Stepanakert is the capital of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, located in the Askeran Province of Karabakh. It was originally known as Vararakn during the medieval era and was later renamed Khankendi in 1847. The town was named after Stepan Shahumyan, an Armenian Bolshevik, in 1923. The 1923 is also the year Stepanakert was made the capital of Karabakh.
Karabakh’s capital stands above the Karkar River, surrounded by a landscape of forest, pasture and fields backed by craggy mountains. The city is not much different from a typical Armenian town, though it does have a bit more vibrancy. There are lively local arts and music scenes, modern shopping malls are popping up and cafés and restaurants, some surprisingly sleek, are often busy.
Karabakh has a population of well under 200,000 people, which means the capital of Stepanakert, with an estimated 50,000 residents is more a large town than a city. Before the Nagorno-Karabakh War, the economy of Stepanakert revolved mainly around food processing, silk weaving, and winemaking. The city’s economy was greatly damaged during the war, but in recent years, largely due to the investments of the Armenian diaspora, economic activity and tourism, especially, has picked up in Stepanakert and the rest of the NKR.
The main tourist site in Stepanakert is on the outskirts, on the western side of the road leading northwards. It is the popular “We Are Our Mountains” monument, also known as “Grandma and Grandpa ” (“Tatik u Papik” in Armenian). This large monument by Sargis Baghdasaryan, is widely regarded as a symbol of Karabakh’s identity. The monument is made of volcanic tufa, and depicts an old man and woman hewn from rock, representing the mountain people of Karabakh.
Stepanakert is also a home to Artsakh State Museum, which has an important collection of ancient artifacts and medieval manuscripts. Stepanakert’s shouka (farmers market) offers a great selection of fresh and preserved fruits and vegetables, and also the place where you can try the famous zhingyalov hac (the herb filled bread), mulberry raisins, mulberry vodka and other goodies.