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Kalbajar city, Azerbaijan.jpg
Kalbajar is located in Azerbaijan
Coordinates: 40°06′24″N 46°02′18″E / 40.10667°N 46.03833°E / 40.10667; 46.03833Coordinates: 40°06′24″N 46°02′18″E / 40.10667°N 46.03833°E / 40.10667; 46.03833
Country Azerbaijan
1,584 m (5,197 ft)
 • Total600
Time zoneUTC+4 (AZT)

Kalbajar (Azerbaijani: Kəlbəcər audio speaker icon(listen), Armenian: Քարվաճառ, romanizedKarvachar) is a city and the capital of the Kalbajar District of Azerbaijan. Located on the Tartar river valley, it is 458 kilometres (285 mi) away from the capital Baku.

The city had a population of 7,246 before its capture by Armenian forces on 2 April 1993, during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War, which resulted in all of the city's Azerbaijani population being expelled,[2] after which the city was again repopulated by ethnic Armenians.[3]

The city, alongside the surrounding district, was returned to Azerbaijan on 25 November 2020 per the ceasefire agreement that ended the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war.


According to the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Place Names of Azerbaijan, there are several theories about the etymology of the town's name. According to one of the versions, the city was originally called Kevlicher, meaning "fortress in the upper reaches of the rivers" (kevli - "the upper reaches of the river," cher/jar - "fortress") in Old Turkic. According to another version, the name of the town comes from the combination of the Persian word kevil ("cave") and the Turkic word jer ("rock, ravine") and means "ravine with caves". This etymology is explained by the fact that there are a number of artificial caves along the Tartar River valley, where the town is located. Another version proposes that the name comes from the Turkic words kevli ("river mouths") and jar ("gorge, ravine"), and that the settlement was originally called Keblajar, but over time the name purportedly morphed to Kalbajar.[4]

According to the Armenian book Dictionary of Toponymy of Armenia and Adjacent Territories, the name Kalbajar is a modified form of Karavachar (Armenian: Քարավաճառ).[5][6] The Armenian name is popularly interpreted as meaning "a place for selling rocks", as if consisting of the elements kar - "rock" and vachar - "sale, selling".[6] Other possible etymologies consider kar to mean "fortress" in this case or to be prefix meaning settlement found in the names of some ancient Near Eastern cities.[6]


Early history[edit]

The settlement was first mentioned by Armenian sources in the 15th century as the village of Karavachar (17th-century and later Armenian sources spell it Karvachar).[6][7] It was part of Tsar (also known as Vaykunik) region of the Armenian Principality of Khachen. Its population consisted of Armenians likely until the 1730s.[6]

From 1812 to 1920, the area was settled by Kurds, and the settlement's appellation was distorted from the 19th-century Kyalbajar to Kyarvajar during that time.[6]

In 1930, the Kalbajar region with an area of 1,936 km2 (747 sq mi) was formed as part of the Azerbaijan SSR, the administrative centre of was the town of Kalbajar, which received the status of a city in 1980.[8]

Red Kurdistan[edit]

The city was part of the Kurdistansky Uyezd and later the Kurdistan Okrug in the Azerbaijani SSR from 7 July 1923 to 23 July 1930. To its Kurdish population, it was known as Kevn Bajar.[9]

Battle of Kalbajar[edit]

The city was seized by Armenian forces on 2 April 1993 during the Battle of Kalbajar, near the end of the First Nagorno-Karabakh War and all of its Azerbaijani inhabitants were forced out.[2] Civilians reported being forced to flee through mountains still covered in snow, resulting in hundreds freezing to death.[10]

Human Rights Watch findings concluded that during the Kalbajar offensive Armenian forces committed numerous violations of the rules of war, including forcible exodus of civilian population, indiscriminate fire and hostage-taking.[11] In April 1993, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 822 which called for the withdrawal of all occupying forces from the Kalbajar district, including the town of Kalbajar.[12]

Armenian occupation[edit]

