If you think the ethnographic make-up of the Caucasus is complex today, take a peak at what it looked like in the late 19th century. Prepared by Russian scholar and administrator Nikolay Karlovich Seidlitz in the 1860s-70s and first published in 1880 by Petermanns Geographische Mitteilungen, a German journal, the map needed dozens of colors to cover the main ethnic groups of the Caucasus.
Throughout the southern Caucasus, the light blue of the Aderbaijani Tatars is the dominant color for a group that then numbered 975,788 people. Armenians, marked by gray (or dark green), numbered 721,241, and Kurds, in bright brown, 44,485. The Kurds were primarily concentrated in what later became Lachin and Kelbajar districts, that in the 1920s briefly made up the Red Kurdistan autonomy located between Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh, and separately in Surmalu area, south of Yerevan, that became part of Turkey in 1921.
The layers of ethnic boundaries, particularly in urban areas like Baku, Erivan, Shusha and Tiflis, were even more complicated than could be reflected in this map. Maps like this, and surveys they were based on, not only informed scholars, but also nationalist activists’ imagining of contemporary national homelands.
They also reflected the complex reality that became the ground for subsequent disputes over territory and the challenges of Soviet boundary-drawing based on ethnic self-determination. The Armenian ethnic distribution throughout Karabakh, as seen in Seidlitz’s map of 1880, overlaps closely with what 40-some years later became the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast.
As in the rest of the Caucasus at the time, the majority of Armenian settlements in Karabakh had non-Armenian names. Thus one can see the Armenian villages of Khankendi (modern Stepanakert), Agjakend and Chaykend (later Shaumyan and Getashen). There are also some obvious inaccuracies, such as Dadivank monastery (marked as Mon. Delivank) placed considerably northeast of its actual location.
In addition to Armenian, Azerbaijani and Kurdish areas, the ethnic Russian (light pink), German (dark pink) and Greek (yellow) majority areas also made up the southern Caucasus mosaic at the time.