Sadly neglected in modern history works, the 1804-1813 conflict is a topic
which should attract further interest to any discerning researcher of military
The conflict started as a territorial dispute between the strong powers
Persian Empire and Imperial Russia. Fath Ali Shah Quajar,
a determined Persian monarch, had resolved giving priority to consolidating
the reaches of the Qajar dynasty in the northern sphere of strategic
To prop up against Russian expansionism, military priorities were established
by the Shah’s high ranking officers; and they focused securing
the territories near the southwestern cost of the Caspian’s sea. That
is the region of modern
, plus the Transcaucaus – a most mountaneous country that includes
. Czar Alexander I had determined to gain these areas and to put them under
Russia’s political and military supremacy. The challenge was taken, and the
military results which ensued were to prove bloody and damaging.
In the year 1804, Russian army contingents were quickly organized; troops
were moved on the offensive, and were sent to capture the Persian stronghold
Yerevan, a mighty fortressed site – with a cannon factory
and arsenal – that guarded the strategic marches with the
At the head of the expeditionary force stood a man whose brutality and uncontrolled
temper made him a distinguished and feared personality: Prince Pavel Dmitriyevich
Tsitsianov. All the mobile forcess were placed under his authority. However,
military circumstances were not predictable and the Georgian general was
forced to withdraw his fighting units.
The Russian strategy proved to be ineffectual and turned into failure,
and it thus forced a number of Armenian notables, their families, and their
retainers to seek refuge to
Basically, he thought that is was due to this emerging factor that the
Persian forces had succeeded in holding out against the Russian, and tenaciously
manning their lines of fire and resistance.
In his discerning reflections Tsitsianov could not restrain from thinking
that the Georgian cause (i.e. Russian) had failed to be adequately sustained
by local popular power.
His analysis sensibly focused on the manifest political limitation that
had to be considered the first factor of damage, and which further conditioned
the Russian failure.
Dismayed at the stalemate of 1804 besieging operations, the haughty Georgian
prince did not hesitate to write quite a resentful reprimand. It was
the year 1805; and the content was of much rough nature. The recipients – Melik
Abraham and Yüzbashi Gabriel – were two prominent personalities
of the Armenian notables.
"Unreliable Armenians with Persian souls -- You may for now eat our
bread, hoping that you may purchase it. But if by next fall your people
have not planted enough grain to have a surplus for sale, then be warned
that by spring I shall chase you not only to Erevan but to Persia.
Georgia is not required to feed parasites. As to
your request to save the Armenians of
Erevan, who are dying in the hands of unbelievers: do traitors deserve
Let them die like dogs; they deserve it.
Last year when I surrounded the Erevan fortress, the Armenians of
Erevan, who do not deserve even a grain of pity, were in control of Narin-Kale ––––– [note:
an outlying bastion]. They could have surrendered it to me but did not,
and you, Yüzbashi, being the main advisor of Mohammad Khan of
Erevan, were in league with them and helped the khan in his intrigues and
lies against me.
Now you have fled, and God has punished you for betraying the favors of
his Imperial Majesty.
Do you think I am like other generals, who do not realize that Armenians
and Tatars are willing to sacrifice thousands for their own benefit?
[...] Do you, therefore, think that I can rely on the word of two yüzbashis
and Persians, who promise to surrender the fortress upon the appearance
of Russian forces?"
Early in 1806, to secure Russian dominion from the Black Sea to the Caspian
Sea, Tsitsianov organized an expedition against the Fortress of Baku(1);
his army troops were conjointly supported from the sea by Zavalishin’s
Tsitsianov intended to capture the inner city through the Gosha Gala gates.
Under the circumstances, he requested the Khan to permit a garrison
force counting some of 600 to 1,000 Russian soldiers to enter the city walled
perimeter – much probably, a shrewdly thought escamotage to
occupy the place.
At first, the khan seemed much benevolent welcoming the Russian, and
sensibly agreed to meet Tsitsianov himself in front of the Double Fortress
Gates. But the odds were heavily stacked against the military occupation. On
February 8th, while riding out to negotiate the capitulation of the fortress
with the Khan of
Baku(2), Tsitsianov was treacherously assassinated. He
was shot(3) by Ibrahim, the cousin of the Khan; however
regrettable the incident was, his death was little lamented.
