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Karabakh during the Safavid-Ottoman wars

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Emergence of a powerful Safavid State in the eastern borders of the Ottoman Empire, naturally, worried the latter a lot. Besides clash of the political interests, the Safavid-Ottoman contradictions also were rooted in their belonging to the different branches of the Islam religion. It’s known, that the official religion in the Ottoman Empire was Islam of the Sunni branch, whereas, the Safavid State emerged and got stronger in the struggle for predominance of the Shiite branch of Islam. The result of this was that during the whole existence of the Safavid State it repeatedly had to fight wars with the Ottoman Empire.

Due to the political and geographic situation, the main area for all these wars was Azerbaijan. Certainly, these wars had very negative impact on the population and the demographic processes in the country, including in Karabakh as well.

During the Safavi-Ottoman war of 1578-1590 the Karabakh detachments headed by Imamkulu khan from clan of Qajar took an active part in struggle against the Ottomans. In the meantime, Azerbaijan underwent invasion of the Crimean khan Muhammed Girey, the Ottoman’s ally. In summer 1578 the Tatar troops crossed the Kura river and entered Karabakh. They looted everything on their way and took into hostage more than 30 thousand inhabitants of Karabakh and Shirvan.2

Not being able to stop the Ottomans’ advance the Safavids resorted to the «scorched land» tactics. When retreating they by themselves burned everything on their way and deported the local population to the inner regions of the country thus, trying to hamper the Ottomans’ advance. In this way, in 1588 the governor (beilarbei) of Karabakh, the head of the Qajar clan Muhammed khan Ziyadoglu got an order from shah Abbas I to retreat beyond the Araz river. Muhammed khan with great difficulty managed to persuade the local population to comply with this order. More than 50 thousand inhabitants of Karabakh, including Muhammed khan with his family crossed the Araz and stopped in the Karadagh region in South Azerbaijan. But soon the advancing Ottoman troops reached them and many of them were killed.3

Historical sources also testify, that after this event, non-Muslim meliks (feudal lords) of Karabakh came to the Ottomans’ camp and having expressed their obedience preserved not only their titles but also were granted with new estates.4

According to the peace treaty of 1589 almost the whole Azerbaijan fell under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

Interestingly enough, the Ottoman documents, in particular, the tax register of the Karabakh province prepared during the years of the Ottoman occupation of Azerbaijan (1590-1608) give more detailed and complete information about the population of Karabakh, the ethnic composition of its inhabitants and the socio-economic condition of the region, in comparison with the Safavid documents.

Ottomans didn’t make big changes to the administrative division of Azerbaijan. Karabakh was included in the Ganje-Karabakh (Karabakh) province (eyalet).

According to the «survey tax register» of 1593 of the Karabakh province, prepared by the Ottoman officials, the province consisted of 7 sanjaks, divided to 36 districts (nahiyyeh).

Among those, who stayed in Karabakh and didn’t leave it during the years of the Ottoman occupation are mentioned:

8 communities (oimaks) from the clan of Qajar:

  1. Karadja- in the Barda district (nahiyyeh) (sanjak Barda as well);
  2. Kaitak- in the Barda district, also in the Chelaberd district of the sanjak of Khachin;
  3. Kolsuzlu- in Barda district;
  4. Akcha-Koyunlu- in Chelaberd (Khachin);
  5. Gengeldillu- in the same place;
  6. Oglanlu- in the same place, also in Ganje and Barda districts;
  7. Sham-Bayazi- in the same place;
  8. Yiva-Qajar- Kara-agaj, sanjak of Khachin;5

After shah Abbas I retook control over Karabakh (1606) most part of Qajars who had to leave Karabakh, returned to its lands and shah granted the governance of Karabakh to the Ziyadoglu family again.

From the Karamanlu clan only two communities are mentioned in the districts «Aran-i-Shamkur» and in the sanjak of Akhistabad, in which «the clans of Karamanlu and Kesemenli live from ancient times»6.

In Akera and Dizak lived the communities Haji-Vagardjik and Haji-Tirnegerd.

