A meaning for the word Nadir is “at it’s lowest point”. In an ironic twist of events, one would see that Nadir Shah’s death led Persia to it’s lowest point and it hasn’t recovered even today.

Eastern Caucusus was always Persian prancing grounds – all the way till Dagestan with rare incursions by the Ottomans. Troubles started soon after Russians started expanding in that direction and the first clash happened in 1722 in which the Russians under Peter the Great took territories till Mazandaran. But it was temporary and the Russians had to retreat back. The strong arm of Nadir Shah ensured that everything stayed under control.

But, things started slipping out of hand from 1747 for Persia when Nadir Shah was murdered – Persian Caucasus which was split into multiple Khanates became effectively independent and as a consequence, Georgia rebelled and along with it, Baku and other Southern Khanates. Yeravan fell in 1751 to Georgia and the first embassy of vassalage was sent in 1752 but Russia was preoccupied elsewhere. Though the seeds are planted, nothing much changed on the ground – when Persians advanced into Caucusus in 1762, Erekle II, the ruler, submitted voluntarily.

Erekle II. - The Tragedy of an Enlightened King
Erkele II

He moved back into Russian zone in 1783 but his troubles didn’t seem to end. Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar overthrew the ruling Zand Dynasty in Persia in  and seized the kingdom in 1794. By 1795, he was in Northern Caucasus demanding allegiance from the Khanates and from Georgia.

He split his armies into three units – the left wing taking Erivan, the right one taking Ganja and the central one, first subduing Karabakh, erupted on Tsibili. Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar sent an ultimatum but Erkele didn’t heed.

Your Highness knows that for the past 100 generations you have been subject to Iran; now we deign to say with amazement that you have attached yourselves to the Russians, who have no other business than trade with Iran . . . Last year you forced me to destroy a number of Georgians, although we had no desire at all for our subjects to perish by our own hand . . . It is now our great will that you, an intelligent man, abandon such things . . . and break relations with the Russians. If you do not carry out this order, then we shall shortly carry out a campaign against Georgia, we will shed both Georgian and Russian blood and out of it will create rivers as big as the Kura…

Georgia refused and Tsibili is sacked. Erkele was carted off at the last minute out of the city to avoid execution. Russians advanced in 1796, taking Derbent, but with the death of Catherine, the troops withdrew. What triggered the actual Russian eruption?

In 1798, Erkele died, leaving 24 claimants to the throne, giving an opportunity for everyone to meddle in Georgian politics. His successor to the throne, George was unfit to rule.

 “Suffering from excess of corpulence and edema, the king mostly lay ill in Tiflis and remained fanatically devout. He was beset by the intrigues of his stepmother, the Dowager Queen Darejan (Darya), who sought to deprive George’s offspring of the throne in favor one of her own sons. His numerous half-brothers ensconced on the large domains assigned to them by their late father and ignored his authority. One of them, Alexander, left for Dagestan and remained in armed opposition to the king and his pro-Russian policies for years.”

This forced him into Russian hands to secure the succession of his son and while the negotiations were on, Russia suddenly annexed Georgia to lay ground for the Russo-French Invasion of India through Caucasus and Persia. Tsar Paul himself was assassinated and his successor, Alexander upheld the annexation, refusing the accession of George’s son David. To counter the Russian hold, Persia planned an invasion but it was postponed due to domestic troubles. But, George’s brother with the support of Avars under Omar Khan invaded Georgia in 1800 but were defeated on the Iori River. This defeat stopped all thoughts of Persian invasion and they recalled their armies back to Tabriz.

The Russian position wasn’t strong enough – or the Persians believed so. Lezgin raids of Georgia was common and Javad Khan of Ganja demanded Shamshadal Province which bordered his lands.

Javad Khan of Ganja

When Russia appointed a new commander at Tsibili, Russia decided to take the fight South – the first target was Ganja. Zavad Khan was also one of the rebelling Khans whom Agha Mohammad Khan brought back into submission during his attack on Tsibili along with Erivan and Karabakh.

The first and main reason I came here is that since the time of Queen Tamara of Georgia, Ganja was owned by the Georgian kings, but because of weakness of them, taken away from Georgia. Russian Empire, taking Georgia into its high-performance protection and citizenship, can not look with indifference to the dissolution of Georgia, and God ascended the Russian empire to keep Ganja. Ganja is through property and part of Georgia, in the hands of strangers. I offer you the surrender the city, come and give the city with the troops, and I, because of the European manner and faith I professed, should not start to shed human blood. But if tomorrow at noon, do not get an answer, the battle will begin, carried by fire and sword, and you will know if I could keep my word.

