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  • Andrew Andersen


Updated: Jan 14

Canada / Jan.11, 2023

This is one of the introductory chapters to the upcoming book, 'Atlas of the Caucasus Campaign of the Great War (1914-1918),' a collaborative project with my co-author George Partskhaladze. The publication of the book is scheduled for the end of 2024.


The prevailing opinion among politicians, the general public, and even some historians until recently was that the Caucasus region had always been Russia's backyard, and therefore there was no need to study its history. However, since the collapse of the USSR in 1991 and the emergence of three independent states in the South Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia), attitudes towards the region have gradually changed. Nonetheless, the history of the region remains largely understudied.

It is worth noting that at the end of World War I, Allied generals and diplomats were shocked by the emergence of new independent states in the Caucasus out of the debris of the collapsed Russian Empire. Many were completely unaware that Georgia or Armenia had a long history preceding Russian or Ottoman conquest and were quite puzzled by the territorial claims put forward by the new states at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919-1920.


Given the above, we have added this short chapter to the Atlas to provide the reader with an introduction to the pre-20th century history of the peoples of the Caucasus and adjacent territories.





            The ancient history of Armenia is shrouded in mystery and sounds more like legend. However, based on ancient Assyrian and Greek chronicles, as well as the Holy Bible and archaeological research, it is believed that the land later known as Armenia was invaded by the Hittites (around 2100 BC), Celts (around 1200 BC), Medes and Persians (around 900 BC), and Cimmerians (714 BC). It is also well known that in the 9th century BC, most of the territory of the future Armenia had once been occupied by the kingdom of Urartu, which, in turn, was later absorbed by the Assyrian empire.

Between 558 and 334 BC, Armenia was part of the ancient Persian empire, and by 323 BC, it was conquered by Alexander the Great. In the early 2nd century BC, the first known Armenian kingdom was established, which became an arena for long and devastating conflicts between two major regional powers, Rome and Parthia.

The ancient Armenian kingdom reached the peak of its power between 189 and 63 BC during the reign of Tigranes the Great, who became an ally of Mithridates VI Eupator of Pontus in his fight against Rome. Between 187 and 70 BC, the Armenian state expanded greatly at the expense of Rome, Parthia, Iberia, and Caucasian Albania, stretching from the South Caspian seashore to the Mediterranean coast of Syria. However, the Greater Armenian Empire of Tigranes did not last long. As a result of successful Roman campaigns by Pompey from the west and Parthian invasion from the south, Armenia lost some of its conquests by 65 BC and, in fact, became a Roman-Parthian condominium. The following 600 years of Armenian history were marked by a new series of wars against Rome and Parthia (Iran), as well as further territorial decline.


In the year 301, Armenian King Tiridates III adopted Christianity as the state religion, thus making Armenia the first Christian nation in the world.

In 656, Armenia was conquered by the expanding Arab world and became part of the Arab Caliphate, which at that time included all of the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Europe. However, the Byzantine-Arab wars and the partial disintegration of the Caliphate created preconditions for the restoration of Armenian statehood, and in 884, Grand Prince Ashot Bagratouni was crowned as the new king of Armenia. The death of Ashot in 890 led to the partial disintegration of the restored kingdom. Ashot’s son Sembat and his heirs, in fact, controlled only a small territory in Northwestern Armenia, while the rest of the kingdom was a conglomerate of princely states (Vaspurakan, Sasun, Syuniq, Khachen, etc.), only nominally dependent on the crown.

The beginning of the 11th century was marked by the disastrous invasion of the Seljuk Turks. In 1071, the Seljuk army defeated the Armenians and their Byzantine (East Roman) allies in the Battle of Manzikert, and by 1081, all of Armenia, Byzantine Anatolia, and other Christian countries of the area were conquered and devastated by the Seljuks. Thousands of Armenians, among them many aristocratic families, fled their embattled country and found refuge in mountainous Cilicia, the land that had been partially Armenian-inhabited since the period of the Tigranes Empire (187-70 BC).

In the year 1080, the new Armenian state, sometimes mistakenly called “Lesser Armenia,” was proclaimed in Cilicia by Prince Ruben, who was related to the Bagratide Royal family.


The year 1096 marked the beginning of the Crusades, which brought significant changes to the Middle East. The Crusaders established their own states in Palestine and Syria and helped the Byzantine Empire to drive the Seljuk Turks out of some of its Asia Minor provinces. Cilicia became an ally of the Crusaders, and in 1198, Prince Leo II was crowned as the King of Armenia, establishing the Rubenid dynasty in Cilicia.

After the first Crusade, Cilicia expanded significantly to the southwest, doubling the size of the new Armenian kingdom. The Crusades also contributed to the liberation of some other Armenian lands from Turkish domination. In 1097, the Crusaders under Baldwin captured the fortified city of Edessa and established the Earldom of Edessa, which survived until 1144 and covered a sizable, predominantly Armenian-inhabited territory.

During the same period, the South Caucasus saw a significant political development with the Georgian reconquista. Led by King David of the Bagratide dynasty, the Georgians won a series of battles against the Turco-Arab powers of the area, eventually liberating not only Georgia but also half of the old Armenian lands by 1124. King David the Builder became the king of both Georgians and Armenians, uniting the two peoples under one crown.

The second half of the 12th century was marked by strife between the Crusaders and the East Roman Empire (Byzantium), which ultimately resulted in the collapse of the latter and the establishment of the Latin Empire in 1204. The Crusaders suffered significant decline in Palestine and Syria, leading to the loss of most of their previously conquered territories. However, the Kingdom of Cilicia survived and maintained its borders unchanged.

Meanwhile in the South Caucasus, the Kingdom of Georgia continued to expand under the rule of Queen Tamar and King George the Beautiful. The Crown Armenian provinces of Georgia were put under the hereditary governance of Prince Zakharias Mkhargrdzeli, while the southwestern half of Armenia was placed under Georgian protectorate and reorganized into the Sultanate of Khelat and Emirate of Karin (Erzeroum).


In the second quarter of the 13th century, the South Caucasus and Asia Minor were invaded by the Mongols. By 1250, the Mongols had conquered most of the area, including Georgia and all Armenian lands of the Caucasus and Central Anatolia. The Mongol rule was marked by devastation, destruction, mass murder, and the imposition of extremely high tribute on the population. Armed resistance and uprisings were ruthlessly suppressed.

Despite this, the Kingdom of Cilicia was able to withstand the Mongol conquest and remained the only Armenian-inhabited country to maintain its full independence.


By 1337, the Mongol domination had collapsed, but it was followed by the series of Turkic invasions. Most of the old Armenian lands came under the control of the Turcoman tribal confederations of Kara-Qoyunlu and later Aq-Qoyunlu, while Anatolia was partitioned between other Turkic domains. Meanwhile, the Kingdom of Cilicia, which had been desperately fighting against the Turks and Arabs, lost some of its provinces to the Turks by 1335. In 1375, the remainder of the once prosperous kingdom was conquered by the Mamluks of Egypt.

Between 1392 and 1404, all Armenian lands were invaded by the Turco-Mongolic forces led by Tamerlane. This invasion was the most devastating cataclysm in the previous 300 years, resulting in the destruction of Armenian, Georgian, and Greek cities and towns in the area, as well as the slaughter of many thousands of Armenians. Many more thousands fled to Western and Eastern Europe, as well as Africa and Asia. Tamerlane's death in 1405 resulted in the almost immediate fall of his empire. Between 1405 and 1410, the core Armenian lands became a battleground for a devastating war between the Timurids and the Oghuz Turkoman confederation known as Kara-Koyunlu. Soon after that, the Ottoman Turks, Kara-Koyunlu and the Egyptian Mamluks became the two dominant powers in the Middle East, turning the area into a Turco-Arabic realm.

By the middle of the 15th century, the West European Crusaders had completely lost the 350-year-long battle for Palestine and Syria and were forced to evacuate all their possessions except for Cyprus and a few other Mediterranean islands. By the same time, the East Roman Empire had lost all of its possessions except for the capital city of Constantinople and several smaller enclaves in the Balkans and Asia Minor. In 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, becoming Istanbul, the capital of the strongest and rapidly expanding Muslim empire, and ending the East Roman era.

By the end of the 15th century, most of the Armenian feudal aristocracy had already been destroyed, and their lands had been taken by Turkoman, Tatar, and Kurdish nomadic military nobility. As a result, the Armenian Apostolic Church remained the only major force cementing the Armenian people and keeping them apart from the new conquerors and settlers from Central Asia. The transfer of the throne of the Catholicos of all Armenians to Echmiadzin (near Yerevan) in 1441 enhanced the importance of the Ararat valley and the city of Yerevan as the new center of the Armenian lands.


In 1516, the Ottoman Empire had expanded to control all of Western Armenia, while Eastern Armenia fell to Shah Ismail, the founder of the Azeri Safavid dynasty, which turned Persia into a new Islamic power in the region. The Safavid-Ottoman wars of 1514-1535 resulted in border changes that saw more Armenian lands incorporated into the Ottoman Empire.

Despite this, several Armenian provinces remained, for a time, part of Georgia, which was undergoing feudal fragmentation. The Armenian-inhabited province of Tashir was part of the Georgian Kingdom of Kartli, while the smaller provinces of Kars, Karnipor, and Valashkert were part of the Duchy of Samtskhe (Southern Georgia) until 1628, when Samtskhe was absorbed by the Ottomans.

The only remaining relict of Armenian statehood was for a time surviving in the mountains of Artsakh (Karabakh), where five tiny Armenian princely states (Dgheraberd, Dizak, Gyulistan, Khachen, and Varanda) managed to maintain their independence until the late 18th century. A few isolated Armenian enclaves in Ottoman Turkey, the largest one being Sasun, also managed to maintain some autonomy until the end of the 19th century.


In the 17th and 18th centuries, Persia and Ottoman Turkey engaged in a series of wars that resulted in changes in state borders and left Armenian lands within the two Muslim empires. Armenians living in the Georgian kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti, which was barely surviving, faced a similar position to their brethren in Iran, as Eastern Georgia became a Persian protectorate and was regularly raided and looted by Iranian troops and irregular Turkic and Kurdish tribesmen loyal to the Shahs.

With the loss of their last vestiges of statehood and their nobility practically wiped out, Armenians were forced to emigrate en masse to Western and Eastern Europe, Russia, India, Ethiopia, and later to the Americas and even remote countries such as Burma and the Philippines. Those who remained in their homeland lived under the system of millet, where ecclesiastical authority over the Armenian people was held by the Armenian Apostolic Church, specifically the Catholicos in Echmiadzin and the Patriarch in Constantinople. For more than two centuries, the church remained the only factor keeping approximately 3.5 million discriminated Turkish and Iranian subjects of Armenian background who had forgotten their history and were speaking predominantly Turkish and Kurdish dialects.

The percentage of Armenian population in both Ottoman Turkey and Iran gradually decreased due to assimilation, emigration, and occasional massacres. By 1801, the historic Armenian territory where Armenians still formed a majority wаs limited to the mountainous areas of Karabakh, Zanghezur, Shoragel and Vaspurakan.


