THE MAP of Republic of Armenia and Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh





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Armenian Rebellion of the 1720s


From 1722 to 1735 Safavid Iran underwent deep internal and external crises. In 1722 Afghan rebels overran much of central Iran, including its capital, Isfahan. The multiethnic populations of Transcaucasia and some other peripheral regions of Iran found themselves left without effective central and local administration as well as subject to increasing intercommunal strife and foreign intervention. The Afghan conquest and its repercussions wrought cataclysmic changes upon Iran, leading a perceptive Carmelite orientalist to describe the process as follows: The break with the past [in the 1720s]... was, however, so complete that to it in more proximate or more remote degree may be ascribed most of the ills of the next two hundred

years... In its soul as a nation, it was as if the country had raised round itself a wall of separation from the rest of the

world, had elected to develop fanaticism, an intolerance, contempt and ostracism of the rest of the world which

exercised their baneful effect well into the twentieth century


This assessment, recorded in writing as early as 1939, is all the more thought-provoking in light of the recent developments of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and the following institutionalization of the Islamic regime in Iran.In August through October 1722 Russian troops, led by Peter the Great, invaded and for the first time occupied the Caspian littoral of what was then Iranian Transcaucasia. This constituted a historical turning point in Russian policy towards the Near East as well as a completely new strategic reality for the region. The new geopolitical setting that came to life in Transcaucasia (with Russia, Iran, and Turkey as competing regional 'superpowers') has remained strikingly close to its archetype up to the present. In the years immediately preceding the 1722 'Persian Campaign' of Peter the Great, the Christian nations of Transcaucasia, the Armenians and Georgians, were secretly negotiating with Moscow for the latter's assistance in their bid for emancipation from Iranian rule.5 Hence, the Russian occupation of part of the Caspian coast, accompanied by Peter's promises to provide military support for their liberation attempt, created a real sense of euphoria among these peoples. In September, 1722, a combined Georgian-Armenian army of about 50,000, headed by Vakhtang VI, the king of Kartli (the Georgian principality within Iran), set out from Tiflis and camped near Ganja waiting for the promised advance of the Russians. It was promptly joined by 10,000 “crack and well-armed” fighting men from Karabakh, an Armenian-populated mountainous region. Both the Armenians and Georgians saw the Russian appearance in Transcaucasia as a sign of their long-awaited salvation from Muslim rule and the restoration of their independence. A few years later, Yesayi Hasan-Jalalian, the Catholicos (Spiritual Head) of the Armenians of Karabakh and a veteran of the Armenian liberation movement, summarized the popular mood of those days with the words, “We thought that Armenian sovereignty had been reestablished.”Likewise, appealing to the united Armenian and Georgian troops, Vakhtang VI declared, "Henceforth be courageous and brave as

the sons of the Almighty! And do not fear anything or anyone,  since the time of the salvation for the Christians has now come." However, both the unfavorable international situation and the heavy Russian casualties suffered especially during the first stage of his 'Persian campaign'10 compelled Peter the Great to renege on his promises to the Transcaucasian Christians. Instead, he sought to consolidate the Russian hold on the Caspian coast and to expand it from Darband to Rasht, thus further securing his control over the northern route for the silk trade which, in fact, was the primary incentive and objective of his campaign. Furthermore, a

Russo-Ottoman "partition" treaty, signed on 12 June 1724 in

Constantinople, assigned all of Western Iran, including Eastern

Armenia and Georgia, to the Ottoman Empire and the western and

southern coasts of the Caspian Sea to Russia.11 The disheartening

effect of this Russian policy on the Georgians and Armenians

largely contributed to the first Ottoman military successes in

Transcaucasia, in particular the capture in June, 1723, of the

Georgian capital, Tiflis, without resistance. Georgian opposition

to the Turks faltered further in July, 1724, when Vakhtang VI

emigrated to Russia with his entire court and many high-ranking

Georgian political and cultural figures (1200 men).12

In contrast the Armenian armed forces, which were

principally concentrated in the adjacent mountainous regions of

Karabakh (ancient Artzakh, late medieval Khachen)13 and Kapan

(ancient Siunik), did not follow this pattern. Although at first

opposed to Iranian rule, after the Ottoman invasion of Iran, the

Armenians succeeded in preserving their military capability, allied

themselves with the Iranian forces without terminating their

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relationship with the Russians,14 and maintained a fierce resistance

to the Turks until the recapture of all of Transcaucasia by Iranian

troops in 1735.

