The map of historical Karabakh in 1899: cartographic-toponymic analysis 2023-07-06 14:06:00 / IMPORTANT EVENTS

A map is a very rich source of information, sometimes surpassing the text of a book multiple times over. Historical, economic, general geographical, and other maps are documents that possess their own scientific and practical importance. Maps combine hundreds, and thousands of valuable historical and geographical names - states, their administrative units, residential areas, mountains, peaks, ranges, plains, natural reserves, rivers, lakes, springs, etc.

The territory of Azerbaijan was actively mapped during the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 19th century, topographic planning was particularly intensive in Azerbaijan, especially due to its connection with the military needs of Russia. Topographic planning was conducted on scales of two, five, and ten versts, while for certain regions and cities, it was carried out on a scale of one verst, half a verst, or even larger scales.

Prior to the establishment of Soviet rule in Azerbaijan, in addition to topographic planning for military purposes, the production of maps and the publication of specialized maps on various subjects were carried out by separate authorities such as the Ministry of Land and Property, Land Zoning Department, Ministry of State Property and Agriculture, Relocation Department, Department of Communications, and others. Most of the results of topographic planning were stored in a specialized topographic depot (in Tiflis) where maps were compiled and published.

One of the maps that hold significant scientific and experimental importance is the "Map of Karabakh State Summer Pastures" ("Карта Карабагских казенных летних пастбищ" in Rus.). It was published by M.A. Skibitski in Tiflis in 1899 and was featured in the book "Materials for the Establishment of State Summer and Winter Pastures and for the Study of Livestock Breeding in the Caucasus" (Материалы для устройства казенных летних и зимних пастбищ и для изучения скотоводства на Кавказе) (Tiflis, 1899, volume 4).  M.A. Skibitski worked in the South Caucasus (Transcaucasia) for a long time and led the land administration in the region before the revolution. He also conducted important economic research on pasture management in Karabakh. In the early 1920s, he directly participated in negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, personally meeting with the leaders of the revolutionary committees of both republics, S. Kasyan and N. Narimanov. Over the years, M.A. Skibitski amassed an extensive archive relating to the activities of the Land Commission of the Transcaucasian Central Executive Committee, containing valuable factual materials on Karabakh's history until 1928. In 1929, S.M. Kirov and the chairman of the revolutionary committee of Armenia, S.I. Kasyan, became acquainted with these materials.

Cartographic sources, especially the "Map of Karabakh State Summer Pastures" (image), provide valuable information for studying the history, economic development, geography, and toponyms of Karabakh. The map was created on a scale of ten versts (1:420,000). The coordinate grid on the map includes parallels and meridians drawn at 15-minute intervals. All types of residential areas, road networks, and river systems are depicted in detail, and the borders of states, guberniyas, and districts are marked. The pastures of Jabrail, Javanshir, Elisavetpol, Zangezur, Shusha districts of Elisavetpol Guberniya, and a portion of Javad district of Baku Guberniya are shown on the map with different colored backgrounds. Eight regions are indicated with Roman numerals I to VIII: Murovdagh, Yukhari (Upper) Tertar, Zangezur, Sisian, Kopan, Girkh-Giz, Kirs-Saribaba, and Kirs-Ziarat.

The author of the book and its accompanying map, M.A. Skibitski, writes: "The researched Karabakh pastures (eylags) are located in the Javanshir, Zangezur, Shusha, and Jabrail districts of the Elisavetpol Guberniya, within the borders of the area known as Karabakh, which constituted the special Karabakh Khanate until its annexation to Russia in 1828. They stretch between 63°15'46'' and 64°32'8'' E longitude and 38°55'14'' and 40°19'23'' N latitude, which corresponds to a length of 1°16'21" or 102.4 versts and a width of 1°24'9" or 146 versts." Considering that one verst is equal to 1,067 kilometers, we can determine that the measurements of the Karabakh summer pastures are approximately 109.3 km in width and 155.8 km in length.

M.A. Skibitski provides important statistical information about the historical villages, households (chimney stacks), and ethnic composition of Karabakh: “The total number of depicted settlements is 26,038, distributed among 452 villages. Among them, there are 4,048 households in 81 villages of Jabrayil district, 5,064 households in 102 villages of Javanshir district, 331 households in 4 villages of Elisavetpol district, 9,432 households in 175 villages of Zangezur district, 5,223 households in 81 villages of Shusha district, and 1,940 households in 9 villages of Javad district.”                            

