Nakhchivan Republic (Naxcivan Muxtar Respublika)
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Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic / exclave - Azerbaijan - location mapThis wonderfully atmospheric semi-desert region is separated from the main portion of Azerbaijan by Armenia. The isolation of Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic from the rest of the country is recent, dating only from 1924, when Stalin transferred the province of Zangezur to Armenian control.

The Republic also borders on Iran and Turkey. The border with Turkey is only 9 km longer, resulting of territorial swap between Iran and Turkey made in 1932. This arrangement proved providential to the Republic after the conflict with Armenia, in 1992 the construction of the Umud bridge  across the Aras provided the exclave with a vital link to the world. During the war proper, the Armenian forces bombed Nakhchivan but never invaded, taking only the town of Karki. This was a 'sub-exclave' detached from the main territory and located inside Armenia, north of Sadarak, near Zovashen. About 2000 refugees from Karki now live in the main territory. The regional capital is Nakhchivan city and the second city is Ordubad.

Nakhichevan - Azerbaijan - flagThe exclave has an area of 5,500 sq. km with a population around 350.000. Nearly 75% of the territory is located at a height of 1,000m and above - Nakhchivan is known for its majestic mountains - the Daralagez and Zangezur ranges. The tallest, located in the Zangezur range is Gapydjik with 3,904 m. The region has impressive volcanic domes and is regularly visited by strong earthquakes, that of 1931 having been particularly severe.

The southern part of the republic is influenced by the river Araz, which marks the border with the Azeri populated areas in Iran. There are no major lakes, only small mountain lakes near Bichanak and the Arazlisu reservoir, west of Nakhchivan city, near Babek - bordering Iran.

The climate is continental, becoming semi-desertic in parts of the pre-Arazian plain. Precipitation is low, even in mountain areas. Rain occurs rarely but with intensity, often causing floods due to the sparse vegetation. The only area of forest is located near Bichanak.


Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic / exclave -  Azerbaijan - mapThe economy suffered a severe blow in 1988 with the loss of access to both raw materials and markets, due to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. Although new markets are emerging in Iran and Turkey this isolation still persists to this day, impairing development. The economy of Nakhchivan is based on agriculture, mining and food processing, however 75% of the republic's budget is supplied by the central government in Baku. Aid is also provided by Turkey and several NGOs.

The Republic is rich in minerals. Nakhchivan possesses deposits of marble, lime and gypsum. The deposits of the rock salt are exhausted in Nehram, Nakhchivan and Sustin. The important Molybdenite mines are currently closed as a consequence of the exclave's isolation. There are a lot of mineral springs there such as Badamli, Sirab, Nagajir, Kiziljir where water contains arsenic.

About 90% of the agricultural land is now in private hands. However agriculture has become a poorly capitalized, backyard activity. Production has dropped sharply and large-scale commercial agriculture has declined.

Araz river from space (NASA)Over two thirds of the land are rocky slopes and deserts, therefore the area of the arable lands is quite limited. The main crops - cotton and tobacco - are cultivated in the PriAraz plain, near of Sharur and Nakhchivan city. Three quarters of the grain production, especially winter wheat is concentrated on the irrigated lands of the Sharur plain and in the basin of the Nakhchivan river.

Vine growing in Nakhchivan is an ancient tradition, in the Araz valley and foothills. Very hot summers and long warm autumn make it possible to grow such highly saccharine grapes as bayan-shiraz, tebrizi, shirazi. Wines such as "Nakhchivan" "Shahbuz", "Abrakunis", "Aznaburk" are of  reasonable quality and very popular. Fruit production is quite important, mainly of quince, pear, peach, apricot, fig, almonds and pomegranate.

Cattle is another traditional branch of Nakhchivan farming. Due to the dry climate, pastures in Nakhchivan are unproductive, therefore sheep breeding prevails over other stockbroking. Winter pastures stretch on the PriAraz plain, on the foothills and mountain sides to the altitude of 1200 m. But the summer pastures stretch on the high-mountain area (2300-3200 m). The most widespread sheep variety is 'balbas'. These sheep are distinguished by their productivity and snow-white silky wool which is widely used in carpet manufacture. Horned and small cattle are bred everywhere, especially in environs of Sharur and Nakhchivan. Buffaloes are also bred here.

