Homework Help: Social Studies: World History: Armenia


by Anita Margossian

From the time the first Armenian King becomes exalted, Armenia goes through numerous battles. It becomes the prey under different powers from the Persians to the Ottomans. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, "In the 16th century, it was the Ottoman Empire ruling Armenia. Armenia had turned into hell. The Armenian people had become different and hatred in front of everyone's eyes". The enemies put St. Echmiatsin under heavy debts. The people were struggling to pay them off with major interests. Armenians were treated royally whenever they chose to cooperate with them.

"At the time Shah Abbas 1st was the king of Persia. He first sat throne in 1586. He was a very wicked person. In early October, 1588, he became Shah (Persian word for king) of Iran, by appealing against his father, Mohammad of Safavid, and imprisoning him". (Aghsa, Chapter 2, Volume I). Shah Abbas, in a way, used the same technique. He treated the Armenians harshly when they were likely to fall into Ottoman hands but quite royally when they proved to be useful in furthering his plans. "He was a two faced man", according to Aghsa.

Shah Abbas's plan for the new Armenian population of the region, for which Isfahan served as the capital, was motivated by several factors. First, the Armenians are a strong people usually engaged in agriculture and industry, both of which were in short supply in Iran of the early Safavids. By empowering Armenians to engage in industry in Julfa and agriculture in the towns and villages adjacent to the capital, Shah Abbas thought, he could raise the output of Iran's economy a considerable degree. Secondly, Iran of his time was a major producer of raw silk. By introducing better carpets and a new Iranian textile to the international market, the Armenian weavers could not only compete with, but outdo the Ottomans in the ever-growing silk trade. Thirdly, Shah Abbas intended to move Iran out of the Middle Ages and into the 17th century. Christian Armenians, a creative people, could easily blend with the Christian West, especially with those involved in the Indian silk trade.

Prior to the third century A.D., Iran had more influence on Armenia's culture than any of its other neighbors. Intermarriage among the Iranian and Armenian nobility was common. The two peoples shared many religious, political, and linguistic elements and traditions and, at one time, even shared the same dynasty. Sasanian policies and the Armenian conversion to Christianity, in the fourth century, however, alienated the Armenians from Zoroastrian Iran and oriented them toward the West. The Arab conquests, which ended the Iranian Empire and the conversion of Iran to Islam in the seventh century, culturally separated the Armenians even further from their neighbor. In the eleventh century, the Seljuk Turks drove thousands of Armenians to Iranian Azerbaijan, where some were sold as slaves, while others worked as artisans and merchants. The Mongol conquest of Iran in the thirteenth century enabled the Armenians, who were treated favorably by the victors, to play a major role in the international trade among the Caspian, Black, and Mediterranean seas. Armenian merchants and artisans settled in the Iranian cities bordering historic Armenia. Sultanieh, Marand, Khoi, Saimas, Maku, Maraghe, Urmia, and especially Tabriz, the Mongol center in Iranian Azerbaijan, all had, according to Marco Polo, large

Armenian Populations

Ottoman-Safavid Rivalry and the Depopulation of Armenia

John Keller of the History Channel reports, "Tamerlane's invasion at the end of the fourteenth century and the wars between the Black and White Sheep Turkmen dynasties in the fifteenth century had a devastating effect on the population of historic Armenia". (November 2005). The last part of the fifteenth century witnessed the weakening of the White Sheep and the attempts of the Ottoman sultan, Bayazid 11 (1481-1512), to take advantage of the situation and to extend his domains eastward into Armenia and northwestern Iran. At the dawn of the sixteenth century, however, Iran was unified under a new dynasty, the Safavids (1501-1732) and after some nine centuries once again achieved the sense of nationhood which has continued into the present.

"The Safavids assumed importance during the early fourteenth century when Sheikh Safi a-Din established his Sufi order in Iranian Azerbaijan. A century later, the order, now known as the Safavi, had assumed a wholly Shi'i nature and began gathering support among the Turkmen tribes of northwestern Iran and eastern Anatolia. The order obtained the support of a number of major Turkic tribes, who called themselves the kizil-bash, or "red heads" (from the red caps that they wore)". (Aghsa, Chapter 6).

"In 1514 Sultan Selim I (1512-1520) crossed the Euphrates River and for the first time entered historic Armenia". (Markham, Chapter 5). Shah lsma'il was not ready to fight the Ottomans and withdrew his forces, burning many villages on the way to prevent the advancing Ottoman army. Thousands of Armenians were force to leave their land. "The Ottomans pushed deep into Armenia and on August 23, 1514, at the Battle of Chaldiran, destroyed the Iranian army through superior numbers and artillery. Although Selim captured Tabriz, he had to withdraw a week later, as Ottoman military leaders refused to winter in Tabriz". (John Keller, The History Channel).

