Stepanakert / Khankendi

Ստեփանակերտ / Xankəndi
From top left:
Panoramic view of the Renaissance Square
T-72 tank memorial of First Karabakh War • Artsakh University
Downtown Stepanakert • Stepanakert skyline
Panoramic view of Stepanakert
Coat of arms
Stepanakert / Khankendi
Stepanakert / Khankendi
Location of Stepanakert in Artsakh and in Azerbaijan.
Stepanakert / Khankendi
Stepanakert / Khankendi
Stepanakert / Khankendi (Azerbaijan)
Coordinates: 39°48′55″N 46°45′7″E / 39.81528°N 46.75194°E / 39.81528; 46.75194Coordinates: 39°48′55″N 46°45′7″E / 39.81528°N 46.75194°E / 39.81528; 46.75194
Country Azerbaijan (de jure)
 Artsakh (de facto)
DistrictKhankendi (de jure)
ProvinceStepanakert (de facto)
City status1923[1]
 • TypeMayor–Council
 • BodyStepanakert City Council
 • Mayor of StepanakertSuren Grigoryan
 • Total29.12 km2 (11.24 sq mi)
813 m (2,667 ft)
 • Total55,200
 • Density1,900/km2 (4,900/sq mi)
Time zoneUTC+4 (GMT+4)
Area code(s)+374 47
Sources: Stepanakert city area and population[3]

Stepanakert (Armenian: Ստեփանակերտ, romanizedStep'anakert, Eastern Armenian pronunciation: [əstɛpʰanaˈkɛɾt]), or Khankendi (Azerbaijani: Xankəndi, Azerbaijani: [xɑncænˈdi] (About this soundlisten)), is the de facto capital and the largest city of the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh, though the city is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. As of 2015, the population of Stepanakert is 55,200.[2]


According to medieval Armenian sources, the settlement was first mentioned as Vararakn (Վարարակն, meaning "rapid spring" in Armenian).[4] It came to be known as Khankendi (Xankəndi, meaning "village of the khan" in Azerbaijani) in the mid-19th century.[5] It was renamed Stepanakert in 1923, meaning the city of Stepan, after Armenian Bolshevik revolutionary Stepan Shaumian. The name is formed from the words Stepan (Armenian: Ստեփան) and kert (Armenian: կերտ) meaning created.[5]


Founding and Soviet era

Stepanakert outskirts
Stepanakert outskirts

According to medieval Armenian sources, the settlement was first mentioned as Vararakn (Վարարակն, meaning "rapid spring" in Armenian), a name that remained in use until 1847, when it was renamed Khankendi.[4][5]

In 1923 Khankendi was renamed Stepanakert (meaning the city of Stepan in Armenian) by the Soviet government to honor Stepan Shaumian, leader of the 26 Baku Commissars, and, since the Shusha pogrom had resulted in major destruction at Shusha, the former regional capital, Stepanakert was made the capital of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO). In time, Stepanakert grew to become the region's most important city (a status it received in 1940). Its population rose from 10,459 in 1939 to 33,000 in 1978.[5]

In 1926, municipal authorities adopted a new city layout designed by Alexander Tamanian; two additional designs for expansion were approved in the 1930s and 1960s, both of which retained Tamanian's initial plan.[4] Several schools and two polyclinics were established, and an Armenian drama theater was founded in 1932 and named after Maxim Gorky.[5] Stepanakert served as Nagorno-Karabakh's main economic hub, and by the mid-1980s there were nineteen production facilities in the city.[4]

First Nagorno-Karabakh War and independence

Renaissance Square
Freedom Fighters' (Azatamartikneri) boulevard in central Stepanakert
Freedom Fighters' (Azatamartikneri) boulevard in central Stepanakert

The political and economic reforms that General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev had initiated in 1985 saw a marked decentralization of Soviet authority. Armenians, in both Armenian SSR and Nagorno-Karabakh, viewed Gorbachev's reform program as an opportunity to unite the two together. On 20 February 1988, tens of thousands of Armenians gathered to demonstrate in Stepanakert's Lenin Square (now Renaissance Square) to demand that the region be joined to Armenia. On the same day, the Supreme Soviet of Nagorno-Karabakh voted to join the Armenian SSR, a move staunchly opposed by the Soviet Azerbaijani authorities.[6] Relations between Stepankert's Armenians and Azerbaijanis, who supported the Azerbaijani government's position, deteriorated in the following years and as a result. Inter-ethnic strife in the city in September 1988, encompassing physical attacks and burning of property, forced nearly all Azerbaijanis to flee the city. The Soviet Army took up positions in the city implemented curfew after 3 days.[7][8] In 1990 Soviet Army dispatched special forces units and various other additional elements to Stepanakert in order to prevent its takeover by Azerbaijani forces.[9]

