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9.8.13

Visiting Nagorno Karabagh – Easier Than You Might Think

Daniel Hamilton
I’m passionate about Nagorno Karabagh – or Artsakh, as the locals call it – and I’m incredibly keen for more people to see this beautiful, inspiring and incredibly moving part of the world.

Do you really want to visit Nagorno Karabagh?
Going to Nagorno Karabagh is not a small undertaking.
If you’re travelling from London, you will have to factor costs of around £400 for a return flight to the Armenian capital Yerevan, £50 for the transportation from Yerevan to Karabakh’s capital Stepanakert and hotel accommodation in both cities.  While the cost of food and travel inside Nagorno Karabagh is cheap, your flights and accommodation costs are likely to set you back at least £600 before you’ve even set foot in the region.

You will also need to consider whether you can cope with the long journey.  There are currently no direct flights from London to Yerevan, meaning that you’ll have to change planes (likely in Paris, Warsaw or Moscow).  With changes, the total journey time from London to Yerevan can range from seven to ten hours.  The journey from Yerevan to Stepanakert itself also takes around six hours, passing along some crowded mountain roads.   In the summer months, the extreme heat from the Armenian sun can make travel to Karabagh quite uncomfortable with snow and ice making travel to the region fairly treacherous during winter.
If you’re hoping to find many of the facilities you’d usually associate with tourist attractions – shops, restaurants, health spas etc – then Nagorno Karabagh is not the place for you.  While I’ve had some of the most fun nights out of my life in Nagorno Karabagh, you need to be relatively creative!
The final point to remember is that Nagorno Karabagh remains the subject of a bitter dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan.  The Azeri Government consider any entry into Karabagh to be illegal entry into the territory and declare anyone who visits the territory to be “persona non grata”.(*)  If you attempt to visit Azerbaijan after visiting Karabakh, you will at best be refused entry and at worst arrested for illegal entry.
If you’re not put off by the above comments then do read on…

Getting close to Karabagh
Nagorno Karabagh was the subject of a bloody and acrimonious conflict in the early 1990s as the local Armenian population fought to free themselves of control from Azerbaijan.  Thousands of Armenians and Azeris died in the years leading up to the ceasefire.
Nagorno Karabagh’s eastern border with Azerbaijan is closed and the country can only be accessed through a warren of mountainous roads leading from the Armenian capital Yerevan.   In a further complicating move, Armenia’s own western border with Turkey is also closed.
As such, if you wish to visit Nagorno Karabagh then you will first need to get yourself to Yerevan.
While there are no direct flights from London or the United States, there are plenty of indirect routes that will get you there.  Another option – and one I would recommend – is to first fly to the Georgian capital Tbilisi, spend a few days there and then take the overnight sleeper train from Tbilisi to Yerevan.

The visa process
Since January 1st 2013, citizens of European Union countries have no longer required visas to visit Armenia.  You resolutely do, however, need a visa to enter the territory of Nagorno Karabagh.
While Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh enjoy the warmest possible relations, speak the same language and periodically appear to share political leaders, they are legally two separate countries.  The independence of Nagorno Karabagh is not legally recognised by any other country in the world – including Armenia.
Don’t worry, though; the process for obtaining a visa for Nagorno Karabagh is surprisingly easy.
As soon as you get to Yerevan, ask your hotel to arrange you a taxi to the Nagorno Karabagh Government Representation Office at 17a Nairi Zarian Street.   It’s about ten minutes in a taxi from the centre of Yerevan.
When you arrive at the office, ring the buzzer and you will be let in.  The visa office is located on the first floor of the building and is signposted in English.
Upon entering the visa office, you’ll be greeted by a stern-looking lady who will interrogate you about the purpose of your visit and what you want to see while you are there.  It’s important that you give this some thought as you’ll be asked to make a list of the towns in Nagorno Karabagh you want to visit during your trip to the region.  If your visa is successfully issued, you’ll be given a piece of paper which specifies which areas of Nagorno Karabagh you are allowed to visit.  While I’ve never been asked to produce it for inspection, this document is technically subject to inspection by police at any time.
As a general rule, writing down the following towns should ensure you don’t miss anything: Stepanakert, Martakert, Martuni, Askeran, Hadrut, Vank, Shushi and Tigranakert.
After submitting your form, you will be asked to progress to the cash office on the second floor to hand over 3000 Armenian Drams (roughly £5).   After producing proof of payment to in the visa office, you’ll be given a time to come back to collect your passport.
In order to ensure you get your visa on the day, I’d recommend getting to the Representation Office no later than 11am.

