The Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic (Naxçıvan Muxtar Respublikası; Նախիջևանի Ինքնավար Հանրապետություն; Нахичеванская Автономная Республика; Nahçıvan Özerk Cumhuriyeti or Nahçıvan Muhtar Cumhuriyeti; جمهوری خودمختار نخجوان), known simply as Nakhchivan, is a landlocked exclave of Azerbaijan. The region covers 5,500 km² and borders Armenia (221 km) to the east and north, Iran (179 km) to the south and west, and Turkey (9 km) to the northwest. Its capital is Nakhchivan City, home to the Nakhchivan State University.
In 189 BC, Nakhchivan was part of the new Kingdom of Armenia established by Artaxias I. Within the kingdom, the region of present-day Nakhchivan was part of the Ayrarat, Vaspurakan and Syunik provinces. The area's status as a major trade center allowed it to prosper, though because of this, it was coveted by many foreign powers. According to historian Faustus of Byzantium (4th century), when the Sassanid Persians invaded Armenia, Sassanid King Shapur II (310-380) removed 2,000 Armenian and 16,000 Jewish families in 360-370. In 428, the Armenian Arshakuni monarchy was abolished and Nakhchivan was annexed by Sassanid Persia. In 623, possession of the region passed to the Byzantine Empire. From 640 on, Arabs invaded Nakhchivan and undertook many campaigns in the area crushing all resistance and attacking Armenian nobles who remained in contact with the Byzantines or who refused to pay tribute. In 705, Arab viceroy Muhammad ibn-Marwan decided to eliminate the Armenian nobility. In Nakhchivan, several hundred Armenian nobles and their families were locked up in churches and burnt, while others were crucified. The violence caused many Armenian princes to flee to the neighboring Kingdom of Georgia or the Byzantine Empire. Meanwhile, Nakhchivan itself became part of the autonomous Principality of Armenia under Arab control. In the 8th century, Nakhchivan was one of the scenes of an uprising against the Arabs led by Persian revolutionary Babak Khorramdin of the Iranian Khorram-Dinān ("those of the joyous religion" in Persian). Nakhchivan was finally released from Arab rule in the 10th century by Bagratid King Smbat I and handed over to the princes of Syunik.. This region also was taken by Sajids in 895 and between 909-929, Sallarid between 942-971 and Shaddadid between 971-1045.
In the 11th century the region was taken over by the Seljuk Turks approximately in 1055. In 12th century, the city of Nakhchivan became the capital of the state of Atabegs of Azerbaijan, also known as Ildegizid state, which included most of Iranian Azerbaijan and significant part of South Caucasus. The magnificent 12th century mausoleum of Momine khatun, the wife of Ildegizid ruler, Great Atabeg Jahan Pehlevan, is the main attraction of modern Nakhchivan. At its heyday, the Ildegizid authority in Nakhchivan and some other areas of South Caucasus was contested by Georgia. The Armeno-Georgian princely house of Zacharids frequently raided the region when the Atabeg state was in decline in the early years of the 13th century. It was then plundered by invading Mongols in 1220 and Khwarezmians in 1225 and became part of Mongol Empire in 1236 when the Caucasus was invaded by Chormaqan. In the 13th century during the reign of the Mongol horde ruler Güyük Khan Christians were allowed to build churches in the strongly Muslim town of Nakhchivan, however the conversion to Islam of Gazan khan brought about a reversal of this favor. The 14th century saw the rise of Armenian Catholicism in Nakhchivan, though by the 15th century the territory became part of the states of Kara Koyunlu and Ak Koyunlu.
On the twenty-seventh day they reached the plain of Nakhichevan. Out of fear of the victorious army, the people deserted the cities, villages, houses, and places of dwelling, which were so desolate that they were occupied by owls and crows and struck the onlooker with terror. Moreover, they [the Ottomans] ruined and laid waste all of the villages, towns, fields, and buildings along the road over a distance of four or five days' march so that there was no sign of any buildings or life.
In 1604, Shah Abbas I Safavi, concerned that the lands of Nakhichevan and the surrounding areas would pass into Ottoman hands, decided to institute a scorched earth policy. He forced the entire local population, Armenians, Jews and Muslims alike, to leave their homes and move to the Persian provinces south of the Aras River.
