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War, language removal and self-identification in the linguistic landscapes of Nagorno-Karabakh

  • Sebastian Muth (a1)


The disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) resulted in demographic shifts and drew new boundaries in a once borderless region. The South Caucasus, an area that has been characterized by its linguistic diversity witnessed one of the most destructive interethnic wars in the former USSR. Fought between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, it resulted in the removal of the Azerbaijani population. Two decades later the political status of the self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh Republic remains unresolved, but apparently a new linguistic self-identity of the population takes shape. While possibilities for extensive sociolinguistic research are limited, linguistic landscape research provides insights into patterns of individual and public language use. This paper analyzes the linguistic landscapes of Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, and establishes functional domains of the languages visible. Furthermore, it traces remnants of an Azerbaijani linguistic landscape in abandoned settlements and documents patterns of language use in rural parts of the territory. The demographic situation suggests a majority of Armenians, yet the results point toward a bilingual situation with Russian as a language of wider communication. On the other hand, the study shows the link between the removal of Azerbaijani from the public sphere and the eradication of Azerbaijani culture.


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Paper presented at the ASN World Convention. Columbia University, 18–20 April 2013.



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War, language removal and self-identification in the linguistic landscapes of Nagorno-Karabakh

  • Sebastian Muth (a1)


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