How do I get from Yerevan to Karabagh?
So, having obtained your visa the next challenge is getting to Karabagh itself.
If you’re not travelling as part of a formal tour group, the easiest thing to do is to take a taxi.  There are a number of buses that leave Yerevan for Stepanakert each day but I am told they are incredibly slow and uncomfortable.
There are no train services to Stepanakert and, despite a modern airport having been constructed, no flights.  The airport, which was supposed to open in the summer of 2012, remains closed due to Azeri threats to shoot down any aircraft attempting to fly into Karabagh.
Your hotel in Yerevan will be able to arrange a taxi for you.   From my experience, they’re always very keen to ensure you get the very best car possible but if you’re travelling during the summer months when temperatures hover around late 30s then I would strongly recommend you check that the vehicle has air conditioning!
The drive to Stepanakert should take about six hours and is a surprisingly smooth journey through stunning terrain.  You’ll see numerous lakes, ravines and mountains en route.
Do make sure you take lots of bottled water and, if possible, try and stop off for lunch in one of the many family-run restaurants that line the roadsides.  Your driver will probably have a favourite restaurant where you’ll be able to get a delicious lunch of vegetables, flatbreads and cured beef.
Even if you’re travelling in the middle of summer, I’d recommend bringing a light jumper for the journey.  Even though it might be 40 degrees when you leave Yerevan, Karabagh lies several thousand feet above sea level and can get quite chilly at night.

Where should I stay?
For a country with a population of little more than 120,000, Nagorno Karabagh has a surprisingly good selection of hotels.
My personal favourite is the Hotel Armenia on Renaissance Square in “downtown” Stepanakert.  It’s a modern, four star hotel with comfortable rooms, an excellent bar and restaurant and English-speaking reception staff.  The other benefit of staying at the Hotel Armenia is that every man, woman and dog in the country knows where it is – which can be very helpful when you’re speaking to taxi drivers who can’t utter a single word of English.
The Hotel Armenia is located right in the centre of Stepanakert, directly next to the country’s Parliament and close to a number of very nice restaurants.   It serves as an excellent base for exploring the rest of the country.
Rooms go for around £35 per night at the Hotel Armenia, although it is possible to book perfectly passable hotel rooms in the city for as little as £15 a night.

Will I be safe?
The formal position of the British Foreign Office and United States State Department is to recommend against all travel to Nagorno Karabagh and the areas close to its borders.  The chief reason for this recommendation is that an Azeri invasion is possible at any time and Nagorno Karabagh’s borders are not patrolled by any international peacekeepers.  They’re covering their backs.
In reality, the situation inside Nagorno Karabagh is very stable.  Crimes against foreigners are entirely unheard of.  Indeed, it would offend Armenian cultural sensibilities to be anything other than hospitable and welcoming to foreign guests – particularly those who have made the long and difficult journey to Nagorno Karabagh.
The small numbers of tourists that visit the region each year could not be made to feel more welcome.  Just spent five minutes in one of Stepanakert’s smoke-filled bars and you will likely be approached by one of the many (usually English-speaking) young locals who will give you invaluable advice about what to see, eat or drink.
While the region is safe to visit from a tourist point of view, there are some security considerations you need to keep in mind.
The front-line between Nagorno Karabagh and Azerbaijan is an active conflict zone in which troops are killed on a monthly basis.  Under no circumstances should you either ask to visit or attempt to visit these areas.  If you do accidentally end up close to the border, you will likely be met by a Nagorno Karabagh Army patrol who will point you back in the right direction towards safety.
Similarly, a number of people are drawn to Nagorno Karabagh because they want to see sights such as the ruined city of Agdam which was home to 100,000 people prior to the outbreak of war.   These areas are resolutely “off limits” to foreign visitors and indicating to officials in Yerevan that you wish to visit then will likely see your visa application turned down.   Please don’t take the risk.

