Armenia during the Seljuk and Mongol Periods


by Robert Bedrosian

The Mongol Conquest of Armenia

The fourth thirteenth-century invasion of Armenia occurred in 1236. It was short and merciless, and confined to the northeastern and northern regions. In that year, the Mongol general Chormaghun, now established at the Mongol summer camp (yayla) in the Mughan plain of Azerbaijan, sent out detachments under various commanders to capture all the key fortresses in northeastern Armenia. Unlike the first appearance of the Mongols in the Caucasus, which had been for the pursuit of a fugitive, their reappearance now was for the purpose of conquest and occupation. On this occasion, the Mongols traveled with their families, carts, and [258] herds—their "portable economy." They also brought along sophisticated Chinese siege machinery, rock-hurling and wall-battering devices. Upon receiving news of the return of the Mongols, the ruler of Georgia, Queen Rusudan (1223-1247) with many of the lords fled to the security of western Georgia, while others holed up in their fortresses. But no one was secure. The Mongols, having divided up the districts in advance, proceeded to take them one by one. Molar-noyin took the territories of Ivane's nephew Vahram of Gag. The Kiurikian fortresses of Matsnaberd and Nor Berd fell, and about the same time the clerical historians Vanakan and Kirakos Gandzaketsi were captured. Ghatagha-noyin took Gardman, Charek, Getabek, and Vardanashat. The Zakarid holdings of Lori fell, followed by Dmanis, Shamshulde, and Tiflis. Atabeg Avag Zakarian was among the first of the Caucasian notables to submit to the Mongols. He was rewarded and gifted by them, while he and his troops were used in the conquest of recalcitrant areas. Seeing that submission to the Mongols did not mean sudden death, the remaining princes went to them and were reinstated in their lands. The historian Vardan Areveltsi wrote that everything was surrendered to them in a short period, without toil or labor. Although the Mongols frequently spared cities that surrendered without a fight, surrender did not always elicit their sympathy. Fearing the harsh fate suffered by Ani, Kars surrendered but was devastated nonetheless. During the course of 1236, the Mongols subjugated by sword or treaty all of northeastern and northern Armenia. They met with no serious resistance anywhere.

The Mongol conquest of western and southern historical Armenia took place between 1242 and 1245. These lands, though inhabited by Armenians, were under the political domination of the Seljuks, or in the case of Khlat, of the Ayyubids. In 1242 the Mongol general Baiju-noyin took Karin/Erzerum after a siege of two months. Part of the population was massacred and part was led away into slavery. Participating in the Mongol campaigns in western Armenia were the lords of newly conquered eastern Armenia, who in a number of cases were able to ameliorate the lot of Armenians in some western cities. The Mongols spent the winter of 1243 at their base in Azerbaijan, but returned in springtime to crush the forces of the Seljuk sultan of Rum, Ghiyath al-Din Kai Khusrau, at Kose Dagh, near Erzinjan. The defeat of the Seljuks at Kose Dagh was an event of the greatest significance for the Armenians both locally and abroad in the independent state of Cilicia. Like dominoes, the remaining key cities of central Asia Minor fell: Erzinjan, Caesarea, Sebastia/Sivas, Melitene/Malatia, and Divrigi. In 1245 Baiju-noyin [259] captured Khlat, Amida, Edessa, and Nisibis. By that year the Armenian populations, be they in Caucasian Armenia, western Armenia, southern Armenia, or even Cilicia, were to a greater or lesser degree all formally under the overlordship of the Mongols.

The Mongol Domination

During the more than one hundred years of Mongol domination, the Armenians experienced periods of benevolent, even enlightened rule and of capricious benighted misrule. The years from 1236 to 1250, though not without conflict, did not witness radical changes in Armenia's governing structure. Apparently, prior to 1243 no permanent formal taxes had been imposed on Armenia, the conquerors contenting themselves instead with the rich booty and plunder to be had from the many areas taken by military force. But in 1243 by command of the Great Khan Guyuk himself, taxes amounting to between one-thirtieth and one-tenth of value were imposed on virtually everything movable and immovable, and a heavy head tax of 60 silver drams was collected from males. The severity of the taxes and the brutal manner of their collection triggered an abortive uprising of the lords in 1248-1249. This rebellion, which was discovered by the Mongols while still in the planning stages, was crushed at the expense of human and animal lives and crops in numerous districts of northeastern Armenia and southern Georgia. Some of the arrested Armenian and Georgian conspirators, unable to raise the huge ransoms demanded for their release, were tortured or killed.

