Under Persians, Karabakh, the only one among the fragments of the once great Armenian kingdom, retained as monuments of past greatness the patrimonial inheritances of Armenian meliks (princes, rulers of the Artsakh principality) that occupied the vast space between Araks and the Kurak Rivers.
General of the Russian Army V. A. Potto, the “Nestor” of the history of the Caucasus and a military historian, covers this in his fundamental study “The First Volunteers of Karabakh” published in 1902 in Tiflis.
“In Artsakh, or in Lower Karabakh, patrimonial inheritances were Dizak, Varanda, Khachen, Charopert (Jraberd), and Gulistan. These constituted the Karabakh domain, as the old Russian acts mention it,” writes Potto. He adds that the mountainous part of Karabakh, Syunik or Zangezur, contained only one significant princedom surrounded by the lands of other smaller Armenian possessions – Kashatagh. The other crucial region adjacent to Araks itself was mainly inhabited by Tatar nomads.
The Armenian meliks, according to Potto, managed to retain their old inheritance rights and even retain their political system in the country until the very beginning of the 19th century. Throughout the centuries, their inheritance rights were asserted by the Persian shahs.
The meliks were vassals of Persia and paid tribute to them. But at the same time, they retained political independence in the internal management of their lands, had “their own court and law enforcement”, fortified castles, and even their own squads that guarded the region against Lezgins and Turks.
As a result of the “contestation” between the Turks and the Persians over “dominion over the Transcaucasia”, the meliks “declined” over time since “all these peoples” – Turks and Persians – equally left behind themselves devastated fields and burnt villages.
“From year to year, for centuries, this relentless, painful struggle dragged on, and the small Christian people heroically stood in the midst of the Muslim world around them,” writes Potto.
After the death of Shah-Nadir who “valued the courage of the Karabakh meliks” and attempted to support them with all his mighty power, a series of internecine wars over the throne began in Artsakh. In 1748, the leader of the Jevanshir tribe, one Panakh, raised his nomadic Tatars and proclaimed himself a Karabakh khan.
“At first, the Meliks still retained internal control. But it was obvious that under his [Panakh’s] successor Ibrahim Khan, this independence would have to collapse because Ibrahim had belonged to those Asian despots who would not tolerate anyone’s independence, even less so if we are talking about Christian meliks,” notes Potto.
It should be noted that the study of Vasily Potto titled “The first volunteers of Karabakh in the era of the Russian rule (meliks Vani and Hakop-Yuzbashi Atabekovs)” dedicated to the history of the Atabekov family is based on many sources, which allowed the author to most accurately describe the history and image of the brave Armenian volunteers from the Atabekov dynasty, as well as highlight the period of the entry of Eastern Armenia into the Russian Empire and the historical events of the first quarter of the 19th century.