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

Panah’s party was increasing by his returning relatives and fellow countrymen and soon it was turned into an armed band. Taking advantage of the ruling turmoil, the bandits ravaged the lands lying from Shaki to Nakhichevan. Panah became one of the most rich persons in the region. Related by marriage with the Kabirli tribe, he gave up the nomadic way of life and established himself in the ancient Baiat fortress, coordinating the capability of his plunderers here. The Shirvan Khan Chelebi, allied to Khamsa Melikdoms, crossed the river Kura and surrounded the Baiat fortress of Panah, intending to arrest and punish him. Haji Chelebi was an Armenian by origin. His ancestor Barsegh, who was a bishop, lived in the Sogutlu village of Kabala province of Shirvan. The local Muslims called him “Ghara-Kashish” (black priest), probably for his descent from the Sevordian (sev – black in Armenian) family. As the Albanian Catholicos Hassan Jalalian wrote,23 Barsegh left for Isfahan, and assuming his princely descent, received a firman (document confirming his right as a Melik) from the Shah. But his rival Mohammad, who was the ruler of Kutkashen, prevented him from establishing his own Melikdom, so Barsegh had to adopt Islam to leave in peace with that neighbour of his. Ghasab (butcher) Kurbanali was this Barsegh’s son. Soon his grandson Haji Chelebi maintaining friendly relations with the Turks, was raised to prominence as the lord of Shaki and Shirvan.24

Haji Chelebi failed to conquer the besieged fortress. After this success of his Panah submitted to the Sardar of Tabriz and with the help of this bribe-seeking Sardar was raised to high rank and awarded with a Khan’s title. The Armenian meliks, deeply agitated, applied to the Kartlina Prince Teimuraz and his son Kakhet’s Prince Hercule for help. For his loyalty to the Persian throne Teimuraz had been appointed to be the beglerbeg of the region. In 1749, through the intermediary of the Khamsa meliks, the Gandzak and Yerevan Persian governors too suggested beglerbeg Taimuraz to coordinate an allied army against Panah Ali. At that time, growing more and more arrogant, Panah surrounded Gandzak and kept it under siege, while the beglerbeg Teimuraz was bargaining with the khans, demanding at first 5 thousand, then 40 thousand roubles to start the campaign. At last in 1750, in spring, coming to an agreement with the other parties, Teimuraz and Hercule advanced to Gandzak, allied with the Jraberd Melik Tamraz, and the Nerses Catholicos of Yeritsmank monastery, who had succeeded Yessayi Hassan-Jalalian. Panah was forced to leave the downtown Gandzak. With a sudden attack the allied army defeated the troops of chief of Tarakama Turkish tribe Mamad Bek near Partav, and then catching up with Panah in Bargushat, surrounded his army from all sides. Exercising bribe giving the shrewd and artful bandit won Teimuraz’s favour and promoted an agreement with him. The result was contrary to the Armenian expectation, but they were unable to alter the matter.

Around 1750 a new wave of disunion broke out in Karabakh among the Armenian lords, due to their mutual rivalries and mistrust. The first disastrous incidents happened in Varanda, and the reaction to it came quickly. A cycle of violence and hostility was set to motion.

Melik Hovsep’s younger son Sein Shahnazar, in contrast to his brother, was tall, handsome and very ambitious. He was looking forward to a chance to seize the Melikdom from his elder brother. Hovsep’s mother was an Armenian woman – Anna Khatun, after whose death his father had married Zohra Khanum – the Nakhichevan Khan’s daughter. Sein was the son of this Turkish mother.25

One day late at night, Sein, attacking his brother’s house, slaughtered his brother and the whole family. The Avetaranots village, which before the mentioned event was the centre of liberation movements, now was turned into a destructive centre, Melik Hovsep was the son-in-law of the Khachen Hassan Jalalian family. The whole family, thirsted for revenge for the treasonable and inhumane murder of Hovsep’s family. The Khamsa Meliks united to get their revenge on Sein, and maintain justice and order. Sein proclaimed himself an heir of his father’s domain and Melik of Varanda and settled in the Avetaranots fortress, which soon was surrounded by the allied army of the meliks – Giulistan Melik-Hovsep, Jraberd Melik Allah-Ghuli Sultan, Khachen Melik Allahverdi and Dizak Melik Yessayi. Keeping the fortress under siege for some time, the meliks decided to scatter, as the winter was near. They resolved to come back in spring and punish the murderer.

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