Karabakh (Armenian: Ղարաբաղ; Azerbaijani: Qarabağ) also known as Nagorno-Karabakh (Armenian: Լեռնային Ղարաբաղ; Azerbaijani: Dağlıq Qarabağ) or Artsakh (Armenian: Արցախ) is a region in Transcaucasia with an area of 4400 km². 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 (Ստեփանակերտ) in Armenian, Khankendi (Xankəndi) in Azeri. The other major city is Shushi (Շուշի), parts of which today lie in ruins due to the Karabakh War.
The name "Nagorno-Karabakh" itself seems to attests to the region's tumultuous history. The word "Nagorno" (Нагорный or Nagornyj) is Russian for "mountainous." The name "Karabakh" first appeared in Georgian and Persian writings from the 13th and 14th centuries. Many scholars have come to a conclusion that "Karabakh" (or "Karabagh") is a compound of the Turkic "kara" meaning "black" and the Persian "bakh" meaning "garden." However, Tabriz-born cartography researcher Rouben Galichian raises an interesting note in his book Historic Maps of Armenia: The Cartographic Heritage (pub. 2004, p. 210 ISBN 1860649793):
- ...there are a number of Armenian places that bear the Azeri prefix of "Kara", which in the modern Azeri language means "black". These include Karabagh (black garden), Karadagh (black mountain), Karakelisseh (black church) and Karasou (black water). The names do not seem logical, since Karabagh is a lush and green region, the mountainous area of Karadagh is not black and certainly Karakelisseh (Monastery of St. Thaddeus) is not black but an all-white cathedral, with a black strip of finishing stone on the rotunda of one of its churches.
- According to the paper entitled "Tati and Harzani, two ancient dialects of the Azeri language" by the Iranian linguist Abdolali Karang (Tabriz – 1954/5), the word "kara" is a derivative of "kaleh" or "kala", which in the old Harzani language means "large". This could well explain the meaning of the above names. Karabagh – Large Garden, does look like a huge garden, Karadagh – Large Mountain, is a mountainous region with many large and small mountains and Karakelisseh – Large Church, is indeed the largest religious complex in the area, while Karasou – Large River, is a very wide and shallow river. In the local dialect of the present-day Iranian-Azeri village of Gelin-Ghieh, the word used for large is "kala", and even in Persian the word "kalan" means a large amount, which could have been derived from the same root.
Karabakh is often referred to by the Armenians living in the area as "Artsakh" (Armenian: Արցախ), meaning "Woods of Aramanyak" ("Tsakh" is Armenian for Woods, "Ar" is abbreviation for Aramanyak).
Nagorno-Karabakh appeared under the name "Urtekhe" or "Urtehini" in Urartian cuneiform writings. It eventually became an intregal part of the Kingdom of Armenia as the province of Artsakh, one of fiften traditional provinces of Greater Armenia. At times, the area was disputed between Armenia and neighboring Caucasian Albania. Additionally, like the rest of Armenia, it was coveted by other regional powers, especially the Persians and later the Arabs. By the medieval era, it came to exist as the principality of Khachen. In the 11th century, the Seljuk Turks destroyed the Armenian kingdom, but the mountainous regions remained relatively unharmed.
In the early 17th century, control of the district passed to Safavid Persia and in the mid-18th century the Karabakh khanate was formed. In the 19th century, the Armenian meliks (princes) of Karabakh appealed to Imperial Russia to liberate their land from Muslim rule. The Russians consented and after the Russo-Persian War of 1804-1813, Karabakh passed to the Russian Empire by the Treaty of Gulistan. The rest of Eastern Armenia became part of the empire after the final Russo-Persian War (1826-1828) by the Treaty of Turkmenchay. In 1868, the Karabakh khanate was dissolved and the area became part of the Elisabethpol Governorate. During the Russian Revolution of 1905, the region saw violence with the Armenian-Tatar massacres.
After the Russian Revolution in 1917, Karabakh fell under the authority of the Special Transcaucasian Committee of the Russian Provisional Government and subsequently the short-lived Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic, which soon dissolved into separate Armenian, Azeri and Georgian states. Immediately, Armenia and Azerbaijan clashed over ownership of the territory. The latter 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. However, the fate of Karabakh was the ultimately determined by then-acting commissar of Soviet nationalities and future Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Needing to appease Kemalist Turkey, Stalin and the Bolsheviks assigned Karabakh to Soviet Azerbaijan as an "autonomous oblast" in 1923.
