Several decades before the birth of Christ an Armenian emperor forced his foe’s family to settle in the territory of Djulfa (Ջուղա [Jugha] in Armenian).  Centuries after this imperial start, Djulfa had become a cultural and economic capital of Christian Armenia. Its unique architecture was admired by foreign visitors, and its traveling merchants controlled a substantial portion of the world trade – even having a street named after them in Venice. 

In the 17th century, when Armenia was being torn between the Turks and the Persians, Shah Abbas forced the residents of Djulfa to relocate to Persia where Armenians established Nor Jugha (New Djulfa), a city that still exists today.   

Many of old Djulfa’s monuments – churches, the cemetery and secular buildings – had survived when, in the 20th century, the ancient city along with the rest of the region of Nakhichevan, became part of Soviet Azerbaijan, and later, the Republic of Azerbaijan.

However, in December of 2005 the last Armenian traces of old Djulfa – the sacred stones of the ancient cemetery – were reduced to dust by servicemen of the Republic of Azerbaijan in an act of cultural vandalism that was videotaped from the Iranian border.


The renowned medieval Armenian city of Djulfa, now in ruins, is located in the ancient Armenian province of Goghtn on the north bank of the Araxes River, approximately 30 kilometers south of the city of Nakhichevan (now a part of the district of Julfa, or Culfa in Azeri, in the Autonomous Republic of Nakhichevan, Republic of Azerbaijan).


The earliest information about Djulfa found in historic sources is in the description of events which took place in the first century B.C. The early medieval Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi (Moses of Khoren) described the brave feats of the Armenian King Tigran the Great, who ruled an Armenian empire from 95–55 B.C. which extended from the shores of the Mediterranean, north of Jerusalem, eastward to the Caspian Sea.

Movses Khorenatsi wrote that after Tigran defeated Azhdahak, the king of Media, he “settled” Azhdahak’s first wife Anouysh, many princesses, and a multitude of young men, and more than 10,000 prisoners in the vicinity of Djulfa.  Khorenatsi cites early Christian Syriac writer Mar Abas Catina as his source.


The late 8th century Armenian historian Ghevond mentions Djulfa twice during the 642–643 Arab invasions of Armenia. He reported that the Arabs occupied the area, and brought enslaved Armenians with their wives and children to the site of Djulfa, and after later attacks in 688, they “performed many unlawful acts in […] Khram […] and in Djulfa.”

Djulfa is again mentioned in 962, when relics of St. Hovhannes Karapet (St. John the “Forerunner of Christ”) were brought to Djulfa after the destruction of the town of Khram.In the 12th century, Armenian historian Arakel Davrizhetsi (Arakel of Tabriz) provided more details of this event.

The city’s famous monastery of Amenaprkich – the Holy Savior, Savior of All – is mentioned in 976 in a document by the head of the Armenian Church (Catholicos), Khatchik, who wrote about transfer of lands to the monastery of St. Stepanos the Protomartyr at Darashamb by King Ashot of Armenia. This was also mentioned in Catholicos Sargis’ letter of 1010 to the diocese of the southern Armenian province of Syunik.

In addition to these historical references, Djulfa was mentioned often from the 7th to the 12th century in the works of historians, in travel notes, and other written sources. These references are, in and of themselves, proof that Djulfa was inhabited by Armenians who played a vital role in the historical and cultural life of medieval Armenia. Djulfa was governed by a town council of patriarchs or princes, led by the town chief.

Contrary to its present ruined state, Djulfa had many orchards, gardens, vineyards and some tracts of tillable land nearby. Even today, traces of former waterways and wells, fences, remnants of gardens and vineyards can be seen. However, since Djulfa did not have sufficient arable land, its people were compelled to trade handicrafts, arts and crafts. Thus, agriculture was never of prime importance.


Beginning in the 10th century, historical sources report that trade grew rapidly in Djulfa, because it was located on an important trade route called the “royal” or merchant route. Consequently, the city gained the reputation of being a trading center for various goods, and also as a storehouse.

By the beginning in the 15th century, Djulfa achieved unprecedented prosperity. Its inhabitants became famous for the tremendous wealth they had accumulated, evidenced by the furnishings and decorations in the homes and mansions of merchants, which were mostly made from gold and silver. The city’s inhabitants were also known to be patrons for printing and publishing works dedicated to the history and culture of Armenia. For these reasons, the Catholicos Grigor XI in a pastoral letter of 1541 spoke about Djulfa as a “divine village.”

In the 15th to 16th century, the famous manuscript painter, Hakob Jughaetsi (Hagop of Djulfa) described the town as “a great religious capital” when copying the colophon of a Gospel manuscript in 1587.

