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

Their first attack took place in June, 1726. The villages Ghazanchi, Chankatagh and Ghaprty (in present day Karabakh Republic, Martakert region) were their first victims. The unarmed population was slaughtered, their houses – ravaged. The counter-attack of the Armenian army was launched on June 10. The battle took place near the Khachen village. The Turks were defeated, and put to flight, leaving their captives and pillage. The Turks suffered heavy casualties, but did not lose hope. Sari Mustafa’s representative suggested captain Avan to surrender and demanded the tribute of five years. Avan answered that the Armenians didn’t owe anything to them, and if they wanted to go and see to it, the Armenians would resist fearlessly with the help of God.

From another letter of envoy Ivan Karapet to Count Golovin49, we hear about Sari Mustafa’s defeat to Shamakhi, feeling the spirit of Armenian Sghnakhs on his back. Adding new legions and coordinating their military capability in Partav, they decided that it was the time to aim at Shushi. The Turkish strategists understood that Shushi was the heart of the Karabakh stronghold, and its fall would enable them to establish themselves in Karabakh.

They surrounded the Hunot defile on both sides. Moving down from their high mountain outposts, the Armenians attacked the Turkish soldiers encircled in rocks. The defile was turned into a slaughter-house for the Turks. But the Turks managed to take possession of a part of the horses and cows, which were kept here for the Russians, who were expected to come to the help of the Armenians. Avan retreated to the Avetaranots fortress, going on with his sudden attacks from here. The Turks deployed all their forces near Verin Berd. The defence of the fortress was realized by Ohan and Simon military commanders. The inhabitants of the surrounding villages had gathered in the fortress and were actively helping their defenders. They stoned the enemy troops from above, and poured hot oil on them. The Turks tried to destroy the rampart with the guns, but without any result. In the Shushi battle, which lasted eight days, the Turks lost 8 hundred soldiers, the commanders Ghrkhcheshme and Yengichar among them. The chief commander Sari Mustafa Pasha “escaped at might, passing a two days’ way in a day.”50

Thus military forces of the Sghnakhs held off the Turkish troops till hoping for the advance of the Russian army.They were sure that the Turks would soon come back again.

The Sghnakh population was greatly incouraged by Catherinw II’s decree, which landlord Chalabi brought from Petersburg. The empress promised an urgent help. An Armenian military delegation was sent to general Dolgorukov, who was the chief commander of the Russian army, to receive the promised assistance, but the general answered that he wasn’t authorized with the permission of the empress to support them.

Prince Dolgorukov was surprised that the Armenians, so small in number, held off the enormous Turkish army, and wrote about it in a report to the empress. He suggested the Russian government to come to terms with the Higher Divan to receive back the territories of the Arax valley and patronize the Armenians. He also considered that it would be unwise of the Armenians to leave their rich and fartile lands and settle elsewhere.51

But the Armenians of Karabakh and Siunik never intended to leave the land and the graves of their ancestors to the Turks. They were bound with thousand ties to their churches, monasteries, cross-stones, houses, mountains…. Defending the motherland and the people against the kinds of enemies, is a debt of honour for them. Their hopes lay some way in the future, but they were patient and resourceful, they had waited a long time and would doubtlessly wait longer.

In 1726 divergences, concerning the political orientation of Siunik, aroused discordance among the military commanders of the region. Sparapet Mkhitar Bek and his adherents besought the Russians for help.52 Davit Bek was against this position, considering that the country could exist only allied with Persia. In 1727, after the Turkish destruction in Halidzor, he sent a delegation to Ghazali Khan, who had settled on the right bank of Arax, not far from Agulis. Through Ghazali Khans intermediary he suggested Shah Tahmasp II to coordinate their military capability against the Turks.53 Before that, when David Bek, beseiged in Apostel Tovmas Monastery of Agulis, was on the verge of termination, Shah Tahmasp II confirmed his title of Prince and officially ordered all the Persian Beks to carry out his orders. It was the start of a new Armeno-Persian treaty, which had to be realized during the reign of Nadir Shah.

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