Eastern Armenia (1639-1804)
The Treaty of Zuhab partitioned historic Armenia in 1639 between the Ottomans, who took western Armenia, and the Safavids, who took eastern Armenia. Eastern Armenia was itself divided into the beglarbegi of Chukhur Sa'd (the regions of Yerevan and Nakhichevan), and the beglarbegi of Karabagh (the regions of Karabagh-Zangezur and Ganja). The first was thus composed of sections from the historic Armenian provinces of Ayrarat, Gugark, and Vaspurakan; the second from Artsakh, Siunik, and Utik (see map 3). Administered by khans, mostly from the Qajar clan, the regions were under the supervision of a governor-general stationed in the city of Tabriz, in Iranian Azerbaijan. The beglarbegi of Chukhur Sa'd was especially important, for its main city, Yerevan, was a center of Iranian defence against the Ottomans.
Although Abbes protected the Armenians of New Julfa and prevented the Catholic missionaries from making major inroads in the community, his death and the eventual decline of the Safavids in the second half of the seventeenth century forced some of the kolas to emigrate to India and Italy, where they established branches of their trading houses. The absence of an Iranian merchant marine meant that the Armenian merchants of New Julfa, over time, could not keep up with the large English or Dutch joint-stock venture companies such as the East India Company, which, by the mid-eighteenth century had taken over much of the trade of the region. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, growing Shi'i intolerance and new laws unfavourable to the Armenians also created a difficult situation for the kolas, and more of them emigrated to Russia, India, the Middle East, and Western Europe. Insecurity at home also meant that Armenians would look to Catholic Europe and especially Orthodox Russia for protection or even deliverance.
The fall of the Safavids and the Afghan occupation of Isfahan and New Julfa in 1722 marked the end of the influence of the kolas, but did not end the Armenian presence in Iran. Large Armenian communities remained in Isfahan, New Julfa, and a number of Iranian cities. The fall of the Safavids encouraged Peter the Great to invade the Caspian coastal regions, while the Ottomans broke the peace of Zuhab and invaded eastern Armenia and eastern Georgia in 1723. In two years' time the Ottomans were in control of the entire region, save for Karabagh and Siunik, where Armenian meliks under the leadership of David Beg, Avan Yuzbashi, and Mekhitar Sparapet held them off for nearly a decade. The Ottomans installed garrisons in Tiflis (present-day Tbilisi), Nakhichevan, Ganja, and Yerevan. The fortress of Yerevan was repaired and served as the administrative headquarters of the Ottoman military-governor of eastern Armenia.
By 1736 a new ruler, Nader Shah (1736-1747) and a new dynasty, the Afshars, had restored order in Iran, had convinced the Russians to withdraw, and had pushed the Ottomans back to the boundaries of 1639. Rewarding the Armenian meliks for their stand against the Ottomans, the shah exempted them from tribute and recognized their autonomy. Catholicos Abraham Kretatsi (1734-1737), who had befriended the shah, was a guest of honour at Nader's coronation. The new shah not only visited Etchmiadzin but reconfirmed its tax-exempt status. Nader removed a number of Turkic tribes from eastern Armenia, especially Karabagh, and divided the region into four khanates: Yerevan, Nakhichevan, Ganja, and Karabagh.