Such was the terror inspired by Tsitsianov.
And as a proof of his devotion to the Persian power (and to avoid any silent
stub), the khan promptly sent his head and hands to the Shah. His
mutilated body was hastly buried in front of the Shamakhy gates, the location
where the murder had been committed.
Newly appointed Russian leaders were more tactful and diplomatic in their
relations. Although the Armenians of
Yerevan were found to be suitable allies, the chances of them liberating themselves
by a military uprising seemed a fairly remote possibility. The Persian
garrison was much too strong, and to be counted as many as a 1000 to 3000
men ready to fight. In 1808, a new attempt at the hands of
General Ivan Vasilyevich Gudovich(4) failed once
more. And the Russian troops had to retreat to
Yerevan remained a militarized town, and the site of a strong
presidial garrison, but the fortress started gradually losing its strategic
With the death of Tsitsianov, the
Caucasus was deprived of the stunning capabilities of a man of undisputed
ability. Faithfully devoted to expanding Russian civilization, but
in contrast to sharp military conquest, he tried to mitigate the influences
and abject strictness of imperialism by respecting local traditions.
1801: 18 January: Emperor Paul issued a manifesto and decided
to annex the kingdom of Georgia to the Russian crown; on October 12th, shortly
after Paul’s death, Emperor Alexander I confirmed the annexation – and
Imperial troops reached Tiflis (April 1802), because the Czar felt that maintaining
a presence in the capital was critically important.
Eastern Georgia and Daghestan came under Russian protection.
Tsar Alexander I abolished the
Kartli-Kakhetia, and the heir to the Bagratid throne was forced to abdicate.
Hegemony soon turned into straight armed conquest; to secure a permanent
strategic holding on
, Tsitsianov exercised a classical principle of dominance to extend his control
over the Azerbaijani khanates.
Shaki, Shirvan and Qarabagh choose to sign peace treaties with
; and surrendered their rights to wage wars and to conduct autonomous foreign
Ganja, Belokan and Ganja were instead subjected to conquest, and further
incorporated into Russian Empire as uezd.
1803: Balakan is occupied by Russian troops; November 20:
the Russian army moved from Tiflis against Ganja; December: Tsitsianov started
the siege operations; 1804, 3 January: the fortress of Ganja is taken by
Russians; Javad Khan is killed in battle; 1804: Russian forces are
defeated near Zaqat; 1804: Prince Tsitsianov fought a three days battle against
the Persian troops at Echmiadzin.
1805, 14 May: Tsitsianov forces the Khan of Karabagh
to submit; 21 May: Shaki is annexed to the Russian Empire; summer: on the
River Askerani, and near Zagam, Imperial troops succeeded defeating the Persian
army, thus saving Tiflis from destruction; 25 December: Shirvan (Shamakha)
is annexed to
1802-1806: administration of Infantry General Prince Pavel Dmitrievich Tsitsianov;
1806-1809: administration of the General Field Marshal Count Ivan Vasilyevitch
Gudovitch; 1809-1811: administration of Cavalry General Alexander Petrovitch
Tormasov; 1811-1816: administration of General-Lieutenant Marquis Philip
Osipovitch Paulucci, and Infantry General Nikolai Fyodorovitch Rtishtchev;
1816-1827: administration of General Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov.
Pavel Dmitrievich Tsitsianov belonged to an ancient Georgian family (Tsitsishvili).
His aristocratic birth, and his native origins, were of princely extraction.
He was born in
Moscow on September 8th, 1754. In his early thirties (1786) he was
promoted to the rank of commander in the Grenadier Regiment of St. Petersburg;
he participated in the Russo-Turkish War (1787-1791), and experienced
further military campaigning in the suppression of the Polish rebellion led
by Thaddeus Kosciuszko (a native of Siechnowica, Eastern Poland; February
4, 1746) in the year 1794. In 1796, in the Persian expedition, he acted
as an assistant to the commander-in-chief Valerian A. Zubov (1771-1804).
