Nagorno-Karabakh is a region in the South Caucasus. It encompasses the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, an unrecognised, but de facto independent republic, which under international law is officially part of the Republic of Azerbaijan, about 270 kilometers (170 miles) west of the Azerbaijani capital of Baku and close to the border with Armenia.
On December 10, 1991 in a referendum boycotted by local Azerbaijanis, Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh approved the creation of an independent state. A Soviet proposal for enhanced autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan satisfied neither side, and a full-scale war subsequently erupted between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh, the latter receiving support from Armenia.. By the end of 1993, the conflict had caused thousands of casualties and created hundreds of thousands of refugees on both sides.
Since the ceasefire in 1994, most of Nagorno-Karabakh and several regions of Azerbaijan around it (comprising about 14% of Azerbaijan's territory) remain under the joint Armenian and Nagorno-Karabakh military control. Representatives of the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan have since been holding peace talks mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group.
The word Karabakh originated from Turkic and Persian, literally meaning "black garden" The name first appears in Georgian and Persian sources in the 13th and 14th centuries. The related term Karabagh is described by the Oxford English Dictionary as being used to denote a kind of patterned rug originally produced in the area, and is an acceptable alternate spelling of Karabakh.
Likewise, the names for the region in the various local languages all translate to "mountainous Karabakh", or "mountainous black garden":
It is often referred to by the Armenians living in the area as Artsakh (Armenian: Արցախ; Russian: Арцах), designating the 10th province of the ancient Kingdom of Armenia and a province of the Kingdom of Caucasian Albania. In Urartian inscriptions (9th–7th cc BC), the name Urtekhini is used for the region. Ancient Greek sources called the area Orkhistene.
Nagorno-Karabakh falls within the lands occupied by peoples known to modern archaeologists as the Kura-Araxes culture, who lived between the two rivers Kura and Araxes. In the beginning of the 2 century B.C. Karabakh became a part of Armenian Kingdom as a of province of Artsakh. After the partition of Armenia between Byzantium and Persia in 387 A.D., Artsakh became a part of Caucasian Albania.
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 after 1300 Islamic Turks moved into the steppes of lower Karabakh.
In the 7th and 8th centuries, the region was ruled by Caliphate-appointed governors. According to ancient and medieval Armenian sources, the Albanian church was founded by Catholicos Grigor--the head of the Armenian Church--in the 4th c. AD. It was later fully absorbed by the Armenian Church. In the 11th century, the Khachin principality was established in Artsakh. In the 15th century, the territory of Karabakh was part of the states of Kara Koyunlu and Ak Koyunlu.
In the early 16th century, after the fall of the Ak Koyunlu state, control of the region passed to the Safavid dynasty, which created the Ganja-Karabakh province (beglarbekdom, bəylərbəyliyi). Despite these conquests, the population of Upper Karabakh remained largely Armenian. In the 14th century, a local Armenian leadership emerged, consisting of five noble dynasties led by princes, who held the titles of meliks and were referred to as Khamsa (five in Arabic). Out of those five melikdoms, only the meliks of Khachen were natives to Karabakh, the other four were founded by migrants from other parts of the South Caucasus. Initially under the control of the Ganja Khanate of the Persian Empire, the Armenian meliks were granted a wide degree of autonomy by the Safavid Empire over Upper Karabakh.
The Armenian meliks maintained control over the region until the 18th century. In the early 18th century, Persia's Nader Shah took Karabakh out of control of the Ganja khans in punishment for their support of the Safavids, and placed it under his own control At the same time, the Armenian meliks were granted supreme command over neighboring Armenian principalities and Muslim khans in the Caucasus, in return for the meliks' victories over the invading Ottoman Turks in the 1720s. In the mid-18th century, as internal conflicts between the meliks led to their weakening, the Karabakh khanate was formed.
Karabakh passed to Imperial Russia by the Kurekchay Treaty, signed between the Khan of Karabakh and Tsar Alexander I of Russia in 1805, and later further formalized by the Russo-Persian Treaty of Gulistan in 1813, before the rest of Transcaucasia was incorporated into the Empire in 1828 by the Treaty of Turkmenchay. In 1822, the Karabakh khanate was dissolved, and the area became part of the Elisabethpol Governorate within the Russian Empire. After the transfer of the Karabakh khanate to Russia, many Muslim families emigrated to Persia, while many Armenians were induced by the Russian government to emigrate from Persia to Karabakh.
