That's Shushi (Շուշի), not sushi. The residents have no idea that sushi even exists in this ancient walled town that is historically the cultural capital of the region. To this day it is very important, housing the beautiful Holy Amenaprkich Ghazanchetsots Cathedral (and Bishop) of Karabakh. The Azeri population, which called the city Shusha (Şuşa), fled in 1992 when the town was taken by Armenian forces and only the 3 mosques (see below) and numerous destroyed buildings testify to the fighting and subsequent drop in population. This was one of the few towns here with a mixed population, towns and villages tended to be more homogenous. Most of todays few thousand Armenian residents of Shushi lost their homes in Baku and Kirovabad and are refugees from Azerbaijan.
Shushi is unavoidable en route to Stepanakert via the Lachin corridor. It is well worth a stop and some exploration however, so plan on spending a couple of hours there. You can take a cheap bus ride from Yerevan, although most people hire a private driver. The main attraction is the newly restored Cathedral, which is a pristine white, very large and attractive. After seeing so many monasteries in Armenia built from tuff stone, this stands out quite a bit.
There is also the Kanach Jham Church (or Verin Tagh) which you can see from the Cathedral and head up to. According to the building inscription the church was built in 1818 in the place of the former Gharabaghtsots wooden church (in bottom eastern part of fort-town, existed in the second half of 18c). Over the entry, crowned with chapel's dome is carved the inscription, "Babayan Stepanos Hovanes. In the memory of the deceased brother Mkrtich. 1847". During Soviet times, surrounded by rest houses and sanatoriums, the church was turned into a mineral water tasting hall. At that time parts of the interior were altered or concealed.
In the bottom part of the town, approximately in the place of the Soviet covered-market was situated a majestic church with Russian classic architectural motives, which (like Meghretsots and Kusanots churches) unfortunately hasn't been preserved.
Of the mosques, you should at least visit Verkhiya Mosque, also known as Mets Meched Mosque. It was built in 1883 by architect Kerbelay Sefi. Fully repaired by the Soviets, it became Shushi town's history museum, but was subsequently damaged during the Karabakh war. There has been recent talk of Iran funding a new restoration. The walls are built from simple and roughly-trimmed stone, finished with lime-mortar plaster. Two minarets rise from southern and northern sides, which are covered with red, white, blue resin bricks. Climb up the minarets for a great view of the town and area, including the valley which Stepanakert lies in. Stepanakert and surrounding areas were barraged with bombs from this vantage above the surrounding plains until it was finally captured. The damage to Stepanakert during the war is mostly repaired, but the extensive damage to Shushi is mostly still apparent and you can explore these ruins which are so odd to see interspersed among occupied homes and businesses. Most of the buildings are of white stone, in the traditional architecture of the region, and much more attractive than the newer, soviet constructions.
In 1874-1875 the bottom mosque was built by architect Kerbali Sefi-khan thanks to a donation by Shushi landowner Gevkhar Aghi. The bottom mosque has architecture similar to Mets Meched in size, layout and materials. There is also a third mosque which can be seen still standing.
There is a little town square with the slogan "The Armenians only salvation lies in their unity" painted above one of the buildings in Armenian. The original writer of that sentence is said to have been jailed for it. The square has a convenience store, a restaurant, a park, and the government building. It is also near the post office where you can mail letters and postcards with Karabakh postage stamps from and make international calls from as well.
The last thing I recommend you visit in Shushi before perhaps checking out the city walls then heading down to Stepanakert is a vantage point above this town which overlooks the huge rock on one side of the mountain that Shushi lies on top of. The view here is impressive and the rock will make any climbers mouth water. It is a very sheer rock, although at certain points it can be criss-crossed and climbed by any hiker. This rock twists around a little like a boomerang and the other end towers above Karintak village. From this village I have climbed up the mountain, stopping at a large cave between 50-100 meters deep. There are still signs of the war here too with shells still lying about. I am not sure what the origin of the name Shushi is, but the name for Karintak (Under the Rock) is extremely appropriate, and I often thought of Shushi as "Karinvran", or "On the Rock".
In the summer of 2001 a new western standard hotel called N'ran Hotel (Hotel of the Pomegranate) opened up in Shushi. It continues to earn praise as a nice, comfortable place with traditional style and good service and food. In May 2007 the 9-story former hotel is slated to re-open due to investments of the Papayants family of the USA.
Capture of Shushi
On May 8, 1992, the Azeri defense of the town was broken from north and east. After street fights, the Armenian forces took under control the center of Shushi in the evening. On May 9 Shushi was completely under Armenian control.
57 Armenians and 200 Azeris died in this battle.
Where to stay
The best place to stay in Shushi for years has been the Shoushi Hotel. A bed and breakfast should be opened soon by Raffi Niziblian and Lara Aharonian. The old 9-storey central hotel is being completely renovated and should be open for business in May, 2007. This is being financed by the Papyants family, USA-based Armenian businessmen and philanthropists and co-owners. A nearby park will also be redone by the family.
- Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook- Shushi Region
- Shoushi Foundation
- Shushi Music School Society
- Karabakh War