One year later, he left active army service, only to resume it in 1802. At
that time, he was appointed infantry inspector of the Caucasus, Military
Astrakhan, and commander-in-chief of
His talents were prolific, and he succeeded concluding treaties of
reciprocal friendship with some Dagestani feudal lords. In 1803 his troops
conquered the fortress of Djaro-Belokan; in 1804, it was instead annexed
the Gyandji Khanate. Overcoming the political opposition of the Georgian
feudal aristocracy, he achieved – – through cunning negotiation – the
joying of Imeretia and Megrelia to Russian’s shere of political dominance.
In the Russo-Iranian conflict (1804-1805), the Russian warlord first repulsed
Abbas-Mirza’s Persian troops offensive, and then defeated them. Shekin,
Karabakh, the Shirvani Khanates and the Shurageli sultanate were annexed
in 1805. Tsitsianov’s ashes were transported to
Tiflis, and buried in Sion Cathedral (1811).
Transcaucasican Geo-Political Strategies
A Prince of Georgian extraction, Tsitsianov (1754-1806) was surely one of
the most distinctive figures of his time. His personality is certainly
most complex, and his attitudes towards the Asian people, and the Asian sphere
of strategic influences, were subjected – and conditioned – to
the severe political necessities and military emergencies in that eventful
time of uninterrupted geo-political incongruences, local intrigues, and endless
struggles to gain the supremacy in the Transcaucasica. A Russianized
Georgian, Tsitsianov became the Russian commander-in-chief in the Caucasus,
and the years following the annexation of
were marked by his tenacious will and relentless dynamics of conquest.
Consequentially, his military thinking resented the failures of his time. At
a time (1801), after having been appointed General Commander in the Caucasian
region, his strategic thinking was well defined and relied on subjective
evidence. The Prince perorated that only the severe and decisive
dispositions could gain over the lack of discipline and stubborness of the
Asian peoples who were long past accustomed to unlimited despotic authority. It
is known that he often lamented with the Emperor about the topic, and that
he considered that these foreign etnikoi would have certainly distorted
the equanimous applications and generous effort of the Russian administration
as a display of weakness.
Tsitsianov’s ferocity singularly embodied the limitations of Russian
imperialism, and his applications were quite often a methodology of sufferings
and blood shedding for the local populations. His methods bore resemblance
to the proficiencies of an Asian monarch, and the languages of force and
fear were the distinguishing attributes of his dominance. Further,
his viceroyalty effectively exhibited an uncontained spirit of belligerence
which denoted high aggressiveness.
The drive to expand Russian domination in the Transcaucasican region was
exceedingly sauvage and militarized. Once the submission to
the Russian ruler was gained, all the predicaments of military art ceased
and the views to existing social structures became conciliatory. Although
Tsitsianov wanted to be feared, he knew that his military cadres were inadequate
to sustain protracted warfare and synergic efforts against the oriental enemy
In March 1803, Tsitsianov’s determination reached the apex of his
vigorous will. Hostilities broke out between the Russian forces and
the Leghi. Once more, Tsitsianov envisaged his strategic option on
the mainspring of fear:
"Has one already seen on earth that a fly entered in pourparler with
the eagle? To the strong is properly to order, and the weak is born
to be submissive to the strong."
Traits of his behaviour conformed to the sheer necessity, and to the unitive
facetings of his stout personality; his privileged roughness of manners,
and to be good and keeping faith to his word. All of these choices
denoted a symbiotic parallelism with the functions of an ancient Persian
satrap – honeyed words and flatteries regarding the oriental etnikoi were
forgotten. The cohesive unification of
to the Russian domain proved Tsitsianov’s towering capabilities, and
it appeared to be a most striking political – and military – achievement
early in XIXth Century.
Georgia’s extended territories had been dismembered for almost 400
years. The region of Mingelia, the western part of the new acquisition
Black Sea, was persuaded to join the sphere of Russian strategic dominance,
while another part of the Georgian kingdom – Imeretia– was forced
into benevolent pourparler under Russian threat. The capital, Kutais,
was consequentially exposed to the pernicious influences of the Russian power,
and the circumstances proved fatal to its collapse after the 1804 submission. The
conquest and annexation of the semi-independent Persian khanates was another
phase of strategic importance.