Starting in the mid-19th century, various Armenian organizations, primarily based in Europe, launched educational projects among the Armenian population of Turkish Armenia with the aim of reviving Armenian culture and fostering a new sense of Armenian patriotism and nationalism. Teaching the Armenian language and history was followed by the spread of revolutionary ideas inspired by the French Revolution and later by the popular theories of socialism.

The awakening of Armenian nationalism resulted in the creation of secret Armenian societies, including the "Salvation Union", "Black Cross Society", "Armenakan", and "Protectors of the Fatherland". Some of these societies were behind Armenian uprisings in Zeytun (1862), Erzerum (1863), and Van (1863), all of which were brutally suppressed by the Ottoman Empire.[1]

In response to the growth of Armenian nationalism and separatism, the Turkish government implemented various initiatives aimed at consolidating the Ottoman Empire and preventing potential secession of Armenian-populated provinces. One such initiative was the repatriation of the muhajirs, over 1 million Abkhaz, Shapsug, Ubykh, and other Adygh-speaking Muslims who were expelled from Russia in 1864, more than half of whom were resettled in Armenian-inhabited areas. Later, more Muslim settlers arrived from the Balkans following the Russo-Turkish War of 1878 and the partial liberation of Bulgaria and Serbia. Many of the new settlers were hostile towards Christian Armenians, much like the Karapapakh Turks who had arrived in Turkish Armenia several decades earlier after the Russian annexation of Persian Armenia. Another program was the government-approved expansion of nomad territories for loyal Kurd tribes in the north and northeast, which led to Kurds “occupying the towns and villages of sedentarized peoples, demanding upkeep and tribute from the Armenian peasants, forcing them to purchase their protection (hafir), pillaging with impunity and carrying off women and flocks”.[2]


The liberation of the Balkans gave hope to Armenian nationalists for gaining independence through the “Bulgarian way”. However, major European powers and Russia were unwilling to support Armenian independence. In 1890, a group of 125 armed St. Petersburg Armenian students, led by Sargis Kukunian, attempted to cross the Russo-Turkish border to launch an uprising in Turkish Armenia, but the effort ended in defeat and disaster.

At the end of the 19th century, newly-formed socialist-revolutionary parties of Hnchak and Dashnak adopted a new strategy of socialist revolution, in which Christian Armenians would fight alongside the poorest Muslim Turks and Kurds against "capitalist exploiters". This led to a partial withdrawal of support from the Armenian bourgeoisie in Turkey, Russian Caucasus, and Europe. Armenian revolutionaries aimed to arm all Armenian peasant populations so that they could protect themselves from Kurdish nomadic bands and Turkish gendarmerie, as well as launch a general uprising in the six Eastern provinces of Turkey that were claimed by Armenians as their historic homeland and organized secret supply routes. However, a lack of funds and means to deliver the required weapons to all Armenian communities in Turkey made the planned uprising impossible, resulting in a guerrilla movement that concentrated mainly in Sasun, Taron, and Vaspurakan and provoked violent repression from Turkish administration and nomadic Kurdish tribes.

The guerrilla movement in some areas of Turkish Armenia, also known as the Fidayee movement, lasted until the beginning of the First World War and produced many experienced field commanders (Duman, Vardan, Dro, Khamzasp, Sako, Krecho, Arakel, Avo, Njde, Sepoukuh, and many others) who later became officers and generals of the Armenian army during the short independence period of 1918-1920. Many Fidayees of Turkish Armenia also crossed the border into Russian Caucasus during the "Armeno-Tatar War" of 1905 (a violent ethnic conflict between Armenians and Azeris in Baku and other cities of the South Caucasus) to form the Mauserist self-defense militia.

The Turkish-Armenian confrontation reached its culmination in 1915 when Turkey entered the First World War, resulting in cruel ethnic cleansing and the end of Armenian life in Western (Turkish) Armenia.


[1]Anahide Ter Minassian, “Nationalism and Socialism in the Armenian Revolutionary Movement”, Transcaucasia, Nationalism and Social Change, (Ann Arbor, 1999) p. 145.

[2] Ter Minassian, op. cit. p. 146.




            Most historians of Georgia, as well as anthropologists, archaeologists, and linguists, agree that the ancestors of modern Georgians inhabited the southern Caucasus and northern Asia Minor since the Neolithic period. These experts typically refer to them as Proto-Kartvelian tribes, using the term 'Kartvelebi', which is the Georgian name for themselves. However, the origins of these tribes remain unclear. Some European historians of the 19th century, such as Humboldt and Krettschmer, concluded that the Proto-Kartvelians were closely related linguistically and culturally to Pre-Aryan peoples of ancient Europe, including the Etruscans and Proto-Basques.

The Proto-Kartvelians were bordered by Zykh tribes to the northwest (the ancestors of modern Adygh and Apsua), Proto-Nakhs to the northeast (the ancestors of modern Chechens and some Daghestani peoples), Proto-Armenians to the southeast, and Aramaic-speaking tribes to the south and southwest.


Between 2100 and 750 BC, the region endured invasions by the Hittites, Celts, Medes, Proto-Persians, and Cimmerians. During that time, the ethnic unity of the Proto-Kartvelians dissolved into several branches, including the Svan, Zan, and East-Kartvelian ones. This ultimately led to the formation of modern Kartvelian languages, such as Georgian (originating from East Kartvelian vernaculars), Svan, Megrelian, and Laz (the latter two originating from Zan dialects). During the period mentioned, the Svans were dominant in modern-day Svaneti and Abkhazia, while the Zans inhabited the modern Georgian province of Samegrelo, the northeastern coast of Turkey between the Coruh and Kizil-Irmak rivers, and partially the Georgian provinces of Imereti and Guria. The East-Kartvelians formed the majority in modern eastern Georgia, partially in northern Armenia, and northeastern Turkey between the Coruh and Arax rivers.


As a result of cultural and geographic distinctions, two core areas of future Georgian culture and statehood formed in western and eastern Georgia by the end of the 8th century BC. The Kingdom of Colchis, the first known Georgian state, covered modern western Georgia (including Abkhazia) and modern Turkish provinces of Coruh and Rize. The Kingdom of Colchis has been mentioned in ancient chronicles since at least the middle of the 6th century BC. Less than 300 years later, the Kingdom of Iberia (or Kartlia) emerged in modern eastern Georgia and southeastern Turkey.

As for the Kartvelian tribes which inhabited northern Anatolia to the west of the modern Turkish provinces of Rize and Erzurum in the 6th-7th centuries BC, they failed to form anything that could be defined as early Georgian states. Instead, they were absorbed by Aramaic and ancient Greek cultures and were incorporated into non-Georgian states of the area.


There is little or no exact information about the ethnic composition of Colchis and Iberia. However, it is known that since 2,000 BC, north-western Colchis (modern Abkhazia and part of Krasnodar territory of Russia) was inhabited not only by the Svan and Zan but partially also by the Apsyl people whose origins are unclear. Nowadays it is assumed but not proven that the Apsyls could be the ancestors of today’s Apsua (one of the ethnic groups of modern Abkhazia speaking a distinct language belonging to the Adygh group). Another important ethnic element of ancient Colchis were the Greeks, who between 1000 and 550 BC, established several trade colonies in the coastal area, including Naessus, Pitiys (modern resort town of Pitsunda), Dioscurias, Guenos, Phasis (modern Poti), Apsaros, and Rhizos (modern Rize in Turkey). It is also impossible to define the exact linguistic border that separated Kartvelians and Armenians in southern and southeastern Iberia between 600 and 150 BC.


Between 653 and 333 BC, both Colchis and Iberia successfully resisted the invasions of the Median and later Persian empires. At the end of the 3rd century BC, the armies of Alexander the Great arrived in southern Iberia, as part of his conquest of the Achaemenid domain, establishing a vast Greco-Macedonian empire that dominated both west- and central Asia, as well as Greece, Egypt, and partially India. However, neither Iberia nor Colchis were incorporated into the empire of Alexander or any of the successor Hellenistic states of the Middle East. Both ancient Georgian kingdoms were, nevertheless, greatly influenced by ancient Greek culture. Greek was widely spoken in the cities, especially in Colchis. In Iberia, the Greek influence was less noticeable than in Colchis, and the Aramaic language was more widely used than Greek.

Between the early 2nd century BC and the late 2nd century AD, Colchis and Iberia, along with neighboring countries, were embroiled in long and devastating conflicts between major regional powers including Rome, Armenia, and the short-lived Kingdom of Pontus.

In 189 BC, the rapidly growing Ancient Armenian kingdom conquered more than half of Iberia, including its southern and southeastern provinces of Gogharena, Taokhia, and Genyokhia. Between 120 and 63 BC, Mithridates VI Eupator of Pontus, an ally of Armenia, conquered all of Colchis and incorporated it into his kingdom, which also encompassed almost all of Asia Minor, as well as the eastern and northern Black Sea coastal areas.

From 187 to 70 BC, the coalition of Greater Armenia and Pontus actively expanded at the expense of Rome, taking over its East Mediterranean possessions. However, the success of the anti-Roman alliance was short-lived. As a result of the brilliant Roman campaigns of Pompey and Lucullus from the west and the Parthian invasion from the south, Armenia lost a significant part of its conquests by 65 BC and became a Roman-Parthian dependency. Meanwhile, the Kingdom of Pontus was completely destroyed by the Romans, and all its territories, including Colchis, were incorporated into the Roman Empire as provinces. The former Kingdom of Colchis was reorganized by the Romans into the province of Lazicum, ruled by Roman legates, while the king of the dramatically diminished Iberia had no other choice but to accept Roman protectorate.

The following 600 years of Georgian history were marked by the manipulation between Rome and Parthia (Iran), who fought long wars against each other for domination in the Middle East, including Syria, Mesopotamia, Armenia, Caucasian Albania (the territory of modern Azerbaijan), and Iberia.

In the 2nd century AD, Iberia strengthened its position in the area, especially during the reign of King Farsman II, who achieved full independence from Rome and reconquered some of the previously lost territories from the declining Armenia. In the early 3rd century, Rome had to give up Albania and most of Armenia to Sassanid Iran. The province of Lazicum was given a certain degree of autonomy, which by the end of the century developed into full independence and the formation of a new Kingdom of Lazica-Egrisi on the basis of smaller principalities of Zans, Svans, Apsyls, and Sanyghs. This new West Georgian state survived for more than 250 years until it was absorbed by the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire in 562.

By the middle of the 4th century, both Lazica and Iberia adopted Christianity as their official religion.

During the 4th and most of the 5th centuries, Iberia (Kartli) was under complete Iranian control. The Kingdom was abolished, and the country was ruled by governors appointed by the Shahs. At the end of the 5th century, Prince Vakhtang I Gorgasali led an anti-Iranian uprising and restored Iberian statehood, proclaiming himself as King. The armies of Vakhtang launched several campaigns against both Iran and the Byzantine Empire. However, his efforts for independence ended in failure. After Vakhtang’s death in 502 and the short reign of his son Dachi (502-514), Iberia was reincorporated into Iran as its province. Nevertheless, during that time, the Iberian nobility was granted the privilege to elect governors, known as erismtavari in Georgian. Starting from 575, the Iberian nobility began electing governors from the princely family of Bagrationi, which later established the new Royal dynasty of Georgia.