Following the war, the city and surrounding territory were absorbed into the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh becoming the centre of its Shahumyan Province and was renamed Karvachar (Armenian: Քարվաճառ). Starting in the early 2000s, the city was slowly repopulated by ethnic Armenians from the eastern areas of Shahumyan and Gulistan; they had fled during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War after they had been forcefully expelled by Azerbaijani forces and the aforementioned settlements had been taken under control by Azerbaijan.[3]

Infrastructure was thereafter rebuilt and the town had electricity and a nearby highway connecting it to Armenia. In 2018, the town's school had 177 schoolchildren.[13]

An OSCE Fact-Finding Mission visited the occupied territories in 2005 to inspect settlement activity in the area and report its findings to the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. According to FFM figures, at that time the number of Armenian settlers in the Kalbajar District was approximately 1,500, of which about 450-500 lived in Kalbajar proper. FFM reported that "housing conditions were basic and no more than 20 to 30 percent of the ruins were reconstructed, usually in a crude and make-shift manner. Some were without glass windows and were only heated by a small wood-burning stove".[14] According to 2013 local estimates, which the historian and political scientist Laurence Broers considers plausible, the city had some 700 inhabitants at the time while the larger, namesake district had a total of 3,000 inhabitants.[15]

From 2014 to 2020, the city maintained ties with Pico Rivera, California as a friendship city.[16]

Return to Azerbaijani control[edit]

As part of an agreement that ended the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War, the town and its surrounding district were initially to be returned to Azerbaijani control by 15 November 2020, but this deadline was subsequently extended to 25 November 2020.[17] The city, along with the district were returned to Azerbaijan on 25 November 2020.[18]

Following the end of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War, Armenian armed forces and civilians began to leave the Kalbajar area on 11 November 2020 in preparation for the handover of the town to Azerbaijani control on 15 November 2020. It was reported that some residents were burning their own homes, schools and forests and were cutting fruit trees and downing power lines prior to the handover.[19][20][21] In the days leading up to the return to Azerbaijani control, there was heavy traffic on the road leading into the area as residents rushed to leave while other Armenians rushed to visit the nearby 9th century Dadivank monastery one last time before the border closed.[22]

According to Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International's senior crisis adviser, who traveled to Kalbajar soon after it was returned to Azerbaijan's control, "during 27 years of occupation all was looted - not a door, nor a window, not a single roof tile was left in the houses of the Azerbaijanis who had to flee in 1993".[23] She also reported observing in the cemetery of Kalbajar smashed graves "of Azerbaijanis who were buried here before the 1993 Armenian occupation. Some graves were freshly smashed, seemingly by Armenians who left the area last week after 27 years of occupation".[24]


Year Population Ethnic groups Source
1912 300 100% Tatars (later known as Azerbaijanis) Caucasian Calendar census[25]
1939 1,089 88.3% Azerbaijani, 5.1% Russians, 3.9% Armenians Soviet Census[26]
1970 4,775 98.4% Azerbaijani, 0.5% Armenian, 0.4% Russian, Soviet Census[26]
1979 5,604 99.4% Azerbaijani, 0.1% Armenian, 0.1% Russian Soviet Census[26]
1989 7,246 Soviet Census[27]
2015 600 NKR Census[1]