Tsitsianov’s troops succeeded in capturing the flowering town of
Gandja, which represented the main seat of Islamic culture in the
Caucasus. To honour the graces of the Imperial tsarina Elisabeth,
the wife of Alexander I, the location was renamed Yelizavetpol. The
success was followed by further military pushing; that same year, another
major attack was carried out on the khanate of
Erivan. The Persian troops under the authority of Abbas Mirzan were
defeated after the military confrontation at Echmiadzin, but the fortified
Yerevan – which was considered the main strategic stronghold in the
region – held out valiantly against any attack of the Russian.
This unexpected failure severely enraged Tsiastinov, but it only partially
impeded his military ambitions. However, in 1805, Russian expansion
continued; and the khans of Karabagh and Shekeen were forced into
submission. The final part of the conquest contemplated to secure
the newly acquired dominion from the Black to
Caspian Sea. Because of this, Russian attention turned to
Fighting the Persians
Tsitsianov was a resolute military leader; and feared nothing, no effort,
and no enemy threat. His military disputations with the Persian
forces caused quite a sensation. Uncontained in his courage, he did
not hesitate to promptly organize his army. In the year 1804, he organized
a combat force counting some thousand soldiers; however, the equivalences
on the ground did not surpass an operative asset of 4,000 men.
The Persians were led by a talented son of the Fath Ali Shah (1797-1834). Abbas
Mirza (August 26, 1789 - October 25, 1833) was a Quajar crown prince
. In 1798, he had been entrusted the viceroyalty of the
province. Not unexpectedly, at the sudden outbreak of hostilities
between Imperial Russian and
, the skilful Mirza was made General Commander of the Iranian expeditionary
– whose ranks and military potential were to be feared. The
Iranian troops counted not less than 20,000 men; higher figures are given,
but truest esteem regarding the fighting corps seems to present less objective
In mid-July 1804, Pavel Dmitriyevich Tsitsianov engaged his
mobile troops against Abbas Mirza operative units. The disproportion
between the contending forces was considerable, but the Russian performed
prodigies of duty and bravery. The ratio stood 5:1 (20,000: 4,000)
inclining to the Persian opponent; and that meant that one Russia had to
fight and sustain the mobility of at least 5 Persoian soldiers. Years
of protracted warfare ensued (1804-1813), and they brought the loss of most
’s Georgian territory.
Referring to the modalities and long term results of the military campaigns,
they emphasized the straight necessity to introduce the reforms of the Quajar military
establishment, and to suitably improve the military organization to conform
to modern standards of western warfare. Maurice de Kotzebüe
left a significant work entitled Voyage en Perse, à la suite del’Ambassade
Russe, en 1817 – a French translation adapted from the original
German text. The author occasionally visited the sites of the
military operations, and he properly questioned the veterans who had taken
part in the campaign. To his great amazement, he thought that these
instances of valour in action and the continued display of determination
had not received much credit and appreciation in
Russia. After tracing back with expertise the operations carried out
by the Russian forces, he pointed out that the name of Tsitsianov itself
was so feared in
that it was used as bugbear to young children.
Tsitsianov’s memory, and his military experience, also gained recognition
for a reference to Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov. Since 1816, when he
was granted the rank of full artillery General, Yermolov became responsible
for the Imperial military policies in the
Caucasus. Further appointed as commander-in-chief of the Russian troops
, and commander of the Independent Georgian Corps (21 April 1816), he treasured Tsitsianov’s threatening
behaviour and politics. He relied on the fact that Russian relations with
foreign powers and Asian peoples, especially in this spurious geo-strategical
asset, had their own distinctive peculiarities, and could be based neither
on the principles nor on the political relations that gravitated between
major European countries. Reciprocative terms of comprehension, suitable
political agreement and trusting good faith, could only be regarded as a
distinguishing European mark. Quite the contrary was the position
with Asian peoples; only strong power and spreading fear were the pillars
that could guarantee the constituted political and military order –
almost paradoxically, any dominance could not entirely rely on mere
formalism, and having signed treaties on paper.
This was the thinking of that time.
And it was the cutting edge of the sword that consequentially had to be
feared more than the ink.
1. English works:
Allen, W. E. D. A History of the Georgian People, from the beginning
down to the Russian conquest in the nineteenth centuey. Kegan
Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd.,
, 1780 - 1828.
Minnesota Press, 1980.
Baddeley, John F. The Russian conquest of the Caucasus.
London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1908.