In the early 7th century, the struggle between the Byzantine and Iranian empires for dominance in the Middle East came to an end as a result of the Arab conquest of the region. By 656, with the exception of Lazica-Egrisi, much of the South Caucasus had been overrun by the expanding Arab forces and became part of the Arab Caliphate, which at that time included the entire Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Europe. In the former Iberia-Kartlia, an Emirate was established in Tephelis (Tbilisi), leading to mass migrations of Kartvelian-speaking populations to Byzantine-controlled Lazica. As a result, several areas in Lazica, formerly dominated by the Svan- and Zan-speakers, became Georgian-speaking, including Racha, Imereti, and Guria (which included the modern-day Autonomous Republic of Adjara).

However, the Byzantine-Arab wars and the partial disintegration of the Caliphate created the preconditions for the restoration of some elements of Georgian statehood. Between 780 and 790, the Principality of Kakheti (formerly northeastern Iberia) and the Kingdom of Hereti (formerly the easternmost area of Iberia and northwestern Albania) gained sovereignty by seceding from the Emirate of Tephelis. Approximately ten years later, Abkhazian Achrontos Leon launched an anti-imperial uprising and ousted Byzantine troops from most of Lazica. He proclaimed the Kingdom of Egrisi-Abkhazia and bestowed the title of king upon himself. As of today, some verbal supporters of Abkhazian separatism mistakenly believe that the Kingdom of Egrisi-Abkhazia was the first state of the Apsua people. In fact, though, Egrisi-Abkhazia was a pure example of a Georgian state. The majority of its population were Svan, Zan, and Georgian speakers, with all three groups speaking closely related languages and representing the branches of the future Georgian nation. The official languages were Georgian, alongside Greek, and the capital of the kingdom was Kutatisi (Kutaisi), an almost purely Georgian city.

Two decades later, Egrisi-Abkhazia also seceded from the Byzantine Empire ecclesiastically. The Egrisi-Abkhazian Church broke with the Patriarch of Constantinople and went under the jurisdiction of the Catholicos of Mtskheta (the head of the East Georgian Orthodox Christian Church) and switched the language of services from Greek to Georgian. In fact, this was the creation of a united Autocephalous Church of all Georgia, which has existed since those events, with the exception of a relatively short period of time between 1810 and 1917.

The first decades of the 9th century saw the rise of a new Georgian state in Tao-Klarjeti. Liberated from the Arabs by Curopalate Ashot of the princely family of Bagrationi, the territory of former southern Iberia, including the principalities of Tao and Klarjeti, as well as the earldoms of Shavsheti, Khikhata, Samtskhe, Trialeti, Javakheti, and Ashotsi, formally became a part of the Byzantine Empire under the name of "Curopalatinate of Iberia". However, in fact, Ashot Bagrationi was running a fully independent country with its capital in Artanuji. The hereditary title of Curopalate was kept by the Bagrationi family, whose representatives ruled Tao-Klarjeti for almost a century. Curopalate David Bagrationi expanded his domain by annexing the city of Theodossiopolis (Karin, Karnukalaki), the Armenian province of Basiani, and imposing a protectorate over the Armenian provinces of Kharqi, Apakhuni, Mantsikert, and Khlat, which were formerly controlled by the Kaysithe Arab Emirs.


In the late 10th century, the formation of the first united Georgian monarchy began when Curopalate David invaded the Earldom of Kartli, which had previously been disputed between the Emirate of Tephelis and the Kingdoms of Kakheti and Egrisi-Abkhazia, and crowned his adopted son Bagrat Bagrationi as the King of Kartli in 975. Three years later, after the death of his uncle Theodosius the Blind, the King of Egrisi-Abkhazia, Bagrat inherited the Abkhazian throne. In 1001, Bagrat also added Tao-Klarjeti (Curopalatinate of Iberia) to his domain as a result of David’s death, and finally, in 1008-1010, he annexed Kakheti and Hereti, thus becoming the King of a united Georgia that included both eastern and western regions.


The second half of the 11th century was a period of great turmoil in Georgia due to the invasion of the Seljuk Turks. By the end of the 1040s, the Seljuks had built a vast nomadic empire that included most of Central Asia and Iran. In 1071, their army defeated the united Byzantine-Armenian and Georgian forces in the battle of Mantsikert, and by 1081, most of Georgia, along with other countries in the region, had been conquered and devastated by the Seljuks. Only the mountainous regions of Abkhazia, Svaneti, Racha, and Khevi-Khevsureti remained out of Seljuk control and served as a relatively safe haven for numerous refugees.

The Seljuk conquerors were destroying cities and fortresses, looting villages, wiping out both the aristocracy and farming population, and colonizing the country with nomadic tribes from Central Asia. By the end of the 1080s, Georgians were at the brink of being irreversibly outnumbered by the newcomers in their own land. At that moment, the anti-Seljuk struggle began in Georgia under the leadership of the young King David IV, who inherited the throne in 1089 at the age of 16 after the abdication of his father George II Bagrationi.

Soon after ascending to the throne, David IV began the reconstruction of a regular army and established a peasant militia to resist the Seljuk colonization of Georgia. The success of the First Crusade (1096-1099) and the Crusaders' offensive against the Seljuk Turks in Anatolia and Syria provided David with an opportunity to launch successful campaigns in Georgia. By the end of 1099, David stopped paying tribute to the Seljuks and gained effective control over most of the Georgian lands, except for Tbilisi and Hereti. In 1103, he reorganized the Georgian Church and established close ties between it and the state by appointing the Catholicos (Arch-Bishop) as the Crown Chancellor (Mtsihnobart Ukhutsesi) of Georgia. During the campaigns of 1103-1105, the Georgian army took over Hereti and carried out successful raids into Sharvan, which was still under Seljuk control. Between 1110 and 1118, David captured Lore, Samshvilde, Rustavi, and other fortresses of lower Kartli and Tashiri, isolating Tbilisi as the last Seljuk enclave in Georgia.

In 1118-1119, with a considerable amount of unsettled land resulting from the withdrawal of Turkic nomads and a desperate need for qualified manpower for the army, King David invited around 40,000 Kypchak warriors from North Caucasus to settle in Georgia with their families. Subsequently, in 1120, the ruler of Alania recognized himself as King David's vassal, allowing thousands of Alans (Ossets) to cross the main Caucasus range into Georgia to settle in Kartli and other areas. The Georgian Royal army also welcomed mercenaries from Germany, Italy, Scandinavia (all of whom were referred to in Georgia as "the Franks"), as well as from Kievan Rus.


In 1121, Seljuk Sultan Mahmud declared a Jihad on Georgia and sent a powerful army led by one of his famous generals, Al-Ghazee, to wipe out all Georgian population. Despite being significantly outnumbered, the Georgians managed to defeat the invaders at the Battle of Didgori on August 12, 1121, and in 1122 they took over Tbilisi and made it the capital of Georgia. Two years later, the Georgians conquered Sharvan, and as a result, the mostly Christian-populated Ghishi-Kabala area in western Sharvan (a relic of the once-prosperous Albanian Kingdom) was annexed by Georgia, while the rest of already Islamized Sharvan became Georgia's client state. In the same year, a significant portion of Armenia was liberated from the Seljuks by David's troops and fell into Georgian hands, with David becoming the King of Armenians and incorporating Northern Armenia into Georgian Crown lands in 1124. Several months later, King David died in January 1125, leaving Georgia as a strong regional power. In his country, King David is called Agmashenebeli, which can be translated into English as "the re-constructor" or "the restorer."

David Agmashenebeli’s successors, including Kings Demeter I, David V, and George III, continued the expansion policy of Georgia by subjugating most of the mountain clans and tribes of North Caucasia, and further securing Georgian positions in Sharvan. However, the most illustrious sovereign of this period was undoubtedly Queen Tamar, David's great-granddaughter, whose reign marked the peak of Georgia's power in its history.

During Tamar's reign from 1184 to 1213, her armies successfully repelled new Turkish invasions from the southeast and south, and launched several successful campaigns into Turkish-controlled Southern Armenia from 1194 to 1204. As a result, most of Southern Armenia, including the cities of Karin, Erzinjan, Khelat, Mush, and Van, came under Georgian control. Although not officially incorporated into Georgian Crown lands, Southern Armenia became a protectorate of the Kingdom of Georgia, and remained under the nominal rule of local Turkic Emirs and Sultans.

The temporary fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Crusaders in 1204 left Georgia as the strongest Christian state in the Eastern Mediterranean region. Taking advantage of the situation, in the same year, Queen Tamar sent her troops to take over the former Byzantine territories of Lazona and Pontus with the cities of Atina, Riza, Trebizond, Cerasus, Amysos, Kotyora, Heraclea, and Sinope. The occupied territory was transformed into the Empire of Trebizond with Tamar's relative Prince Alexius Comnenus crowned as its emperor in 1205. Although officially called an empire, the new state was a vassal of Georgia for more than two hundred years.

In 1210, Georgian armies invaded northern Persia (present-day Iranian Azerbaijan) and captured the cities of Marand, Tabriz, Ardabil, Zanjan, and Qazvin, putting part of the conquered territory under Georgian protectorate. This marked the maximal extent of Georgia throughout its history. During the period described, Queen Tamar was addressed as "The Queen of Abkhazians, Kartvels, Rans, Kakhs, and Armenians, Sharvan-Shakhine and Shakh-in-Shakhine, The Sovereign of the East and West". Georgian historians often refer to her as "Queen Tamar the Great".

The period between the early 12th and early 13th centuries, especially during the era of Tamar the Great, is widely considered as the Golden Age of Georgia. In addition to significant political and military achievements, this era was marked by the flourishing of Georgian culture, including architecture, literature, philosophy, and sciences. However, this Golden Age was abruptly interrupted by the Mongol invasions in the early 1200s.


Despite fierce resistance by the united Georgian-Armenian forces and their allies, the Mongols conquered most of Georgia, all Armenian lands, and Central Anatolia. The Mongol rule brought devastation to the land, with cities destroyed, mass murder, and extremely high tribute imposed on the population. Armed resistance and uprisings were brutally put down.

The Mongol invasions of Georgia altered the course of the Fifth Crusade (1217–1221), which aimed to conquer Ayyubid-dominated Egypt and reclaim Jerusalem, lost in 1187 to Saladin. Georgian king George IV intended to send an army to the Holy Land, creating a second front against the Ayyubids to support Western crusaders. However, after suffering significant losses in battles with the Mongols in 1220 and 1221, most of his troops were decimated, and the king was left without an army. Consequently, the Western crusaders were forced to wait for their Georgian allies, who never arrived, losing precious time and achieving no gains despite suffering significant loss of life and resources.[1]

In 1243, Queen Rusudana of Georgia signed a peace treaty with the Mongols. As per the treaty, Georgia lost all its client-states, ceded western Sharvan, Nakhichevan, and some other territories, and agreed to pay tribute to the Mongols. Georgia also let the Mongols occupy and de-facto rule more than half of the remaining territory. While Mongol-occupied Tbilisi remained the official capital of the kingdom, the Queen refused to return there and stayed in Kutaisi until her death in 1245.