In 1594, the respected scribe Khatchatur Khizanetsi (Khatchatur of Khizan), wrote in the colophon of the Menology that the work was copied in “the capital, Djulfa, the shelter and pride of the Haigazian family; we beseech the Creator to always keep it prosperous.”

For many centuries, enterprising Djulfa merchants traveled to many trading towns and sites both East and West, and founded their trade firms and affiliations in those places.Caravans belonging to Djulfa merchants could freely enter Persia, India (chiefly Madras and Calcutta), Italy (Venice), Austria (Vienna), Holland (Amsterdam), Egypt, Russia (Moscow, Petersburg, Crimea, Astrakhan), Turkey, Burma, the Philippines (Manila), and even the Isle of Java. A researcher studying the history of Armenian trade was correct in remarking that “in the 1500s the Jughaites, controlled trade in spices, garlic, and especially raw silk in the markets of Egypt and of the Mediterranean regions of Europe.”

In the 16th century alone, of the 250 Armenian merchants who had ties with trade centers in Venice and its environs, some sixty were from Djulfa, who controlled the export of certain goods, silk in particular. The influence of Djulfa merchants in Venice was so great that one of the city’s streets was called “the street of Jughaites”. The Sherimanian merchant family, who established a branch in Venice in 1612 set up a fund of two million ducats to loan money to Venice’s treasury which was exhausted of capital. Earlier, in 1571, the cannons, which the Armenian Antonio Surian had built, proved to be instrumental in the Venetian victory in the Battle of Lepanto.


In 1605, when Djulfa’s wealth and trading activities were at their zenith, its inhabitants were suddenly, and forcibly removed from their homes by the order of Shah Abbas I(1587–1629) of Persia. The city was destroyed, and its population relocated to a suburb of Isfahan, the Shah’s new capital. The suburb became known as New Djulfa or, in Armenian, Nor Jugha, while the original Djulfa was referred to as Old Djulfa or, in Armenian, Hin Jugha.

This tragic action can be explained in the context of the enmity that existed between Persia and its neighbor, Turkey. As a result of continuous wars between the two empires from the 15th to the 17th century, the territory of Armenia was perpetually a scene of combat.

According to the Treaty of Amasia concluded between those two states in 1555, the countries of Armenia, (today’s) Azerbaijan, and eastern Georgia came under Persian rule. Then, from 1570 to 1590, Turkey recaptured all of Transcaucasia and Atrpatakan. When this transpired, the humiliated Persians tried, in every way possible, to get their “hereditary lands” back from Turkey. Accordingly, Shah Abbas implemented a number of radical policies to obtain this end. In order to gain victory over Turkey, the Shah tried to gain the sympathies of the upper classes of subjected people, and use their influence in his favor of his interests. Shah Abbas began his renewed attacks against Turkey in 1603, and recaptured the entire province of Nakhichevan and later the city of Yerevan with practically no opposition.The Shah had a special plan for Djulfa and he spent three days there, enjoying the generous hospitality of the wealthy khojas.

Historian Arakel Davrizhetsi, an eyewitness to these events, described in detail the reception given to the Shah:

“The elder princes and the younger ones, golden-haired and brave in appearance, adorned with ornaments and weapons moved forward. And newly—blossoming young lads served sweet pure wine in golden cups. Clergymen went forward with candles, incense and frankincense, singing and accompanying themselves. And the path the king was to take from the river to Khoja Khatchik’s mansion was decorated in a manner worthy of a king, […] elegantly spread with velvet, upon which the king would walk toward Khoja Khatchik’s house. As soon as the Shah arrived at Khoja Khatchik’s house, Khatchik handed his son a gold tray filled with gold pieces to present to the Shah. Other Djulfa leaders also presented him with gifts […]. But the serpent inShah Abbas emerged. He, as it were, had the nature of a snake implanted in him against Christianity. Even from the very beginning; for whatever reason and at whatever occasion, he had a desire burning within him to do them evil. But at that moment, covering up the poison within him, the Shah pretended to be sympathetic.”

In addition to Davrizhetsi’s testimony, there is also a description of that occasion by G. Tektander, who travelled in Persia in 1602–1603. He described how, in honor of the Shah, 50,000 lamps were lit for three nights in the homes and balconies of Djulfa.However, in spite of this, the Jughaites were terrorized in their hearts and seemed to sense the Shah’s “cunning nature, evil intentions and deceit.”

After a temporary cessation of military activities which followed the capture of the Armenian city of Yerevan at the end of 1604, the Turkish army began new counterattacks. Realizing that the enemy’s forces were superior to his, Shah Abbas decided to retreat. But it was not simply a military retreat. He undertook a scorched earth policy, using both fire and the sword. The settlements, fields, and monuments on the left bank of the Araxes River were set ablaze. Djulfa was in ruins, and the entire Armenian population was forcefully deported to Persia.