The present-day conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh has its roots in the decisions made by Joseph Stalin and the Caucasian Bureau (Kavburo) during the Sovietization of Transcaucasia. Stalin was the acting Commissar of Nationalities for the Soviet Union during the early 1920s, the branch of the government under which the Kavburo was created. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Karabakh became part of the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic, but this soon dissolved into separate Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Georgian states. Over the next two years (1918-1920), there were a series of short wars between Armenia and Azerbaijan over several regions, including Karabakh. In July 1918, the First Armenian Assembly of Nagorno-Karabakh declared the region self-governing and created a National Council and government. Later, Ottoman troops entered Karabakh, meeting armed resistance by Armenians.
After the defeat of Ottoman empire in World War I, British troops occupied Karabakh. The British command provisionally affirmed Khosrov bey Sultanov (appointed by the Azerbaijani government) as the governor-general of Karabakh and Zangezur, pending final decision by the Paris Peace Conference. The decision was opposed by Karabakh Armenians. In February 1920, the Karabakh National Council preliminarily agreed to Azerbaijani jurisdiction, while Armenians elsewhere in Karabakh continued guerrilla fighting, never accepting the agreement. The agreement itself was soon annulled by the Ninth Karabagh Assembly, which declared union with Armenia in April.
In April 1920, while the Azerbaijani army was locked in Karabakh fighting local Armenian forces, Azerbaijan was taken over by Bolsheviks. Subsequently, the disputed areas of Karabakh, Zangezur, and Nakhchivan came under the control of Armenia. During July and August, however, the Red Army occupied Karabakh, Zangezur, and part of Nakhchivan. On August 10 1920, Armenia signed a preliminary agreement with the Bolsheviks, agreeing to a temporary Bolshevik occupation of these areas until final settlement would be reached. In 1921, Armenia and Georgia were also taken over by the Bolsheviks who, in order to attract public support, promised they would allot Karabakh to Armenia, along with Nakhchivan and Zangezur (the strip of land separating Nakhchivan from Azerbaijan proper). However, the Soviet Union also had far-reaching plans concerning Turkey, hoping that it would, with a little help from them, develop along Communist lines. Needing to placate Turkey, the Soviet Union agreed to a division under which Zangezur would fall under the control of Armenia, while Karabakh and Nakhchivan would be under the control of Azerbaijan. Had Turkey not been an issue, Stalin would likely have left Karabakh under Armenian control. As a result, the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast was established within the Azerbaijan SSR on July 7, 1923.
With the Soviet Union firmly in control of the region, the conflict over the region died down for several decades. With the beginning of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the question of Nagorno-Karabakh re-emerged. Accusing the Azerbaijani SSR government of conducting forced azerification of the region, the majority Armenian population, with ideological and material support from the Armenian SSR, started a movement to have the autonomous oblast transferred to the Armenian SSR.
On February 20, 1988, Armenian deputies to the National Council of Nagorno-Karabakh voted to unify the region with the Armenian SSR. On February 22, 1988, the first direct confrontation of the conflict occurred as a large group of Azeris marched from Agdam against the Armenian populated town of Askeran, "wreaking destruction en route." The confrontation between the Azeris and the police near Askeran degenerated into the Askeran clash, which left two Azeris dead, one of them reportedly killed by an Azeri police officer, as well as 50 Armenian villagers, and an unknown number of Azerbaijanis and police, injured. Large numbers of refugees left Armenia and Azerbaijan as violence began against the minority populations of the respective countries. In the fall of 1989, intensified inter-ethnic conflict in and around Nagorno-Karabakh led the Soviet Union to grant Azerbaijani authorities greater leeway in controlling the region. The Soviet policy backfired, however, when a joint session of the Armenian Supreme Soviet and the National Council, the legislative body of Nagorno-Karabakh, proclaimed the unification of Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.