With Mikhail Gorbachev's policies of glasnost and perestroika in the late 1980s, the question of Nagorno-Karabakh inevitably reemerged. Complaining about a forced Azerification of the region, the majority Armenian population started a peaceful and democratic movement to unite Karabakh with the Soviet Armenia. On February 20, 1988, Armenian deputies to the National Council of Nagorno-Karabakh voted on unification. However, on February 24, a clash ensued between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Askeran followed by a violent anti-Armenian pogrom in the Azerbaijani city of Sumgait on February 29. Further pogroms and riots broke out in Kirovabad, Baku, and other locations. Soviet MVD troops were deployed in the region to prevent further bloodshed.
In April 1991, Soviet Azerbaijani authorities lauched Operation Ring, an effort to ethnically cleanse Karabakh of its Armenian inhabitants. The operation lead to full scale armed hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In November 1991, the Parliament of Azerbaijan abolished the autonomous status of Karabakh. In response the Nagarno-Karabakh government held a December 10, 1991 referendum in which the overwhelming majority of the population voted for outright independence.
During the war, 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.
I. HISTORY TO 1917
Karabagh (Gharabagh, in Armenian) is known in official Soviet parlance as Nagorno-Karabagh or, "Mountainous Karabagh Autonomous District." It is a region of 1,699 square miles with a current population of approximately 153,000 people, of whom 80 percent are Armenian. Its name means "black garden." The area is known for its rugged beauty, its wild mountains, and its inaccessibility to the rest of the Caucasus.
In ancient times, the region of Karabagh and most of eastern Transcaucasia was inhabited by a people called Albanians, not to be confused with the people of the same name now living in the Balkans. According to the Greek geographer Strabo (1st C. B.C.), Karabagh, which then encompassed both the mountainous Nagorno-Karabagh of today and the larger lowlands, surrounding it, had a highly developed economy and was famous for its cavalry. Caucasian Albanians maintained close contacts with the Armenians. In the fifth century, shortly after the Armenians converted to Christianity, the Albanians too adopted the Armenian brand of Christianity. The first church established in Karabagh, in the region now known as Martuni, was established by Gregory the Illuminator, first Catholicos of Armenia. Tradition has it that Mesrob Mashtotz, the monk who created the Armenian alphabet, founded the first school in Karabagh.
Given the centrality of religion to social life during that period, it is not surprising that in the following two centuries the Albanians merged with the Armenians. The nobilitv intermarried, the region's bishops were often Armenians, and by the seventh century the separate identity of the Albanians was lost.
The territories of both Mountainous Karabagh and the larger surrounding lowlands became parts of the Armenian provinces of Utik, Sunik and Artsakh. In the seventh and eighth centuries much of this area was conquered by Arabs, who converted a portion of the population to Islam. In Karabagh, only a very small minority was converted. The situation of Karabagh changed radically in the eleventh century when the ethnic Turkish invasions began. The Turks had emerged from Central Asia, had conquered Iran, and founded the Seljuk Turkish dynasty, which first raided, then invaded Armenia. From 1020 on, these invasions destroyed much of Armenia, and Karabagh, especially its lowlands, suffercd greatly. By the mid-eleventh century, the Armenian kingdom was destroyed. But the feudal principality of Sunik, which occupied the mountainous territory in the southeast of today's Soviet Armenia and Mountainous Karabagh survived and became beacons to the rest of Armenia. In the following centuries, thousands of Armenians found refuge in Karabagh, under the protection of native lords.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Karabagh gave rise to the pioneers of the Armenian emancipatory struggle. Representatives of the region attempted to interest the monarchs of Russia and other European powers in embarking on a "crusade" to liberate the Armenian plateau, the eastern portions of which were occupied by the Ottoman Turkish and Persian Fmpires. During the 1720's, the rebellion of the Armenians ofSunik and Karabagh, led by David Beg, achieved notable though temporary success. The Russian Empire, expanding southwards in the Transcaucasus, annexed the territory of Karabagh in 1805.
The Russian annexation of Karabagh was officially recognized by Persia in the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813. Thus Karabagh came into the Russian Empire earlier than the areas of Yerevan and Nakhichevan, which were ceded to Russia by Persia in the Treaty of Turkmenchai in 1828. This earlier annexation benefited Karabagh in some ways, but also created a major problem for the future. Because of the time it came into the Russian empire, Karabagh was made part of Elizavetpol Province, which later became Azerbaijan. Administratively, then, Karabagh could not be joined in 1813 to the as-yet un-annexed Armenian territories of which its history and population made it a natural part. Yerevan and Nakhichevan, when they were attached to the Tzarist empire in 1828, were organized in the Armianskoy region, later the Yerevan province. Here, as in other empires, decisions made by colonial administrators laid the foundations for future difficulties.
