Artsakh and Syunik Principalities: The Legacy of David Bek

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In the vast annals of Armenian history, the Artsakh and Syunik principalities stand out as regions of immense significance, both geographically and culturally. These territories, which once thrived as independent entities, played crucial roles in preserving Armenian identity, culture, and Christian faith amidst ongoing external threats. A central figure emblematic of their resilience and valor is David Bek.

Geographical and Historical Background

Artsakh and Syunik, located in the southern part of the Armenian highlands, are historically significant regions. Artsakh, known today as Nagorno-Karabakh, boasts rich pastures, dense forests, and a mountainous terrain that has historically provided a natural defense against invaders. Syunik, to the southeast of Artsakh, has served as a natural buffer between Armenia and foreign empires, such as the Persians, Mongols, and Turks.

David Bek: A Symbol of Resistance

David Bek, a military leader and strategist of the 18th century, epitomized the spirit of resistance in the region. At a time when the Armenian territories were under the constant threat of Ottoman and Persian invasions, David Bek led a series of successful rebellions against these foreign dominations, particularly in Syunik.

Inspired by his commitment to the Christian faith and Armenian sovereignty, David Bek rallied troops, consolidated the territories of Artsakh and Syunik, and led them to several significant victories. His tactics not only involved confrontation but also guerilla warfare, leveraging the mountainous terrains of the regions.

Legacy and Cultural Impact

The story of David Bek has transcended time, becoming a symbol of Armenian resistance against oppression. His life and feats have been depicted in various forms of Armenian art, literature, and even cinema. The film “David Bek” (1944) is a classic that portrays his life and the struggles of the Armenian people during his leadership.

Moreover, his leadership has been instrumental in sowing the seeds of self-determination and resilience in the Armenian psyche, ideals that have been invoked during various phases of Armenian history, especially during moments of external threat.

Chronology of battles

In the liberation struggle, an important role was played by the movement in Syunik under the leadership of David-Bek. By 1723, an independent principality was proclaimed in Syunik, which was soon completely cleared of foreign invaders.

However, if at the first stage David-Bek had to fend off Persian vassals (khans and beks), by 1725 a new, far more powerful enemy appeared on the horizon – the Ottoman army. The Turks had a long-standing goal – to subdue all of Armenia.

However, this campaign was unsuccessful for the Turks. In the first battles in the spring of 1725, the Armenians managed to repel the enemy. In June of the same year, the Turks launched a new attack, but again suffered a defeat.

In 1726, the main forces of the Turks advanced on Syunik and, overcoming the heroic resistance of the Armenians, occupied a large part of the region. In the spring of 1727, after numerous battles, David-Bek fortified himself with his detachment in the Alidzor fortress.

Having besieged the fortress, the Ottoman army launched a decisive assault, which, however, ended in vain. The besieged brave men switched to active defense and on the 7th day of unequal battles, coming out of the fortress at night, they unexpectedly attacked the enemy, who panicked and fled, suffering huge losses.

After the brilliant victory near Alidzor, David-Bek pursued the enemy. The Turks received a new heavy blow near the village of Megri, where they were again defeated by the Armenians. After these victories, the authority of the Armenian prince grew so much that the Persians recognized this principality and formed an alliance with him against the Turks.

Another focus of the Armenian liberation movement was Artsakh, where five Armenian feudal principalities – melikdoms, remained. The armed detachments of Artsakh were first personally subordinated to the Gandzasar Catholicos Yesai Hasan-Jalalyan, and later to Avan Yuzbashi.

In cooperation with the Georgian king Vakhtang VI and David-Bek in 1722-24, brilliant victories were won over the Turks and Persians. In 1725, the Turks fled the battlefield. In 1726, having only a few thousand warriors and peasants of Artsakh, they defeated a 40,000-strong Ottoman army. The Ottomans also suffered a defeat in July 1727.

These victories made the whole world admire the Armenians. The royal general Dolgoruky wrote in one of the reports to the Russian court: “Only God protects the Armenians, otherwise it is unclear how they can withstand such a powerful enemy.”

Miracles were also demonstrated by other cities and villages, including Yerevan, Lori, and many others. However, it would still be a century before the liberation of Eastern Armenia…

Vigen Avetisyan

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