Things to remember
Several months ago, I read an article by the conflict expert Tim Judah in which he described Nagorno Karabagh as “as far as you can go“.  He’s right.  Karabagh is an isolated, mysterious and troubled corner of globe – but one no truly intrepid traveller can afford to miss.
Visiting Artsakh (as the locals call it) is an incredibly interesting and exhilarating experience that very few people have the opportunity to enjoy.  Getting to the country is a long and complicated process (see my previous blog post for information on travel and visas) that requires careful planning.
The second you cross the border between Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh, you’ll know you make the right decision to visit.  The words “Nagorno Karabagh” roughly translate to “mountainous black garden” – an accurate description given the imposing mountains and abundance of fresh water and lush vegetation that greets you everywhere you turn.
Driving along the road from Armenia into Karabagh’s capital Stepanakert for the first time you’ll be struck by the quiet, calm nature of the place – particularly if you’re arriving from manically hectic Yerevan.  This impression of calm is a slightly misleading one.
Nagorno Karabagh has only been independent for twenty years, prior to which it had formally been allocated to Azerbaijan by Soviet Russia as a result of Stalin’s “divide and rule” policy which sought to prevent single ethnic groups (in this case, Armenians) from becoming too strong.
During the war, Stepanakert was besieged by Azeri forces for months on end – sending tens of thousands of shells raining down on the city.
Evidence of ruined buildings is now relatively limited on the road into Stepanakert and the city itself is buzzing with the construction of new homes, schools and hospitals.  A short drive outside the city, however and you’ll see the shells of buildings gradually being reclaimed by nature.
The Azeri government has vowed to recapture Karabagh and conducts frequent military exercises along the border designed to demonstrate their military firepower.  For their part, the Karabagh military forces have vowed to detonate the valuable Azeri oil pipeline that runs close to the border if any military incursion into their territory takes place.
The fear of war is ever-present with all adult males taking part in regular military training exercises designed to ensure the country is prepared for an attack.
Coming from a country where the ever-present fear of war does not exist, it is only natural that you will wish to ask questions about the conflict and its legacy.  From past experience, it’s perfectly safe to do so but you should keep in mind that every single person in the country has a father, son, grandson, brother or cousin who either fought or died in the conflict.   It’s not uncommon to see disabled war veterans or those with shrapnel injuries while travelling around Karabagh. Make sure any questions are approached in a sensitive manner.
Armenians identify strongly with Russians and knowledge of the Russian language is universal.  There are a number of theories as to why this is but my personal conclusion is that the former Soviet Union provided a degree of collective safety to Armenians following the 1915 genocide of 1.8 million of their citizens and the loss of a large chunk of Eastern Armenia to the Ottoman Empire.  If you have any negative feelings towards the Russian Government, it’s best that you try and keep these to yourself as you are unlikely to find a sympathetic audience in Karabagh.
Armenian and Russian are universally understood in Nagorno Karabagh.  While you’ll find a reasonable number of English speakers at the main hotels in Stepanakert, you should try and familiarise yourself with a few Armenian and Russian phrases before you go, if only to be able to thank people in their own language.  I am told that Azeri/Turkish is understood by the majority of those over the age of 40 but you are unlikely to receive a positive reaction if you attempt to use it.
Nagorno Karabagh is a democracy that adheres to the rule of law.  The country held successful Presidential elections in 2012 which received top marks from international election observers (myself included). Crimes against foreigners are unheard of, although you should be conscious that Nagorno Karabagh is a poor country in which ostentatious displays of wealth are unwise.
With the above points understood, you’ll be ready to enjoy the unique experiences the country has to offer.

Getting around
As far as foreigners are concerned, Nagorno Karabagh is a public transport-free zone.  There are no organised tour buses, no trains, no metro stops and no trams.
Despite the lack of formal public transport services, the region is actually fairly easy to get around as a result of a combination of Karabagh being a relatively small place and the abundance of affordable taxis that are easily available.
If you’re looking for a “grand tour” of Karabagh by taxi then you have two options.  The first is to ask your hotel to arrange a driver for you – which they’ll be happy to do.  They will probably also be able to arrange an English-speaking guide for you too.  While your hotel won’t be consciously attempting to rip you off, they will want to ensure you get the very best driver and car for your journey so you are likely to pay a premium for this.
My personal preference is to print out a map of Nagorno Karabagh and point at the various places I wish to visit.  Even if the driver doesn’t understand English, he will be able to read the Latin script you show him.  You may wish to write a list of the places you’d like to go in numbered order – although ensure they make logical geographical sense. If you show interest and appreciation to your driver for the sites he shows you, he’ll be even more inclined to show you then nooks and crannies of the country that are off the usual tracks.
Hiring a taxi for a whole day should cost somewhere in the region of 40,000 Drams – a considerable amount in Karabakh but a fairly affordable sum for a foreign tourist.
Friends on the ground tell me that a bus service does operate fairly frequently between Karabagh’s main towns but I have never made use of any of these services.  If you are confident that your Russian of Armenian is up to scratch then you might want to brave it…

