Location and extent of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (lighter color).
1,700 sq mi
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Nagorno-Karabakh or Mountainous Karabagh is a landlocked region in the South Caucasus, lying between Lower Karabakh and Zangezur and covering the southeastern range of the Lesser Caucasus mountains. The region is mostly mountainous and forested.
Most of the region is governed by the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, a de facto independent but unrecognized state established on the basis of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast within the Azerbaijan SSR of the Soviet Union. The territory is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, which has not exercised power over most of the region since 1991. Since the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1994, representatives of the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan have been holding peace talks mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group on the region's disputed status.
The region is usually equated with the administrative borders of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast comprising an area of 4,400 square kilometres (1,700 sq mi). The historical area of the region, however, encompasses approximately 8,223 square kilometres (3,175 sq mi).
The word Nagorno- is a Russian attributive adjective, derived from the adjective nagorny (нагорный), which means "highland". The Azerbaijani name of the region includes similar adjectives "dağlıq" (mountainous) or "yuxarı" (upper). Such words are not used in the Armenian name, but appeared in the official name of the region during the Soviet era as Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast. Other languages apply their own wording for mountainous, upper, or highland; for example, the official name used by the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in France is Haut-Karabakh, meaning "Upper Karabakh".
The name Karabakh is made of two words, "kara" and "bagh" (or "bakh") which originate, respectively, from Turkic and Persian, and literally means "black garden". The name first appears in Georgian and Persian sources of the 13th and 14th centuries. Karabagh is an acceptable alternate spelling of Karabakh, and also denotes a kind of patterned rug originally produced in the area.
In an alternative theory proposed by Bagrat Ulubabyan the name Karabakh has a Turkic–Armenian origin, meaning "Greater Baghk" (Armenian: Մեծ Բաղք), a reference to Ktish-Baghk (later: Dizak), one of the principalities of Artsakh under the rule of the Aranshahik dynasty, which held the throne of the Kingdom of Syunik in the 11th–13th centuries and called itself the "Kingdom of Baghk".
The names for the region in the various local languages all translate to "mountainous Karabakh", or "mountainous black garden":
Nagorno-Karabakh is often referred to by the Armenians living in the area as Artsakh (Armenian: Արցախ), designating the 10th province of the ancient Kingdom of Armenia. In Urartian inscriptions (9th–7th centuries BC), the name Urtekhini is used for the region. Ancient Greek sources called the area Orkhistene.
The ancient population of the region consisted of various autochthonous local and migrant tribes who were mostly non-Indo-Europeans. According to the prevailing western theory, these natives intermarried with Armenians who came to the region after its inclusion into Armenia in the 2nd or, possibly earlier, in 4th century BC. Other scholars suggest that the Armenians settled in the region as early as in the 7th century BC.
In around 180 BC, Artsakh became one of the 15 provinces of the Armenian Kingdom and remained so until the 4th century. While formally having the status of a province (nahang), Artsakh possibly formed a principality on its own - like Armenia's province of Syunik. Other theories suggest that Artsakh was a royal land, belonging to the King of Armenia directly. Tigran the Great, King of Armenia, (ruled from 95–55 BC), founded in Artsakh one of four cities named “Tigranakert” after himself. The ruins of the ancient Tigranakert, located 30 miles north-east of Stepanakert, are being studied by a group of international scholars.
In 387 AD, after the partition of Armenia between Byzantium and Persia, two Armenian provinces Artsakh and Utik passed to Caucasian Albania, which, in turn, came under strong Armenian religious and cultural influence. At the time the population of Artsakh and Utik consisted of Armenians and several Armenized tribes.