After Azerbaijan declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Stepanakert was renamed by the Azerbaijani government back to Khankendi. Fighting broke out over control of Nagorno-Karabakh which eventually resulted in Armenian control of the region and a connecting corridor to Armenia to the west. Prior to the conflict, Stepanakert was the largest city of the NKAO, with a population of 70,000 out of a total 189,000 (Armenians at the time comprised 75% of the region's total population).[10] By early 1992, that figure had dropped to 50,000.[11]

Downtown Stepanakert
Downtown Stepanakert

During the war, Stepanakert suffered immense damage from Azerbaijani bombardment, especially in early 1992 when the Azerbaijanis positioned BM-21 Grad rocket artillery in the town of Shusha and rained down missiles on the city. A journalist for Time noted in an April 1992 article that "scarcely a single building [had] escaped damage in Stepanakert."[11] It was not until 9 May 1992, with the capture of Shusha, that the ground bombardment ceased. The city, nevertheless, continued to suffer aerial bombardment until the end of the war.

The city came under intense bombardment once again during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war. Residential areas were hit by the Azerbaijani Army with cluster munitions during the first days of fighting, as residents were urged to use the city's bomb shelters.[12][13][14] As Azerbaijani forces advanced on the city of Shusha, the Lachin corridor was shut down by Artsakh authorities.[15]

A ceasefire agreement was signed on 10 November as Azerbaijani forces were within 15 kilometers of the capital, effectively deploying Russian peacekeepers to the region.

Geography and climate

Stepanakert is located on Karabakh plateau, at an average altitude of 813 m (2,667 ft) above sea level.

The city has a humid subtropical climate (Cfa) according to the Köppen climate classification system and a semi-arid climate (BS) according to the Trewartha climate classification system. In the month of January, the average temperature drops to 0.5 °C (33 °F). In August, it averages around 22.6 °C (73 °F).

Climate data for Stepanakert
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 4.7
Daily mean °C (°F) 1.1
Average low °C (°F) −2.6
Average precipitation mm (inches) 19
Average precipitation days 6 6 10 10 14 10 4 4 6 6 5 4 85
Source: NOAA[16]

Politics and government

During the period of the USSR, Stepanakert served as the capital of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast within the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic, between 1923 and 1991. With the self-declared independence of Artsakh in 1991, Stepanakert continued with its status as the political and cultural centre of the newly established republic, being home to all the national institutions: the Government House, the National Assembly, the Presidential Palace, the Constitutional Court, all ministries, judicial bodies and other government organizations.

Artsakh is a presidential democracy since the 2017 constitutional referendum. The Prime Minister's post was abolished and the executive power now resides with the President, who is both the head of state and head of government. The president is directly elected for a maximum of two consecutive five-year terms. The current President is Arayik Harutyunyan.[17] On 19 July 2012, Sahakyan was re-elected for a second term.[18] He was again re-elected to a third term on 19 July 2017.[19]

The National Assembly is a unicameral legislature. It has 33 members who are elected for five-year terms.


Demographics and religion

Year Armenians Azerbaijanis Others Total
1926[20] 2,724 85.4% 343 10.8% 122 3.8% 3,189
1939[20] 9,079 86.8% 672 6.4% 708 6.8% 10,459
1959[20] 17,640 89.5% 1,143 5.8% 920 4.7% 19,703
1970[20] 26,684 88.1% 2,762 9.1% 847 2.8% 30,293
1979[20] 33,898 87.0% 4,303 11.0% 747 2.0% 38,948
1989[20] 48,200 85.0% 7,900 14.0% 600 1.0% 56,705
September 1988: Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Expulsion of Azerbaijani population[21]
2005[22] 49,848 99.7% 2 0.0% 136 0.3% 49,986
2010[23] 52,900 52,900
2015[24] 55,309 55,309
Saint James' Church
Saint James' Church

The late-19th-century church of Saint George was destroyed in the 1930s to build the Stepanakert Drama Theatre. Throughout the rest of the Soviet era, there were no traditional churches in Stepanakert, although most of the population of the city were members of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

The church of Surp Hakob (or Saint James) was opened in 2007; it remained the only open church in the city until 2019. The church was financed by Nerses Yepremian from Los Angeles. The church was consecrated on 9 May 2007, in honor of the 15th anniversary of the capture of Shusha by Armenian forces.[25]

The construction of the Holy Mother of God Cathedral was launched on 19 July 2006. The cost of the project was expected to be around US$2 million and the architect of the church is Gagik Yeranosyan.[26] However, the construction process was slow due to a lack of financial resources. The inauguration of the church was expected to take place in September 2016.[27] Construction finished and the church was opened in 2019.[28]

There is a small community of Armenian Evangelicals with around 500 members. The Evangelical community supports many schools, hospitals and other institutions through the help of the Armenian Diaspora.


