In 2014, while working on a Caucasus-related project at the US Marine Corps’ CAOCL, I opened the latest version of Google Maps that became public a week or so earlier. To my surprise this version, unlike the previous version, had an interesting geopolitical feature—Nagorno-Karabakh Republic—with boundaries outlined and place names written in Armenian language.
Not a single UN-member nation has yet recognized this entity, even Armenia, thus seeing it appear on Google Maps was a bit puzzling. I commented about it to my colleague, a Caucasus regional expert, wondering why Google would do something like that considering the sensitivity of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.
My colleague, well connected with both Armenian and Azeri circles in the United States, forwarded my finding to various organizations on both sides. From what I heard, the issue reached diplomatic levels. I moved on and forgot about it. Google eventually modified the map and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic was gone.
Space, boundaries, and place names are of incredible importance in multiethnic areas. When ethnic groups fight for power, they fight for space, for territory, because without a land attachment a group can hardly survive for long time. The most interesting aspect of the Google Maps Nagorno-Karabakh issue was that someone had to create this from scratch [if you look at the selected boundary on the screenshot, it does not resemble that of the Soviet Union’s Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast], instead of using obsolete archival data and making mistakes [for example, writing Yugoslavia instead of naming individual successor countries