The region's area is 4400 km², and as of 1990 it had a population of 192,000. The population at that time was mainly Armenian (76%) and Azeri (23%), with Russian and Kurdish minorities. The capital is Stepanakert in Armenian, Xankendi or Xankəndi in Azeri. The other major city is Shushi, parts of which today lie in ruins.
Nagorno-Karabakh (Russian Нагорный Карабах; Azeri-Persian Qarabağ قرهباغ (Bagh means Garden in Persian); official Armenian name Lernayin Gharabagh [Լեռնային Ղարաբաղ], though many Armenians call it Artsakh [Արցախ]; in English the name means "Mountainous Black Garden") is a disputed area in the Caucasus. It is claimed by Azerbaijan but is controlled by its ethnic Armenian inhabitants as a de facto independent republic (Nagorno-Karabakh Republic - NKR). The NKR's sovereign status is not recognized.
Nagorno-Karabakh comprises one of the historical parts of Alwania, or Caucasian Albania. In 95 BC it was conquered by Tigranes II, ruler of the Kingdom of Armenia that called the region Artzakh, and was ruled by local lords. In the early 4th century AD Alwanians managed to regain Artsakh, and eventually in 387 AD it became a part of Alwania again. In the 5th century many Alwanians adopted Christianity from the Armenian Church and established close cultural ties.
In the 7th and 8th century the region was invaded by Arabs, who pillaged it and converted a small portion of the population to Islam. Since the 8th century Alwania diminished in size and came to exist only as a principality of Khachen in Artsakh. In the 11th century Turks destroyed the kingdom of Armenia, but the mountainous regions remained relatively unharmed.
In the early 17th century, control of the district passed to Persia, which allowed local autonomy; and in the mid-18th century the Karabakh khanate was formed. Karabakh passed to the Imperial Russia by the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813, before the rest of Russia-controlled Armenian territories, which were incorporated into the Empire in 1828. In 1822 the Karabakh khanate was dissolved and the area became part of a Russian province which later formed Azerbaijan.
After the Russian Revolution in 1917 Karabakh became part of the Transcaucasian Federation, which soon dissolved into separate Armenian, Azeri and Georgian states. Azerbaijan claimed sovereignty over the province and sought to conquer it with help from the Young Turks. Despite the fact that Turkey was defeated in the course of World War I, Karabakh was subdued by Azerbaijan, with approval from the Allies interested in the oilfields nearby Azerbaijan's capital, Baku.
In 1920 Transcaucasia was taken over by the bolsheviks who made promises they would return Karabakh to Armenia. Needing to appease Turkey, however, Moscow never kept this promise. The young Turkish respublic was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with Soviet Russia and Moscow hoped Turkey would, with a little help of Russia, develop more along Communist lines. As a result, the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region was established as a state within the Azerbaijan SSR in 1923 on most of the territory and the rest was directly incorporated into Azerbaijan.
With the fall of the USSR in the early 1990s, the question of Nagorno-Karabakh reemerged. Nagorno-Karabakh had never been a part of an independent Azerbaijan and was only ceded to the Azerbaijani SSR by Stalin in the 1920s. Complaining about forced Azerification of the region, the majority Armenian population started a movement to transfer it to Armenia. In November 1991, seeking to squelch this movement, the Parliament of Azerbaijan abolished the autonomous status of the region. In response the Nagarno-Karabakh government held a December 10, 1991 referendum in which the overwhelming majority of the population voted for outright independence.
These events led to violent reprisals against Armenians living in Sumgait, Baku and elsewhere in Azerbaijan, and then to a land war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Armenian forces eventually drove the Azeris out of much of the region and seized a strip of land (called the Lachin corridor) linking Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as the so-called security zone--strips of territory along the Nagorno-Karabakh borders but inside Azerbaijan which had been used by Azerbaijan artillery during the war. An unofficial cease-fire was reached on May 12th, 1994 through Russian negotiation, and continues today.
Today Nagorno-Karabakh is a de-facto independent state calling itself the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, with its own democratically elected government and a market economy. It is closely tied to the Republic of Armenia and uses its currency, the dram. Successive Armenian governments have resisted internal pressure to unite the two, fearing reprisals from Azerbaijan and the international community, which still considers Nagorno-Karabakh part of Azerbaijan. The politics of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh are so intermingled that a former president of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Robert Kocharyan, has become first prime minister (1997) and then the president of Armenia (1998 to the present).
Meanwhile, negotiation continues. In the latest episode, representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, France, Russia and the United States met in Paris and Florida in the spring of 2001. The mediating countries proposed a plan to formally incorporate Nagorno-Karabakh into Armenia, in exchange for a transport corridor between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan. Armenia claims that this agreement was nearly reached, but that former Azeri president Heydar Aliyev reversed his position. Azerbaijan holds that such an understanding was never reached.