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

In a time when the Siunik and Karabakh Armenians were fighting against the Turkish army, the Shah of Iran, taking as a basis the rumours and reports of doubtful accuracy, considered the Armenians his enemies, while they were fighting against a common adversary. The chief commander of the Turkish army Umar Pasha compelled the Echmiadzin Catholicos Astvatsatur to write a letter to the Gandzassar Catholicos Yessayi, obliging the latter to convince the Sghnakh militants to submit to the Turks and send a delegation to the Turkish headquarters, or else they threatened to slaughter all the Armenians in Karabakh. The military commanders and the religious heads of Karabakh decided to refuse the Turk Pasha, and actively engaged themselves to defend their country.42 Peter the Great secretly ordered his envoy Ivan Karapet to do his best to prevent Karabakh from being conquered by the Turks, till the advance of the Russian army.

Soon Karabakh was destined to face a new disaster. The Bishop Anton of Shamakhi, accompanied by landlord Chalabi were charged with the task of taking Yessayi’s and the meliks’ letters to Petersburg. On his way there, he tore the letters and wrote new ones instead, forging the signatures of the writers and misrepresenting the contents, asking “His Highness to protect and give shelter to them near the Caspian sea, in Gilan, Salian, Baku and Derbend, because they, the Armenians, don’t want to live under the Muslim yoke…”43

Already in 1722, when the Russian Emperor charged general Matushki with conquering the Caspian shores, he intended to settle the Armenians there, thus strengthening Russia’s positions in those regions. “Try to do your best to call the Armenians if possible, to settle them in Gilan and Mazandaran and lessen the number of the Muslims, that is the followers of Turkish order, very peacefully and confidentially”.44

Probably, besides Bishop Anton, this project had other supporters in Karabakh, and captain Avan was one of them, as he is known to have gathered ten thousand armed men for migrating to Gilan, to the Russians. But “the people cried bitterly and begged him to stay, otherwise they would be lost, and he was their only hope. And after meditating for some time, he agreed to stay.”,45 resuming the rebuilding of the Shushi fortress.

The Turkish army intended to take the whole of Karabakh during the spring of 1725, then advance to Shamakhi and from here seize the Baku port with a sudden attack. The first Turkish division (4700 soldiers) under the leadership of Shahin Salah and Ali Pashas, going round Gandzak, entered Varanda. The military forces of this sghnakh tried to save the country for a second time,(the first time from the Lezgis), conducting a flexible policy. They met the Turks with presents, and offered them to winter in Karabakh villages, assuring them of their readiness to provide them with all necessary supplies. The Turkish commanders, avoiding a clash with the Armenians, were pleased and satisfied with such a turn for the better and accepted the invitation of the Armenian Melik. All the Ottoman soldiers were distributed among the 33 villages of the region, one, two or three hundred soldiers in each village. They were kept in the villages for two days. On the third day, at night, they all were slain. Salah Pasha was taken captive. Only 150 people managed to flee. Shahin and Ali Pashas were killed. Salah Pasha told everything about their plot against the Armenians. They intended to gather all the Karabakh leaders and slaughter them, easily taking the whole country.46 This glorious victory stimulated the Armenian militants to further efforts.

The Persian Shah Tahmasp second hurried to congratulate the Sghnakhs with a letter. Karabakh was actively looking for allies and the delegation, consisting of 200 members, arriving in Ghazvin; Shah Tahmasp’s residence, concluded a peace treaty with Kiarballahi Beg.

All the members of the delegation were honoured with presents, the military representatives received coats from the Shah.47

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