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Russian Empire and Karabakh

In the first quarter of the eighteenth century the Russian empire had already begun to show an interest in Azerbaijan. In 1722, in the time of Peter I, Russian troops occupied the eastern areas of Azerbaijan along the Caspian Sea but by 1735 they had to leave. At the end of the eighteenth century Russia, considerably strengthened, began the second stage of invading, not only Azerbaijan, but the whole South Caucasus. At the same time, it counted on the local Christians and, first of all, the Armenia ns, who hoped to restore the Armenian state with the help of Russia. However, at that period of time many Azeri khans saw more threats for themselves in the face of Ottoman Turkey and especially Iran, while the authorities of Russia then held a very careful policy with respect to Azerbaijan. At that time, Russia aimed not so much to conquer the Azeri khanates, but to bind them with agreements to make them dependent on it, although rulers would have unlimited authority in internal affairs.

The constant threat of an invasion by Iran forced Karabakh Ibrahim Khalil-khan to seek the support of Russia, considering this course the least evil for himself. That is why in 1796 after the siege of Shusha by Iran, Ibrahim K halil-khan sent his son with other high ranking officials of the khanate with a written declaration of obedience. It was then that the Russian troops left for Azerbaijan.

However, the death of empress Katherine II influenced the course of events: the Russian army urgently returned to Russia and Iran immediately attacked and plundered Shusha. Under those conditions the Karabakh khan was forced to surrender to the Iranian Shah. The daughter of Ibrahim Khalil-khan was sent to the harem and his son was sent as a hostage to Iran (47).

In a few years the Russian army again returned to the region. In 1801 the Russian empire joined Eastern Georgia and established the Caucasian region ruled by a governor. After that Russia began the invasion of Azerbaijan. In 1803 Russian troops conquered Ganja and abolished the Ganja khanate. Iran requested the withdrawal of the Russian troops from Azerbaijan, but the request was rejected and in the summer of 1804 the Russian-Iranian war began.

As mentioned in a source of that period, both Russia and Iran considered the Karabakh khanate “the gates of Azerbaijan” (48). Both sides did everything in their means to attract the Karabakh khan to their own side. At the same time, the Iranian shah appealed not only to religious feelings but also the fate of the daughter and son of Ibrahim K halil-khan who were in Iran. Further, the Shah of Iran offered to expand Ibrahim Khalil-khan‟s possessions at the expense of the former Karadag khanate in Southern Azerbaijan if he would remain loyal to Iran. Moreover, the Iranian shah agreed that two of his sons would stay as hostages in Shusha. However, the Karabakh khan very well remembered the previous period of relations with Iran. Thus, although it was written in a source of that period that the daughter of the Karabakh khan “was the main and loved wife” of the shah of Iran and that his son was a hostage, Ibrahim K halil- khan nevertheless “neglected the Iranian state and its offers” and sent his ambassador to the commander of the Russian army in the Caucasus, General P.D. Tsitsianov, “with a reques t to meet and conclude compilation of the terms of a treaty on nationality”. The proposal to meet and the request of Ibrahim K halil-khan were accepted by the Russian side.

On 14 February 1805, Major Lisanevich arrived in Karabakh and handed Ibrahim K halil- khan a draft of the peace treaty. O n 21 February 1805, having studied its text, the Karabakh khan announced his agreement with the suggested text of the draft treaty (50). On 14 May 1805, Ibrahim K halil-khan on the one side, and general Tsitsianov from the Russian side, signed the treaty on the inclusion of the Karabakh khanate into the Russian nation. The treaty was signed in the camp of the Russian army on the bank of the Kurakchay river 20 km from Ganja. According to that treaty consisting of 11 points, Ibrahim K halil-khan refused subordination to Iran or any other state and recognized only the authority of Russia over him. At the same time, the Karabakh khan was deprived of the right of foreign relations. As a sign of loyalty he sent the grandson of his eldest son as a hostage to Tbilisi, from where the headquarters of the Russian commander-in-chief were situated and 500 soldiers and officers of the Russian army with artillery were guided to Shusha. He was obliged to consult with Russian representa tives on issues of domestic policy and to pay an annual tribute in the amount of 8,000 gold coins to the tsar‟s treasury in two installments (on February 1 and September 1). In his turn, the Russian tsar provided guarantees that the integrity of the country would be preserved, the authority of the khan and his successors “over the Karabakh khanate” would not be changed, and all the masterful functions connected with domestic governance, such as the court and the whole income collected from the khanate, would remain in the full authority of the khan. Finally, in accordance with the agreement Ibrahim Khalil-khan was awarded the title of General-Lieutenant of the Russian army (51).

