CHAPTER 9 THE SHUSHI KHANATE (AVSHARS, KERIM ZEND KHAN, THE QAJAR INHERITANCE)

Though the Dizak Melik Yegan received his Beglerbeg’s title from Nadir Shah and became prominent as an able diplomat and politician, he failed to establish a centralized and integral stronghold in Khamsa (Karabakh). It’s difficult to indicate his exact intentions, but the fact that he was satisfied with his Melik’s position and didn’t do his best to obtain a written decree of his appointment as a Beglerbeg or Khan, (only an oral order was given by Nadir Shah), speaks of his short-sighted policy. Nadir Shah and the Persian authorities of that time were not the original descendants of the ancient Persian royal dynasts and were generally alien to Armenians and their land as a result of which they were afraid of liberation movements and monarchic strivings of the Armenian nation. The development of events would have taken another course if Melik Yegan had agreed to adopt Islam, but in this case how would the other meliks, the Christian Church and the nation react to it? The Georgian princess accepted circumcision thus preserving the independence, the autonomous status and the territorial integrity of their country.

After Melik Yegan’s death in 1744, his descendants – Melik Aram and Melik Yessayi did not inherit any right of his, except the Melik’s title. This fact too became fateful for Karabakh. Around 1750 the short-sighted policy, discordance and disunion amongst the five Armenian lords due to their ambition, enabled Panah Ali Khan, the chief of the Turkish Sarujalu tribe, to establish himself in Khachen, as a result of which the nomadic stockbreeders penetrated into the heart of Karabakh.

Long ago had the outlaw Panah sensed that it would be difficult for him to resist his enemies in the lowlands. He was dreaming of establishing his stronghold in the heart of the Armenian highlands, from where he could control over the entire land, maintaining the free movements of his herds into the Alpian pastures. Moreover, he wouldn’t be obliged to payment of taxes to the legitimate owners of the land. The possession of Karabakh highlands became a primary goal for the nomads, or else their existence in the region would be senseless. Panah Ali’s friend Melik Shahnazar felt obliged to pay a debt of honour to his saviour Panah Ali and advised him to take the Shushi fortress, the bulk of his domain. After having a look on the fortress and the surroundings, the outlaw realized that Shushi was fit for his purpose of gradually conquering the entire Karabakh and controlling over the land from that fortress. Only 25 years had passed since the flourishing Sghnaks leader Avan had restored the fortress and probably Panah Ali was aware of the Armenian glorious victories over the Turks and the Shushi fortress as a base of those victories. If not granted the control of the territories it would be beyond Panah Ali’s capability to conquer and maintain the rule of the region from the heart of the Armenian mountain stronghold from a fortress later to become the town of Shushi or Shusha. Panah Ali didn’t fail to notice that there was very little to restore in the fortress. The citadel with the two mansions was well-preserved and was in fairly good condition. The main houses and the eastern ramparts needed rebuilding. Panah Ali was convinced that from that impregnable fortress he could extend his control not only over the entire, Transcaucasian land-Gandzak, Shirvan, Shaki, Georgia, Armenia, but could attempt to make advances towards Iran and seize Azarbaijan from it, and if possible the whole Iranian country. Yes, why not Iran? He considered Sarujalu no less daring and clever than Afshar or Qajar.1 With the help of Melik Shahnazar Panah Ali encouraged many skillful builders to come to Shushi from all parts of Karabakh, granting them with certain privileges. In summer of 1752 the restoration and fortification of the city was already in full swing.2 (The nineteenth century Tatar historian Mirza-Jemal Jivanshir suggests the year of 1759).3 Because of political considerations the Soviet Azerbaijani historians deliberately refused to accept that the Shushi settlement existed before the year of 1752. It is easy to perceive the purpose of such an interpretation: the fortress is claimed by the Baku historians to be founded by their ethnical ancestor Panah Ali. The historian Shushinski writes, “The founder of the town Shushi was the Karabakhian Panah-Ali Khan”.1 However it is difficult to guess what the author means by “Karabakhian”, but it’s easy to understand that since Panah-Ali in fact belonged to a Turkic tribe, in other words “Azerbaijani”, and founded a town in a country which they say always existed and formed the predecessor of the present-day Karabakh, then the Armenian character of Shushi and moreover of Karabakh is a myth, and that the “Karabakhians” living there have no grounds for declaring that they do not belong to the Azerbaijan republic.

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