Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic

Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic
Naxçıvan Muxtar Respublikası
Flag of Azerbaijan Emblem of Azerbaijan
Anthem of Azerbaijan: Azərbaycan marşı[1]
Location of Nakhchivan in the Armenian Highlands.
Location of Nakhchivan in the Armenian Highlands.[2]
and largest city
Official languages Azerbaijani
Government Autonomous republic
   Parliamentary Chairman Vasif Talibov
Legislature Supreme Assembly
   Establishment of the Nakhchivan ASSR
February 9, 1924 
Autonomous Republic

November 17, 1990 
   Total 5,500 km2
2,071 sq mi
   Water (%) negligible
   2015 estimate 439,800
   Density 77/km2
199.4/sq mi
HDI (2014)Steady 0.772[3]
Currency Azerbaijani manat (AZN)
Time zone Azerbaijan Time (UTC+4)
Calling code +994 36

The Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic (Azerbaijani: Naxçıvan Muxtar Respublikası, Нахчыван Мухтар Республикасы) is a landlocked exclave of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The region covers 5,500 km2 (2,100 sq mi)[4] with a population of 410,000, bordering Armenia (length of frontier 221 km [137 mi]) to the east and north, Iran (179 km [111 mi]) to the south and west, and Turkey (only 8 km [5.0 mi]) to the northwest.

The area that is now Nakhchivan became part of the Safavid dynasty of Iran in the 16th century. In 1828, after the last Russo-Persian War and the Treaty of Turkmenchay, the Nakhchivan Khanate passed from Iranian into Imperial Russian possession. After the 1917 February Revolution, Nakhchivan and its surrounding region were under the authority of the Special Transcaucasian Committee of the Russian Provisional Government and subsequently of the short-lived Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic. When the TDFR was dissolved in May 1918, Nakhchivan, Nagorno-Karabakh, Zangezur (today the Armenian province of Syunik), and Qazakh were heavily contested between the newly formed and short-lived states of the Democratic Republic of Armenia (DRA) and the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR). In June 1918, the region came under Ottoman occupation. Under the terms of the Armistice of Mudros, the Ottomans agreed to pull their troops out of the Transcaucasus to make way for British occupation at the close of the First World War. In July 1920, the Bolsheviks occupied the region and on July 28, declared the Nakhchivan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic with "close ties" to the Azerbaijan SSR, beginning seventy years of Soviet rule. In January 1990 Nakhchivan declared independence from the USSR to protest against the suppression of the national movement in Azerbaijan, and became the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic within the newly independent Republic of Azerbaijan a year later.

The Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic is an autonomous area of Azerbaijan, governed by its own elected legislature. The region continues to suffer from the effects of the Armenia-Azerbaijan War, and its Karki exclave has been under Armenian occupation ever since. The administrative capital city is Nakhchivan. Vasif Talibov has been the leader since 1995.[5]


Variations of the name Nakhchivan include Nakhichevan,[6] Naxcivan,[7] Naxçivan,[8] Nachidsheuan,[9] Nakhijevan,[10] Nakhchawan,[11] Nakhitchevan,[12] Nakhjavan,[13] and Nakhdjevan.[14] According to the 19th-century language scholar, Johann Heinrich Hübschmann, the name "Nakhichavan" in Armenian literally means "the place of descent", a Biblical reference to the descent of Noah's Ark on the adjacent Mount Ararat. First century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus also writes about Nakhichevan, saying that its original name "Αποβατηριον, or Place of Descent, is the proper rendering of the Armenian name of this very city".[15] Hübschmann notes, however, that it was not known by that name in antiquity. Instead, he states the present-day name evolved to "Nakhchivan" from "Naxčawan". The prefix "Naxč" derives from Naxič or Naxuč (probably a personal name) and "awan" (the modern transcription of Hübschmann's "avan") is Armenian for "place, town".[16] Nakhchivan was also mentioned in Ptolemy's Geography and by other classical writers as "Naxuana".[17][18] Modern historian Suren Yeremyan disputes this assertion, arguing that ancient Armenian tradition placed Nakhichevan's founding to the year 3669 BC and, in ascribing its establishment to Noah, that it took its present name after the Armenian phrase "Nakhnakan Ichevan" (Նախնական Իջևան), or "first landing".[19]


Early history

A modern mausoleum marks the place in Nakhchivan City traditionally believed to be the site of Noah's grave.

Armenian tradition says that Nakhchivan was founded by Noah.[20] The oldest material culture artifacts found in the region date back to the Neolithic Age. The region was part of the states of Urartu and later Media.[21] It became part of the Satrapy of Armenia under Achaemenid Persia c. 521 BC. After Alexander the Great's death in 323 BC, various Macedonian generals such as Neoptolemus tried to take control of the region, but ultimately failed and a native Armenian dynasty of Orontids flourished until Armenia was conquered by Antiochus III the Great (ruled 222-187 BC).[22]

The Nakhichevan region (light purple) at the time of Armenia's Kingdom of Vaspurakan (908-1021).

