Iosif Argutinsky-Dolgorukiy (1743-1801), a clerical and political figure who helped expand the Armenian diaspora in Russia and Russia’s control south of the Caucasus. Wikimedia.
Iosif Argutinsky-Dolgorukiy (1743-1801), a clerical and political figure who helped expand the Armenian diaspora in Russia and Russia’s control south of the Caucasus. Wikimedia.

Summary by Emil Sanamyan

Most of the contemporary Armenian Diaspora studies focus on the late 19th-early 20th century Armenian dispersion as a result of the massacres and genocide in Turkey. However, the phenomenon of Diaspora communities of Armenians existed for centuries before.

The last major Armenian kingdom, in Cilicia on the Mediterranean coast, was already a product of Armenian displacement in the aftermath of the fall of the Ani kingdom in 1045. In the same period, Armenians were also displaced north of historic Armenia and established the large presence in the Crimean peninsula (13th-18th cc.) on the Black Sea. The forced resettlement of Armenians of the Araxes valley in 1603 produced the Armenian community of New Julfa in Isfahan and later the merchant communities of the Indian subcontinent.

In this period, the region soon to be known as Mountainous Karabakh, equally distant from the main regional corridors along the Kura and Araxes rivers, emerged as an important haven for Armenians. As Raffi (Hakob Melik-Hakobian, 1835-88) relates in his seminal work on Karabakh history, four out of five families of its 17th-18th century Karabakh meliks (feudal lords) had been displaced from other parts of historic Armenia.

But by 18th century Karabakh itself became a major source of Armenian emigration. Three main waves of displacement occurred in the 18th century.

In 1722-23 Russian forces invaded the Persian Empire, capturing the western and southern coasts of the Caspian Sea, including Derbent, Baku and Rasht. The King of Georgia Vakhtang and Armenian Catholicos of Gandzasar Yesai Hasan-Jalalian and military commanders Davit Bek and Avan Yuzbashi joined forces in anticipation of the Russian advance from the Caspian coast along the Kura valley. But Russia’s Emperor Peter, who was already at war in Europe and Persia, sought to avoid a confrontation with Turkey, whose forces had advanced into eastern Georgia and Erivan. Peter’s forces soon withdrew north and on his invitation, a few thousand Georgians and Armenians, including those led by Avan Yuzbashi from southern Karabakh, settled along the Terek river in the fortress of Holy Cross and the town of Kizlyar. Persian Armenian merchants active on the trans-Caspian route often provided funds for these new settlements.

Another round of displacement occurred in the 1740s-50s, following the expansion of the Karabakh Khanate into the Armenian-populated highlands and was detailed by Raffi. Thus, following the death of the southern Karabakh melik Avan-khan, much of his family resettled in Kizlyar. Another part of the Dizak melik’s family adopted Islam and in later generations became a prominent Azerbaijani family of Melik-Yeganovs. In the same period, families of the northern Karabakh meliks were exiled to what is now southeastern Georgia and northwestern Azerbaijan.

A further influx of Karabakh Armenians into Dagestan occurred in the 1790s, during the destructive raid into the region by Shah Aga Mohammed Khan that culminated with the sack of Tiflis (Tbilisi) in 1795. In subsequent years, the impact of war was compounded by a drought and crop failure, resulting in mass emigration from Karabakh. Catholicos of Gandzasar Sargis Hasan-Jalalian decamped to then Russian-controlled Tiflis and did not return to Karabakh until 1812, when it came under firm Russian control.

A key figure in the growing Russian Armenian community of the time was Iosif Argutinsky-Dolgorukiy. A clergyman born to Georgian Armenian nobility in Sanahin, he was a key proponent of reestablishing Armenian statehood under Russian protection. In the meantime, Argutinsky-Dolgorukiy helped settle thousands of Armenians from Karabakh and Shirvan north of the Caucasus mountains.

As Russia tightened its hold on the region, Karabakh Armenian meliks sheltering in Georgia and elsewhere began to return to their homeland and reclaim their previously abandoned properties, while others remained in their new communities.

Lasting traces of these displacements were documented by Hrachia Adjarian, who found the Karabakh dialect of Armenian spoken in a large area from Lake Sevan to the Caspian and from Kizlyar to Tabriz.