monastery, Wikimedia Commons | Saint Stepanos Monastery, UNESCO World Heritage List | Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran, IRNA | Photos 1, IRNA | Photos 2

Photo Series: Spring in Iran – Arasbaran, East Azerbaijan Province

Arasbaran, formerly known as Qaradagh or Qaraja dagh, is a large mountainous area stretching from the Qusha Dagh massif, south of Ahar, to the Aras River in East Azerbaijan Province of Iran. The region is confined to Aras River in the north, Meshgin Shahr County and Moghan in the east, Sarab County in the south, and Tabriz and Marand counties in the west.

Since 1976, UNESCO has registered 72,460 hectares of this region as biosphere reserve. Arasbaran is home to 215 species of birds, 29 species of reptiles, 48 species of mammals and 17 species of fish. The local flora include hornbeam, sumac and berberis. The large walnut and cornelian cherry (zoghal) trees, wildly grown alongside water-streams, provide an important income source for inhabitants but there are also more exotic plant species, such as redcurrant, truffle and herbs with application in traditional medicine.

There were several Turkic tribes in this area and characteristic aspects of their culture, developed around Nomadic pastoralism, have persisted to our times. Nomadic population at present has been estimated to be about 36000.

The spoken languages are Azerbaijani or Oghuz, a branch of the Turkic language family but most inhabitants are familiar with Persian language.

Arasbaran carpets are in between Persian carpets and Azerbaijani rugs. Still, there is also an indigenous style known as Balan Rug. The peak of carpet weaving art in Arasbaran is manifested in Verni (Azerbaijani rug), a carpet-like kilim with a delicate and fine warp and woof, which is woven without a previous sketch.

Verni weavers employ the image of birds and animals in simple geometrical shapes, imitating the earthenware patterns that were popular in prehistoric times. A key décor feature is the S-element that means “dragon” among the nomads. At present, Verni is woven by the girls of Arasbaran Tribes, often in the same room where the nomadic tribes reside and is a significant income source for about 20000 families.

Many elements of the indigenous culture, particularly local music, have survived to the present day. More recently a slow but persistent cultural revival has been in progress. The Ashughi music is central to this shared identity.

A recent study has indicated that Mikandi valley, Aynali forests and Babak Castle have the highest potential for ecotourism. Another potential touristic attraction could be the summer camps of semi-settled tribes of Arasbaran, known as Ilat, who spend 5 months of year in uplands for grazing their livestock. There are also cornelian cherry (zoghal) festivals in Kaleybar and a yearly pomegranate festival in Mardanaqom village with Ashugh music performances.

See also: List of biosphere reserves in Iran

Sources: Wikipedia | Arasbaran, Mehr News Agency | Photos, IRNA | Photos, ISNA | Photos

Photos: Saint Stepanous Monastery in Jolfa, Iran

Iran’s East and West Azerbaijan Provinces are host to the oldest churches in Iran. Among the most significant are the Tatavous Vank ( St. Tatavous Cathedral), which is also called the Ghara Kelissa (the black monastery). This is located at the Siahcheshmeh (Ghara-Eini) border area south of Makou.

There is also the Saint Stepanous Monastery, which stands 24 kilometers south of East Azarbaijan’s Jolfa town. The general structure mostly resembles Armenian and Georgian architecture and the inside of the building is adorned with beautiful paintings by Honatanian, a renowned Armenian artist. Hayk Ajimian, an Armenian scholar and historian, recorded that the church was originally built in the ninth century AD, but repeated earthquakes completely eroded the previous structure. The church was rebuilt during the rule of Shah Abbas the Second.

Source: Payvand News of Iran