By Ilgar Majidli, Ph.D. in Political Science
Since ancient times, Karabakh has been one of the spiritual centers of Caucasian Albania. The numerous Christian churches located here date back to the medieval period. According to archival sources, the Caucasian Albanians were not related to the Armenians – Khays. One of the most ancient spiritual centers of the Albanian Church was the Amaras Patriarchate dating back to the 4th century (located in Karabakh – in the Khojavend region of Azerbaijan).
Russian sources of the early 19th century note how the Armenians tried to assert that the Albanians descended from them and are descendants of the mythical progenitor of the Armenians – Hayk, and Albania is part of the vast territories of “ancient Armenia”. Russian researchers did not believe this and cited, in particular, the opinion of the famous French expert on the Caucasus Saint-Martin. Also, according to the works of the medieval Albanian author Moses Kalankatui, it is known that Albania had independent status, an autocephalous church, and did not belong to Armenia.
The second most important residence of the Albanian patriarchs was the Gandzasar monastery (located in Karabakh – in the Kelbajar region of Azerbaijan), which flourished in the 13th century, during the reign of Prince Hasan Jalal. In the XII-XIII centuries. in Karabakh, in the Albanian region of Artsakh, the Khachen principality rose, which was part of ancient Albania.
Note: Even the word “Artsakh” is itself an Armenization of the Albanian word “Arsak.” The word “Artsakh” has no original meaning in Armenian. See this piece for more information.
The founder of the Albanian Khachen principality, Prince Hasan Jalal Davla, had brothers Zakaria Nasr Davla and Ivane Atabek. As you can see, their names and the indication of the Atabek family of Azerbaijan make it clear that this princely family has nothing to do with the Armenian ethnos.
This is confirmed by the famous French Caucasian scholar of the 19th-century Saint-Martin, who wrote that the brothers and entourage of Hasan Jalal belonged to the Turkic Ildegizid family – the Atabeks of Azerbaijan. Gradually, the Khachen principality began to weaken, but the representatives of the Hasan Jalal clan remained the most significant among the Albanian aristocracy. In the 15th century, Karabakh was part of the Azerbaijani Turkic states – Kara-Koyunlu (1410-1467) and Ak-Koyunlu (1468-1501).
During the reign of Kara-Koyunlu, an event took place that was reflected in the subsequent history of Karabakh. The clan of the former Albanian ruler Hasan Jalal (Jalalid) in one of the regions of Karabakh received the title of “melik” – a local ruler from Jahan Shah Kara-Koyunlu. Subsequently, the possessions of the Jalalild clan were divided into five Albanian feudal principalities – the so-called Khamsa meliks (Gulistan, Jaraberd, Khachen, Varanda, Dizag).
Let us touch in more detail on the personality of the meliks of Karabakh and, in general, what the meliks were in the Azerbaijani Turkic medieval powers. For many years Armenian historians have been misleading themselves and those around them, claiming that only “noble Armenian families” were Karabakh meliks. However, it is known that this title was given by Azerbaijani rulers to many, including Muslim (Sunni) minor rulers. In particular, meliks of not only Karabakh are known, but also of Kutkashen, Vartashen, Dagestan, Lori, Syunik, and other regions of the South Caucasus.
The title “melik” comes from the Arabic word mulk (الملك) “possession”. Therefore, the assertions of some historians that the word “melik” comes from the Arabic “malik” (ملك) – “king” are erroneous. The fact is that in the Islamic world the word “malik” is one of the names of Allah, which is used by humans solely in the form of Abdul-Malik. Therefore, in the Middle Ages in the Muslim state the name “Malik” could not be given to humans, and even more so to representatives of the class of small districts, which were meliks. The title “melik” in relation to the five Karabakh rulers (the Khamsa melikate) was used during the period of Kara-Koyunlu, Ak-Koyunlu, Safavids, Nadir Shah Afshar, and Qajars.
