Author: Smbat Minasyan - E-mail
Why have we forgotten Armenians from Samtskhe-Javakhk?
How many of us - Armenians in whole world know the location of this historical Armenian territory with its
ethnic Armenian population?
Who knows how they live on the other side of Armenian border. It seems that it is so close to Armenia, but at
the same time it is so far from it.
JAVAKHK DURING THE ANCIENT PERIOD AND IN THE MIDDLE AGES
- was the thirteenth of the fifteen provinces of Metz Hayk (Armenia
Maior) Kingdom of Historical Armenia. It occupied the northern part of
the Armenian Highland and bordered on Utik in the east, Tayk in the
west, Ayrarat in the south, and Iberia (Georgia) in the north. Gugark,
that represented one of the four vitaxates (bdeshkh,
բդեշխություն) of the Armenian
Kingdom, enjoyed certain independence, its administrative center being
the town of Tsurtav. Its nine principal districts were Dzoropor,
Koghbopor, Tzobopor, Tashir, Treghk, Kangark, Kgharjk,
Verin (upper) Javakhk
(Ջավախք) and Artahan (Ardahan,
As attested by the
(kingdom of Van)
inscriptions of the late 9th century B.C.,
the name of "Javakhk" is an altered version of the name of
a state located in the northern part of the Armenian Highland. In the
course of time, this Armenian toponym underwent the following
phonetic transformations: Zabakha-Jabakha-Javakhk1.
The available sources treating the period of the
Orontid (Yervanduni) Kingdom (6th to 2nd centuries B.C.) contain
almost no records with direct reference to Javakhk. Mention can be
made of only two notable references found in the History of the
Armenians by Moses Khorenatsi (Մովսես Խորենացի)
and Kartlis Tskhovreba.
The great Armenian Historian writes that Vagharshak
I bequeathed "...half of Chavakh..." to Gushar, descended from the
sons of Sharay, and appointed him bdeshkh (vitaxa, բդեշխ)
of the province so that he would defend the Armenian
land against the North Caucasian Highlanders.
Greek historian Srabo, who bears
witness to the recapture of the aforementioned territories from the
Georgians, writes that in the 2nd century B.C.,
Armenian King Artashes (Artaxiad) I (189 to 160 B.C.) returned
Gugark, from the Iberians and made it part of his country together
with other lands.
The period of the
(Artashesyan) (189 B.C. to 1 A.D) and
Arshakid (66 to 428 A.D.) Dynasties is very poor in any mention of
Javakhk. Information about the district can be obtained only in
records relatind to the whole province of Gugark. The latter kept its
position as the northern defense province of Metz Hayk until the fall
of the Arshakids in 428 A.D. It was not separated from the territory
of the Armenian kingdom even in the first half of the 1st century A.D
(1 to 52), when the Armenian throne was also occupied by the
Georgians among other foreigners.
It is Notable in the early 4th
century, when Armenia (301 A.D.) and Georgia (320 to 330s A.D.) were
being converted to Christianity, Gugark, along with Javakhk, retained
its importance as one of the strongest vitaxates of the Armenian
kingdom. Its governoer, the vitaxa, who was called "the other vitaa,"
enjoyed a special position and particular influence in the
Armenian Royal Court. He was one of the 16 noblemen who were chosen by
Trdat III the Great to escort St. Gregory, the future first Armenian
Catholicos, to Caesarea, where he was to be ordained. The vitaxa had
After the partition of Armenia in 387. the
Arshakids' influence over Gugark and Javakhk considerably weakened.
After collapse of the Armenian Arshakid Kingdom in 428, these
territories were annexed to the Georgian state, which was a subject of
the Sassanid Kingdom of Persia (Iran). Although Georgia represented a
simple marzpanutyun, it was still considered a vitaxate.
After the fall of the Arshakid Dynasty, the
Armenian Apostolic Church retained its influence over Georgia, despite
the fact that the latter was attempting to acquire certain
The District of Javakhk is again mentioned in
the mid-7th century in connection with the
Arab invasions. Contemporary historian Hovhan Mamikonian writes in
"The History of Taron" that Arab commander "...Abdrahim led his army
though Hayk, Basen, Virk, Javakhk and Vanand, where he collected taxes
and returned to Arabia."
