books 44









      Ronald Grigor Suny

      (excerpt from the book”The Making of the Georgian Nation”/Indianopolis/1994)
      Maps: Andrew Andersen / 2003-2007




Loyal to his Safavid overlords, Rostom managed to expand the auton­omy of Georgia within the disintegrating empire. He supervised the revival of trade and the growth of cities. Iranian influence grew in eastern Georgia, as Kartli-Kakheti's fate was tied ever closer to that of the empire. Rostom was opposed by the indefatigable Taimuraz until the latter was forced finally to flee Kakheti in 1648.35 To his people Rostom left a legacy of cooperation with the Iranians and the benefits to be derived from acceptance of the status quo, but it was not an example that his successors were willing to follow.

In the second half of the seventeenth century attempts by Georgians to alter the status quo - to unite the divided kingdoms or to replace Muslim with Russian overlordship—were successfully thwarted by the Ottomans and Safavids. The vali of Kartli, Vakhtang V (Shahnavaz 1; 1658-1676), tried to find a throne for his energetic son, Archil, first in Imereti (1661) and later in Kakheti (1664-1675), but ultimately the restless prince was driven into exile in Russia. Much more successful were those princes and nobles of Kartli-Kakheti who found positions in the Safavid civil and military service, even as the empire was threatened by invasions from the east. Giorgi XI of Kartli (1676-1688, 1703-1709) enjoyed a splendid career as the Iranian commander in chief of the Afghan front. Known as Gurjin Khan, Giorgi led an Iranian-Georgian army against the rebel Mir Wais. The clever Afghan surrendered without a fight and invited Gurjin Khan to a banquet; there he had his Georgian guests murdered.


Others in Safavid service fared better than Giorgi. A French missionary noted toward the end of the century that the shah "knows how to keep [the Georgians] divided by self-interest. He promotes all the great nobles in such an advantageous manner that they forget their fatherland an d their religion to attach themselves to him. The greatest posts of the empire are today in their hands." Chardin reported that "the greatest part of the Georgian lords are outwardly Mahometan; some professing that religion to obtain prefer­ment at court and pensions of state. Others, that they may have the honor to marry their daughters to the king, and sometimes merely to get them in to wait upon the king's wives."






Vakhtang VI, King of Kartli




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Diplomats: Artemis Volunski (left) and Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani (right)



The choice faced by all rulers of early modern Georgia was between faithful service to their Muslim sovereigns or pursuit of the elusive prize of independence. The history of eighteenth-century Georgia is dominated by two extraordinary monarchs, Vakhtang VI and Erekle II, who between them managed the affairs of their realms for nearly three-quarters of the century. Both were, for a time, successful servants of their Iranian sovereigns, yet when opportunities were presented by civil wars in Iran, both sought the phantom aid promised by Russia's autocrats. From 1703, Vakhtang ruled as regent for his uncle, Giorgi XI, and his brother, Kaikhosro (1709-1711). His admin­istration was distinguished by long-needed reforms and the collection of laws (dasturlamali) that he had compiled in 1707-1709. Then, when he should rightly have received the shah's sanction to ascend the throne of Kartli, Vakhtang thwarted custom by refusing to convert to Islam, as his predeces­sors had nominally done. For two years he was a virtual prisoner in Isfahan while his convert brother, Iese (Ali-Quli-Khan), ruled in Tbilisi. To maintain his faith, Vakhtang sent his learned uncle and tutor, Sulkhan-Saba Or­beliani, to France to plead with Louis XIV to put pressure on the Iranians. But nothing came of the mission, and Vakhtang reluctantly converted in 1716. Almost immediately, however, Vakhtang made contact with the Russian ambassador, Artemis Volynski, and informed him of his true religious and political convictions. Not long after his return to Georgia, Vakhtang declared his support for Russian intervention in Transcaucasia. Clearly, Kartli's leaders, like the Kakhetian kings of the preceding century, calculate continued decline of Iran and the expansion of Russia to the south. After a series of delays, Peter the Great, buoyed by his recent victory over the Swedes, led a small force of Russians south from Astrakhan in 1722. The moment was well chosen, for the Iranians were engulfed by chaos, as Isfahan had fallen to the Afghans. Vakhtang refused to come to the aid of the Iranians preferring to await the arrival of the Russians.





