Nagorno Karabakh is a de facto independent republic located in the Artsakh region of the South Caucasus, bordering south east Armenia. It is officially a part of Azerbaijan, but under Armenian control.
The people of Nagorno Karabakh are very friendly and inviting, and if your Armenian or Russian is good enough, you will easily meet people who will invite you to their house for dinner (and some will even harass you until you accept). Unlike many parts of the world, you should not worry about your safety, no matter how much they harass you, and accept their invitation. Even though these people do not have much and, like many persons in the third world, view westerners as rich, they will vehemently refuse any type of money given to them (although you may find luck saying it is "for the children"). However, do not show up empty-handed! You will be expected to bring some sort of gift, with food (wine, chocolates, coffee, etc) being best. You should also bring something to show/give them from your home country (postcard, book, photos, etc) to have a conversation or at least get their interest. You never know, they may likely have family in another place and what you thought was just dinner could turn into inviting you to other family's businesses (discounts), homes (to stay the night), or another meal.
The predominantly Armenian-populated region of Nagorno-Karabakh became disputed between Armenia and Azerbaijan when both countries gained independence from the Russian Empire in 1918. After the Soviet Union established control over the area, in 1923 it formed the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) within the Azerbaijan SSR. In the final years of the Soviet Union, the region re-emerged as a source of dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan, culminating in the Nagorno Karabakh War fought from 1988 to 1994.
On December 10, 1991, as the Soviet Union was collapsing, a referendum held in the NKAO and the neighboring Shahumian region where overwhelming majority of residents voted for independence from Azerbaijan and the establishment of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic. The country remains unrecognized.
Since the ceasefire in 1994, most of Nagorno Karabakh and several regions of Azerbaijan around it remain under the joint Armenian and Nagorno Karabakh military control. Representatives of the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan have since been holding peace talks mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group.
The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is mountainous, a feature which has given it its name (from the Russian word for "Mountainous/Highland: Karabakh"). It is 11,500 km2 in area, bordering Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Iran. The highest peaks in the country are Mount Mrav, 3,340 metres, and Mount Kirs 2,725 metres. The largest water body is the Sarsang reservoir, and the major rivers are the Terter and Khachen rivers. The country is on a plateau which slopes downwards towards the east and southeast, with the average altitude being 1,097 metres above sea level. Most rivers in the country flow towards the Artsakh valley. Over 2,000 kinds of plants exist in Nagorno-Karabakh, and more than 36% of the country is forested. The plant life on the steppes is mostly semi-desert vegetation, and alpine and tundra environments can be found above the forest in the highlands and mountains.
Name - Population - Square kilometres
The climate is mild and temperate. The average temperature is 11 °C, which fluctuates annually between 22 °C in July and -1 °C in January. While winters in Nagorno Karabakh can be quite cold with temperatures way below zero at night from December to March, summers can be very hot with temperatures sometimes over 35 °C. For visiting Nagorno Karabakh both the spring months of late April to early June and the autumn months of September to late October are the most pleasant times for travelling.
The only country you can currently arrive in Nagorno-Karabakh from is Armenia (which is illegal to do if you intend to visit Azerbaijan). The vast majority arrive by automobile via the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor, though driving through the Karvajar (Kelbajar) pass or helicopter are alternatives.
The airport in Stepanakert (the capital) has not functioned since 1990. In April 2009, a conference was held to select the best preliminary bids for a new airport, with the Nagorno Karabagh president selecting the four best and expressing hope a new airport will be completed 'soon'.
Currently there is no working train line between Yerevan & Stepanakert.
If lucky, you may be able to convince a taxi driver to drive you to Stepanakert, otherwise many taxi drivers in Stepanakert might be willing to drive you back to Yerevan, if you're with a few friends for something like US$80-$100 you can organise the travel.
The embassy in Yerevan offers Drivers to take you and drive you there and back and take you to the biggest attractions it’s about US$100 -$150.
There is one daily bus from Yerevan to Stepanakert, which is relatively cheap, but takes forever. There are also many tour companies or agencies, which provide guided tours to Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh in Armenian), you may also hire a Mini-van which will take you and your friends to the capital Stepanakert.
The newly reconstructed Hadrut-Stepanakert-Askeran-Martakert motorway runs north-south through the region and has drastically reduced travel times to just a couple hours from just about any place in the country (excluding small villages & monasteries secluded in hilly terrain).
Taxis are available in most cities, with a new north-south road across Nagorno Karabagh making for a smooth and quicker (than you'd expect) ride across the region. A handful of marshrutkas are available, but they are not as common as in Armenia and many other parts of the former Soviet Union. Aside from these, there are no public transport systems, no car rentals available, and no functioning airports in the region (which is probably too small for air travel anyways). If your Armenian or Russian is good, you may be able to hitch a ride for less than a taxi (although don't pay too much less, as these are certainly not affluent people), and you could very easily be invited for dinner with them (in which you should have some gift, especially wine, coffee, or chocolates, and do not offer money) as the people of Nagorno Karabagh are as hospitable as Armenians and Georgians.
