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History of Iranian-Georgian Reations

part 3


During these campaigns Tahmasb brought to Persia large numbers of Georgians, whose subsequent role in the army and civil administration led to significant changes in the character of Safavid society. The new ethnic element became a ”third force”‌ which interposed itself between the two ”founding elements,”‌ the Persians and the Turkmen. Indeed, by the end of the 16th century the Georgians were threatening to replace the latter, the qezelbash, as the military aristocracy of the realm.

The competition between the Ottomans and the Safavids for control of the Caucasus was temporarily interrupted by the Treaty of Amasya (962/1555, q.v.). In Georgia it established a rough balance between the two rivals, as Kartli, Kakheti, and eastern Samtskhe (Masq) fell into the Persian sphere of influence, and Imereti and western Samtskhe into the Ottoman.

Shah ل¹¬ahmasb used the opportunity to tighten Persian predominance in eastern Georgia by imposing Persian social and political institutions and by placing converts to Islam on the thrones of Kartli and Kakheti. One of these was David/Dawud Khan II (1569-78), whose reign marked the beginning of almost two and a half centuries of Persian political dominance over eastern Georgia, with only occasional interruptions, until the advent of the Russians at the end of the 18th century. To hasten the integration of eastern Georgia into his realm ل¹¬ahmasb used bilingual Georgian-Persian firmans to make Persian the official administrative language of the country (Tabatadze, pp. 262-63).

The Ottomans, eager to extend their control over Kartli and Kakheti, attacked Persian positions in eastern Georgia in 1578. Despite spirited resistance led by King Simon of Kartli (1557-69, 1578-99; Brosset, II/1, pp. 36-42), the Ottomans prevailed, and in 1590 the Persians recognized all of Georgia as an Ottoman possession (Uzunçarşili, pp. 57-63).

Shah Abbas I (996-1038/1587-1629) was determined to restore Persian predominance in the Caucasus. Although he inflicted enormous devastation on the Georgian kingdoms and appointed and dismissed their rulers almost at will, he never succeeded fully in stamping out resistance to his rule. When he resumed war with the Ottoman Empire in 1602 he forced Giorgi X of Kartli (1599-1605) and Aleksandre II of Kakheti (1574-1605) to join the campaign. But resistance to Abbas was fierce among the nobles. In 1605 they revolted and placed Teimuraz/ل¹¬ahmuraل¹¯ I (1605-63) on the throne, who for sixty years served as a rallying point for opposition to the Safavids. Abbas acquiesced and confirmed Teimuraz as king in 1606. He also recognized Luarsab II (1605-14) as King of Kartli, but when Luarsab refused to become a Muslim and encouraged the nobles to reject a Muslim replacement for him, Abbas exiled him to Isfahan and in 1622 had him strangled (Dumbadze, IV, p. 276).

Abbas undertook another campaign in 1614 against Kartli and Kakheti, replacing their kings with Muslims. When nobles of Kakheti rose in revolt in 1615, his troops ravaged the country, a punishment from which it never fully recovered (Eskandar Beg, pp. 896-901, tr. Savory, II, pp. 1081-83; Brosset, II/1, pp. 484-87). Perhaps as many as 70,000 people were killed and over 100,00 deported to Persia. Abbas appointed a loyalist, Simon II/Semayun Khan (1619-29), as wali, or viceroy, but he kept a tight grip on Kakheti, administering it through an appointed governor (on the functions of the wali and the role of other Persian officials appointed to supervise Georgian affairs in the 17th century, see Gabashvili, pp. 366-411). Abbas regarded these arrangements as temporary and apparently planned to deal a drastic blow to the rebellious Georgians: the Kakhetians were to be wiped out or deported and their country settled by qezelbash and other Turkmen tribes, while the nobles of Kartli were to be resettled in Persia (Berdzenishvili et al., I, p. 358).

In subduing the two Georgian kingdoms, Abbas had counted on a leading noble, Giorgi Saakadze (known to the Persians as Murav Beg). A Muslim, he was admired in Persia for his military exploits and was regularly consulted on Georgian affairs (Eskandar Beg, pp. 1020-21, tr. Savory, pp. 1242-43).

Abbas had appointed him advisor to Simon II of Kartli and in 1620 entrusted both with the suppression of anti-Persian opposition. For reasons that are unclear Saakadze turned against Abbas and led a rebellion of nobles in 1623. He invited the exiled Teimuraz/ل¹¬ahmuraل¹¯ to return home and proclaimed him king of Kartli and Kakheti. But in 1624, Abbas won a decisive victory against the rebels on Marabda Field near Tbilisi (Eskandar Beg, pp. 1024-28, tr. Savory, pp. 1245-49; Dumbadze, IV, pp. 255-87). He also used the rivalry between Saakadze and Teimuraz to divide the Georgians and drive the former into exile in Istanbul, where in 1629 he was executed (Dumbadze, IV, pp. 1284-85).

Abbas’s measures in Kartli and Kakheti represented a continuation of his predecessors’ efforts to integrate eastern Georgia fully into the Safavid empire. Besides war, he institutionalized the practice begun by ل¹¬ahmasb of employing Georgians as qullar or golaman-e ل¸µassa-ye sharifa in the Persian army and civil administration. They were obliged to become Muslims, but the majority of such conversions were entered into without conviction. After a period of training they were assigned either to the special regiments of the army or to a branch of the royal household administration. Estimates vary as to the size of the military forces composed of Georgian ”slaves.”‌ One source indicates that in 1588 Abbas had formed his bodyguard from 12,000 of them taken into his service. Another source in 1608 puts the number of Georgian cavalry guards at 25,000 (Lang, 1952, p. 525). In any case, the Georgians were renowned throughout Persia as fierce warriors. Both ل¹¬ahmasb and Abbas were pursuing a policy to strengthen the ”third force”‌ in Safavid society and thus diminish the power of the qezelbash, whose loyalty had become suspect.

The contributions which the golamsmade to the Safavids were substantial. Many of Abbas’s golams were the descendants of those Georgians who had been brought to Persia by ل¹¬ahmasb. Still other Georgians, nobles and princes among them, entered Persian service voluntarily, and a significant number achieved high office. Two outstanding examples were Allahverdi Khan (d. 1022/1613), who rose to be governor of Fars province and commander-in-chief of all Persian forces (sepahsalar-e Iran), and his son, Emamqoli Khan (qq.v.). Other Georgians became prefects (daruga) of Isfahan. But the majority of the Georgians were settled in widely scattered parts of Persia and became cultivators of the soil. The most important of these Georgian colonies was in Faridan (q.v.) in Isfahan province, where their descendants still speak Georgian and retain their Christian faith (Oberling, pp. 128-33; Sharashenidze).

During the remaining century of Safavid predominance in Georgia after the death of Abbas in 1629 Persian influence was unprecedented. The kingdom of Kartli was transformed into a province of Persia and regularly paid tribute and sent gifts (pishkesh) to the shah in the form of boys and girls, horses, and wines (Berdzenishvili, ed., 1973, pp. 252-54). The Georgian economy was also closely linked to that of Persia, and Georgian literature was enriched by translations of Persian classics and adaptations of Persian genres.

To be continued ...


Other Links:

Eastern Iranian Languages: part 3

Eastern Iranian Languages: part 4

Jade in Iran

Jade in Iran (part 2)

Jade in Iran (part 3)

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