Processing of minerals, salt, radio-engineering, farm ginning, preserving, silk products, meat and dairy, bottling of mineral waters, clothing, furniture are the principal branches of Nakhchivan's industry.

Although good intentions have been declared by the government, tourism is still at best incipient. Until 1997 Tourists needed special permission to visit, which has now been suppressed, making travel easier. Facilities are very basic and heating fuel is hard to find in the winter, but the arid mountains bordering Armenia and Iran are magnificent.


Nakhchivan City: Momina Khatum Mausoleum - also known as Atabek Gumbezi  (photo by Mohamadreza Tahmasbpour)Nakhichevan's earliest claim to fame comes from biblical times, as Noah's ark before having reached Mount Ararat is supposed to have first touched land on the submerges summit of the Ilan-dag mountain. The republic's name apparently comes from this legend, Nakhichevan being a corruption of Nukkhtchikhan, the 'Colony of Noah'.

Nakhichevan was invaded by Greeks and Romans, transferred to Parthia and Sassanid Persia, devastated by the Arabs armies of Emir Habib in the 8th century, independent in the 9th and 10th centuries, invaded by the Seljuk Turks of Alp Arasan in th 11th, briefly independent as the Atabak Ildegizids state in the 12th century, invaded by Turks and Mongols, again controlled by Persia, it eventually became a quasi-independent Khanate in the 18th century and was integrated in Russia in the 19th century. In 1924 Stalin made it an autonomous republic, status that it maintains today within Azerbaijan. In 1991, as the USSR started to collapse, Nakhichevan declared independence even before Azerbaijan, second only to Lithuania. Today as an autonomous republic within Azerbaijan, Nakhchivan has its own parliament (President Aliyev's family is from Nakhichevan).

Nakhchivan City: Momina Khatum Mausoleum - also known as Atabek Gumbezi  (photo by Mohamadreza Tahmasbpour)In spite, or maybe because of such an agitated history, Nakhchivan is rich in architectural heritage. Worth special notice are the  mausoleum of Momine Khatun (12-th century), the tomb of Yusuf Kuseir, mausoleum Garabaglar with 2 minarets, the mausoleum of Fazlullah Naimi, the Khanega caravanserai, the Alindja castle and the ruins of the city of Gilan.


The best way to get to Nakhchivan is to fly from Baku  to Jevlach airport, just outside the exclave's capital (airport code: EVL), Azal operates a shuttle service, heavily subsidized by the Azeri government. From Jevlach you can also fly to Moscow with Samara airlines. If you are arriving from Baku there is no passport check and you can simply walk out of the terminal. There are buses and taxis to the city, which is only 3km away.

Nakhchivan city, Azerbaijan: city seen from a roof toop - minaret, mausoleum of Momine Khatun, Aras river and Iranian mountains in the distance - photo by K.JafarliIf you are travelling by land, you can also cross to and from Iran at the Julfa border point, the city on the other side is Jolfa (The other Azeri-Iranian border crossing is between Astara and .... Astara!). There are trains to Tabriz.

The exclave has a short border with Turkey in Sadarak which allows an easy link to the city of Igdir. Have in mind that the border is open only 10 hours a day and that border guards are very corrupt. The nearest airport with connections to Ankara is at Erzurum (ERZ), 250 kilometres west of Nakhchivan.

Inside the Republic the roads are in reasonable condition, but encounters with the police make driving less than advisable for foreigners (anyway police checks are less frequent than in Azerbaijan proper).

GSM access is available in a good part of Nakhchivan's territory via Azercell.
see also: Nakhchivan City, Julfa, Ordubad, Sharur, Sadarak, Heydar Aliyev, summary, maps, images, places
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