In 189 BC, Nakhchivan became part of the new Kingdom of Armenia established by Artaxias I.[23] Within the kingdom, the region of present-day Nakhchivan was part of the Ayrarat, Vaspurakan and Syunik provinces.[24] According to the early medieval Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi, from the 3rd to 2nd centuries, the region belonged to the Muratsyan nakharar family but after disputes with central power, King Artavazd I massacred the family and seized the lands and formally attached it to the kingdom.[25] The area's status as a major trade center allowed it to prosper; as a result, many foreign powers coveted it.[11]

According to the Armenian historian Faustus of Byzantium (5th century), when the Sassanid Persians invaded Armenia, Sassanid King Shapur II (310-380) removed 2,000 Armenian and 16,000 Jewish families in 360-370.[26] In 428, the Armenian Arshakuni monarchy was abolished and Nakhchivan was annexed by Sassanid Persia. In 623, possession of the region passed to the Byzantine Empire.[21]

Nakhchivan is said by his pupil, Koriun Vardapet, to be the place where the Armenian scholar and theologian Mesrob Mashtots finished the creation of the Armenian Alphabet and opened the first Armenian schools. It happened in the province of Gokhtan, which corresponds to Nakhchivan's modern Ordubad district.[27][28]

From 640 on, the Arabs invaded Nakhchivan and undertook many campaigns in the area, crushing all resistance and attacking Armenian nobles who remained in contact with the Byzantines or who refused to pay tribute. In 705, after suppressing an Armenian revolt, Arab viceroy Muhammad ibn Marwan decided to eliminate the Armenian nobility.[29] In Nakhchivan, several hundred Armenian nobles were locked up in churches and burnt, while others were crucified.[12][29]

The violence caused many Armenian princes to flee to the neighboring Kingdom of Georgia or the Byzantine Empire.[29] Meanwhile, Nakhchivan itself became part of the autonomous Principality of Armenia under Arab control.[30] In the 8th century, Nakhchivan was one of the scenes[21] of an uprising against the Arabs led by Persian[31][32][33] revolutionary Babak Khorramdin of the Iranian Khorram-Dinān ("those of the joyous religion" in Persian).[34] Nakhchivan was finally released from Arab rule in the 10th century by Bagratuni King Smbat I and handed over to the princes of Syunik.[23] This region also was taken by Sajids in 895 and between 909 and 929, Sallarid between 942 and 971 and Shaddadid between 971 and 1045.

About 1055, the Seljuk Turks took over the region.[21] In the 12th century, the city of Nakhchivan became the capital of the state of Atabegs of Azerbaijan, also known as Ildegizid state, which included most of Iranian Azerbaijan and a significant part of the South Caucasus.[35] The magnificent 12th-century mausoleum of Momine Khatun, the wife of Ildegizid ruler, Great Atabeg Jahan Pehlevan, is the main attraction of modern Nakhchivan.[36] At its heyday, the Ildegizid authority in Nakhchivan and some other areas of South Caucasus was contested by Georgia. The Armeno-Georgian princely house of Zacharids frequently raided the region when the Atabeg state was in decline in the early years of the 13th century. It was then plundered by invading Mongols in 1220 and Khwarezmians in 1225 and became part of Mongol Empire in 1236 when the Caucasus was invaded by Chormaqan.[21] In the 13th century during the reign of the Mongol horde ruler Güyük Khan Christians were allowed to build churches in the strongly Muslim town of Nakhchivan, however the conversion to Islam of Gazan khan brought about a reversal of this favor.[37] The 14th century saw the rise of Armenian Catholicism in Nakhchivan,[11] though by the 15th century the territory became part of the states of Kara Koyunlu and Ak Koyunlu.[21]

A miniature depicting Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent marching into Nakhchivan during the continuous border wars between the Ottoman Empire and Safavid Persia (14th to 18th century).

Iranian rule

In the 16th century, control of Nakhchivan passed to the Safavid dynasty. Because of its geographic position, it frequently suffered during the wars between the Safavids and the Ottoman Empire, from the 16th to 18th centuries. Turkish historian İbrahim Peçevi described the passing of the Ottoman army from the Ararat plain to Nakhchivan:

On the twenty-seventh day they reached the plain of Nakhichevan. Out of fear of the victorious army, the people deserted the cities, villages, houses, and places of dwelling, which were so desolate that they were occupied by owls and crows and struck the onlooker with terror. Moreover, they [the Ottomans] ruined and laid waste all of the villages, towns, fields, and buildings along the road over a distance of four or five days' march so that there was no sign of any buildings or life.[23]

In 1604, Shah Abbas I of Iran, concerned that the skilled peoples of Nakhichevan, its natural resources, and the surrounding areas could get in danger due to its relatively close proximity to the Ottoman-Persian frontline, decided to institute a scorched earth policy. He forced the entire hundreds of thousands of local population—Muslims, Jews and Armenians alike—to leave their homes and move to the provinces south of the Aras River.[38][39][40]

Many of the deportees were settled in the neighborhood of Isfahan that was named New Julfa since most of the residents were from the original Julfa. The Turkic Kangerli tribe was later permitted to move back under Shah Abbas II (1642–1666) in order to repopulate the frontier region of his realm.[41] In the 17th century, Nakhchivan was the scene of a peasant movement led by Köroğlu against foreign invaders and "native exploiters".[21] In 1747, the Nakhchivan Khanate emerged in the region after the death of Nadir Shah Afshar.[21]

