Historically Artsakh is the northeastern province of Armenia. The same forms of economic activity, customs and creeds, and the common mentality of its inhabitants laid the basis for Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) to integrate today, as in ancient times, with other regions of Armenia in cultural, economic and linguistic spheres.
Archaeological data of the Late Stone Age, Bronze and Iron Ages are evidence of the fact that the culture of Artsakh in essence a branch of the common Armenian culture. Monuments of the Armenian plateau of the same period have many similarities to those found in Artsakh.
The ancestors of today's Artsakhian Armenians, in spite of continuous wars throughout history, have left behind a surprisingly rich cultural heritage.
At least 4000 historical and architectural monuments have persisted until today. Among them are fortresses, monastic complexes, churches and temples, bridges, court constructions and a considerable quantity of khachkars. Khachkars are funeral or memorial steles, the name of which in literal translation from Armenian means cross-stone. At the heart of the khachkar's composition appears the Christian cross depicted in the classical Armenian church style, surrounded by various unique ornaments representing the occasion of the khachkar. No two khachkars are the same, and more than 1000 units of inscriptions in ancient Armenian (Grapar) language can be found on the face of khachkars around the world.
Artsakh was a center of civilization not only in the Caucasus, but also beyond its borders. In the 19th century Shoushi, the former capital of Artsakh, took on special significance in Caucasian life.
It became a center of Armenian cultural and educational life, and visiting Shoushi became compulsory for tourists coming to Artsakh. Since 1828 Armenian books and periodicals (magazines and newspapers) had been published here, Armenian Diocese School (1838) was opened here, as well as the Armenian theatre (1891), the Zhamkaryan hospital (1900), male and female Armenian gymnasiums, Real school, Kusanats monastery (1818), the building of Public Assembly with winter and summer clubs, five domical churches and two mosques were built. One of the majestic church constructions of Transcaucasia is the church of Kazanchetsots (1868-1887).
Over thousand years an architecture with its artistic and historical values had been developing in Artsakh. The traditional architecture of Artsakh is a temple architecture with churches, monasteries, cloisters and so on.
Here, on a small territory, a big amount of religious and cultural monuments of the past ages is concentrated. The total number of Armenian cultural monuments in Artsakh goes beyond four thousand. The majority of historical-architectural monuments of the country is in rural districts. Today one can enjoy exquisite masterpieces of the Armenian architecture, which by its monumentality and astonishing decorative solutions concentrate in themselves the whole centuries-old art of folk-creator. Among them is the pearl of the Armenian architecture – the monastery of Gandzasar, the wonderful monastic complex of Dadivank with 10 constructions of 5-6 cc., Amaras, Vachagan the Pious temple and many other monuments of Christian history and culture in Artsakh.
Not only monuments of Christian but also monuments of Islamic architecture have persisted in Karabakh. 6 mosques of the late 19c. have persisted till our days: 3 of them – in Shoushi and one at a time – in Aghdam, Khoradeze and Fizouli. Besides, muslim necropolises and mausoleums have persisted, too.
In 405-406 the son of genius of the Armenian people, Mesrop Mashtots, defining with delicate subtlety the system of sounds of the Armenian language, created the Armenian alphabet, which fitted the language of that epoch and didn’t require any serious corrections during 16 centuries after its creation. Due to the creation of the alphabet schools in mother tongue were opened where Mesrop Mashtots became the first teacher. He founded the first Armenian school in Amaras and it was here that he began teaching the Armenian written language.
Not all cities in the world with centuries-old history can brag about the beautiness and cleanness of the streets. But Stepanakert can! It’s a small, clean and green town, the beauty of which charms every visitor. Because it’s clean not where it’s cleared away, but where it’s not littered. And it is this strain of the residents of Stepanakert that says much about its culture, hospitality, way of life, respect towards tourists and towards themselves.
Wandering about the streets of Stepanakert one can note numerous sculptural monuments made by modern masters of the country.
The sculpture by Robert Petrosyan “Karabakhtsi aya” (“Karabakhian grandma”) symbolizes Artsakhian grandmother – imperious woman, the guardian of family hearth and ancient traditions. The sculpture is in the very center of the city, in the place called “Pyatachok”, and is lavished with bushes.
In “green park” (people call this way “The upper park”) majestically on a high pedestal a proud eagle sits, symbolizing freedom, power, immortality, foresight and might.
Very interesting is the spring-sculpture “Three sources” near Vahram Papazyan dramatic theatre. In its work the artist renders three states of soul: merriment, dreaminess and sadness.The spring water is exclusively clear and has astonishing taste.
In Armenian culture arts and crafts has reached great development in Artsakh. The samples of natural local silk, carpets, gobelins, gold and silver ware were repeatedly exhibited and highly evaluated at the international exhibitions and markets in Moscow, Philadelphia, Paris.