 Javad Khan was not interested.

 … you wrote:” In the era of Tamar, the land of Dedeh-faal of Ganja was subordinate to Georgia.No one has ever heard of such words. But know that our ancestors like Abbas Qoli Khan and others were rulers of Georgia and if you do not believe this, then ask the old folks of Georgia with regards to the Abbas Qoli Khan and ask them if he was the ruler or not.[As a sign of this proof,] currently, his mosque and market place are in Georgia. And the kingly clothes bestowed upon his servants as well as his letters/documents are with the people of Georgia. From the days of the Erekli Khan’s father and our father, the borders between Ganja and Georgia were clearly defined. And we do not need to mention these facts, because if we say that our ancestors were the sovereigns of Georgia, no one on your side will believe it and they will not bestow Georgia upon us…

…You also wrote, six years ago, I gave away the fort of Ganja to the ruler of Russia. This is true, at that time, your ruler wrote letters to all the provinces of Iran and also to us and we accepted the letter and gave the fort. Whenever the king[of Russia] wrote us a decree with regards to Ganja, then make that decree clear so that we may observe that decree and apply it. And you wrote to us “We were a client of Georgia”, then know it that right now the letter of your king [the king of Russia] is in our hands and in that letter, you can see that our title was Beglarbegi of Ganja and not a client of Georgia and thus your words are in contradiction with your [own] decree. And the other thing that when we get under the rule of the Russian king, the Iranian king were to Khorasan and we could not reach him, and due to that [fact] the king of Russia is also great, we accepted his obedience, but now, thanks to god, the Iranian king is near and his servant general has come to us and also his army, and more of them will come [to help us]…

…And whenever you seek for a battle, know that we are ready for battle and if you boast about your cannon and guns, thanks to the mercy God, our cannon and guns is no less than yours. And if your cannons are one gaz know that our cannons are three/four gazs and victory is [only] due to God. And how do you know if you are braver than the Qizilbash, you have seen yourself fighting but have not seen the fighting of the Qizilbash. And you have written that to us to be ready for battle. From the time that you came to Shamss al-Dinlu and brought our people under your command, we have been preparing and we are ready for the day of battle if you want to fight. And when you wrote:” If you do not accept our words in this letter then misfortune will strike”, we know such thoughts have brought you here. Fate has brought you from Saint Petersburg to that misfortune here. With the will of God, the highest, may your misfortune become apparent.

 After a month long siege, Ganja fell. Javad Khan fell fighting in the frontlines along with his eldest son. His family was taken prisoner and sent to Russia while his second son fled to Persia. The brutality of the fight and stiff resistance means that when Ganja fell, at least 3000 people were slaughtered. The seriousness of the fight means that Russia renamed Ganja as Elizabethapol after their queen and the name stayed till the end of Russian Empire.

Javad Khan sent a request to Persia for help but the relief force didn’t reach Ganja on time – both because of the cold and because of rebellion in Erivan Khanate.

The sack of Ganja was a game changer – it’s no more about border kingdoms changing allegiance, but attacking Persia proper itself.

The sack of Ganja was followed by invasion of Erivan Khanate where the Russians under Pavel Tsitsianov faced the Persians under the Persian Crown Prince Abbas Mirza in person. The Russian invasion was a disaster – their attempts to take Yeravan and Echmiadzin failed and coupled with a rebellion in Georgia due to the high handed policies of the Russians, Russians had to beat a hasty retreat. This set the stage for further Russian encroachments in all directions.

The first two years of the Persian war involved the conquest of the Khanates. In 1804, Russia took Ganja but was defeated by the Persians when it tried to take Yerevan. Next year it took Shaki and Karabakh. Persia sent an army to rescue Karabakh and was defeated. By early 1806 Shirvan and the Caspian coast were taken. Russia now had all the Persian territory it would ever get, except Talysh, Yerevan and Nakhichevan.

The Persian front became quiet when the Turkish war started. In 1808, Gudovich failed to take Yerevan and resigned. In 1812, Abbas Mirza invaded eastern Karabakh, defeating the Russian garrisons. Pyotr Kotlyarevsky was sent east, defeated the Persians at Aslanduz, crossed the steppe and bloodily captured the capital of Talysh. In 1813, Persia signed the Treaty of Gulistan which recognized the Russian possession of the khanates.


Armenia, Talysh and Nakhchivan Khanates were taken by 1828 and absorbed into Russia.


This partition still stays as the permanent border for Iran though Russia imploded into indepenedent countries.

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