Passing to Imperial Russian rule

After the last Russo-Persian War and the Treaty of Turkmenchay, the Nakhchivan Khanate passed into Russian possession in 1828 due to Iran's forced ceding as a result of the outcome of the war and treaty.[42] With the onset of Russian rule, the Tsarist authorities encouraged resettlement of Armenians to Nakhchivan and other areas of the Caucasus from the Persian and Ottoman Empires. Special clauses of the Turkmenchay and Adrianople treaties allowed for this.[43] Alexandr Griboyedov, the Russian envoy to Persia, stated that by the time Nakhchivan came under Russian rule, there had been 290 native Armenians families in the province excluding the city of Nakhchivan, the number of Muslim families was 1,632, and the number of the Armenian immigrant families was 943. The same numbers in the city of Nakhchivan were 114, 392 and 285 respectively. With such a dramatic influx of Armenian immigrants, Griboyedov noted friction arising between the Armenian and Muslim populations. He requested Russian army commander Count Ivan Paskevich to give orders on resettlement of some of the arriving people further to the region of Daralayaz to quiet the tensions.[44]

The Nakhchivan Khanate was dissolved in 1828 the same year it came into Russian possession, and its territory was merged with the territory of the Erivan khanate and the area became the Nakhchivan uyezd of the new Armenian oblast, which later became the Erivan Governorate in 1849. According to official statistics of the Russian Empire, by the turn of the 20th century Azerbaijanis made up 57% of the uyezd's population, while Armenians constituted 42%.[17] At the same time in the Sharur-Daralagyoz uyezd, the territory of which would form the northern part of modern-day Nakhchivan, Azeris constituted 70.5% of the population, while Armenians made up 27.5%.[45] During the Russian Revolution of 1905, conflict erupted between the Armenians and the Azeris, culminating in the Armenian-Tatar massacres which saw violence in Nakhchivan in May of that year.[46]

War and revolution

In the final year of World War I, Nakhchivan was the scene of more bloodshed between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, who both laid claim to the area. By 1914, the Armenian population had decreased slightly to 40% while the Azeri population increased to roughly 60%.[47] After the February Revolution, the region was under the authority of the Special Transcaucasian Committee of the Russian Provisional Government and subsequently of the short-lived Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic. When the TDFR was dissolved in May 1918, Nakhchivan, Nagorno-Karabakh, Zangezur (today the Armenian province of Syunik), and Qazakh were heavily contested between the newly formed and short-lived states of the Democratic Republic of Armenia (DRA) and the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR). In June 1918, the region came under Ottoman occupation.[21] The Ottomans proceeded to massacre 10,000 Armenians and razed 45 of their villages.[11] Under the terms of the Armistice of Mudros, the Ottomans agreed to pull their troops out of the Transcaucasus to make way for the forthcoming British military presence.[48]

Under British occupation, Sir Oliver Wardrop, British Chief Commissioner in the South Caucasus, made a border proposal to solve the conflict. According to Wardrop, Armenian claims against Azerbaijan should not go beyond the administrative borders of the former Erivan Governorate (which under prior Imperial Russian rule encompassed Nakhchivan), while Azerbaijan was to be limited to the governorates of Baku and Elisabethpol. This proposal was rejected by both Armenians (who did not wish to give up their claims to Qazakh, Zangezur and Karabakh) and Azeris (who found it unacceptable to give up their claims to Nakhchivan). As disputes between both countries continued, it soon became apparent that the fragile peace under British occupation would not last.[49]

In December 1918, with the support of Azerbaijan's Musavat Party, Jafargulu Khan Nakhchivanski declared the Republic of Aras in the Nakhchivan uyezd of the former Erivan Governorate assigned to Armenia by Wardrop.[21] The Armenian government did not recognize the new state and sent its troops into the region to take control of it. The conflict soon erupted into the violent Aras War.[49] British journalist C. E. Bechhofer Roberts described the situation in April 1920:

You cannot persuade a party of frenzied nationalists that two blacks do not make a white; consequently, no day went by without a catalogue of complaints from both sides, Armenians and Tartars [Azeris], of unprovoked attacks, murders, village burnings and the like. Specifically, the situation was a series of vicious cycles.[50]

By mid-June 1919, however, Armenia succeeded in establishing control over Nakhchivan and the whole territory of the self-proclaimed republic. The fall of the Aras republic triggered an invasion by the regular Azerbaijani army and by the end of July, Armenian troops were forced to leave Nakhchivan City to the Azeris.[49] Again, more violence erupted leaving some ten thousand Armenians dead and forty-five Armenian villages destroyed.[11] Meanwhile, feeling the situation to be hopeless and unable to maintain any control over the area, the British decided to withdraw from the region in mid-1919.[51] Still, fighting between Armenians and Azeris continued and after a series of skirmishes that took place throughout the Nakhchivan district, a cease-fire agreement was concluded. However, the cease-fire lasted only briefly, and by early March 1920, more fighting broke out, primarily in Karabakh between Karabakh Armenians and Azerbaijan's regular army. This triggered conflicts in other areas with mixed populations, including Nakhchivan.


In July 1920, the 11th Soviet Red Army invaded and occupied the region and on July 28, declared the Nakhchivan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic with "close ties" to the Azerbaijan SSR. In November, on the verge of taking over Armenia, the Bolsheviks, in order to attract public support, promised they would allot Nakhchivan to Armenia, along with Karabakh and Zangezur. This was fulfilled when Nariman Narimanov, leader of Bolshevik Azerbaijan issued a declaration celebrating the "victory of Soviet power in Armenia", proclaimed that both Nakhchivan and Zangezur should be awarded to the Armenian people as a sign of the Azerbaijani people's support for Armenia's fight against the former DRA government:[52]

As of today, the old frontiers between Armenia and Azerbaijan are declared to be non-existent. Mountainous Karabagh, Zangezur and Nakhchivan are recognised to be integral parts of the Socialist Republic of Armenia.[53][54]

Vladimir Lenin, although welcoming this act of "great Soviet fraternity" where "boundaries had no meaning among the family of Soviet peoples", did not agree with the motion and instead called for the people of Nakhchivan to be consulted in a referendum. According to the formal figures of this referendum, held at the beginning of 1921, 90% of Nakhchivan's population wanted to be included in the Azerbaijan SSR "with the rights of an autonomous republic".[53] The decision to make Nakhchivan a part of modern-day Azerbaijan was cemented on March 16, 1921 in the Treaty of Moscow between Soviet Russia and the newly founded Republic of Turkey.[55] The agreement between Soviet Russia and Turkey also called for attachment of the former Sharur-Daralagez uyezd (which had a solid Azeri majority) to Nakhchivan, thus allowing Turkey to share a border with the Azerbaijan SSR. This deal was reaffirmed on October 13, in the Treaty of Kars. Article V of the treaty stated the following:

The Turkish Government and the Soviet Governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan are agreed that the region of Nakhchivan, within the limits specified by Annex III to the present Treaty, constitutes an autonomous territory under the protection of Azerbaijan.[56]

So, on February 9, 1924, the Soviet Union officially established the Nakhchivan ASSR. Its constitution was adopted on April 18, 1926.[21]

Nakhchivan in the Soviet Union

As a constituent part of the Soviet Union, tensions lessened over the ethnic composition of Nakhchivan or any territorial claims regarding it. Instead, it became an important point of industrial production with particular emphasis on the mining of minerals such as salt. Under Soviet rule, it was once a major junction on the Moscow-Tehran railway line[57] as well as the Baku-Yerevan railway.[21] It also served as an important strategic area during the Cold War, sharing borders with both Turkey (a NATO member state) and Iran (a close ally of the West until the Iranian Revolution of 1979).

Map of the Nakhchivan ASSR within the Soviet Union.

Facilities improved during Soviet times. Education and public health especially began to see some major changes. In 1913, Nakhchivan only had two hospitals with a total of 20 beds. The region was plagued by widespread diseases including trachoma and typhus. Malaria, which mostly came from the adjoining Aras River, brought serious harm to the region. At any one time, between 70% and 85% of Nakhchivan's population was infected with malaria, and in the region of Norashen (present-day Sharur) almost 100% were struck with the disease. This situation improved dramatically under Soviet rule. Malaria was sharply reduced and trachoma, typhus, and relapsing fever were completely eliminated.[21]

During the Soviet era, Nakhchivan saw a significant demographic shift. Its Armenian population gradually decreased as many emigrated to the Armenian SSR. In 1926, 15% of region's population was Armenian, but by 1979, this number had shrunk to 1.4%.[58] The Azeri population, meanwhile, increased substantially with both a higher birth rate and immigration from Armenia (going from 85% in 1926 to 96% by 1979[58]).

Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh noted similar though slower demographic trends and feared an eventual "de-Armenianization" of the area.[55] When tensions between Armenians and Azeris were reignited in the late-1980s by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijan's Popular Front managed to pressure the Azerbaijan SSR to instigate a partial railway and air blockade against Armenia, while another reason for disruption of rail service to Armenia were attacks of Armenian forces on the trains entering the Armenian territory from Azerbaijan, which resulted in railroad personnel refusing to enter Armenia.[59][60] This effectively crippled Armenia's economy, as 85% of the cargo and goods arrived through rail traffic. In response, Armenia closed the railway to Nakhchivan, thereby strangling the exclave's only link to the rest of the Soviet Union.

December 1989 saw unrest in Nakhchivan as its Azeri inhabitants moved to physically dismantle the Soviet border with Iran to flee the area and meet their ethnic Azeri cousins in northern Iran. This action was angrily denounced by the Soviet leadership and the Soviet media accused the Azeris of "embracing Islamic fundamentalism".[61] In January 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the Nakhchivan ASSR issued a declaration stating the intention for Nakhchivan to secede from the USSR to protest the Soviet Union's actions during Black January. It was the first part of the Soviet Union to declare independence, preceding Lithuania's declaration by only a few weeks.

Nakhchivan in the post-Soviet era

Heydar Aliyev, the future president of Azerbaijan, returned to his birthplace of Nakhchivan in 1990, after being ousted from his position in the Politburo by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. Soon after returning to Nakhchivan, Aliyev was elected to the Supreme Soviet by an overwhelming majority. Aliyev subsequently resigned from the CPSU and after the failed August 1991 coup against Gorbachev, he called for complete independence for Azerbaijan and denounced Ayaz Mütallibov for supporting the coup. In late 1991, Aliyev consolidated his power base as chairman of the Nakhchivan Supreme Soviet and asserted Nakhchivan's near-total independence from Baku.[62]

Nakhchivan became a scene of conflict during the Nagorno-Karabakh War. On May 4, 1992, Armenian forces shelled the raion of Sadarak.[63][64][65] The Armenians claimed that the attack was in response to cross-border shelling of Armenian villages by Azeri forces from Nakhchivan.[66][67] David Zadoyan, a 42-year-old Armenian physicist and mayor of the region, said that the Armenians lost patience after months of firing by the Azeris. "If they were sitting on our hilltops and harassing us with gunfire, what do you think our response should be?" he asked.[68] The government of Nakhchivan denied these charges and instead asserted that the Armenian assault was unprovoked and specifically targeted the site of a bridge between Turkey and Nakhchivan.[67] "The Armenians do not react to diplomatic pressure," Nakhchivan foreign minister Rza Ibadov told the ITAR-Tass news agency, "It's vital to speak to them in a language they understand." Speaking to the agency from the Turkish capital Ankara, Ibadov said that Armenia's aim in the region was to seize control of Nakhchivan.[69] According to Human Rights Watch, hostilities broke out after three people were killed when Armenian forces began shelling the region.[70]

The heaviest fighting took place on May 18, when the Armenians captured Nakhchivan's exclave of Karki, a tiny territory through which Armenia's main North-South highway passes. The exclave presently remains under Armenian control.[71] After the fall of Shusha, the Mütallibov government of Azerbaijan accused Armenia of moving to take the whole of Nakhchivan (a claim that was denied by Armenian government officials). However, Heydar Aliyev declared a unilateral ceasefire on May 23 and sought to conclude a separate peace with Armenia. Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossian expressed his willingness to sign a cooperation treaty with Nakhchivan to end the fighting and subsequently a cease-fire was agreed upon.[70]

The conflict in the area caused a harsh reaction from Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Çiller announced that any Armenian advance on the main territory of Nakhchivan would result in a declaration of war against Armenia. Russian military leaders declared that "third party intervention into the dispute could trigger a Third World War". Thousands of Turkish troops were sent to the border between Turkey and Armenia in early September. Russian military forces in Armenia countered their movements by increasing troop levels along the Armenian-Turkish frontier and bolstering defenses in a tense period where war between the two seemed inevitable.[72] The tension reached its peak, when Turkish heavy artillery shelled Nakhchivan side of Nakhchivan-Armenian border, from the Turkish border for 2 hours. Iran also reacted to Armenia's attacks by conducting military maneuvers along its border with Nakhchivan in a move widely interpreted as a warning to Armenia.[73] However, Armenia did not launch any further attacks on Nakhchivan and the presence of Russia's military warded off any possibility that Turkey might play a military role in the conflict.[72] After a period of political instability, the Parliament of Azerbaijan turned to Heydar Aliyev and invited him to return from exile in Nakhchivan to lead the country in 1993.

Today, Nakhchivan retains its autonomy as the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and is internationally recognized as a constituent part of Azerbaijan governed by its own elected legislative assembly.[74] A new constitution for Nakhchivan was approved in a referendum on November 12, 1995. The constitution was adopted by the republic's assembly on April 28, 1998 and has been in force since January 8, 1999.[75] However, the republic remains isolated, not only from the rest of Azerbaijan, but practically from the entire South Caucasus region. Vasif Talibov, who is related by marriage to Azerbaijan's ruling family, the Aliyevs, serves as the current parliamentary chairman of the republic.[76] He is known for his authoritarian[76] and largely corrupt rule of the region.[77] Most residents prefer to watch Turkish television as opposed to Nakhchivan television, which one Azerbaijani journalist criticised as "a propaganda vehicle for Talibov and the Aliyevs."[76]

Economic hardships and energy shortages (due to Armenia's continued blockade of the region in response to the Azeri and Turkish blockade of Armenia) plague the area. There have been many cases of migrant workers seeking jobs in neighboring Turkey. "Emigration rates to Turkey," one analyst said, "are so high that most of the residents of the Besler district in Istanbul are Nakhchivanis."[76] When speaking to British writer Thomas de Waal, the mayor of Nakhchivan City, Veli Shakhverdiev, spoke warmly of a peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict and of Armenian-Azeri relations during Soviet times. "I can tell you that our relations with the Armenians were very close, they were excellent," he said. "I went to university in Moscow and I didn't travel to Moscow once via Baku. I took a bus, it was one hour to Yerevan, then went by plane to Moscow and the same thing on the way back."[57] Recently Nakhchivan made deals to obtain more gas exports from Iran, and a new bridge on the Aras River between the two countries was inaugurated in October 2007; the Azerbaijani President, Ilham Aliyev and the First Vice-President of Iran, Parviz Davoodi also attended the opening ceremony.[78][79]

In 2008, the National Bank of Azerbaijan minted a pair of gold and silver commemorative coins for the 85th anniversary of the creation of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.[80]

Administrative subdivisions

Subdivisions of Nakhchivan.

Nakhchivan is subdivided into eight administrative divisions. Seven of these are raions. The capital city (şəhər) of Nakhchivan City is treated separately.

Map ref. Administrative division Capital Type Area (km2) Population (1 August 2011 estimate)[81] Notes
1 Babek (Babək) Babek Rayon 749,81[81] 66,200[81] Formerly known as Nakhchivan; renamed after Babak Khorramdin in 1991
2 Julfa (Culfa) Julfa Rayon 1012,75[81] 43,000[81] Also spelled Jugha or Dzhulfa.
3 Kangarli (Kəngərli) Givraq Rayon 711,86[81] 28,900[81] Split from Babek in March 2004
4 Nakhchivan City (Naxçıvan Şəhər) n/a Municipality 191,82[81] 85,700[81] Split from Nakhchivan (Babek) in 1991
5 Ordubad Ordubad Rayon 994,88[81] 46,500[81] Split from Julfa during Sovietization[11]
6 Sadarak (Sədərək) Heydarabad Rayon 153,49[81] 14,500[81] Split from Sharur in 1990; de jure includes the Karki exclave in Armenia, which is de facto under Armenian control
7 Shahbuz (Şahbuz) Shahbuz Rayon 838,04[81] 23,400[81] Split from Nakhchivan (Babek) during Sovietization[11] Territory roughly corresponds to the Čahuk (Չահւք) district of the historic Syunik region within the Kingdom of Armenia[82]
8 Sharur (Şərur) Sharur Rayon 847,35[81] 106,600[81] Formerly known as Bash-Norashen during its incorporation into the Soviet Union and Ilyich (after Vladimir Ilyich Lenin) from the post-Sovietization period to 1990[11]
Total 5,500[81] 414,900[81]


Ethnic groups in Nakhchivan
Year Azerbaijanis % Armenians % Others 1 % TOTAL
44.7 3,656
1831[84] Increase 17,1382 56.1 Increase 13,3424 43.7
1.2 30,507
1896[85] Increase 49,425 56.9 Increase 36,671 42.2 Increase 583 0.7 86,878
18975[86] Increase 64,151 63.7 Decrease 34,672 34.4 Increase 1,948 1.9 100,771
1917[87][88] Increase 81,1002 60 Increase 53,900 40 135,000
1926[89] Increase 88,433 84.3 Decrease 11,276 10.8 Increase 4,947 4.7 104,656
1939[90] Increase 108,529 85.7 Increase 13,350 10.5 Decrease 4,817 126,696
1959[90] Increase 127,508 90.2 Decrease 9,519 6.7 Decrease 4,334 3.1 141,361
1970[90] Increase 189,679 93.8 Decrease 5,828 2.9
Increase 6,680
3.3 202,187
Increase 229,968
95.6 Decrease 3,406 1.4 Increase 7,085 2.9 240,459
Increase 281,807
95.9 Decrease 1,858 0.6 Increase 10,210 3.5 293,875
Increase 350,806
99.6 Decrease 17 0 Decrease 3,249 0.9 354,072
2009[92] Increase 396,709 99.6 Decrease 6 0 Decrease 1,608 0.4 398,323
1 Russians, Kurds, Turks, Ukrainians, Georgians, Persians etc.
2 Azerbaijanis combined with other Muslims.
3 of those 404 (11.1%) are local and 1,228 (33.6%) are newly settled.
4 of those 2,690 (8.7%) are local and 10,652 (34.9%) are newly settled.
5 according to mother tongue.

As of June 30, 2014, Nakhchivan's population was estimated to be 435,400.[93] Most of the population are Azerbaijanis, who constituted 99% of the population in 1999, while ethnic Russians (0.15%) and a minority of Kurds (0.6%) constituted the remainder of the population.[94]

The decades of the 1990s and 2000s saw a large outflow of the Azerbaijani population into Turkey and Azerbaijan proper, due to the economic hardship of the post-Soviet era as well as Nakhichevan's geographical separation from the rest of Azerbaijan.

The Kurds of Nakhchivan are mainly found in the districts of Sadarak and Teyvaz.[95] The remaining Armenians were expelled by Azerbaijani forces during the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh as part of the forceful exchange of population between Armenia and Azerbaijan. According to a 1932 Soviet estimate, 85% of the area was rural, while only 15% was urban. This urban percentage increased to 18% by 1939 and 27% by 1959.[11] As of 2011, 127,200 people of Nakhchivan's total population of 435,400 live in urban areas, making the urban percentage 29.2% in 2014.[96]

Nakhchivan enjoys a high Human Development Index; its socio-economic prowess far exceeds that of the neighbouring countries, as well as Azerbaijan itself. According to the report of Nakhchivan AR Committee of Statistics on June 30, 2014 for the end of 2013, some socio-economical data, including the following, are unveiled:

Variable Value
Population 435,400[96]
GNI (PPP) per capita $15,300[97]
Life Expectancy at birth 76.1 years[98]
Mean Years of Schooling 11.2 years[99]
Expected Years of Schooling 11.8 years[99]

Making use of the Human Development Index calculation method according to the new UNHD 2014 method,[100] the above values change into these:

Variable Value
Income Index 0.7599
Life Expectancy Index 0.8630
Education Index 0.7011

Further, the value of the HDI becomes to

Were it a country, Nakhchivan would be ranked between Malaysia (62nd)[100] and Mauritius (63rd)[100] for its HDI. Also, compare it to Iran with HDI 0.749 (75th), Turkey with 0.759 (69th), or Azerbaijan with 0.747 (76th).[100]


Detailed map of Nakhchivan, showing cities.

Nakhchivan is a semi-desert region that is separated from the main portion of Azerbaijan by Armenia. The Zangezur Mountains make up its border with Armenia while the Aras River defines its border with Iran. The Araz reservoir located on that river supplies water for agricultural needs and the hydroelectric dam generates power for both Azerbaijan and Iran.

Nakhchivan is extremely arid and mountainous. Its highest peak is Mount Kapudzhukh (3904 m) and its most distinctive is Ilandag (Snake Mountain) (2415 m), which is visible from Nakhchivan City. According to legend, the cleft in its summit was formed by the keel of Noah's Ark as the floodwaters abated.[101] Qazangödağ (3829 m) is another major peak.



Nakhchivan's major industries include the mining of minerals such as salt, molybdenum, and lead. Dryland farming, developed during the Soviet years, has allowed the region to expand into the growing of wheat (mostly cultivated on the plains of the Aras River), barley, cotton, tobacco, orchard fruits, mulberries, and grapes for producing wine. Other industries include cotton ginning/cleaning, silk spinning, fruit canning, meat packing, and, in the dryer regions, sheep farming.

Processing of minerals, salt, radio-engineering, farm ginning, preserving, silk products, meat and dairy, bottling of mineral waters, clothing, furniture are the principal branches of Nakhchivan's industry.

The economy suffered a severe blow in 1988 with the loss of access to both raw materials and markets, due to the Nagorno-Karabakh War. Although new markets are emerging in Iran and Turkey, this isolation still persists to this day, impairing development. The economy of Nakhchivan is based on agriculture, mining and food processing, however 75% of the republic's budget is supplied by the central government in Baku. Aid is also provided by Turkey and several NGOs.

The Republic is rich in minerals. Nakhchivan possesses deposits of marble, lime and gypsum. The deposits of the rock salt are exhausted in Nehram, Nakhchivan and Sustin. The important molybdenum mines are currently closed as a consequence of the exclave's isolation. There are a lot of mineral springs such as Badamli, Sirab, Nagajir, Kiziljir where water contains arsenic.

About 90% of the agricultural land is now in private hands. However agriculture has become a poorly capitalized, backyard activity. Production has dropped sharply and large-scale commercial agriculture has declined.

Over two thirds of the land are rocky slopes and deserts, therefore the area of arable lands is quite limited. The main crops - cotton and tobacco - are cultivated in the PriAraz plain, near Sharur and Nakhchivan City. Three quarters of the grain production, especially winter wheat is concentrated on the irrigated lands of the Sharur plain and in the basin of the Nakhchivan river.

Vine growing in Nakhchivan has an ancient tradition, in the Araz valley and foothills. Very hot summers and long warm autumns make it possible to grow such highly saccharine grapes as bayan-shiraz, tebrizi, shirazi. Wines such as "Nakhchivan" "Shahbuz", "Abrakunis", "Aznaburk" are of reasonable quality and very popular. Fruit production is quite important, mainly of quince, pear, peach, apricot, fig, almonds and pomegranate.

Cattle ranching is another traditional branch of Nakhchivan farming. Due to the dry climate, pastures in Nakhchivan are unproductive, therefore sheep breeding prevails over other livestock production. Winter pastures stretch on the PriAraz plain, on the foothills and mountain sides to the altitude of 1200 m. But the summer pastures go up on the high-mountain area to an altitude of 2300–3200 m. The most widespread sheep variety is "balbas". These sheep are distinguished by their productivity and snow-white silky wool which is widely used in the manufacture of carpets. Horned and small cattle are bred everywhere, especially in environs of Sharur and Nakhchivan. Buffaloes are also bred here.

Although intentions to facilitate tourism have been declared by the government, it is still at best incipient. Until 1997 tourists needed special permission to visit, which has now been abolished, making travel easier. Facilities are very basic and heating fuel is hard to find in the winter, but the arid mountains bordering Armenia and Iran are magnificent. In terms of services, Nakhchivan offers very basic facilities and lacks heating fuel during the winter.[21]

International issues

Examples of Armenian khachkars from Julfa.

Status of Armenian cultural monuments

Azerbaijan has been accused of destroying historic Armenian monuments in Nakhchivan as part of a premeditated policy of erasing traces of Armenian culture on Azerbaijani territory.

Uniformed men, identified by the recorder as Azerbaijani soldiers, filmed from Iran in 2005 destroying the tombstones.

The number of named Armenian churches known to have existed in the Nakhichevan region is over 280. In as early as 1648 French traveller Alexandre de Rhodes reported seeing more than ten thousand Armenian tombstones made of marble in Julfa.[102] The number of ecclesiastical monuments still standing in Nakhchivan in the 1980s is estimated to be between 59 and 100. The author and journalist Sylvain Besson believes them to have all been subsequently destroyed as part of a campaign by the Government of Azerbaijan to erase all traces of Armenian culture on its soil.[103]

When the 14th-century church of St. Stephanos at Abrakunis was visited by Switzerland-Armenia Association (SAA) in 2005, it was found to have been recently destroyed, with its site reduced to a few bricks sticking out of loose, bare earth. A similar complete destruction had happened to the 16th century St. Hakop-Hayrapet church in Shurut. The Armenian churches in Norashen, Kırna and Gah that were standing in the 1980s had also vanished.[104][105][106]

The most well-known case of mass destruction concerns gravestones at a medieval cemetery in Julfa, with photographic, video and satellite evidence supporting the charges.[107][108][109] In April 2006 British The Times wrote about the destruction of the cemetery in the following way:

A Medieval cemetery regarded as one of the wonders of the Caucasus has been erased from the Earth in an act of cultural vandalism likened to the Taleban blowing up the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan in 2001. The Jugha cemetery was a unique collection of several thousand carved stone crosses on Azerbaijan's southern border with Iran. But after 18 years of conflict between Azerbaijan and its western neighbour, Armenia, it has been confirmed that the cemetery has vanished."[110]

The Armenians have long been sounding the alarm that the Azerbaijanis intend to eliminate all evidence of Armenian presence in Nakhichevan and to this end have been carrying out massive and irreversible destruction of Armenian cultural traces. "The irony is that this destruction has taken place not during a time of war but at a time of peace," Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told The Times.[110] Azerbaijan has consistently denied these accusations. For example, according to the Azerbaijani ambassador to the US, Hafiz Pashayev, the videos and photographs "show some unknown people destroying mid-size stones", and "it is not clear of what nationality those people are", and the reports are Armenian propaganda designed to divert attention from what he claimed was a "state policy (by Armenia) to destroy the historical and cultural monuments in the occupied Azeri territories".[111]

Contrary to the denials of Azerbaijan, a number of international organizations have confirmed the complete destruction of the cemetery. The Institute for War and Peace Reporting reported on April 19, 2006 that "there is nothing left of the celebrated stone crosses of Jugha."[112] According to the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos), the Azerbaijan government removed 800 khachkars in 1998. Though the destruction was halted following protests from UNESCO, it resumed four years later. By January 2003 "the 1,500-year-old cemetery had completely been flattened" according to Icomos.[113][114] On December 8, 2010, the American Association for the Advancement of Science released a report entitled "Satellite Images Show Disappearance of Armenian Artifacts in Azerbaijan".[115] The report contained the analysis of high resolution satellite images of the Julfa cemetery, which verified the destruction of the khatckars.

The European Parliament has formally called on Azerbaijan to stop the demolition as a breach of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.[116] According to its resolution regarding cultural monuments in the South Caucasus, the European Parliament "condemns strongly the destruction of the Julfa cemetery as well as the destruction of all sites of historical importance that has taken place on Armenian or Azerbaijani territory, and condemns any such action that seeks to destroy cultural heritage."[117] In 2006, Azerbaijan barred a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) mission from inspecting and examining the ancient burial site, stating that it would only accept a delegation if it also visited Armenian-controlled territory. "We think that if a comprehensive approach is taken to the problems that have been raised," said Azerbaijani foreign ministry spokesman Tahir Tagizade, "it will be possible to study Christian monuments on the territory of Azerbaijan, including in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic."[118]

A renewed attempt was planned by PACE inspectors for August 29 – September 6, 2007, led by British MP Edward O'Hara. As well as Nakhchivan, the delegation would visit Baku, Yerevan, Tbilisi, and Nagorno Karabakh.[119] The inspectors planned to visit Nagorno Karabakh via Armenia; however, on August 28, the head of the Azerbaijani delegation to PACE released a demand that the inspectors must enter Nagorno Karabakh via Azerbaijan. On August 29, PACE Secretary General Mateo Sorinas announced that the visit had to be cancelled because of the difficulty in accessing Nagorno Karabakh using the route required by Azerbaijan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Armenia issued a statement saying that Azerbaijan had stopped the visit "due solely to their intent to veil the demolition of Armenian monuments in Nakhijevan".[120]

Recognition of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus

In the late 1990s the Supreme Assembly issued a non-binding declaration recognising the sovereignty of the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and calling upon Azerbaijan to do so. While sympathetic to the TRNC, Azerbaijan has not followed suit because doing so could prompt the Republic of Cyprus to recognise the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Close relations between Nakhchivan and Turkey probably initiated this recognition.[121][122]


Mausoleum of Huseyn Javid in Nakhchivan.
Main article: Azerbaijani culture

Nakhchivan is one of the cultural centers of Azerbaijan. In 1923, a musical subgroup was organized at the State Drama Theater (renamed the Mammadguluzadeh Music and Drama Theatre in 1962). The Aras Song and Dance Ensemble (established in 1959) is another famous group. Dramatic performances staged by an amateur dance troupe were held in Nakhchivan in the late 19th century. Theatrical art also greatly contributed to Nakhchivan's culture. The creative work of Jalil Mammadguluzadeh, Huseyn Javid, M.S. Gulubekov, and Huseyn Arablinski (the first Azerbaijani theatre director) are just a few of the names that have enriched Nakhchivan's cultural heritage.[21] The region has also produced noteworthy Armenian artists too such as Soviet actress Hasmik Agopyan. Nakhchivan has also at times been mentioned in works of literature. Nizami, the Persian poet, once wrote:

که تا جایگه یافتی نخچوان
Oh Nakhchivan, respect you've attained,
بدین شاه شد بخت پیرت جوان
With this King in luck you'll remain.

People from Nakhchivan

Heydar Aliyev, former President of Azerbaijan, was born in Nakhchivan.

Political leaders

Religious leaders

Military leaders

Writers and poets


Photographs of Nakhchivan

See also


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    «أن الفرس كانوا من سعة الملك وعلو اليد على جميع الأمم وجلالة الخطير في أنفسهم حتى أنهم كانوا يسمون أنفسهم الأحرار والأبناء وكانوا يعدون سائر الناس عبيداً لهم فلما امتحنوا بزوال الدولة عنهم على أيدي العرب وكانت العرب أقل الأمم عند الفرس خطراً تعاظمهم الأمر وتضاعفت لديهم المصيبة وراموا كيد الإسلام بالمحاربة في أوقات شتى ففي كل ذلك يظهر الله سبحانه وتعالى الحق وكان من قائمتهم سنبادة واستاسيس والمقنع وبابك وغيرهم ». See: al-Faṣl fī al-milal wa-al-ahwāʾ wa-al-niḥal / taʾlīf Abī Muḥammad ʻAlī ibn Aḥmad al-maʻrūf bi-Ibn Ḥazm al-Ẓāhirī ; taḥqīq Muḥammad Ibrāhīm Naṣr, ʻAbd al-Raḥmān ʻUmayrah. Jiddah : Sharikat Maktabāt ʻUkāẓ, 1982.
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Coordinates: 39°20′N 45°30′E / 39.333°N 45.500°E / 39.333; 45.500

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