Javakhk suffered the Arab domination for nearly
a century, until the early part of the 9th century.
The circumstances of Javakhk's Liberation were
as follows: after Nerseh Kamsarakan's murder (785A.D.), Prince Ashot
Bagratid, who had committed himself to the restitution of the Armenian
territories from the Arabs, purchased Arsharunik and Shirak from the
prince's descendants and thus approached the borders of Javakhk. In
the early 9th century, while escaping the pursuit of Arab commander
Khalil, who had invaded Georgia, the troops of Ashot Kyurapaghat
reached Lake Parvana. The enemy army, that soon arrived there,
suffered a total defeat by Ashot's troops. This means that after the
victory won at the battle of Parvana, Javakhk presumably became part
of the territories of the
Between the 70s and 80s of the 10th century,
most of the province of Gugark constituted part of Lori or Kyurikian (Gugark,
Dzoraget) Armenian Kingdom, while Verin Javakhk and, particularly,
Gogshen i.e. its southern part, remained under the Armenian Bagratid's
influence for some time.
In the early 11th century, the Georgian
Bagratids commenced founding defensive installations in Javakhk in
order to strengthen their positions there. Bagrat III built and
fortified a settlement which was called Nor Kaghak (New City), the
name being equivalent to the Georgian word 'akhalkalak' ('akhali'
is the Georgian equivalent for 'new', and 'kalaki' is that for
In 1064 Armenia and Georgia were subjected to
the Seljuk Incursions. Sultan Alp-Aslan occupied Akhalkalak amongst
other Transcaucasian cities.
Sharing the fate of the other districts, Javakhk
suffered the domination of different rulers throughout the 12th
century. In August 1175, the troops of Yeldkuz, the sultan-atabek of
Gandzak, raided Javakhk and Treghk. Georgi III (1156 to 1184) escaped
confrontation and did not repel the advancing Selkjuk army. Having
destroyed Ani and Shirak, Yeldkuz "... similarly devastated
Akhalkaghak and Javakhet and returned to Dvin, where he and many of
his high ranking people died." As testified by the historian of Queen
Thamara (1184 to 1213), it was only in the late 12th century that the
territory extending from Javakhk to Sper was subjected to Georgian
dominion thanks to the victory the brothers Zakare and Ivane Zakarian
had won against the Seljuks. The territories which had
released from Seljuks, Georgian
court gave to the Armenian Zakarians, who established their own
In the mid-'20s of the 13th
century, Javakhk was raided by Jalal ad-Din, a Central Asian rular,
whose invasions where followed by those of the Mongols in the '30s.
However, the Zakarians retained their autonomy in several districts,
including Javakhk. In 1245, by new administrative partition, Javakhk
was left to the Tori people under the control of the Mongols. In 1266,
taking advantage of the conflict between the Georgian kings and
the Mongols, Sargis Jaghetsy, the master of the fort of Tmuk,
established the large prinicipality of Samtskhe, which covered the
territory from Tashir to Erzrum, including Javakhk. The prince of the
region bore the title of Atabek, his principality being called
Saatabago, i. e. 'Subject to Atabek.' In Armenian sources, it is known
as Ishkhanats Yerkir (Land of Princes).
Many researchers who consider the Meskh tribe of
Samtskhe an Armeno-Kartvelian, or purely Armenian ethnic group, veiw
the foundation of the principality as "a manifestation of the
Meskhetians' willfulness." i.e. a formation of a state on the basis of
naional identity This principality, set up in the north and northwest
of Armenia, mainly consisted of Armenians. Until the early 14th
century, it paid a certain amount of taxes to the Mongols. From the
14th until 15th centuries, the principality struggled against Kartli,
Timur, and his successors, i.e. the Timurians, as well as the Turkoman
Koyunlu tribes. It maintained its independence until 1535.. The
political center of Armenian Samtskhe-Javakhk principality was moved
from Tmpgapert to Akhaltskha, in Nerkin Javakhk (often quoted as
Samtskhe, diverting from the word "Somekh", that is country of the ‘Somekhs’,
which means Armenian in the Georgian language!).
