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

According to the former plan, Georgian joint forces would move towards Shamakhi and destroy the Lezgi plunderers of Heji Daud, then joining the advancing Russian troops, would liberate Armenia and Georgia. At this same time Shah Tamasp had ordered his governor (vali) Vakhtang to coordinate the military forces of Georgia and the Soghnaks, and advance to Shamakhi to punish the Lezgiz. This was a good chance to be used. In case of failure (if the Russian army didn’t come), they would be attested carrying out the Shah’s order of demolishing the Lezgi threat.

The Armenian troops, led by the yuzbashiz (commanders in Turkish) of five Melikdoms, princes and religious heads reached the Cholak place near Gangzak. Vakhtang’s army settled on the bank of the Ghochghar river (Ghara-arkh), welcomed and greeted the Armenians. Yessayi Catholicos, who did his best for this unity, described this incident with great enthusiasm. The last unity of the two nations had taken place in XII-XIII centuries under the Zakarians. Both sides were extremely joyous. The two armies faced each other, leaving a small place between them for friendly competitions, shows and dances. “The smoke-like dust of a mist covered the sun, and we could hardly see each other”26. They considered that the time of their liberation had arrived. All of them were encouraged by the Caucasian compaign of Peter the Great, who had reached Derbent and Baku in 1722, and here they were, risen in arms against all kinds of occupation, facilitating the progress of the Russian troops, assembled near Gandzak with an army of 40 thousand men. But the time for such a Russian advance into Transcaucasia had not yet arrived.

It was in July that the Russian army had taken Derbent. The arms supplies and horses were loaded on ships but many ships were wrecked during a storm, thus preventing the Russian advance. The Armeno-Georgian joint army was unaware of the fact that Peter the Great had left for Astrakhan on October 4. “They were waiting for the autocrat lord, as the believers looked forward to Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem”, wrote the religious leader of Tiflis Armenians – Archbishop Minas Parvasian. After staying near Gandzak for two months, the armies parted. The chief commander of the joint army – Vakhtang, wasn’t resolute enough to undertake a progress towards the Russian troops himself and returned to Tiflis. The Armenian divisions too returned to their country.

Again the Armenians remained surrounded from all sides – by the Turks, Persians and the Caucasian highlanders. As the further development of events showed, the Russian Emperor could not rely on his army, weakened after the Russo-Swedish war, and avoided a new war against the Persians or Turks.

Consequently the conquest of Transcaucasia was postponed until another time. Peter the Great informed the Shah that his advance to Shamakhi aimed at punishing the rebellious Lezgiz, without intentions of war with Persia. Besides, they couldn’t allow Turkey to occupy the Caspian coast. Such excuses made Iran comply with the wishes of the Emperor. With a new treaty the Caspian coast was transferred to Persia. At this time the Emperor was conducting negotiations with Turkey, who too considering the circumstances favourable due to a weakening in Persian authority, was trying to seize Armenia and Georgia and prevent the Russian progress.

Holding out the prospect of the creation of “Christian states” in Transcaucasia, at that period Russia only partly encouraged the political and military activity of the Armenians and Georgians, but if Vakhtang did not cease to act more resolutely, the results would be quite different. The Russian commanders and diplomats too blamed Vakhtang for being slow and timid.27 Thus the failure of the whole campaign was blamed on Vakhtang.

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