Armenian culture and civilization flourished in the early medieval Nagorno Karabakh. In the 5th century, the first-ever Armenian school was opened on the territory of modern Nagorno-Karabakh—at the Amaras Monastery—by the efforts of St. Mesrob Mashtots, the inventor of the Armenian alphabet. St. Mesrob was very active in preaching Gospel in Artsakh and Utik. Overall, Mesrob Mashtots made three trips to Artsakh and Utik, ultimately reaching pagan territories at the foothills of the Greater Caucasus. The 7th-century Armenian linguist and grammarian Stephanos Syunetsi stated in his work that Armenians of Artsakh had their own dialect, and encouraged his readers to learn it. In the same 7th century, Armenian poet Davtak Kertogh writes his Elegy on the Death of Grand Prince Juansher, where each passage begins with a letter of Armenian script in alphabetical order. The only comprehensive history of Caucasian Albania was written in Armenian, by the historian Movses Kaghankatvatsi.
In the 7th and 8th centuries, the region was ruled by Caliphate-appointed local governors. In 821 the Armenian prince Sahl Smbatian revolted in Artsakh and established the House of Khachen, which ruled Artsakh as a principality until the early 19th century. The name “Khachen” originated from Armenian word “khach,” which means “cross”. By 1000 the House of Khachen proclaimed the Kingdom of Artsakh with John Senecherib as its first ruler. Initially Dizak, in southern Artsakh, formed also a kingdom ruled by the ancient House of Aranshahik, descended of the earliest Kings of Caucasian Albania. In 1261, after the daughter of the last king of Dizak married to the king of Artsakh, the two states merged into one. Subsequently Artsakh continued to exist as a principality.
In the 15th century, the territory of Karabakh was part of the states ruled by Kara Koyunlu and Ak Koyunlu tribal confederations. The Turkoman lord Jahan Shah (1437–67) assigned the governship of upper Karabakh to local Armenian princes, allowing a native Armenian leadership to emerge consisting of five noble families led by princes who held the titles of meliks. These dynasties represented the branches of the earlier House of Khachen and were the descendants of the medieval kings of Artsakh. Their lands were often referred to as the Country of Khamsa (five in Arabic). The Russian Empire recognized the sovereign status of the five princes in their domains by a charter of the Emperor Paul I dated 2 June 1799.
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 Karabakh Beylerbeylik. Despite these conquests, the population of Upper Karabakh remained largely Armenian. Initially under the control of the Ganja Khanate of the Persian Empire, the local Armenian princes were granted a wide degree of autonomy by the Safavid Empire over the modern territory of Nagorno Karabakh and adjacent lands.
The Armenian meliks maintained full control over the region until the mid-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. These five principalities in Karabakh were ruled by Armenian families who had received the title Melik (prince) and were the following: the principality of Gulistan, under the leadership of the Melik Biglarian family, the principality of Djrabert under the leadership of the Melik Israelian family, the principality of Khatchen, under the leadership of the Hassan Djalalian family, the principality of Varanda, under the leadership of the Melik Shahnazarian and finally, the principality of Tizk, under the leadership of the Melik Avanian family. In the mid-18th century, as internal conflicts between the meliks led to their weakening, the Karabakh Khanate was formed.
Karabakh became a protectorate of the Imperial Russia by the Kurekchay Treaty, signed between Ibrahim Khalil Khan of Karabakh and general Pavel Tsitsianov on behalf of Tsar Alexander I in 1805, according to which the Russian monarch recognized Ibrahim Khalil Khan and his descendants as the sole hereditary rulers of the region. Its new status was confirmed under the terms of the Treaty of Gulistan (1823), when Persia formally ceded Karabakh to the Russian Empire, 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 Azerbaijani 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 (1918–20), 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 the 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. 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. The oblast's borders were drawn to include Armenian villages and to exclude as much as possible Azerbaijani villages. The resulting district ensured an Armenian majority. In August 1987 Karabakh Armenians sent petition for union with Armenia tens of thousands of signatures to Moscow.
On February 13, 1988, Karabakh Armenians began demonstrating in their capital, Stepanakert, in favour of unification with the Armenian republic. Six days later they were joined by mass marches in Yerevan. On February 20 the Soviet of People's Deputies in Karabakh voted 110 to 17 to request the transfer of the region to Armenia. This unprecedented action by a regional soviet brought out tens of thousands of demonstrations both in Stepanakert and Yerevan, but Moscow rejected the Armenians' demands. 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. On November 29, 1989 direct rule in Nagorno-Karabakh was ended and the region was returned to Azerbaijani administration. 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. In 1989, Nagorno-Karabakh had a population of 192,000. The population at that time was 76% Armenian and 23% Azerbaijanis, with Russian and Kurdish minorities. On November 26, 1991 Azerbaijan abolished the status of Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, rearranging the administrative division and bringing the territory under direct control of Azerbaijan.
