Mysterious city of Azerbaijan mentioned by Strabon-MARAND

Mysterious city of Azerbaijan mentioned by Strabon-MARAND
# 26 September 2023 17:47 (UTC +04:00)

APA presents "Know South Azerbaijan" article by Mohammad Rahmanifar as part of the "Know South Azerbaijan" project

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The city of Merend ranks third in size and population in the province of East Azerbaijan. As we mentioned in our previous articles, according to the administrative-territorial division of Iran, the South Azerbaijan region is divided into the provinces (ostans) of West Azerbaijan, East Azerbaijan, Ardabil, Zanjan, Alburz, Qazvin and Hamadan. The city of Merend is actually located in the center of the Merend region (shekhristan) and is surrounded by smaller cities in this region, such as Yamchy and Keshksarai.

According to the 2017 census, the population of the city of Merend was 193,271 people, and the population of the Merend district was 244,971 people. The population of the city is Shiites who speak the Azerbaijani language.

History of the city of Merend

The toponym “Merend” first appears as “Murunda” in the works of the Greek geographer Strabo. Archaeological finds and historical data show that the city of Merend was located on the territory of the state of Urartu and at a certain historical period was considered one of the most prosperous and developed regions of this state. According to Igor Dyakonov, in the region of Gotur-Khoi-Merend, which in the state of Urartu was called Sangi-bu-to, the best and most fertile gardens of the state were located.

There is evidence that this city existed even before the 1st millennium BC. Proof of this is that works dating back to the 4th millennium BC were found in the Merenda ash mound. There are facts indicating that during the time of the Media this city flourished. The graves of gam shamans in the village of Pirbala, located 19 km southwest of the city of Merend, prove that in this region there was widespread belief in shamanism, or more precisely in deity, considered the religious belief of the ancient Turks.

Famous geographers and travelers of the Islamic world, such as Belazari, Tabari, Ibn Hokal, Abu Abdullah Maqaddasi, Hamdullah Mostufi, Yaghut Hamavi, Estakhri, Nasir Khosrow and Yaqubi mentioned Merend in their works. Merend was a prosperous city even in the post-Islamic period. The famous European traveler Jean Chardin, in his notes about the Safavid Empire, provides the following information about this city:

“Merend is a good town, it has 2,500 houses and gardens, more gardens than mansions and settlements.”

Merend, like other cities of Azerbaijan, received even greater development during the Elkhanids. The buildings of the last period of Elkhanid rule include, for example, the building of the Airandibi caravanserai and the Hulako fortress in the north of the city.

(The ruins of the Hulako fortress. The deplorable state of the historical monuments of Southern Azerbaijan can be seen from this photograph)

The kitaba on the mehrab of the oldest mosque of Merend is also a magnificent and striking example of the Elkhanid period.

In short, we can say that this city, like other cities in Azerbaijan, was under the rule of Turkic rulers for about a thousand years - after Islam until 1925.

Turkic rulers never deprived representatives of other peoples of their material, moral, cultural and linguistic rights. One can even say that the Persian language owes its current development to the Turkic rulers. However, since 1925, when Reza Shah ascended the throne in Iran, the Turkic language was banned in this country. The history of the Turks was distorted, their identity was denied and their culture was humiliated. Not only Turkic, but also Azerbaijani identity, and even the name “Azerbaijan” were prohibited. Although the Pahlavis abdicated the throne and left the country in 1979, the hostility towards Azerbaijanis and Turks that they laid the foundation for continued under the new government. For a hundred years now, the Turks of South Azerbaijan have been under severe pressure; they are trying to destroy their language, nationality, culture and history.

The anti-Azerbaijani and Anti-Turkic policies initiated by Reza Shah were one of the main reasons why the Azerbaijani National Government, created in South Azerbaijan in 1945-1946, received widespread recognition and support from the local population. The city of Merend, like other cities of Southern Azerbaijan, provided great support to the Azerbaijani national government.

Despite the fact that the Azerbaijani national government did not last long, its fall did not lead to the end of the struggle of the Turks of Southern Azerbaijan for their existence.

