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

The joint army of the European Treaty should reach (via Russia) to the Caspian shores (to Baku) and take Shemakhi, Gandzak, Ghapan and Nakhichevan, and then cross the Arax river and move to Tabriz. The Western Armenia (Turkish Armenia, that is eastern Turkey of today) was not mentioned, because, as a result of Turkish policy, the majority in the country areas were beholden to local Kurdish feudal lords. The Armenians there had an additional problem to cope with. They were heavily intermixed with a large Kurdish and Turkish population, who originally from more southerly regions, had been settled there by Ottoman Turkish authorities to guard the frontier with Persia. Moreover, the Kurds and Turks were armed, whereas Armenians, as a Christian subject race, were forbidden to bear arms. Within a few decades, the Armenians were a minority in their own land. Israel Ori did not connect the liberation of this lands with his plan of freeing eastern Armenia.

Officially attached to the Persian Empire, Karabakh and the close lying Armenian territories were largely autonomous in matters of defense and internal policy, justice and taxation, and were ethnically homogenious. The meliks were the sole authorities capable withstanding threats and attacks. It was in the five melikdoms and the neighbouring province of Siunik that rose the idea of recreating an independent national state. “Here the racial self-awareness and self-preservation were supreme over other vital desires”, wrote the historian Leo.9 This was the reason, why Israel Ori trusted the Armenians of those districts and relied on them.

If not the weakening in the Safavid Persia, the Armenian lords would not join the compaign, as they were satisfied with their authority, confirmed by the Persian monarchs. In fact they were the only masters of their land. But the serious political and economical fall of the Persian state caused the anxiety among the Armenian rulers and made them look for a new powerful patron. They were experienced enough to understand that a new disaster was awaiting their country.

But Israel Ori’s plans were not destined to come true. Soon new wars broke out in Europe. In 1700 the Islandian king died. The heirs of this throne were scattered all over the world. The French King and the Austrian Emperor were also considered as heirs. The deceased King himself was well-disposed towards the grandson of the French King. Allied to Austria – England and Holland set up a compaign against France. The Austrian Emperor, who was to realize the liberation of Armenia, was completely absorbed in the war for the Islandian throne. At this same time the war of Russia with Sweden broke out. Peter the Great, striving to establish an entry to the Baltic sea, in November of 1700 surrounded the Narva fortress with his enormous army. The Russians were soon defeated. But the Tsar did not lose hope and actively prepared for another attack.

It was decided to send Israel Ori to Armenia again, but this time via Russia. Through Johann Wilhelm’s intermediary he was given the letter of the Pope addressed to Sultan Hussein Shah of Persia. The head of the Catholic church asked the Sultan to improve the conditions of the Christian population of the empire. Under the pretex of taking this letter to the Shah of Iran, Ori would go there to collect information about the latest developments of events in Turkey and Iran before the attack of the Russians. The most important thing in this conspiracy was the fact that Europe agreed to place Armenia under the Russian influence, advising Ori to apply to the Tsar.

Ori obtained fire-arms in Europe to arm the Armenian division in Astrakhan, which would take part in the compaign of liberating Armenia.

It was in July of 1701, that the Tsar Peter the Great was reported that two foreigners had arrived from the Litvian frontier with the letters of Roman-German Emperor Leopold, Polish King Ian and Bavarian Kiurfurst Johann Wilhelm addressed to himself. One of this foreigners was Israel Ori, and the other – Bishop Minas. Peter the Great, who was inclined to extend his territories to the south, met the Armenian delegates on October 7, 1701 in Petrograd. A new liberation project was introduced to the Tsar, according to which Peter the Great would send his army of 25 thousand Cossack and Cherkez soldiers to Armenia. A part of the army would move towards Shamakhi, take the four Armenian strongholds and then attack Ordubad, joined with the Armenian units. Ori hoped to rearm their divisions in Ordubad, as it was the city providing the Persians with fire-arms. From here they would advance to Yerevan. This plan had the approval of the tsar, and he promised to support it.

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