Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast


part of the Azerbaijan SSR. Formed on July 7, 1923. Area, 4,400 sq km (5.1 percent of the area of the Azerbaijan SSR). Population, 153,000 (Jan. 1, 1973), or 2.8 percent of the republic. The oblast has five administrative raions, two cities, and seven urban-type settlements. The administrative center is Stepanakert (population, 32,000 in 1973).

Natural features. Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast is located in the southeastern part of the Lesser Caucasus. The northern region lies in the Murovdag Range (maximum elevation, 3,724 m), and the central, western, and southern regions in the Karabakh Range (maximum elevation, 2,725 m). A plain occupies the northeastern and eastern regions. Among the mineral deposits are complex ores, lithographic stone, Iceland spar, marble, graphite, and asbestos. There are many mineral springs, including the Turshsu, Shirlan, Charektar, and Isabugali.

Most of Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast has a moderately warm climate with dry winters. The western and southwestern mountainous regions have a cool or cold climate with dry winters. The average January temperature ranges from 3° to —2°C on the plain and in the mid-mountain regions and from —6° to —10°C in the high-mountain regions. The corresponding average July temperatures are 20°-25°C and 10°-15°C. The total annual precipitation is 400–600 mm on the plain and in the mid-mountain regions and more than 800 mm in the high-mountain regions. The major rivers—the Terter, Khachinchai, Karkarchai (Kura Basin), Kendelanchai, and Ishkhanchai (Araks Basin)—flow through deep gorges and are used for irrigation and electric power. The Sarsank Reservoir and hydroelectric power plant are under construction on the Terter River.

On the plain and in the foothills chestnut soils prevail; in the mid-mountain regions, brown mountain-forest soils with small areas of mountain chernozems; and at higher altitudes, mountain-meadow soils. Wormwood and wormwood-grass semidesert vegetation prevails on the plain, groves of semixerophytic bushes and steppe vegetation in the foothills and low-mountain regions, and broad-leaved forests and subalpine and alpine meadows at higher elevations. Forests (oak, beech, hornbeam, and wild fruit trees) and shrubbery cover more than 32 percent of the oblast’s territory. Typical fauna includes the Caspian snow cock, bezoar goat, roe deer, porcupine, Eurasian brown bear, alpine chough, Cornish chough, redstart, and rock lizard.

Population. The population of Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast includes Armenians (80.5 percent, according to the 1970 census), Azerbaijanis (18.1 percent), and Russians (0.9 percent). The average population density is 34.7 inhabitants per sq km (Jan. 1, 1973). The density is greatest at elevations of up to 1,000 m (60 inhabitants per sq km). It drops to 16 at 1,000 to 2,000 m, and is even lower at elevations exceeding 2,000 m. Forty percent of the population is urban. The cities are Stepanakert and Shusha.

Historical survey. One of the oldest settlements of Lower Paleolithic man (the Azykh cave in Gadrut Raion) is located in Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast. Many remains from the Aeneolithic period and the Bronze and early Iron ages have been excavated (for example, the Khodzhaly burial mound and the Archadzor mounds).

In the first century A.D. the region now occupied by Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast was part of the province of Artsakh, which belonged to Caucasian Albania. Feudal relations developed in the third through fifth centuries, and Christianity began to spread. In the early eighth century the Arabs conquered Artsakh, as well as all of Albania, and Islam penetrated the area. (Until that time Gregorianism had flourished among the Christian population.) Artsakh was part of the Albanian kingdom in the ninth and tenth centuries. In the mid-11th century it was invaded by the Seljuk Turks. The economic and cultural development of the region was promoted by its liberation from the Seljuk yoke in the second half of the 12th century. In the 1230’s, Artsakh was conquered by the Mongols, and from that time most of its territory was called Karabakh.

In the 17th century and the first half of the 18th, Karabakh was the arena for continuous wars between Iran and Turkey. Panakh Ali-khan founded the Karabakh Khanate in the mid-18th century. To defend it, in the 1750’s he built the Panakhabad fortress (subsequently named Shusha, after a nearby village), which became the capital of the khanate. In 1795 the population of Shusha and all of Karabakh (Azerbaijanis, Armenians, and Georgians) heroically resisted the Iranian conquerors.

The Karabakh Khanate had friendly relations with Russia as early as the 18th century. The Azerbaijani poet and statesman Vagif made a great contribution to the rapprochement between the two states. Under a treaty signed in 1805, the Karabakh Khanate fell under Russian rule. Its new status was formally confirmed by the Gulistan Peace Treaty of 1813. Despite tsarism’s colonialist policy, the incorporation of the khanate with Russia brought the peoples of Karabakh some relief from ruinous foreign invasions, internal strife, and feudal fragmentation.