The harsh Armenian climate and difficulties in transportation and in communications with Constantinople made it possible for the Safavids to repeatedly survive such defeats. Although the Safavids managed to recover Tabriz, Iran surrendered most of eastern Anatolia. The first peace agreement between the two powers in 1555 left the western parts of historic Armenia in Ottoman bands, while the eastern parts ended up under Iranian control. Realizing the vulnerability of Tabriz, Tahmasb moved the capital south to Qazvin. The uncertain situation over Tahmasb's succession encouraged the Ottomans to invade Armenia again in 1578 and to continue their campaign until 1590, taking most of Trans-caucasia and once again occupying Tabriz.

"Caught in the middle of these warring powers, some Armenians were deported by the Ottomans to Constantinople from Tabriz, Karabagh, and Nakhichevan and others, by the Iranians, to Iranian Azerbaijan from Van", (Aghsa, Chapter 7). To replace them, Sultan Selim and his successors settled Kurdish tribes in Armenia, a policy which continued into the seventeenth century.

The Great Migration

"By the start of the seventeenth century, Abbas felt strong enough to break the peace he had made with the Ottomans in 1590", (John Keller, The History Channel). In the fall of 1603, the shah advanced to retake Iranian Azerbaijan and to force the Ottomans out of Trans-Caucasia as well. He succeeded in taking the cities of Tabriz, Marand, Ordubad, Akulis, and the province of Nakhichevan, which included the town of Julfa. The shah was greeted as a liberator by the Armenians, who could no longer endure heavy Ottoman taxes, and the Shi`i Muslims, who were tired of religious persecutions. The Armenian merchants of Julfa, were especially happy with the Iranian capture of Julfa. In November 1603, Abbas laid blockade to the fortress of Yerevan, an alarming fortress constructed by the Ottomans. The blockade lasted over seven months and resulted in the draft of over 10,000 local Armenians and Muslims, which in turn, spelled an economic and demographic decline of that province. In the summer of 1604, at the news of an Ottoman counteroffensive, Abbas laid waste much of the territory between Kars and Ani and deported its Armenians and Muslims into Iranian Azerbaijan. Orders went out from Abbas to forcibly remove the entire population residing in the regions of Bayazid, Van, and Nakhichevan and to carry out a scorched-earth policy. (Markham, Chapter 8).

According to Encylopedia Brittanica, "Between 1604 and 1605 some 250,000 to 300,000 Armenians were removed from the area. Thousands died crossing the Arax River". Most of the Armenians were eventually settled in Iranian Azerbaijan, where other Armenians had settled earlier. Some ended up in the Mazandaran region and in the cities of Sultanieh, Qazvin, Mashhad, Hamadan, Arak, and Shiraz. The wealthy Armenians of Julfa were brought to the Safavid capital of Esfahan. The Julfa community was accorded special care and seems to have suffered less in their migration. They were settled across the banks of the Zayandeh Rud and in 1605 a town, called New Julfa (Nor Jugha), was constructed especially for them. Persian masons, together with Armenian craftsmen, built the new settlement. Many churches were constructed, thirteen of which survive today. Armenians had rights, which were denied other minorities. They elected their own mayor, or kalantar, rang church bells, had public religious processions, established their own courts, and had no restrictions on clothing or the production of wine. No Muslims could reside in New Julfa. The Armenian mayor was given one of the shah's royal seals in order to bypass bureaucratic tangles and had jurisdiction over the two dozen Armenian villages around Esfahan. He collected and paid to the throne a poll tax in gold, which was gathered from each adult male. In time, the Armenian population of New Julfa and the surrounding villages grew to some 50,000. Here they were granted trading privileges and a monopoly on the silk trade, which transformed the community into a rich and influential one and New Julfa into a main center of trade between Iran and Europe. Interest-free loans were granted to the Armenians to start businesses and light industries. Soon a major part of Iran's trade with Europe, Russia, and India was handled by the Armenians, who enjoyed the shah's protection and who had outbid the British on the silk monopoly.

