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Karabakh as independent khanate – Karabakh Meliks

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In the mountainous  part of the Karabakh khanate, there were small feudal   entities  –  melikdoms: Khachen, Varanda, Talish (or Gulistan), Dizak and  Jeraberd,  which  totally depended on Karabakh khans and did not  play an independent   role in  history.

There  were  five melikdoms, which is why they were called “khamsa” (“five” in Arabic). The meliks of Karabakh were assimilated Caucasian Albanians. It is not without reason  that  not  a single surname of Karabakh meliks hailed from Armenian   families.   Moreover,   they had Muslim names. These were local feudal  rulers whose  ancestors were  armenianized   after  the   Albanian  Church was placed  under the  jurisdiction of  the  Armenian Church in the  8th    century  on  orders from Arab Caliph abd al-Malik [ref]Z.M.Bunyadov, Essays,  Volume 1, Baku, 1999, chapter 3, § 2[/ref]. For this reason, all surnames beginning from ”melik” are albanian, while their  bearers  are  albanians  some of whom  armenianized and  most of whom  converted  to  islam and joined the Azerbaijani people. Such family names are  Melik-Yeganov, Melik-Pashayev, Melik-Aslanov, Melik-Shahnazarov and others. Such a metamorphosis  also happened to some Georgian and Armenian family names: Orbeli and Bagratov.

Melik is a term of Arabic origin and initially implied “king” Among these  melikdoms, only one, Khachen, had historical roots on the land of Karabakh. in the 13th century, a representative of the Mihranid family, Hasan Jalal, restored the power of the Artsakh-Khachen principality in a region of ancient Albania [ref]I.A.Orbeli,  Hasan-Jalal  the Prince of Khachen, Selected Works, Yerevan, 1963, p. 146[/ref]. According to the Armenian historian, P. Arutyunyan: “The rulers of the Khachen region were the major feudal rulers Hasan-Jalalyans. Having built the Gandzasar monastery in 1240, they took secular and spiritual power in this region, keeping both up to the 19th century.” [ref]P. T. Arutyunyan. The liberation movement of the Armenian people in the first quarter of the 18th century. M., 1954, p.60[/ref]. Being a direct descendant of the Caucasian Albanians, the ruler of the Khachen principality, Hasan Jalal, was regarded not only as “an autocratic prince of princes, ruler of Khachen” and “the prince of Khachen and Aran”, but also “great ruler of Albania” and “ king of Albania”. The albanian roots  of the  Khachen meliks are also proved by the fact that not a single source mentions the population of Khachen as Armenian. The “Khachen Armenians” themselves always call themselves “Agvans” in historical documents (i.e. albanians). This is evidenced by their message to Peter i in 1722, as well as by the work of the catholicos of the Gandzasar Monastery, Yesai  Hasan-Jalalyan, who   called the land where his ancestors lived “agvan” and his work –“a Brief History of the  agvan Country” [ref]Yesai Hasan-Jalalyan, A Brief History of the Agvan Country (1702–1722) , Baku, 1989[/ref].

The Varanda, Talish and Jeraberd melikdoms emerged on the territory of Karabakh only in the 17th  century and Dizak – in the early 18th century. They were formed by descendants of noble albanian families who migrated here. For example, concerning  the  Varanda  melikdom, Mirza adigozal-bey recorded that the rulers of Varanda  were “Melik-Shahnazarli  – noble people of the Goyja (Goycha) area which they fled, arrived in Karabakh and became intoxicated with their melik rule in the Varanda mahal” (Mirza Adigozal-bey, ibid., p. 57). in the middle of the 18th century,  power in varanda was seized by Melik Shahnazar who killed his brother,  a  legitimate  melik [ref]A. R. Ioannisyan, Russia and the Armenian liberation movement  in the 1780s, Yerevan, 1947, p. 16[/ref].

Concerning the Talish (gulistan) melikdom,  they  note:  “according to   popular   legend,  the   founder of the gulistan melikdom – the Melik-Beklaryans  –  was  a  certain ‘gara-yuzbashi’ Abov  who  moved from the Udin village of Nizh to the village of Talish  together  with his people in the early 17th  century” [ref]P.T.Arutyunyan, ibid., p. 60[/ref]. The village of Nizh (Gabala District) still exists in Azerbaijan. its residents – one of the 26 albanian tribes – are Udins who maintain their language, Christian religion and material and spiritual culture [ref]G. D. Javadov, R. A. Huseynov, A historical-eth- nographic essay,  Baku, 1999  (in Azerbaijani)[/ref].

