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Why did the Karabakh meliks carry out separatist activities and how did these activities end?

During the Karabakh Khanate, Armenian missionaries who wanted to create an Armenian state in the territories of Azerbaijan while relying on Russian patronage encouraged Christian meliks under the Karabakh Khanate to rebel against Ibrahimkhalil Khan (1763-1806), the Khan of the Karabakh Khanate after Panah Ali Khan.

In September 1781, some of the Christian meliks of the Karabakh Khanate that were protected by the Tsarist Empire wrote a letter to Catherine II, G.A. Potemkin, and V.A. Suvorov. In this, the Karabakh meliks promised to organise an armed struggle against the Muslim population in the region during the military voyage of the Russian army, and asked to send approximately 10,000 Russian infantries to Karabakh under the command of General V.A. Suvarov. They also described the natural resources and productive lands of Karabakh in the letter, in order to attract the attention of the Tsarist Empire authorities.[1]

With a view to forming an Armenian state in the cross lines of the borders of the Persian and Ottoman empires, Iosif Argutinskii (Hovsep Arghutian), the head of the Armenian archidiocese in Russia, began negotiations with representatives of the Tsarist Empire government. To this end, in 1783 he drew up the ‘Armenian-Russian agreement Project’, which consisted of 18 articles. According to this project, an independent Armenian state should be created within the territory of Azerbaijan, and the Tsarist Empire would have the right to keep its military forces in that state.[2]

In order to carry out this plan, G.A. Potemkin, in his secret letter to P.S. Potemkin, the commander in the Caucasus, wrote that, “Ibrahimkhalik Khan, the Khan of the Karabakh Khanate, should be ousted, because an Armenian province that would be subjected only to Tsarist Empire will be created in Karabakh. Use all possible opportunities in order to create that mentioned province. At the end, Armenians that were living in other provinces and regions will move to this newly created province”.[3]

Iosif Argutinskii secretly communicated with the Christian meliks of the Karabakh Khanate in order to prepare the rebellion of them against Ibrahimkhalil Khan. However, Ibrahimkhalil Khan got information about the letter of the Russian agent Y. Reynegs to melik Abov, which indicate the ‘deprivation of Ibrahimkhalik Khan from his power and establishment of the Armenian kingdom’.[4] In that situation, Ibrahimkhalil Khan managed to break the resistance of the Christian meliks of the Karabakh Khanate by revealing their betrayals with high diplomatic skills.

In the spring of 1783, news spread that the Tsarist Empire’s military forces were marching to the South Caucasus. Ibrahimkhalil Khan realized that this military march was mainly against the Karabakh Khanate. He therefore tried to repulse the approaching danger via political manoeuvre by sending a letter to P.S. Potemkin on 6 April 1783 where he expressed his wish to “accept the protection of Tsarist Russia”.[5] Catherine II tasked G.A. Potemkin with finding a solution to the Ibrahimkhalil Khan issue. In his letter to Catherine II on May 19, 1783, Potemkin wrote that Ibrahimkhalik Khan should be subordinated to the Tsarist Empire and his province should be controlled by the Christian meliks as soon as conditions were favourable. Furthermore, he spoke about the project of “…restoring a Christian state in Asia, according to the high promises of your Imperial Majesty, transmitted through me to the Armenian meliks”.[6]

In June 1783, G. Garakhanov, who was sent to Kharabakh by P.S. Potemkin, secretly communicated with Albanian Catholic Ovasen and with some of the Christian meliks, in an attempt to resolve the problem of food supply for Russia’s military forces. Ovasen was afraid of Ibrahimkhalil Khan. The letter that was sent to P.S. Potemkin was therefore signed secretly by his brothers and some of the meliks, including Abov, Bahtam, Adam oglu, and Meclum, the melik of Chilabord, in a place called Kakhakatekh (an area where the residence of the Abov melik was situated).[7]

