A City of ArtsSpiritual StepanakertEducation and CultureAdministrative Stepanakert
Business StepanakertStepanakert Day CelebrationsThe Central Market of the City 
An aerial view of Stepanakert in the 2010s.

The settlement was founded in 490 by King Vachagan the Pious and was called Vararakn from 490 to 1847. At that point it was named Khankendi by Turks and kept the name till 1923 when it was renamed Stepanakert in honour of Stepan Shahumyan, a leader of Communist Party and the international workers’ movement. Stepanakert was the capital of the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast till September 2, 1991 and after that, the capital of the Republic of Mountainous Karabakh. It is located at the eastern foot of the Karabakh mountain range, 850 metres above sea level, on the left bank of the Vararakn tributary of the Karkar river.

A view of Stepanakert. 
An aerial view of a part of the central Stepanakert square.
A view of Stepanakert. 

The town started to take modern shape in the beginning of the 19th century, on the site of the Vararakn village. It is now a modern, dynamically developing city, which is host to several industrial plants and enterprises, Artsakh State University, and other private universities, the Museum of History and Local Lore, the Martyred Freedom-Fighters’ Museum, the Museum for Missing Freedom-Fighters, the State Art Gallery, V. Papazian Theatre of Drama, a number of modern health care institutions, banks and hotels. Stepanakert is home to several periodicals, “Azat Artsakh” (Free Artsakh), “Martik”, “Stepanakert”, etc.  The city and its surroundings are rich in archaeological, architectural and historical monuments. 

The buildings of the National Assembly and the Union of Freedom-Fighters in the main square of Stepanakert

It was in Stepanakert that by the demand of many thousand peaceful demonstrators an Extraordinary Session of the Oblast Soviet of the People’s Deputies of the NKAO was convened and passed a decision on the transfer of the NKAO from Azerbaijan to Armenia. That let to rapid developments and a change of the situation not only in Stepanakert but in the entire South Caucasus and even further. Stepanakert had to withstand changes in the type of government, imposed from Moscow, persecutions of Armenians by the Azerbaijani and Soviet police and army, bombardment from the surrounding Azeri villages and towns, air raids and destruction until the newly formed Defence Army was able to neutralize Azeri strongholds and move the frontline to a safe distance from the capital.

Stepan Shahumayn’s statue, after whom the city is named, in the central square of Stepanakert.

The statue called We and Our Mountains or Kharabkakhtsis, (top left) created in 1967, from tufa stone by Sargis Baghdassaryan has long become a symbol of national awakening and the National-Liberation Movement, perseverance and heroism of Artsakh people. It is popularly called the Grandpa and Grandma, and is at the outskirt of the city. 

A City of Arts and Statues

The “Theatrical masks” monument and spring.
Street lamps in the shape of human figures used to decorate one of the promenades of Stepanakert.
Human figure-shaped street lamps before the 2010s.


Spiritual Stepanakert

The Cathedral Church of Stepanakert 

The consecration and inauguration ceremony of the Church of the Protection of the Holy Mother of God took place in Stepanakert on April 7, 2019. The construction of the cathedral church lasted 12 years, after the Catholicos of All Armenians Garegin B approved the idea of the Primate of the Artsakh See Archbishop Pargev Martirosyan and blessed the foundations of the church in 2006. It is 41 metres high and resembles the 7th century Zvartnots cathedral.

The Cathedral Church of the Protection of the Holy Mother of God. 
The Cathedral Church of the Protection of the Holy Mother of God. 

St. Hakob (St. James) Church of Stepanakert

St. Hakob was built in 2007 and is a Church frequented by the local congregation. 

Education and culture

Education and culture play an extremely important role in the people’s life in Artsakh. For those who have seen pictures of Stepanakert buildings ruined from Azerbaijani bombardment and air raids in the beginning of the 1990s, the city is unrecognizable. Stepanakert inhabitants and the authorities of the capital city and the republic did everything in their power to restore the city which had been greatly damaged from incessant shelling, and dropping of 500kg aeroplane bombs, as well as   bombs which are prohibited by international conventions. Educational institutions were among the first to be restored or newly built. Unfortunately, the city was attacked severely again during the 2020 Azeri-Turkish aggression and had to restored again, although some traces of bullets and missiles still can be seen on the city walls. 