Concerning the Talish melikdom, one document says that its founders moved to Karabakh from Shirvan [ref]Yerevan Matenadaran, manuscript No 4463, p. 7.[/ref] Concerning the Talish melikdom, Mirza Adigozal-bey recorded: “Its melik was Melik-Usub. The ancestors of this melik hailed from Shirvan. They lived in the village of Talish for some time. Many people from this family repeatedly became meliks. Subsequently, Melik-Usub  seized Gulistan Castle and settled there” [ref]Mirza Adigozal-bey,  ibid.,  p.  58[/ref].  Therefore,  the Talish melikdom is also often called Gulistan in sources.

Concerning the Jeraberd melik, P. T. Arutyunyan noted  in his work that “the forefather of the rulers of the Charaberd melikdom was the son of melik-Israel, melik-Yesai, who killed the Syuni khan and moved to Karabakh together with his subjects in 1678. After the death of Yesai, the melikdom was taken over by melik-Allakuli-Sultan and his brother” [ref]P. T. Arutyunyan, ibid., p. 61[/ref]. The source notes that they moved to the Charaberd county and Jermuk Castle from Magavuz [ref]Yerevan Matenadaran, manuscript No 4463, p. 7.[/ref] Mirza Adigozal-bey recorded  in this regard: “The melik of this mahal was Melik-Allah-Guli. His family came here from Magaviz (Magavuz – a vil- lage in Zangazur) and they became meliks and settled in an inaccessible and impassable place called Jermykh (short for Jeraberd) on the Tartar River. Having chosen Jermykh Castle as their sanctuary,  they took over the Chilaburd area (Jeraberd) and became its independent rulers where they gained fame”  (Mirza Adigozal-bey,  ibid., pp. 57–58). The source says that the forefather of the Dizak melik “was melik- Yegan, the son of Gukas (Movses)- vardapet. According to a number of sources,  the  family of  melik-Yegan moved to Karabakh in the early 18th century: according to some information, they moved to Dizak from Persia and according to other sources, from Lori (Georgia)  ”   [ref]P. T.  Arutyunyan, ibid., p. 61[/ref]. Mirza adigozal-bey wrote more clearly about the Dizak mahal: “The meliks of this mahal were called Melik- Yegans. These were refugees from Lori. They received the title of meliks under Nadir-shah and according to his decree, took the throne of the melikdom”  [ref]Mirza Adigozal-bey, ibid., p. 57/[ref].

By the middle of the 18th  century, the Karabakh meliks enjoyed the rights of feudal rulers. They had their own armed detachments. However, their power did not go beyond the melikdom. They were all vassals of the Karabakh khan. The title “melik” was characteris- tic not only of albanian feudal rulers of Nagorno-Karabakh. They were known in the history of Azerbaijan in the  13th–15th   centuries. The title “melik”, Azerbaijani historians point out, was held by separate Azerbaijani feudal rulers in both  Karabakh and Shirvan [ref]G. Abdullayev, ibid., p. 156[/ref]. Major feudal rulers of Sheki were also meliks. The meliks of Gutgashen mahal were rich landowners [ref]Yesai  Hasan-Jalalyan,  ibid., pp.24–26[/ref].

In the  fight to  strengthen  the khan’s power in Karabakh, the capital of the khanate was moved three times. The first residency of the khan became Fort Bayat, which was built in 1748. “In a short period of time, the external walls were erected,  ditches were dug and a market, bath and mosque were built.” Craftsmen from outskirts were resettled to the fort. “[apart from them], many residents of neighboring areas and even resi- dents  and  especially, craftsmen of the Tabriz vilayet and Ardabil, who heard  about   the  success,  politeness and mercy of Panah Khan, also came with their families and settled in Fort Bayat” [ref]Mirza Jamal Javan- shir, ibid., p. 68[/ref].

The strengthening  of the power of Panah Ali-khan met  with resistance from a number of other Azerbaijan khans. in 1748, the Karabakh khan started  a fight against Sheki khan Haji Chelebi-khan,  one of the strongest feudal rulers of Azerbaijan. Trying to prevent the strengthening of Panah ali-khan, Haji Chelebi-khan and his ally – the khan of Shamakhi, besieged  Fort Bayat. The  allies un- successfully tried to seize the centre of the  Karabakh khanate  for a month.  Failing  to  achieve success and sustaining great losses, the Sheki and Shirvan khans retreated. Haji Chelebi-khan was forced to admit: “Panah-khan was like uncoined silver. We came here, coined it (silver) and went  back”  [ref]Mirza Adigozal-bey, ibid., p. 54[/ref].

