Map based on 1909 Hrachia Adjarian map by Wiki editor Yerevanci. Via Wikimedia.
Map based on 1909 Hrachia Adjarian map by Wiki editor Yerevanci. Via Wikimedia.

Perhaps the most important marker of the Karabakh Armenian identity is the local dialect of the Armenian language that many other Armenian speakers often find hard to understand. Preeminent Armenian linguist Hrachia Adjarian (1876-1953) dated the development of the main Armenian dialects, including that of Artsakh-Karabakh, to the 12th century.

In his 1909 map of distribution of Armenian dialects throughout the Armenian highlands and the diaspora communities, Adjarian classifies “Karabakh dialect” as the most widely spoken of all eastern Armenian dialects, encompassing an area that included, in addition to Karabakh proper, the southern and northeastern parts of present-day Armenia (Syunik, Tavush and Lori), all of present-day Azerbaijan, Tabriz in Iran, eastern Georgia and Dagestan.

The spread of the Karabakh and other dialects reflected major Armenian displacement patterns of the 18th and 19th centuries caused by warfare between the Ottomans, Persians and Russians. Thus, significant numbers of Armenians from the Ottoman Empire settled in Kars, Aleksandropol (later Gyumri), Akhalkalaki and Akhaltsikhe as these areas were part of the Russian empire in the 19th century.

In the 18th century, a large number of Karabakh Armenians were displaced towards eastern Georgia, as well as Tavush and Lori, and towards Russia’s Dagestan. Since the latter part of the 19th century, Armenians from Karabakh and elsewhere in the Caucasus were also moving towards a newly industrialized Baku; the community there grew from a few hundred people in the 1850s to tens of thousands by the 1900s.

Perhaps Adjarian’s most surprising finding is that the Karabakh dialect was also spoken in two small Armenian communities in southwestern Turkey: Burdur and Odemis, located between Antalya and Izmir. According to Raymond Kevorkian’s “The Armenian Genocide: A Complete History,” Armenians were deported from Burdur in August 1915 and from Ödemiş in February 1916. Out of several thousand deportees, only a few families survived.

The original Adjarian map, scan courtesy of Pietro Shakarian. Used with permission.