Who were the Caucasian Albanians?

The strategic geographic location and the charming natural beauty of Karabakh have been the main causes of the various clashes and bloody battles over this territory ever since the Stone Age. The region is considered one of the most important areas for ancient human settlements, after the Mediterranean, North Africa, and China. Archaeological excavations in the 1960s in the prehistoric Azikh cave in Azerbaijan, which was discovered in Karabakh and is located 14 km. from the Fuzuli region, as well as the remains of a primitive man’s jaws (called the Azikh man/Azikhantrop) that were discovered at this archaeological site, prove that humans inhabited Azerbaijan between 350,000 and 400,000 years ago. Because of these discoveries, the territory of Azerbaijan has been included on a map showing “The ancient settlers of the Europe.”[1]

The Azerbaijan state-Caucasian Albania, a crossroads between East and West, North and South from ancient times, was a meeting point of different ethnic groups, religions, and cultures and covered the northern part of historical Azerbaijan, including Karabakh. The population of Albania was diverse: Albans, Utians (Utiy), Caspians, Girdimans (also Gardmans, Gardamans), Tsavdeys, Leqs, and Gargars (Gargarians) lived there.[2]

Caucasian Albania, which got its name from Alban ethnic group, possessed military and political power and cultural influence in the Near and Middle East and had good relations with regional countries. For the first time, the name of Alban ethnic group was used by Arrian, the author of the second century, in his records about the Battle of Gaugamela between Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia in 331 BC.[3]

As an ethnic group, Albans were the leading tribe in Caucasian Albania and the whole region. Therefore, according to ancient scholars, Caucasian Albania took its name from Albans.[4] The ethnonym Alban had two different meanings: firstly, as the name of all the tribes that lived in Caucasian Albania, and secondly, as a name for the leading ethnic group that ruled over all tribes in Caucasian Albania.[5]

Scholars also have two different opinions about the origin of Alban tribes. The first group argues that they are of Caucasian origin,[6] while the second group maintains that they originated from the Turkish ethnic group.[7] According to Geybullayev, existing Turkish ethnos called Alban and lived among Kazakhs, Turkmens, Kyrgyz, and Garagalpag in Central Asia at the end of the nineteenth century proves that as an ethnonym, the name Alban originated from Turkic languages.[8]

[1] Mahmudov, Y.M., Azərbaycan: qısa dövətçilik tarixi (Bakı: Təhsil, 2005), pp. 6-7.

[2] Azərbaycan tarixi, (Bakı: Elm, 2007), p. 26.

[3] Флавий, Арриан, Поход Александра (М.-Л., 1962), pp. 110-113-114.

[4] Qeybullayev, Qiyasəddin, Azərbaycan türklərinin təşəkkülü tarixindən (Bakı: Azərnəşr, 1994), p. 31.

[5] Гейбуллаев, Гиясаддин, К этногенезу Азербайджанцев (Баку: Элм, 1991), p. 62-63.

[6] Шанидзе, А. Г., “Новооткрытый алфавит кавказских албанцев и его значение для науки,” Известия ИЯИМК. Груз. ФАН СССР, том. IV (Тбилиси, 1938), p. 37. See also: Меликишвили, Г. А., Древневосточные материалы по истории народов Закавказья, I, Наири-Урарту (Тбилиси, 1954), p. 405. See also: Тревер, К. В., Очерки по истории и культуре Кавказской Албании (М. – Л., 1959), p. 306.

[7] Ю.Б. Юсифов, Бабаев И.А., “Кавказская Албания в эллинистическую эпоху. В кн.: Причерноморье в эпоху эллинизма,” Мат-лы III Все-союзн. симпозиума по древней истории Причерноморья. Цхалтубо, 1982, Тбилиси, 1985. See also: İsmayılov, M., Azərbaycan xalqının təşəkkülü (Bakı, 1993). See also, Ямпольский, З.И., “Древнейшие сведе­ния о тюрках в зоне Азербайджана,” Учен. зап. АГУ им. С.М.Кирова, 1966, № 2. See also: Гейбуллаев, К этногенезу Азербайджанцев. See also: Memmedzade, M., Azerbaycan Tarihinde Türk Albaniya (Ankara, 1945).  See also: Xəlili, Xəliyəddin, Azərbaycan türklərinin təşəkkül və milli inkişaf tarixi (Bakı, 2009).

[8] Гейбуллаев, К этногенезу Азербайджанцев, p. 74.