The establishment of a Tsarist Empire protectorate in the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti, under the terms of the Treaty of Georgievsk that was signed on July 24, 1783, worsened the political situation of the Azerbaijani khanates. While relying on the support of the Tsarist Empire, Irakli II, the Tsar of the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti, began to increase his support for the separatist movements of meliks in the territory of the Karabakh Khanate. Furthermore, the joint military forces of Irakli II and S. Burnashev, the commander of the Russian military forces in Georgia, began to rapidly prepare the military march against the Karabakh Khanate. Iosif Argutinskii accordingly wrote in his letter to Potemkin that if the Russian military forces managed to march as far as the Ganja Khanate, the Karabakh Khanate meliks would join them, which would create favourable conditions for them to occupy not only Karabakh but also the city of Shusha. [8]

In the light of these developments, Armenian ideologists opposed the Karabakh Khanate openly and actively in order to realise their idea of creating an Armenian state in the territories of the Karabakh Khanate and the western part of Azerbaijan, with the support of the Tsarist Empire. Thus, in his letter dated July-August 1783, Iosif Argutinskii reminded the Albanian Catholics and Maclum, Abov, and Bahtam meliks that they should keep their promises and provide the Russian army all kinds of assistance when they entered the Karabakh Khanate.[9]

The Karabakh meliks who escaped to the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti from Shusha prison began to prepare a military march against the Karabakh Khanate with the help of S. Burnashev and Irakli II in 1784. Along the occupation of Ganja and Iravan khanates, Irakli II was planning to divide the whole territory of Azerbaijan between Russia and the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti. In this sense, in his letter to the high-ranking officials of the Tsarist Empire, Irakli II wrote that “…there is a favourable condition for Russia to possess the territories of Azerbaijan. Then you may cede part of these territories to me”.[10]

However, the war between the Tsarist and Ottoman empires (1787-1791) prevented this military march against Azerbaijan, and the Russian military forces were forced to retreat to the Caucasus front. As a result, the Christian meliks of the Karabakh Khanate were also left the territories of Azerbaijan with the joint forces of the Tsarist Empire and the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti in September 1787.[11]

Thus, the plan of Tsarist Empire to capture the territories of the Azerbaijani khanates, as well as the Karabakh Khanate, and establish an ‘Albanian Kingdom’ or ‘Armenian State’ in them with the help of the Armenian missionaries and Christian meliks of the Karabakh Khanate in the second half of the eighteenth century failed.

[1] Армяно-русские отношения в XVIII веке. 1760-1800 гг. (Сб.док.), т. IV, ч. II (Ереван, 1990), док. No 113а, pp. 183-184. See also: Иоаннисян, А.Р., Россия и армянское освобедителное движение в 80 – х г. XVIII веке (Ереван, 1947), pp. 199-206.

[2] Иоаннисян, Россия и армянское освобедителное движение в 80 – х г. XVIII веке, pp. 47-48.

[3] Иоаннисян, Россия и армянское освобедителное движение в 80 – х г. XVIII веке, p. 68. See also: Маркова, O.P., Россия, Закавказъе и международные отношения в XVIII веке (М., 1966), p. 185.

[4] Маркова, Россия, Закавказъе и международные отношения в XVIII веке, p. 185. See also: Эзов, Г.А., Сношениие Петра Великого с армянским народам (СПб, 1898), pp. LXXXVII-LXXXXXIX.

[5] Иоаннисян, Россия и армянское освобедителное движение в 80 – х г. XVIII веке, pp. 71-72.

[6] Армяно- русские отношения (1990), док. No. 148, с. 241. See also: Иоаннисян, Россия и армянское освобедителное движение в 80 – х г. XVIII веке, p. 74. See also: Бутков, Г.P., Матереалы для новой истортт Кавказа 1722 по 1802 г., тom II, (СПб., 1869), p. 142.

[7] Иоаннисян, Россия и армянское освобедителное движение в 80 – х г. XVIII веке, pp. 84-85.

[8] Иоаннисян, Россия и армянское освобедителное движение в 80 – х г. XVIII веке, p. 165.

[9] Армяно- русские отношения (1990), док. No. 159, pp. 254-255.

[10] Маркова, Россия, Закавказъе и международные отношения в XVIII веке, p. 175.

[11] Бутков, Матереалы для новой истортт Кавказа 1722 по 1802 г., p. 188.