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. According to Armenia's former president, Levon Ter-Petrossian, the Karabakh leadership approach was maximalist and “they thought they could get more.”
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 Azerbaijani 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, as well heavy artillery and tanks provided to Armenia by Russia. Many survivors from the Azerbaijani side found shelter in 12 emergency camps set up in other parts of Azerbaijan to cope with the growing number of internally displaced people due to the 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, for the first time during the conflict, the Azerbaijani government recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as a third party in the war, and started direct negotiations with the Karabakh authorities. As a result, a cease-fire was reached on May 12, 1994 through Russian negotiation.
Despite the ceasefire, fatalities due to armed conflicts between Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers continued. On January 25, 2005 PACE adopted Resolution 1416, which condemns the use of ethnic cleansing against the Azerbaijani population, and supporting the occupation of Azerbaijani territory. On 15–17 May 2007 the 34th session of the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Organization of Islamic Conference adopted resolution № 7/34-P, considering the occupation of Azerbaijani territory as the aggression of Armenia against Azerbaijan and recognizing the actions against Azerbaijani civilians as a crime against humanity, and condemns the destruction of archaeological, cultural and religious monuments in the occupied territories.
At the 11th session of the summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference held on March 13–14, 2008 in Dakar, resolution № 10/11-P (IS) was adopted. According to the resolution, OIC member states condemned the occupation of Azerbaijani lands by Armenian forces and Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan, alleged ethnic cleansing against the Azeri population, and charged Armenia with the "destruction of cultural monuments in the occupied Azerbaijani territories." On March 14 of the same year the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution № 62/243 which "demands the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all Armenian forces from all occupied territories of the Republic of Azerbaijan". As of August 2008, the United States, France, and Russia (the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group) are mediating efforts to negotiate a full settlement of the conflict, proposing a "a referendum or a plebiscite, at a time to be determined later," to determine the final status of the area, return for some territories under Karabakh's control, and security guarantees. Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sarkisian traveled to Moscow for talks with Dmitry Medvedev on 2 November 2008. The talks ended in the three Presidents signing a declaration confirming their commitment to continue talks. The two presidents have met again since then, most recently in Saint Petersburg.
On November 22, 2009, several world leaders, among them the heads of state from Azerbaijan and Armenia, met in Munich in the hopes of renewing efforts to reach a peaceful settlement on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Prior to the meeting, President Aliyev brought up the possibility to resort to military force to reestablish control over the region if the two sides did not reach an agreeable settlement at the summit.
The ceasefire agreement is being breached on a regular basis by both sides. Some major incidents and skirmishes include the killing of three Azerbaijani soldiers and wounding one as a result of the ceasefire violation on February 18, 2010. On September 25, 2010 the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon supported the withdrawal of snipers from the contact line. The spokesman of Azerbaijani Defence Ministry Lt-Col Eldar Sabiroglu, however, commented that Armenian servicemen used to fire on opposite positions across the contact line from machine- and submachine guns, as well as from grenade launchers, and that these weapons have even been used against civilians. Azerbaijani sources claim that on March 8, 2011, an Armenian Defense Army sniper positioned in Nagorno-Karabakh territory targeted and killed 9-year-old Fariz Badalov. Badalov's death was condemned by some PACE members(mostly Turkish and Azeri) in written declaration 12591, committing only the members who have signed it. Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, however, denied accusations in join statement. According to that statement, distance between Armenian positions and village of Orta Karvend is too much to hit a man with sniper rifle. On May 18–20, 2010 at the 37th session of the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Organization of Islamic Conference in Dushanbe, another resolution condemning the aggression of Armenia against Azerbaijan, recognizing the actions against Azerbaijani civilians as a crime against humanity and condemning the destruction of archaeological, cultural and religious monuments in occupied territories was adopted. On May 20 of the same year the European Parliament in Strasbourg adopted the resolution on "The need for an EU Strategy for the South Caucasus" on the basis of the report by Evgeni Kirilov, Bulgarian member of the Parliament. The resolution states in particular that "the occupied Azerbaijani regions around Nagorno-Karabakh must be cleared as soon as possible".