According to the ethnic composition, the mentioned users were divided into Azerbaijan Tatars (during the tsarist era, Russian officials referred to Azerbaijanis as Tatars - author), Kurds, Armenians, and Tats (in the 19th century, Azerbaijanis who migrated from Southern Azerbaijan were referred to as Tats - author). Along the entire Karabakh region, 333 separate villages and two villages located in the Ganjin plain are inhabited by Tatars with a total of 18,919 households. Kurds, consisting of 3,510 households, reside in 69 villages along the Akara and Bergushat rivers in Zangezur district, as well as the Terter and Tutku valleys in Javanshir district and along the lower course of the Bergushat river in Jabrayil district. Armenians, totaling 3,408 households, live in 47 villages in the high parts of Javanshir, Zangezur, and Jabrayil districts. The Tats numbering 201 households, residing in one village (Nuvadi) in the Migri area of Zangazur district (p. 35-36).

Referring to statistical data on the population of the Transcaucasian region in 1893, M.A. Skibitski states that the average number of inhabitants per households (courtyard) among the Tatars and Kurds in Elisavetpol province was 5.3 individuals, among Armenians - 7.1 individuals, among Tats in the village of Nuvadi - 4.6 individuals, and among the Tatars in Javad district of Baku province - 6 individuals. Thus, by calculating the total number of households (courtyards) for each ethnic group and the average number of people per households, it is possible to determine the demographic composition of the historical population of Karabakh at the end of the 19th century. Considering the Tatars (based on the districts of Elisavetpol province), with an average of 5.3 people per households and a total of 16,979 households, the Tatar population was estimated to be 89,989.0 individuals. In Javad district (Baku province), the Tatar population was 11,640 individuals (6.0 people per households × 1,940 households), while the Kurdish population was 18,603.0 individuals (5.3 people per households × 3,510 households). The Armenian population was estimated to be 24,197.0 individuals (7.1 people per households × 3,408 households), and the Tat population was 925.0 individuals (4.6 people per households × 201 households). Overall, the total population of all districts in the Karabakh region was 145,354.0 individuals.

The statistical indicators, as mentioned by the Russian researcher M.A. Skibitski, show that Azerbaijan Tatars lived in "333 separate villages scattered throughout the entire Karabakh region" and that they had significant superiority both in terms of the number of villages and the population at the end of the 19th century. In 1899, Azerbaijanis (Tatars) constituted 70% of the population, Armenians 16.6%, Kurds 12.7%, and Tats constituted 0.7% of the total population of Karabakh. Among the 452 villages in Karabakh, Azerbaijanis lived in 333 villages, which accounted for 73.7% of all villages. Armenians resided in 47 villages, representing 10.4% of the total number of villages, while Kurds lived in 69 villages, accounting for 15.3% of Karabakh's villages.

M.A. Skibitski's statistical data, along with numerous historical sources, compiled statistical information, and calendars, provide rich information about the geography, economy, and ethnic composition of the Karabakh population. These sources allow for a comprehensive understanding of the changes in the ethnic composition of the Karabakh population over time. The need for such information arises from the Karabakh conflict (1988-2020) and the baseless attempts by the Armenian side in the 1921-1923 period to artificially increase the number of Armenians in the mountainous region of Karabakh.

After the signing of the Treaty of Kurakchay (1805) by Karabakh Khan Ibrahim Khalil Khan, the Karabakh Khanate acknowledged the military superiority of Russia and became incorporated into its territory. As a result of the Russo-Persian Wars (1826-1828) and Russo-Turkish Wars (1828-1829) concluded with the Gulistan (1813), Turkmenchay (1828), and Adrianople (1829) treaties, mass migrations of Armenians to Northern Azerbaijan began. Their numbers started to increase rapidly, significantly impacting the ethnic composition of the local population. According to the tax records of 1823 in the Karabakh region, the ethnic composition of the population was as follows based on the number of households: Azerbaijanis - 15,729 families (78.3%), Armenians - 4,366 families (21.7%). Furthermore, if we exclude the population of Shusha, then the Azerbaijani majority (78.7% compared to 21.3%) becomes even more pronounced when considering the population based on the number of villages. Historical sources indicate that only between 1828 and 1911, Russia resettled more than one million Armenians from Iran and Turkey to this region, primarily settling them in the territories of Northern Azerbaijan.