The clan of Hajilu- the tax register provides the names of 31 communities living in the districts of Kara-agaj (Khachin sanjak) and Ganje.7

The clan of «Otuz iki» («Thirty two» in Azeri) lived in Arasbar, Kara-agaj, Barda and Shutura districts:

  1. Altudjaly- in Barda district;
  2. Padar- in Arasbar district (sanjak of Dizak);
  3. Bay-Ahmedli- in Kara-agaj (Khachin);
  4. Bugdayuzi- in the same place;
  5. Jandanlu- in Arasbar (Dizak);
  6. Jevanshir- in the same place;
  7. Doger- in the same place;
  8. Hasirlu- no place was indicated;
  9. Huseinlu- in Arasbar (Dizak);
  10. Kepenekchi- in Yevlakh;
  11. Kirgallu- in Aghjabedi;
  12. Eski-Kumanlu- no place was indicated;
  13. Yeni-Kumanlu- the same;
  14. Lale-bukili- in Ganje;
  15. Maksudlu- Chelaberd (Khachin);
  16. Maksudlu-Bazirganlu- in Nehr-i-Hakk;
  17. Maksudlu-Hamidlu- in Kara-agaj (Khachin);
  18. Mehmet Shahlu- in Shutura (Ganje);
  19. Molla Abduljemillu- in Ganje (Ganje);
  20. Molla Abdulmejidlu- in Khachin (Khachin);
  21. Mukaddamlu- in Arasbar (Dizak);
  22. Sari Hajilu- no place was indicated;
  23. Silkelu- in Arasbar (Dizak);
  24. Shirvanshaly- Barda, Arasbar (Barda and Dizak sanjaks respectively);
  25. Uch-oglan- no place was indicated;
  26. Yay-okchu- Barda;
  27. Veysallu- in Chelaberd (Khachin).8

The names of the rest five communities were not indicated. The head of the clan of «Otuz iki» was considered the Jevanshir community.

The clan of «Iyirmi dord» («Twenty four» in Azeri) was a unity of 24 Azeri and partly, Kurdish communities. Of them 18 communities were indicated in the above-mentioned Ottoman documents:

  1. Ali-Sharlu- in Sir district (sanjak of Barda);
  2. Alpavut- in Yevlakh;
  3. Bakshayishlu- in Shutur (Ganje);
  4. Bakhtiyarlu- in Kara-agaj (Khachin);
  5. Derebeyli- in the same place, also, in Yevlakh district;
  6. Gede-Ahmedlu- Yevlakh;
  7. Gekcheklu- in the same place;
  8. Molla Alilu- in the same place;
  9. Pir-Mahmudlu- sanjak of Akhistabad;
  10. Sari-Hajilu- in Chelaberd (Khachin);
  11. Seydi-Zeng- Yevlakh;
  12. Tobilu- Sir (Barda);
  13. Tokachilu- Yevlakh and Barda;
  14. Tuleki- Barda;
  15. Tullu- in Kara-agaj (Khachin);
  16. Varvan- no place was indicated;
  17. Yasavullu- in Injaruda (Ahistabad);
  18. Zeid- Yevlakh;9

As it becomes clear from the list of emirs in 1628 by the end of the rule of Shah Abbas I (1587-1629), the chief of the «Iyirmi dord» was Peiker khan Qajar from the Ziyadoglu family.10

In 1603 the Safavid shah Abbas I began a new war against the Ottoman Empire aimed at retaking the Ottoman occupied lands. Azerbaijan found itself in the center of the hostilities again. As a result of war of 1603-1607 the Safavids succeed to retake Azerbaijan and most part of the South Caucasus. Subsequently in 1611-1612, 1616, 1624-1626 and in 1637-1638 there broke out new wars between the Safavids and the Ottomans, not willing to comply with the loss of Azerbaijan.

All these wars result in unprecedented damages and human losses. The «scorched land» tactics and the massive deportation of the local population to the inner regions were widely used by both parties, particularly, by the Safavids. All peoples living in the territory of South Caucasus, including Azeris and Armenians, underwent the deportation. It is known that yet in 1603 shah Abbas I resettled a great number of Armenians from Armenia to the inner regions of Iran, but on the way, a part of them settled down in Karabakh. The Armenian historian of XVII c. Zakarij Kanarketsi also informs about the massive resettlement of Armenians to Karabakh during this period. He writes that in 1635 when the governor (beilarbei) of the Erivan (Chukhur-Sa’ad) province Tahmasibkulu khan heard about the Ottoman advance, he ordered the population to resettle to the neighboring provinces. According to his order, a part of the Armenian population resettled to Ganje, Zeyem, Varanda, Khachin and Keshtek (in Karabakh province).11

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