If I ask about the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh, to more than one it will ring a bell as an armed conflict in the Transcaucasian region back in the 90’s, but only a few will know what it is, where it is and what’s really happening there. I was in the region, and since I am one of those who likes to give my opinion only after seeing the things by myself, I went there.
Locating it on the map
Talking to people in the area and surroundings, some said it was a part of Armenia, some part of Azerbaijan and others that it was completely independent. And the truth is that, somehow, all of them were right.
The Republic of Nagorno Karabakh, also known as NKR or Republic of Artsakh, is a region that is de jure part of Azerbaijan but proclaimed its independence in 1991. So while in any world map you will find it as a part of Azerbaijan, go and tell a region that has self-governed for more than 20 years that is not independent… De facto it is. On the other hand, due to the geographical and blood proximity with Armenia, many consider it its 12th province.
Brotherhood with Armenia
The truth is that even if it’s supposed to belong to Azerbaijan, their ties are clearly with Armenia as they share the same ethnicity, language and religion. The geographical position of Karabakh is a bit critical, because even if it’s really close to the border with Armenia, it’s completely surrounded by Azerbaijani territory.
Since its border with Azerbaijan is closed, they would be totally isolated from the world if it wouldn’t be because the area between Karabakh and Armenia is fully occupied and controlled by both armies. Thanks to this, not only people from Karabakh have the doors opened to the world, but the world has also opened doors to get in here.
Because Azerbaijan claims the territory and accuses Karabakh to become independent illegally, Karabakh accuses Azerbaijan to have militarily occupied two small parts of Karabakh, and between Karabakh and Armenia have controlled the area near the border, the conflict in the area is endless.
On one hand, Armenia is trying to maintain a little away from the conflict by not recognizing Karabakh as an independent political entity, but on the other hand also provides all the citizens from Karabakh with Armenian passport, causing that the relationship with Azerbaijan’s government is totally broken, so both have had the border closed indefinitely for decades. Moreover, although more than 20 years ago was declared the ceasefire between the armies of Karabakh and Azerbaijan, walking close to the border between these two states is really dangerous, not only because there are shots there quite often but also because it is still plagued with landmines (United Nations estimates that there are about 100.000 units) that were set up in the 90’s during the war.
Seeking international recognition
Getting across this small country with my backpack, I could see the desire of its inhabitants to be recognized as such. Those who did not greet me warmly, stopped me to ask what had brought me there and invited me to eat or drink something.
After all, this self-proclaimed republic is recognized only by three countries, which do not enjoy either international recognition. These are Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Georgia) and Transnistria (Moldova).
Finally, also at the institutional level, we can see the facilities they give to tourism. I can say that I have never issued an easier visa than this one, although this will be explained in the next and final point.
Getting in and out of Karabakh
Since there is no international airport, in order to enter or leave Karabakh, there are only two roads. One in the northwest, connected to the Armenian city of Vardenis, and another in the southwest that connects to the Armenian city of Goris.
There are two ways you can get the tourist visa for Karabakh: In the Consulate of the Armenian capital, Yerevan, waiting one day to get it validated or directly at the border. I decided for the second one, and I went through the city of Goris.
Upon reaching the border (or better said checkpoint, because there is an Armenian flag, another from Karabakh and a small room with two policemen) they ask your passport and write down your name and passport number, and may you have visa or not they let you pass. If you do not have a visa, you get a piece of paper with the address of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the capital, Stepanakert, where you must go to pay and obtain the visa.
Once there they will ask the reason for your visit, the regions that you want to visit and you have to pay the entry fee, that for less than 21 days is 3.000DRAM (a little less than 6€). Then, the same way Israel does, they ask you if you want the stamp in the passport or in a separate paper. And if you are thinking of traveling in the near future to Azerbaijan I recommend the second one, because with the entry stamp from Karabakh in the passport they will not let you in.
Once that’s been done, you will be able to get across this small country as much as you want, as long as you are in the areas that you have stated that you want to be in.