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A landscape in Nagorno-Karabakh - a view of the municipality of Krasnyy Bazar.

Karabakh (Armenian: Ղարաբաղ; Azerbaijani: Qarabağ) is a geographic region in present-day southwestern Azerbaijan and eastern Armenia, extending from the highlands of the Lesser Caucasus down to the lowlands between the rivers Kura and Aras. It includes three regions: Highland Karabakh (historical Artsakh, present-day Nagorno-Karabakh), Lowland Karabakh (the southern Kura-steppes), and a part of Syunik.[1][2][3][4]


Origins of the name

The Karabakh region as seen in an Old Russian map from the ESBE (1890-1906).

The word "Karabakh" is generally said to originate from Turkic and Persian, and literally means "black garden".[5] An alternative theory, proposed by Bagrat Ulubabyan, is that it has a Turkic-Armenian origin, meaning "Greater Baghk", a reference to Ktish-Baghk (later: Dizak), one of the principalities of Artsakh during the eleventh to thirteenth centuries.[6]

The placename is first mentioned in the Georgian Chronicles (Kartlis Tskhovreba), as well in Persian sources from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.[7] The name became common after the 1230s, when the region was conquered by the Mongols.[8] The first time the name was mentioned in medieval Armenian sources was in the fifteenth century, in Tovma Metsop'etsi's History of Tamerlane and His Successors.[7]


History of Nagorno-Karabakh
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This article is part of a series
Ancient History
Middle Ages
Principality of Khachen
Kingdom of Artsakh
Melikdoms of Karabakh
Modern Era
Persian Karabakh
Karabakh Khanate
Russian Karabakh
Early 20th Century
History (1918-1923)
Soviet Rule
Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast
Nagorno-Karabakh War
Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh

   v • d • e 

Ancient and medieval

Lowland and Highland Karabakh populated with various Caucasian tribes were conquered by Armenians in the second century B.C. and organized as the Artsakh province of the Kingdom of Armenia. However, it is possible that the region had earlier been part of Orontid Armenia from the fourth to second centuries B.C.[9] After the 387 A.D. partition of Armenia, it passed to the kingdom of Caucasian Albania. The Arab invasions later led to the rise of several Armenian princes who came to establish their dominance in the region.[10]

In the 15th century the German traveler Johann Schiltberger toured Lowland Karabakh and described it as a large and beautiful plain in Armenia.[11] Highland Karabakh (Russian: Nagorno-Karabakh) or Artsakh was from 821 until the early nineteenth century ruled by the Armenian House of Khachen and its several lines, the latter Melikdoms of Karabakh.[10] In 1747, Panah Javanshir, a local Turkoman chieftain, seized control of the region after the death of the Persian ruler Nadir Shah, and both Lower Karabakh and Highland Karabakh comprised the new Karabakh khanate.[10] Nevertheless Highland Karabakh was still ruled by its own hereditary princes, known as meliks, until the Russian annexation of the region in 1805.[10]


Under Russian rule, Karabakh (both Lowland and Highland) was a region with an area of 13,600 km2 (5,250 sq mi), with Shusha (Shushi) as its capital city. Its population consisted of Armenians and Muslims in nearly equal numbers: however, Highland Karabakh was almost wholly Armenian in population whereas Lowland Karabakh was almost entirely Muslim.[10] In 1923 part of Highland Karabakh was established as the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast within the Azerbaijan SSR.[4][10]

In February 1988, in the context of Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika policies, the Supreme Soviet of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast passed a resolution calling on Armenia and Azerbaijan to reach "a positive decision concerning the transfer of the region from the SSR of Azerbaijan to the SSR of Armenia. By the summer of 1989 the Armenian-populated areas of the Nagorno-Karabakh Oblast were under blockade by Azerbaijan, cutting road and rail links to the outside world. On July 12th the Nagorno-Karabakh Supreme Soviet voted to succeed from Azerbaijan, and in response the Kremlin placed the oblast under the direct rule of Moscow, installing a special commission to govern the region. In November 1989 the Kremlin returned the oblast to Azerbaijani control. The local government in the region of Shahumian also declared its independence from the Azerbaijan SSR in 1991.[12]

In late 1991, the Armenian representatives in the local government of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast proclaimed the region a republic, independent from the Azerbaijan SSR. Since the end of of the 1991-1994 Nagorno-Karabakh War, portions of the lowland Karabakh have also been controlled by the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenian forces.

Karabakh dialect

The Armenian population of the region speaks the Karabakh dialect of Armenian which has been heavily influenced by the Persian, Russian, and Turkish languages.[13] It was the most extensively spoken of all Armenian dialects until the Soviet period when the dialect of Yerevan became the official tongue of the Armenian SSR [4].


  1. ^ (Armenian) Leo. Երկերի Ժողովածու (Collected Works). vol. iii. Yerevan: Hayastan Publishing, 1973, p. 9.
  2. ^ (Armenian) Ulubabyan, Bagrat Արցախյան Գոյապայքարը (The Struggle for the Survival of Artsakh). Yerevan: Gir Grots Publishing, 1994, p. 3. ISBN 5-8079-0869-4.
  3. ^ Mirza Jamal Javanshir Karabagi. The History of Karabakh. Chapter 2: About the borders, old cities, population aggregates and rivers of the Karabakh region.
  4. ^ a b c Hewsen, Robert H. "The Meliks of Eastern Armenia: A Preliminary Study." Revue des Études Arméniennes. NS: IX, 1972, p. 289.
  5. ^ Regions and territories: Nagorno-Karabakh. BBC News. Accessed August 29, 2009.
  6. ^ Hewsen, Robert H. Armenia: a Historical Atlas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001, pp. 119–120.
  7. ^ a b (Armenian) Ulubabyan, Bagrat. «Ղարաբաղ» (Gharabagh). Armenian Soviet Encyclopedia. vol. vii. Yerevan: Armenian Academy of Sciences, 1981. p. 26.
  8. ^ Great Soviet Encyclopedia, "NKAO, Historical Survey", 3rd edition, translated into English, New York: Macmillan Inc., 1973
  9. ^ Hewsen. Armenia, pp. 118-121.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Hewsen. Armenia, pp. 119, 155, 163, 264-265.
  11. ^ Johannes Schiltberger. Bondage and Travels of Johann Schiltberger. Translated by J. Buchan Telfer. Ayer Publishing, 1966, p. 86. ISBN 0-8337-3489-X.
  12. ^ De Waal, Thomas. Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War. New York: New York University Press, 2003, p. 85.
  13. ^ De Waal. Black Garden, p. 186.


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