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Karabakh in ancient times

The territory of modern Karabakh has been populated since the olden days. It was not by accident that the oldest traces of life and human activity were found in the cave of Azykh (Hadrut district, not far from Fizuli city). Thanks to the findings of Azerbaijanian archeologists, it was possible to prove that more than a million years ago the oldest site of man in the whole area of Eurasia existed in the territory of Karabakh. However, it is important to our topic to begin the description of the situation in the region after the appearance of the first tribes and nations.

Modern historical science, including Armenian, determined a long time ago that both Karabakh and the territory of the modern republic of Armenia, as well as the current Armenian plateau in Asia Minor, were not the native home of Armenia ns. History finds the Armenians on the Balkan peninsula, from whence, together with their kindred Thracian tribes, they moved into Asia Minor at the turn of the second and first millennia and settled there for a long period of time.

The penetration of Armenians into the area of the South Caucasus refers to much later period. Here we should mention that the Erebuni fortress that started the city of Yerevan was founded in the eighth century, not by Armenians, but by Urartians. Moreover, it was founded in the territory of the country of Az, which was named “hostile” in Urartian inscriptions.

History did not fix any Turkish-speaking tribes on the territory of the South Caucasus, including in Karabakh, at that period of time. They appeared there only in the first centuries of our era. Before that, tribes speaking Caucasian and Iranian languages, who settled there as a result of the campaigns of the Cimmerians and Scythians, mainly lived there. Moreover, in the seventh century B.C. a considerable part of modern Karabakh was included in the Scythian realm and later ended up being included in the leading states of the Middle East: Media and the Achaemenid Empire, where Persian-speaking nations played the main role. However, in ancient times the local Caucasian people played a dominant role among the tribes residing in the territory of Northern Azerbaijan.

It is important to mention here that in the middle of the eighth century the famous king of Urartu, Sarduri I, undertook a campaign in the area of Goycha (Sevan) Lake and reached the country of Urtekhi or Urtechini. Modern Armenian researchers point out that the later name of the region “Artsakh” originated from “Urtekhi.” It is interesting that Azeri historians also agree with this viewpoint. The only difference is that Armenian authors consider that name a native Armenian one while Azeris do not agree, as there was no Armenian population in the territory of Karabakh at that period of time. In fact, the name of the Artsakh area had already appeared for the first time in the Avesta, the oldest memorial of the Iranian people, as “Arzah/Arasahi,” meaning “the eastern continent of the earth” . But it is most likely that the toponym “Artsakh” has a local Caucasian origin. The word artsesun means “to sit, to sit down” in the language of the Udins, who lived under the name of “Utii,” namely in Karabakh, in the area called Uti. The word artsii meaning “settled, people leading a settled life style,” was derived from that verbal form. Correspondingly, the toponym “Artsakh” was derived from the root of the word artsii and the suffix akh. The ancient geographical names of such establishments that were characteristic of Caucasian languages – Darbakh, Karakh, Dusrakh, Mikakh, Khindakh, Chirakh, etc – have remained in the territory of Azerbaijan as well as in the Northern Caucasus until now.

However, we receive a more or less detailed and trustworthy account of the ethnic composition of the region for the first time only after the Caucasus appeared in the field of vision of the ancient Greeks and Romans in the second part of the first millennium B.C. An ample quantity of historical and geographical essays appeared, in which a description of the territory of Northern Azerbaijan was given. In particular, it was mentioned there that, at least during the campaigns of Alexander at the end of the fourth century B.C., 26 tribes – Albanians, Utii (Udins), Gargars, Legis, Caspians, Tsavdeis, Gels and others – lived there. Meanwhile, each of them spoke their own language, which naturally made their interrelation with each other difficult. The offspring of some of those tribes survive in the present day and, as in former times, have not lost their native languages. These are the Udins, Budugs, K hinalugs, Kryzs and Lezgins, i.e. people belonging to the Caucasian language group.