It seems outwardly strange and not clear that modern Armenian researchers who have published hundreds of books, brochures and articles on the history of Karabakh and, moreover,

on the issue of the annexation of Karabakh to Russia, not only did not describe the K urakchay treaty but thoroughly try to avoid even mentioning that treaty. However it is possible to understand them, as nothing was said about Armenians in any article of that treaty on the voluntary annexation of Karabakh to Russia. The K urakchay treaty of 1805 became a political- legal act that reflected the voluntary transfer of Karabakh as an Azeri khanate into vassal dependence on Russia. Let alone the fact that the treaty was signed between the Karabakh khanate in the person of Ibrahim K halil-khan as Azeri ruler and Russia in the person of general Tsitsianov as its authorized representative. It should be mentioned here that the example of the Karabakh khan turned out to be contagious. It was in that same year of 1805 that the Sheki and Shirvan khanates of Azerbaijan voluntarily, and by the urgent request of Ibrahim Khalil-khan, took Russian citizenship. It is interesting that the texts of the treaties with those khanates repeated the terms of the K urakchay treaty.

Such a course of events in Northern Azerbaijan seriously worried Iran. In 1806, the Iranian Army attacked the Karabakh khanate. Russian troops came to help Karabakh. The war took on a lingering character. It was only in 1812 that Russian troops delivered the decisive blow. As a result, on 24 October 1813, Iran had to sign a peace agreement at the Karabakh fortress of Gulistan, according to which the Karabakh khanate and five other khanates of Northern Azerbaijan passed under the authority of Russia. Thus, the Gulistan treaty meant for the Karabakh khanate a confirmation of the K urakchay treaty of 1805. After that, Russian authorities acted much more determinately in Azerbaijan. General A.P. Yermolov, appointed in 1816 to the post of the Governor of the Caucasus, treated the Azeri khans with suspicion, considering them potential enemies and that is why he constantly looked for an opportunity for the official abolishment of the khanates. In 1822, the Karabakh khanate was declared a Russian province.

The second Russian-Iranian war began in 1826. O nce again, the main action developed in Karabakh: the Iranian army besieged Shusha for 48 days but failed to capture the city. On 22 February 1828, the parties signed new peace agreement at Turkmenchay near the city of Tabriz. Since then Karabakh as well as other khanates in Northern Azerbaijan, including the Irevan and Nakhchevan khanates, were included as territories of Russia.

The tempestuous military-political events of the first quarter of the nineteenth century considerably changed the ethnic and religious picture of Azerbaijan, particularly of Karabakh.

P.S. Kotlyarevski, the commander of Russian troops in Karabakh, pointed out in one of his reports: “according to my inquiries, about 10,000 families were counted while entering Karabakh in the citizenship of Russia in 1805, but according to the register made in 1808, 7,474. Of those, the number carried away by the enemy or departed for abroad were 367 in 1806, 323 in 1809, 276 in 1810, 274 in 1811, and 977 in 1818… In total, the number of carried away and dispersed families made 4,845. Correspondingly, today there should be about 5 thousand families remaining in Karabakh” (52).

From the very beginning of the invasion of Azerbaijan, the Russian authorities who distrusted Muslim nations began to purposefully resettle Christians there. In 1819 several hundred families from remote Germany were settled in the north of Karabakh. However, at that period of time the Russian authorities were not sure that it was necessary to fully colonize and Russify Azerbaijan. The complexity of the situation made Russians careful to still take into account the local traditions and interests. In that regard, the Russian authorities then counted on Armenians in their policy in Azerbaijan. Since 1805 the Russian authorities resettled Armenians from Iran and other regions in Azerbaijan and, first of all, in Karabakh (53).

