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

The Catholicos Jalalian witnessed the slaughter and destruction from his monastry, which looked like “the ravages of torrential rain”. Though the Lezgis couldn’t seize Jraberd, Giulistan and Shushi, their gains exposed the disunion among the Karabakh lords, and showed that the Sghnaks were unable to protect their population and were not capable of withstanding threats from abroad. In a letter addressed to Peter the Great the Armenian Meliks informed him that they had fought against the Lezgi plunderers with an army of 12 thousand soldiers, driving them away from their land. They added that they were looking forward to the advance of the Russian army of Peter the Great.24

At that time the Albanian leader Mir-Mahmud won a victory over the Shah’s army and conquering the country, established his residence in the court-house near Isfahan. The Shah’s son Tahmasp fled to Ghazvin. The Persian Khans hurriedly proclaimed him the Shah of Persia.

As to the Caucasian highlanders, led by Haji Daud and Surkha, they surrounded Gandzak in May.The Georgian King Vakhtang came to the citizens’ help. Seeing his army, the Lezgis, avoiding any clashes, left Gandzak. But the city refused to render the promised gold to the Georgians in return for the help. The Georgians found a way out. They ravaged the city – the houses, churches, took out the cattle and the last clothes of the inhabitants, regardless of religious adherence. The Catholicos Jalalian who had arrived there for negotiations, described the fellow-Christians more greedy and merciless than the Lezgis.

However the negotiations took place, and Yessayi persuaded the Georgian King Vakhtang to coordinate their military capabilities in order to facilitate the progress of the Russian troops. It was decided that the Catholicos would go to Tiflis to support the king and to come in contact with the Armenians living there.

Vakhtang’s son Shahnavas (with the Christian name Bakur) was charged with a task of sending thirty military and political dealers to different provinces of Armenia for preparatory activity. Davit Bek, the remarkable leader of national-liberation movement in Ghapan, was among them.

Thus it was in early eighteenth century that the five melikdoms and neighbouriing Siunik province arose with the desire for a national renaissance, with the idea of recreating an independent national state, allied to Georgia and protected by Russia. They approached the Russian authorities with a view to freeing Armenia.

In 1722 Vakhtang’s army moved to Gandzak. The Armenians formed a majority in the army. Yessayi Hassan Jalalian wrote that Vakhtang trusted the Armenians more than his compatriots, considering them “insidious and sly”.25

When the army reached the bridge Kotrats (broken) over the river Khram, the Catholicos hurried to Gandzak with his companions to report the Sghnaks about the arrival of the Georgian army.

What has, if anything, brought the rivals and different wings together, and gone some way to creating an atmosphere for reconciliation within the country, was the hope for the advance of the Russian army. Both Catholicoses Yessayi and Nerses, all the Sghnakh commanders were working in harmony together. They all accepted Avan as a chief commander. He had established a strong defence unit in Shushi, which now was the heart of the Armenian mountain stronghold. The military council decided to form an army of 10 thousand men to join the Georgians (2 thousand from each Sghnakh). Avan had organized a production of arms and gun powder in Shushi. Leaving his brother Torkhan in Shushi, Avan moved to Gandzak, joining Jraberd, Avetaranots and Giulistan divisions under Shirvan, Shahan and Sharukhan on his way.

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