Many of the deportees were settled in the neighborhood of Isfahan that was named New Julfa since most of the residents were from the original Julfa (a predominantly Armenian town which was looted and burned). The Turkic Kangerli tribe was later permitted to move back under Shah Abbas II (1642–1666) in order to repopulate the frontier region of his realm. In the 17th century, Nakhchivan was the scene of a peasant movement led by Köroğlu against foreign invaders and "native exploiters". In 1747, the Nakhchivan khanate emerged in the region after the death of Nadir Shah Afshar.
The Nakhchivan khanate was dissolved in 1828, its territory was merged with the territory of the Erivan khanate and the area became the Nakhchivan uyezd of the new Armenian oblast, which later became the Erivan Governorate in 1849. According to official statistics of the Russian Empire, by the turn of the 20th century Azerbaijanis made up 57% of the uyezd's population, while Armenians constituted 42%. At the same time in the Sharur-Daralagyoz uyezd, the territory of which would form the northern part of modern-day Nakhchivan, Azeris constituted 70.5% of the population, while Armenians made up 27.5%. During the Russian Revolution of 1905, conflict erupted between the Armenians and the Azeris, culminating in the Armenian-Tatar massacres which saw violence in Nakhchivan in May of that year.
Under British occupation, Sir John Oliver Wardrop, British Chief Commissioner in the South Caucasus, made a border proposal to solve the conflict. According to Wardrop, Armenian claims against Azerbaijan should not go beyond the administrative borders of the former Erivan Governorate (which under prior Imperial Russian rule encompassed Nakhchivan), while Azerbaijan was to be limited to the governorates of Baku and Elisabethpol. This proposal was rejected by both Armenians (who did not wish to give up their claims to Qazakh, Zangezur and Karabakh) and Azeris (who found it unacceptable to give up their claims to Nakhchivan). As disputes between both countries continued, it soon became apparent that the fragile peace under British occupation would not last.
In December 1918, with the support of Azerbaijan's Musavat Party, Jafar Kuli Khan Nakhchivanski declared the Republic of Aras in the Nakhchivan uyezd of the former Erivan Governorate assigned to Armenia by Wardrop. The Armenian government did not recognize the new state and sent its troops into the region to take control of it. The conflict soon erupted into the violent Aras War. British journalist C.E. Bechhofer described the situation in April 1920:
You cannot persuade a party of frenzied nationalists that two blacks do not make a white; consequently, no day went by without a catalogue of complaints from both sides, Armenians and Tartars [Azeris], of unprovoked attacks, murders, village burnings and the like. Specifically, the situation was a series of vicious cycles.
By mid-June 1919, however, Armenia succeeded in establishing control over Nakhchivan and the whole territory of the self-proclaimed republic. The fall of the Aras republic triggered an invasion by the regular Azerbaijani army and by the end of July, Armenian troops were forced to leave Nakhchivan City to the Azeris. Again, more violence erupted leaving some ten thousand Armenians dead and forty-five Armenian villages destroyed. Meanwhile, feeling the situation to be hopeless and unable to maintain any control over the area, the British decided to withdraw from the region in mid-1919. Still, fighting between Armenians and Azeris continued and after a series of skirmishes that took place throughout the Nakhchivan district, a cease-fire agreement was concluded. However, the cease-fire lasted only briefly, and by early March 1920, more fighting broke out, primarily in Karabakh between Karabakh Armenians and Azerbaijan's regular army. This triggered conflicts in other areas with mixed populations, including Nakhchivan. In mid-March 1920, Armenian forces launched an offensive on all of the disputed territories, and by the end of the month both the Nakhchivan and Zangezur regions came under stable but temporary Armenian control.
In July 1920, the 11th Soviet Red Army invaded and occupied the region and on July 28, declared the Nakhchivan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic with "close ties" to the Azerbaijan SSR. In November, on the verge of taking over Armenia, the Bolsheviks, in order to attract public support, promised they would allot Nakhchivan to Armenia, along with Karabakh and Zangezur. This was fulfilled when Nariman Narimanov, leader of Bolshevik Azerbaijan issued a declaration celebrating the "victory of Soviet power in Armenia," proclaimed that both Nakhchivan and Zangezur should be awarded to the Armenian people as a sign of the Azerbaijani people's support for Armenia's fight against the former DRA government:
As of today, the old frontiers between Armenia and Azerbaijan are declared to be non-existent. Mountainous Karabagh, Zangezur and Nakhchivan are recognised to be integral parts of the Socialist Republic of Armenia.