In 1810, according to official Russian data, about 12,000 families already lived in Karabakh. 9,500 of them were Azeri (79% of the population) and 2,500 (21%) Armenians (54). Immediately after the abolishment of the Karabakh khanate and the establishment of the province of the same name in its place in 1823, a tax register was worked out according to the instruction of General A.P. Yermolov. That was the first Russian document of the nineteenth century that provided detailed data about the number and ethnic composition of the Karabakh population. According to it, 20,095 families, or 90,000 inhabitants, lived in Karabakh. 15,729 of them were Azeri families (78%) and 4,366 (22%) Armenian. O f those, about 1,111 Azeri families and 421 Armenian ones lived in Shusha. There were more than 450 Azeri and 150 Armenian villages around Shusha, where about 14,618 Azeri and 3,945 Armenian families lived (55). Apparently, even taking into account that the register did not consider the number of resettled Armenians, there was an undoubted dominance of Azeris in Karabakh after its annexation to Russia.

After the Russian-Iranian war of 1826-1828 the ethnic situation in Karabakh, as well as in the whole of Azerbaijan, began to sharply change. According to chapter XV of the Turkmenchay Treaty, during the period from March to May 1828 alone, Russian authorities resettled 8,249 Armenian families, or about 40,000 people, from Southern Azerbaijan, which was left as a part of Iran, in Karabakh as well as in the territory of modern Armenia. By early 1829, i.e. a few months after the conclusion of the Turkmenchay peace treaty, about 40 thousand families were resettled from Iran to Azerbaijan.

In 1832, the Russian authorities tried for the first time to take a ce nsus of the population of Azerbaijan. 20,546 families, or 54,841 men (women were not taken into account in the course of the census) were established in Shusha and 741 in the surrounding villages in Karabakh. Meanwhile, it turned out that 13,965 families, or 68% were Azeris; 6,491, or 31%, Armenian; and the other 90 families (1%) included Gypsies and Greeks. Only four years later, in 1836, 20,449 families, or 54,851 men, were fixed in Karabakh. At that period of time, there were no longer any Gypsies or Greeks among them, as they had left the region. There remained only 35,046 Azeri men (“Tatars”, according to the Russian terminology of that time) and 19,805 Armenians. In other words, in a four-year period, the number of Azeris was reduced to 64% versus 36% for Armenians (57). This is despite the fact that, in those years, a number of the Armenian immigrants, having faced problems in living conditions, returned to their previous places of residence in Iran and Ottoman Turkey. In that respect, Russian official P.V. Gan asked in his report that Emperor N ikolai I stop the process of re-emigration by Armenians using any means, including the use of the armed forces.

Then in that regard, A.S. Griboyedov, the famous Russian writer and ambassador to Iran pointed out in his note to the Governor of the Emperor in the Caucasus, I.Paskevich, that “Armenians were mainly settled on the lands of the Muslim landowners.” As that naturally did not elicit positive emotions from the latter, Griboyedov advised that he take measures that would reconcile Azeris “with the current charge, which will not be long- lasting, and to extirpate from them the fears that Armenians will own their lands forever where they were left for the first time” .

The fears of the local Azeris of Karabakh with respect to the migrants arriving in the region were not ungrounded, as that was only the beginning. In the 1830s and 40s, Russian authorities resettled 84,000 more Armenians from Turkey in the South Caucasus, mainly settling them in the best state lands of the Karabakh and Irevan provinces. O n this topic Tsarist official N.N.Shavrov mentioned then that “it is necessary to take into account that besides 124,000 officially resettled Armenians there were many of them who were settled unofficially; thus the total number of resettled people considerably exceeded 200,000 people”.

