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Artsakh and Karabakh

There are several popular etymologies of the name of Artsakh. According to an old tradition, the Armenian forefather Hayk bestowed the country on Aramanyak, his first-born son. Aramanyak planted the land with countless trees and gardens. Subsequently, the country was named Ar-tsakh, meaning Woods of Aramanyak ("Tsakh" is Armenian for Woods, "Ar" is abbreviation for Aramanyak). Since Artsakh is a very wooded and mountainous area, another popular version identifies "Ar" with "Sar"(meaning "mountain").
As for the name of Karabakh, it first appeared in some Persian texts in the late 14th century after the descent of wild Turkish nomadic tribes. "Kara" is Turkish for Black; "Bakh" is Turkish for Garden. Devastated after one of the Turkish invasions, the country was called "Black garden".

Just like the rest of Armenia, Artsakh was one of the earliest sites of human civilization. Undoubtedly, it also was one of the first areas of bronze, copper and iron smelting. The excavations in different parts of Artsakh revealed numerous settling places of early Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. Skeletal remains of a Neanderthal man were found in the Cave of Azokh.


In the early 4th century, Armenia was Christianized. In Artsakh, Gregory the Illuminator founded the first church near a small river of Amaras. Later in the 5th century it became the famous monastery. After St.Mesrob invented the Armenian alphabet in 405, a large number of schools appeared in Artsakh, making the province one of the centers of Christian enlightenment and culture.


In 387, Armenia was divided between the Persian and Byzantine Empires. The Persian part was then split into several satrapies, and the provinces of Artsakh and Outik were attached to Aghuank (Aran) satrapy. The Armenian satrapies were governed by marzpans. Since then the Aghuank appellation was mostly used by the Armenian chroniclers and historians to designate Artsakh and Outik provinces.
Among the other Armenian nobles, the Princes of Artsakh participated in the Anti-Persian uprising in 451 known as Vardanank. That was the first known war for freedom of worship in the history of the world.

Vachagan the Good

In the late 5th - early 6th centuries, Aghuank (i.e. the Armenian provinces Artsakh and Outik) was reinforced to the point that some of the rulers proclaimed themselves kings. The heads of Aguank Diocese, initially appointed by the Armenian Catholicoi, began to call themselves Catholicos of Aghuank. Aghvuank especially prospered under Vachagan the Good, descendant of Aran dynasty. The representatives of Aran family (or its brunches) conserved their leading role in the 7th and 8th centuries, when Aghuank with the rest of Armenia were under the Arab occupation. Artsakh was famous for its inaccessibility, so the region enjoyed relative peace as compared with other parts of Armenia.

The Arab invasions

However, the situation changed in the 9th century, when consecutive uprisings compelled the Arab rulers to take drastic measures in all parts of Armenia. In 852-854 Bugha, a cruel commander, appointed by Caliph, invaded Armenia sowing death and destruction. He captured many of the Armenian grandees and then invaded Artsakh, where he met fierce resistance. Isaiah, the brave Prince of Artsakh was Bugha's most uncompromising opponent. According to Thomas Ardzrouni, Bugha made 28 assaults in an attempt to take the fortress of Gtich, Isaiah's residence. Finally, the Arabs subdued the country for a short period of time, but the Caliphate was forced to revise its policy towards Armenia. Following the next decades, both Armenia and the eastern provinces gradually gained de facto independence. In 885, Ashot Bagradouni was proclaimed King of Armenia. At the same time, Gregory the Good was recognized King of Aghuank.

Gandzasar and Dadivank

Owing to its advantageous geographical location, Artsakh partly avoided the large-scale Seljuk invasion in the 11-12th centuries, as well as the Tatar-Mongolian invasions in the 13th century. The Armenian architecture reached its heights in Artsakh in the early 13th century. A number of outstanding monuments were built, of which the most sumptuous were the monasteries of Gandzasar and Dadivank. However, some of the churches were destroyed in the 14th century, when a number of Turkish nomadic tribes invaded Artsakh.
In the 15th century, the territory of Armenia became the scene of confrontation between the Ottoman Empire and Persia. Following the truce concluded in 1639, Artsakh with the rest of the Eastern Armenia became part of Persia.

The Meliks
From the late 16th century, the Armenian Princes of Artsakh, called now Meliks of Karabakh began to unite into the military unions. The five of the most influential Meliks forming the so-called Country of Five were Melik of Gulistan, Melik of Dgeraberd, Melik of Khachen, Melik of Dizak and Melik of Varanda. The Meliks of Karabakh headed the Armenian liberation movement until the late 18th century. At the same time, the spiritual leaders of Artsakh spared no efforts in order to establish diplomatic contacts with the most influential Russian and European leaders. A number of outstanding patriots, such as Israel Ori, spent many years of their life traveling throughout the Europe in attempt to find support of Christian powers. Unfortunately, their activities brought little results.

Khanate of Karabakh
With the Turkish advance eastward in the 20s of the 18th century, the Armenians of Karabakh and Siunik united under the leadership of David-Bek. Supported by Mkhitar Sparapet, David-Bek organized the successful defense. As a result, Karabakh and Siunik remained under the Armenian control.
As the Meliks of Karabakh fought against different Turkish tribes, some Persian rulers, such as Nadir Shah (1732-1747) often encouraged them. The Persian policy changed, however, in the middle of the 18th century. The Shahs of Zand dynasty began to support the leaders of nomadic Saridjalli tribe, in their systematic incursions to Artsakh. First, a certain Panah-Ali was able to capture the fortress of Shushi and proclaim him-self Khan. Then his son Ibrahim took advantage of the continuous strife between the Meliks and captured the Monastery of Gandzasar. Ibrahim gradually subdued the whole of Artsakh, founding the so-called Khanate of Karabakh.

The Russian expansion
The Persian-Turkish yoke lasted until the beginning of the 19th century. Following the Russian expansion, Persia gradually ceded to Russia most of the Caucasus including Karabakh. The Treaty of Gulistan signed in 1813, asserted the Russian annexation. Evolving the expansion, Russian czar Nicholas I began the new war with Persia in 1826. During the Persian counterattack, the Persian army besieged Shushi in the summer of 1826. Armenian peasants and volunteers, supported by a small Russian garrison offered a fearless resistance. After 48 days of fighting, the Persians fell back. The war ended in 1828 with the Russian acquisition of Yerevan and Nakhichevan Khanates. Thus, the Eastern Armenia was definitely attached to the Russian Empire.


According to the Russian administrative division of 1840, Karabakh was part of the Caspian Guberniya. Following the new Ukase of 1867, it was attached to the Elizavetopol Guberniya. Shushi, which became city in 1847, grew into the one of important centers of Caucasus, in which trade and commerce flourished rapidly. Shushi also became the center of the Armenian enlightenment and culture. Of 22 newspapers and periodicals published in Shushi before the 1917 Russian Revolution, 20 were published in Armenian language and 2 were published in Russian.

© ArmenianHistory.info

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