  1. ^ a b "NKR 2015 Census" (PDF). stat-nkr.am. 2015.
  2. ^ a b "Resolution 822 (1993) adopted by the United Nations' Security Council at its 3205th meeting". UNHCR Refworld. April 30, 1993. Retrieved 22 February 2011. Noting with alarm the escalation in armed hostilities and, in particular, the latest invasion of the Kelbadjar District of the Republic of Azerbaijan by local Armenian forces
  3. ^ a b The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: A Legal Analysis. Heiko Krüger. Springer, 2010. ISBN 3642117872, 9783642117879. p. 102
  4. ^ Aliyeva, R. (2007). Azərbaycan toponimlərinin ensiklopedik lüğəti (in Azerbaijani). Baku: Şərq-Qərb. p. 272. ISBN 978-9952-34-155-3.
  5. ^ Hakobyan, Tadevos Kh.; Melik-Bakhshyan, Stepan T.; Barseghyan, Hovhannes Kh. (2001). Հայաստանի և հարակից շրջանների տեղանունների բառարան [Dictionary of toponymy of Armenia and adjacent territories] (in Armenian). Vol. vol.5. Yerevan: Yerevan State University Publishing House. p. 340. {{cite book}}: |volume= has extra text (help)
  6. ^ a b c d e f Karapetyan, Samvel (1999). Hay mshakuytʻi hushardzannerě Khorhrdayin Adrbejanin bṛnaktsʻvats shrjannerum (PDF). Yerevan: HH GAA "Gitutʻyun" Hratarakchʻutʻyun. pp. 51–54. OCLC 44480725.
  7. ^ Khachikian, L. S. (1955). ԺԵ դարի հայերեն ձեռագրերի հիշատակարաններ, Մասն Ա [The Records of the 15th Century Armenian Manuscripts, Part I (in Armenian). Vol. vol.I. Armenian SSR Academy of Sciences Publishing House. p. 24. {{cite book}}: |volume= has extra text (help)
  8. ^ "Кельбаджар". Большой энциклопедический словарь.
  9. ^ Yalin, Ihsan (2016-04-05). "DAĞLIK KARABAĞ – Kürt'ün evine turist olarak bile gidemediği yer..." www.rudaw.net (in Turkish). Retrieved 2021-04-25.
  10. ^ "Nagorno Karabakh". Human Rights Watch. 1994. Retrieved 25 March 2020. The towns' capture came at staggering human costs, creating 250,000 new Azerbaijani refugees. Civilians fled Kelbajar in April through high mountains still covered with snow. Refugees claimed that hundreds of people froze to death attempting to flee.
  11. ^ "Resolution 822 (1993)". undocs.org. United Nations Security Council. 30 April 1993.
  12. ^ "Resolution 822 (1993)". undocs.org. United Nations Security Council. 30 April 1993.
  13. ^ Kucera, Joshua (6 August 2018). "For Armenians, they're not occupied territories – they're the homeland". Eurasianet.
  14. ^ "Report of the OSCE Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) to the Occupied Territories of Azerbaijan Surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh (NK)" (PDF). OSCE. 28 February 2005. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  15. ^ Broers, Laurence (2019). Armenia and Azerbaijan: Anatomy of a Rivalry. Edinburgh University Press. p. 273. ISBN 978-1474450522.
  17. ^ "Azerbaijan Extends Deadline For Armenia To Withdraw From Key District Under Karabakh Truce". rferl.com. Radio Free Europe. 15 November 2020. Retrieved 2020-11-15.
  18. ^ "Azerbaijani Forces Reclaim Second District From Armenians Under Nagorno-Karabakh Truce". RFERL.org. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 25 November 2020. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  19. ^ "Nagorno-Karabakh: Villagers burn their homes ahead of peace deal". The Guardian. 14 November 2020.
  20. ^ "Nagorno-Karabakh: The families burning down their own homes - BBC News". youtube.com. BBC. 14 November 2020. Archived from the original on 2021-12-21.
  21. ^ "Kalbajar residents burn homes before Azerbaijan handover". youtube.com. Associated Press. 14 November 2020. Archived from the original on 2021-12-21.
  22. ^ "Karvachar's Last Day: 'We Stayed Here Until the End,' Artsakh Soldiers Say". Asbarez. 24 November 2020. Retrieved 26 November 2020.
  23. ^ Rovera, Donatella. "Twit on Kalbajar district, 2 December 2020". Twitter. Retrieved 30 April 2021.
  24. ^ Rovera, Donatella. "Twit on Kalbajar cemetery, 2 December 2020". Twitter. Retrieved 30 April 2021.
  25. ^ "Caucasian calendar. Tiflis". Archived from the original on July 9, 2012.
  26. ^ a b c "НАСЕЛЕНИЕ АЗЕРБАЙДЖАНА". ethno-kavkaz.narod.ru (in Russian). Etno Kavkaz.
  27. ^ "Демоскоп Weekly - Приложение. Справочник статистических показателей". demoscope.ru.

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