It is interesting that, before the beginning of the Karabakh conflict, contemporary Armenian researchers recognized the fact of the resettlement of the Armenian populat ion in Karabakh and at the same time underlined the important role of A.S. Griboyedov in the issue of the resettlement of Armenians from Iran (61). There was even an obelisk constructed in 1978 (which was destroyed by Armenians in 1988) in honor of the 150 year anniversary of the resettlement of the pioneer hundreds Armenians from Iran to Karabakh. O ne of the ideologists of the Karabakh movement, Zori Balayan, mentioned in his 1988 book that, in the South Caucasus, including the area of modern Armenia, mainly lived the offspring of those Armenians who “in 1828 were rescued by Russian ambassador to Iran Alexander Griboyedov. They were repatriated from Persia. And in general, many of our populated areas appeared in time of Griboyedov” (62). However, after the beginning of the Karabakh conflict, the views of Armenian researchers on the resettlement of Armenians in Karabakh suddenly changed, as in that case the propagandist myth about the permanent superiority of Armenians in their number in the region would disappear. As a result, publications began to appear that read as if A.S. Griboyedov had no relation with the resettlement and did not write anything on that theme and as if Armenians made up 97% of the population of Karabakh when it was included in the Russia n territories (63). However, as we have seen, according to the data of the Russian officials of the nineteenth century, things were actually quite different.

The Russian authorities regularly registered the resettlement of Armenians in the South Caucasus from Iran and Turkey in the ensuing decades of the nineteenth century as well. As a result, in 1871 the number of Armenians in Azerbaijan, in comparison with the year 1832, increased from 80,000 to 193,000 people, and thus made up more than 15% of the loca l population. But in spite of the establishment of peace and economic development, the proportion of Azeris in their country declined during the same four decades from 65% to 59%, although at the same time their total number increased from 430,000 to 733,000 people. Nevertheless, the majority of the population of Karabakh, as earlier, were Azeris: 87,800 people, or 73%, while Armenians made up 29,200 or 24% of the population (64).

The resettlement of Armenians to the regions of the South Caucasus took on a more expanded character after the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1879. As a result, the general census of the population taken in the Russian empire in January 1897 fixed 415,721 people in Karabakh, which then consisted of the Shusha, Djebrail, Djevanshir and Zangezur uyezds of the Yelizavetpol province. 235,304 persons or 57% out of them were Azeris and 172,872, or 42%, Armenians (65). At the same period of time about 900,000 Armenians lived in the South Caucasus and in 1908 there were already 1 million 300 thousand people and 1 million of them were resettled there by the government of Russia. For comparison, Tsarist official N.N. Shavrov mentioned that at the same period of time, i.e. from 1805 to 1907, Russia removed 240 thousand Russians as well as 150 tho usand Greeks, Poles, Germans, Czechs and representatives of five more nations to the South Caucasus.

The situation remained permanent in the following years too. It became clear in 1912,

fifteen years after the general census of the population taken by the Russian empire, that the Armenian population of the South Caucasus had increased by 3% and made up 22% of the population of the region. As Armenian researchers of that period noted, such a mechanical growth of Armenians in the region “should be attr ibuted to the migratory movement of Armenians from Turkey to the breadth of the Caucasus”.

About 534,387 people lived on the territory of Karabakh on the eve of the Russian revolution of 1917 and the further impetuous events of 1918-1920. About 302,366 people (57%) of them were Azeries and about 218,507 people (41%) Armenians. At that time Armenians already dominated in Shusha, one of the four Karabakh uyezds(provinces) : there were about 23,396 people in Shusha itself and 75,413 people in the whole uyezd, while Azeries correspondingly made up 19,121 and 66,501 people. However, those figures were not quite exact, as, at that period of time, natives of Karabakh living in other districts of Karabakh were also added to the number of Karabakh Armenians. About 30,000 Karabakh Armenians lived in Baku alone. In that regard, the “Memoranda on redemption-fees of land grants in the South Caucasus,” dated 1912, and the agricultural census dated 1917 were more accurate. According to them, the number of Armenians who permanently lived in Karabakh on the eve of 1917 came to only 170,000 people, or 36% of the population of the region, while Azeris made up 62%.


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