Why Did The Mongols Invade Armenia?

Throughout history, Armenia has seen periods of absolute independence but it has also been invaded by many peoples, such as the Parthians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Mongols and Turkic tribes. The Mongol  Empire existed during the 13th and 14th centuries and was the largest contiguous land empire in history. At some point in the 13th century, the invasive strategy of the Mongol army was also pointed at the Armenian kingdom. But why? A scholar in Mongol studies, Bayarsaikhan Dashdondog, Ph.D. (DPhill) in Oriental Studies, University of Oxford, who is a researcher/lecturer at the National University of Mongolia, wrote an interesting paper on the subject.

The Emergence Of The Mongols In The Lands Of The Armenians

Prior to the 13th century, Armenians hardly knew anything about the existence of the Mongols. According to Dashdondog, the reason why the Mongols ended up entering the Caucasus had to do with their occupation of territories in Central Asia. Here they came in contact with a group of Kipchach Turks also known as the Khwārazmians. This nomadic Turkic tribe of peoples was already expanding its Khanate in Central Asia. Originally coming from the area along the Irtysh between the Altai and Tarbagatai mountain ranges. To put it more exactly, it was a territory between the north-western parts of Xinjiang, China and East Kazakhstan stretching towards Central and East Asia, where Russia, China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan come together. The emergence of the Mongols put an end to the Khwārazmian Empire, causing its rulers to flee.

A divided Armenian landscape

At that time of the Mongol appearance, Armenia was divided between different powers who controlled different parts of the Armenian territory.  The western part of Greater Armenia had been under the rule of the Seljuqs / Saljuqs of Rūm since the 1220s.The northern and eastern parts had been ruled by the Georgian Bagratid dynasty since 1089, and in the south, parts of the land had been under the political domination of the Ayyubids since 1208. Only some of the southern territories were under the control of the Armenian Ishkhans (princes). Of these, the Tornikids/Mamikonians ruled in Sasun and the Arts‘runids in the districts of Mokk‘ and Rshtunik‘ in Vaspurakan.

20 Years Of Raids, Diplomacy & Military Activity

 The Mongol invasion of Greater Armenia took place over twenty years and was achieved through raids, diplomatic pressure, and military activities. It was not a sweeping invasion but proceeded in several phases which were related to each other and were well coordinated. The phases of the Mongol conquest of Armenia can be identified as follows: 

  1. Scouting expeditions
  2. Initial conquest and allotment of Armenian land under Mongol lordship
  3. The final invasion

An unplanned invasion?

The emergence of the Mongols into the lands of the Armenians was not planned beforehand. In general, the decision to launch a Mongol expedition was made at the quriltai (assembly) or by the order of Chinggis Khan. Since Muhammad Khwārazm-shāh had fled to a lonely island in the Caspian Sea and died there in 1220, and his son Jalāl al-Dīn (1220-31) had fled to India in 1221, the Mongols after passing through Hamadan (Iran) withdrew to the Mughan plain. We can only speculate why the attention of the Mongol generals, who were sweeping across Iran, was suddenly focused on another direction, towards Armenia and Georgia. 

  1. One of the reasons may have been the severe winter of 1220-21, which made the generals Jebe and Sübedei choose the Mughan plain as a winter camping ground.
  2. Another factor was, probably, a reconnoitering expedition, in which Armenia was discovered by the Mongols for the very first time. These raids paved the way for further penetration of the Mongols into Armenian lands.

Either way, the Mongols ended up succeeding in attaching Armenia to their Empire by either the sword or through negotiation.

To read the full paper “Mongol Noyans in Armenia” by Bayarsaikhan Dashdondog, Ph.D. click here.

Hovik Torkomyan historyofarmenia.org




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