Stepanakert

Stepanakert is a nice small city and the capital of unrecognized but de-facto independent republic of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Understand

A T-72 tank as part of a war memorial in Stepanakert

There is some dispute whether the first settlement in this area was started by Armenians in 5th century and thus was called Vararakn ("rapid spring" in Armenian) or by a Karabakh khan in 18th century, and was thus called Khankendi (Turkic for "the khan's village").

At any rate, the town was renamed in 1923 to Stepanakert to honor Stepan Shahumyan, ethnic Armenian leader. It also became the capital of the newly created Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast. Shortly after that municipal authorities adopted a new city layout designed by the prominent Armenian architect Alexander Tamanian, which is still in use.

During the war, the city suffered immense damage from Azeri bombardment which continued from 1992 to 1994.

Talk

The Russian language is widely known, and it may always be used for everyday contacts with locals.

English is becoming more and more popular since most children now learn it at school. Be prepared that most children but also many younger adults want to improve their English and therefore try to engage you in English-language conversation while you walk around. This can be lot of fun and you are likely to get valuable information about accommodation or bus connections that way. In the ministries, there is always at least one person who can speak English fluently. If not, they call somebody. The same applies in larger shops like electronic markets or phone stores.

Get in

Stepanakert Airport
Central Bus Station

Tourists must obtain a Nagorno-Karabakh visa. Tourist visa may be obtained in 10 minutes without bureaucratic formalities at the Official Mission of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in Yerevan.

By bus

There is at least one daily bus from Yerevan. Because of the bad roads in Armenia the journey is slow and can take up to eight hours. Tickets cost currently 4,500 AMD (March 2015).

The overall best budget option to get to Stepanakert are 'marshrutki' (single: 'marshrutka') i.e. micro-buses which every morning go from the bus station in Yerevan, Armenia to Stepanakert. Marshrutki are not very comfortable but cheap (less than 20 USD, which you should pay in Armenian currency). Normally, marshutki start at 6:00, 7:00, and 8:00, sometimes at 9:00 but it is the approximate departure time. You should arrive some time (at least 20 minutes) before the departure to find a free chair. It might be that your luggage will be nested on the roof of the bus.

There is a bus connection with other Armenian cities of Vanadzor, Sisian, Goris (one marshrutka per day at 10:30 a.m. for 2000 AMD, takes about 2 hours) and all major Nagorno-Karabakh cities incl. Аскеран (23 km), Berdzor (58 km), Gadrut (71 km), Karvachar (120 km), Martakert (69 km), Martuni (41 km), Shushi (13 km).

  Bus station.

By car

Driving is also possible, the M-12 highway connects with Armenia and is the most reasonable way to reach Stepanakert. A more adventurous traveller can opt to drive through the Karvajar pass but it's longer and the roads are in a dilapidated condition. To reach the pass, follow road M-11 on the Armenian side. Both roads offers amazing views of wild life, deep forests, dramatic cliffs and several ancient monuments on the way. Few people speak anything other than Armenian so prepare yourself with a dictionary.

Hitchhiking is safe and common enough in the countryside. Offering a small sum for your ride is polite, though in most cases it won't be accepted.

By plane

The Stepanakert airport was supposed to begin regular flights to Yerevan, but the dispute with Azerbaijan seems to be preventing the flights. The only carrier which has announced it will fly is the state-owned Artsakh Air with their newly purchased Bombardier CRJ200 jets.   Stepanakert Airport, Ivanyan town, NE 10 km of Stepanakert. The airport still remains closed due to political reasons.

By train

Since 1994 all train connections are suspended.

Get around

There are several city bus lines. The price is currently 100 AMD (March 2015).

There are lots of taxis ranging from a very old cars to a brand new Mercedeses. Taxi prices are a bit higher than in Yerevan and increase if you leave the city for the countryside. Drivers tend to be honest, but using a meter is always a good idea.

See

Artsakh State University
Fountains at the Shahumyan square

Museums

Museum to the Memory of Perished Azatamartiks

Out of the city

Askeran Fortress

Do

There are many museums that show the history of the region. There are also a lot of parks, many of them are brand new with nice statues and memorials. People are very friendly and will be happy if your children play with their children.

Learn

There are five schools of higher education in Stepanakert: Artsakh State University and four private universities. Artsakh State was originally established in 1969 as a branch of the Baku Pedagogical Institute. In 1973, it was renamed Stepanakert Pedagogical Institute and following the end of the war, in 1995, it received its current name. The university offers courses spread across seven departments and has an attendance level of 4,500.

Buy

There are many souvenir shops. A very nice one can be found in the lobby of hotel "Armenia".

Stepanakert boasts of a great number of art galleries and rug shops.

Eat

There are so many cafes throughout the city.

Drink

Sleep

Hotel Armenia
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh

Budget accommodation (about 5 USD) is easily available as there are many guest houses. Try to speak with locals about that or ask marshrutka driver which drove you to Stepanakert.

Connect

The tourist office kiosk is located opposite to the parliament building in the 20th February street/Renaissance square. They offer many nice brochures with information about the main attractions. Website.

There are several spots with free WiFi. These spots are in parks and around sights and monuments. Look for the signs of WiFi from Karabakh Telecom.

There are several Internet cafés in the city and also the restaurants offer free WiFi.

Stay safe

The locals are friendly and helpful towards foreign visitors. Anything can be discussed freely, including the war and current events. But you should always have a valid visa and keep your distance from the line of contact.

Go next

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, March 19, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.