Free Artsakh, as often dubbed by locals, or Nagorno Karabakh Republic, is the second Armenian state. It’s a relatively new yet fast-developing tourism destination, perhaps, a terra incognita for many keen travelers and travel bloggers. However, like Republic of Armenia, Artsakh offers a myriad of adventure, cultural and historical travel destinations. It’s a real treasury of unique art and architecture, a home to medieval churches, monasteries and Armenian khachkars, not to mention the untouched beauty of picturesque landscapes and enticing mountains. Already curious about the land? Here are 10 facts you should know before heading for Nagorno-Karabakh.
1. The legend has it that ”Artsakh” is derived from "Ar” (Aran) and "tsakh”- woods, garden, meaning ”the gardens of Aran Sisakean”, the first nakharar (leader) of northeastern Armenia. Historically, the region of Artsakh (mostly overlapping with current territory of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic) was the 10th province of Kingdom of Armenia through 189 BC until 387 AD, afterwards captured and settled by foreign invaders. It was in May 1994 that Artsakh people regained independence after the bereavements of the war with Azerbaijan. Nowadays, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is de facto an independent but mostly unrecognized state.
2. Stepanakert is the capital and largest city of the country. Extremely clean, green cozy, it’s the cultural and economic hub of the republic, hosting the governmental buildings and parliament, as well as a number of entertainment places, parks and restaurants.
3. Stepanakert is home to Artsakh’s symbol, ”We are Our Mountains” monument mostly known as ”Tatik- Papik” (”Grandma and Grandpa”) among Armenians. The monument made of tufa features an old man and woman dressed in a traditional costume. The sculpture symbolizing the whole Artsakh people stands proudly on top of a small hill and ”points to” an amazing panoramic view of the city.
4. Shushi, the second largest city of Artsakh, has rich yet thorny history. A major cultural center of the region, the city has still preserved its unique charm in spite of the destruction inflicted by war. Shushi is home to a number of landmarks and less explored tourist destinations, such as enthralling Hunot Canyon, the 19th century Ghazanchetsots Cathedral, Kanatch Zham (”Green Church”) and Shushi Tank Memorial.
5. Artsakh is also home to Azokh cave, another less known yet must-see tourist destination in the country. The most noteworthy fact about this six-cave complex is that it is considered one of the most oldest places of proto-human remains in Eurasia!
6. As already mentioned, Artsakh is a land of unrivalled pieces of medieval Armenian architecture, and Gandzasar Monastery is one of these gems. Beautifully set in the middle of forest-clad mountains, the 13th century monastery complex is said to preserve the relics of Saint John the Baptist and his father Saint Zecharieh.
7. Besides rich Medieval heritage, Artsakh has much to offer to history geeks keen on exploring Hellenistic culture. The history of Tigranakert, one of the cities of the same name founded by Tigran the Great Armenian king throughout Armenian plateau, dates back to the 1st century B.C.! Nowadays, you can learn about the once-flourishing city and the unearthed artifacts at the State Archeological Museum of Tigranakert located within the walls of the castle.
8. Artsakh cuisine makes part of Armenian cuisine, but is more famous for its "zhengyalov hats” ("bread with zhengyal”)- a mixture of up to 20 types of greens wrapped up in a thin layer of bread. You can find this healthy and delicious dish in almost all the restaurants, cafes and bistros in Artsakh and Armenia. For your information, people of Artsakh are also masters of making wine and mulberry vodka- two beverages the land is also popular for.
9. A good news for fervent hikers: like Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh is also an emerging hiking destination. The mountainous landscape, lush forests and fast-running rivers make it a wonderful place to explore on foot, revealing and admiring unbeaten paths of pristine nature in all walks of your trip.
10. Perhaps, it’s owing to the above all the mentioned facts (and some more that we’re going to write about in our next articles) that Artsakh was included in the list of best locations for adventure suggested by The Guardian. The author of The Guardian article mentions that a trip to Artsakh is not for the "faint-hearted” due to "border skirmishes and ongoing wrangling for political control”. However, despite the tough past and present, the land of Artsakh is imbued with a very empowering aura of liberty, pride and tranquility at the same time, which you are sure going to experience during your Artsakh adventure.
A bonus: By the way, you’ll feel light and comfortable among Artsakh people. Hospitable and easy-going, like featured in the video, they will show you around and guide if needed.
Text: Sirvard Amatuni