Vladimir Lenin, although welcoming this act of "great Soviet fraternity" where "boundaries had no meaning among the family of Soviet peoples," did not agree with the motion and instead called for the people of Nakhchivan to be consulted in a referendum. According to the formal figures of this referendum, held at the beginning of 1921, 90% of Nakhchivan's population wanted to be included in the Azerbaijan SSR "with the rights of an autonomous republic." The decision to make Nakhchivan a part of modern-day Azerbaijan was cemented March 16, 1921 in the Treaty of Moscow between Bolshevist Russia and the newly-founded Republic of Turkey. The agreement between the Soviet Russia and Turkey also called for attachment of the former Sharur-Daralagez uyezd (which had a solid Azeri majority) to Nakhchivan, thus allowing Turkey to share a border with the Azerbaijan SSR. This deal was reaffirmed on October 23, in the Treaty of Kars. Article V of the treaty stated the following:
The Turkish Government and the Soviet Governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan are agreed that the region of Nakhchivan, within the limits specified by Annex III to the present Treaty, constitutes an autonomous territory under the protection of Azerbaijan.So, on February 9, 1924, the Soviet Union officially established the Nakhchivan ASSR. Its consititution was adopted on April 18, 1926.
Facilities improved during Soviet times. Education and public health especially began to see some major changes. In 1913, Nakhchivan only had two hospitals with a total of 20 beds. The region was plagued by widespread diseases including trachoma and typhus. Malaria, which mostly came from the adjoining Aras River, brought serious harm to the region. At any one time, between 70% and 85% of Nakhchivan's population was infected with malaria, and in the region of Norashen (present-day Sharur) almost 100% were struck with the disease. This situation improved dramatically under Soviet rule. Malaria was sharply reduced and trachoma, typhus, and relapsing fever were completely eliminated.
During the Soviet era, Nakhchivan saw a significant demographic shift. Its Armenian population gradually decreased as many emigrated to the Armenian SSR. In 1926, 15% of region's population was Armenian, but by 1979 this number had shrunk to 1.4%. The Azeri population, meanwhile increased substantially with both a higher birth rate and immigration (going from 85% in 1926 to 96% by 1979).
Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh noted similar though slower demographic trends and feared an eventual "de-Armenianization" of the area. When tensions between Armenians and Azeris were reignited in the late-1980s by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijan's Popular Front managed to pressure the Azerbaijan SSR to instigate a partial railway and air blockade against Armenia, while another reason for disruption of rail service to Armenia were attacks of Armenian forces on the trains entering the Armenian territory from Azerbaijan, which resulted in railroad personnel refusing to enter Armenia. This effectively crippled Armenia's economy, as 85% of the cargo and goods arrived through rail traffic. In response, Armenia closed the railway to Nakhchivan, thereby strangling the exclave's only link to the rest of the Soviet Union.
December 1989 saw unrest in Nakhchivan as its Azeri inhabitants moved to physically dismantle the Soviet border with Iran to flee the area and meet their ethnic Azeri cousins in northern Iran. This action was angrily denounced by the Soviet leadership and the Soviet media accused the Azeris of "embracing Islamic fundamentalism". In January 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the Nakhchivan ASSR issued a declaration stating the intention for Nakhchivan to secede from the USSR to protest the Soviet Union's actions during Black January. It was the first part of the Soviet Union to declare independence, preceding Lithuania's declaration by only a few weeks.
