Karabagh in Maps


By Rouben Galichian – 2015


          The author has tried to present a balanced and unbiased historic and cartographic view to the reader interested obtaining some knowledge of how and when the Armenian–populated region of Karabagh (Artsakh – in Armenian) was depicted in cartographic records. For this reason the maps reproduced in the article, with the exception of two, are produced by world-renowned, non-Armenian geographers and cartographers, whose works form the basis of the world cartographic heritage. These documents have been sourced from various libraries all over the world.

The documents presented are in no way complete and represent only a small portion of the maps where Karabagh has been shown and named. Furthermore, the article excludes all descriptions and details mentioned in the travelogues of Islamic and western travelers, who have written about their passage through Karabagh, such as Clavijo,[1]  who travelled during 1405-1407, and  Schiltberger,[2] who traveled  from 1396 to  c.1422, and many others who traveled through the South Caucasus during the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries. These sources confirm the Armenian presence in the area by providing much detail about the population and their way of life in the region concerned. However, as they do not contain any maps, they have been excluded from this study.

The maps come to prove that Karabagh or in Armenian, Artsakh, has appeared in the maps from around 1460. However, this does not imply that the name is absent from the ancient and old historic writings and documents, the discussion of which is outside the scope of this article.


The oldest cartographic or geographic information has reached us from the Greco-Roman sources, but these do not contain any documents, which could be called a map. There are only references about map-making and maps prepared by some of the ancient geographers such a Hecataeus of Miletus etc.[3] The maps referred to by the ancients could today be seen in reconstructions, prepared by well-known cartographic experts such as Karl Müller, Konrad Miller, E.H. Bunbury, John Murray and others based on the descriptions provided in the texts of ancient historians such as Hecataeus, Herodotus, Eratosthenes, Strabo and others. Today when we refer to world maps of the Greco-Roman periods, we mainly refer to the reconstruction prepared by  these specialists.

It is interesting to note that although these texts and maps contain names of countries, no borders are delineated. Generally speaking, regions are called by the names of the races,peoples and nations who inhabited the given area. Borders, being man-made, amorphous and constantly changing, did not merit mentioning, unless they were major natural ones, such as large rivers, lakes, seas and mountain ranges.

One of the founding fathers of geography is Claudius Ptolomaeus or simply Ptolemy (c. 90-168 C.E.) whose opus magnum, Geographia, is considered to be the most important early work on geography. The book contains instructions on how to observe the universe, measure distances and angles and generally how to prepare maps. His methods were used well into the sixteenth century. The book has a list of about 8,000 toponyms, divided by continents and subdivided into countries. Out of these toponyms, around 176 relate to Armenia Maior and Armenia Minor. No original map of the work has survived and the oldest manuscript copy of the work containing maps mentioned in the book reaching us date from the thirteenth century, which contains the drawings as mentioned by Ptolemy in his book.

On his maps, Ptolemy divides countries mainly using natural features of the land, which did not always correspond exactly with reality, while few other maps of the ancient and early medieval periods show country borders, a tradition, which in Europe extended well into the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In some medieval maps straight lines are drawn to artificially divide and specify countries, mainly as an aid for the reader to differentiate them.[4] The map-maker often was unaware of the regions and the countries that he was drawing and had no knowledge of the strategic variations in their political geography and border changes; therefore it was safer not to draw borders at all. With the exception of the reconstructed and copied Ptolemaic maps the practice of drawing borders on the maps came to general use around the fifteenth to sixteenth centuries.



