History, Geography and Ethnology

Artsakh: Last Stronghold of Armenian Independence (13th to 18th Century)

During the latter half of the 13th century, Artsakh fell in the hands of Tatars and Mongolians and it is during this period that the Turkish name Kara-bakh, black garden, is first mentioned. It should again be pointed out that the name was referring to the whole area, i.e. both the mountainous part of Artsakh as well as the lowlands. It was not until the Russian conquest in the 19th century that Nagorno Karabakh (mountainous Karabakh) came to be associated with the current borders of Karabakh.

While the Armenian highlands fell into the Seljuk Turks' hands and Armenia lost its independence (in 1064, when the capital of Ani was looted by the Seljuks), Artsakh was one of the last Armenian areas where the local Armenian princes continued continued their semi-autonomous rule for some additional centuries.

In 17th century, Artsakh was divided into five small Armenian principalities, also called Melikdoms:

  1. Gulistan or Talish, under the rule of the house of Melik Biglarian, which included the territory from Ganja to the shores of the River Tartar.
  2. Djrabert or Tcharabert, under the rule of the house of Melik Israelian, located in the territory stretching from the River Tartar to the River Khatchenaget.
  3. Khatchen, under the rule of the hosue of Melik Hasan Jalalian, situated between the rivers Khatchenaget and Karkar.
  4. Varanda, under the rule of the house of Melik Shahnazarian, covering the territory from the River Karkar to the southern slope of Mount Big Kirs.
  5. Dizak, under the rule of the house of Melik Avanian, which stretched from the foot of the Great Kirs to the River Arax. [12]

These five melikdoms belonged to the Persian khanate (province) of Ganja, but were granted with a high degree of autonomy by the Persian Safavid Dynasty. [13] During the early 18th century, the Persian King Nader Shah, separated Karabakh from the Ganja Khanate's control and placed the area under his direct rule. At the same time the Armenian meliks were granted supremacy over the neighboring Armenian principalities and Muslim khans in the Caucasus. [14]

In 1721, the Russian Tsar Peter the Great, began his Caucasian campaign and expanded his empire to the south. Initially, the Russians encouraged the Armenians to enter into union with the Georgians and gathered an army in Karabakh.[15] However, having conquered the area, presumably in order to lay the foundation for future expansion to the south, Peter the Great urged the Armenians in Artsakh to abandon their fatherland and move to Baku and northern Persia. However, the Armenians refused to comply. In 1724, Artsakh was invaded by the Ottoman Turks and the Armenian population became the principal targets of numerous attacks and massacres.


12) E.g. see Raffi, The History of the Armenian Meliks, Vienna, 1906, in Armenian; Cyril Toumanoff, Manuel de Généalogie et de Chronologie pour l'histoire de la Caucasie Chrétienne (Arménie-Georgie-Albanie), Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (London: University of London), Vol . 41, No. 2.
13) Svante E. Cornell, The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict , Uppsala: Department of East European Studies, April 1999, pp. 3-4.
14) See, for example C.J. Walker, Armenia: Survival of a Nation , London 1990, p.40.
15) Esai Hasan Jalalian, A brief history of the country of Albania (1702-1722) , Baku, 1940.