In addition to the hardships caused by the Mongol invasion, the part of the kingdom that remained free of Mongol rule also faced disintegration. The Crown began losing control over the warlords of Samtskhe, the southern provinces of Georgia, who established their own relations with the Mongols. By 1266, they had practically seceded from Georgia, leading to further instability in the region.


The period between 1259 and 1330 was characterized by the Georgians' struggle for full independence from the Mongol Ilkhan Empire. The first anti-Mongol uprising began in 1259 under the leadership of King David Narine, who waged war for almost thirty years. The anti-Mongol movement continued under the rule of Kings Demeter II (1270 - 1289) and David VIII (1293 - 1311). Ultimately, King George V the Magnificent (1314 - 1346) was able to take advantage of the decline of the Mongol Ilkhan Empire. He stopped paying tribute to the Mongols, restored Georgia's pre-1220 state borders, and even brought the Empire of Trebizond back into Georgia's sphere of influence.


In 1337, the "Pax Mongolica" in the Middle East collapsed. However, the Mongols were replaced by various Turkic invaders. From 1386 to 1403, the Kingdom of Georgia faced eight Turco-Mongolic invasions under the leadership of Tamerlane. This was perhaps the most destructive cataclysm in the history of the Georgian nation. Almost all cities and towns in Georgia, except Abkhazia and Svaneti, were left in ruins, tens of thousands of people were brutally killed, and even more were enslaved and deported. The country was left devastated and descending into anarchy. Tamerlane's death in 1405 led to the almost immediate fall of his empire. After that, the Ottoman Turks, Egyptian Mamlyuks, and other Turkic tribes became dominant powers in the Middle East/East Mediterranean area, turning it into a Turkic realm.

During the 15th century, the entire area underwent significant changes in all possible aspects - linguistic, cultural, political, etc. During this period, the Kingdom of Georgia became an isolated, fractured Christian enclave, a relic of the faded East Roman epoch, surrounded by a Muslim, predominantly Turco-Arabic world.


By the middle of the 15th century, many of Georgia's neighboring states had disappeared from the map, some within less than a hundred years. Armenia, for example, fell under the federations of Turcoman tribes such as the Kara Qoyunlu, Aq Qoyunlu, and Ertena. The diminished Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia was taken over by the Egyptian Mamlyuks, and only several tiny principalities in the mountains of Karabakh preserved certain autonomy as a reminder of the once-mighty Armenian statehood. The Byzantine Empire lost all of its possessions and compressed itself into several isolated feeble enclaves, the most important of them being Constantinople and Philadelphia (in the heart of Anatolia). The Empire of Trebizond was also rapidly diminishing, losing territories and any political will for survival. West European Crusaders lost their 350-year battle for Palestine and Syria and were forced to evacuate all their possessions except for Cyprus and a few other Mediterranean islands.

New Muslim state formations were quite aggressive and kept expanding, testing Georgia's forces in border skirmishes and raids deep into its territory. The fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 signaled the end of the Byzantine Empire and the East Roman Era that had lasted more than one thousand years. This event was more than just a moral shock for Georgia. The capture of Constantinople sealed the Black Sea and cut off the remnants of Christian states in the area from Europe and the rest of the Christian world. The only connection with the West could now go exclusively through the semi-isolated Genoese colonies of the Crimea.


In 1461, the Empire of Trebizond was taken over by the Ottoman Turks. Despite being protected by high mountain ranges and fortified with many castles and fortresses, the country ultimately lost its political will to resist, and the last Emperor surrendered to the expanding Ottoman Turkey with little resistance.

Thirteen years later, in 1475, the Ottoman Turks and Crimean Tatars conquered Genoese possessions in the Crimean Peninsula. This Muslim conquest led to the rapid Islamization of Adygh and Vainakh tribes in North Caucasia, an area where Islam had long competed with Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism, and Paganism. From that moment, Georgia found itself completely surrounded by the Muslim world.

The Republic of Venice, which waged naval operations against the Turks in the Aegean Sea, and the Papal call for a new crusade, were the last remaining hopes for clearing communication routes with Europe. However, the geographical discoveries of the last decade of the 15th century - such as the discovery of America and the sea route to India around Cape Horn - redirected the economic and political interests of major European powers away from the East Mediterranean, which once served as an important section of the Silk Road. As interest in the Silk Road drastically decreased, Georgia became an economic and political backwater. Being the last weakening Christian bastion in the Middle East, Georgia now faced the deadly risk of absorption by rising Muslim powers.

To withstand external pressure, the Kingdom of Georgia desperately needed unity and consolidation. Instead, it gradually fell apart. Several pretenders to the throne seized control of different parts of the country, waged wars against each other at the expense of the country's security, and sought support from aggressive neighbors. In 1490, the Royal Council (Darbazi) officially recognized the breakup of Georgia into the three Kingdoms of Kakheti, Imereti, and Kartli, and the Duchy (Saatabago) of Samtskhe.

The Kingdom of Imereti, in turn, underwent further disintegration. By the end of the 16th century, three principalities (Samegrelo, Abkhazia, and Guria) had practically seceded from the kingdom and turned into semi-independent state formations in the Ottoman sphere of influence. The mountainous province of Svaneti also became an independent principality.


During the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, Georgia became a theater of almost constant warfare between the Ottoman and Persian empires, which was accompanied by mass murders, mass rapes, deportations, and destruction. In 1628, Ottoman Turkey annexed Samtskhe and subjected its population to forced Islamization and Turkification. By 1724, the Turks had taken over the Black Sea coast of Samegrelo and Abkhazia, while Persian occupants performed ethnic cleansing in eastern Kakheti (later known as the Zakatala District) and settled it with Muslim Avars.

Starting in the 17th century, a new player entered the "Caucasian chessboard": Russia, a rising regional power, began to demonstrate interest in the fading Georgian states, largely due to the ambitious plans of Russian czars and later emperors to take over Constantinople and the Black Sea Straits. Playing on the fact of religious unity with Georgia, the rulers of Russia gained more and more influence in the Caucasus region, which was accompanied by territorial expansion.

In 1783, King Erekle II of Kartli and Kakheti signed the Treaty of Georgievsk with Russia, according to which his East Georgian realm became a Russian protectorate, and Imperial Russia promised to protect Georgia from Persian and Ottoman incursions and to take steps towards restoring the lost Georgian territories. However, the following years made it clear that Russian emperors were not going to honor the treaty. In 1795, when Persian Shah Agha Mohammed Khan invaded Kartli-Kakheti, the army of Erekle, abandoned by Russian allies, lost the decisive battle, and Persian invaders took over Tbilisi, massacring its population and destroying the Georgian capital to the ground.

In 1801, in violation of the Treaty of Georgievsk, Russia annexed the devastated and embattled kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti. Between 1811 and 1864, Russia also incorporated the remaining Georgian states (Imereti, Guria, Svaneti, Abkhazia, and Samegrelo). As a result of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, the Russian Empire gained most of the former Duchy of Samtskhe and integrated it into the newly established districts of Batum, Ardahan, and Oltu.



[1] McLynn, Frank, Genghis Khan: His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy, (New York, 2015) p. 323.



Looking at the pre-20th century history of what is now Azerbaijan, one could suggest that it is the youngest nation in the South Caucasus.  The above statement is confirmed by the fact that prior to 1918, there was no independent state in the world called Azerbaijan. Furthermore, the contemporary Azeri people have a complex ethnogenesis and are comprised of a variety of ethno-racial components, in contrast with Armenians and Georgians.


According to Sumerian and Akkadian sources, which have been partially confirmed by archaeological excavations, the territory of contemporary Azerbaijan had been settled by more or less organized tribes since at least the beginning of the third millennium BC.[1] In the middle of the 8th century BC, the territory of contemporary Iranian Azerbaijan became a battlefield between the Kingdom of Urartu and the Assyrian Empire. It was ultimately absorbed by Assyria. In the 6th and 7th centuries BC, it was ruled by ancient Iranian empires. In 310 BC, after Alexander the Great destroyed Achaemenid Persia, the aforementioned territory was incorporated into the Macedonian Empire and became known as Atropatene.

The year 331 saw the birth of the Kingdom of Caucasian Albania in the north of the contemporary Republic of Azerbaijan, and in 323 BC, Atropatene broke away from the Seleucid Empire, which was one of several Hellenistic states in Asia that emerged after the death of Alexander. It is important to note that, according to Shnirelman, there is very little connection between the early history of Albania and Atropatene.


The ancient kingdoms of Media Atropatene (323 BC – 226 AD) and Caucasian Albania (110 BC – 821 AD) could not be considered “proto-Azerbaijani states” as the core elements of the Azeri people were the Turkic-speaking tribes whose massive influx from Central Asia into the territory of contemporary Azerbaijan occurred in 1048 - 1081 and 1220 - 1260 AD. Before the first Turkic influx, the population of Media Atropatene, whose territory approximately coincided with the contemporary Iranian Azerbaijan, was predominantly Iranian-speaking. Meanwhile, the Caucasian Albanians, whose kingdom at the peak of its power encompassed about 80% of contemporary Republic of Azerbaijan and 20% of contemporary Georgia, spoke Ibero-Caucasian languages belonging to the Northeast Caucasian (Nakho–Daghestanian) family.

Throughout various periods of history, both kingdoms faced invasions by Cimmerians, Scythians, Massageteans, Parthians, Armenians, Romans, Alans, Huns, Khazars, Bulgars, and Patzinaks but were able to assimilate the newcomers and maintain their ethnic identity.


During the same period of time, Atropatene remained predominantly Zoroastrian up until the Arab conquest (see below), although since the late 5th century there were also quite a few flourishing Nestorian Christian communities.

The dominant religion of both Caucasian Albania and Atropatene, since at least the 2nd millennium BC, was Zoroastrianism. However, between the early 3rd and late 4th centuries, Caucasian Albania converted to Christianity. The Church of Caucasian Albania, also known as the Albanian Apostolic Church, was initially loyal to Rome but eventually sided with the Armenian Apostolic Church after the Great Schism. Meanwhile, Atropatene remained predominantly Zoroastrian until the Arab conquest, although quite a few Nestorian Christian communities also thrived there since the late 5th century.


In 226, Atropatene was incorporated into the Sasanian Empire and remained a province of the empire until the fall of the Sasanian dynasty in 651. Between 602 and 628, it was the site of the devastating Byzantine–Sasanian War, and in 643, it faced an invasion by the Arabs. The Caucasian Albania, on the other hand, survived as an independent kingdom until 705.


The period between 643 and 704 was marked by Arab invasions of the eastern Mediterranean and their conflicts with the Byzantine Empire and the Khazars. These campaigns resulted in the incorporation of both Albania and Atropatene into the Arab Umayyad Caliphate.[2] This signaled the beginning of the Islamization of what is now Azerbaijan. Atropatene, which soon became known under the Arabized names of Adardabakhan and later Aderbeydjan, became one of the provinces of the Caliphate. Meanwhile, Albanian kingdom turned into a client state that was subordinate to the Umayyads. In 705, the Umayyads deposed the ruling dynasty of Albania, but the final subjugation of Albania occurred in the 730s when the army of the future caliph Mervan II devastated the kingdom and exterminated most of its population.[3] 

The year 705 marked the de facto abolition of the Albanian Apostolic Church. Starting from that year, Albanian Catholicoi were ordained through the Catholicos-Patriarch of Armenia, and the Albanian church gradually became part of the Armenian Apostolic Church. At the same time, the influence of the Georgian Orthodox Church began to increase in the northern regions of Albania, centered in Gishi (now Kish).