There are souvenir shops in Stepanakert such as ''Nreni'', ''Vernisage'' and ''Dghyak''. A wide range of choice of exclusive souvenirs and presents can be found here. One can buy here works of masters of carving, souvenir carpets with Artsakhian symbolism, embellishments in national style, pottery and so on.
Music. Every nation has its own songs folk and composers’. Artsakhian songs can’t be mixed up with any other. They arouse listeners’ striking emotional response and are an integral part of the life of the Karabakhian people. These songs help people in difficult moment, rejoice on high days and holidays and unite with one and indivisible will.
Having been acquainted with the music culture of this region tourists will see how rich and various it is. "Nakhshun Baji", "14", "Derunts tsor", "Tmblachi Khachen", "Horovel". These songs are sung on from one generation to another and pass on the disitinctive character of Artsakh people. In the whole, this distinctiveness is reached with the help of sounding of original Armenian instruments persisted since the ancient times: zurna, kyamancha, tar, duduk, etc.
The NKR culture system includes the dramatic theatre, state ensembles, libraries, houses of culture, youth palace, clubs, museums, picture galleries, music schools, music colleges, the school of art and historical-architectural monuments. In NKR there is Writers' Union, Journalists' Union, Artists' Union, the works of which are exhibited in the country and abroad. Among the members of the Union are the writers, journalists, artists, well known not only in Artsakh, but far beyond its borders, too.
The state variety ensemble «Karabakh» was founded in March, 1997.The repertoire of the ensemble includes songs of the Armenian and foreign composers.
The chamber choir «Vararakn», founded in 1990, is the first professional choir in Artsakh. In 1998 the choir gained the status of state choir.
The ensemble "Artsakhi balikner" (Children of Artsakh), founded in 1992, toured with concert programs in the Republic of Armenia and a number of foreign countries-Holland, France, the USA, Greece. In 1995 during the festival hold in Stepanakert at the initiative of the Belgian organization "Amadeus", which became traditional and is organized every year, the ensemble was awarded 7 gold medals and Grand Prix. In 1997 the ensemble was given the status of state.
The state folk ensemble of NKR "We and Our Mountains" has been working six years. It has an interesting program. The repertoire mainly consists of the Artsakhian folklore, as well as of patriotic, fidain, folk songs from different Armenian provinces.
Artsakh Chamber Orchestra was founded in 2004. The members of the orchestra are the graduates of Yerevan conservatory, teachers, the graduates and students of Stepanakert musical college of Sayat Nova.
In 2004 with the assistance of the fund “In support to the talented young people in Artsakh the project “Voices of Artsakh” was founded. It has become the laureate of the prize “Krunk-2005”, “National Music Prize – 2006”. The project hasn’t the status of the state group. Their arsenal includes CD, single – the national anthem of Artsakh, DVD (TV-version of the musical), music videos.
Well known today Stepanakert drama theatre of Vahram Papazyan was founded in 1932, and the founder was the coryphaeus of the Armenian stage Karo Alvaryan.
Artsakh State Historical Museum of Local Lore, founded in 1938, is also situated in Stepanakert. Later on its branches were opened in Shoushi, Martouni, Hadrout, Martakert and Askeran, Kashatagh. In 1938 on the territory of the Nagorno Karabakh the archaeological excavations were conducted by the German archaeologist Hummel. And these detected exhibits served as the basis for the museum.
6 regional (city) houses of culture, 127 village clubs, 136 village libraries, 7 historical museums of local lore, 6 musical schools and 1 school of arts, as well as 10 children’s junior sport schools function in Stepanakert.
Besides ninteen federations function here – chess, ping-pong (table tennis), football, sport games, judo, karate, weightlifting, box and wushu, Thai box, light athletics and so on.
The festive events on the occasion of celebrating the Independence Day (September, 2) are held through the whole republic. Annually on this day a big concert with the participation of local, Armenian and foreign artists is organized on the Renaissance Square. The red-letter day usually ends with fireworks. Especially interesting the Independence Day is celebrated in the village of Vank, Martakert region. Here among concerts and fireworks donkey races are organized, the winners of which are awarded with money. The threefold holiday of the 9th of May has especially broad celebration in Karabakh. This is the Victory Day during World War II (Artsakh people took immediate part in World War II), the day of Shoushi liberation and the day of foundation of the NKR Defence Army. On this day on the Renaissance Square the military parade marches past, and a number of cultural and sport events is organized, too.
Annually in spring the Armenian contest-festival is held with the participation of young performers from Artsakh, Armenia and other countries.
Since 2010 at the initiative of the Ministry of Culture of the RA the annual international festival of classical music “Tnjre” is held which attracts thousands of music lovers from the different ends of our planet.