Nakhchivan became a scene of conflict during the Nagorno-Karabakh War. On May 4, 1992, Armenian forces shelled the area's Sadarak rayon. The Armenians claimed that the attack was in response to cross-border shellings of Armenian villages by Azeri forces from Nakhchivan. David Zadoyan, a 42-year-old Armenian physicist and mayor of the region said that the Armenians lost patience after months of firing by the Azeris. "If they were sitting on our hilltops and harassing us with gunfire, what do you think our response should be?" he asked. The government of Nakhchivan denied these charges and instead asserted that the Armenian assault was unprovoked and specifically targeted the site of a bridge between Turkey and Nakhchivan. "The Armenians do not react to diplomatic pressure," Nakhchivan foreign minister Rza Ibadov told the ITAR-Tass news agency, "It's vital to speak to them in a language they understand." Speaking to the agency from the Turkish capital Ankara, Ibadov said that Armenia's aim in the region was to seize control of Nakhchivan. According to Human Rights Watch, hostilities broke out after three people were killed when Armenian forces began shelling the region.
The heaviest fighting took place on May 18, when the Armenians captured Nakhchivan's exclave of Karki, a tiny territory through which Armenia's main North-South highway passes. The exclave presently remains under Armenian control. After the fall of Shusha, the Mütallibov government of Azerbaijan accused Armenia of moving to take the whole of Nakhchivan (a claim that was denied by Armenian government officials). However, Heydar Aliyev declared a unilateral ceasefire on May 23 and sought to conclude a separate peace with Armenia. Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossian expressed his willingness to sign a cooperation treaty with Nakhchivan to end the fighting and subsequently a cease-fire was agreed upon.
The conflict in the area caused a harsh reaction from Turkey, which together with Russia is a guarantor of Nakhchivan's status in accordance with the Treaty of Kars. Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Çiller announced that any Armenian advance on the main territory of Nakhchivan would result in a declaration of war against Armenia. Russian military leaders declared that "third party intervention into the dispute could trigger a Third World War." Thousands of Turkish troops were sent to the border between Turkey and Armenia in early September. Russian military forces in Armenia countered their movements by increasing troop levels along Armenia's Turkish frontier and bolstering defenses in a tense period where war between the two seemed inevitable. Iran also reacted to Armenia's attacks by conducting military manueuvers along its border with Nakhchivan in a move widely interpreted as a warning to Armenia. However, Armenia did not launch any further attacks on Nakhchivan and the presence of Russia's military warded off any possibility that Turkey might play a military role in the conflict. After a period of political instability, the parliament of Azerbaijan turned to Heydar Aliyev and invited him to return from exile in Nakhchivan to lead the country in 1993.
Today, Nakhchivan retains its autonomy as the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and is internationally recognized as a constituent part of Azerbaijan governed by its own elected parliament. A new constitution for Nakhchivan was approved in a referendum on November 12, 1995. The constitution was adopted by the republic's assembly on April 28, 1998 and has been in force since January 8, 1999. However, the republic remains isolated, not only from the rest of Azerbaijan, but practically from the entire South Caucasus region. Vasif Talibov, who is related by marriage to Azerbaijan's ruling family, the Aliyevs, serves as the current parliamentary chairman of the republic. He is known for his authoritarian and largely corrupt rule of the region. Most residents prefer to watch Turkish television as opposed to Nakhchivan television, which one Azerbaijani journalist criticised as "a propaganda vehicle for Talibov and the Aliyevs."
Economic hardships and energy shortages (due to Armenia's continued blockade of the region in response to the Azeri and Turkish blockade of Armenia) plague the area. There have been many cases of migrant workers seeking jobs in neighboring Turkey. "Emigration rates to Turkey," one analyst said, "are so high that most of the residents of the Besler district in Istanbul are Nakhchivanis." When speaking to British writer Thomas de Waal, the mayor of Nakhchivan City, Veli Shakhverdiev, spoke warmly of a peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict and of Armenian-Azeri relations during Soviet times. "I can tell you that our relations with the Armenians were very close, they were excellent," he said. "I went to university in Moscow and I didn't travel to Moscow once via Baku. I took a bus, it was one hour to Yerevan, then went by plane to Moscow and the same thing on the way back." Recently Nakhchivan made deals to obtain more gas exports from Iran, and a new bridge on Aras River between the two countries was inaugurated in October 2007; Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and first vice-speaker of Iran Perviz Davudi also attended the opening ceremony.