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Unfortunately for the Georgians  - and for the Armenians of Karabagh, also engaged in a complex struggle against the Muslims—Peter's campaign stopped short of linking with the Christian rebels, and the tsar withdrew so as not to antagonize the Turks. Vakhtang was left exposed and alone. Facing a Turkish invasion and opposed by the king of Kakheti, Konstantin, to whom the shah had given the throne of Kartli as well, Vakhtang was forced to evacuate Tbilisi. He made his way across the Caucasus to Russia, where he died in 1737. The first Russian invasion of Transcaucasia thus proved a disaster for the pro-Russian elements among the local Christian people. The most immediate result was the establishment of Turkish authority throughout Caucasia, the brief but terrible period known in Georgian as the osmanloba (1723-1735).





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Despite their own misfortunes, the Iranians were unwilling to cede eastern Georgia to the Turks, but until the rise to power of the rough and able soldier, Nadir, they were unable to prevent this loss. The revival of Iranian imperialism began in the 1730s and coincided with Georgian resis­tance to the Turks. In 1732, Konstantin of Kakheti made a fatal attempt to break with the Turks and was murdered. The Turks gave his throne to his brother, Taimuraz II (1732-1744), thus laying the ground for the eventual reunification of Kartli and Kakheti.39 The next year the Abkhaz dealt the Turks a devastating blow in western Georgia, and in 1734-1735, Nadir made two campaigns into Transcaucasia. Taimuraz defected to the Iranians, and together the Iranian-Georgian forces liberated Tbilisi in August 1735. The osmanloba was replaced by the kizilbasboba (rule by the kizilbash, or "redheads," as the Safavids were known).




Taimuraz, King of Kakheti


As long as Nadir Shah (1736-1747) dominated Iran, the Iranians were able to maintain their sway over eastern Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. The Russians, who in the post-Petrine period had neither the interest nor the ability to hold their outposts in the Caucasus, signed a treaty by which they abandoned the conquests of Peter the Great south of the Sulak River. Taimuraz ruled in Kakheti as an Iranian governor, while his son, Erekle, campaigned for Nadir in India. The Iranian governor of Kartli, Killij-Ali-Khan (Khanjal), levied new taxes on the Georgians to finance Nadir's wars. Peasants migrated westward to escape the new burdens, and prominent nobles, like the eristavi of Ksani, Shanshe, and the vakili (ruler) of Kartli, Givi Amilakhori, rose in rebellion. Taimuraz and Erekle joined forces with the shah and helped to defeat their rebellious countrymen. As a reward, Taimuraz was crowned king of Kartli (1744-1762), and Erekle became king of Kakheti (1744-1762). Thus, all of eastern Georgia was ruled by Kakhe­tian Bagratids, father and son, but Nadir Shah, their overlord, continued to Impose new taxes on his Georgian subjects. In 1746 Kartli-Kakheti was required to pay three hundred thousand tumanebi in tribute. When, the next year, Nadir was murdered in his tent while on a campaign in the east, Iran fell into civil disarray, and the wily Bagratid kings of Kartli-Kakheti found themselves arbiters of Transcaucasian politics. In the vacuum left by Iran's troubles and Russia's withdrawal, Taimuraz II and his son set out to rebuild Georgia and create a multinational Caucasian state



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Transcaucasia in the mid-eighteenth century was a mosaic of kingdoms, khanates, and principalities, nominally undr either Turkish or Iranian sovereignty but actually maintaining varying degrees of precarious autonomy or independence. Taimuraz and Erekle were faced by three sources of opposition to the expansion of their authority: Georgian rivals, particularly the exiled Mukhranian Bagratids; ambitious Muslim khans of eastern Transcaucasia; and mountaineers from the North Caucasus, who raided the Georgian valleys.