In relation to the Karabakh conflict that began in February 1988, it was frequently reported that when the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) was established in 1923, Armenians artificially comprised 95% of the administrative unit's population. To justify the separation of such a region, they started disseminating incorrect information about the ethnic composition of the population of Upper Karabakh several years before its establishment.

One of the leading researchers of the new history of the South Caucasus (Transcaucasia) is the American professor Tadeusz Swietochowski, who noted in his monograph (1989) that in 1919, the ratio of Azerbaijanis to Armenians among the population of Mountainous Karabakh was 3:2.  According to the statistical data provided by M.A. Skibitskiy, it can be determined that, in general, by the end of the 19th century, there were approximately 101,600 Azerbaijanis and 24,200 Armenians living in Karabakh. In 1899, Azerbaijanis (Tatars) constituted 70% of the population, Armenians accounted for 16.6%, Kurds comprised 12.7%, and Tats represented 0.7% of the total population of Karabakh. This means that in 1899, the number of Azerbaijanis and Armenians living within the unified Karabakh region was in a ratio of 4:1. Indeed, between 1899 and 1919 - a period of 20 years - the ethnic composition of the Karabakh population began to change, and the ratio between Azerbaijanis and Armenians shifted increasingly in favor of the latter. However, it is important to note that despite these changes, it cannot be claimed that Armenians had a numerical majority. It is evident that natural population growth alone would not have led to such rapid changes in the ratio, as there were only 24,200 Armenians living in Karabakh at the end of the 19th century.

From historical sources, it is known that the increase in the number of Armenians in the South Caucasus, including Karabakh, can be traced back to the implementation of a policy of resettlement by the Russian Empire from Turkey and Iran. 

 The "Map of the State Summer Pastures of Karabakh," which includes the names of residential areas, topographic and hydrographic features, as well as various water sources, underground canals, mosques, churches, monasteries, encompasses over a hundred geographical names (toponyms).  According to M.A. Skibitski's map, out of the 1035 geographical names (toponyms) recorded, approximately 866 or 84% are of Azerbaijani-Turkic origin, 5% are of Armenian origin, and 11% are classified as other toponyms.

Based on the analysis of "Map of the State Summer Pastures of Karabakh" (1899) prepared by M.A. Skibitski, the following conclusions can be drawn:

- The majority of geographical names (84%) at the end of the 19th century are of Azerbaijani-Turkic origin, making the toponymic heritage of historical Karabakh predominantly Azerbaijani-Turkic and of ancient origins;

 - The map from the late 19th century demonstrates that historical Karabakh, both in its plains and mountainous regions, constituted a unified and integrated ecosystem from both natural and economic perspectives. The geographical content of the map confirms that Azerbaijanis were the primary users of the plains and mountainous areas of Karabakh;

 - The aforementioned findings can serve as arguments to understand Karabakh as a unified natural and economic system (ecosystem). Initially designated as the "Autonomous Region of Mountainous Karabakh," it later underwent a transformation to become the "Autonomous Region of Mountainous Karabakh" with a slightly different nature. The establishment of the Autonomous Region disrupted the natural and economic integrity of Karabakh, and the most dangerous consequences for the region are later associated with Armenian nationalism and separatism, which became the main triggers of the Karabakh conflict and the two wars that took place between 1988 and 2020;

 - After the establishment of the Autonomous Region in 1923, the subsequent course of events demonstrated that this administrative-territorial unit turned out to be a ticking time bomb. Armenian nationalist-separatist groups and their foreign instigators were preparing to use this bomb as a means to destabilize the internal situation in Azerbaijan and the South Caucasus region, as well as to trigger a chain reaction for the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The subsequent developments in history have indeed confirmed the scenario prepared by the Dashnak Armenians in collaboration with the Bolsheviks in 1921-1923. This scenario was fully realized during the period of 1988-2020. 


Shamil Azizov,
Dr., Associate prof.
Head of the department "Cartography and Geoinformatics"
Institute of Geography named after Academician H.A.Aliyev
Ministry  of  Science and Education Republic of Azerbaijan.