CHAPTER 7 THE ARMENIAN SGHNAKHS (PROVINCES) IN THE STRUGGLE FOR INDEPENDENCE

The Muhammad-ghuli Khan(Constand) of Kakhetia, who had adopted Islam, uniting with the Oghurlu Khan of Gianja and the Yerevan, Borchalu and Ghadzakh tyrants, wrote a letter to Shah Tahmasp, informing him that Vakhtang, allied to Armenian Sghnakhs, was inviting the Russians to overrun Persia. The Shah ordered them to bring him the head of the rebellious King. Vakhtang’s fortress was beseigned and bombarded by the treacherous Muhammad-guili Khan. Supported by the Armenian forces, Vakhtang drew the apostate away from his residence. The latter applied to the Lezgis for help, granting them with the permission of plundering Tiflis. The Caucasian robbers immediately launched an attack on the city under Ali Sultan. The King had a narrow escape. The city was ravaged and the citizens taken captive.

This Muhammad-ghuli was appointed governor of Georgia, the Ararat province, Gandzak and Karabakh. Soon he sent his envoy to Shushi, offering captain Avan a profitable post with a high ration. The Shushi (Pokr-Minor Sghnakh) military council refused him, unswerving that they surved the Russian Emperor and looked forward to his arrival, and even if this didn’t take place, they would never submit to the apostate Muhammad-ghuli. The Georgian Khan, who had treacherously defeated Vakhtang, and was looking about for a chance to do away with the Sghnakh commander Avan, joining with the Persian army of Yerevan, moved to Karabakh. But the arrogant Khan was defeated by the brave commander and thrown away from the Karabakh territory. On his way back the defeated Khan thirsting for revenge, slaughtered the two thousand innocent inhabitants of Gegharkunik province.

Parallel to the diplomatic negotiations with the conqueror of Iran Mir-Mahmud, Iranian Shah Tahmasp and Ottoman Turks, Peter the Great strived to preserve the faith and win the trust of the Christian Armenia and Georgia towards the liberating mission of Russia. On June 3, 1723, in a court meeting he discussed his edict addressed to the Armenian people with general Fiodor Apraksin and private advisor Count Piotr (Peter) Tolstoi. Ivan Karapet, Armenian by origin, was charged with the task of taking the edict to Armenia as a special envoy of the Russian Emperor. Before that the Albanian Catholicos and the meliks had applied to the Emperor for pleas of mercy, “For God’s sake…m help us…”. The court meeting edited a second document called “memoir”.

Peter’s edict was written in general statements and indistinct expressions. It didn’t contain any definite proposal or obligation, concerning the liberation of the country. The Armenian mercantile and trading class was offered a support of the Russian government, they could develop their activity in the Caspian territories.

Making excuses for the tone of the letter, the Russians explained that, if seized by the Turks, the decree would get the Armenians into trouble. In the second document, in “Memoir”, Peter the Great mentioned that he was aware of the hardships that the Armenians had to tolerate, and assured them that he was ready to patronize the nation and liberate them from foreign yoke, after strengthening his position on the Caspian coast.28

Peter the Great’s envoy Ivan Karapet was an influential merchant, a citizen of Petersburg. The Russian historian V. Listsov considered him to be the Armenian merchant Ivan Yepremov, who with two other manufacturers had been invited to the court on May 10 of 1723 and was charged with managing the trade in Russia.29 The Armenian merchants and manufacturers took on a highly visible role in development of industry and trade in Russia. Some scholars assume Ivan Karapet to belong to Karabakh. But considering the language of his reports and letters, we can surely say that they were written in Shirvan dialect, which formed a branch of the Ancient Artsakh dialect. Moreover, Ivan Karapet was the founder of the silk works in Ghzlar (Kizliar in present). If we consider also the fact that his brother bore the surname “Shirvanor”, we can say that the envoy Ivan Karapet was a descendant of a Shirvan family.

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