The people of Shusha made it the pearl of the Caucasus, the cradle of our culture, the mugham-singing heart of Azerbaijan
Panah Ali Khan Javanshir (1693-Sarijali-1763, Shiraz) was the founder and first ruler of the Karabakh Khanate.
Panah Ali Khan was from the Sarijali branch of the clan of Javanshir, who with their associate clan of Otuz-Iki (meaning thirty-two in Azerbaijani) had for long been rivals of the Yirmi-Dört (meaning twenty-four in Azerbaijani) and Ziyadoglu Qajars of Ganja, whose chiefs had been official rulers of Karabakh since Safavid times. His father’s name was Ibrahim agha Javanshir.
According to Mirza Adigozal bey, Panah Ali’s paternal great-grandfather and namesake Panah Ali bey served at the headquarters of the governors (beylerbeyi) of the Karabakh-Ganja province in the early 17th century, at the time when the region’s was directly controlled by the Safavid Empire. He soon retired, married a woman from the Javanshir clan of Karabakh and had a son by the name of Ali (nicknamed Sarija Ali). They lived in their estate located in Arasbar (Arasbaran) (present-day Khojavend and Agdam rayons of Azerbaijan) but also owned land in Tartar and the northern shores of the Aras River. The Arasbar estate was rebuilt into a castle in Sarija Ali’s son Ibrahim Khalil’s lifetime and has been known as Ibrahim Khalil Galasi.
However, aforementioned information were contested by different sources – namely Mir Mehdi Khazani who named Panah Ali khan’s grandfather as Ibrahim Sultan and great-grandfather as Budagh Sultan. While Azerbaijani historian E.B.Shukurzade proposed his grandfather as Panah Ali agha (I) and great-grandfather as Ibrahim Khalil agha (I). However, in all versions his father was same. He had two brothers – Fazlali bey and Behbud Ali bey.
After the dethronement of the Safavids in 1736 by Nadir Shah, the landed classes of Ganja and Karabakh gathered in Mughan (the Javanshirs were also among them) deciding to oppose the new shah and agreeing on trying to get the Safavids back on the throne. When this news reached Nadir Shah, he ordered all Muslim landowners of the region and their families deported to Khorasan (northeastern Iran) as a punishment. As such, Panah Ali happened to be among the deportees. His elder brother and former master of ceremonies (Azerbaijani: eşikağası) of Nadir, Fazlali bey was murdered in 1738. This was when Panah Ali found himself displeased with Nader Shah’s attitude towards him and having gathered many of those deported from Karabakh in 1736, returned to his homeland in 1747. The shah sent troops to bring back the runaway however the order was never fulfilled: Nadir Shah himself was killed in Khorasan in June of the same year. The new ruler of the Empire, Adil Shah issued a decree recognizing Panah Ali as the Khan of Karabakh Khanate.
Adil Shah’s murder in 1748 left Panah Ali virtually independent. He campaigned on Five Melikdoms of Karabakh on his plan to solidify rule in Karabakh. He forged an alliance with new Melik of Varanda – Melik Shahnazar II, who had recently killed his uncle or elder brother Hovsep and usurped the rule. As a result, Melik Shahnazar II’s daughter Hurizad was wed to Panah Ali’s son Ibrahim Khalil and the melik swore fealty to khan. Alarmed meliks forged an alliance and raided Shahnazar’s lands but couldn’t take his fortress.
Using a power vacuum same year, he campaigned on the west and south against Nakhchivan and Karadagh khanates, taking Tatev and Sisian from the former and Bargushat, Meghri, Göynük from the latter; also conquering Ghapan and Zangezur from İbrahim Afshar. On the north, he subdued the Kolani tribe living on the shores of the Tartar River. He also invited a part of the Kangarlu tribe from Nakhchivan as well as Damirchi Hasanlu and Jinli tribes from Georgia. This was also when Bayat fortress was built as the khan’s first residence. In a short period, external walls were constructed, ditches were dug out, and the bazaar, the bath and the mosque were built. Craftsmen from surrounding areas were re-settled into the castle. Many residents of the area, especially craftsmen of the Tabriz district and Ardabil, moved into the Bayat castle with their families. Panah Ali Khan’s growing power faced resistance from the Khanate of Ganja, the Khanate of Shaki and from the remaining Melikdoms of Karabakh, as well as rival branches of the Javanshir clan. The struggle between the Karabakh khan and Haji Chalabi Khan of Shaki, one of the most powerful feudal rulers of the South Caucasus, started the same year. Haji Chalabi Khan wishing to stop the growth of Panah Ali khan’s power, allied with Haji Muhammad Ali Khan of Shirvan and surrounded the castle of Bayat. The allies unsuccessfully tried to capture the capital of the Karabakh Khanate for a month. The Shaki and Shirvan khans withdrew, incurring huge casualties and failing to accomplish the mission. Haji Chelebi Khan said: “Until now Panah Khan was raw silver that was not minted. We came, minted it, and returned.” Another 19th century Karabakh historian, Mirza Yusif, renders the same line as: “Until now Panah Khan was merely gold, we came and minted a coin from that gold.”
