CHAPTER 11 THE RELIGIOUS AUTONOMY IN KARABAKH (1828-1905)

The preachers asked to be permitted to resume the printing activity and being refused, sold their enterprises and in 1837 left Shushi. But the preachers had already set the educational and editorial activity in motion. In 1830 a Russian liceum was founded in Shushi. From its 109 students 92 were Armenians and only 17 Tatars. A number of private schools were functioning in the region. The general tendency of the Karabakh Armenians to education was not only for developing trade but meant that the old subservience of the Armenians would not last, that is the European diplomats could not overlook a nation whose sons were receiving education in France, Venice or Russia. Besides, with the revival of study of national history and litarature, the Armenian protoitelligentsia of the early ninteenth century emphasized past glories and lost statehood. The national emancipation began as liberal and democratic movements of the writers, journalists and teachers and by the last decade of the century this group of national intellectuals was shunted aside by younger and more radical activists, who struggled for full participation in the modern European life.

If the Shushi Armenians were engaged in trades or handicrafts and their children could go to school, the conditions for the Armenians living in the villages were deplorable, even worse than under the meliks’ rule. Zavilevski, becoming acquainted with the life of peasants, wrote;

“The peasants freedom is formal, in fact they are slaves, completely in the power of agalars and melik. It’s surprising that the local Armenians, the most loyal subjects of the empire and the most diligent to develop crafts, agriculture and trade, and the most productive element of the population, are treated almost like slaves by the rebellious aghafars who exploit their labour and hate them for their faithfulness to the Russian Empire”.4

In 1830 Paskevich sent one of his administrative employees – Chubariov to investigate the established order and regulations in the country. In his report he informed that the land had been distributed among the favourites of Abkhazov (who replaced Madatov and the commandant of Karabakh) and the taxes were distributed considering the relationship of the governor beks to the high rank officials. The power in Shushi was centralized in the hands of Abkhazov’s favourite Captain Mirza Adigiozalov, who had given refuge to 3 hundred criminal families, granting them control over the whole of Karabakh.5 The bribe seeking officers and bureaucrats supported the robbers. All the local Tatars exercised bribe giving. They didn’t have their equal in that sphere of action. It was like an unwritten law – the lower in rank gives bribes to the higher.

The Russian bureacrats were fond of that practice too. The Armenian nobility was pressed off the lands of their ancestors. The Tatar beks brought their tribesmen to inhabit the Armenian villages and settlements. Despite the increase in Armenians in the nineteenth century in absolute terms and their continued economic and political domination over the largest cities of Caucasus, the Armenians in Karabakh villages increasingly perceived themselves to be in vulnerable demographic and political position. Not yet minority in their own land, their situation worsened with the growth of the Tatar population, the in-migration of Muslim elements and out-migration of Armenians. At last the Karabakh population, seeking reforms in the administration, applied to General Paskevich, who promised amelioration for the Christians.

In 1836, the Tsarist government issued a regulating statute or “polozhenie”, permitting the Armenian Church to retain its lands and Armenian schools to keep their autonomy. According to the document Armenians obtained sovereignity as a religious community with the Catholicos of all Armenians as its head. All the members of Armenian communities througout the world had the right to take part in the election of Armenian Catholicos. The Russian Tsar himself had to choose among the two candidates to the post.6 Armenian dioceses were formed in Russia, the Karabakh diocese being one of them. It included the whole of historic Karabakh; Shaki(Nukhi), Shamakhi, Gandzak and Talish. The “Consistoria” and the “Diocese Council” resided in Shushi. The ancient fortress became the spiritual centre for the Shaki, Shemakhi, Lenkoran and Karabakh Armenians. In 1837 Archbishop Baghdassar Hassan Jalalian was appointed Metropoliten Bishop and chairman of the Consistoria of the ecclesiastical province. He undertook to buy the Basle printing press and resumed to publish Armenian literature. He tried to revive the Albanian Catholicossate but without result, as faced the opposition of the Catholicos Nerses. The Metropolitan Bishop did his best to return the lands seized by the Tatar beks and succeeded in it in some degree. He restored the economy of the Gandzak domain. In 1838, on June 22 a new school was opened in Shushi. It was housed by Mesrop Tarrumian. The following subjects were taught; Theology, Holy History, Armenian Grammer, Russian language, Persian language, Arithmetics and Music. All the classes of the society realized that without education they couldn’t achieve anything in life. Children from different parts of Karabakh arrived in Shushi to continue their education. There already existed 6 schools there with 240 pupils, included the 10 girls of the Nunnery school. Thus the Church came to be recognized as a vehicle of nationalism and self-defence. It was through the Church that Armenians sought to be educated.

The Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks (Tatars) continued to live in Karabakh, although differing in culture, language, religion and way of life.

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