In 1822 the Karabakh Khanate was abolished, and a province with a military administration was formed. In 1840 the territory now occupied by Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast was made part of Shusha District, Caspian Oblast. In 1846 it became part of Shemakha Province, which was renamed Baku Province in 1859. With the formation of Elizavetpol’ Province in 1868, the territory was divided between Shusha and Zangezur districts.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Nagornyi Karabakh was gradually drawn into the all-Russian market. The region’s economic development in the period of capitalism was characterized by the establishment in Shusha and in various villages of dozens of small industrial and handicraft enterprises (primarily silk-weaving enterprises), which relied on the exploitation of child and female labor.

The workers and peasants of Karabakh joined the working people of Azerbaijan in fighting against the autocracy in the early 20th century. A Bolshevik group was formed in Shusha in the summer of 1905 under the leadership of the Baku Committee of the RSDLP. During the Revolution of 1905–07 and from 1912 to 1914 uprisings of workers and peasants broke out in Nagornyi Karabakh. After the victory of the October Revolution of 1917 the working people of Karabakh joined the working people of all of Azerbaijan in the struggle for Soviet power. But in 1918 power fell into the hands of bourgeois nationalists, the Musavats and Dashnaks, who were supported by foreign interventionists. The economy was ruined, and the working people were left destitute. As a result of clashes among national groups provoked by the interventionists, many communities were destroyed, the city of Shusha was burned, and up to 20 percent of the population died.

Akop Kamari, Mamedkhan Mamedkhanov, Armenak Karakozov, and other Bolsheviks led the struggle against the antipopular regime. Soviet power was established in Karabakh in early May 1920, freeing the working people from social and national oppression and clearing the path for the region’s economic and cultural development. On July 7, 1923, the mountainous part of Karabakh (part of Elizavetpol’ Province) became Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of the Azerbaijan SSR. Its administrative center was the village of Khankendy (now Stepanakert).

During the period of socialist construction economic backwardness was eliminated as a result of the Leninist nationalities policy and the help of the fraternal Russian people and other peoples of the USSR. Local industry was established. By 1940, 99 percent of the peasant farms had been collectivized. National cadres of the working class and a people’s intelligentsia gained importance.

During the Great Patriotic War (1941–45) the working people of Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast joined the entire Soviet people in fighting in the Soviet Army against the fascist German invaders and in working selflessly in the rear. Orders and medals were awarded to about 15,000 representatives of the oblast, and the title of Hero of the Soviet Union was conferred on 20 persons. N. G. Stepanian received this honor twice. In the postwar decades the working people of Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast made progress in economic and cultural development and in raising their standard of living. For its achievements in socialist construction, the oblast has been awarded the Order of Lenin (1967) and the Order of Friendship of Peoples (1972).

Economy. Industry and construction employ 28 percent of the workers and employees; agriculture, 18 percent; transportation, 6 percent; trade, public catering, supplying producer goods from one branch to another, and marketing, and procurement employ 7 percent; education, science, culture, and public health, 28 percent; and other branches, 13 percent.

INDUSTRY. Industry uses local raw materials. Between 1940 and 1972 industrial output increased 7.4 times, and between 1965 and 1972, 2.5 times. The food-processing industry, which ranks first in industrial output (53.8 percent of the oblast’s industrial output), is represented by creameries, bread bakeries, and major wineries (Stepanakert, Gadrut, Martuni, Mardakert, Askeran, Leninavan, and Krasnyi Bazar). Light industry (28.3 percent of the oblast’s industrial output) is represented by an important silk combine and by footwear, rug, and garment factories (Stepanakert). The Stepanakert electrical engineering plant, which produces 9.8 percent of the oblast’s industrial output, holds an important place in its economy. Other well-developed branches of industry are the timber and wood products (for example, the furniture factory in Stepanakert and the Mardakert timber combine) and building materials (a production combine in Gadrut and a building-materials combine and an asphalt concrete plant in Stepanakert). The chief industrial center is Stepanakert, which accounts for more than 50 percent of the oblast’s industrial output.

AGRICULTURE. The leading branches of agriculture are viticulture, animal husbandry, grain farming, fruit farming, and cotton farming. Agricultural fields cover 208,700 hectares (ha), or 42.1 percent of the available land. Plowlands, perennial plantings, and fallow lands constitute 112,900 ha (22.8 percent of the agricultural lands), and hayfields and distant and ordinary pastures, 95,800 ha (19.3 percent). In 1972 there were 70 kolkhozes and 13 sovkhozes. There are 1,246 tractors (in physical units), 213 grain-harvesting combines, and 875 trucks for use in agriculture. The total sown area is 78,900 ha, of which cereal crops and legumes cover 47,600 ha; industrial crops such as cotton and tobacco, 1,600 ha; vegetables, melons, and potatoes, 1,500 ha; and fodder crops, 28,200 ha. Cereal crops such as winter wheat and barley are raised in almost every part of the oblast. Cotton is grown on irrigated lands in Mardakert Raion, where the main tobacco plantings are also located.

Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast is one of the Azerbaijan SSR’s chief regions for viticulture and for fruit and berry crops. The vineyards of the oblast’s kolkhozes and sovkhozes cover 12,400 ha, which represents about 9 percent of the vineyards of the republic’s kolkhozes and sovkhozes. In 1972 public farms produced 34,000 tons of grapes, or about 17 percent of the grape output of the Azerbaijan SSR. Viticulture is well developed chiefly in the foothills and mid-mountain regions and on the plain. Industrial strains prevail. Orchards (2,000 ha on public farms) are concentrated in Stepanakert and Martuni raions. The mulberry crop is very important. (The sugar content of the mulberry ranges from 24 to 32 percent.)

Animal husbandry, which depends on local summer and winter pastures as well as on the procurement of field fodder, specializes in the production of meat and dairy products (on the plain and in the foothills, and mid-mountain regions and meat and wool in the high-mountain regions. As of Jan. 1, 1973, the kolkhozes and sovkhozes had 54,700 cattle (including 16,100 cows and buffalo cows), 161,600 sheep, and 47,100 pigs (more than 54 percent of the Azerbaijan pig population). Sericulture is well developed in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast.

TRANSPORTATION. The major highways of the oblast are the Evlakh-Agdam-Stepanakert-Shusha-Lachin and the Evlakh-Mardakert-Kel’badzhar routes.

ECONOMIC REGIONS.The economy of the plains region includes animal husbandry and grain, cotton, and tobacco farming. The piedmont and mid-mountain regions are the chief industrial areas. Agriculture specializes in viticulture and animal husbandry, but grain farming and sericulture are also highly developed. In the high-mountain areas meat and wool are produced.

Public health. In 1973 the oblast had 31 hospitals with 1,600 beds (10.3 beds per 1,000 inhabitants) and 281 physicians (one per 543 physicians (one per 543 inhabitants). Other health institutions include the resort at Shusha, the balneological and climatic area of Turshsu, sanatoriums, and houses of rest.

Education and scientific and cultural institutions. Illiteracy has been eradicated under Soviet power. In the academic year 1972–73 the oblast had 215 general education schools of all types with an enrollment of 44,400 students and five secondary specialized schools with about 2,000 students. The Stepanakert Pedagogical Institute had an enrollment of 970 students. On Jan. 1, 1974, there were four vocational training schools with about 1,500 students. In 1972, 4,700 children were attending 71 preschool institutions.

Scientific institutions include the Stepanakert Complex Zonal Station and the Karabakh Scientific and Experimental Base of the Institute of Genetics and Selection of the Academy of Sciences of the Azerbaijan SSR, which is located in the settlement of Leninavan.

On Jan. 1, 1973, the oblast had 186 public libraries with 1.3 million copies of books and magazines. There is a museum of history and local lore in Stepanakert. The U. Gadzhibekov Memorial Museum House is located in Shusha.The M. Gorky Drama Theater is in Stepanakert. There are 206 clubs, 174 motion-picture projectors, and eight extracurricular institutions.

Press, radio, and television. The Armenian-language oblast newspaper Sovetakan Karabakh (Soviet Karabakh) has been published since 1923. The oblast receives programs of the All-Union Radio and Republic Radio. Local radio programs are broadcast in Armenian and Azerbaijani for two hours and 30 minutes per day. Programs of Central and Republic Television are relayed (six hours per day).

Architecture and art. The oldest examples of the oblast’s artistic culture date from between the middle of the third and the middle of the second millennia B.C. and include bronze ornaments and engraved weapons and painted pottery. Among the works of medieval architecture and art that have been preserved are the fifth-century Amarass Monastery, a 13th-century church at the Gandzasar Monastery, several examples of an ancient type of dwelling and stone epitaphs with crude, stylized animal figures. Shusha is the site of the ruins of a fortress, the Ibrahim-Khan Castle (18th century), as well as 18th- and 19th-century residences. Ornamental painting of the interiors of homes developed in the oblast in the 19th and early 20th centuries (Usta Gambar Karabagi). The painter, graphic artist, music theorist, and poet Mir Mokhsun Navvab lived and worked in the region in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Since antiquity the region’s most famous applied decorative arts have been rug-making, silk-weaving, and gold embroidery. The famous Karabakh carpets are distinguished by dense, overall patterns featuring stylized plants.

During the Soviet period cultural and residential buildings have been built in the cities (Stepanakert and Shusha), as well as in the villages. Traditional decorative and applied arts are being developed.


Azerbaidzhan. Moscow, 1971 (Sovetskii Soiuz series.)
Geografiia khoziaistva respublik Zakavkaz’ia. Moscow, 1966.
V bratskoi sem’e. Baku, 1973.
Azerbaidzhanskie vyshivki. (Album.) Moscow, 1971.
Arkhitektura Sovetskogo Azerbaidzhana. Moscow, 1973.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
and probably the one in Kelbajar, as well as the parts of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, which are currently under
"27 years ago on May 18, 1992, Lachin region, which was not part of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of Azerbaijan, was occupied by the Armenian armed forces," the statement said.
"Pashinyan is grossly mistaken, at least because during the Soviet period the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast in accordance with the Soviet laws did not have the right to withdraw from the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic," he added.