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

Again the Armenian policy was local, infused with dynasticism and religious conflicts, lacking a generalized, secular, ultimately territorial or ethnocultural sense of homeland or nation. Armenians might fight for Persian kings or Byzantine emperors, or even, as in 428AD, ask their overlord to abolish the Armenian monarchy. Christian princes joined Muslims and Mazdaists against their fellow Christians and their fissiparious politics allowed for the larger empires to the east and the west alternately to dominate its land. The Russian orientation too was destructive for the Sghnaks of that period, as Russia did nothing to support them in their struggle.36 Russian policy was rather more repressive than the somewhat over-hopeful Armenians anticipated.

The Vakil of Supreme Divan Murtuza-Kuli Khan ordered Amir Rostom Karakoyunly to go and suppress the Armenian revolt. The Maragha, Urmia, Khoi, Salmast, Dambali, Burgushat amirs and khans were instructed to coordinate their military capability in Tabriz in 1723. But before the arrival of the khans, Muhammad Ali Khan instigated the Shah to punish Murtuza-Kuli Khan, who was in no time beheacled. The result of the action was the disunion and desertion among the khans.

Peter the Great’s envoy Ivan Karapet and his companions, dressed as preachers, in nine days time reached Pokr(Minor) Sghnakh; Shushi.

The representatives of the Russian Emperor, were accepted with enthusiasm. On June 1, captain Avan invited the Dizak and Varanda military and religious heads to accept and confirm a warrant of submission to the Russian state. “Of our own accord and wish we accept to serve the great king, and carry out his orders till the Advent”.37 The warrant was signed and sealed by commanders Avan and Mirza. The document was immediately sent to Petersburg. After this Ivan Karapet undertook the mission of creating an atmosphere of reconciliation within the Albanian Church and the Sghnakh community. Without internal harmony the country would soon face a civil war. Captain Avan hardly restrained his men of arms from attacking Giulistan, whose Melik Baghr ravaged the Shushi and Avetaranots villages on routine basis. The situation was critical, as aware of the internal discordance in the Sghnakhs, the Turks would soon come. Through the intermediary of Ivan Karapet, captain Avan sent a declaration about the military forces of Shushi to the Russian court. According to this document the Shushi regiment consisted of five hundred armed covalry, and 6 thousand 4 hundred unarmed soldiers. The author of the letter asked the Russian authorities to provide them with arms and ammunition and enable them “to serve the Russian Shah”. The Armenian military political and religious leaders believed that the Emperor’s edict and confident Ivan Karapet would be able to save their country from destruction and disunion. From the three sghnakhs of Varanda, Dizak and Khachen 12 thousand soldiers gathered in Gandzassar. The nation was rejoicing for eight days. At last the Catholicos Nerses and the Jraberd and Giulistan hostile meliks and commanders arrived too, and declared about their submission to the Russian Empire. Thus Ivan Karapet succeeded in uniting the Armenian feudals and militants on the threshold of Turkish aggression. The whole Karabakh was ready to support the Caucasian compaign of the Russian army.

Through Ivan Karapet’s intermediary the Gandzak Shah too submitted to the Russian Empire. The Yerevan and Baiazet Khans asked the Echmiadzin Catholicos Astvatsatur Hamadantsi to confirm the fact that the Russians had arrived in the Armenian Soghnakhs, and if it was true, they should like the Catholicos to report them about their submission.The Russian Emperor’s envoy and his mission arouse the interest of Georgian Mamad Ghuli Khan (the King Vakhtang YI of Kakhet), who sent a messenger to the envoy to inquire about the intentions of the Russians. Vakhtang was a cautious and circumspect person. He didn’t want the Shah to lose confidence in him, without anything in return, so he decided to pay careful attention and find out everything before taking action.

In a letter of March 5, 1724 addressed to Peter the Great, the Armenian military commanders and meliks reported that from the 20 thousand soldiers of their army, only 10 thousand were armed. Again they begged the Emperor to render assistance to their country sending Russian troops.39

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