A cash economy?
Most guidebooks I’ve come across issue pretty hefty warnings to travellers recommending that they withdraw copious amounts of Armenian Drams before travelling to Karabagh – or risk being unable to pay for anything.
While it’s fair to say that Nagorno Karabagh has a cash-dominated economy, I’ve never had problems using credit and debit cards in hotels or restaurants in Stepanakert.  You are also able to use cards in larger shops and restaurants in Shushi and Vank but, as a general rule, you should use cash outside of Stepanakert.
My recommendation would be to ensure that you travel to the area with around 200,000 Drams (about £200) in cash for four days.  This should be more than enough to cover the cost of your transportation to and from Karabagh as well as incidental expenses such as taxis and snacks.  With a bit of luck, you should have a surplus of cash left at the end of your visit which you can either spend back in Yerevan or covert back into pounds.
If you need to get hold of more cash during the course of your journey, there is an ATM in the reception of the Hotel Armenia.

Stepanakert – the capital city
Stepanakert will inevitably be your base for visiting Nagorno Karabagh. A city of roughly 70,000 people, about half of the country’s population is based here.
While it would be going too far to describe Stepanakert as a metropolis, there’s enough to do in the area to keep first-time travellers occupied for at least a couple of days.
I would recommend seeing the following sights:
  • “We are the mountains” statue –, the statue has become an unofficial “mascot” for Nagorno Karabagh.  The foundations of the statue go down several metres into the ground, symbolising the ancient presence of the Armenian people in Nagorno Karabakh and the fact they are rooted in the country’s soil.  No trip to the region is complete without stopping for a photograph here.
  • Memorial Complex – a great place to visit to learn about the conflict with Azerbaijan as well as to pay your respects to those who died.  Many of the graves are decorated in an elaborate and poignant style.
  • Stepanakert Market – I often think that visiting markets is one of the best ways to gain insights into a country’s culture and traditions.  The bustling market in Stepanakert is a “must visit”. You can buy everything here – from traditional daggers and carpets to fresh fish imported over the mountains from Armenia.  You can also buy fresh Jingalov Hats (see the “food and drink” section below) that are freshly made in front of you.
  • Artsakh State Museum (4 Sasunstsi David Street) – located in Stepanakert, the museum hosts a good collection of memorabilia from the 1990s conflict, as well as some more historical artifacts from the country’s history.
Aside from visiting the small number of tourist attractions the city has, I would also recommend taking a couple of hours to just wander aimlessly around the city.  There are no “no go” areas of the city, so feel free to explore side streets, graveyards and any other sites that look interesting.
Wherever you go you’ll never be very far from a cafe serving delicious, turbo-charged Anatolian coffee and may well meet some interesting people along the way.  I was once humbled to meet the owner of a smoke-filled cafe who told me of his love for the British as his wife had been flown to Manchester for life-saving surgery after being hurt in a shell attack.  He wouldn’t let me pay my bill.
If you want to mix with some fellow travellers and English-speaking locals then I would recommend visiting the Hotel Armenia’s bar in the evening. It stays open until the last customers leave and does a terrific selection of flavoured shishas, meaning it can get rather smoky inside if it’s too cold an evening to sit outside.
If you need the help of a friendly English speaker then a lady called Anaida and her team at the reception desk of the Hotel Armenia on Renaissance Square should be able to point you in the right direction.

Shushi
There are few towns in Nagorno Karabagh that suffered as much during the conflict of the early 1990s than Shushi (note: the town is often called by its Azeri name Shusha in various guidebooks).  Perched in a stunning location on a hillside about ten miles from Stepanakert, Shushi was once one of the largest Armenian towns in the world and the heart of the Caucasus silk trade.  It retains some of its historic buildings but saw scenes of some of the most bitter fighting during the Karabagh war.
War stories about Shushi are legendary in Karabagh. The town served as a base from which the Azeri army launched missile and shell attacks on Stepanakert before being dramatically recaptured one night by Armenian forces. The military operation saw scores of Armenian soldiers scale a steep rock face at 03:00, driving out the Azeri army and effectively bringing an end to most serious fighting in the Karabakh conflict.
Visiting Shusi will give you a unique perspective on the influences of both Christianity and Islam on Nagorno Karabagh.  Ghazanchetsots Cathedral, which was used by the Azeri army to store missiles during the war, has been fully restored and should not be missed.  Similarly, you should make an effort to visit the Yukhari Govhar Agha mosque which, while no longer in use, is protected by the Nagorno Karabagh Government.  You should also visit the town’s ancient fortress which has been at the heart of some of the great historic battles for control of Shushi.
If you have time, try and pop into the Shushi Museum which has some great examples of Karabagh art and other cultural artefacts from the town’s rich history.
In an effort to boost tourism the Nagorno Karabagh Government has constructed a 17 km-long walking trail from Shushi to Stepanakert which passes alongside mountains, rivers and waterfalls.  You might want to consider getting a taxi to Shushi in the morning and then spending the day walking back to Stepanakert with a stop-off for lunch at one of the small villages along the way.
Your other option in respect of Shushi is to save your visit there until you are heading back to Yerevan as you will have to pass by it.  If you speak to your hotel, they will be happy to brief your taxi driver to first take you to see the sights of Shushi en route back to Armenia.