Concerning the ethnicity of these meliks, the Armenian historian Raffi, in his book “Melikities of Khamsa”, notes that, besides the Albanian ruler Khachen from the Hasan-Jalal clan, the other four meliks were newcomers to these lands. From the works of Raffi (Hakob Melik Hakobian) it becomes known that in the XVII-XVIII centuries Albanian Khachen clan weakened and divided into five daughter lines, warring with each other. Taking advantage of this weakness, detachments of Armenian robbers began to penetrate here, which eventually became related and merged with the branches of the Albanian family of Hasan-Jalalids.
Other sources testify to the fact that, except the Khachen ruler, the rest of the meliks appeared here after the resettlement of Armenians from different localities. Already during the period of Russian domination, almost the entire Albanian population of Karabakh and other regions was Armenianized.
After the abolition of the Albanian Church at the beginning of the 19th century (in 1836), its archives, books, and utensils were transferred to Armenian churches and libraries, mainly to Echmiadzin, where most of the Albanian heritage was Armenianized. In 1909-1910 the second stage of expansion into the Albanian heritage began, when Echmiadzin, with the permission of tsarist Russia, destroyed the old archival files and books of the abolished Albanian dioceses. According to many researchers, it was then that the surviving archives of the Albanian Church were destroyed.
Russian philosopher, prominent church figure Pavel Florensky (1882-1937), the son of an Albanian woman from the family of Gulistan meliks Melik-Beglyarovs (Russian by his father), in his letter to his family dated September 20, 1916, noted: “The Karabakh Armenians, in fact, are not Armenians, and a special tribe, in ancient times they were called Albanians, and the Armenians call them Akhavans, who have retained a special dialect and customs.”
The fact that initially, the population of the high-mountainous part of Karabakh was not Armenian, but Albanian, can be learned from the letters of the Armenian and Albanian Catholicos, who fought for leadership among the Christian population of the region. When, at the end of the 17th century, a struggle broke out in Karabakh between the Albanian Gandzasar Patriarchate and the new Albanian Patriarchate that emerged in the Three Babies Monastery, the population of Karabakh was forced to choose between these patriarchs.
During that period, against the background of weakness and discord between the Albanian patriarchs, Echmiadzin sought to seize the spiritual power in the region. And in the letters cited by the Echmiadzin Catholicos Simeon Yerevantsi in the book “Jambr”, there is evidence of the struggle between the Armenian and Albanian churches, as well as direct evidence that Armenians began to settle en masse in Karabakh in the lands of Alban-Udins.
It would be appropriate to recall an interesting period in Russian politics in the mid-18th century regarding the Armenian and Albanian churches. A little-known fact is that the communities of Christians of the Armenian-Gregorian faith of the Russian Empire, including the Turks of the Armenian-Kipchaks of Ukraine and the Black Sea region, for some time were subordinate to the Albanian Gandzasar Catholicos.
The struggle between the Albanian and Armenian churches unfolded on the territory of the Russian Empire, where, in particular, in 1749, by the decree of Empress Elizabeth I, all the Armenians of Russia were subordinate to the Albanian Gandzasar Catholicos.
Apparently, this was undertaken as part of the imperial plan to “restore the Albanian kingdom” in the Caucasus, in connection with which the position and authority of Gandzasar were strengthened in the territory of Russia. Then, by an imperial decree, Armenian priests from Echmiadzin were prohibited from appearing among the peoples of the Armenian faith in the territory of Russia.
Only after the death of Empress Elizabeth I, against the background of the split of the Gandzasar Catholicosat, the Armenian Catholicos Simeon wrote a tearful letter to the Russian Empress Catherine II in 1766, where he begged to give the Armenian congregation of Russia under the spiritual control of Echmiadzin.
As a result, the prayer of the Echmiadzin Catholicos was fulfilled, all the peoples of the Armenian-Gregorian faith were subordinated to Echmiadzin, who later became a “favorite” in promoting Russia’s new military-political plans in the Caucasus and other regions. In the second half of the 18th century, the Russian autocracy ceased to favor the Albanian Church, and at the beginning of the 19th century, after the Russian conquest of the Caucasus, the Albanian Catholicosate was abolished, all its churches and congregation were transferred into the hands of Echmiadzin.
In fact, at the turn of the XVII-XVIII in Karabakh, dramatic events took place that led to a significant weakening of the Albanian Church, the strengthening of the role of Echmiadzin, and the creeping Armenization of the Albanian population.