At the turn of the third and fourth centuries B.C., a Union of 26 tribes of Northern Azerbaijan established independent state. The state was known by the name of “Albania,” after the name of the biggest tribe, and as “Caucasian Albania” in modern science. Indeed the local population called the country “Aran” and that is why the territory of modern Karabakh was known by the name of “Aran” in eastern early medieval Iranian and Arabic sources (10). However, in ancient and medieval ages the territory of Northern Azerbaijan was more often known under the name of “Albania” in Western and Russian historiography. For this reason that name will be used in the current work.

As the initial stage of the history of Karabakh was connected with that state, different points of view on the past and the further destiny of Albania appeared between Armenian and Azeri historians long ago. The main issue is that, before the beginning of the Karabakh conflict, Armenian historians did not deny either the existence of Albania or Albanian ethnicity. The disputes were about the borders of that state and the level of its development. Armenian researchers considered that the modern territory of Karabakh, (i.e. the country between two rivers K ura and Araks) was not included in the territories of ancient Albania, but was the part of Armenia over the course of many centuries. In their opinion, the border between Armenia and Albania passed along the river Kura. Correspondingly, Albanian nations living in Karabakh quickly became Armenians. In contrast to that, Azeri historians, proceeding from the data of classical authors, did not agree with that and declared that the territory of ancient Albania almost completely complied with the area o f modern Azerbaijan and, in a number of periods, even exceeded it. The process of Armenisation of Albanians was of longer duration and, as a whole, ended up in the nineteenth century. At the same time, the fact that the language of the Albanian tribes belonged to the Caucasian language group did not raise any doubts for either Armenian or Azeri historians at that period of time.

However, after the beginning of the Karabakh conflict, the situation suddenly changed. Then Armenian researchers began to prove that Albanian people did not exist at all and that Albania was simply a geographical term meaning a part of the “Eastern land of Armenia.” In response, Azeri historians began to point out that at least some of the Albanian tribes were of Turkish origin and that the names “Artsakh” and “Albania” were Turkish ones.

But how did the history of Karabakh really develop in ancient times and in the early medieval ages? Actually, a part of Albania turned out to be under the power of Armenia in the second to first centuries B.C when, after the collapse of the Achaemenid empire, the aggressive campaigns of the Armenians began. Particularly successful for the Armenians was the reign of King Tigran II (95-55 B.C.), undoubtedly one of the most outstanding rulers in the history of Armenia. A contemporary of Caesar and Cicero, he was fighting for all 40 years of his reign. In the beginning, fortune was with him and in 15 years of aggressive campaigns a part of Central Asia was fully under his power. That was the period of the ascent and greatness of the ancient Armenian state, which still remains in the memory of Armenians as a mythical dream about “Greater Armenia from sea to sea.”

There are no direct sources on the conquest of the territory of Karabakh by Tigran II;

however the ancient authors listed some areas of Albania as provinces of the Armenian state. As the territory of Karabakh was the western part of Albania and bordered the Armenian realm at that period of time, it is possible to suppose that land was conquered in the time of Tigran II.

However, very soon that expansionist policy brought the Armenians to a confrontation with the most powerful empire of the ancient world: Rome. In 66 B.C., Tigran II signed a

humiliating agreement, dictated by Pompei, according to which the Armenian king was deprived of all conquered lands, “remaining as the king of only one home country” and becoming a Roman vassal (11).

Armenia did not recover from that blow and “had to refuse expansionist politics and foreign invasions. Since then, and for many centuries, its main task was to protect the territorial

integrity reached with so many difficulties” (12). In 114, the emperor Trajan declared Armenia a Roman province and, although his successor formally restored the local king to the thro ne, Armenia still remained a vassal of Rome. Until 194, the occupational Roman troops, the chiefs of which were the real owners of the country, were in Armenia. The fact that Armenia paid duties to Rome until 358 also spoke of the vassal dependence of Arme nia (13).

Thus, from the first to fourth centuries, the Armenian state was under vassal dependence to foreigners and could in no way undertake new invasions, including on the territory of modern Karabakh. It is quite natural that there was no such information in the sources of that period and that was the assumption of the modern Armenian historians.


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