II. REVOLUTION, REPUBLIC, AND CIVIL WAR
During the first months of the Russian revolution of 1917, the situation in Karabagh was relatively calm. The Russian army had penetrated deep into the Ottoman Empire, and there was no Turkish threat to Karabagh. But by the end of 1917 the Russian army had disintegrated, and in February 1918 the Ottoman Turkish army moved into Armenia. The Ottoman Turks threatened Yerevan and made a desperate drive to oil-rich Baku, then held by a multi-ethnic coalition of Bolsheviks (headed by the Armenian Stepan Shaumian) and small Armenian military forcas. While this struggle went on, representatives of the Armenians, Georgians and Azeris met and formed a short-lived Transcaucasian Federation. By May, 1918 this federation failed and three separate, independent republics were proclaimed: Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia formed the cores of today's Soviet republics in the same region. The capital of the Azerbaijani Republic was at Elizavetpol (Ganja). The new government, indifferent to the wishes of its Armenian inhabitants, claimed Karabagh, as part of the territory of the new republic. The commander of Ottoman Turkish forces, Nun Pasha (brother of the Minister Enver Fasha), ordered the Armenians of Karabagh to submit to the new government of its ethnic ally, Azerbaijan.
In August 1918, the Armenians of Karabagh formed their own national assembly, called the First Assembly of Karabagh Armenians, which then elected a People's Government of Karabagh. This government rejected the demand that Turkish troops be permitted to enter theft capital of Shushi. By the end of the summer, on September 15, the Turks took Baku. With the ethnic Azerbaijani Turks at their side, they carried out a systematic massacre of the Armenians in the city, during which it is estimated that 15,000 to 20,000 Armenians died. when the news of that massacre came to Karabagh, Armenians understood they too were incapable of resisting successfully the regular troops of the Ottoman Turkish army. On September 25, they submitted to the Turks and 5,000 Turkish soldiers entered Shushi. Within a week, 60 prominent Armenians had been arrested, the townspeople disarmed, and gallows ominously erected in the central square of the town. There is no telling what would have happened had the Turks stayed much longer.
Faced with this Turkish occupation, the Karabagh Armenians were looking for aid from armed Armenians outside their borders. The newly-founded Armenian Republic around Yerevan was much too weak to help. The only force of any consequence was the independent command of General Andranik, an ingenious guerrilla fighter and military leader, in Zangezur. General Andranik decided to help and he moved toward Shushi. This advance, however, was hindered by Muslim resistance and by lengthy discussions among Armenians, which resulted in a fatal delay. Before Andranik could reach Shushi (he got within 26 miles), the First World War ended and Turkey, along with Germany and Austria-Hungary, surrendered to the Allies.
The British occupation forces would now play the key role in eastern Transcaucasia. The British ordered Andranik to stop all further military advances and to await the solution of the Armenian Question at the Paris Peace Conference. Andranik, not wanting to antagonize the British, retreated to Goris in Zangezur. Thus the Armenians placed the fate of Karabagh in the hands of the British and the Western Allies. The Armenians had every reason to expect that they would be treated well by the British; after all, Armenians had fought with the Allies and had been the victims of their enemy, the Ottoman Turks. President Wilson had pledged support for the Armenians. At the same time, the Azerbaijanis had been allies of the Turks in 1918. Despite all this, within a few rnonths the British shifted their support In eastern Transcaucasia to the Azerbaijanis, motivated both by a traditional Turkophilia and by their geopolitical assumption that they needed to favor and dominate emerging Muslim entities in the Middle East, between the Suez and India, particularly those controlling petroleum reserves.
The Armenians of Karabagh could expect help from no one, and so, on August 22, 1919, their leaders signed an agreement with the Republic of Azerbaijan, accepting its authority until the final decision on Mountainous Karabagh was made at the Paris Peace Conference. By this agreement, the Armenians of Karabagh were granted cultural autonomy. This agreement established an important precedent concerning the relations of Mountainous or Nagorno-Karabagh and Azerbaijan.