On September 12, 2011, a UAV was reportedly shot down over the airspace of the secessionist Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (near the village of Gülablı in the district of Khojavend. According to the Armenian side the UAV was shot down by air defense arm of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army. However according to Israeli sources this was accomplished with the aid of Russian antiaircraft officers who entered the region from neighboring Armenia.
Nagorno-Karabakh has a total area of 4,400 square kilometers (1,699 sq mi). Approximately half of Nagorno-Karabakh terrain is over 950 m above sea level. 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. The entire region lies, on average, 1,100 metres (3,600 ft) above sea level. Notable peaks include the border mountain Murovdag and the Great Kirs mountain chain in the junction of Shusha Rayon and Hadrut. 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. Nagorno-Karabakh in its modern borders is part of the larger region of Upper Karabakh.
Nagorno-Karabakh’s environment vary from steppe on the Kura lowland through dense forests of oak, hornbeam and beech on the lower mountain slopes to birchwood and alpine meadows higher up. The region possesses numerous mineral springs and deposits of zinc, coal, lead, gold, marble and limestone. The major cities of the region are Stepanakert, which serves as the capital of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, and Shusha, which lies partially in ruins. Vineyards, orchards and mulberry groves for silkworms are developed in the valleys.
Population statistics for Nagorno Karabakh are available from 18th century. Archimandrite Minas Tigranian, after completing his secret mission to Persian Armenia ordered by the Russian Tsar Peter the Great stated in a report dated March 14, 1717 that the patriarch of the Gandzasar Monastery, in Nagorno Karabakh, had under his authority 900 Armenian villages.
In his letter of 1769 to Russia’s Count P. Panin, the Georgian king Erekle II, in his description of Nagorno Karabakh, suggests: "Seven families rule the region of Khamse. Its population is totally Armenian." 
When discussing Karabakh and Shusha in the 18th century, the Russian diplomat and historian S. M. Bronevskiy (Russian: С. М. Броневский) indicated in his Historical Notes that Karabakh, which he said "is located in Greater Armenia" had as many as 30–40,000 armed Armenian men in 1796.
A survey prepared by the Russian imperial authorities in 1823, several years before the 1828 Armenian migration from Persia to the newly established Armenian Province, shows that all Armenians of Karabakh compactly resided in its highland portion, i.e. on the territory of the five traditional Armenian principalities in Nagorno Karabakh, and constituted an absolute demographic majority on those lands. The survey's more than 260 pages recorded that the district of Khachen had twelve Armenian villages and no Tatar (Muslim) villages; Jalapert (Jraberd) had eight Armenian villages and no Tatar villages; Dizak had fourteen Armenian villages and one Tatar village; Gulistan had twelve Armenian and five Tatar villages; and Varanda had twenty-three Armenian villages and one Tatar village.
During the Soviet times, the leaders of the Azerbaijan SSR tried to change demographic balance in the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region (NKAO) by increasing the number of Azerbaijani residents through opening a university with Azerbaijani, Russian and Armenian sectors and a shoe factory, sending Azerbaijanis from other parts of Azerbaijani SSR to the NKAO. "By doing this," Aliyev said in an interview in 2002 "I tried to increase the number of Azeris and to reduce the number of Armenians.”
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.
In 2011, officials from YAP submitted a letter to OSCE which included the statement, "The OSCE fact-finding mission report released last year also found that some 15,000 Armenians have been illegally settled on Azerbaijan's occupied territories." However, the OSCE report, released in March 2011, estimates the population of territories controlled by ethnic Armenians "adjacent to the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh" to be 14,000, and states "there has been no significant growth in the population since 2005."
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.
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1 Republic of Armenia's involvement is partial
Military aid to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh Republic
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