On December 10, 1991 in a referendum boycotted by local Azerbaijanis, Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh approved the creation of an independent state. A Soviet proposal for enhanced autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan satisfied neither side, and a full-scale war subsequently erupted between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh, the latter receiving support from Armenia..
The struggle over Nagorno-Karabakh escalated after both Armenia and Azerbaijan attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. In the post-Soviet power vacuum, military action between Azerbaijan and Armenia was heavily influenced by the Russian military. Furthermore, both the Armenian and Azerbajani military employed a large number of mercenaries from Ukraine and Russia. As many as one thousand Afghan mujahideen participated in the fighting on Azerbaijan's side. There were also fighters from Chechnya fighting on the side of Azerbaijan.. Many survivors from Azerbaijani side found shelters in 12 emergency camps set up in other parts of Azerbaijan to cope with the growing number of internally displaced people due to Nagorno-Karabakh war..
By the end of 1993, the conflict had caused thousands of casualties and created hundreds of thousands of refugees on both sides. By May 1994, the Armenians were in control of 14% of the territory of Azerbaijan. At that stage, the Azerbaijani government for the first time during the conflict recognised Nagorno-Karabakh as a third party in the war, and started direct negotiations with the Karabakh authorities. As a result, an unofficial cease-fire was reached on May 12 1994 through Russian negotiation.
Nagorno-Karabakh has a total area of 4,400 square kilometers (1,699 sq mi) and is an enclave surrounded entirely by Azerbaijan; its nearest point to Armenia is across the Lachin corridor, roughly 4 kilometers across. In 1989, it had a population of 192,000. The population at that time was 76% Armenian and 23% Azerbaijanis, with Russian and Kurdish minorities. The capital is Stepanakert (known in Azerbaijan as Xankəndi, Khankendi). Its other major city, today lying partially in ruins, is Shushi (known in Azerbaijan as Shusha).
The borders of Nagorno-Karabakh resemble a kidney bean with the indentation on the east side. It has tall mountain ridges along the northern edge and along the west and a mountainous south. The part near the indentation of the kidney bean itself is a relatively flat valley, with the two edges of the bean, the provinces of Martakert and Martuni, having flat lands as well. Other flatter valleys exist around the Sarsang reservoir, Hadrut, and the south. Much of Nagorno-Karabakh is forested, especially the mountains.
The territory of modern Nagorno-Karabakh forms a portion of the historic region of Karabakh, which lies between the rivers Kura and Araxes, and the modern Armenia-Azerbaijan border. In the ancient and medieval times, this larger region consisted of the historic provinces of Artsakh and Utik, which at various times alternated between the kingdoms of Armenia and Caucasian Albania. Beginning with the 13th and 14th centuries, the Artsakh-Utik area received the name Karabakh. The eastern portion of Karabakh (roughly corresponding to Utik) lies on a lower and flatter surface, and has traditionally been called Lower Karabakh, while the western, mountainous portion (roughly corresponding to Artsakh) has been referred to as Mountainous, Upper, or High Karabakh. Nagorno-Karabakh in its modern borders is part of the larger region of Upper Karabakh.
Nearing the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast boasted a population of 145,593 Armenians (76.4%), 42,871 Azerbaijanis (22.4%), and several thousand Kurds, Russians, Greeks, and Assyrians. Most of the Azerbaijani and Kurdish populations fled the region during the heaviest years of fighting in the war from 1992 to 1993. The main language spoken in Nagorno-Karabakh is Armenian; however, Karabakh Armenians speak a dialect of Armenian which is considerably different from that which is spoken in Armenia as it is layered with Russian, Turkish and Persian words.
In 2001, the NKR's reported population was 95% Armenian, with the remaining total including Assyrians, Greeks, and Kurds. In March 2007, the local government announced that its population had grown to 138,000. The annual birth rate was recorded at 2,200-2,300 per year, an increase from nearly 1,500 in 1999. Until 2000, the country's net migration was at a negative. For the first half of 2007, 1,010 births and 659 deaths were reported, with a net emigration of 27.
Most of the Armenian population is Christian and belongs to the Armenian Apostolic Church. Certain Orthodox Christian and Evangelical Christian denominations also exist; other religions include Judaism.