Armenian Self-Rule in Karabakh and Kapan and

the Armenian Armed Forces

Both Armenian and non-Armenian sources reveal that in the

1720s Karabakh and Kapan alone had standing forces ranging from

30,000 to 60,000 soldiers.15 This powerful and seemingly sudden

reemergence of the Armenian armed forces would have been

impossible without the existence of Armenian military cadres and

structures in the region.16 There were three main military

formations around which the Armenian troops were newly

organized: First, the military units of the Karabakh and Kapan

Meliks (Armenian feudal lords),17 second, the Armenian military

serving in Georgia, and, finally, the Armenian military in the

Iranian service. Material resources in the region and local

manufacture of arms were important factors in this development.

The traditional military units of the Karabakh and Kapan

Meliks served as the primary basis for the raising of Armenian

troops in the 1720s. In this respect one unique report by Parsadan

Gorgijanidze (1626-1703), a well-informed seventeenth century

Georgian chronicler who served in both the Georgian and Iranian

courts,18 deserves special attention. He referred to 40,000

Karabakh Armenian "musketeers" who were ready to launch a

liberation war as early as 1632.19 We may compare this report with

the fact that exactly the same number (40,000) of Karabakh

Armenian soldiers was repeatedly mentioned in the 1720s.20 It is

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evident that Gorgijanidze's information reflected a previous

historical reality; even if due to the contemporary adverse regional

setting and understandable security reasons this reality was an

underground or dormant capability. The Georgian author's earliest

information about the equipment of the Karabakh Armenian forces

in 1632 had likewise received its near-complete corroboration in

the 1720s developments. Thus, according to a report by the

Karabakh Armenian envoys to the Russian Court, dated 5

November 1724:

Their army's weapons are muskets and sabers; in addition,

the horse-soldiers have pistols. Furthermore, they have

sufficient powder and lead; those muskets, and powder, and

lead are made by the Armenians themselves, since they

possess the relevant ores in sufficient quantity. Yet, although

they possess the copper and iron ores, they have no cannons,

since they have no cannon-founders.21

On 16 August 1725, Ivan Karapet, the influential Armenian

manufacturer from Russia who was sent by Peter the Great as his

personal "envoy" (poslannik) to Karabakh and Kapan with an

intelligence and diplomatic mission,22 reported back from an area

where in Karabakh he saw --

...such combative fighters that could be found nowhere else

in Iran but only here. Today they number 12,000

cavalrymen, all equipped with muskets and sabers. Besides,

their foot-soldiers are so many that only God knows [their

number], and all have muskets. Moreover, they make 10

muskets per day (i.e., 3,650 muskets per year). Also, they

have copper and iron-works...23

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On 21 October 1729 the commanders of the Karabakh

Armenian army described their forces as follows:

1. The Armenian army is in four sections; its commanders

are Avan-yuzbashi, Tarkhan, Abram, Ohan, Baghi and

Avak,24 who have under their authority 30,000 soldiers;

these are all soldiers -- not farmers or merchants....

2. Their own gunsmiths are locally making their weapons,

namely: muskets, sabers, broadswords, daggers, and


3. ...In addition, they possess iron, copper, lead, and silver


5. Although the Turks launched many full-scale offensives

against them, they, the Armenians, up to the present

moment, have managed to repel them with all their own

forces available...

6. They (the Armenians) hope that, as soon as the Russian

assistance arrives, the ranks of the Armenian troops will

[again] reach a level of 50,000 men.25

The Material Resources and Local

Manufacture of Arms

These reports, inter alia, reveal that for the period in question

Armenian Karabakh and Kapan maintained a sophisticated system

of weapons manufacture, which originated much earlier than the

1720s and even before 1632 when the fire-arms (musket)



The history of the Armenian people abounds in the episodes of the struggle with a foreign domination. Located at the confluence of different civilizations and having an exceptional geographical position, the Armenian plateau was constantly subjected to invasions of the invaders. The people carried on an unceasing struggle with a foreign yoke for restoration on the native land its lost nationhood, freedoms and rights. The Armenian people (the Armenians) of Artsakh did not stay apart from this struggle; moreover, on the certain stages of the history it appeared in the role of the leader of the national- liberation movement.

In the late 16th century in Karabagh there appeared original administrative-political entities known in historical science as "melikstvos" (principalities) and their governors are called "meliks"(princes). This Semite word means "crowned head". Meliks become the bearers of the Armenian national power.

