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What was the ethnic origin of the people that lived in Karabakh in the early Middle Ages?

In the beginning of the early Middle Ages, different local tribes whose origins lay in Turkish and Persian ethnic groups lived in Karabakh, which was divided into four major political and administrative provinces. Research has shown that the ethnic origin of the population living in these provinces was as follows.

  1. Caspians, Balasiches, Balases, Huns and Akasirs were living in Paytakaran province in Caucasian Albania. Although researchers consider Caspians to be close to Central Asian tribes, the others are attributed to Dagestan tribes.
  2. The province of Uti was divided into two administrative regions: Sakasena and Girdiman (Gardman). Utis, Gargars, Tsavdeys, Saks and other Turkish tribes were living in these regions. Kangars and Savirs settled in the regions from the fifth century A.D.
  3. The province of Artsakh was divided into 12 small administrative units. The ethnic tribes that were living in this province were Albans, Gargars, Huns, Caspians, and Barsils.
  4. The majority of the population living in Sunik (Sisakan) province was Avtokhtons. After the fifth century A.D. Kangars also settled in this province.[1]

As will be seen from the above, in the first centuries A.D. the ethnic composition of the population of Karabakh consisted of militarily and politically powerful Turkish tribes. This factor is also important since it shows that Armenian demands with respect to Nagorno-Karabakh are a historical lie and do not reflect reality.

The issue of the first Armenian homeland, who claim that Karabakh is their historical territory, have not get accuracy untill the mid of the twentieth century. Most scholars consider that Armenians have an Indo-European origin, rather than a Caucasian one, and historical facts prove that in aproximately the eighth and seventh century B.C. they began to move to the upper part of the Tigris-Euphrates basin from the Balkans and gradually settled around the basin of Lake Van.[2] According to Russian historian V. L. Velichkov, some Armenians mixed with Jews after the collapse of Jerusalem. (In the sixth century B.C. the king of Babylon occupied Jerusalem, destroyed the Holy Temple of Jerusalem, and forced Jewish people to migrate).[3] The map printed in 1785 in Venice, which shows the borders of the Empire of Alexander the Great (336-323 BC), also illustrates that Armenians lived in Assyria and Mesopotamia, in the southeast part of Asia Minor.[4] With the passing of time, the Armenians that were spread across Eastern Anatolia and along the border of Iran mixed with different nationalities and accepted the authority of various empires.

During the Arab Caliphate, Islam was accepted as a religion in Azerbaijan. The new religion spread quickly among the population of South Azerbaijan, Mugan, Mil, on the Caspian Sea coast, and along the Kura and Aras rivers, especially in the cities, where people mostly worshipped Zoroastrianism and Buddhism. Those who clearly understood the ethical and moral privilege of Islam accepted it without hesitation. Thus, Islam spread rapidly in Azerbaijan, as well as in Karabakh. It was only in some highland areas and foothills that the spread of Islam was slow or not considered, and this was related to Arab living conditions, in desert or steppe lands, as they found it hard to adapt to living in a mountainous area. In some mountainous parts of Azerbaijan, Christianity and Judaism therefore managed to survive.[5] With the passing of time, the Christian Albanians who were living in Upper Karabakh were grigorinized and assimilated as Armenians. Hence, they were able to live freely while paying a tax known as the jizya – a per capita yearly tax historically levied by Islamic states on certain non-Muslim populations that were permanently residing in Muslim lands under Islamic law.[6]

At the beginning of eighth century, Armenian Patriarch Ilya wrote a letter to Khalifa Abdul Malik (685-705) in which he indicated that there had been an uprising against the Arab Caliphate. Khalifa Abdul Malik accordingly sent an Arab Caliphate army to Albania, which resulted in the occupation of Barda and Caucasian Albania being brought to an end in 705 A.D. by the Arab Caliphate. The Albanian church was placed under the control of the Armenian Church, on the pretext that Albanian Christians had close links with Byzantium in terms of religious rituals. From that time on, the Albanian church was controlled by the patriarch of the Armenian Church and the Christian population of Karabakh was grigorinized and exposed to cultural and ideological assimilation.[7]

[1] Azərbaycan tarixi, Vol. 2, (2007), pp.16-17.

[2] Barthold, W., “Azerbaycan ve Ermenistan”, Ankara Üniversitesi Dil ve tarih Coğrafiya Fakültesi Tarih Bölümü Tarih Araştırmaları Dergisi, Vol. 8-12, No. 14-23, 1970-1974, pp. 84-85. See also: Sakarya, İhsan, Belgelerle Ermeni Sorunu (Ankara: Genel Kurmay ATASE Yayıları, 1984), pp. 3-7. See also: Saray, Mehmet, “Ermenistan Yol Ayrımında”, Kafkas Araştırmaları, No. 2, 1996, p. 3. See also: Seyidova, Sevinc, “Ermənilərin mənşəyi və tarixinə dair”, Bakı Universitetinin Xəbərləri: Humanitar elmlər seriyası, No. 3, p. 167.

[3] Veliçko, Vasil Lvoviç, Qafqaz: Rus işi və tayfalar arası məsələlər (Tərcümə edən: Vasif Quliyev) (Bakı: Azərbaycan nəşriyyatı, 1995), pp. 46-47.

[4] “Old maps confirm Azerbaijani territory”, NEWS.AZ, January 26, 2010; society/7485. Accessed on October 1, 2020.

[5] Azərbaycan tarixi, Vol. 2, (2007), pp. 204-210.

[6] Qeybullayev, Qiyasəddin, Qarabağ-etnik və siyasi tarixinə dair (Bakı: Elm, 1990), p. 136.

[7] Bünyadov, Ziya, Azərbaycan VII-IX əsrlərdə (Bakı: Pedaqogika, 2004), pp. 86-91.