Vank
Once a fairly anonymous town, Vank has been heavily invested in in recent years by a former resident who made his fortune in Russia.  Passing through the town, you’ll see a string of newly-built buildings and statues, including a rather bizarre hotel built in the shape that is supposed to resemble the Titanic and an elaborate carving of a lion into rock on the hillside.
Architecture aside, the number one reason for visiting Vank is its proximity to the famous Gandzasar monastery which dates back as far as the 1200s.  Located at the top of a long and winding mountain pass, Gandzasar is probably Nagorno Karabagh’s biggest tourist attraction.  Aside from being a stunning example of Armenian religious architecture, the church is home to a wealth of attractive stone carvings and stunning views down across the valley.
If possible, I would recommend visiting Gandzasar earlier in the day as the whole complex gets gripped by fog as you get closer to sunset.  On one occasion I visited Gandzasar, I could barely see more than two or three metres in front of me!   There’s a very good restaurant in the town centre (see the food and drink section later in this blogpost) where you can stop off for a delicious lunch.
If you have more than a couple of days in Nagorno Karabagh, then I’d also suggest visiting the town of Hadrut when you’ll find further examples of 13th and 14th century churches.

Keep safe
A number of people visit Nagorno Karabagh in order to try and gain an insight into what it’s like to be in an active conflict zone.  If this is the reason for your visit then you will likely be disappointed as the vast majority of the country has a quiet and relaxed feel to it.
The Government of Nagorno Karabagh takes security issues exceptionally seriously and does not take kindly to visitors to the region that seek to stray too close to the border with Azerbaijan.  Snipers operate in this are and by doing so, you are putting not only yourself at grave risk but also endangering the lives of Karabagh Army soldiers (many of them young conscripts) who may be sent in to get you out of trouble.
Conflicting reports exist about whether or not it is possible to visit the cities of Agdam and Fizuli – both of which are ghost towns and former strongholds of the Azeri army.  Agdam is not technically part of the territory of Nagorno Karabagh but is temporarily held by Karabagh forces due to its use as key staging point from which the Azeri army launched rockets and shells into Armenian neighbourhoods.
I have visited both places with no problems in the past but understand that, depending on the general security situation, visits may not be possible.  You will pass several military checkpoints en route at which you may be denied permission to progress further if the security situation is particularly bad.
If you do manage to visit Agdam or Fizuli – a moving and extremely interesting experience – you shouldn’t go on about what you’ve seen there to locals when you get back to Stepanakert.  Agdam was an ethnic Azeri town but, even in victory, Armenians take no pride in or draw no satisfaction from its current state and have indicated it would be returned to Azerbaijan in the event of a settlement recognising Nagorno Karabakh’s independence.
The Halo Trust has done an exceptional job at removing land mines from Karabagh.  Indeed, I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days with their team in the country in order to see the painstaking work they do to rid the region of these evil weapons (although I can’t claim to have been told that walking across a certain field was safe as it “only has anti-tank mines in it”!). Keep your eyes peeled for signs marked “UXO” which indicate the presence of mines and avoid those areas at all costs.