Today Merend, like many other cities in Southern Azerbaijan, is considered the center of the Azerbaijani language and culture. Along with poets, writers and researchers of the Turkic world, Merendi poets, writers and researchers also actively participate in the struggle of the Turks of Southern Azerbaijan.

Compared to the servants of the Persian policy, who for a hundred years have used all the capabilities and resources of the state, the capabilities of the Turkic activists of South Azerbaijan are limited. But they succeeded, to a certain extent, in nullifying a hundred years of propaganda. Despite the strengthening in recent years of the assimilation policy, which has been going on in Iran for 100 years, and its scale, love and affection for Azerbaijani culture in the city of Merend not only does not decrease, but, on the contrary, increases every day. For example, the dominant language of the residents of this city is still Azerbaijani. As we wrote about other cities of Southern Azerbaijan, since Azerbaijani dances and Azerbaijani music, performances of ashugs, bayat, Azerbaijani mugamat, traditions of the Novruz holiday are alive in this city, we can say that Azerbaijaniness is preserved here.

Merend is located near the borders of Northern Azerbaijan. Undoubtedly, this closeness contributed to a stronger sense of brotherhood and unity. Today, in this city, as in many places in Southern Azerbaijan, the spirit of Azerbaijanism is being revived. Of course, as we have already said, we must also not lose sight of the policies of the opposite side, which has every opportunity.

The Turks of Southern Azerbaijan, trying to preserve and develop Turkic culture, are subjected to severe oppression and pressure. Many of them are arrested and punished on serious charges simply because they are trying to protect their mother tongue, identity, history and culture. Therefore, when we say that despite all the efforts of the central government over the past hundred years, Azerbaijanism is still alive, we must not forget the self-sacrifice of such people.

Historical monuments and attractions of Merenda

Caravanserai Yam

The foundation of this caravanserai was laid during the Mughal period and it was renovated and expanded during the Safavid period. This magnificent historical monument has recently been restored and is open to visitors.

This historical monument has a large central courtyard and is a caravanserai with four balconies, consisting of a high entrance, a dome and rooms. This large caravanserai, built on the Silk Road, an ancient trade route, was once considered a resting place for traders and caravans, but as we said, these days this beautiful and magnificent place is open to visitors.

Ash Hill

An ash hill is a place where a large mass of ash has grown to the size of a hill. Such hills can be found in many provinces of Southern Azerbaijan. Although there are different hypotheses about the historical origin of the Ash Hills, there is no clear answer to the question of their origin. Iranian historians try to link the ash mounds with Zoroastrianism and claim that the ash is the ashes of firewood burned in Zoroastrian temples. This idea is fundamentally wrong. Firstly, many of these hills appeared thousands of years before the birth of Zoroastrianism. For example, the age of the ash hill of the city of Merend exceeds 6000 years and this hill is the remnant of a brick fortress destroyed as a result of an attack by the army of the Assyrian king Sargon II.

Secondly, there is no evidence that the Azerbaijani people adopted Zoroastrianism in the pre-Islamic period, and religious temples in different parts of Azerbaijan are not related to Zoroastrianism.

Meanwhile, due to the fact that farmers used ash to fertilize the soil, many ash mounds either disappeared or were destroyed. On the other hand, due to the fact that the Iranian government does not care about or protect the historical sites of South Azerbaijan, some lovers of easy money are destroying these places in search of valuable historical finds. In this regard, the ash hill of Merenda was no exception, and no serious work has been carried out to protect this place.

Yam Ski Resort

The Yam ski resort is subordinate to the Ski Federation of the East Azerbaijan Province. This resort is located at the foot of the Misho mountain range, 15 km from Merend and 60 km from Tabriz. The amazingly beautiful ski resort of Yam gives an unforgettable experience. Every year during the cold season, many people come here to engage in winter sports and enjoy the clean and beautiful winter nature of Michaud.

Yam means horse in Turkic-Mughal language. As a result of the policy of Persianizing everything in Iran, the name of this place was Persianized and changed to Payam. Despite this, it is still popularly called Yam.

This 800-meter recreation center attracts, in addition to the local population, tourists from other regions of Iran, as well as from abroad.

Muhammad Rahmanifar