Karabakh (the official name is the Republic of Nagorno Karabagh) is a country rich in unique and beautiful places. Armenians prefer to call the region Artsakh, an ancient Armenian name for the area. Artsakh is an integral part of historic Armenia.
Abundant in historical and cultural sites, boasting beautiful vistas of nature, and rich as well in historical and cultural monuments, Karabakh is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region.
Here one may see the Hunot Canyon State Natural-Historical Reserve, the Karvachar Hot Water Springs, the Askeran medieval fortress (aka Mayraberd fortress) and the recently discovered ruins of Tigranakert, an Armenian city dating back to the 1st century B.C. One may also explore the monastic complexes of Amaras and Dadivank, the exquisite Gandzasar Monastery, and visit the town of Sushi, which has become a symbol of Armenian glory.
Karabakh encompasses an area in the north-eastern part of the Armenian Highland. It borders with Armenia to the west. Azerbaijan is to the east, and Iran is to the south. Karabakh covers 12 thousand km2 with a population of about 150 thousand. The capital of Karabakh is Stepanakert. The country is divided into 7 administrative districts - Shahumyan, Kashatagh, Martakert, Askeran, Shushi and Martuni and Hadrut.
The landscape of Artsakh is diverse and beautiful, featuring sky-high mountains, fathomless gorges, fertile flat lands, babbling rivers and cold springs. The topography here is varied. The overall range in elevation, from lowest to highest point, is 3,600 meters.
The country’s lowest points of elevation are the valleys in the north-east (100 meters). The highest peak is Mount Gomshasar (3724 meters) of the Mrav mountain range in the north-western part of Karabakh. A considerable part of the area (about 1/3) is covered with woods abundant in velvet fragrant flowers. There are more than 2000 plant species growing in Karabakh. The most common trees include oak, hornbeams, beeches, and plane trees. Karabakh is also known for its fruit trees, the most famous being mulberry and the succulent pomegranate with its unforgettable taste. In all probability the world's largest plane-tree, known as the amazing Tnjri, grows in the village of Skhtorashen not far from Stepanakert. The tree is more than two thousand years old. During the Soviet era, Tnjri was granted a certificate for being one of the largest and oldest trees in the Soviet Union. This giant tree reaches a height of over 54 meters; the tree’s circumference is almost 27 meters. This miracle of nature is an important shrine to the local people and is a popular site for visitors.
Karabakh's fauna is also very rich and diverse. It includes such rare animals as bezoar goats, roe deer, wild boar, wild cats, and lynx. Historically, Karabakh has been famous for its special breed of black horses, called “Karabakhian runners”. This kind of saddle-horse was produced in ancient times by crossing different breeds. Karabakh saddlebred horses were also exported to other countries.
The climate in Karabakh in general is moderately warm with dry winters. In the mountainous parts winters are dry and cold. The average temperature in January ranges from -30 C to -20 C, in the high mountainous areas the average is -10 C. In July, temperatures range from + 20 C to +25 C. In high mountainous areas the range is from +10 C up to +15 C. The lowest temperature recorded was -230C, the highest - + 400C. The annual average precipitation is 410-840 mm.
Though Nagorno-Karabakh is a rather young state, it has a sustainable and up-to-date system of government. It was established on September 2nd, 1991, though it is one of the oldest settlements of Historical Armenia.
Nagorno Karabakh is located in the northeastern part of the Armenian Highlands. From time immemorial it had been one of the provinces of historical Armenia, as its northeastern border. Excavations in Karabakh point to evidence of inhabited areas in the Stone Age. Artsakh was referred to as “Urtekhe” in cuneiform inscriptions of the Armenian Kingdom of the Van period, and later Artsakh became one of the 15 provinces of the Armenia Major (Mets Hayk).