The establishment of an independent Karabakh khanate on the vast territory of the former Karabakh beylerbeydom in the 18th century and  the fortification of Fort Bayat by Panah Ali-khan strongly alarmed the meliks who did not want to lose their power and privileges granted by Nadir-shah. A fight began  between the Karabakh khan and meliks, and it had a political rather than religious nature. It was a feud typical of feudalism. The melik of Varanda, Shahnazar, was the first to recognize the power of the  Karabakh khan. He married his daughter to the son and heir of Karabakh Khan ibrahim Khalil-aga [ref]Mirza Adigozal-bey, ibid., p. 59[/ref]. Thus, Varanda broke away from the “khamsa” and  finally fell under  the patronage  of the  khan, becoming his vassal and true stronghold in the future. Panah ali-khan encountered strong resistance from residents of the  Khachen  melikdom.  “The  fire of battle and fighting raged for three days. On the third day, Panah khan took  their fortification”  [ref]Mirza Ja- mal Javanshir, ibid., p. 69[/ref].

Having suffered a defeat and lost up to 300 men,  the  Khachen  melik surrendered to the mercy of the victor. In honor of this victory, Panah ali-khan erected a monument  at the site of the battle[ref]Mirza Jamal Javanshir, ibid., p. 120[/ref]. Having subjugated the Khachen melik, Panah Ali-khan allowed him to mint the khan’s coin – the panabad.

Having realized that the fight was lost, the Jeraberd melik Allahguli-Sultan also laid down his weapons and signed a peace treaty [ref]Mirza Jamal Javanshir, ibid., pp. 120–121[/ref]. However, the peaceful rela- tions between  the  Karabakh khan and the Jeraberd melik did not last long. The melik of varanda, Shahna- zar,  who “had  long been hostile to Allah-Guli-Sultan”, persuaded  Panah ali-khan to sever relations with the Jeraberd melik. as a result, on orders from the Karabakh khan, the Jerab- erd melik Allah-guli-Sultan was captured  and  executed  [ref]Mirza Jamal Javanshir, ibid., p. [/ref] Panah Ali- khan appointed his brother – melik Khatam – melik of the Jeraberd mahal (Mirza Adigozal-bey, ibid., p. 59). Despite his appointment, melik Khatam soon allied himself with the melik of Talish  against Panah Ali-khan.

These  meliks refused to recognize the power of the Karabakh khan for several years. Panah Ali-khan launched several military campaigns against the intractable  meliks.   However,   due to  the  impregnability of Jeraberd Castle, the  rebellious meliks man- aged to repel all attacks. only after Panah ali-khan destroyed all crops in the county and blockaded Jerab- erd Castle, were the besieged meliks forced to flee to ganja. “They lived in the Ganja vilayet and [Shamkur] ma- hal for seven  years” (Mirza  Jamal Ja- vanshir, ibid., p. 69).

The Karabakh khan’s fight against the melik of Dizak also dragged on. Melik Isai resettled most of his population to the fortified village of Tuk where Dizak’s armed  detachments of up to 3,000 people were based. Bloody clashes,  accompanied  with great casualties, occurred between the sides. Panah ali-khan, wounded in one  of them, was forced to retreat. Only a new  attack on melik isai’s fortification was successful for Panah ali-khan.

The defeated melik of Dizak, “on seeing his situation, especially the lack of food and losing all hope to get any help, decided to ask for peace” (Mirza Jamal Javanshir, ibid., p. 123). On orders from Panah ali-khan, melik isai was deprived of his property and  resettled  to  Fort  Shusha together with his family. other security measures were taken too. Specifically, all residents of the  village of Tuk were forcibly resettled by the Karabakh khan to other parts of the khanate. Thus, in the 1750s the Karabakh ruler Panah  ali-khan  managed  to break  the  resistance  of local feudal rulers, the “khamsa” meliks, and subjugate them in a fierce and brutal  feud.

The  melikdoms  became vassals, for nothing could stop the establishment  of strong  khan rule in Karabakh and the submission of small feudalists to  the  suzerain of this part of Azerbaijani soil.

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