Rising from the above–mentioned methodology used in the Middle Ages, the name of the region of Karabagh (the Armenian Artsakh) did not feature in the early maps, as this was considered to be a part of the country of Armenia or the Armenian population of the region, covered by the general toponym of Armenia.[5]

Notwithstanding the above, the name of Karabagh occasionally appears in maps prepared earlier than the seventeenth century. Whenever the name appears, it invariably refers to the region between the Arax and Kura rivers located to the west of the confluence of these two rivers, extending to the east of the Lake Sevan in Armenia. Up to the fourth century the country located east of Karabagh and north of the river Kura was named Caucasian Albania or in Arabic and Persian Aran in Armenian “Aghvanq”. After the takeover of the region by the Iranian Sassanid dynasty during the late fourth century, the Sassanid administrators combined the regions north and south of the Kura into one province, that of the Iranian Satrapy of Aran. For this same reason in Islamic cartography the region north of the Arax River, up to the Mount Ararat is entitled Aran.[6]

It must be mentioned that in all the Islamic maps of the ninth to twelfth centuries the Iranian- Sassanid province of Aran also included the whole of Georgia. Furthermore, north of the eastern end of the River Arax there was no country mentioned other than Aran. In all the Islamic maps Azerbaijan is shown south of the Arax, as the north-western province of Iran, whose name was changed from Lesser Media to Atropatene during the second century B.C.E., a name, which evolved to Atorpaten, Adherbigan, Adherbaygan and finally, during the Arab and Turkish rules to Azerbaijan . In all of the above maps there is a third country, Armenia, straddling the Arax River and extending south-westward to Bitlis, Amid and Miafarqin (old Armenian capital of Tigranakert, today near Diyarbakir, Turkey). Thus, it could easily be deduced that the region of Karabagh, north of the River Arax, has never been placed inside a country named Azerbaijan, as claimed by the present authorities of the Republic of Azerbaijan, since such a country never existed in the specified territory. Azerbaijan as country toponym has always been a province or Iran, south of the Arax River, a status, which changed only n 1918.

A further look into maps of the region prepared by various renowned cartographers and published all over the world, would show that north of the Arax there has never been a country named Azerbaijan. The name of the region in medieval times was Aran, and after the Islamization of the region, Karabagh and Aran were divided into smaller regions, where Muslim khans and beglarbeys ruled under the names of the khanates of Ganja, Shaki, Talish, Derbend, Shamakhi, Shushi etc., which were collectively given the all-encompassing name of Shirvan.[7]


In medieval texts the name of Karabagh or Artsakh was mentioned in some manuscripts, particularly in the first Armenian language geography book, the seventh century Ashkharhatsuyts (World Mirror) of Anania Shirakatsi, a paragraph of which could be seen in a manuscript of the work reproduced in Fig. 01.

In a map, published in 1731 in Venice, prepared as per the descriptions of Anania Shirakatsi’s book, the region of Artsakh is shown lying near the confluence of the Arax and Kura Rivers. The image in Fig. 02 is a section of this map showing the region of Artsakh which is entitled Armenia according to old and new Geographers.


Fig. 01- A paragraph related to Artsakh (red) from a manuscript copy of the Ashkharhatsuyts,

Fig. 02 – Detail of Artsakh from “Map of Armenia, Venice, 1731.

 In western cartography the name of Karabagh does not appear until the middle of the fifteenth century. In 1459 a World Map was prepared by the order of Portugal’s King Alfonso V by the Venetian cartographer Fra Mauro (c. 1400-1464). The original of the map was lost in transit from Venice to Portugal and a second copy was made by the master’s assistants, which was eventually sent to the king in 1460.

This map is oriented with the north at the bottom and peculiarly shows the approximately correct shape of the Caspian Sea, which on other maps prepared well into the 1700s is shown as a flat oval shaped lake. In the detail map of Fig. 03, the region of Armenia can be seen on Fra Mauro’s World Map of 1460. On the lower left part of the map Armenia is mentioned near the confluence of the two rivers, Arax and Kura. Another Armenia in black letters and ARMENIA in gold letters appear at the top of the map with the Iranian Azerbaijani city of Thauris (Tabriz) to their south (above). Near these toponyms other cities such as Choi (Khoy), Carpi and Aragat s [8] are also indicated, which are cities in or near the region of Armenia. To the right of ARMENIA the pile of stones depicts Mount Ararat with Archa Noe (Noah’s Ark) sitting on the summit. Between these two the name of the Armenian city of Salmas[t] and the Artsakh town of Barda are shown, with Monte Charabach (Mountains of Karabagh) in between. Here, for the first time in the Western cartography the name of Karabagh is mentioned. Below the confluence of Arax and Kura the toponym Siroan (Shirvan) can be seen, which was given to the region corresponding with the location of the present day Republic of Azerbaijan.