That cruel experience is remembered as the year of the “great deportation.”  According to Davrizhetsi, Shah Abbas had decided “that the Ottomans coming there should find the land unpopulated” and believed that by deporting the Armenians to Persia, trade and craftsmanship would improve in his backwards country, thereby ensuring the prosperity of his kingdom.

The deportation order – which threatened the Armenians with massacre if they did not leave – stated that the residents had three days to leave the town. Moslem mobs from neighboring villages wandered through the streets of Djulfa, evicting residents from their place of birth, their native homeland. According to Davrizhetsi, this mob, and Shah’s enforcer, Tahmazghuli’s army, plundered the town “by gathering Mohammedans, by the tens, twenties, even thirties of them, and the Moslems went into the houses of the Christians, compelled them to get up and leave; the Moslems sacked whatever they could […] and in this way the belongings of the Christians were plundered and thus destroyed.”

Encircled, and caught unaware by the enemy, the Jughaites were alarmed, and had no alternative but to leave their native town. The elders of Djulfa, the clergymen, and the entire population came out of the Djulfa gates, approached the St. Astvadsadsin Church (Church of the Mother of God) and, “in plaintive voices and with mourning hearts, with tears in their eyes, cried and wept; and, moaning before the portrait of the Virgin, cried out. ‘Oh! Holy Virgin, we leave you the keys of our sacred churches and our houses, for you to bring us back home from the foreign lands they are taking us to. ‘ Saying this they threw their keys into the river and cried long and loud in anguish and then went away […].”

According to Davrizhetsi, the deportation from Djulfa took place in October 1605. While crossing the Araxes in the autumn, “those who were weak fell into the water and were carried along the surface of the water; many were drowned and thus died. And along both banks of the river, human bodies and dead bodies of the drowned were scattered. With such suffering the people crossed the Araxes […].”

After the migration from Djulfa, when more than three thousand families had been forcibly deported, Tahmazghuli bek, again following the Shah’s orders, “arrived back at Djulfa with untold numbers of bandits, and, taking up reeds and kerosene lamps, began to set everything afire, tore down the housetops, and destroyed the walls. They left nothing intact; they left only ruins […].”

Soon after the deportation, the very small portion of its Armenian population that had somehow been able to escape being deported to Persia, returned to Djulfa and resettled there. However only a few months had passed when, in the spring of 1606, Hamdan Agha went to Djulfa with an edict from the Shah to deport those still remaining. …“And Hamdan Agha came to Djulfa with his forces, called the remaining people before him and, reproaching them and using force, said to them: obey the royal order and, with your family and take whatever you have, and come with us; if you do not want to come, we shall kill the male population and those who are strong, and we shall take your property, and make your family prisoners. They found the people who had fled to the mountains and gorges and had hidden there, and then on the Monday after the second Sunday they left Julfa for Tavriz […].”

And thus, after the last soul was evacuated from Djulfa, the town was set on fire and destroyed to its very foundations. After that act, the longing and hope of the Jughaites that they would some day return was never realized, despite their continual yearning.

Later on, there were reports of plundering among the ruins of Djulfa, at places where the “wealth” of those Jughaites, who had hoped to return some day to their homes, was hidden, i.e., “in high places, in deep places, in crevices and other suitable places. The Jughaites had left them there before they withdrew.”

Hovhannes Makvetsi (John of Maku), a poet of the 17th century, witnessed the deportation from Djulfa, and in his well-known “Lamentation of Djulfa” compared Djulfa with Paris, considering the former an even greater city.


Shah Abbas founded a new town in Persia called New (Nor) Djulfa for the Armenian deportees. New Djulfa was a suburb of his new capital city of Isfahan, south of the Zandarout river. Soon thereafter, Armenian chroniclers, instead of writing about Old Djulfa, began to mention New Djulfa in their works. The old town, its memories and wounds, disappeared into the past, remaining only in the minds and hearts of its people.

The Shah gave some land to the Jughaites as a royal grant but, according to the terms he set up, another section had to be purchased by the Armenians themselves. They drew up a plan for the construction of the new town; “They constructed a long straight street from east to west […] around which were ten wide smaller streets, each of which was a large section of the town where, at the beginning of the 18th century some thirty thousand inhabitants made their dwellings.”

Some thirty prominent families such as the Lazarian, Safrazian, Shahrimanian, Eminian, Khaltarian, Velidjanian, Sahratian created memorials for their old city of Djulfa. They constructed a major monastery and seventeen churches. They opened schools, and were patrons of the arts, commissioning thousands of beautifully carved khatchkars, and erecting palatial mansions. In 1647, Hovhannes Vardapet founded a printing press where numerous Armenian books were published.