During the period between 750 and 945 the territory of both Albania and Aderbeydjan (today’s Iranian Azerbaijan) was part of the Abbasid Caliphate. Here, though, we should keep in mind that not all of this territory was directly incorporated into the Caliphate, as there were a number of princely states and other dependencies that enjoyed varying degrees of autonomy. Islamization also proceeded slowly and in stages, starting with political elites and gradually spreading downward through the social hierarchy. In 763, Albania was invaded by the Khazars for the last time, but they were repelled by the Arabs by the end of the same year.

The Arab period was marked by several anti-Arab uprisings, the most notorious of which was the rebellion led by Babek (Babak) Khorramdin, the head of the Khurramite sect, which took place between 817 and 837. In fact, Babek, who is regarded as a symbol and icon of freedom in both Azerbaijan and Iran, managed to establish his own empire that included not only contemporary Azerbaijan but also parts of historical Western Armenia and contemporary Iranian Azerbaijan as far as the cities of Hamadan, Marand and even Isfahan. The Khurramite uprising led by Babek can also be considered anti-Islamic, as its religious philosophy was, according to Van der Leeuw, "a strange amalgam of Brahman, Zoroastrian, Christian, and Islamic elements."[4] The rebellion also enjoyed the support of many princes and lords of the South Caucasus, both islamized and not-yet-islamized, who saw it as an opportunity to break free from Abbasid domination. The defeat and execution of Babek in 838 helped to stabilize Pax Arabica in the area to some extent, but the decline of the Abbasids was already underway.

In 944-945, the country that was previously known as Albania and had since been renamed Arran was invaded by the Vikings known in Eastern Europe as the Varangians, led by Ingvar of Koenugard (Kiev). Descending down the Volga on their longships, the Vikings approached Derbent, which was controlled by the Khazars at that time. After bypassing the well-fortified and stubbornly defended fortress, they entered the territory of Arran and began to plunder the rich lands in the valley of the Kura River. Soon they took and looted the city of Bardaa - the capital of Arran. The local warlords and princes were unable to resist the new invaders, and they were only able to expel them with the help of a regular Arab army commanded by Ibn al-Qasir, which was sent by the Caliph of Baghdad. The Arab victory over the Vikings was also aided by an outbreak of dysentery that occurred among the Norsemen.

The period between 945 and 1055 marked a brief interlude in Middle Eastern history. In 945, Baghdad was conquered by the Daylamite army of Ahmad ibn Buya, who established a short-lived Persian Shia Muslim dynasty known as the Buyids. Consequently, the Buyids' rise to power resulted in the Abbasids losing their secular authority, and they were left with only a symbolic role as spiritual leaders, while the Buyid "emirs of emirs" officially governed on behalf of the Abbasid caliphs whose names continued to be inscribed on the coins of the caliphate.

The turmoil in the former Abbasid domain loosened Baghdad's control over the Caucasus and Aderbeydjan, which in turn paved the way for the emergence of three dynasties in the territories of present-day Azerbaijan and Northern Iran. These were the Shaddadids in Arran to the south of Kura River with their capital in Ganja, the Sharvanshahs in the former Arranian province called Sharvan (later known as Shirvan) between the middle and lower reaches of the Kura River and the Caucasus Mountains with their capital in Shamakha and the Salarids in Aderbeydjan with their capital in Ardebil. However, the states created by these two dynasties were unstable and fragmented and soon fell prey to the new conquerors.


As we already mentioned above, the second half of the 11th century was marked by the invasion of the Seljuk Turks into the Abbasid territory and beyond. In addition to changing the political landscape of the region, the Seljuk invasion of the Near East and Eastern Mediterranean also altered the ethno-linguistic makeup of the territory that now encompasses two Azerbaijans (the Republic of Azerbaijan and Iranian Azerbaijan). While the Turkic tribes that had previously invaded the aforementioned territories were, due to their relatively small numbers, assimilated to a greater or lesser extent by the local inhabitants, the new Turkic masses that flooded in from Central Asia in the second half of the 11th century were so numerous and well-organized that they could no longer be absorbed by the indigenous population. On the contrary, the newcomers became the dominant cultural and linguistic element in the territories both to the south and north of the Kura and Aras lowlands.

During the process of active Turkification, the territory formerly known as Atropatene and later as Aderbeydjan began to be increasingly referred to as "Azerbaijan" in its modern Turkified form. Regarding the new state formations in the territory of the Kura-Araks Valley (formerly known as Albania), Arran and Sharvan retained their names for several centuries. However, there, too, the process of Turkification of the local population began. The processes of Turkification and complete Islamization intensified even more as a result of later invasions from Central Asia, which will be discussed below.

The peak of the Seljuk Empire's power was during the reign of Sultan Alp Arslan (1063 - 1072), under whose leadership the Seljuks defeated the combined Byzantine-Armenian-Georgian army near Manzikert in 1071, captured Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes, and for the first time brought Byzantinism in the Eastern Mediterranean to the brink of destruction. The unexpected death of Alp Arslan in 1072, reportedly as a result of poisoning by his wife Inanj Khatun, a Georgian princess, signaled the beginning of the decline of the Seljuks.[5] The beginning of the rule of Malik Shah (1072-1092), the son of Alp Arslan and Inanj Khatun, was marked by peace, stability, and the development of science, arts, and literature in the territories of Azerbaijan, Aran, and Sharvan. However, by the mid-1080s, the Seljuk states began to slide into anarchy and fragmentation, largely caused by internal power struggles within the Turkic military elites.

Malik's mysterious death only intensified the self-destructive processes mentioned above. At the same time, Seljuk power in Arran and Sharvan faced a challenge from neighboring Georgia, where the opposite processes were taking place (see above).

Crowned in 1089, Georgian King David IV launched the process of driving the Seljuk Turks out of the South Caucasus. This process was largely inspired by the success of the First Crusade (1096-1099) and the Crusaders' campaigns against the Seljuks in Anatolia and Syria. In 1121, David's troops defeated a vastly superior army sent from Baghdad by Sultan Mahmud at the Battle of Didgori, and by 1124, Georgia had established dominance over Sharvan. Under Georgian power, Sharvan was partitioned into two parts: the smaller western part of the country with its center in Sheki, mostly Christian-populated and ruled by Christian lords, was incorporated directly into the Georgian kingdom. Meanwhile, the larger and already Islamized part was reorganized into Georgia's tributary state under the rule of the Sharvanshahs. Additionally, it should be noted that during Georgian control, the domains of the Sharvanshahs of Eastern Sharvan were significantly expanded and consolidated, and their privileges were not only guaranteed but also extended compared to their status under the Seljuks.

Meanwhile, the situation in Arran during this period was quite different from that in Sharvan. After the fall of the Shaddadids in 1075, Arran could not maintain the same level of stability. It was invaded by the Georgians in both 1138 and 1166, and remained an unstable area, serving as a theater of constant warfare until 1210. Finally, in 1210, Georgia gained control over Arran, as well as a significant portion of Azerbaijan located to the south of Aras.


The era of Georgian dominance in the region covering the territory of present-day Azerbaijan Republic and Iranian Azerbaijan came to an abrupt end between 1220 and 1243 due to several invasions by the Mongols and Khwarazmians. The first Mongol expeditions into the South Caucasus took place in 1220 and 1221. Although they were quite successful, the Mongols did not remain in the region and departed after causing much destruction to human life and resources. In 1225, the hordes of Jalal al-Din Khwarazmshah attacked Western Iran and the South Caucasus, having been pushed westward from Central Asia by the Mongols. Jalal al-Din re-established his new empire in the area, with the new capital in Tabriz (Azerbaijan). However, his new empire did not last long and was destroyed in 1231 as a result of a joint operation by the Mongols and Assassins.

In 1256, the entire South Caucasus region was incorporated into the Hülegü Ulus, also known as the Ilkhanate. This was a new Mongol state that formed as a result of the disintegration of the Mongol Empire. The Ilkhanate had its capital in Maragheh, and later in Tabriz. Centered in Persia, it also included parts of Central Asia and the Middle East. Between 1261 and 1357, much of the Caucasus region, including Sharvan and Arran, was the site of a series of wars between the Ilkhanate and the Golden Horde, another Mongol empire centered in the lower Volga region.

After the collapse of the Ilkhanate and the political vacuum that followed, the rulers of Sharvan, Arran, and Azerbaijan had to maneuver between the restored Georgian kingdom and the Jalayirid Sultanate from the 1350s to the 1380s until both regional powers were eventually destroyed by the invasion of Tamerlane's hordes.

Tamerlane, also known as Timur Gurkani (1336 – 1405), was a Turco-Mongol military leader who successfully established a vast Eurasian empire. At its peak, this empire encompassed present-day Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, and parts of Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Russian North Caucasia, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and Kazakhstan.

Tamerlane's armies launched eight expeditions into and through the Caucasus between 1386 and 1403 as part of their wars against the Golden Horde and the Kingdom of Georgia. These campaigns left Sharvan, Arran, and other adjacent lands between the Aras and Caucasus Range in ruins and despair. The tyrant's death in 1405 temporarily put an end to the troubles of the southeastern Caucasus and gave it a chance for recovery.

The invasions by the Mongols, Khwarazmians, and Turco-Mongols, including Tamerlane's campaigns, resulted in the partial depopulation of the territories of Sharvan, Arran, and Azerbaijan. These invasions were followed by new waves of Turkic migrants from Central Asia, which further accelerated the Turkification and Islamization of the area.

In 1405, the same year that Tamerlane died, his empire, known as Turan, disintegrated. Tamerlane believed that appointing his sons and grandsons as governors of important parts of his empire would keep it intact, but this plan ultimately failed. The family quickly became embroiled in violent disputes over Tamerlane's legacy, which eventually led to a series of civil wars and the eventual collapse of the empire.

For some time, several Timurids maintained control over portions of contemporary Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the republics of the former Soviet Central Asia. However, Tamerlane's former possessions in the Caucasus and Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) were lost to the new regional power known as the empire of Kara Koyunlu.


[1] Charles van der Leeuw, Azerbaijan: A Quest for Identity (London, 1999) p. 26.

[2] van der Leeuw, op. cit. p. 49.

[3] Trever, Kamilla. Ocherki po istorii I kul’ture Kavkazskoi Albanii IV v. do n.e.- VII v.n.e. (Moscow, 1959) p. 250

[4] van der Leeuw, op. cit. p. 51

[5] van der Leeuw, op. cit. p. 65.

The core of the future Kara Koyunlu empire was formed in the territories of Northern Mesopotamia and around Lake Van. By the end of the 14th century, these territories had been partially settled by Oghuz Turkoman tribes such as Baharlu, Saadlu, Karamanlu, Alpaut, Dukharlu, Jagirlu, Hajilu, and Agacheri, who had previously migrated from Central Asia. In 1382, those tribes formed a confederation that rapidly expanded following the death of Tamerlane. By 1405-1412, they initiated a war against the Timurids and their allies in Shirvan and Azerbaijan.[1] In 1436, Muzaffar al-Din Jahan Shah ibn Yusuf declared himself a sultan, officially elevating the confederation of Kara-Koyunlu to an empire. It is also worth noting here that the Kara-Koyunlu adhered to the Shia version of Islam.