Artsakh State University. 


Stepanakert Children’s and Teenager Creativity Centre. 
secondary school named after Armenian poet Yeghishe’ Charents.
Stepanakert theatre of drama was founded in 1923 and is named after the renowned Armenian actor, Vahram Papazyan.
Going to school was safe between the wars when parents no longer warned their children to hide in the trenches dug in every street when they hear the whistle of the Grad (BM-21) multiple reactive missiles or Azerbaijani bomber aeroplanes.

Administrative Stepanakert

The Presidential Administration building.
The new building of the Oversight Chamber. 

Views of the National Assembly building. The National Assembly Chamber is for the thirty-three Members of the Artsakh Parliament.

The old building of the Government continues to host some of the Government departments/ministries
The new building of the Government of Artsakh.

Business Stepanakert

The Armenia Hotel in Stepanakert main square. 
Europe Hotel on Azatamartikneri (Freedom Fighters) Avenue, the main street of the capital.
A trade centre completed in July 2011, near the entrance of the city.
Artsakhbank building in the main square of the city.
Finishing touches at the new Stepanakert airport. The Azerbaijani special police blew up the equipment at the old one in 1991 when they realized they could not stop Armenians from using it. The airport is not used even for civilian purposes as Azerbaijan threatens to shoot down any aircraft approaching it. 
Construction of a business centre-hotel on the main square of the city in the years of peace after the 1991-94 war.
A residential building and a wedding hall in one of the districts of the city.
An architectural element circling the top of the walkway in the picture on the right.
A walkway to the central city square.

The Day of Stepanakert

The Day of Stepanakert is a festive day celebrated annually. Festivities include activities held in different venues across the town. Traders sell their produce at a Fair in the city centre, not far from the city central market, dance troupes and choirs entertain big audiences in the central square, children are out to have fun by singing, dancing, drawing, playing games, listening to music, etc.

Dance performance in the main square at Stepan Shahumyan’s statue. 
Crowds are entertained by children’s dance groups, in the main square at Stepan Shahumyan’s statue. The city is named after him.
Baking ‘zhengalov hats’.
Kids show their talent in drawing. 
The then President of Artsakh Bako Sahakyan, then Prime Minister Araik Haroutunyan and others inspect displays at the Fair ground. 
A woman demonstrates her skills in making ‘zhengalov hats’, literally “bread with herbs/greens”, a national Artsakh dish well known and enjoyed in and outside Artsakh.
Harvest Feast, celebrated on Stepanakert Day.
Harvest Feast, celebrated on Stepanakert Day.
Stepanakert Day festivities.
Stepanakert Day festivities.
A large autumn fair and festivities in Stepanakert.
A large autumn fair and festivities in Stepanakert.

The Stepanakert Central Market

As every other oriental market Stepanakert market offers a wide variety of locally produced and imported fruits and vegetables, as well as various nuts. More uncommon are the pickled vegetables, both in “open” and preserved states.

Artsakh is famous for its home-made spirits, particularly mulberry vodka, which the locals consider as one of the important components for their well-known longevity. A popular joke tells that some foreign advance laboratories, eager to find out the secret of longevity of the Artsakh folk take samples of the mulberry vodka and study them thoroughly. They come up with the verdict that if people of Artsakh did not drink it, they would live at least some twenty years … longer. 

The person selling these home-made spirits (mulberry vodka, cornelian cherry and peach vodkas) was not allowed into the market as he most probably thought vodka was poison and could be sold from lighter gas bottles. The humour was not appreciated, no buyers came close.
Learning that the photos are for a book about Artsakh, this young man on the right readily agreed to pose with a pomegranate, locally grown across the country..