At New Djulfa, the Armenians also carried out extensive trade activities. Shah Abbas used the many talents of Armenian architects, masons, sculptors, rugweavers, and other craftsmen of all kinds to beautify his new capital of Isfahan. He also put most of Persia’s international trade in the hands of the Armenians, because of their proven business acumen. They continued their extensive trade with European countries and were the first to succeed in establishing a trade pact with Russia, as well as obtaining transit trade privileges. In 1660, they presented to Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, through Khoja Zakaria Sahratian, a diamond throne “of pure gold with 897 […] diamonds, 1298 rubies, three rows of cultivated pearls […] and golden statuettes of the Apostle Peter and St. Nicholas” which is now in the Kremlin Palace of Armor. In addition, Armenians were of invaluable assistance to the Shah in connection with foreign affairs, because their knowledge of foreign languages, and their Christian faith were great advantages when dealing with ambassadors, merchants, travelers, and others who came to the Persian court.


Old Djulfa lay deserted, and in ruins for quite some time. Despite the aforementioned attempts to permanently depopulate the city, some Jughaites came back. At first they lived amid the ruins of the former covered market, and began to repair some of the houses, churches and monasteries, thus bringing Djulfa back to life. The seven families that revived the city were the Ter-Poghosian family, paron (sir) Panosian, Khoja Nazarian, deputy Toumoyan, landowner Frangoulian, paron Atanesian and Khoja Dsatour.

Brief inscriptions carved on 17th and 18th century tombstones near the churches, as well as colophons in manuscripts copied there at the beginning of the 1620s, provide documentation and information about the resettlement. Some other examples include the colophon of a manuscript, “Questions and Answers against the Koran,” which states “written in the year 1620 by the scribe Aristakes in the village of Djulfa at the church of St. Hakob and St. Sargis.”

Also, in 1641 Kilakents Dsatur bought a Gospel from Erzerum which had been stolen from the Armenians. He presented it to St. Gevorg Church in Djulfa with the colophon stating “This holy Gospel in memory of Mkrtich of Djulfa, his son Dilak and Dsatur, his mother Oumtian, Dsatur’s mate Mertatik Merspash, in the year 1641 bought by me in Erzerum and given to Dilakents Dsatur in memory of the St. Gevorg church of Hin Djulfa.” Additionally, in a manuscript copied here in 1645, the scribe Markar wrote: “The holy Gospel of Hovhannes written in the year 1645 of the Armenian calendar by scribe Markar, in the village of Djulfa on the request of Melik Aghe’s son Aghe, a faithful Christian, and which he has received […].” (This manuscript is now in Europe.)

In 1848 the inhabitants of old Djulfa founded the village of Djulfa in the district of Djulfa, at the foot of the Dsorout mountain peak, which lies a bit to the east of the historical town, where the Yernjak river flows into the Araxes. According to data from 1912-1913, the village had a population of 1080. Because its geographical position and its ancient significance, the village of Djulfa became the official border town between Persia and Russia, which was also considered to be an important site for the exchange of goods between the two states. In 1851 a new church, bearing the name of the St. Gevorg Church of Old Djulfa, was built in the northern district of the new village. It was simply constructed, and had a wooden roof. On a decision of the Etchmiadzin Synod, in 1860, a school was added to the church, and in 1890, the Djulfa reading-room (library) was opened next to the school. The primary occupations of the people of Djulfa were stone- mining and sailing on the Araxes River (until 1920). These meager vocations limited the economic and political influence of the city to some degree.

During wars between neighboring peoples in 1918-1919, the Djulfa battalion, consisting of Jughaites, fought heroically to save its native village from destruction. In July of 1919 a group of 32 brave Jughaites fought and sacrificed themselves in order to stop an army, consisting of more than 500 soldiers, from entering Djulfa.


After battle, the whole population was compelled to migrate to Tabriz. In July 1920, when Soviet power was established in Nakhichevan, those Jughaites, who had migrated to Tabriz, returned to live in their native village. By 1990, however, the remaining Armenian population, together with the entire Armenian population of the region of Nakhichevan – where Djulfa is located -, had all but disappeared from their historic homeland; a casualty of the armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno Karabakh.

*This page is excerpted from “The Medieval City of Jugha” written by Tufts University Professor Lucy Der Manuelian and Art Historian Steven Sim based on texts taken from Argam Aivazyan, Jugha, Yerevan, 1990.  Some paragraphs have been edited. Published in “The Destruction of Jugha and the Entire Armenian Cultural Heritage in Nakhijevan.” © 2006 Switzerland-Armenia Association, Bern.