Nader's assassination in 1747 unleashed a fifteen-year period of chaos in eastern Armenia. The exiled Turkic tribes returned and, led by the Javanshir clan, established a strong presence in the plains of Karabagh. The highlands of Karabagh, composed of the five districts of Gulistan, Khachen, Jraberd, Varanda, and Dizak, as well as a number of districts in Siunik, as noted, had been controlled by Armenian meliks and became known as Mountainous Karabagh and Zangezur, respectively. The region had its own See in Gandzasar. The lowlands, stretching to the Kur River, were populated by Turkic and Kurdish confederations. By allying themselves with Melik Shahnazarian of Varanda, Panah Khan Javanshir and his son Ibrahim Khan managed to gain a foothold in a part of the exclusively Armenian stronghold of Mountainous Karabagh. By 1762 another ruler and dynasty, Karim Khan of Zand dynasty (1750-1779) took control of most of Iran and was recognized as their suzerain by the khans of eastern Armenia. His seat of power was in southern Iran, however, and Transcaucasia was left to Ibrahim Khan of Karabagh and King Erekle II (1762-1798) of eastern Georgia, both of who divided parts of eastern Armenia into two zones of influence. The death of Karim Khan in 1779 started another fifteen-year conflict among Ibrahim, Erekle, the khans of Yerevan and Ganja, and the Armenian meliks. More Armenians emigrated from the khanates of Yerevan and Karabagh to Russia and Georgia. Tiflis, the main city of eastern Georgia, became a major Armenian center. Russia's annexation of the Crimea and its 1793 Treaty of Georgievsk with Erekle once again involved Russia in Transcaucasian affairs. The khans of the region rushed to make their own separate peace agreements with each other, and with Georgia, Russia, or Iran. Iran, in the meantime, was in the throes of another dynastic struggle.
By 1794, Aqa Mohammad Khan, the leader of the Qajar clan, had subdued all other pretenders to the Throne and now swore to restore the territory of the former Safavids. Most of the khans of eastern Armenia soon submitted, but Erekle of Georgia, relying on Russian protection, refused. Aqa Mohammad invaded Georgia, sacked Tiflis in 1795, and on his return was crowned shah (1796). To restore Russian prestige, Catherine the Great declared war on Iran and sent an army to Transcaucasia. Her death, shortly after, put an end to that campaign, however. Aqa Mohammad soon contemplated the removal of the Christian population from eastern Georgia and eastern Armenia. His new campaign began in Karabagh, where he was assassinated in 1797. Aqa Mohammad Khan, who had been castrated by his enemies as a youth, was succeeded by his nephew, Fath Ali Shah Qajar. At the dawn of the nineteenth century, the new shah had to face a third and final Russian challenge.
Socio-economic Conditions in Eastern Armenia (17th-early 19th centuries)
During the seventeenth century the Safavids transformed Iran's economy. A number of towns in eastern Armenia, located on the trade routes between Asia and Europe, served as depots for goods from India, China, and Iran, which, in turn, found their way to the markets of Russia, the Ottoman Empire, and Western Europe. Well-maintained, safe roads, uniform tariffs. and comfortable caravansaries aided in the transfer of merchandise. Eastern Armenia itself exported wheat and silk from Karabagh and dried fruit, salt, hides, and copper from Yerevan. The large nomadic population supplied wool and Caucasian carpets and rugs woven by Armenians and Turkic craftsmen, which were valued for their colours and design.
The population of eastern Armenia prior to the Russian conquest consist- ed of a Muslim majority and an Armenian minority. The Muslims were divided into Persians, who formed much of the administration and part of the army; the settled and semi settled Turkic tribal groups, who were either engaged in farming or formed the balance of the army; and the Kurds, who led a traditional nomadic existence and who formed a part of the Iranian cavalry. Although the Armenians were engaged in trade and formed the majority of the craftsmen, most of them were farmers.
The khans were responsible for the defence and the collection of taxes and were usually the sole authority in their khanates. They themselves were exempt from taxes and received lands from the crown in recognition of service. When the central government was weak or had collapsed, the khans tended to become the hereditary owners of their domains. Tax collectors, accountants, scribes, police officers, judges, and other officials managed the administration. Various property and personal taxes and a rigid land tenure system supplied the revenues and compensated the administrative officials. Corvee, or forced labour, was performed by most peasants. The Armenian villages were supervised by their elders or belonged to the Church as endowed and charitable tax-exempt property, or waqf. The Muslim villages were supervised by their own elders (begs). Since eastern Armenia was a dry region, irrigation played a crucial part in the life of the inhabitants. Canals, some stretching twenty miles, were common, and officials in charge of irrigation followed a rigid set of rules to supply all farmers with water.
