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Armenia and the Wars of Empire

Persian Armenia

Due to its strategic significance, the historical Armenian homelands of Western Armenia and Eastern Armenia was constantly fought over and passed back and forth between Safavid Persia and the Ottomans. For example, at the height of the Ottoman-Persian wars, Yerevan changed hands fourteen times between 1513 and 1737. Nevertheless, Greater Armenia was annexed in the early 16th century by Shah Ismail I. Following the Peace of Amasya of 1555, Western Armenia fell into the neighbouring Ottoman hands, while Eastern Armenia stayed part of Safavid Iran, until the 19th century.

In 1604, Shah Abbas I pursued a scorched-earth campaign against the Ottomans in the Ararat valley during the Ottoman–Safavid War (1603–18). The old Armenian town of Julfa in the province of Nakhichevan was taken early in the invasion. From there Abbas' army fanned out across the Araratian plain. The Shah pursued a careful strategy, advancing and retreating as the occasion demanded, determined not to risk his enterprise in a direct confrontation with stronger enemy forces.

While laying siege to Kars, he learned of the approach of a large Ottoman army, commanded by Djghazadé Sinan Pasha. The order to withdraw was given; but to deny the enemy the potential to resupply themselves from the land, he ordered the wholesale destruction of the Armenian towns and farms on the plain. As part of this the whole population was ordered to accompany the Persian army in its withdrawal. Some 300,000 people were duly herded to the banks of the Araxes River. Those who attempted to resist the mass deportation were killed outright. The Shah had previously ordered the destruction of the only bridge, so people were forced into the waters, where a great many drowned, carried away by the currents, before reaching the opposite bank. This was only the beginning of their ordeal. One eye-witness, Father de Guyan, describes the predicament of the refugees thus:

"It was not only the winter cold that was causing torture and death to the deportees. The greatest suffering came from hunger. The provisions which the deportees had brought with them were soon consumed... The children were crying for food or milk, none of which existed, because the women's breasts had dried up from hunger... Many women, hungry and exhausted, would leave their famished children on the roadside, and continue their tortuous journey. Some would go to nearby forests in search of something to eat. Usually they would not come back. Often those who died, served as food for the living".

Unable to maintain his army on the desolate plain, Sinan Pasha was forced to winter in Van. Armies sent in pursuit of the Shah in 1605 were defeated, and by 1606 Abbas had regained all of the territory lost to the Turks earlier in his reign. The scorched-earth tactic had worked, though at a terrible cost to the Armenian people. Of the 300,000 deported it is calculated that less than half survived the march to Isfahan. In the conquered territories Abbas established the Erivan Khanate, a Muslim principality under the dominion of the Safavid Empire. Armenians formed less than 20% of its population as a result of Shah Abbas I's deportation of many of the Armenian population from the Ararat valley and the surrounding region in 1605.

An often-used policy by the Persians was the appointment of Turks as local rulers as so called khans of their various khanates. These were counted as subordinate to the Persian Empire. Examples include: the Khanate of Erevan, Khanate of Nakhichevan and the Karabakh Khanate.

Even though Western Armenia had already once been conquered by the Ottomans following the Peace of Amasya, Greater Armenia was eventually decisively divided between the vying rivals, the Ottomans and the Safavids, in the first half of the 17th century following the Ottoman–Safavid War (1623–39) and the resultingTreaty of Zuhab under which Eastern Armenia remained under Persian rule, and Western Armenia remained under Ottoman rule.

Persia continued to rule Eastern Armenia, which included all of the modern-day Armenian Republic, until the first half of the 19th century. By the late 18th century, Imperial Russia had started to encroach to the south into the land of its neighbours; Qajar Iran and Ottoman Turkey. In 1804, Pavel Tsitsianov invaded the Iranian town of Ganja and massacred many of its inhabitants while making the rest flee deeper within the borders of Qajar Iran. This was a declaration of war and regarded as an invasion of Iranian territory. It was the beginning of the Russo-Persian War (1804-1813). The following years were devastating for the Iranian towns in the Caucasus as well as the inhabitants of the region, as well as for the Persian army. The war eventually ended in 1813 with a Russian victory after their successful storming of Lankaran in early 1813. The Treaty of Gulistan that was signed in the same year forced Qajar Iran to irrevocably cede significant amounts of its Caucasian territories to Russia, comprising modern-day Dagestan, Georgia, and most of what is today the Republic of Azerbaijan. Karabakh was also ceded to Russia by Persia.