In the same month, August 1919, the British began their withdrawal from Azerbaijan. But thc effects of their short stay in that region are felt to the present day. It is as a result of British support of the Azeri-Turkish position on Karabagb, despite the predominant Armenian majority in the area, that this region was included in the independent Republic of Azerbaijan.
For full article on the war, view the Karabakh War article.
The modern war over Karabakh began, when, during Gorbachev's policies of Glasnost and Perestroika, Armenians in Karabakh began to express their will to reunite with Armenia. This wish, which had surfaced a few times during Soviet times after Stalin attached this overwhelmingly Armenian territory to Azerbaijan, and drew borders which detached it from Armenia proper came to a head with the government of the Autonomous Oblast of Nagorno-Karabakh voting to unite with Armenia. With massive rallies in Yerevan (in excess of 1 million attendees out of 3.8 million residents in the Armenian SSR), and counter rallies in Baku, things eventually became violent, with full scale war eventually breaking out. Armenians secured military control over most of Karabakh, as well as some surrounding territory before a cease fire was signed in 1994, which has held relatively well ever since. A peace deal has been discussed ever since, with no success.
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. The elected president is Bako Sahakian, the prime minister is Anushavan Danielyan, with a full cabinet and parliament. 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 Kocharian, 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, and the OSCE Minsk Group (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 through the Meghri district of Syunik. Armenia claims that this agreement was nearly reached, but that former Azeri president Heydar Aliyev reversed his position. In the end, this "territorial swap" would have been unacceptable to both sides. Armenia would have lost its vital southern frontier with Iran and "signed off" the Armenian inhabitants of the Meghri district to Azerbaijani control. Conversely, Azerbaijan would have lost Karabakh and Lachin, leading some analysts to believe this to be the reason why Aliyev never approved it.
The current position of the Armenian and Karabakh governments as well the OSCE is to allow the Karabakh Armenians the right to self-determination. Armenia also favors an overland link between Karabakh and Armenia possibly through the Kashatagh/Lachin and Karvachar/Kelbajar districts. Azerbaijan's position is that its territorial integrity must be respected in any final decision, thus denying the Karabakh Armenians the right to secure independence from Baku.
In addition there is the Shahumian Region in the north that was detached from Karabakh during Soviet times.
After the Karabakh war, a number of districts surrounding Karabakh were taken by Armenian forces, and some of these have seen some settlement activity. Some of the districts include Karvachar (Kelbajar), Kashatagh (Lachin) and Kovsakan (Zangelan).
The current borders of Karabakh, established in Soviet times, resemble a kidney bean. The bean, whose indentation is on the right side, has very tall mountain ridges along the northern edge, along the west, and the south is just plain mountainous. This makes options for getting to Karabakh from Armenia limited, with a windy mountainous road through Lachin being the primary route, and a dirt road through northern Kelbajar the only real alternative without driving all the way around Karabakh. The part near the indentation of the kidney bean itself is a relatively flat valley, with the two edges of the bean (Mardtakert and Martuni) having flat lands as well. Other flatter valleys exist around the Sarsang reservoir, Hadrut, and the south. Much of Karabakh is forested, especially the mountains.
According to the 2005 census (NKR National Statistical Service), Karabakh's population is 137,737, of which 48.3% are males and 51.7% are females. 70,512 urban (47.0% men and 53.0% women) and 67,225 rural (49.7% men and 50.3% women).
- Stepanakert: 49,986
- Askeran province: 16,979
- Hadrut: 12,005
- Martakert: 18,963
- Martuni: 23,157
- Shahumian: 2,560
- Shushi province: 4,324
- Kashatagh: 9,763
The first ever census in Karabakh was carried out in 1926. According to its results, there were 125,300 people living in the autonomous region; 111,700 Armenians and 12,600 Azeris. Censuses have also been organized in 1939, 1959, 1970, and 1989 which was the last one.
- This article contains material from the Library of Congress Country Studies, which are United States government publications in the public domain. — Azerbaijan
- Karabakh War
- Longevity in Karabakh
- Karabakh Travel Guide
- The Karabakh File
- Vladimir Kazimirov - How did the lands around Karabakh come to be occupied?
- Jhengalov Hats - popular bread baked with greens inside
- The official site of the NKR Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Office of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic in the United States
- Resources Related to Karabakh
- Conciliation Resources
- Articles about Armenia, Karabakh and Sumgait genocide pub.1987-95 (Part 1)
- Articles about Armenia, Karabakh and Sumgait genocide pub.1987-95 (Part 2)
- Base text from Wikipedia Article