Large villages fanned communally, while small settlements were generally farmed by large clans. Agricultural lands followed a primitive two-field rotation system; half the plot planted, half left fallow. Oxen and wooden plows were used, and manure was used both as a fertilizer and as a fuel. Honey, nuts, millet, barley, and various oil seeds were the mekior crops. Cochineal insects, the source of the famed Armenian red dye, were highly prized. Gardens and orchards were especially abundant and produced a large variety of fruit, especially grapes, and vegetables. Since the peasants surrendered dared much of their harvest as taxes to the state or the lord, life was frugal. Rice, meat and high-quality wheat were reserved for holidays. Yoghurt, cheese, and bread baked in clay ovens, accompanied by greens and vegetables, were the main diet. Few people had beds, most slept on mats and used wooden utensils.
Family life was patriarchal. Men worked in the fields or pastures, while women, supervised by the oldest female (tantikin), threshed the grain, spun wool, and made carpets. The oldest male (aqu, tanmetz, or tanuter) headed the clan and had the final word on most matters. Sons inherited, while daughters generally received a dowry. Just like their Muslim counterparts, Armenian women rarely spoke in the presence of men or strangers, covered their faces, and were secluded. Apart from religion and customs concerning marriage and divorce, there were few differences between Muslims and Armenians. Age-old habits, prejudices, and superstitions were shared by both groups.
Armenians in Nineteenth-Century Iran
In 1801, Russia annexed eastern Georgia and began its final penetration of Transcaucasia. In 1804 Russia started the First Russo-Iranian war (1804-1813) and a year later, with the assistance of the Armenians of Karabagh had captured half of eastern Armenia. The chaotic political and socio-economic conditions of the previous century and the departure of many Armenians to Georgia hurt the economy of Yerevan, the center of the Iranian defence of Transcaucasia. Iranians, in order to save the rest of eastern Armenia, heavily subsidized the region and appointed a capable governor, Hosein Qoli Khan, to administer it. The khan, together with the Iranian crown prince, `Abbes Mirza, initiated a number of administrative and military reforms and, aided by Napoleon's campaigns in Europe, managed for two decades to thwart Russian designs on the remaining territories in eastern Armenia. In the end, superior Russian forces conquered all the lands north of the Arax River during the Second Russo-Iranian war (1826-1828). Transcaucasia became part of the Russian Empire, and the fate of eastern Armenia, henceforth known as Russian Armenia, was inextricably tied to that of Russia. Some 30,000 Armenians left northern Iran and settled in Russia. The Armenian community in Iran revived in the second half of the nineteenth century, thanks to commercial ties with Armenian merchants in Russia and to the benevolence of the Qajar shahs. New Julfa re-emerged as well and its cathedral-monastery complex of the Holy Saviour organized an excellent library.
The first Armenian periodical, and a history of the Armenians of New Julfa were published in 1880. The Armenian school in New Julfa received a state subsidy, Armenian clergy and churches were exempted from taxes, and confiscated Church property was returned. Armenian merchants opened new trading houses in the Caspian and Persian Gulf regions and traded with Russia, India, and Europe. Dried fruit, leather, and carpets were exported, and machinery, glassware, and cloth were imported. Royal sponsorship brought Armenians to Tehran, where, taking advantage of their linguistic abilities and foreign contacts, Nasr al-Din Shah (1848-1896) used them as envoys to Europe. Some of them, like Mirza Malkum Khan, David Khan Melik Shahnazar, and Hovhannes Khan Maschian were responsible for the introduction of Freemasonry, Western political thought, and technological innovations into Iran. Armenian tailors and jewellers introduced European fashions, and Armenian photographers were among the first in that profession. Armenians were also among the first Western-style painters and musicians. By the end of the nineteenth century there were some 100,000 Armenians living in a dozen cities in Iran. The Armenians in Iranian Azerbaijan were soon exposed to the national and political ideas of the Armenians in Transcaucasia and, as will be seen, were to play a significant role in the history of twentieth-century Iran.
