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

Ori prolonged his visit to Russia because of the Russo-Swedish war. In June 1707 he left Moscow for Astrakhan accompanied by a party of fifty men. Then he went to Shamaki and expecting the Shah’s permission of going to Isfahan, remained there for about two years.10 It was evident that he wasn’t in a hurry. He consulted the Armenian merchants who arrived from the all parts of the world with fresh information of the latest events. These Armenian merchants were granted with several privileges by the Russian Tsar, as they were influential enough to connect Anatolia and Transcaucasia with the Middle East, Europe and even India.11 They were representatives of the historic nation, who were disconnected socially and by virtue of distance or international borders from the heartland of its own people, which lay in eastern Anatolia.

In Shamakhi Ori continuously met with the Catholicos Yessayi and the Armenian meliks, who were busy forming armed divisions in Karabakh. Many prominent Armenian commanders offered their help. Probably it was here that Ori got to know the Avan General of Shirvan, who undertook to form a division of Shirvan Armenians and go to Karabakh, and organizing the military and political activity there, defend that Armenian stronghold, with the view of freeing Armenia from the Turks and Persians.

The arms obtained by Ori in Europe was distributed among the divisions of Avan and merchant Petros (Peter) Sargis Gilanents, who was a great patriot in charge of the Armenian division in the Russian army.

The weakening of the Persian state caused the Caucasian highlanders to overrun Transcaucasian inhabited areas from time to time. Iran was unable to maintain order in the vast domain. The only means to prevent highlanders from ravaging the country was to organize self-defense units. In late seventeenth century, in the predominantly Armenian territories of Karabakh and Utik a new stronghold was founded, called Armenian Sghnakhs (stronghold). It comprised the six centres of Gardman or Mlznaberd (the Utik Tigranakert), Mets Koghmants province or Giulistan, Jraberd, Kachaghakaberd (Khachen), Avetaranots(Varanda) and the Togh castle or Tsoraberd (Dizak).12 Karabakh was famous by the name of Armenian Sghnakhs, and possessed a status of autonomy. But the heads of the Sghnakhs were not the meliks, but the military commander. However in Jraberd and Giulistan the local feudal lords- the meliks, kept the power in their hands. The residence of the Albanian Catholicos, the Gandzassar monastry, formed the organizational centre of political and military activity of the Sghnakhs.

The Gandzassar councils held out the project of restoration of the Armenian Kingdom and creation of a “Christian” Armenian state under the Russians, according to Ori’s project. Pro-Russian, pro-Iranian and pro-Turkish parties began to appear. The supporters of the pro-Russian ideology were sure that the Russian empire was inclined the reconquer Transcaucasia from Iran and form independent Christian states there. Representatives of the pro-Iranian party entered the service of Iran to fight the Turks.

Each Sghnakh consisted of several fortresses and guarded its subject territories. The victory of the Russian army near Poltava in 1709 under Peter the Great, gave a boost to nationalist sentiment in the Sghnakhs. The eastern European Christian countries applied to Peter the Great to liberate them from the Turkish yoke. Russia encouraged this activity and made preparations to extend to the south. Allied to Armenia, the Georgians conducted active negotiations in Moscow. The Georgian King Archil too approached the Russian authorities with the view of freeing Georgia from the Turks.

But the West European states, afraid of Russia’s expansionism, tried to hinder its progress by diplomatic means. They tried to persuade the Shah Sultan-Hussein that Israel Ori intended to restore the Armenian Kingdom, with the help of Russians, himself laying claims to the same inheritance. Despite this in 1709 Israel Ori was accepted by the Shah, who handed him a letter addressed to Peter the Great, The letter read;

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