After the accession of the Great Khan Mongke (1251-1259), a thorough census was made of all parts of the empire from 1252 to 1257. The Iranian emir Arghun personally conducted the census of Caucasia in 1254, which significantly increased the tax burden. An administrative change regarding Armenia occurred in the mid-thirteenth century. This was the establishment of the Il-Khanid Mongol substate over the territory of Iran and the inclusion of Caucasia into it, beginning in 1256. Prior to that time the Caucasus had formed a single administrative unit composed of five vilayets. Following the granting of Iran as a hereditary appanage to Hulegu Khan in 1256, Armenia experienced another shock caused by nomads on the move. First, Hulegu chose as his residence Mughan in Azerbaijan, which until then had been the camping grounds of Baiju-noyin. Hulegu ordered the latter and all the nomadic Mongol [260] and Turkmen warriors subordinate to him to evacuate the Caucasus, in order to create room for his own entourage. With considerable grumbling the displaced Baiju and his hosts moved westward, sacking the cities of Karin/Erzerum, Erzinga/Erzinjan, Sebastia/Sivas, Caesarea, and Konia as they went. Almost simultaneously some of Genghis-Khan's grandchildren descended on the Caucasus through the Caspian Gates in order to settle near their relation Hulegu. This unruly group also caused much damage as it traveled and extorted whatever it could from the sedentary population. The proximity of new powerful masters in 1256 in addition to the information obtained by them from the census of 1254 had yet another immediate ramification for the Caucasus. Now the nakharars were obliged to participate in all military ventures of the Il-Khanids on a regular basis, providing a specified number of troops yearly. Armenian and Georgian warriors fought in all the major Mongol campaigns in the Middle East from 1256 onward, which resulted in the deaths or enslavement of large numbers of Christian Caucasians abroad. Heavy taxation coupled with the onerous burden of military service in distant lands led to rebellion. The second Armeno-Georgian rebellion occurred between 1259 and 1261. Though of longer duration than the rebellion of 1248-1249, this one too eventually was brutally crushed.

In the 1260s the Caucasus became an occasional theater of warfare between the Il-Khanids and yet another Mongol state, that of the Golden Horde, centered in the lower Volga with its capital at Sarai. The organizer of this state, Berke-Khan (1257-1266), a devout Muslim, was outraged by the anti-Muslim policies of the shamanist Hulegu and especially by his massacre of the Muslim population of Baghdad in 1258. Not only did Berke and his successors attempt to infringe on the uncertain boundary between his realm and Hulegu's (i.e., the Caucasus), but they also entered into an alliance with the increasingly powerful Mamluk state in Egypt. The latter were the most ferocious enemies of the Il-Khanids in the Near East and the only power to have dealt the Mongols a severe military defeat there in 1260. During the decade of the 1260s, the Caucasus was invaded by forces of the Golden Horde in 1261 and 1265-1266. The Il-Khans were also faced with rebellions of Mongol chiefs resident in the Caucasus. For example, in 1268 one of Genghis-Khan's great-grandsons, Teguder, rebelled in the Caucasus. Teguder's holdings included parts of southern Georgia and the area around Lake Sevan in Armenia. Armeno-Georgian troops aided in the suppression of this rebellion, just as they had fought for the Il-Khans against Berke.