Bournoutian, George, A. Russia
and the Armenians of
Transcaucasia, 1797-1889: A documentary Record. Costa
Mesa, CA: Mazda Press, 1998.
Kalistrat Salia and Katharine Vivian (trans.). History
of the Georgian Nation.
Kazemzadeh, Firuz. Russian Penetration of the
Caucasus. In Russian Imperialism: From Ivan the Great to the Revolution,
ed. Taras Hunczak.
University Press, 1974.
Qarabaghi, Mirza Jamal Javanshir. A History of Qarabagh (Tarikh-e Qarabagh).
Transl. George A. Bournoutian.
CA: Mazda Publishers, 1994.
Rhinelander, L. Hamilton. “Tsitsianov Prince Pavel Dmitrievitch, in
Wieczynski”. Joseph L. (ed.), The Modern Encyclopedia of Russian
and Soviet History, vol. 40, Gulf Breeze, Academic International Press,
: a borderland in transition.
University Press, 1995.
2. French works:
Bagrationi, Vaxusti. Description géographique de
la Géorgie, par le tsarévitch Wakhoucht. Publiée
d’ aprés l’ original autographe par M. Brosset.
St. Petersburg, 1842.
Brosset, Marie-Félicité. Histoire de la Géorgie
depuis l’ antiquité jusqu’ au XIXe siècle.
St. Petersburg, 1849-1858.
Heller, Michel. Histoire de la Russie et de son empire.
Paris, Flammarion, 1999 (Plon, 1997, 1re
Kotzebue, de, Moritz. Voyage en Perse, à la suite
de l’ Ambassade Russe, en 1817. Traduit de l’allemand
par Mr. Breton Orné de gravures coloriées. Paris, Nepveu,
Tsarévitch Wakhoucht (Prince Vakusht). Description
géographique de la Géorgie. L’Académie
Impérial des Sciences, St. Petersbourg, 1842.
3. Russian works:
Doubrovin, N. F.. Istoria voïny i vladitchestva russkikh
na Kavkaze. SPB, 1888.
(1) From the mid XVIIIth century, up to 1806,
Baku was the capital of a khanate that included the
Baku urbic aggregation, plus a few tens of villages. There were some some
Badkube (i.e. wind-beaten, Town of
Winds) was the term referred to this independent principality. A local mint
coined its own currency.
(2)Huseyngulu Khan had left the town walled perimeter
to present the city’s keys to the Russian victor. It was only later
a time, on October 24th, 1813, that, by the peace treaty of Gulistan (in
Baku was attached to the Russian Empire. The treaty had been set
up by Sir Gore Ouseley, diplomat, and orientalist (b. 24 June 1770, Monmouthshire,
; d. 18 November 1844,
), acting as political mediator; for the Persian ruling House, it was signed
by Haji Mirza Abol Hasan Khan. Russian power held on Karabagh,
with most part of the territories making up present day
’s claims on the Georgian provinces, and Daghestan, were abandoned;
agreed to support Abbas Mirza to the succession of the Persian throne.
The Shah surrendered all his
territory north of the River Aras,
Baku, and naval rights on the
(3)At the moment Tsitsianov accepted the keys of the town,
he, and Prince Elizbar Erstov standing next to him, were abruptly killed
by two people from among the retinue. Enlivened in their spirit of victory,
the citizens of
Baku run out of the fortress to chop Tsitsianov’s body on the spot. Deprived
of their valiant leader, the Russian soldiers were cut down to pieces and had
hastly to flee. The
Baku artillery pieces immediately cannonaded on the Imperial ships, which
– off the coast of
Baku. However, on October 3rd, 1806, the troops of General Bulgakov’s
Baku almost unopposed; Huseyngulu Khan fled to
, and the Baku Khanate was annexed to
(4) Count Gudovich (1741-1820) was promoted to the rank
of Imperial Field Marshal after gaining a sound martial success in Armenia – his
7,000 strong contingent had routed the Turkish army of Yusuf Pasha at
the battle of Arpachai (June 18).
The Pasha had succeeded to put in the field an operative force counting
some 24,000 men. Worth mentioning is that, in this hard fought battle, Gudovich
was severely wounded and lost an eye; the gravity of this accident severely
affected his vision and taking further active command.