CHAPTER 8 THE KHAMSA MELIKDOMS THE REIGN OF NADIR SHAH (1736-1747) POLITICAL AND SOCIAL UPHEVALS

The Russians, avoiding direct conflict with the already powerful Persian army, concluded a new Russo-Persian treaty in 1732 in Resht, with which the Caspian territories were returned to Iran. In the same year, taking advantage of the growing dissatisfaction of the population towards the Shah Tahmasp II, Nadir managed to overthrow the latter’s rule and proclaimed the three year old crown prince as Shah of Iran. The new Shah Abbas III was placed in the custody of Nadir. The whole power was centralized in the hands of Nadir. The Turkish war was transferred to Iraq. The Baghdad Ahmad Pasha was forced to enter into an alliance with Nadir and on behalf of Turkish government promised to draw back to the frontiers, confirmed with the 1639 Turko-Iranian treaty. Sultan Mahmud I too was forced to accept these substantial reforms.

In 1734 Kioprluzada Abdulla Pasha was appointed commander-in-chief of the Turkish eastern army. He immediately advanced to Transcaucasia. The Turks always felt an irresistible inner impulse to conquer those territories which obstructed their way towards their native lands as if separating them from their original roots. It is clear from the map that the geographical situation of Transcaucasia, and especially Armenia, lying across the Russo-Ottoman frontier, breaks the continuity of the Turkic world, stretching all the way from Bosphorus to Central Asia. And this is one of the reasons why the Turks, from time to time pursue policies intended to occupy those territories. Their first and foremost concern was to occupy Transcaucasia and Persian Azarbaijan (the ancient Atropateni). Besides, the eastern gains would be as a compensations for the western losses.

Abdulla Pasha was on his way to Kars. Nadir hurriedly passed Tabriz and Ardabil and won a victory over the Lezgi leader Surkhai in a battle in Shirvan. Surkhai, as his predecessor Daud, was the Sultan’s complaisant servant. Nadir completely destroyed Shamakhi and Kazikumukh then surrounded Gandzak. Soon leaving the besieged city, passed to Kars through Lorri-Pambak, where Abdulla Pasha had settled in the fortress. After ravaging the neighbouring villages, Nadir encamped in the Yeghvard field. The Armenian meliks Yegan, Melikjan Shahnazarian (Gegharkunik), Mkrtum(Yerevan) and Hakobjan led their troops in Nadir’s army. Mohammad Khazem described in his book how Melik Yegan explained Nadir the importance of visiting to the Armenian Catholicos’ residence in Echmiadzin. “Presenting him with numerous treasures Melik Yegan begged the Sovereign to show good will and visit the sacred place (Echmiadzin)…, finding favour in the eyes of European kings, honouring the influential and mighty meliks and all the Armenian communities all over the world with his visit and their love towards him would be as bright as the sun and as long as the earth moved, his fame as a caring lord for his servants would come and his hate for the enemies would be announced and everybody would give glory and honour to him.”9

In Echmiadzin with a new decree of his Nadir confirmed the rights of the Armenian Catholicos, priesthood and the community.10 The Persian chronologer indicated that Nadir ordered many skillful craftsman to restore the monastery, allocating one thousand tumans for that purpose, decorated the cathedral with a golden flambeau weighing five man (15 kilograms) and ordered to bring the best carpets from Iran.11

Melik Yegan was a subtle politician and understood very well that only the union of Armenian Church and feudals with the mighty Shah could save the nation. And as the historian Leo wrote, “This act of Nadir wasn’t a whim, so characteristic of a talented autocrat.” Nadir realized that the Armenians were his reliable allies in his further strivings for unlimited power.

On July 8, 1735, in the Yeghvard battle, the Persian army, though numerically inferior, won an absolete victory over the Turks. The Jazai had penetrated the Turkish army and seized their artillery. The Persian artillery in its turn was continuously firing and scattering the Turkish soldiers. The last attack of the Persian cavalry brought a decisive victory.13 Turkey left the Yerevan, Gandzak and Tiflis fortresses to Persia and retreated from the whole Transcaucasian territories.14

However, the Persian rule in some ways was little improvement on the administration. The living conditions of Armenians were extremely bad. The military tribute called “surset” was gathered especially severely. In 1735 the Armenian meliks of Karabakh wrote petitions and declarations to Nadir. In the documents, describing the process of tax-gathering, the Khachen, Varanda and Jraberd meliks asked Nadir to subdue his soldiers, who lawlessly repressed the population demanding to pay “the second surset, when the first one is so far not paid yet.”15

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