Food and drink
No travel-related blog post from me would be complete without a quick delve into some of the local food and drink.
As a starter, I’ll say that while the food is Karabagh is fresh and delicious, it is far from varied.  With the exception of a few restaurants serving Georgian dishes and pizza, the menu of most restaurants in the region reflects the area’s cultural homogeneity.
Arguably the most iconic and unquestionably “Karabaghi” dish (as opposed to more broadly Armenian) is Jingalov Hats (pictured to the right), a flat pancake-like dish filled with fourteen different types of herbs.  It has a pretty unique taste and, according to friends on the ground, can only be found in Karabagh.  I can’t really do justice to by describing it but it’s tasty, healthy and filling.  I asked a friend for the recipe so that I could try and make it in the UK but was rather dismissively told this would be “impossible”.
In addition to Jingalov Hats you will also find some of the best BBQ food I’ve ever tasted.  The best option is to order a “tapas-style” range of chicken, pork, lamb and beef dishes to share amongst those you’re dining with.  The meats are always beautifully marinated as absolutely delicious.
Being the South Caucasus, you may also want to order a Georgian khachapuri – essentially a big cheese pie.  It’s not healthy but it is delicious. (If you really want to compound your unhealthiness then order the khachapuri with an egg on top).
In terms of specific restaurants, I am rather hamstrung by my inability to read Armenian script – and therefore inability to actually known the names of the restaurants (!) – but will nonetheless attempt to make some recommendations…
My personal favourite is a small restaurant on the outskirts of Stepanakert, about ten minutes walk from Renaissance Square.  If you are standing on the steps of the Hotel Armenia with your back to the hotel, take the first turning on the right down the hill.  Keep to the right hand side of the road and walk for about ten minutes (you will pass a number of newly-constructed residential blocks on the right hand side of the road and a school/sports centre on the left) and you will reach and restaurant that is part indoor and outdoor with a small stream running through the entrance area.  The staff are extremely friendly, the food excellent and the drinks cabinet well-stocked. They also have a selection of English-language menus which can be helpful for non-Russian and Armenian speakers.  After dinner, there’s a small nightclub about 300 metres up on the other side of the road.
Looking slightly closer to Renaissance Square, you will find the very comfortable bar and restaurant at the Hotel Armenia as well as the trendy “Russia” restaurant.  “Russia” is owned by a wealthy local who made his fortune in Moscow and is arguably the country’s most upmarket venue – imposing black marble and granite being the order of the day.  I last attempted to go to “Russia” on the night of the 2012 Presidential election but was turned away as the venue was hosting the President’s victory party.  The prices here are higher than elsewhere but still very affordable for those coming from Western Europe and North America.
Another place that should not be missed is a small restaurant in Vank, not far from the famous Gandzasar monastery (this is probably a good place to have lunch after visiting).  It’s impossible to miss: just look out for a cylindrical building on the banks of the river.  The walls of the restaurant are decorated with traditional Karabagh carpets, daggers and assorted other memorabilia.  This place serves the best Jingalov Hats I have tasted.
I have a basic rule when I travel that, as a first resort, I will always drink the locally-produced lager. You can’t go wrong with a chilled Kotayk or Kilikia.
So, you’ll be asking, “what’s the local moonshine like?”.  Quite nice, actually.  Most restaurants have a decent selection of home-made plum, pear and grape liqueurs which are generally best served chilled. They’re incredibly pure and go down particularly well after large amounts of BBQ food.  High quality and affordable vodkas are available at ally restaurants, along with the world famous Ararat cognac.
In terms of food safety, I’ve never had cause to worry about standards of hygiene at restaurants in Karabagh.  Indeed, the relatively isolated nature of the place means that the majority of meat comes from locally-reared and slaughtered animals who haven’t been fed the usual cocktail of stimulants and antibiotics that all to often finds its way into food in Western Europe and North America.  I have heard conflicting reports about whether or not the tap water is safe to consume but, just to be safe, it’s probably worth sticking to bottles water.  While I’ve never fallen victim to dodgy milk in Karabagh (they’d have to do a lot to improve upon the plague-esque strain of “Montezuma’s revenge” the milkshake stand at Tbilisi Ortachala station gave me), Armenian friends insist that “Westerners” should avoid drinking unpasteurised milk.
If you’re a smoker, Nagorno Karabagh is the place for you.  It appears almost obligatory to smoke when in a bar or restaurant.  As a non-smoker I certainly felt like the odd one out!

danhamilton.co.uk, May 14-16, 2013

(*) The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan has recently issued a 35-page list of 335 people who have been declared persona non grata and barred from entering Azerbaijan because of having visited Karabagh at one point. The list includes worldwide-famous Spanish singer Monserrat Caballe, Italian singer Al Bano, and a host of politicians, journalists, scholars, students, businessmen, and public people from many countries, ranging from Argentina to Russia and from Australia to Iran. Only around two dozens of them are of Armenian origin. (“Armeniaca”).  

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