Fig. 03 – Detail from Fra Mauro’s Mappa Mundi, 1460, Venice.

Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594) was one of the most important Flemish cartographers of the time, and his projections for showing the spherical earth on a flat sheet of paper are widely used today. His atlas of the world was published posthumously by his son and contains many detailed maps of Europe as well as of maps of other continents and countries.

The detail image shown in Fig. 04 is taken from Mercator’s Map of Asia. The western part of Armenia is shown and is entitled Turcomania (Turkish-Armenia), under the Ottoman rule, while eastern Armenia was under the Persian domination. The region north of Armenia, neighbouring the Mare di Sala olim Caspium (Caspian Sea) is named Seruan (Shirvan), while the Persian cities of Merent (Marand) and Coy (Khoy) are shown south of the River Arax flowing into the Caspian. North of the Arax River the name Carabach can be seen. The Armenian populated cities of Van, Mus[h] and Vastan are placed inside the territory occupied by the Ottoman Empire.

Fig. 04 – Detail from the map of Asia by Mercator, published in Duisburg in 1595 by his son Rumbold.

The Royal Geographer Philip du Val (1619-1683) was an important French cartographer. Fig. 05 shows a detail from his map of Turkey in Asia published in 1676, where the green line delineates the border of the Ottoman and Persian Empires. Western Armenia is under the Ottoman rule and is entitled Turcomanie al. Armenie (Turcomania or Armenia) which includes the region of Nachijevan and Ararat, the cities of Kars, Erivan, Van etc. The adjoining territory to the east, inside Persia include the provinces of Adherbetzhan (Azerbaijan) and Kilan (Gilan), where the cities of Tauris, Chui, Ardebil, Maraga and others are placed. The Persian–occupied territory in South Caucasus extends northward up to Shirvan and Derbend.

On this map the region north of the rivers Arais (Arax) and Kur are named Shamachie and Shirwan, but the triangle inside the confluence of the rivers Kura and Arax is entitled Karasbag (Karabagh).

Fig. 05 – Detail from the map of Turkey in Asia by du Val, dated 1676, showing the border of the Ottoman and Persian empires.

The British cartographer Robert Morden’s (1668-1703) atlas Geography Rectified contains a map of Armenia, Georgia and Comania. In the map the borders between the Ottoman and Persian empires are shown similar to du Val’s map. Scirvan (Shirvan) and Shamachie are north of the Aras and Kur Rivers inside the Persian Empire and Karasbag with Nassivan (Nakhijevan) are placed west of the confluence of these two rivers, inside the Persian–occupied territory.

Fig. 06 – Part of the map of Armenia, Georgia and Comania by Morden, 1700, possibly a later revision.

The Dutch cartographer Pieter Van der Aa (1659-1733) published his Atlas Nouveau et Curieux around 1710, which contained a map of the Tartar territories. A detail of this map in Fig. 08 shows the regions of Caucasus extending to northern Persia. The map covers the regions of Circassia, Georgia, Armenia and Persia. Here Karabagh is shown on the southern shore of the river Corasse (Arax) and Cirus (Kura), north-east of Nachsua (Nachijevan) and north of Ardavil (Ardebil) placed inside Persia. This map does not include political boundaries.

Fig. 07 – Detail from the Tartarie map of van der Aa, printed around 1710,
showing South Caucasus.

Pierre Amédée Jaubert (1779-1847) began his travels through Turkey and Armenia towards Persia in 1805. After spending four months in the Turkish town of Bayazed, where he was imprisoned by the Pasha, Jaubert was only allowed to continue his journey only after the Pasha’s death. In his book Voyage en Arménie et en Perse (Paris, 1821) he writes about his experiences and includes a map of his travelled route, drawn by the well-known cartographer Pierre Lapie (1777-1850).