It is questionable whether we can consider the Kara-Koyunlu empire a proto-Azerbaijani state. However, most linguists agree that the Azerbaijani language began to form during the Kara-Koyunlu period. This development was based on Oghuz vernaculars that started gradually replacing Persian dialects and Udi (the language of Caucasian Albanians) in Azerbaijan and Shirvan.

The empire of Kara-Koyunlu was relatively short-lived, and it collapsed in 1466-67 due to a war with another Oghuz Turkoman tribal confederation known as Ak-Koyunlu. By the end of the 1460s, the Ak-Koyunlu confederation, initially based in Diyarbakir, united around the Bayandur tribe and conquered all of Kara-Koyunlu's possessions, except for Shirvan. Between 1467 and 1515, the principality of Shirvan, which encompassed the former Kara-Koyunlu territory between the Caucasus range and the Kura River and was limited by Georgian possessions in the northwest and the Caspian Sea in the southwest, existed as an independent country. This principality could definitely be considered the first proto-Azerbaijani state. During that period of time, the capital of Shirvan was moved from Shamakha to Baku. It should be noted that although Shirvan was largely Islamized by the beginning of the 16th century, it still had a significant Christian minority, including some 200,000 adherents to the Albanian Apostolic Church. These Christians were predominantly concentrated around the towns of Kabala, Mingechevir, Shaki, and Vartashen. Regarding Turkization, one could argue that it was still far from complete during the above period. Foreign travelers reported that the majority of the population of Shirvan was bilingual, fluent in both Turkish (old Azerbaijani) and Persian vernaculars. Furthermore, some Shirvanites continued to speak Udi at home, indicating the persistence of their pre-Turkic and pre-Persian linguistic heritage.

In contrast to the Kara-Koyunlu, the elites of the Ak-Koyunlu dynasty adhered to Sunni Islam. In terms of their involvement in international politics, it's worth mentioning their participation in the Anti-Ottoman League, which was founded in 1463 by the Papal States, Venice, and Hungary. However, the league proved to be ineffective, and the involvement in it undermined the Ak-Koyunlu state, which was already engaged in military conflicts with its western and eastern neighbors. Ultimately, in 1501, the Ak-Koyunlu state collapsed under the assault of the army of Ismail I, the founder of the Safavid dynasty of Persia.


The Safavid dynasty, which ruled over Iran and Azerbaijan for over 200 years, was founded on the religious principles of the Sufi order known as Safavid Tariqa. The military force of the order was composed of Qizilbash warriors, who primarily came from the seven Oghuz Turkoman tribes, namely Shamlu, Rumlu, Ustajly, Tekeli, Afshar, Qajar, and Zulqadar. The territories that were controlled by these tribes, to a greater or lesser degree, included Eastern Anatolia, Armenia, Iranian Azerbaijan, and Gilan. It is also worth noting that the majority of Qizilbash warriors spoke Old Azerbaijani as their mother tongue.

In 1499, leadership of the Safavid order was handed over to a young Ismail, son of Shaykh Haydar, a Turkmenized Kurd, and Martha, the Crown Princess of Trebizond with mixed Greek and Georgian heritage.[2] By the end of 1500, Ismail's Qizilbash army conquered Shirvan, and a year later, it defeated the Ak-Koyunlu (as mentioned earlier). In July 1501, Ismail was crowned Shah-an-shah (King of the kings). At that time, his domain roughly corresponded to the possessions of Kara-Koyunlu, and his capital was in Tabriz.

By 1510 the army of Shah Ismail I took over the whole of Persia and defeated Uzbeks in Central Asia. In 1513, during the height of the Safavid empire under Ismail I, the territory under his control reached its maximal extent, encompassing modern-day Iran, the Republic of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Iraq, eastern Turkey, southern Daghestan, and some other adjacent lands. At the same time, the Georgian kingdoms of Kartli and Kakheti became his client states. Ismail I proclaimed Shia Islam an official state religion of his empire, and this was an important point in the history of Islam.

The Safavid era was marked by a series of Ottoman-Persian wars that spanned from 1514 to 1736. During these conflicts, various regions including Eastern Anatolia, Armenia, Mesopotamia, Azerbaijan, and parts of the Caucasus were captured and lost several times. Notably, during the struggle for the Armenian Plateau, the Ottomans received support from its Christian population, as they promised broad autonomy to Armenian and Assyrian leaders (although this promise was never honored). In 1555, after the Safavid capital of Tabriz was lost to Ottoman forces, Shah Tahmasp relocated his capital to Qazvin. Then, 43 years later, for similar reasons, Shah Abbas I moved the capital further southeast to Isfahan.

In 1579, the region of present-day Azerbaijan, located north of Kura, was ravaged by the Crimean Tatars with the support of Circassian and Daghestani mountaineers. Over the next few years, the Tatars were largely repelled back across the Caucasus range with the help of the lords of Derbent.

The Treaty of Zuhab, signed in 1639, confirmed the permanent loss of Western Armenia and Mesopotamia to the Ottomans, while the territories of present-day Azerbaijan and Iranian Azerbaijan were confirmed as Safavid. However, the Treaty of Zuhab did not bring permanent peace, and hostilities resumed in 1723. At the same time that the Ottomans launched a new invasion of the Safavid domains, Emperor Peter I of Russia personally led the Caspian Expedition with the aim of conquering the western and southern coasts of the Caspian Sea.

In 1724, the Ottoman and Russian empires signed the Treaty of Constantinople, which divided the northern territories of the Safavids between them. According to the provisions of the treaty, Russia annexed a narrow coastal strip from Derbent to Bandar Shah, which included Apsheron, Gilyan, Mazanderan, and Astrabad, while the Ottoman Empire took control of Kartli, Kakheti, Eastern Armenia, Lorestan, and the remaining parts of Azerbaijan. In 1730, Persian troops under Nader Afshar recaptured all of the territories lost to the Ottomans in 1723. Two years later, in anticipation of the Russo-Ottoman War, the Russian government under Empress Anna returned the previously conquered Caspian coast to Persia. This was confirmed by the Treaty of Resht in 1732.

The year 1736 marked the end of the Safavid era when, on March 8th, Nader Afshar was proclaimed the new Shah after murdering the last heirs of the Safavid dynasty.



[1] By the name 'Azerbaijan' in this context, we refer to the territory of contemporary Iranian Azerbaijan located to the south of Aras.

[2] Accordingly, on his mother's side, Ismail I was the grandson of Emperor John IV of Trebizond and the great-great-grandson of King Alexander I of Georgia.

The question of whether the Safavid Empire was a Persian or Azeri state is an important and debated topic. While most historians consider the Safavid era as the beginning of modern history of Iran and the re-establishment of Persia as an economic bridge between East and West, some scholars, both Azerbaijani and non-Azerbaijani, such as Afandiyev, Mélikoff, and Sümer, argue that it was an "Azerbaijani empire".

In our opinion, the latter approach is quite questionable. While it is true that the first capital of the empire was in Tabriz, and the Turkic-speaking element dominated the imperial elites, including both military and civil ones, and the Azeri language was spoken alongside Persian, it is not enough to classify Safavid Persia as an Azerbaijani state. As a similar example, we could consider the Russian Empire, which was ruled by the czars from the House of Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov, Germans by blood, culture, and the first language, from 1762 until 1917. The Russian political elites, from 1730 until the fall of the empire, were dominated by ethnic Germans, most of whom were Baltic Germans. However, despite this, nobody seriously considers imperial Russia as a German state. We understand though that some colleagues may still disagree with our approach to this question.


Following the death of Nader Shah in 1747, the Persian Empire descended into a period of anarchy and semi-disintegration. Against the backdrop of the instability and crisis within the Persian empire, the governors of the imperial administrative units in the territories roughly corresponding to present-day Azerbaijan, Armenia, and partially, Iranian Azerbaijan began proclaiming themselves as more or less sovereign rulers. Many of them used the fact that they were descendants of former feudal lords of those provinces as an excuse for their actions. In the late 1750s, the self-proclaimed khans of Ardebil, Baku, Erivan, Gilan, Guba, Gyanja, Javad, Karabakh, Karadagh, Khoy, Maku, Nakhichevan, Shaki, Shemakha, Tabaristan, and Talysh, along with the sultans of Elisu, Salyany, Shamshadin and Kazakh, and the bayyad of Belakan formed an alliance with the aim of creating an independent confederation. However, the confederation proved to be loose and its member-states often engaged in internecine wars and conflicts. As a result, by 1790, all of them returned under the umbrella of the empire (now with the capital in Tehran) after the Persian throne was taken over by the new Turkic dynasty, the Qajars.

However, their stay within the Persian Qajar Empire was short-lived, as the emergence of a new and powerful player on the South Caucasian chessboard, the Russian Empire, changed the geopolitical landscape. Following the annexation of the East Georgian kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti, the Russians once again shifted their attention to the east, this time towards the Caspian Sea.

In 1804, the Russo-Persian War began, and despite Persia's limited support from Napoleonic France, it lost the war. The conflict culminated in the signing of the Treaty of Gyulistan in 1813, which resulted in Russia acquiring the khanates of Baku, Derbent, Guba, Gyanja, Javad, Karabakh, Sheki, Shirvan, and Talysh.

In 1826, another Russo-Persian War broke out, and Persia was once again defeated. The resulting Treaty of Turkmanchay, signed in 1828, granted Russia control over the Khanates of Erivan and Nakhichevan. Later, in 1844, the Russian Empire annexed the tiny Sultanate of Ilisu, further expanding its territory in the region. From that point on, the Russo-Persian border remained unchanged until 1914.




It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that, unlike the South Caucasus, the North Caucasus (sometimes referred to as Ciscaucasia) has never been a region where large and stable states have been established. The only exception to this is the Khazar Khaganate, which will be discussed later.

Since ancient times, the steppes and foothills of the North Caucasus have been the territory of nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes who at times formed tribal unions and at other times waged wars of annihilation against each other. Some of them disappeared, leaving behind their remnants in mountainous gorges, while others migrated, typically towards the west or south. Starting from approximately the 5th century BC, some parts of the North Caucasus were incorporated into larger states that originated from outside the Caucasus. However, they were nothing more than a periphery of these states, and often an unstable and unreliable one at that. The people of the North Caucasus could demonstrate loyalty to their masters for a time, but this loyalty could unexpectedly turn into opposition and hostility.


According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, the earliest recorded inhabitants of the North Caucasus were the Cimmerians, a group of Iranian-speaking tribes who controlled the region during the 8th and 7th centuries BC until they were later displaced by another Iranian-speaking nomadic people known to us as the Scythians. The Scythians, who reportedly came from Central Asia, left their traces in a vast territory in Eurasia - from the western frontiers of China to the Dniester River and Carpathian Mountains in Eastern Europe. Between the 8th and 3rd centuries BC, they were dominant in the Ponto-Caspian steppes and in the northern foothills of the Caucasus.

