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Maku Free Trade Zone

Geography and History of Maku

Maku is a town in the northwestern Iranian province of West Azerbaijan. The Karasu River in Turkey lies to its north, and Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, an exclave of the Republic of Azerbaijan, is to its east. Turkey and the Iranian town of Khoy are to its west and south respectively.


The Zangmar River cuts through the town nestled in a valley. The southern part of Maku, located in the foothills of Sabad Mountain, is not fully developed, but the northern section is much larger and better developed.   


Maku is flanked by mountains in the south and north and plains to the east and west. The area is home to a famous monolith called Jodaghiyeh. The fact that the region has been home to an ancient civilization with a rich history and boasts a variety of cultural and natural attractions means it does have the potential to become a tourism hub. A perfect climate complete with rich fauna, beautiful rivers, caves, falls, ancient forts and castles, and other historical monuments, handicrafts, and colorful plantations, and most importantly the hospitality of local people, can set the stage for the influx of tourists which would call for the development of more recreational facilities in the area.           


The oldest historical monuments of the town date back to the Urartu, corresponding to the biblical Kingdom of Ararat or Kingdom of Van. Stone chambers in Sangar, a village situated between Maku and Bazargan, ancient summer resorts which dot the landscape, cuneiform inscriptions dug out in villages in Bastam and near Bazargan, findings of German scientists, the deciphering of cuneiform writings by local and foreign archeologists and statements by historians such as Moses Chorenazi and Piotrowski prove that Urarturs were the first people to take up residence in the region. Their main center of population was built near Bastam.


When Armenians brought the rule of Urarturs to an end, they took control of the land. Armenia annexed Maku. Ancient churches, chief among them the Saint Thaddeus Monastery, and the ruins of the ancient Armenian-inhabited cities in Armavir along the Aras River are proof that Armenians had once been the dominant force in the region.


Almost seven centuries ago, Bishop Zakaria and his brother Botros took power and spent a fortune on fortifying the castle. They set up routes and built bridges and turned the region into a trade hub. The defenses of the castle were so strong that they drew the surprise of every visitor.


For over a century Armenian princes used the fortifications of the castle to fend off all attempts at invasion of the region. Even Tamerlane was unable to occupy the castle. Zakaria renovated the routes that led in and out of Maku and built four arched bridges across the river.


Karayusuf conquered Maku after the downfall of Tamerlane. There was always infighting raging among rulers of the dynasty. Ismail took advantage of such feud, defeated them and subsequently set up the powerful Safavid Dynasty. It was during the reign of this young Safavid king that an Ottoman sultan massacred the Shiites in Asia Minor and took his troops east to invade Azerbaijan. Despite enormous bravery by the young Safavid king and the commanders of his army, the Iranian army was defeated and the castle was destroyed.


Maku was a stronghold of the Bayat Clan when the Qajar kings were in power. There are many speculations about the origin of the word Maku. Armenians believe it is a variation of an ancient word that meant pastureland. Some claim it is a combination of Mah (moon) and Kuh (mountain) and some others suggest that the name is a variation of an ancient word that meant the residence of the Zoroastrian clergy.


Here is a list of some historical monuments in the region with the potential to draw tourists:


Baghcheh Juk Palace, located 2 km outside the town, was built by European and Russian architects during the reign of the Qajar Dynasty.


Kolah Farangi Building is well within town limits and dates back to the Qajar era too.


Shirin va Farhad Stone House, located 7 km away from Maku, features two rooms carved into the rocks. It is believed that this monument dates back to the Sassanid Era.


Saint Mary Church is seven centuries old and located in the village of Baroon, 20 km from the town.


Kara Church is an Armenian church located 20 km to the south of Maku. Kara means black in Turkish. The reason why this house of worship is called Kara Church is that it is faced with black stones. Of course some of the original black stones on the façade of the building have been replaced with white stones during renovation. The church was damaged in an attack on Iran by Genghis Khan in 1230 and later by an earthquake in 1319. Each year the internationally-famous church draws a large number of Christians both from across Iran and abroad to the region.     


Two kilometers to the northwest of the church there is a small chapel which is said to have been the site where the first Christian has fallen.


The remains of forts which bear inscriptions dating back to the Safavid era still stand in the old town. The Aras River which marks the Iran-Azerbaijan border is also nearby. A namesake dam has been built across the river which is an ideal place for fishing and eco-tourists.   


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