There are several popular etymologies of the name Artsakh. According to an old tradition, when Armenians lived in Artsakh the Armenian forefather Hayk was told that seeds sown in that country failed to germinate. Even the slightest rain washed out the soil and so nothing survived to harvest. Hayk sent his son Aramanyak to Artsakh and told him to plant the land with countless trees, bushes and gardens to strengthen the soil. Aramanyak took various seedlings from all over Armenia and planted them on the sliding soil. "Tsakh" was Armenian for woods. People spoke of “Aramanyaki tsakh” (The Woods of Aramanyak), and so the country was named Ar-tsakh, meaning the woods of Aramanyak ("Ar" is the abbreviation for Aramanyak).
The Greek historian Strabo mentioned the country of Orkhistene (which means Artsakh in Armenian), and commented upon the country’s military might, its numerous troops during various wars.
Indeed, at different times Artsakh was considered to be a vitally important eastern province of Armenia. It is not a coincidence that Tigran the Great (95-55 B.C.), the ruler of the Armenian Kingdom, founded four cities in his name, one of them being "Tigranakert" in Artsakh.
It is worth noting that St. Mesrob Mashtots, the inventor of the Armenian alphabet, established the first school where that new alphabet was used for teaching - in the Artsakh monastery of Amaras.
From the 9th to 13th centuries Artsakh no longer held its former political and administrative importance. During that period most of the province was absorbed into the Kingdom of Kachen. For this reason Artsakh was renamed Khachen. From the start of the 15th century this name changed into “Karabakh”.
In 1813 Karabakh became a part of the Russian Empire. In 1918, when the Republic of Armenia declared its independence, Karabakh became part of Armenia. However, the newly established Republic of Azerbaijan also had claims on those historical Armenian lands. After the Sovietization of Armenia and Azerbaijan, the region of Nagorno-Karabakh was given to Azerbaijan SSR by an official Soviet decree. And so the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast was established within Azerbaijan. In 1988 the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh officially demanded reunification with Armenia. This led to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict that escalated into a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Given this situation, and based on the right of people to self-determination, Karabakh declared its independence on September 2nd, 1991. The war continued for another two years until a ceasefire was signed in May 1994. For the Armenian side, though victorious, the war had disasterous social and economic consequences. However, Karabakh did not remain within Azerbaijan. It became an independent state that is closely tied to the motherland, Armenia.
More than 20 years have passed. Despite the blockade of Karabakh, the effects of war are being gradually ameliorated. The economic infrastructure is being restored and upgraded. Agriculture and industry are undergoing rapid development.
Karabakh has become a self-sufficient country in producing electric power. That is to say, it produces the amount of electricity it needs. Populated areas have been beautified and equipped with modern amenities. As for their political system, Artsakh Armenians may serve as the best example of democracy. Today the sculpture «We are our mountains» is regarded as a symbol of Karabakh. It is also known as "tatik-papik" (տատիկ-պապիկ) in Armenian (this is translated as "Grandma and Grandpa"). This monument symbolizes the inseperable connection between the land and the people, which is willing to do everything to preserve their homeland.
Karabakh’s local color is rather interesting. The creative and hospitable people of Artsakh observe their traditions - they preserve their old, while building new. Centuries-old traditions are being continued and renewed. Carpet-weaving in Karabakh has been developed from ancient times. Colorful handmade carpets, rich with ornaments, were used to adorn royal palaces and the houses of wealthy people. Today old Karabakh carpets occupy a place of pride in local museums, as well as in the museums of Armenia, and in many other countries around the world. Carpet weaving is not just a handicraft for the people of Artsakh, it a traditional art form.
Artsakh cuisine is abundant and delicious, very rich in vegetable dishes. Jengyalov hats (a flat grain cake made with greens) has a special place in Artsakh cuisine. It is widely enjoyed and used in meals the whole year round. More than 20 types of greens are used for preparing Jengyalov hats.
The majestic nature of Nagorno Karabakh, its thick green forests, imposing mountains, deep gorges, historical and cultural monuments, the hospitality of local people, and newly built high quality modern hotels provide the best conditions for visitors who want to enjoy nature, for those who are interested in mountain tourism, and for those who are interested in monuments of art and architecture.