Thanks to the meliks from the end of the 17th century in Artsakh there arouse and spread the idea of liberation of the motherland from the Persian yoke. Parallel with the armed struggle Armenians in that period made diplomatic efforts, at first turning to Europe, then - to Russia. Such political and war leaders as Israel Ori, archimandrite Minas, the Catholicos of Gandsasar Yesai Dgalalian, sotniks Avan and Tarkhan become people leaders.

The absence of power in 18th century in Persia created the threat to its integrity. Both Turkey and Russia expected to get its share from the possible breaking up of Persia, Turkey with this purpose striving for enlisting the support of the Dagestani mountaineers, Russia seeking its supporters among Armenians and Georgians. At the same time, Russia took the mission of liberation of the Christian peoples. In this situation, there were more favorable circumstances for the Artsakh people’s liberation struggle.

In spite of the interest displayed by Russia in the Armenian policy in that period, for the whole space of the struggle of the Armenians it never got beyond the mere promise.

The Armenians connected their hopes with the Russian emperors, thus arousing still more hatred of the Muslims towards them, whom, when an opportunity occurred, severely mutilated them. The example of such cruelty is the March of Russia to Persia in 1721. At the very beginning the Russian forces succeeded in occupying Derbent and Baku. Instead of the promised help Peter I advised the Armenians of Artsakh to leave their native places of residence and moved to Derbent, Baku, Gilan, Mazandaran where the Russian power had already been established. Intending to consolidate its hold on the occupied. Khanates, attached to Caspia, Russia signed the treaty with Turkey, on July 12, 1724, giving the latter a free hand in the whole Transcaucasus (as far as Shamakha).

In the same year Ottoman troops invaded the land. Their main victim became the Artsakh Armenian population, who, headed by meliks, rose to struggle for its independence, never having received the promised support on Russian side. Yet, Peter I-St march gave a new impulse to struggle of the Armenians.

In 1720’s the formed in Karabagh host concentrated in three military camps or Skhnakhs (fortified place). The first of them, called the Great Skhnakh, was situated in the Mrav Mountains near the river Tartar. The second Pokr (Minor) Skhnakh was on the slope of the Kirs Mountain in the province of Varanda and the third - in the province of Kapan. Shkhnakhs, i.e. the Armenian host possessed absolute power. That was a people army with the Council of military leaders, the Catholicos of Gandsasar also entering it and having a great influence. Proceed from the demands of wartime, meliks shared their power with sotniks, all of them having equal rights and obligations at the military councils.

Peter I-St policy with respect to the Armenians continued under Katherine I - his wife (1725-1727) and Peter II- his grandson (1727-1729), requests turned to Czar Russia for military support remained without response as before. The Armenian host at the head of its leaders, Catholicos Yesai, sotniks Avan and Tarkhan resisted the Ottoman regular army for considerably a long time. Nevertheless, being isolated and alone in their struggle the Armenians could not achieve their final goal-independence. As a result of the eight-year stubborn resistance the Armenian Skhnakhs weakened after which Northern, or primordial, Karabagh again broke into separate melikstvos, returning to its former political order.

However even in such circumstances melikstvos did not refuse from their struggle against Ottomans. This time the Armenians turn to Nadir-shah, having ascended the throne in 1729, who was able for a time to restore the former might of his country? Under Nadir-Shah the Armenians acquired certain privileges, since they carried on a struggle against Ottoman Turkey, a sworn enemy of Persia. In the time of Nadir- Shah numerous Artsakh-Karabagh melikstvos united, forming 5 melikstvos, which ruled over the country, called henceforth Khamsa or the Country of Khamsa (translation version - "The country of five"). It stretched from the Gandzak province borders to the South as far as the river Araks. Melikstvos were headed by the dynasties: the Melik-Beglarians in Gyulistan; Melik-Israyelians in Dzraberd; the Gasan-Dzalalians in Khachen, the Melik-Yeganians in Dizak.

In time Khamsa Melikstvos become rather strong, turning the land, thanks to its felicitous geographical position, into an impregnable fortress.

However, because of internal civil intestines the former head of robbers Panakh from the Turks tribe "sarudjalli" was able to invade Northern Caucasus and, having gained a foothold, founded here the so called Karabaghian khanate. Subsequently Ibragim-khan, the son-in-law of Varanda melik Shahnazar II, having taken power from his father, hatched a plot in 1785, killed the Dzraberd, Gulistan and Dizak meliks, conquered Gandsasar Monastery- the hearth of the Armenian national-liberation struggle. As a result of this the Khamsa melikstvos finally broke down.













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