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 later 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 scene, shopping malls are popping up, with cafés and restaurants, some surprisingly sleek, are often busy.
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 hats (the herb filled bread), Mulberry vodka and other goodies.