One way to see much of Karabakh is simply to walk from one end to the other on the Janapar. There is a marked trail which is broken up into day hikes which extend for 2 weeks of hiking. There are side trails and alternative routes as well. Trails take you to ancient monasteries and fortresses, through forests and valleys, to hot springs and villages. Each night you can either stay with a village family or camp out.
All cities are small and fairly safe, so it is best to walk around the few cities in Nagorno Karabagh. Not only will you save a little money, but you will get a good sense of the region and its people.
Important note on Visa Restrictions: Azerbaijan may block passports containing stamps or visas from Nagorno Karabakh. If you intend to visit Azerbaijan, ask to stamp a blank page, rather than your passport, when entering Nagorno Karabakh.
Visas cost 11,000AMD (roughly $35). Here is the visa application in English (don't forget to add a 3x4cm picture). The embassy is located at 17-A Zarian St and is open for visa applications Mon-Sat 9a-2p. While the visa allows you to enter the region, you will be required to register at the Foreign Ministry in Stepanakert immediately upon arrival-this isn't just to register your visit, but the staff is very friendly and this visit is more to introduce you to what NKR has to offer and tell you about the plight of the people of NKR. You will likely be greeted by the Foreign Minister and some tourists are even greeted by the president during their visit to the Foreign Ministry.
Be sure to keep the visa outside of your passport if you plan to travel to Azerbaijan in the future - the Azeri authorities will not let you in with a Karabakh visa! Instead, ask for the visa to be attached to your passport.
See also: Money Matters
The official currency of Nagorno Karabakh is the Armenian Dram (AMD). One dram is divided into 100 luma. Banknotes come in 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000 dram, while coins are in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 dram.
In Nagorno Karabakh, there is limitless volunteer work for the willing, combined with an incredibly low cost of living. The government will gladly give most people land as long as they are willing to farm and tend to stay on it.
Armenian and Russian are both widely used. Karabakh Armenians speak a dialect of Eastern Armenian that differs slightly from Armenian mainly because of the inclusion of many Russian words. A good amount of the Population speaks Azeri but it is never heard and becoming forgotten. Very little of the population speaks English so it is wise to travel to Nagorno Karabakh with a guide or translator from Armenia.
Many Mulberry trees are to be found, but ensure you are eating only ripe fruit (dark red) and not unripe fruit (whitish), as unripe fruit as well as the green portions of the tree contain a white sap which is intoxicating and mildly hallucinogenic.
Tutti Oghi is a Mulberry Vodka, and something Karabakh is famous for. It will often reach 80% alcohol, and has a distinct taste.
There are several Tourist/Souvenir Stores within Stepanakert.
A great idea is to buy a Rug made in Nagorno Karabakh, they are known for their Ancient rugs, it is said that many people in the region and bordering countries learned rug making from the Ancient Armenian of Karakagh.
See also: Travel Health
Drink bottled water if you are not accustomed to the local water. However if you are hiking, drinking water in mountain streams and ponds in reasonably safe, as long as you are sure it is not downstream from a large town (in which case it is likely contaminated with chemicals, street runoff, and/or waste.
Remember that this is a rural region, and in the event of a medical emergency the hospitals in NKR are no more than a modest clinic. The nearest major hospital is in Yerevan, a long distance in the event of a heart attack or complications with any medical problems you may have. It is best to have with you a small first aid kit with bandaids, bandages, anti-biotic cream, ibuprofen, and any other medicine you may need.
See also: Travel Safety
Don't venture east of the Mardakert-Martuni highway, where the ceasefire line is located. Otherwise, it is very safe to travel around and interact with people. When you first arrive in Nagorno Karabakh, you must go to what is called the "MIT", the Stepanakert foreign affairs office, to get your travel papers. This will prevent any confusion if one gets pulled over or stopped by local authorities.
If you are planning to hike, be in rural areas, or stay on the outskirts of cities note that the area is inhabited by bears and wolves. While they will not attack if unprovoked, practice bear safety and walk away slowly if unexpectedly approached. If you are planning to hike, the Janapar trail has been broken into day-long hikes and it is best to take advantage of the homestays offered rather than to camp alongside the trails. If you do camp, make sure to keep your food high in a tree and a few dozen meters (a hundred feet or so) from your tent and do not simply sleep on the ground or in a sleeping bag. Instead, sleep inside a tent.
While the region is fairly safe in terms of crime, you must not lose your passport. There are no foreign embassies in Nagorno Karabagh, and you ''may'' have a hard time entering Armenia without a passport or visa. The US embassy in Baku says that "because of the existing state of hostilities, consular services are not available to Americans in Nagorno Karabakh." It would be safe to assume that this applies to all other nationalities and their embassies in Baku.
See also: International Telephone Calls
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