During the "golden age" of the Scythians in the 7th century BC, specifically the 70s, they conducted raids in Media, Syria, and Palestine. According to Herodotus, they even established a "Scythian Kingdom" in Asia Minor. However, it is important to note that although Assyrian sources from that period mention some "Scythian kingdoms," the Scythians in the Ponto-Caspian zone failed to establish any genuine states. A true kingdom would require more or less developed state institutions, a capital city, and stable borders, but this was not the case for the North Caucasian Scythians. Instead, they formed tribal alliances, and their "kings" were merely tribal chiefs or chieftains.

According to Strabo, the Scythians were dominant over the Maeotians and Zygians in the North Caucasus. These non-Indo-European tribes, who may be the ancestors of the Circassians and Apsua-Abkhazians, settled to the north of Colchis in what is now the Krasnodar Territory and partly in the Rostov province of contemporary Russia.

Since the 5th century BC, the Scythians had been in contact with various Greek colonies, including Fanagoria, Hermonassa, and Gorgippia (Anapa), all located on the Taman peninsula. Later, when the conglomerate of Greek colonies on the northern Black Sea coast transformed into the Bosporan Kingdom (c. 438 BC - 527 AD), which had its core in Crimea, the Scythians and Maeotians had a complicated relationship with it. As their relationship developed, they engaged in both wars and mutually beneficial trade. By the middle of the 4th century, the Bosporan Kingdom, in addition to the Taman Peninsula, had also taken control of another part of the North Caucasus in the lower reaches of the Kuban River.


During the 3rd century BC, the Scythians living in the Ponto-Caspian steppes faced an invasion of the Sarmatians, who were another nomadic Iranian people closely related to the Scythians and came from across the Don River. As a result of the Sarmatian expansion, the Scythians were defeated, partially annihilated, and partially assimilated with the newcomers, who became the dominant power in the region until the end of the 4th century BC. The Sarmatians had similar relations with the Bosporan Kingdom as their predecessors, the Scythians, and the Kingdom's borders in Ciscaucasia did not undergo any major changes during the  period in question.

In 67 BC, King Mithridates VI of Pontus took over the Bosporan Kingdom and incorporated it into his own Kingdom of Pontus, alongside Colchis and the entire Ciscaucasian Black Sea coast. During Mithridates' struggle against the Romans, the Sarmatians fought as allies of the Pontic kingdom. The defeat and suicide of Mithridates VI in 63 BC brought an end to the Kingdom of Pontus. Later, the Bosporan Kingdom was restored and became a client state of the Roman Empire, which subsequently occupied it with troops.

The middle of the 1st century AD marked the start of the spread of Christianity into the North Caucasus from the territories of the Roman Empire and the Bosporan Kingdom.


During the first three centuries AD, the Sarmatians who lived within the Bosporan borders assimilated into Hellenic (Greek) civilization, while the Sarmatian tribes of North-Western Caucasus were largely absorbed by the Maeotians. Some Sarmatians also amalgamated with the Alans, another group of Iranian-speaking tribes who migrated westwards from Central Asia into what is now Ukraine and Southern Russia during the 1st century AD.[1]

During the 4th to 7th centuries, the Northern Caucasus was significantly affected by the Barbarian Invasions of Roman Europe.[2] In the middle of the 2nd century, Gothic-speaking people migrated from Scandinavia towards the Black Sea. By the end of the century, the Goths had established their dominance over the Taman peninsula and lower Kuban.

In the 360s, the Alans and the Goths faced an invasion by the Huns. The Huns originated as a confederation of nomadic tribes known as the Xiongnu, who lived in the region that corresponds to contemporary Mongolia and Northern China (Inner Mongolia).[3] In 89 AD, they were defeated by the Chinese Han empire and subsequently migrated westwards through the Eurasian steppes. By around 150 AD, the Huns had reached the Volga River, and in the late 360s, they inflicted a devastating defeat on the alliance between the Alans and Goths. After this, the Huns divided: some tribes moved further west into central Europe, pursuing the Goths and Alans, while others turned south towards the Caucasus Range, with the aim of conquering Asia Minor. By the year 406, the entire North Caucasus region had come under the sphere of Hun dominance. The Maeotians and the remnants of the Alans who did not flee westwards had no other choice but to subordinate to their victors.

In 445-453 North Caucasus was part of what is known as the Hun empire of Attila, a vast territory stretching from Volga to Rhine and from the Baltics to Danube and the Caucasus range. Being in fact rather a confederation of multi-ethnic tribes that recognized Attila as their supreme chiefs, that giant nomadic empire collapsed immediately Attila’s death in 453. Over the following century, the Huns were assimilated by various other nomadic and semi-nomadic groups.

Regarding the Bosporan Kingdom, it managed to evade the Hun invasion and continued to exist until the 520s, at which point it became part of the East Roman Empire along with the Taman peninsula and lower Kuban.

In the 6th and early 7th centuries, the North Caucasus was subject to raids by the Bulgars, Hungarians[4] and Avars. Most of the aforementioned nomads who originated from Asia eventually migrated westward into Central Europe and beyond. Nevertheless, some of them opted to settle in the steppes and foothills of Ciscaucasia.

In 576, the Göktürks (‘Blue Turks”) invaded and conquered the entire Ponto-Caspian steppe and the Bosporan province of the East Roman Empire. However, the Göktürk domination did not last long. In 603, their tribal confederation disintegrated, leaving the North Caucasus to fend for itself for a period of time. That was the moment when a new state was born in the area, which later became known as the Khazar Khaganate.

The Khazar state's roots trace back to the Ugric-Finnish tribe of Savirs, also known as Sabirs and Suvars. In the early 5th century, these tribes migrated from present-day Siberia and settled in the lower Daghestan area of Ciscaucasia, along with the Huns. By the end of the 6th century and the beginning of the 7th century, the Savirs underwent Turkification, influenced by the Göktürks. They also assimilated other nearby tribes and renamed themselves as Khazars. This marked the foundation of the Khazar state.

During the 602-628 Byzantine-Sassanid War, the Khazars joined forces with Byzantium (East Roman Empire) and proved to be a significant military power.

In the 660s, in conflicts with other Turkic tribes, particularly the Bulgars, the Khazars managed to conquer almost the entire North Caucasus region, as well as a significant portion of the Crimean Peninsula and the lowlands of the Volga and Don Rivers. During this time, their supreme leaders adopted the title of Khagan. The first capital of the Khazar Khaganate was the city of Balanjar, located in the lowlands of the Sulak River. Meanwhile, the Arab invasion of the North Caucasus began, and the Khazars remained loyal allies of Byzantium in their efforts to repel the Arab forces. Byzantium was also fighting against the Arabs on the Anatolian front at the same time.


In 723, the Arabs captured Derbent and Balanjar. In 730, the Khazars reached the city of Ardabil by passing through the Darial Gorge and Georgia, but they soon withdrew to the north. In 732, a dynastic marriage was arranged between the Byzantine Emperor Constantine V and the daughter of the Khazar Khagan, named Chichak, who was also known as Irina after her baptism.

In 737, Arab forces led by the future caliph Marwan II reached the Don River, but after a devastating war, they withdrew to Derbent in 744 without penetrating further into the North Caucasus beyond this fortress. It was during this Arab invasion that Islam began to spread throughout Ciscaucasia, starting with Daghestan.

In the 740s, Khagan Bulan, the founder of the Bulanid dynasty, converted to Judaism under the influence of the Jewish diaspora and took the name Sabriel. From then on, Judaism became the religion of the elite in the Khazar Khaganate. However, the general population of the state, characterized by religious tolerance, continued to practice Christianity, Islam, and remnants of paganism. The adoption of Judaism by the political and military elite led to a cooling of relations with Byzantium and the end of their military alliance.


In response to the threat of a renewed Arab expansion in the mid-8th century, the Khazar Khaganate moved its capital from Balanjar to the city of Atil, located in the Volga delta. This relocation allowed the Khaganate to better defend itself against potential attacks and facilitated its expansion to the north, which included the annexation of territories encompassing modern-day northern Ukraine and central European Russia.

In the early 9th century, the Khazar Khaganate achieved great power and prominence, emerging as one of the largest and most powerful states in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. Its strategic location and military strength enabled it to control the vital trade routes connecting Northern and Eastern Europe with the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic world. As a result, the Khaganate played a pivotal role in shaping regional politics and economics.

In the late 9th century, the power of the Khazar Khaganate faced a significant challenge from the Scandinavian Vikings, known in Eastern Europe as the Varangians or Rus. Despite a few decades of uneasy peace and limited political and economic cooperation, the Rus-Khazar wars broke out in 895. By the end of the 960s, the Khaganate suffered a series of defeats, resulting in the loss of its territories and control over the critical trade routes connecting Europe to the Middle East. Ultimately, the Khazar Khaganate collapsed as a political entity by the end of the 10th century, with its people gradually assimilated into neighboring societies.


Following the collapse of the Khazar Khaganate, a political vacuum emerged in the North Caucasian region. This vacuum was quickly filled by the confederation of Alans, who in the late 9th century embraced Christianity under the influence of the Byzantines and Georgians. The Alans dominated the proto-Circassian Kassogh and Zigh peoples in the northwest, who were the descendants of the Maeotians and forefathers of the contemporary Circassians, Kabardians, and other Adygh peoples. In the northern regions of the Ponto-Caspian steppes, the Alans shared their power with the Cumans (also known as the Polovtsians), another nomadic Turkic people who migrated from Central Asia. The Cumans are regarded as the forefathers of several North Caucasian peoples, including the Karachay-Balkarians, Kumyks, and Nogais, as well as the Chuvashs and Bashkirs of present-day Russia. They also played a partial role in the formation of the Ukrainian and Russian Cossacks.

The Alans maintained their dominance over much of the North Caucasus for another two centuries. From 1120 to 1256, certain Alanian tribes, along with some Vainakh-Daghestani peoples such as the Durdzukians, Didoi, and Laks who occupied the northern foothills of the Caucasus, became tributaries to the Kingdom of Georgia. However, the political landscape of Ciscaucasia underwent a significant transformation in the early 1200s due to the Mongol invasions.


[1] Today, there is little doubt that the contemporary Ossetians are the surviving descendants of the Alans. However, in recent times, the Karachay-Balkarian and Ingush people have also started to claim Alan origins, and it is possible that these claims are not entirely unfounded.

[2] It is worth noting that the term 'Barbarian Invasions' is a Eurocentric term that does not accurately reflect the diverse peoples and cultures involved in this period of migration and upheaval.

[3] There is no agreement among researchers regarding the ethno-linguistic origin of the Huns. Some experts consider them proto-Turks, whereas others assume that the Huns were a confederation of tribes of various origins.

[4] That was over 200 years prior to the settlement by the Hungarians of the Carpathian Basin, where modern-day Hungary is located.

In 1238-1239, the Mongols defeated the unstable Alano-Cuman alliance by skillfully using divide-and-conquer tactics. Many Alans were either slaughtered or dispersed, and the entire Ciscaucasia region was incorporated into the Mongol Empire. Some Alans participated in the Mongol invasions of Central Europe and China. Following the fragmentation of the Mongol Empire in 1259, the entire North Caucasian region became a part of the Golden Horde and remained under its control until the Horde's collapse in 1459.