The detail reproduced in Fig. 08 from Lapie’s map shows the region of southern Caucasus. North of the Kura we can see the regions of Chyrwan (Shirvan) and Talidj (Talish), which are mainly in the territory today occupied by the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Here Cara-Bagh is placed between the rivers Araxes and Kour, east of the Lake Sivan (Sevan) and south of Elizabethpol or Ghandjeh. On the map the sister territory of Karabagh, Cara-Dagh is shown south of the Arax, inside the territory or Persian Azerbaijan.

Fig. 08- Detail from Lapie’s map showing the route taken by Jaubert, when travelling from Constantinople to Persia in 1805.

Heinrich Kiepert (1818-1899) was a German cartographer, who spent most of his time in the South Caucasus and eastern part of the Ottoman Empire. His maps of the Ottoman Empire, Armenia, the Iranian province of Azerbaijan and Georgia are known for much detail and accuracy. The map of Fig. 09 is taken from his map of the Ottoman Empire, 1844, published in Germany. The map was also translated into Ottoman Turkish published in 1854.

South of the Arax River we see the Persian Province of Azerbaijan and to its north lie the regions of Chapan (Ghapan) and Karabagh, which extends from the confluence of the Aras and Kur to the east of Lake Goktgchai or Sewanga (Lake Sevan), including the town od Schusha (Shushi in Karabagh).

Fig. 09 – Easternmost part of Kiepert’s map of the Ottoman Empire, 1844.

The map of Fig. 10 in Armenian language is one of the maps of the first Armenian Atlas, printed in Venice in the year 1849, entitled The World according to the Old and New Geographers of France, England, Germany and Russia. The detail reproduced here is from the above atlas map entitles The Ottoman Empire. It covers the eastern end of the Ottoman Empire, western edge of Persia and south of the Caucasus.

On the map Azerbaijan can be found south of the Arax River, inside the Persian Empire, while across the river, to the north of the river we see the country entitled Armenia with its easternmost region named Karabagh.

Fig. 10 – Detail from one of the maps of the first published Armenian language Atlas of the World, 1849.

The next detail is from the map of the Caucasus and Armenia by the British cartographer Edward Weller (1819-1884) whose maps were considered to be very accurate. The map reproduced in Fig. 11 depicts the border of Persia and the Russian Empires from Wellers map of 1858.

Azerbaijan is shown as a province of Persia, with the region of Karadagh on the southern bank of the River Aras, while Karabagh is on its northern bank, extending from east of Lake Sevan to the confluence of the rivers Aras and Kur (Cyrus). To the north of Karabagh lie the regions of Shirvan and Sheki.

Fig. 11 – Detail of the border of Iran and Russia from Wellers map of the “Caucasus and Armenia”, 1858. London.

Fig. 12 is a section from the map of old world specialist German cartographer Karl Spruner (1803-1892), who has produced many beautiful and detailed maps and atlases of the old world. This particular map is taken from Spruner’s 1855 Atlas Antiquus and is entitled Armenia, Mesopotamia, Babilonia et Assyria. On the map, the provinces of Armenia in the Middle Ages are delineated and named both in Latin and Armenian as they were known during the Middle Ages. In the region to the west of the confluence of the Araxes and Cyrus rivers the province is named Sacasene and/or Artsakh, which extends westward to Siunik.

As this is a map of the area in ancient times, south of the Araxes the Persian province is still named with its old name – Mediene (Media), which, as mentioned earlier was subsequently changed in honour of the military commander of the region Atropat, to Atropatene. This region today generally is known as the Iranian province of Azerbaijan, while the Armenians still call it by its ancient name “Atrpatakan”.

Fig. 12 – Detail from Spruner’s map of the ancient lands entitled “Armenia, Mesopotamia, Babylonia and Assyria, a page from the Atlas antiques published in 1855.

The map of Fig. 13 was prepared by the German Adolf Graf in 1866, showing the south-western part of Asia, published by the Weimar Geographic Institute. Here Armenia is shown divided between the Ottoman and Russian empires, which was the situation after the war with Persia and the treaties of Gulistan and Turkmenchai (1813 and 1828). Aderbeidjan (Azerbaijan) is shown south of the Arax River, while further north the region inside the Russian–occupied territory is named Karabagh. To its north the region which since 1918 is home of the Republic of Azerbaijan, is shown under the title Schirvan .

