CHAPTER 6 A NEW ERA (KARABAKH IN 16-17 CENTURIES)

Ecclesiastically Karabakh lay within the jurisdiction of Catholicossate of Albania, a subdivision of the administrative structure of the Armenian church. In the view of ecclesiastical connection with Armenia, it was natural that the Albanian church should be subordinated to the church of Armenia. In their turn the religious Armenian heads of Shaki, Shirvan and Derbent subordinated to the Catholicos of Albania. All the divisions and subdivisions recognized that the title of the Echmiadzin catholicos was “Catholicos of all Armenians”. The monastry of Gandzasar, one of the temporal and spiritual centers of Karabakh, was used from the 14-th. century until 1815 as the seat of the “Catholicossate of Albania”, occupied by the members of Jalalian family. This right was recognized not only by the Catholicos of Armenians, but also by the conqueror rulers. Their decrees of such kind are preserved in several documents. For example, the wife of Sultan Jhanshah (who had left for Baghdad to suppress a revolt) Begum Khatun confirmed by a decree of 1462 Jalal Great prince’s son Hovhannes as a Catholicos in Gandzassar.18 Ghanshah was the Black Sheep Turkmanian lord of Armenia. It was mentioned in the decree that Hovhannes had introduced to the court the previous decree of Sultan Jhanshah, confirming Catholicos Matteus (Mathew) succession, which in its turn was confirmed by the King Sheikh-Uveis Bahadur (1356-1374). It was also mentioned in the document that the Albanian Catholicoses were previously ordained by the “Sis King” and the Catholicos of all Armenians. After signing the decree the ruler ordered all the heads of the administrative local units” to recognize the rights of the appointed Catholicos as religious leader of Armenians, trust in his authority, not disturb him and his subject clergy demanding live-stock and other taxes”. The priesthood and the Christians were ordered, “Armenians of Gandzassar and Albania must recognize him as their religious leader and obediently carry out his orders concerning their faith, and follow his advice, without daring to interfere in his deeds, follow his advice, and respect him and his priests and relatives without any wish or expectation”.19

The Persian Safavids granted the Albanian Catholicoses with various privileges and rewards, confirmed by decrees.20

But Shah Abbas of Persia ordered the Albanian Church to pay him a tax “tafavut e jezie” for religious dissimilarity.21

The Armenian scholars spoke with enthusiasm about the past of their native Albania. Stressing its close links with Armenia, at the same time they set out to prove the great age of the Albanian Church and its right to independence. In a letter, written by the population of Shamakhi, Shaki Shirvan and “the whole of Albania”, they complained of those who wanted “to place the Albanian Catholicossate under the jurisdiction of Echmiadzin”. The Armenian leaders understood that the church was an important factor that kept the national spirit alive, it had come to be recognized as a vehicle of nationalism and self-defense within empires. It was through the church that they sought to educate their people. The secular heads of principalities always supported the church, contributing great donations to the religious fund. All these information was preserved in the inscriptions made on the walls of churches and monastries.

The late sixteenth century witnessed the emergence of the new and talented monarch on the Persian throne. It was Shah Abbas the First, who was soon styled “Great”. In a very short time he brought his country to prominence. Replacing his father Khudabanda Shah in 1586, he entered into an alliance with the Turks, complying with their demand of Transcaucasia and Persian Azarbaijan. He realized that there was no way out and tried to make time for further activity. The Uzbeks had occupied Khorassan, destroyed Herat and Meshed sacred cities. The internal situation was also tense with expectancy. Doing his utmost Shah Abbas destroyed the Uzbek army in a battle, which took place in 1597, thus reviving the traditions and honour of the Safavid inheritance. Step by step he restored the domain of his ancestors, developing a powerful unit, which connected not only the divided bits of the land, but established a religious and cultural dominance as well.23 He reconstructed the military forces of the country, promoted economical reforms, developing new directions in trade. To prosper his country he deported thousands of Armenians, mostly from the plain of Ararat, to his capital of Isfahan. There they founded a colony at New Julfa, with a cathedral and several fine churches.

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