The Samtskhe-Javakhk had to face many Persian or
Ottoman invasions, but managed to keep its independance. It’s one of
these episodes that is related in the famous work of Hovhannes
Tumanian, "The Capture of Tmpgapert".
In 1535 Kings Bagrat III of Imeret
and Luarsab I of Kartli, with the assistance of the ruler of Guria,
defeated the troops of the atabek of Samtshke near Murjakhet Village
of Javakhk and occupied Akhalkalak and Akhaltskha. In this way these
cities and the adjacent territories temporarily shifted into the
control of Imeret.
In 1545 the Ottoman Turks conquered the
region and appointed Kaykhosro, probably a descendant of one of the
loacl princely families, as Governor of the subjected
territories. Two years later, in 1547 assisted by Turkey's archenemy,
the Persian Safavids, he revolted against the Ottomans and gained
independence. In 1549 the large Turkish army succeeded in suppressing
the rebellion after a bloody struggle that lasted one and a half
months. In 1555 Turkey and Persia signed an armistice according to
which Javakhk passed to Persia, and Samtskhe to the Ottoman Empire. In
1578 the Turko-Persian war was resumed, and the Turks again invaded
Samtskhe and Javakhk.
In 1639, by the armistice of Kasr-e-Shirin
signed between the Ottoman Empire and Persia, the Turks forcibly put
entire Western Armenia, Akhaltskha, and Akhalkalak under their
control. As early as the 17th century. Akhaltskha and Akhalkalak had
been part of the newly-established vilayet of Cheldr (later Akhalstkha).
The territory of Historical Javakhk was partitioned into several
self-governing districts having the status of liva-janjaks. This
marked the beginning of a long and dreadful period of Turkish
domination in the region.
Throughout the 17-th to 18th centuries, as a
result of emigration, mass slaughters, forced conversion to Islam, and
the penetration of Turkish speaking ethnic elements, the number of
Muslims consideralby increased both in the entire province of
Akhaltskha and the districts of Javakhk (they were known by the
collective geographical name of Meskhetian).
The "Big Daftar of Gurjistan" (The Big Register
of Georgia), is in fact an internal fiscal document of the Ottoman
administration, where are mentioned all the cities and towns of the
"Georgian provinces" incorporated in the empire, spread from Adjaria
to Artvin, from Ardahan to Javakhk. ... (The word Armenia being banned
in Ottoman Turkey). In this register are mentioned not only the towns,
but equally the name of the ‘Res’ of the towns, the number of homes,
the amount of the sums to collect, and the religion of the towns, that
is their ethnic membership.
The study of this register shows, that before
the big slaughters perpetrated by the Turks in 1827-28, the population
in Javakhk was in a very wide proportion still Armenian, faithful to
the Armenian Apostolic church, and was subordinated to the Arshbishop
of Garin (Karin) (Erzeroum), himself under the authority of the
Katolikos of Etchmiadzine. The document shows that the Mtshkhetian
Turks are mostly installed in the town of Akhaltskha and its
surroundings. That there were some Kurdish nomadic tribes too, in the
valley of the Kour river, and some Greek orthodox communities
essentially on the shores of the Kour and West of Akhaltskha, just
like the presence of an important Jewish community in Akhaltskha,....
and finally that there were some Georgian families around Borjom and
represented an infirm minority in Akhaltskha city! This turkish
document is an undeniable proof that there was no Georgian presence in
Verin Javakhk, and only some rare communities in Nerkin Javakhk .....
Then came the Russo-Turkish war of 1827- 28,
when occurred the rebellion of the Armenian populations, facilitating
the liberation of Armenia by the troops of the Russian Tzar. At this
date, virtually the whole of the Erkir is liberated, the Russians
capturing Garin (Erzeroum) and attaining the Euphratus. ..