Fig. 13 – Detail from Adolf Graf’s map entitled “Südwest Asien”, Weimar, 1866.

In 1869 the first printed map in Persian was that entitled The Map of All the Countries under the Protection of the Iranian Government. This, in fact was the map of Iran, ancient Persia, prepared by the Iranian cartographer Qarachedaghi, the pioneer of cartography in Iran.

On the map, in the region of the border of the Russian Caucasus and Iran, there are a few names which are self-explanatory. Inside the Iranian territory the border province, outlined and coloured pink, is named Azerbaijan. One of its regions, on the southern shore of the Aras River (Arax) is Karadagh. Consistent with all other maps, the neighbouring Russian–occupied region north of the river is named Karabagh, with the Shirvan to its east, Nakhijevan to its south and Irevan (Yerevan) to its west.

Fig. 14 – North-western part of Qarachedaghi’s map of Iran, 1869.

The map of Fig. 15 is a British map from 1900 entitled Turkey in Asia, Arabia, Persia, Afghanistan & Baluchistan. On this detail taken from the map the border of Persia and Russia shows the situation of Southern Caucasus, which is exactly the same as in 1869, shown in Fig. 14 above.

Azerbaijan is a province of Iran, Karabagh lies north of Arax River and west of its confluence with Kura. Armenia is divided between the Russian and Ottoman Empires.

Fig. 15 – British map entitled “Turkey in Asia, Arabia, Persia, Afghanistan & Baluchistan”, 1900.

Henry Finnis Blosse Lynch (1862 1913) was a British traveller, who spent time in western and eastern Armenia and his two volume illustrated work entitled Armenia, Travels and Studies is a detailed description of the land and peoples of Eastern (Russian provinces- Vol. I) and Western (Turkish province, Vol. II) Armenias. The volumes are accompanied by a detailed map entitled Map of Armenia and Adjacent Countries, 1901.

In this map Karabagh is shown extending from south-eastern end of Lake Sevan eastward to the Karabagh Steppe. This is the name given to the easternmost region inside the confluence of the rivers Arax and Kur, at the time all under the rule of the Russian Empire.

Fig. 16 – Part of Lynch’s “Map of Armenia and Adjacent Countries”, 1901.

The final map of this article, Fig. 17, is a detail from the General Map of the Theatre of the Turkish War, published in Berlin, 1916 by Dietrich Reimer, based on Kiepert’s Map of the European and Asian Provinces of the Ottoman Empire. The section reproduced is that of the region of South Caucasus.

North of the Aras River, inside the Russian border the region from the confluence of Arax and Kour rivers is named Karabagh, bordered in the north by Shirwan and to the west reaching the area of Zangadzor (Zangezur) in Siunik, Armenia.

Fig. 17 – Theatre of the Turkish War in 1916 by D. Reimer. Berlin.

 * * * *

 From the analysis of the above maps and all other relevant documents one could conclude that the mainly Armenian–populated region of Karabagh/Artsakh has been present on the maps prepared by non-Armenian, mainly western specialists since 1460s. In all maps of the region which include details and their toponyms, the name of Karabagh is omnipresent. Regarding the population of Karabagh, all travelogues confirm that the region has been populated by Armenians. As one example, Schiltberger, who spend 26 years with the Tamarlane and is son Shahrokh, in his memoirs entitled Bondage and Travels: 1396 to 1427, writes the following:

I have also been a great deal in Armenia. After Tämurlin died, I came to his son, who has two kingdoms in Armenia, He was named Scharoch; he liked to be in Armenia, because there is a very beautiful plain. He remained there in the winter with his people, because there was good pasturage. A great river runs through the plain is called the Chur [Kura], …… and near this river, in this same country, is the best silk. The Infidels [Muslims] call the plain in the Infidel tongue Karawag [Karabagh]. The Infidels possess it all, and yet it stands in Ermenia. There are also Armenians in the villages, but they must pay tribute to the Infidels. I always lived with the Armenians, because they are very friendly to the Germans and because I was a German they treated me very kindly; and they also taught me their Pater Noster[9]

The above is given as an example, but this would be subject of another research and article.