A routed taxicab minibus in Stepanakert
A routed taxicab minibus in Stepanakert
Stepanakert Airport


Stepanakert is served by a number of regular minibus lines. Old Soviet-era buses have been replaced with new modern buses. Regular trips to other provinces of Nagorno-Karabakh are also operated from the city.[citation needed]


Stepanakert is served by the nearby Stepanakert Airport, north of the city near the village of Ivanyan. In 2009, facilities reconstruction and repair work began.[29] Though originally scheduled to launch the first commercial flights on 9 May 2011, Karabakh officials postponed a new reopening date throughout the whole of 2011.[30] In May 2012, the director of the NKR's Civil Aviation Administration, Tigran Gabrielyan, announced that the airport will begin operations in summer 2012.[31] However, the airport still remains closed due to political reasons. The OSCE Minsk Group, which mediates the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, reaffirmed that the operation of this airport could not be used to support any claim of a change in the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, and urged the sides to act in accordance with international law and consistent with current practice for flights over their territory.[32]


Stepanakert used to be connected through a railway line with the Yevlakh station on the Baku-Tbilisi railway. However, trips have been discontinued since the start of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.


Dusk over Stepanakert
Dusk over Stepanakert

Stepanakert is the centre of the economy of Artsakh. Prior to the First Nagorno-Karabakh War, the economy of Stepanakert was mainly based on food-processing industries, silk weaving and winemaking.[4] The economy was severely damaged during the war. However, in recent years, the economy has been developed mainly due to investments from the Armenian diaspora.

The most developed sectors of Stepanakert and the rest of the Republic of Artsakh are tourism and services. Several hotels have been opened by diasporan Armenians from Russia, the United States and Australia.[33] Artsakhbank is the largest banking services provider in Artsakh, while Karabakh Telecom is the leading provider of mobile telecommunications and other communication services.

Stepanakert is also home to many large industrial firms, including Stepanakert Brandy Factory, Artsakh Berry food products and Artsakh Footwear Factory.

Construction is also one of the leading sectors in the city. Artsakh Hek is the leading construction firm, while Base Metals is the leader in mining and production of building materials.


We Are Our Mountains
Cathedral of the Holy Mother of God
Cathedral of the Holy Mother of God

The Vahram Papazyan Drama Theater of Stepanakert was founded in 1932. In 1967, the monumental complex of Stepanakert known as We Are Our Mountains was erected to the north of Stepanakert,[34] It is widely regarded as a symbol of the Armenian heritage of the historic Artsakh. After the independence of Armenia, many cultural and youth centres were reopened. The cultural palace of the city is named after Charles Aznavour.

Stepanakert is home to the Mesrop Mashtots Republican Library opened in 1924, Artsakh History Museum opened in 1939, Hovhannes Tumanyan Children's Library opened in 1947, Stepanakert National Gallery opened in 1982, and the Memorial Museum of the Martyred Liberators opened in 2002. A new cultural complex of the Armenian heritage of Artsakh is under construction.[35]

The Artsakh State Museum based in Stepanakert, has an important collection of ancient artifacts and Christian manuscripts.


The Union of Artsakh Freedom Fighters
The Union of Artsakh Freedom Fighters

Stepanakert is the centre of higher education in Artsakh. Five higher educational institutions operate in the city:

Many new schools in Stepanakert were opened during the last decade with the help of the Armenian diaspora.[37] Existing schools were also renovated with donations from the diaspora.

The Stepanakert branch of Tumo Center for Creative Technologies was opened in September 2015, as a result of continued cooperation between the Tumo Centre and the Armenian General Benevolent Union, with the support of mobile operator Karabakh Telecom.[38][39]


Stepanakert Republican Stadium

Football is the most popular sport in Nagorno-Karabakh and the city has a renovated football stadium. Since the mid-1990s, football teams from Karabakh started taking part in some domestic competitions in Armenia. Lernayin Artsakh is the football club that represents the city of Stepanakert. The Artsakh national football league was launched in 2009.

The non-FIFA affiliated Artsakh national football team was formed in 2012 and played their first competitive match against the unrecognized Abkhazia national football team in Sukhumi on 17 September 2012. The match ended with a 1–1 draw.[40][41] The following month, on 21 October 2012, Artsakh played the return match at the Stepanakert Republican Stadium against Abkhazia, winning it with a result of 3–0.[42]

There is also interest in other sports, including basketball and volleyball.

Artsakh athletes also take part with the representing teams and athletes in the Pan-Armenian Games, organized in Armenia.

As an unrecognized entity, the athletes of Artsakh compete in international sports competitions under the flag of Armenia.

Twin towns – sister cities

Main article: List of twin towns and sister cities in the Republic of Artsakh

Stepanakert is twinned with:

Friendship declarations

Notable people

Serzh Sargsyan, Third President of Armenia.
Serzh Sargsyan, Third President of Armenia.


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