The Persians were severely dissatisfied with the outcome of the war which led to the ceding of so much Persian territory to the Russians. As a result,[63] the next war between Russia and Persia was inevitable, namely the Russo-Persian War (1826-1828). However, this war ended even more disastrously, as the Russians not only occupied as far as Tabriz, the ensuing treaty that followed, namely the Treaty of Turkmenchay of 1828, forced it to irrevocably cede its last remaining territories in the Caucasus, comprising all of modern-day Armenia, Nakhchivan and Igdir.

By 1828, Persia had lost Eastern Armenia, which included the territory of the modern-day Armenian Republic after centuries of rule. From 1828 until 1991, Eastern Armenia would enter a Russian dominated chapter. Following Russia's conquest of all of Qajar Iran's Caucasian territories, many Armenian families were encouraged to settle in the newly conquered Russian territories.

Russian Armenia

In the aftermath of the Russo-Persian War, 1826-1828, the parts of historic Armenia (also known as Eastern Armenia) under Persian control, centering on Yerevan and Lake Sevan, were incorporated into Russia after Qajar Persia's forced ceding in 1828 per the Treaty of Turkmenchay. Under Russian rule, the area corresponding approximately to modern-day Armenian territory was called "Province of Yerevan". The Armenian subjects of the Russian Empire lived in relative safety, compared to their Ottoman kin, albeit clashes with Tatars and Kurds were frequent in the early 20th century.

The Treaty of Turkmenchay of 1828 had further stipulated the rights of the Russian Tsar to resettle Persian Armenians within the newly conquered Caucasus region, which had been taken over from Iran. Following the resettlement of Persian Armenians alone in the newly conquered Russian territories, significant demographic shifts were bound to take place. The Armenian-American historian George Bournoutian gives a summary of the ethnic make up after those events:

"In the first quarter of the 19th century the Khanate of Erevan included most of Eastern Armenia and covered an area of approximately 7,000 square miles. The land was mountainous and dry, the population of about 100,000 was roughly 80 percent Muslim (Persian, Azeri, Kurdish) and 20 percent Christian (Armenian)".

After the incorporation of the Erivan khanate into the Russian Empire, Muslim majority of the area gradually changed, at first the Armenians who were left captive were encouraged to return. As a result of which an estimated 57,000 Armenian refugees from Persia returned to the territory of the Erivan Khanate after 1828, while about 35,000 Muslims (Persians, Turkic groups, Kurds, Lezgis, etc.) out total population of over 100,000 left the region.

Ottoman Armenia

Mehmed II conquered Constantinople from the Byzantines in 1453, and made it the Ottoman Empire's capital. Mehmed and his successors used the religious systems of their subject nationalities as a method of population control, and so Ottoman Sultans invited an Armenian archbishop to establish the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Armenians of Constantinople grew in numbers, and became respected, if not full, members of Ottoman society.

The Ottoman Empire ruled in accordance to Islamic law. As such, the People of the Book (the Christians and the Jews) had to pay an extra tax to fulfil their status as dhimmi and in return were guaranteed religious autonomy. While the Armenians of Constantinople benefited from the Sultan's support and grew to be a prospering community, the same could not be said about the ones inhabiting historic Armenia.

During times of crisis the ones in the remote regions of mountainous eastern Anatolia were mistreated by local Kurdish chiefs and feudal lords. They often also had to suffer (alongside the settled Muslim population) raids by nomadic Kurdish tribes. Armenians, like the other Ottoman Christians (though not to the same extent), had to transfer some of their healthy male children to the Sultan's government due to the devşirme policies in place. The boys were then forced to convert to Islam (by threat of death otherwise) and educated to be fierce warriors in times of war, as well as Beys, Pashas and even Grand Viziers in times of peace.

The Armenian national liberation movement was the Armenian effort to free the historic Armenian homeland of eastern Anatolia and Transcaucasus from Russian and Ottoman domination and re-establish the independent Armenian state. The national liberation movement of the Balkan peoples and the immediate involvement of the European powers in the Eastern question had a powerful effect on the development of the national liberation ideology movement among the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire.

The Armenian national movement, besides its individual heroes, was an organized activity represented around three parties of Armenian people, Social Democrat Hunchakian Party, Armenakan and Armenian Revolutionary Federation, which ARF was the largest and most influential among the three. Those Armenians who did not support national liberation aspirations or who were neutral were called chezoks. In 1839, the situation of the Ottoman Armenians slightly improved after Abdul Mejid I carried out Tanzimat reforms in its territories. However, later Sultans, such as Abdul Hamid II stopped the reforms and carried out massacres, now known as the Hamidian massacres of 1895–96 after a failed Armenian attempt to assassinate him.