BBC News
Launch consoleBBC News 24
Last Updated: Friday, 20 July 2007, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Regions and territories: Nagorno-Karabakh
Situated in south-western Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh is a richly fertile area of striking beauty scarred by its violent history.

The word Karabakh has Turkic and Persian roots and means "black garden". The word Nagorno is Russian and means mountainous.



The ongoing bitter rivalry for control between ethnic Armenians and Azeris has roots dating back well over a century into competition between Christian Armenian and Muslim Turkic and Persian influences.

Man walks past mural of flag of breakaway Nagorno Karabakh region
Territory is inside Azerbaijan, but population is mainly ethnic Armenian
War followed 1991 declaration of independence; up to 30,000 killed, more than one million fled their homes
Ceasefire signed in 1994, but peace talks are bogged down and refugees remain stranded

Populated for hundreds of years by Armenian and Turkic farmers, herdsmen and traders, Karabakh became part of the Russian empire in the 19th century.

Armenia insists that it was part of an early Christian kingdom, citing the presence of ancient churches as evidence. Azeri historians argue that the churches were built by the Caucasian Albanians, a Christian nation whom they regard as among the forebears of the Azeri people.

Islam arrived in the region more than a millennium ago.

For long periods Christian Armenians and Turkic Azeris lived in peace but they were both guilty of acts of brutality in the early 20th century. These live on in the popular memory and fuel mutual antagonism.

Women grieve
There have been many deaths to mourn

The end of World War I and the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia brought carving up of borders. As part of their divide-and-rule policy in the area, the Soviets established the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region, of which the population was predominantly ethnic Armenian, within Azerbaijan in the early 1920s.

Armenian discontent at this situation smouldered throughout the Soviet period. Ethnic Armenian-Azeri frictions exploded into furious violence in the late 1980s in the twilight years of the USSR.

As the violence escalated, the ethnic Azeri population fled Karabakh and Armenia while ethnic Armenians fled the rest of Azerbaijan. With the break-up of the Soviet Union, in late 1991, Karabakh declared itself an independent republic. That de facto status remains unrecognised elsewhere.

Although there was no formal declaration of war, there was large-scale combat between Azerbaijani and ethnic Armenian forces. That fighting ultimately brought victory for the ethnic Armenians who then pushed on to occupy Azeri territory outside Karabakh, creating a buffer zone linking Karabakh and Armenia.


A Russian-brokered ceasefire was signed in 1994 leaving Karabakh de facto under ethnic Armenian control. The deal also left swathes of Azeri territory around the enclave in Armenian hands. No final settlement has ever been signed. Both sides have had soldiers killed in sporadic breaches of the ceasefire. The closure of borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan has caused landlocked Armenia severe economic problems for nearly 15 years.

The guns are silent, but the territory's future is unresolved
It is estimated that between 20,000 and 30,000 people lost their lives during half a decade of conflict, and that more than one million fled their homes. The Azeris have yet to return to areas of Azerbaijan now under ethnic Armenian control and have little prospect of returning to Karabakh itself. Similarly, the Armenians who fled Azerbaijan during the conflict have not returned there.

The ethnic Armenians who now account for virtually the entire population of Nagorno-Karabakh prefer to call it Artsakh, an ancient name dating back around 1,500 years.

The situation throughout over a decade since the ceasefire agreement has been one of simmering stalemate. Azeris bitterly resent the loss of the land which they regard as rightfully theirs. The Armenians show no sign of willingness to compromise or give one square centimetre of it back.

Russia, France and the US co-chair the OSCE's Minsk Group which has been attempting to broker an end to the dispute for over a decade.

In 1997 the group tabled settlement proposals seen as a starting point for negotiations by Azerbaijan and Armenia but not by the de facto authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh itself. When the then Armenian president, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, tried to encourage Nagorno-Karabakh to enter into talks he was forced to resign amid cries of betrayal.

Hopes of a peace deal were raised in 2001, after a series of meetings between Armenian President Robert Kocharyan and Heydar Aliyev, the late president of Azerbaijan. However, ultimately the talks came to nothing.

There have since been signs of at least some life in the peace process with occasional meetings between the Armenian and Azeri presidents but these contacts have yet to show tangible results.

Azerbaiijan declared illegitimate a referendum held in the region in December 2006. The vote approved a new constitution and referred to Karabakh as a sovereign state.



  • Status: de jure part of the Republic of Azerbaijan, unilaterally declared itself an independent republic in 1991
  • Capital: Stepanakert/Xankandi
  • Area: 4,400 sq km
  • Main religion: Christianity
  • Languages spoken: Armenian, Russian
  • Currency in use: Dram



President-elect: Bako Sahakian

Outgoing president: Arkadiy Gukasyan

Arkadiy Gukasyan
Arkadiy Gukasyan pledged not to compromise over independence
First elected president of the unrecognised republic of Nagorno-Karabakh in 1997, Mr Gukasyan won a second term in 2002.

He survived an assassination attempt in 2000. Samuel Babayan, whom he had recently sacked as defence minister, was convicted of organising the attack and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Although Mr Gukasyan expressed the desire for a peaceful solution to the dispute over the republic's status, he pledged never to compromise on Nagorno-Karabakh's independence. He insists that the unrecognised republic must have full representation at any future negotiations on the way forward.

Mr Gukasyan was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

Presidential elections were held in July 2007. National Security Service chief Bako Sahakian, who has the backing of the governing Democratic Party, was declared winner.



The authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh operate radio and TV services. Locals can also receive broadcasts from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia.

The press

  • Azat Artsakh - founded by Nagorno-Karabakh authorities

    Television and radio

  • Public TV and Radio Company of Nagorno-Karabakh


    Compiled by BBC Monitoring




    Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific