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The Cultural and Spiritual Heritage of Nagorno Karabakh

Historically Karabakh was the northeastern province of Armenia. The spread of similar language, culture, religion, traditions and economic activity of inhabitants of the entire Armenian plateau reinforces the fact that Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh by its Armenian name) along with other regions of Armenia constitutes a single entity. Numerous archeological facts of the eneolite, bronze and iron ages prove that the culture of Nagorno Karabakh is in fact a branch of the Armenian culture and many parallels could be drawn with the monuments of the Armenian Plateau of the same period.

The ancestors of modern-day Karabakh Armenians left a remarkably vast cultural heritage despite frequent wars in the past. There are more than 1,700 historic architectural monuments on the territory of the former Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region (known by its Russian abbreviation NKAO) alone: fortresses, monasteries, churches and chapels, bridges, palaces and khachkars (cross-stones) and more than 1,000 wall and tombstone signs written in ancient Armenian. These 1,700 monuments are spread around the former NKAO tiny area of 4.5 thousand square kilometers (1,737 square miles), many more monuments are located in the remaining two thirds of Karabakh's historic territory. The bulk of the historic monuments found on the territory of Artsakh are Christian worship edifices — approximately 60 monastery complexes and more than 500 churches — that chronologically reveal all stages of Armenian medieval history (starting from 4th century AD, when Christianity was adopted as the Armenian state religion.)

There are also monuments from the prehistoric age, which are mainly campsites, ruins of ancient Armenian settlements, sepulchers, cult statuettes of early Armenian epoch, carved stones from Armenian Artashesids dynasty, capitols, various home utensils and coins. Thus, the summer residence of Ararat King Rus I (1st millennium BC) was found on the territory of what is today Istisu village. The largest and the most renowned settlement of the pre-Christian period on the territory of Artsakh is the city of Tigranakert, which was founded by the Armenian King Tigran II in the 90s BC. Interestingly enough, this was the first out of four cities founded later by Tigran II in the different parts of the Armenian plateau baring his name. The ruins of that settlement were found on the territory of the present Agdam region near the border of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic (NKR).

The vast material on Artsakh's medieval history, which can be found in the writings of Armenian, Persian, Byzantine and Arab historians, geographers and travelers as well as the ancient maps of Armenia (4-6 century AD), unequivocally prove the Armenian ethnocultural nature of the region. Thus, Artsakh is mentioned as the tenth province of Armenia. Ancient epic songs and fairy tales, which live today in the minds of the people of Karabakh, as well as the genre, plot, artistic and expressive means of Artsakh folklore also affirm their local origin.

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Today, Nagorno Karabakh Republic's cultural establishments include the State Drama Theater, song and dance companies, libraries, Houses of Culture, Houses of Youth, clubs, museums, galleries, musical schools, an art school and historic-architectural monuments.

  • Karo Alvaryan, a celebrity of the Armenian theater stage, established the well-known Stepanakert State Drama Theater named after M. Gorky in 1932. Recently the theater was renamed after Vahram Papazyan, a renowned Armenian actor, which performed in a number of the Republics of the former USSR and was granted the Order of the Badge of Honor in 1982.
  • The State Dance and Song Company of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic was established by Telemakh Ter-Avetisian, a renowned figure in the cultural life of Armenia. (1985). The Dance and Song company performed in many republics of the former USSR as well as in France (24 March - 7 April, 1996).
  • The "Karabakh" State Song Company was established in March of 1997 and it performs works of Armenian and foreign composers.
  • The Chamber Choir "Vararakn", which was established in 1991 is the first professional choir in Artsakh. It received the title of the "State Choir" in 1997. The choir performed in France.
  • "Artsakhi Balikner" (Children of Artsakh) ensemble was established in 1992. It has performed in the Republic of Armenia, the Netherlands, France, USA and Greece. During a music festival, organized by a Belgian "Amadeus" organization, the "Artsakhi Balikner" Ensemble took seven gold medals and the Grand-Prix. Today the festival is a traditional annual event. The ensemble was granted "State Ensemble" status in 1997.
  • The Artsakh Museum of Natural History was established in 1938. More than 30 Artsakh cultural exhibits are housed there — from the Stone Age up to the modern era. A special attention should be paid to the ethnography department. There is also a large exhibition dedicated to the national-liberation movement of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.
  • There are two national libraries in Nagorno Karabakh, one is named for Mesrob Mashtots, the other for Hovhannes Tumanian. Mashtots library was established in 1924. When it first opened its doors to the public there were 20,097 volumes, now it has 189,322. Tumanian Children's library opened in 1965. There were 120,000 volumes before the Artsakh liberation movement, sadly, as the result of artillery fire and bombings, about 70% of those volumes were destroyed. There are only 40 thousand volumes left in the library, 10 thousand of which are in Armenian.
  • Artist's Union was established in 1988. There are 12 members in that Union, whose paintings have been shown in various galleries of the Republic as well as abroad.
  • There are six regional Houses of Culture, 127 village clubs, 136 village libraries, seven Museums of Natural History, six musical schools and an art school.
  • Ten youth sport schools function in Nagorno-Karabakh, attended by nearly 3,000 boys and girls in 200 different sections. There is also the Central Chess House and a Chess School in Stepanakert. There are two stadiums — Stepanakert Central, which sits 15 thousand people and Mardakert stadium, which can hold 5 thousand. Some village secondary schools have sport gyms, but most were seriously damaged during artillery shelling and air raids.
  • Track and field, soccer, volleyball, basketball, table tennis, chess, sambo, and karate championships of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic are held regularly during the recent years, in the memory of Artsakh War heroes. The sportsmen of Nagorno-Karabakh have also competed successfully in open championships of the Republic of Armenia as well.
  • There are ten sport federations in Nagorno-Karabakh in chess, table tennis, soccer, karate, oriental martial arts, weight lifting and boxing.

For further information please contact NKR Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports at culture@ktsurf.net

734 15th Street, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20005
tel: (202) 481-3341, e-mail: info@nkrusa.org