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

Unfortunately the eighty-two year Catholicos could not reach Rome, as he died in Constantinople in 1680. The delegation returned to Echmiadzin. But the member of the delegation, the twenty-one year old Yavri (to be called Ori in France), left for Europe, with the same mission. Later this Israel Ori was considered the founder of Armenian liberation movement in the seventeenth century.

Israel Ori lived in Venice for three years, then left for France, where fought in the French army for ten years. Taken captive by the English, and set free soon, he left for Germany. While in France, he told the King about Armenia and Armenians. But the King Lui had already given up the idea of a crusade against the Turks and the centre of that struggle was transferred from France to the Austrian court. The Turkish problem could be settled only by the Emperor Leopold, and through the intermediary of Prince Johann Wilhelm, who was one of the most influential politicians of the period. The members of his family intermarried regularly with all European royal families.

Coordinating their military capability, Austria, Poland and Venice won the first glorious victory over the Turks in Austria, where they had surrounded the palace of the royal family of Habsburgs. In case of failure, the whole of Europe would fall under the Turkish tyranny. The Turks retreated, followed by the joint troops under Polish commander Ian Sobeski. Soon Russia also entered the treaty, intending to “treat the incurable patient”, as Turkey was called in European diplomatic circles.

The Russian kings lay claims on the Byzantine royal inheritance, as the relative of the last Byzantine emperor – Sophia Paleolog was the wife of their Tsar Ivan III. The Russian tsars promised to carry out the task of reconquering Constantinople (Istanbul) from the Turks. In 1696 the Russian army won the first victory liberating the city Azor. Armenian hopes were highest after this victory. Peter the Great suggested to coordinate the military capability of all the European states and liberate the Christian nations from the Turks. Under the Tsar’s portrait, painted in Holland, was written “Peter, Monarch of Russian and Greek empires”.3

Another victory was won by the Austrian army near the Tissa river. The Turkish army was fully destroyed.

These victories gave a boost to nationalist sentiments in Armenia and quick diplomatic steps were taken. Israel Ori was sent to Armenia with a special mission. King Leopold had given up supporting Armenia, due to an entry into a new alliance with the Turks, accepting their surrender. Israel Ori succeeded in reaching Echmiadzin through Turkey. But a new disappointment was awaiting for him in his native country. The new Catholicos of all Armenians Nahapet was actively exercising bribe giving in order to maintain his title and his seat.4 Ori hurried to Karabakh, which had become an organizational centre of the liberation movement. The meliks were ready to support Ori, but the Gandzassar Catholicosate (as Echmiadzin before) refused to adopt Catholicism.

Eleven Siunid meliks held secret meeting in the Angeghakot Melik Safraz’s house, which lasted twenty days. As a result, a letter, addressed to the Pope of Rome was written, where they expressed their agreement to adopt Catholicocism.5 The second application was addressed to Johann Wilhelm, where the meliks offered him the Armenian throne. He was to send an army led by his brother Karl and after liberating the country, he could come himself and inherit the Armenian throne as the only supreme ruler of the country. The Angeghacot council sent another petition to the Russian Tsar Peter the Great, calling him Piotr Aleksevich.6 The contents were quite different from the one addressed to the German prince. Neither provisions, nor a throne were suggested. They asked only for military assistance, promising submission in return for it. Probably this variant was more acceptable. Russia half-encouraged this political activity. Armenia’s turn towards Europe and Russia antagonized Turkish officials and led to the growing sense that Armenians were a foreign, subversive element in Sultan’s realm. But Turkey had somebody in Transcaucasia to rely on. It was the native nation inhabiting the territories between the Kura river and Caucasian mountain range; the Lezgis, Avars, Utis, Tsakhurs, Tabassaranians, who professed Suni Muslim, and thus were inclined towards Ottoman Turkey. At that time nomadic tribes immigrated from Iran (especially from Khorassan) and settled in Arran valley and near the Georgian southern frontier. They were Shii Muslim, and unaware of their ethnicity, called themselves Muslims and Mohammadians. Their language was a mixture of a Turkish dialect and Persian. Neither the Turks, nor the Persians could rely on them, as they always considered it safer to side with the stronger party.

Such was the political situation in Transcaucasia when Israel Ori accompanied by bishop Minas Tigranian from Kharberd, returned to Europe. Here Ori planned out a military and political project of liberating Armenia, consisting of thirty-six points.8 The most important point of his plan suggested liberating Armenia from the Turks and Persians and restoring the monarchy coordinating European military and political capability.

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