Stepanakert, Nagorno Karabakh

Saturday I got a marshrutka going to Stepanakert, the capital of the country of Nagorno Karabakh after the previous day getting a visa from the only diplomatic office the country has, in Yerevan. Nagorno Karabakh is another one of those unfortunate places that found itself on the wrong side of the line when Russia set the borders of its Autonomous Republics, primarily Armenian people they found themselves being part of Azerbaijan, which country largely ignored them. When the USSR broke up along with other similar countries they decided to take a stand and with the backing of Armenia fought the Armenia / Azerbaijan war which is still theoretically in progress. Another place the Australian government considers too dangerous to visit, however once again I will be unlucky if hostilities break out again this week. The trip took six hours, across southern Armenia, through mountains and across the snow covered Vorotan Pass and was a good opportunity to see some of the country. The immigration procedures at the border were pretty casual, I was the only one who had to show any documentation and even if I hadn’t had a visa they would have let me in and let me get it in Stepanakert.

Marshrutka Meal Stop

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Nagorno Karabakh Border

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Arriving at the bus station a guy offered me a cheap room in his “hotel” which had only two rooms and a sitting area but was good value at $8 just for the three bar heater which I had on all night to keep warm. The other room was occupied by a young Japanese guy who arrived on the marshrutka a few hours after me. There is not too much to see or do in this city, I walked the whole place in a couple of hours, interesting but not too exciting. The only restaurant I could find was a place selling kebabs, which I had along with some fruit, snacks and chocolates I bought at the markets.

Main Square, Stepanakert

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Main Shopping Street, Stepanakert

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Artsakh (Karabakh) Freedom Fighters Union.

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The one place I really wanted to see in this country is the ruined city of Agdam. Before the war in 1992 it had a population of nearly 40,000 mainly Azeris but during the war the whole population was either driven out or killed and the city completely destroyed so no one would be tempted to return. In the two decades since what remained has been broken up for building materials so there is not too much left. There is no mention at all of the city in Armenian or Karabakh tourist literature and no one really seems to want to talk about it, not surprising really when after the Genocide that the Armenians suffered at the hands of the Turks a hundred years ago, and have never got over, they perpetrated the same thing on the Azeri people of Agdam, not something they would be particularly proud of. When I applied for my visa I had to list all the places I wanted to visit and listed Agdam, the travel permit I got omitted it, no explanation given, but it did say I wasn’t to visit the frontline which is the cease fire buffer zone in which Agdam is located. Foreigners have visited the area by taxi but it is a bit problematical for both the traveller and the taxi driver. In the end despite the hotel owner saying he could find a taxi driver who would go he wanted more than I was prepared to pay and I was a bit reluctant anyway to put myself in a situation where I could end up in trouble.

Agdam – Where I Didn’t Go.

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With The Exception of the Frontline.

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The Japanese was sure he could get there by marshrutka but I doubt that and when we went to the bus station no one wanted to give too much information or really discuss the matter at all. I left him there and got a marshrutka back to Yerevan. Maybe he got there, I hope so, some of those Japanese are pretty persistent and more adventurous than me. The drive back seemed to last forever, stopping at every roadside stand to buy produce, but I really couldn’t complain when at one stop the driver bought all the females on board a rose and me a glass of red wine. Anyway, it was a short visit to a little known country but I’m glad I made the trip.

Photo credit Agdam – Where I Didn’t Go : Joaoleitao / Foter.com / CC BY-SA