Armenians in Twentieth-Century Iran
By the twentieth century, Iran, like Egypt, was a major center of Armenian life in the Middle East. As we have seen, by the end of the nineteenth century, there were some 100,000 Armenians in Iran. The proximity of the Armenians in Iranian Azerbaijan to Transcaucasia and eastern Anatolia brought them under the influence of the political activities of Russian and Turkish Armenians. Armenakan, Hnchak and Dashnak cells opened in Tabriz and Salmas and a number of Armenian revolutionaries sought refuge from the tsarist and Turkish police there. The massacres of 1895-1896 brought Armenian refugees to north-western Iran. The Revolution of 1905 in Russia had a major effect on northern Iran and, in 1906, Iranian liberals and revolutionaries, joined by many Armenians, demanded a constitution in Iran. Although the shah signed the document, his successor dissolved the majlis or parliament and it was only in 1909 that the revolutionaries forced the crown to give up some of its prerogatives.
The role of Armenian military units under the command of leaders such as Yeprem Khan and Keri, in the Iranian Constitutional Movement is well-documented. Thousands of Armenians had escaped to Iran during the genocide. The Turkish invasion of Iranian Azerbaijan during World War One devastated a number of Armenian communities in that region, such as Khoi. The community experienced a political rejuvenation with the arrival of the Dashnak leadership from Armenia in 1921. The establishment of the Pahlavi dynasty began a new era for the Armenians. The modernization efforts of Reza Shah (1924-1941) and Mohammad Reza Shah (1941-1979) gave the Armenians ample opportunities for advancement.
Armenian contacts with the West and their linguistic abilities gave them an advantage over the native Iranians. They soon gained important positions in the arts and sciences, the Iranian Oil Company, the caviar industry, and dominated professions such as tailoring, shoemaking, photography, auto-mechanics, and as well the managing of cafes and restaurants. Immigrants and refugees from Russia continued to increase the Armenian community until 1933. World War Two gave the Armenians opportunities to increase their economic power. The Allies decided to use Iran as a bridge to Russia. Western arms and supplies were shipped through Iran and Armenians, with their knowledge of Russian, played a major role in this endeavour. The Hnchaks, especially, were active and the Iranian Communist Party had an Armenian contingent. The majority of the Armenians remained loyal to the Dashnaks, while the minority, who had communist sympathies, either went underground or left with the Iranian Socialists when they fled to Russia in 1946. In 1953 the Iranian and few Armenian communists made a brief comeback during the Mosaddeq period, but the return of the shah, once again decimated their ranks. Most Armenians, under Dashnak leadership, however, had remained neutral or loyal to the regime and were rewarded by the shah, For the next quarter of the century Armenian fortunes rose in Iran, and Tehran, Tabriz, and Isfahan became major centers with some 250,000 Armenians.
The shah trusted and liked his Armenian subjects and Tehran, like Beirut, became a major center of Armenian life. Armenian churches, schools, cultural centers, sports clubs and associations flourished and Armenians had their own senator and member of parliament, Thirty churches and some four dozen schools and libraries served the needs of the community. Armenian presses published numerous books, journals, periodicals, and newspapers. such as The Wave (Alik). The better educated upper classes, however, were fewer in number and, compared to their counterparts in Lebanon, were relatively unproductive culturally. Although the Islamic Revolution has ended the second golden age of the Armenian community in Iran. the community has not lost its prominence altogether. Ayatollah Khomeini's restrictions, the Iran-Iraq War, and the economic problems resulting from Iran's isolation. forced the exodus of 100,000 Armenians. The current government is more accommodating and Armenians, unlike the Kurds and Iranian Azeris, have their own schools, clubs, and maintain most of their churches. The fall of the Soviet Union, the common border with Armenia, and the Armeno-Iranian diplomatic and economic agreements have opened a new era for the Iranian Armenians.