formerly - darkometer rating: 5 -)
The second largest town in Nagorno-Karbakh
, and one that played a decisive role in the war in the 1990s, when it was captured by Armenian Artsakh troops and the then Azeri population was driven out.
Then in September 2020 Azerbaijan launched a military campaign in which it reconquered the town and in turn drove the Armenian population out (again – see below
). Soon after work began to repair the remaining war damage and an Azeri population returned. Apparently Sushi, now “officially” given back its Azeri name of Şuşa, has seen much investment by the government in Baku.
And: not long after the recapture of the town, the Azerbaijani government sponsored tourist trips to the region and in particular this part – as an overtly propagandistic effort to paint a rosy picture and convince hapless tourists of their side of the story – see this longer Blog post
that covers this dubious exploitation of tourists in more detail.
Anyway, from the perspective of this website, Sushi/Şuşa is, like all of Nagorno-Karabakh
, now to be regarded as a lost place
. Without those older war ruins there would be little point left to visit this place as a dark tourist. And the newer war damage, e.g. of the cathedral, which had been hit by Azerbaijani shells, is allegedly also undergoing repair.
The text below was written after my visit to the region in 2010. It is now outdated and only of historical interest.
>More background info
>What there was to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
More background info:
Shushi (nothing to do with sushi – even if Google so insists!), or Shusha (Şuşa) in Azeri, is a town of chequered history in the heart of Nagorno-Karabakh
. It had already been the site of bloody clashes in the early 20th century between the Armenian and Azeri/Tartar/Turkish parts of the population. The worst of these took place in 1920, known as the "Shusha pogrom", in which thousands of Armenians were massacred.
Since then Shusha used to have a disproportionately high Muslim Azeri population (obviously, as the Armenians had been largely wiped out), and just before the Karabakh war in the 1990s it was almost entirely Azeri/Azerbaijani
, a stronghold within the otherwise predominately Armenian
This, together with the town's position high on a hill overlooking the plains and Karabakh's capital city Stepanakert
, gave it prime strategic importance during the war. From here, Azeri forces indiscriminately fired missiles on Stepanakert …
On 8 May 1992, Armenian forces launched a daring night-time attack, up the steep hillside towards Shushi and within a day conquered the city and forced out the Azeri military as well as the population. This is frequently regarded as possibly the most crucial turning-point in that war, one which shifted fortunes in favour of the Armenian side. (For more on the war see under Nagorno-Karabakh
As a result of that war, the population of Shushi was but a fraction of what it once was. At its height in the 19th and early 20th century it was as many as between 40,000 and 50,000, and still about 17,000 just before the 1990s Karabakh war.
After all the Azeris had fled the region and its capital, only about 3500 Armenians lived here – many themselves refugees from Azerbaijan
(but also Armenians from other Karabakh regions or members of the Diaspora).
Many drastic war scars remained, including entire multi-storey apartment blocks that were just empty shells. And it was precisely this that made the town a kind-of dark-tourism destination.
What there was to see:
By the approach road to the town from the direction of Stepanakert, on the winding road that leads up from the plains below stood a tank on a plinth and a memorial. This used to be the
main monument to the capture of Shushi by Armenian forces in May 1992.
The tank monument was popular with wedding parties as a stop for photos – in true Soviet/Russian tradition – as I witnessed when I visited the place in August 2010. People alsoused to lay flowers by, or rather on, the tank, which made for a rather bizarre sight.
reconquered the town in 2020, I can’t image they would have left this tank monument undisturbed. It’s far more likely that they simply removed it altogether. Or maybe they just rededicated it to their own 2020 victory? But I just don’t know what its fate may have been.
Up in Shushi itself, two contrasting things dominated the first impression (as well as the lasting impression): on the one hand the unusually shiny-white freshly renovated cathedral (Armenian churches are typically rather built from red tuff) – and on the other hand the many war ruins scattered across the surrounding hillsides. These included a number of fairly large Soviet-style blocks of flats, left as just empty shells.
Some striking examples were to be seen on the hillside to the north-west of the cathedral. Just beyond some of these sits a small church from where you not only got a good view over the town and the cathedral but also got closer up to some of the ruins. Since I was somewhat reluctant to ask my driver outright to "take me to some of those war ruins", I used the church as a sightseeing pretext to at least get closer to some of them. If you're less inhibited and/or are just clambering about on your own, you may be able to just walk up right up to them …
The rest of the town was a mix of ruins of residential buildings, as well as a couple of derelict mosques, with newly occupied homes interspersed in between.
Since the 2020 recapture of the town by Azerbaijan, lots of state money has flown into the place for renovation and an Azeri population is returning and new infrastructure is being built (and I assume those mosques will have been brought back to life – whereas the cathedral will now probably fall out of regular use.)
In any case, Shushi/Şuşa has lost its dark-tourism appeal and from this perspective now has to be regarded a lost place
UPDATE November 2020: now ot is no longer accessible from Nagorno-Karabakh at all, after Azerbajani troops captured the city in the latest war in the region! Whether it may become accessible from within Azerbaijan remains to be seen.
UPDATE 2023: Indeed, there have been tour offers to Azerbaijani-held parts of Karabakh, including Shushi, from Baku
, organized and sponsored for propaganda purposes by the Azeri (dictatorial) government, but these are highly dubious – see this note
Details: from the obvious base of Nagorno-Karabakh's capital city Stepanakert you can get one of the frequent and super-cheap marshrutkas (minibus services); but a taxi shouldn't cost too much either, given the short distance. Doing Shushi as an excursion by taxi also makes sense (easier for getting around), unless you want to stay overnight in town and explore on your own, on foot. There are a few accommodation options, even including a surprisingly boutique hotel that bears the name of the city (and also has a restaurant). Lots of construction was going on when I visited (in August 2010) and I spotted at least one spanking new hotel (by the fortress) that looked like it was just about to open. More developments can be expected in the future.
Time required: depends on your mode of transport. If you have a car (with driver, i.e. taxi) then it won't take long to get a good look. Maybe an hour or so. If you're staying in Shushi and want to more exhaustively explore the place on foot, then the steep slopes of Shushi will require more time as well as effort, but an afternoon and/or morning should suffice.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
in general see Nagorno-Karabakh
– the premier non-dark sight in Shushi is without any doubt its splendidly gleaming white, restored Ghazanchetsots Cathedral, which dominates the "skyline". Another church stands on an opposite hill, but is much less spectacular close up – though it is a good vantage point for views over Shushi and its cathedral. Furthermore, a couple of old mosques can also be found. The old castle of Shushi/Şuşa, which I thought was rather unspectacular when I saw it in 2010, has apparently undergone a substantial refurbishment programme since Azerbaijan
recaptured it in 2020. A new gate has been added and atop it big red letters spelling out the Azeri name of the town “Şuşa” tower over it. From the outer castle walls looking north grand views of the valley below can be had.
- Shushi 01 - high on a hill
- Shushi 02 - cityscape
- Shushi 03 - old and new
- Shushi 04 - empty shell
- Shushi 05 - ruined apartment block
- Shushi 06 - in ruins
- Shushi 07 - ghost town
- Shushi 08 - cathedral
- Shushi 09 - old house
- Shushi 10 - former residence
- Shushi 11 - fortress
- Shushi 12 - fortress rampart
- Shushi 13 - view from the fortress
- Shushi 14 - tank memorial
- Shushi 15 - wedding party
- Shushi 16 - restored Ghazanchetsots Cathedral