The New Julfa merchants formed trading companies, which competed with the Levant, East India, and Muscovy companies, and established businesses in Kabul, Herat, Qandahar, Marseilles, Venice, Genoa, Moscow, and Amsterdam, and in cities of Sweden, Poland, Germany, India, China, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Abbes would spend time in New Julfa at the houses of the most successful merchants, known as kolas or notables, whom the silk monopoly had made extremely prosperous. Sources describe their fabulous houses, decorated with Oriental and Western artwork, with tables set with gold utensils. The Armenians paid a set fee for each bale of silk and most of their profits remained in Iran. Ottoman profits from overseas trade fell and the Persian Gulf became a center of trade with Western ports. The military decline of the Ottoman Empire encouraged the West to establish new contacts in the East. Western diplomats, visitors, and merchants were dispatched to Iran and most wer e housed in New Julfa. The Armenian merchants' contacts with the West made them a channel through which the shah was able to secure diplomatic and commercial alliances against the Ottomans.

The Armenians of New Julfa became a unique part of the diaspora in other ways as well. They formed a separate ecclesiastical unit under their own bishop, appointed by Etchimiadzin, which had jurisdiction over all Armenians of Iran and Iraq. New Julfa soon became a cultural center. A school was opened for the sons of the kolas as well as for some of the talented boys from less prominent Armenian families. The future catholicos, Hakob Jughaetsi (1655-1680), was among its graduates, as were a number of historians and translators. One graduate, a priest, was sent to Italy to learn the art of printing and brought back the first printing press in Iran. The first printed book in Iran, in any language, was an Armenian translation of the Book of Psalms, produced in 1638. Manuscript illuminators developed a distinct New Julfa style, beginning in the first half of the seventeenth century, with the work of Mesrop of Khizan, originally from Armenia. A few artists even began to copy European works brought to New Julfa by the kolas. Prior to 1600, Armenian merchants had for some five hundred years conveyed Eastern technology to Europe. From the seventeenth century onwards, beginning with the New Julfa merchants, the Armenians were one of primary channels for the introduction of Western technology and culture to Asia.

European sources of the seventeenth century portray Abbes as a great benefactor of the Armenians, who secured them from the Turks and who made them wealthy in New Julfa, Armenian historians of the time, however, such as Arakel of Tabriz, view Shah Abbas' deportations and the Turko Iranian conflict in Armenia as a major catastrophe, during which the land and the people suffered terribly, with the resulting depopulation making the Armenians a minority in most of their historic land. Abbas' policies did indeed have varying short-term effects, in the long term, however, the forced deportations established the basis for the Armenian diaspora in Iran and India, communities which, as we will see, were to play an important role in the Armenian cultural and political revival of the nineteenth century.

One of the indescribable benefits of Armenian economic power in Iran was the transformation of the Armenian self-image. After centuries of conquest by Muslim invaders, Armenians were granted equal and at times even greater privileges than Muslims. (Markham, Chapter11). This increased reputation extended to the Church as well, and enabled the leaders at Etchmiadzin to regain some control over outlying district and communities and to establish ties with the patriarchs of Constantinople and Jerusalem. This new status also allowed a number of Armenian secular leaders to achieve recognition and to rally support. This was particularly true of the lords, or meliks, of Karabagh and Zangezur who, under the patronage of the shahs, the Church, and the Armenian merchants, retained and expanded their ancestral fiefdoms in Karabagh. "The meliks were the last scions of Armenian nobility in eastern Armenia. They lived in mountainous regions and usually paid tribute directly to the shah. Unlike the Church leaders, they lacked unity and had to contend with Muslim rulers, who viewed any landed and armed Christian nobility as threat. Their autonomy and occasional defiance, however, attracted some popular support, and, as will be seen, they initiated, together with some Armenian merchants and clerics, the Armenian emancipation movement". (Markham, Chapter 11).

Eastern Armenia (1639-1804)

According to Armeniapedia, "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. 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". (The History Channel, Ch. 38).

According to Peter Fein of Newsweek, "Although Abbas 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 unfavorable 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. "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 (tanter) headed the clan and had the final word on most matters. Sons inherited, while daughters generally received a dowry (ojid). 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". (Bornoutian, page 2).

Churches were built and kept increasing one right after another. Schools, hobby areas, youth services, and sport arenas opened up that pulled the Armenian community closer together and made it stronger. Armenians lived in the Muslim Persians for over 300 years and have kept their language and their Christianity. Up to this date, Armenians are still living in Iran, mainly in Isfahan, and are proudly raising and educating their children as an Armenian individual teaching them the history of their people. In Iran, the weekend is considered to be Wednesday and Thursday. Every Thursday, Armenian church services take place, where the entire family attends the service. In Armenian schools, an Armenian prayer is said in the mornings, lunchtime, and after school. Students read Armenian books, learn the religion, and the history of their people. No matter what happens, Armenians living in Iran will never lose their pride and faith of their culture, because if they've come this far with Muslims and have remained as Armenians and kept their holy religion up to this date, nothing, and I mean nothing, will ever change them.

Homework Help: Social Studies: World History