The Karabakh region is one of the most ancient cradles of civilisation not only within Azerbaijan but the greater Caucasus region. Owing to its temperate climate, rich flora, and fauna there are claims that the region was amongst the first where civil society developed. Excavations at the Azikh cave, situated near present day Fuzuli, have revealed ancient traces of human contact through the discovery of fragments of a woman’s skull who lived approximately 350, 000 – 400,000 years ago.
The first dominant political power in this region was Albania, a state which emerged between the 3rd and 4th Century BC around the Caucasian Albanian peoples who are indegenous to Karabakh and inhabited what is now northern Azerbaijan. This Albanian state ruled the Southern Caucasus region for nearly 1000 years, withstanding ongoing aggression from neighbouring Armenian tribes and invasion attempts by the Roman Empire. The Albanian state continued until the 5th Century AD when it was taken over by Persian influences and split up into Persian satrapies.
From the 7th Century AD onwards, the ruling power within the Karabakh region took many forms, from satrapies to individual princedoms and regional Governments. Persian and Armenian influence in the region grew, and the Albanian ethnic self-conscience was gradually eroded away. However, at the start of the 12th Century AD there was an Albanian revival and a number of insurrections led by ethnic Albanians against Arab rule, and sowed the seeds for a liberation movement across the region, which in turn led to a number of independent feudal principalities emerging, including what is modern day Azerbaijan.
In the 11th and 12th Centuries AD a cultural renaissance took place in Azerbaijan and a strong national identity was forged under the rule of the State of Atabeys. Many view this period as the Golden Age in Azerbaijani history. Throughout the remainder of the Middle Ages, Karabakh became increasingly culturally and politically intertwined with what would be come the state of Azerbaijan. The ethnic make-up of Karabakh, which has always been diverse, consisted at this time largely of Azerbaijani Turks and the descendants of Caucasian Albanians.
The rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire dominated Karabakh and the surrounding areas during the early modern period, until a period of Russian expansion from the mid-18th Century onwards. However, the Karabakh Khanate maintained its independence over the course of the 18th Century, withstanding a number of attacks from neighbouring Iran. The Karabakh Khanate was finally dissolved and the area became part of the Caspian Oblast under the Russian Empire in 1826.
The Russian Empire viewed Armenia as a crucial player in their Eastern expansion, and therefore followed a programme of deliberate Armenian settlement in neighbouring provinces, including Karabakh. During this period, as many as 150,000 Armenians migrated to Karabakh, accounting for the large proportion of Armenians living in the region today, and which laid the foundations for the current conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Karabakh was formally incorporated into the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in 1918, and as a reaction, the Armenian faction within the region declared Nagorno-Karabakh an autonomous Republic.