The late 13th and entire 14th centuries were marked by a struggle between three religions in the North Caucasus: Greek Orthodoxy, which spread from Constantinople and Georgia; Roman Catholicism, whose influence came from the Genoese possessions in neighboring Crimea; and Islam, which mostly spread from Persia. By the beginning of the 15th century, Islam had become the dominant religion, but Christianity was not completely eradicated and continued to coexist with Islam for the next few centuries.

In 1395, the North Caucasus became a theater of war between the empire of Tamerlane, whose army entered the region through the Darial gorge, and the Golden Horde, which was ruled at that time by Khan Tokhtamysh. In the same year, Tokhtamysh was defeated on the banks of the river Terek, and Tamerlane's army advanced far northwards, reaching Sarai, Astrakhan, and even the vicinity of Moscow, which was then part of the Golden Horde. The following year, Tamerlane unexpectedly left all the conquered possessions of the Golden Horde and returned to Central Asia. However, this war significantly undermined the power of the Golden Horde and signaled its decline. It also resulted in massive loss of human life throughout the Caucasus, including Ciscaucasia.

The collapse of the Golden Horde at the end of the 1450s led to the partition of the North Caucasus. The western half of the region, predominantly inhabited by the Circassians, was incorporated into the Khanate of Crimea, while the polyethnic eastern half became part of the Khanate of Astrakhan. However, in 1513, the Khanate of Astrakhan lost part of Daghestan, located south of the Terek River, to the newly formed Safavid Empire.

In 1475 the Khanate of Crimea became one of the client states of the Ottoman Empire, and the Crimean cavalry which encompassed not only the Crimean Tatars but Circassians and Nogais, took effective part in the Ottoman military campaigns against Hungary and Poland. In 1579, the Crimean Tatars and Circassians invaded Eastern Georgia and the Persian territories north of the Kura River, but were eventually repelled.

Following Russia's capture of the Khanate of Astrakhan in 1556,[1] the khanate's former North Caucasian territories lying between the Kuma and Terek rivers and inhabited by Nogai nomads were left as a "no man's land" for a century. In 1644, this territory was conquered by the Kalmyks, who were tributaries to Russia.

The second half of the 16th century saw the rise of feudal states in Daghestan. The strongest of them was the Shamkhalate of Tarki. At the end of the 1570s, following a series of clashes with Persia and Russia, the Shamkhalate accepted Ottoman suzerainty and became a client state of the Ottoman Empire. The second strongest feudal state in Dagestan was the Avar Khanate, whose rulers skillfully maintained autonomy by deftly manipulating their relationships between Ottoman Turkey and Persia. To the south of Tarki and Avaristan lay the smaller khanates of Gazikumukh, Kaitag, Kyura, and Tabasaran, all of which were under more or less formal protectorate of Persia.

During the same period, the Vainakh (Chechen and Ingush) clans or teips managed to maintain relative independence from their neighbors despite being squeezed between Tarki, Avaristan, and Crimean Circassia. However, they did not create any formal statehood.

The Ossetians, the only remaining relic people of the once-mighty Caucasian Alans, were under the rule of Circassian lords. Some of them crossed the Caucasus Range in search of a better life and settled in the lands belonging to the Machabeli aristocratic family in the Georgian kingdom of Kartli..

The 16th century in the North Caucasus saw a rapid Islamization, largely under the influence of Ottoman Turkey. Despite this trend, many mountaineers did not forget about their Christian past, and some even kept Christian symbols in their households. Abandoned churches and chapels were not destroyed or desecrated, and in the Ciscaucasian foothills, Islam was often combined with some pagan traditions and rituals. Among the mountaineer peoples, only the Ossetians were notable for the majority of them remaining loyal to the Christian faith, although not all of them did so.


During the 17th, 18th, and most of the 19th centuries, Ciscaucasia was a battleground for three regional powers: Ottoman Turkey, Persia and Russia, and in the end of the period specified, the victory in the region remained with Russia.

In 1722, Russian troops led by Emperor Peter I launched an offensive along the Caspian coast of Daghestan in the direction of Baku. As a result of the Russo-Persian War of 1722-23, the Treaty of St. Petersburg was signed, which ceded to Russia the whole Caspian coast from the river Sulak in northern Daghestan to Astrabad in Central Asia. Although Russian gains were confirmed by the Treaty of Constantinople signed a year later, Russia gave up all these acquisitions in 1732 in anticipation of the war with the Ottoman Empire.

During the Russo-Persian War of 1722-1723, the Shamkhalate of Tarki declared itself an ally of Russia, despite its formal status as a client state of the Ottoman Empire. However, in 1725, its troops, encouraged by the ‘Sublime Porte’, unexpectedly attacked the Russian fortress St. Cross. As a result of the ensuing battle, Shamkhal Adil Gerai II was taken prisoner, and his country was annexed by the Russian Empire.[2] Nevertheless, according to the provisions of the Russo-Persian Treaty of Gyanja, the Shamkhalate was eventually restored to its status as an independent state.

In 1761, the Russian Empire secured its Ciscaucasian border along the Terek and Kuban rivers. That same year, the lords of Great Kabardia, which was part of ethnic Circassia, de facto recognized Russian protectorate, although they formally remained within the Ottoman-Crimean sphere of interest.

In 1783, the Russian Empire annexed the entire Khanate of Crimea, including its Circassian territories to the north of the Kuban River. This annexation was confirmed by the Treaty of Jassy, signed between Russia and the Ottoman Empire in 1791. Following this, Trans-Kuban Circassia existed as a confederation of around a dozen independent tribes until its absorption by Russia in 1864 (see below). Meanwhile, in 1792-93, the Cis-Kuban Circassia region was colonized by Ukrainian Zaporogian Cossacks, who later became known as the Kuban Cossacks.

In 1806, Russia de facto annexed the territories of all Ossetian clans inhabiting the foothills north of Dvaleti, thus expanding the narrow corridor that connected Russian possessions to the north of Terek with the recently annexed Georgian kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti. As a result, the remaining part of Ciscaucasia found itself divided into two fragments of territory: the western part consisting of Circassia and its Black Sea coast, still under the possession of Ottoman Turkey, and the eastern part encompassing Daghestan and the lands inhabited by the Chechens.

In 1813, after the Russo-Persian War of 1812-1813, Persia relinquished its claims on Daghestan by signing the Treaty of Gyulistan. According to the treaty, Persia ceded not only the Khanate of Derbent but also eight other khanates, which roughly corresponded to present-day Azerbaijan, to Russia. In 1817, the Russian Empire annexed Little Kabardia, and in 1828, following the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1829, Russia acquired all the Ottoman forts along the Circassian Black Sea coast, as well as the adjacent territory. Less than a year later, the empire absorbed Gazikumukh, Kaitag, Kyura, and Tabasaran. As a result of these changes, Circassia and the still-independent lands of the Avars and Chechens became two landlocked enclaves surrounded by Russian territory, making their eventual absorption into the empire inevitable.


In late 1829, the chieftains of Chechnya and Avaristan came to an agreement to form a confederate state called the Caucasian Imamate. This state was based on the Islamic and anti-colonial ideology of Muridism.[3] The leader of this confederation was the popular Sufi scholar and warlord, Ghazi Muhammad. He declared Jihad against the Russian Empire and launched a war that spread into Russian possessions. The support of Imam Ghazi Muhammad from all the peoples of Daghestan secured the initial success of his military campaigns.

In August 1830, the "western front" was opened against Russia in Circassia when Ubykh and Sadz levies, commanded by Hajji Ismail Dogomuqo Berzeg, launched a surprise attack on Russian coastal forts and quickly took over the entire Black Sea coast from Anapa to Gagra. The success of that operation opened up the opportunity for the Circassians to receive military assistance from abroad. Such assistance was provided by Ottoman Turkey, Britain, and even the Polish rebels, and was intensified during the Crimean War (1853-1856).

The war of the Caucasian Imamate and Circassia against the Russian Empire lasted for the next 35 years. In 1832 Ghazi Muhammad was killed in action and the new Imam was proclaimed Shamil who continued the policy of his predecessor. In 1832, Ghazi Muhammad was killed in action and was succeeded by the new Imam, Shamil, who continued the policy of his predecessor. Despite the fierce resistance of the North Caucasian mountaineers, the Russian military machine proved to be overwhelmingly stronger. By the summer of 1859, the entire territory of the Imamate had been taken over by Russian imperial forces. On August 25 of the same year, their last stronghold in Gunib fell, and Shamil surrendered to the victorious Russian commander, General Baryatinsky.

The resistance of Circassia continued for another five years and was finally crushed by the end of May in 1864.

The war to subjugate Circassia was exceptionally brutal, even compared to the war against the Imamate and other conflicts of the same era. Russian troops committed mass murder of the Circassian population, regardless of gender or age. Entire communities were set ablaze, and those who were willing to submit to Russia were not spared. This war is now often referred to as the Circassian genocide because it resulted in the slaughter or forced migration of more than half of the prewar population of Circassia. Many of the forced migrants, known as the Muhajirs, perished while en route to the Ottoman Empire. Those who survived were resettled in Syria, Anatolia, and Rumelia, never to return to their homeland again. Circassian territories that were depopulated as a result of ethnic cleansing were settled by Cossacks and other colonists from Russia, Ukraine, and even Western Europe.


During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, the mountaineers of Chechnya and Daghestan rebelled once again against the empire. However, this rebellion was crushed by the end of 1877, and Russia could finally boast a successful consolidation of its possessions in the Caucasus, 36 years prior to the beginning of the Great War.


[1] The Khanate of Astrakhan was conquered by Ivan the Terrible during his reign over the Tsardom of Russia, which before 1547 was known as the Grand Principality of Muscovy.

[2] The Tsardom of Russia was proclaimed an empire in 1721 under Peter I.

[3] Muridism originated from the Dervish movement of Nakshbandiyya, which combined the religious teachings of Sufism with the political idea of "holy wars" against the "infidels".




Official and Semi-Official Publications


Vorontsov-Dashkov, Illarion. Vsepoddanneishaia Zapiska po upravleniyu kavkazskim kraem generala-adiutanta grafa Vorontsova-Dashkova (St. Petersburg, 1907).


Vorontsov-Dashkov, Illarion. Vsepoddanneishii otchet za vosem let upravleniya Kavkazom (St. Petersburg, 1913).





Erimtan, Can. “Hittites, Ottomans and Turks: Ağaoğlu Ahmed Bey and the Kemalist Construction of Turkish Nationhood in Anatolia” in Anatolian Studies, Vol. 58 (2008).

Floor, Willem and Javadi, Hasan. “The Role of Azerbaijani Turkish in Safavid Iran”, Iranian Studies. Vol. 46, No. 4 (July 2013), pp. 569-581. 


Jäschke, Gotthard. “Der Turanismus der Jungtürken. Zur osmanischen Aussenpolitik im Weltkriege,” Die Welt des Islams, XXIII (bk 1-2, 1941).


Kutuzov, Boris. “Vizantiyskaya prelest kak vnutrenniaya prichina “reformy” i raskola XVII veka” Rossiya XXI , Issue 11-12 , 1995.





Аllen, William Edward. A History of the Georgian People From the Beginning Down to the Russian Conquest in the Nineteenth Century (London, 19329).


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