|Map ref.||Administrative division||Capital||Type||Area (km²)||Population (2005 estimate)||Notes|
|1||Babek (Babək)||Babek||Rayon||1,170||66,000||Formerly known as Nakhchivan; renamed after Babak Khorramdin in 1991.|
|2||Julfa (Culfa)||Julfa||Rayon||1,000||38,300||Also spelled Jugha or Dzhulfa.|
|3||Kangarli (Kəngərli)||Givraq||Rayon||682||25,500||Split from Babek in March 2004.|
|4||Nakhchivan City (Naxçıvan Şəhər)||Municipality||130||70,000||Split from Nakhchivan (Babek) in 1991.|
|5||Ordubad||Ordubad||Rayon||970||42,700||Split from Julfa during Sovietization.|
|6||Sadarak (Sədərək)||Heydarabad||Rayon||150||12,900||Split from Sharur in 1990; includes the Karki exclave in Armenia.|
|7||Shakhbuz (Şahbuz)||Shahbuz||Rayon||920||21,500||Split from Nakhchivan (Babek) during Sovietization. Territory roughly corresponds to the Čahuk (Չահւք) district of the historic Syunik region within the Kingdom of Armenia.|
|8||Sharur (Şərur)||Sharur||Rayon||478||96,000||Formerly known as Bash-Norashen during its incorporation into the Soviet Union and Ilyich (after Vladimir Ilyich Lenin) from the post-Sovietization period to 1990.|
Nakhchivan's major industries include the mining of minerals such as salt, molybdenum, and lead. Although dry irrigation, developed during the Soviet years, has allowed the region to expand into the growing of wheat (mostly grown on the plains of the Aras River), barley, cotton, tobacco, orchard fruits, mulberries, and grapes for producing wine. Other industries include cotton ginning/cleaning, silk spinning, fruit canning, meat packing, and, in the dryer regions, sheep farming. In terms of services, Nakhchivan offers very basic facilities and lacks heating fuel during the winter.
The European Parliament has formally called on Azerbaijan to stop the demolition as a breach of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention. According to its resolution regarding cultural monuments in the South Caucasus, the European Parliament "condemns strongly the destruction of the Julfa cemetery as well as the destruction of all sites of historical importance that has taken place on Armenian or Azerbaijani territory, and condemns any such action that seeks to destroy cultural heritage. In 2006, Azerbaijan barred a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) mission from inspecting and examining the ancient burial site, stating that it would only accept a delegation if it also visited Armenian-controlled territory. "We think that if a comprehensive approach is taken to the problems that have been raised," said Azerbaijani foreign ministry spokesman Tahir Tagizade, "it will be possible to study Christian monuments on the territory of Azerbaijan, including in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic.
After several more postponed visits, a renewed attempt was planned by PACE inspectors for August 29 - September 6 2007, led by British MP Edward O'Hara. As well as Nakhchivan, the delegation would visit Baku, Yerevan, Tbilisi, and Nagorno Karabakh . The inspectors planned to visit Nagorno Karabakh via Armenia, and had arranged transport to facilitate this. However, on August 28, the head of the Azerbaijani delegation to PACE released a demand that the inspectors must enter Nagorno Karabakh via Azerbaijan. On August 29, PACE Secretary General Mateo Sorinas anmounced that the visit had to be cancelled because of the difficulty in accessing Nagorno Karabakh using the route required by Azerbaijan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Armenia issued a statement saying that Azerbaijan had stopped the visit "due solely to their intent to veil the demolition of Armenian monuments in Nakhijevan" .
Nakhchivan is one of the cultural centers of Azerbaijan. In 1923, a musical subgroup was organized at the State Drama Theater (renamed the Mammadguluzadeh Music and Drama Theatre in 1962). The Aras Song and Dance Ensemble (established in 1959) is another famous group. Dramatic performances staged by an amateur dance troupe were held in Nakhchivan in the late 19th century. Theatrical art also greatly contributed to Nakhchivan's culture. The creative work of Jalil Mammadguluzadeh, M.S. Gulubekov, and Huseyn Arablinski (the first Azerbaijani theatre director) are just a few of the names that have enriched Nakhchivan's cultural heritage. The region has also produced noteworthy Armenian artists too such as Soviet actress Hasmik Agopyan. Nakhchivan has also at times been mentioned in works of literature. Nezami, considered a master of Persian literature once wrote: