For those who question why Artsakh is so important to Armenia, there are many answers that, individually and combined, support the case for the inseparability of the two republics—connected by time, territory, culture, and history. These are the ties that bind the two as one people, one nation and one truth—the right to exist free and at peace on their ancestral lands.
Artsakh in Strabo’s Geographica
1st Century: In his Geographica, Greek historian and geographer Strabo refers to an Armenian region he calls “Orchistene,” which is believed to be the Greek version of the old name of Artsakh.
Armenian Cross-Stones in Artsakh
Khachkars (cross-stones) are characteristic of Medieval Christian Armenian art. Artsakh is home to a very large number of Khachkars. Shown above is the oldest known Armenian cross-stone “Eghtsu ktor,” dated from 866 in Vaghuhas village.
Hasan-Jalalyan Royal Dynasty
13th Century: Hasan-Jalal Dawla, the founder of the Armenian royal dynasty Hasan-Jalalyans in Khachen (Artsakh), built Gandzasar Monas-tery and is buried there. Above, top: Hasan-Jalal Dawla depicted on the drum of the church of the Gandzasar Monastery. Above, bottom: Armenian Inscription on the tomb of Hasan-Jalal Dawla in Gandzasar, Artsakh.
Stalin’s Notorious Decision
On July 4, 1921, the Caucasian Bureau of the Russian Communist Party Central Central Committee decided during a plenary session that Karabakh would be integrated to Armenia. A day later, on July 5, 1921, without any deliberation or vote, Stalin decided that Karabakh would be included in Soviet Azerbaijan.
The Principality of Khachen
9th Century: One of the last medieval eastern Armenian principalities was formed in Artsakh in 821. Armenian commanders of the Principality of Khachen’s royal cavalry defended Gandzasar. Depicted above is a funerary bas-relief from the Gandzasar military cemetery.
Artsakh on a Historical Map
Kingdom of Greater Armenia during 189 BC-390 AD including Artsakh province. The above map dates to 1788 (France).
The Armenian Majority in Artsakh
For three centuries of recorded data, lands known as Artsakh have been overwhelmingly populated by Armenians. But with the Russian takeover after World War I, and the arbitrary handover of Artsakh to Azerbaijan by Stalin, these numbers began to fray as Azeri’s began to move into the region. Despite this, by 1989, when the Glasnost-inspired Artsakh Liberation Movement began, the Armenians still enjoyed a hefty majority of over three-quarters of the population.
Melikdoms of Karabakh
17th-19th Centuries: Five Armenian Melik (prince) families ruled the five Melikdoms of Karabakh. Shown above are the remains of the Dizak castle (Artsakh) ruled by Melik Avanian family.
“We did not ask for war, the war has been imposed on us, and we ought to defend our homeland and families.”
— Arayik Harutyunyan, President of Artsakh
The Legal Title
The affiliation of any territory to an independent state is defined by the legal title, which is established by an international legal document. The Azerbaijani Republic never held the title over Nagorno-Karabakh or Karabakh at all. The administrative subordination of Nagorno-Karabakh to Baku was based merely on Russian Bolshevik Party resolution of July 5, 1921 fiercely supported by Joseph Stalin.
The only legal document, which defined the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan is the League of Nation’s “Report and Proposals.” It was proposed and adopted during the first London conference of the Paris Peace Conference, as early as February 24, 1920. The report had a map annexed to it. According to that document, taking the demographic make-up of the South Caucasus of 1920 into account, not only was Nagorno-Karabakh considered part of the Republic of Armenia, but also a large part of Karabakh Plains.
13th Century: An Armenian monastery in a style similar to the plans of the Armenian churches of Geghard, Hovhannavank, and Harichavank, was also built in the 13th century. Azerbaijani historians intentionally omit the fact that Gandzasar is a typical example of Armenian architecture of the 10th-13th centuries, as well as the numerous Armenian inscriptions in the drawing of the facade.
Armenian Roots of Shushi
15th Century: The oldest artifact found in the village of Shosh was an Armenian Gospel created by the calligrapher Ter-Manuel in 1428. The gospel, shown above, is on display in Matenadaran Institute of Ancient Manuscripts (archival number 8211) in Yerevan, Armenia.
Armenian Women of Artsakh
17th Century: An Armenian noble woman named Gayane was a scribe in 1633 in Varanda, a district in the Artsakh province. The preserved manuscript below (#2404) by Gayane is currently on display in Matenadaran, Institute of Ancient Manuscripts in Yerevan, Armenia.
4th Century: An Armenian monastery founded by Gregory the Illuminator. In the 5th century Mesrop Mashtots, the inventor of the Armenian alphabet, established the first-ever Armenian school there. In 1988 and 1991 the monastery was attacked by Azerbaijani troops.
13th Century: Armenian inscription by Ter Hovhannes Khachenetsi, who built the church of the Khadavank Monastery in 1204.
Shushi, an Important Center of Armenian Printing
19th Century: The first Armenian-language monthly “Haykakan Ashkhar” (Armenian World) was launched in 1874 in Shushi. 19 out of 21 periodicals published in Shushi between 1874-1920 were written and published in Armenian.
5th-6th Centuries: An Armenian monastery with a three-nave basilica, like most of those in Armenia in the 5th-6th centuries.
The First Armenian Book Printed in Shushi
19th Century: “A History of the Holy Scriptures” was the first Armenian-language book that was printed in Shushi in 1828.
9th-13th Centuries: Pictured above is an Armenian monastery with Armenian script engraved into its walls, in addition to several 13th century frescoes.
Tigranakert of Artsakh
An Armenian ancient city was named in honor of the Armenian king Tigranes the Great (r. 95-55 BC) or his father Tigranes I (r. ca. 123-95 BC). The remains of the city were discovered in the territory of Artsakh in March 2005 and currently serve as a museum.
Attempts of Self-Determination
Attempts to present the question of Nagorno-Karabakh to USSR central government bodies were made in 1930, 1945, 1965, 1967 and 1977, but all of them were firmly suppressed. On July 12, 1988, the Regional Soviet in Stepanakert passed an implacable resolution: it voted to secede unilaterally from Azerbaijan and rename Nagorno-Karabakh “the Artsakh Armenian Autonomous Region.”
Absurd Territorial Claims
Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev’s territorial aspirations are not limited to Artsakh. In 2018, he claimed that large parts of modern-day Armenia’s territory were Azerbaijan’s “historic lands,” and Azerbaijanis’ return to these territories was their “political and strategic goal.”
“I was trying to change the demographics there. [...] I was trying to have more Azerbaijanis in Nagorno-Karabakh, and decrease the number of Armenians.”
— Heydar Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, 1993-2003
The pogrom of Armenians in Sumgait (Azerbaijan) started on February 27, 1988, a week after the appeal of the Council of People’s Deputies to unify Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. The victims were targeted based solely on their ethnicity. On July 7, the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the violence against Armenians in Azerbaijan.
The March 1920 massacre of Armenians in Shushi, the historic center of Artsakh, shifted its ethnic status from an Armenian-dominated town to an Azeri-dominated one. Shown above is Shushi’s Armenian area after the massacre and destruction by Azerbaijani soldiers.
Axe Murderer as an Azerbaijani Hero
The war in Artsakh deepened the wide-spread Armenophobia in Azerbaijan. In 2004, Azerbaijani army officer Ramil Safarov, while attending a NATO-sponsored seminar in Budapest, broke into Armenian officer Gurgen Margaryan’s room at night and axed him to death in his sleep. Although sentenced to life imprisonment in Hungary, he was eventually extradited to Azerbaijan, where he was greeted as a hero and pardoned by Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev despite prior contrary assurances.
The Cultural Genocide in Nakhichevan
Less than 100 km west of Artsakh is the historical Armenian region of Nakhichevan, now governed by Azerbaijan. At its height, the region was home to the expansive Armenian graveyard of Julfa with over 10,000 cross-stones. However, in recent years it has become the site of the greatest cultural genocide of the 21st century, conducted by the Azerbaijani government.
“Based on the declaration of the Revolutionary Committee of the Azerbaijani Socialist Soviet Republic and the agreement between the SSR’s of Armenia and Azerbaijan, it is hereby declared that Mountainous Karabagh is henceforth an integral part of the Armenian SSR.”
— Michael P. Croissant, Author
Destruction of Armenian Historical Monuments
Azerbaijan’s policy of rewriting history has always been accompanied by the destruction of Armenian historical and cultural monuments. Among the most flagrant examples is the destruction of monuments in the village of Tsar in the Karvachar region.
Artsakh’s plea for independence led to a surge of nationalism in Azerbaijan against its Armenian population. The January 1990 massacres in Baku (Azerbaijan) led to the extremely brutal death of around 90 people. The action was not entirely (or perhaps not at all) spontaneous, as the attackers had lists of Armenians and their addresses.