Panah Ali was forced to abandon Bayat and constructed Shahbulag Castle instead. Using a power vacuum of that time he acted to subdue neighboring regions as well. He moved on Nazarali Khan Shahsevan of Ardabil in 1749 and forced him to marry his sister Shahnisa to his own son Ibrahim Khalil and accept vassalage. The same year he attacked Shahverdi Khan of Ganja and subdued him, forcing Shahverdi’s daughter Tuti to marry Ibrahim Khalil as well. According to Mirza Adigozal bey, he also kept his sons as hostage in Shahbulag. However, emergence of new Qajar warlord Muhammad Hasan Khan forced Panah Ali to seek a new fortress. On the advice of Melik Shahnazar II, he built Shusha Castle in 1750-1751 and relocated his capital, thus settling a semi-nomadic populace in quarters of the new city.
Next year, in 1752, Teymuraz II attacked Ganja and forced Panah Ali to retreat from area. Teymuraz then allied himself to Haji Chalabi of Shaki to raid on Djaro-Belokani, only betrayed by latter who defeated Georgian army. Using opportunity Panah Ali allied himself with Shahverdi Khan of Ganja, Kazim Khan of Karadagh, Hasan Ali Khan of Erivan, Heydarguli Khan of Nakhchivan against Haji Chalabi of Shaki same year and invited Heraclius II to their alliance. During the negotiations near Gizilgaya, the Georgian detachments, hiding in ambush, surrounded and captured five khans along with their retinue. Haji Chalabi, having learned about the conspiracy of Heraclius II, gathered an army and began to pursue Heraclius, attacked him and defeated him in the battle at the river Aghstafa, having freed all the captured khans. Haji Chalabi later invaded the Georgian possessions, where he captured the Kazakh and Borchali regions, leaving his son Agakishi bey as viceroy.
After returning to Karabakh, Panah Khan began his campaign against remaining Armenian principalities of Karabakh. He allied with tanuter of Khndzristan village, Mirzakhan and promised him Principality of Khachen if he killed Allahverdi I Hasan-Jalalyan, achieving this Mirzakhan was made new Melik of Khachen by Panah Ali in 1755. Soon later Melik of Jraberd, Allahqoli Soltan was also arrested and beheaded in Shusha. Panah Ali signed a separate peace with Melik of Dizak, Yesai later.
In 1757, Muhammad Hasan Khan arrived in Karabakh to gather troops to fight against Karim Khan Zand. Panah Ali refused to join his armies and battled against Qajar troops. Muhammad Hasan Khan soon left for Iran and left his cannons in area, which was later taken by Panah Ali. However, he soon had to face another invasion from south, this time by Fath Ali Khan Afshar, khan of Urmia in 1759. Armenian meliks of Talish and Jraberd – Melik Atham (brother of Allahguli) and Melik Hovsep joined Fath Ali in his siege of Shusha. Unable to withstand, Panah Ali submitted to Fath Ali, handing over his son Ibrahim Khalil as a hostage. However, Panah Ali had to switch his allegiance towards Zands who now captured Ibrahim Khalil from Fath Ali after a battle in 1760. He left his son Mehrali bey Javanshir in charge of khanate while he left for battle against Fath Ali.
According to Mirza Adigozal bey when Karim Khan Zand took control of much of Iran, he forced Panah Khan to come to Shiraz (Capital), where he died as a hostage in 1763. However Raffi and Mirza Yusuf Qarabaghi offer another version of Panah Ali’s death, where he faked his death in order to escape Shiraz but unsuccessfully was captured, killed and his stomach was stuffed. Panah Ali Khan’s son Ibrahim Khalil Khan was sent back to Karabakh as governor. Ibrahim, succeeding his father, not only ruled over most of Karabakh but also became one of the major potentates in the Caucasus.
Zaur Mammadov, the descendant of Panah Ali Khan, is a major general serving in the special forces of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces. He took part in the 2016 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, where he led the Azerbaijani forces in the Battle of Shusha. He awarded the title of the Hero of the Patriotic War on 9 December 2020, the highest honorary title in Azerbaijan. He was appointed the first commandant of Shusha, and marched with the Victory Flag, which is the flag that was hoisted in Shusha, in the 2020 Victory Parade in Baku.