Republic of Artsakh

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]Map of Karabakh
Mamik and Babik

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 fifteen 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.

Armenians have lived in the Karabakh region since Roman times. In the early Middle Ages the native Albanian population of upper Karabakh merged into the Armenian population, and after 1300 Islamic Turks moved into the steppes of lower Karabakh. [1]

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.

Armenian children standing among the rubble of a building in Stepanakert after its shelling by Azerbaijani forces.

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.

Karabakh War

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.


Government building in the main square of Stepanakert

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.

Ilham Aliyev, the current Azerbaijani president, regularly expresses belligerent statements regarding the solution of the Karabakh issue. This as well as Azerbaijan's increased military spending have created concern among observers. Aliyev has openly threatened to "liberate" the region "by force" and to "attack Armenia in all directions." Recently, he has been quoted by Radio Free Europe stating that the Karabakh Armenians should accept Azerbaijani rule or be forced to emigrate. [1]


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.


  1. This article contains material from the Library of Congress Country Studies, which are United States government publications in the public domain.Azerbaijan

See also

External links and references

  1. Democracy and Nationalism in Armenia, by Peter Rutland, p.841

This article contains content from Wikipedia, used here under the GNU Free Documentation License.