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ICOS 2008 Conference Abstract

Empire and Names: The Case of Nagorno Karabakh

B Foster
U.S. Board on Geographic Names, United States

The Nagorno Karabakh region in Western Azerbaijan has been the site of a bloody conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia since 1992. Both nations claim historic ties to the area as independent kingdoms or as autonomous vassal nations under larger empires.
This paper will survey toponymic patterns in the 20th century of Nagorno Karabakh, under Soviet and post-Soviet rule. How did toponyms change in the 20th century? Has toponymic reality followed demographic reality? How did the Soviet toponymic system differ from previous imperial or national systems? Lastly, what does Karabakh’s toponymic history in the 20th century have to contribute to the discussion on the Soviets’ treatment of nationalism, and to the discussion on the ongoing tension over Karabakh?
This paper will attempt to answer these questions by examining past and present maps, policy documents, and other textual sources to provide a toponymic history of Nagorno Karabakh. This history will help explain how the current toponymic landscape of Karabakh came to be, and whether or not toponymic actions and policies may have contributed to the conflict. By bringing this aspect of Karabakh’s history to light, I hope to show how the toponym, an important cultural symbol, plays a role in interethnic relations.

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