By Peter Tase
On September 19-20, 2015, Dr. Stefan Jakob Wimmer, accompanied by Mr. Hasan Pashali (a tourist guide, journalist and an expert of Azerbaijani history) together with a group of scholars visited the inspiring Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan (Azerbaijan). Dr. Wimmer is Chairman of the Friends of Abraham Society in Munich, Germany, and headed this group of German visitors to Nakhchivan and to its major archeological sites.
During his stay in Nakhchivan city, Dr. Wimmer was interviewed by the editorial staff of Serq Qapisi Newspaper and the following thoughts are some of his exceptional impressions about the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan and its wealth of history, culture and archeology; indeed all of these assets are an irreplaceable value to the world history and human civilization. In continuation, Dr. Wimmer shares his remarkable thoughts:
“What an unexpected discovery: the land of Nakhchivan is full of splendid cultural and religious architecture, impressively beautiful mausoleum towers. As if we were dreaming it was, when we looked up the 25 meter richly ornamented octagon of Momine Katun. A monument of love for the 12th century wife and mother, who was buried here, as if it originates in the stories of a “Thousand and One Nights”! Well, we were indeed not fully awake, because traveling from Munich/Germany to Nakhchivan entails a flight via Istanbul, through the night, arriving in the early morning with a three hours time lag. Arrival procedures at Nakhchivan Airport were, it must be said, not a very welcoming first impression to the tired traveler, who is not used to queue another hour for passport control and then again for collecting one’s bags and yet again for being allowed to leave. You have here one of several components, why sightseeing in Nakhchivan City appeared somewhat surreal to us. Add to this an artificial town layout with very straight and wide streets, but little weekend traffic; very modern, lavish constructions that testify to a manifest influx of impressive financial means, side by side to the architectural remnants of Soviet heritage, from a predominantly dark time, as we understood; that had retained the country for many decades in a strict isolation.”
Dr. Wimmer and his colleagues stayed at the Tebriz Hotel Nakhchivan, this five star tourist destination would note escape from the thoughts and attention of this distinguished German visitor: “The highest tower in town, with its 13 floors behind a dazzling blue glass façade, is a commanding landmark for the present and probably understood as a visual promise for an economically bright future. For us, the Tebriz Hotel was a marvelous place to stay – and to sincerely regret, that our time here was so short. We arrived in the early morning of September 19th, and had to leave already on the next day.”
Dr. Jacob Wimmer admits that his knowledge about this region of Azerbaijan was very limited, while he emphasizes: “We had known very little about this autonomous enclave to the Republic of Azerbaijan, when we decided that it should be the first stop on our tour to the region between the Caspian Sea, the Caucasus and Agri Dag. Many of us had seen or even climbed the Biblical Ararat, and our hopes were not in vain to see it again, from a distance. There it appeared in the hazy background, just behind another tower, which in this case links the very early times to the 21st century: the Tomb of Prophet Noah. From old drawings and photographs which we had seen in travel guides, we expected to see not more than the remains of an ancient structure, half buried in the ground, and we were stunned to visit another towering mausoleum, brand new, beautiful, set on top of the ancient foundations in traditional local Islamic style, very few years ago.”
Dr. Wimmer, in his visit was also a careful observer of the local architecture of Nakhchivan that has influenced other countries in the region and also brought new trends of development in the neighboring towns. In this context he explains: “The pattern of these tower mausoleums seems to be: a subterranean tomb chamber, usually with a small opening into the monumental inner space of the tower above. The inside of the towers is not massive, and not divided into several rooms or floors, it is completely unobstructed by any staircases or other constructional elements. It is just: a round and high cone of free space. What a spiritual expression of architecture! It makes you contemplate and inspires you to think beyond of what you see. Our travel group was part of an interfaith society called “Friends of Abraham”. Our aim is to foster mutual understanding between religions, such as Christians, Muslims and Jews. Even more than Abraham or Ibrahim, Noah or Nuh is a figure from the Quran as well as the Bible to remind us of the common origins of mankind. The message of this place is therefore not so much, whether or not the Prophet was actually buried here and not in Turkey or wherever; and not so much, whether his Ark touched the awesome mountains you see around; or maybe not. What matters much more, is that the Children of Noah will settle their claims instead of extending historical conflicts, and strive to finds ways for a friendly neighborly future.”
It would have been impossible to Dr. Wimmer not to point out the geographical proximity of neighboring countries and he concludes his impressions with the following statement: “The visitor feels the proximity of borders almost everywhere, when he moves in this splendid, small country that is clinched in between neighboring states, not all of whom are friendly, and isolated from its mainland. To the north, we admired the Duzdag salt-cave sanatorium, and we saw Cahan Kudi Xatun in Qarabaglar with its geometric decoration, professing in Arabic calligraphy: “La ilaha ill-Allah” and “Muhammadu rasulu-llah”. To the south, we were profoundly moved by the Ashabi Kahf site. The devoutness of those numerous local pilgrims who were flocking through the mountain gorge that Sunday, as well as its overwhelming natural setting, shapes a truly dramatic stage for the tradition of the Sleepers who professed the One God. Again, the Quran as well as Christian tradition agree on the unforeseen ways of divine intervention. And again, the true value of the place does not depend on a completion of here versus Ephesus, or Amman, or wherever we had visited the “true” Seven Sleepers’ Cave before; it lies in granting that God alone knows what comes next.”
To encompass his experience in Nakhchivan, Dr. Wimmer adds: “For us, it was a splendid conclusion for our first experience of Azerbaijan, because next came already the border crossing at Culfa into Iran. The next night we should spend not in the impressive Tebriz Hotel, but in a hotel in the real city of Tebriz. We continued travelling through the Azerbaijani provinces of Iran, and then, via Astara, headed for Baku to experience much more of the ancient and modern “Land of Fire”. But, that’s another story.”
This visit of German tourists would not have been possible without the dedication and services provided by Mr. Emil (Hasan) Pashali who is the tour guide of the Azerbaijani Travel Agency.