The reader is reminded of author’s suggestion, backed by Iranian and Armenian specialists that the prefix “kara”, which in the Turkish and Azerbaijani languages means “black”, should be correctly translated as “great” or “big”. These names originate from the Middle Ages, when the language of the local population was a dialects of the old Persian, the Pahlavi language. In this language the word kara or kala was used to denote large or “big” size.

Accordingly Karabagh , which is translated as “Black-garden” should be “Large garden” and similarly Karadagh should be translated to Large mountain” , which are quite appropriate terms, as the first one is a forested and green country and the second is dominated by a mass of high mountains.

This correction will clarify why there are so many names with the prefix kara in Iranian Azerbaijan and Turkey, which have no relevance to the colour black. The matter is further confirmed by the following terms:

  • The largest tree in the city of Tabriz was called “Kara-aghaj “ (meaning “Large tree”, not “Black tree”)
  • One of my Azeri colleague’s tall and well built great grandfather, according to him was addressed as “Kara-agha” (meaning “Big man” not “Black man”).
  • The widest river in Iranian Azerbaijan is called “Kara-su” (meaning “Large water” not Black water”)
  • The largest monastery in Iranian Azerbaijan is St Thaddeus, which is built in white marble, with one of the domes having couple of rows in black stone. This is called “Kara-Kilisse” (meaning “Large church” not “Black church”).

The author suggests that this matter is worthy of fuller investigation by competent authorities and specialists.



[1]     De Clavijo, Ruy Gonzales. Narrative of the Embassy of the Ruy Gonzales de Clavijo to the Court of Teimour at Samarkand. Trans Clemens Markham. London: Hakluyt Society, 1854.

[2]     Schiltberger, Johann. Bondage and Travels, 1396 to 1427. Trans. Telfer Buchan. London: Hakluyt Society, 1879 Galichian Rouben. Historic Maps of Armenia, London and New York: I.B.Tauris, 2004, 12.

[3]     Galichian Rouben. Countries South of the Caucasus in Medieval Maps, London: Gomidas Institute, 2007. 45, 91, 194-196.

[4]     Ptolemy. Geogrpahia, prepared by Laurenzo Fries, Manuscript Maps. C.1.d.11 and other copies in the British Library. For full texts of towns etc. see also
Galichian, Rouben. Historic Maps of Armenia, London and New York: IB Tauris, 2004, 96-99.

[5]    Galichian Rouben. Countries South of the Caucasus, 2007, 94-130. Here the most important Islamic maps depicting the area are reproduced, which include the works of Istakhri, Ibn Hawqal, Idrissi, Qazwini, Mas’oudi, and Ibn Said.

[6]    For further historic and cartographic details related to the subject see Galichian Rouben. The Invention of History, London: Gomidas Institute, 2010 and
Galichian Rouben. Clash of Histories in the South Caucasus, London: Bennett & Bloom, 2013. Even Ottoman, Persian and Arab geographers and cartographers never show a country named Azerbaijan, north of the Arax River. The country by this name appeared only in 1918 and now is claiming to have three thousand years of history.

[7]   This could refer to Mount Aragats or the region of Aragats in Armenia.

[8]    Galichian Rouben. Clash of Histories in the South Caucasus, London: Bennett & Bloom, 2012, 103.

[9]     See Ahmad Kasravi, Collection of 78 papers, Tehran: Ketabhaye Jibi, 2536 (Persian) also
Abdolali Karang, Tati and Harzani two ancient dialcts of Azerbaijan. Tabriz: Vaezpour, 1954 (Persian) and
Bagrat Ulubabain, The Kingdom of Khachen, Yerevan: NAS 1975. (Armenian) and
Galichian Rouben. Historic Maps of Armenia, London and New York: IB Tauris, 2004, 210.