[261] The Mongols had a number of bases of support within Armenian society. Among these were the church hierarchy, the merchants, and certain of the lords who received special status and were Mongol favorites. Many of the Mongol generals and their wives were Nestorian Christians at the time of the invasion and sympathized with the Armenian Christians. In 1242, for example, they facilitated the return of Nerses (the Catholicos of Caucasian Albania/Aghuania) to his seat since "for a long while neither Nerses nor his predecessors had dared to circulate throughout the dioceses because of the bloodthirsty nation of Tajiks" (Kirakos Gandzaketsi, 1986). In 1248, when Catholicos Kostandin of Cilicia sent to Greater Armenia gifts and money for the monastery of St. Tadeos, the work was expedited by the Mongols. In the early 1250s Smbat Orbelian received a decree "freeing all the churches of Armenia and the priests" (Orbelian, 1859), and with encouragement from General Baiju's Christian wife, Smbat renovated Siunik's religious seat, Tatev. According to Arghun's census of 1255, neither church nor clergy was to be taxed, though the sources report numerous instances of illegal exactions from both throughout the remainder of the century. Mongol religious policy was quite complex and underwent numerous shifts. For example, at the time of the census conducted by Arghun and Buqa (1243), Muslims were used to terrorize Christians. Yet in 1258, during the siege of Baghdad, the Mongols encouraged the Christians in their army brutally to exterminate the city's Muslim population. But in retaliation for the Caucasian rebellion of 1259 to 1261, Mongols destroyed churches and the Georgian catholicosate itself, and the emir Arghun (himself a Muslim) had the Christian prince Hasan Jalal tortured to death for failure to apostatize. Clearly, Mongols adroitly used the Christians in Muslim areas and the Muslims in Christian areas for espionage and maintenance of terror.

Armenian merchants (the metsatuns) were another base of support for Mongol rule during the thirteenth century. During the period of the invasions, the Mongols took some pains to prevent caravans from being attacked. At the time of the destruction of Karin/Erzerum (1242), special consideration was shown to wealthy Armenians there. The support of the merchants derived from such special treatment and from the huge profits they earned by participating in international trade. Merchants in the Mongol Empire, which united the Far and Near East, carried on a brisk and lucrative trade with the West. During the Mongol period, maritime trade expanded as the Italian states of Genoa and Venice founded trading centers along the north shore of the Black Sea. The cities [262] of Tabriz and Sultanieh in Azerbaijan were also major trading centers where Genoese and Venetian merchants had their offices. The main caravan route through Asia Minor ran from Ayas (in Cilician Armenia) through Sebastia/Sivas, Erzinga/Erzinjan, and Karin/Erzerum, to Tabriz. Another important route went from Tabriz through Khoi, Arjesh, Manazkert, Karin/Erzerum to Trebizond on the Black Sea. Exported were spices, silks, gems, drugs, and other Oriental luxuries; imported were woolen cloths, linen, furs, and other manufactured goods from the West. Armenian merchants were to be found at all points along the trade routes. Ayas, the point of departure for the Far East, was a city of Cilician Armenia; there were also concentrations of Armenian merchants at Trebizond, Tabriz, Sultanieh, in Central Asia, and the Far East, and in the cities of southern Russia, the north shore of the Black Sea, and throughout Italy. Because of their far-flung connections, Armenian merchants sometimes were used by Mongol officials as couriers. It is interesting that there also seems to have been a large number of Armenian clerics present at the courts of the khans and along many of the major stops across Asia to the Far East. The majority of these were engaged in translational activity and/or serving the needs of the families of Armenian merchants. The favorable economic situation for the merchants finds reflection in the inscriptions carved on the walls of churches and other structures erected by their wealth. These inscriptions mention tens of thousands of "red [gold] ducats" lavished on the construction and maintenance of new and existing structures. References to Italian ducats in inscriptions from the mid and late thirteenth century confirm the continuing ties of these merchants with the Italian city-states.

Another group that served as a base of support for the Mongol regime consisted of certain prominent lords whose allegiance was directly to the Mongols. Such favorites, in Armenia as well as in other parts of the Mongol Empire, were given inju status, which meant that they paid taxes and fulfilled other obligations directly to their Mongol patrons. The effect of this practice was the same in the Caucasus as elsewhere, namely, the detachment of certain powerful lords from the preexisting political arrangements. If before the Mongol domination the lords of northeastern Armenia were subject to the Zakarids, who were subject to the Georgian crown, the Mongols now altered this arrangement by attaching these lords directly to themselves. The best known example of this involved the Armenian Orbelians of Siunik. Smbat Orbelian was granted inju status by Mongke-Khan in 1252 on a trip to the Far East. Another prince who apparently received inju status from [253] Mongke was Hasan Jalal (ca. 1257) of Khachen. Around 1273 the Georgian lord Sargis Jaqeli also received inju status. During the same decade the cities of Kars, Telavi, Belakan, "and many other lands" were separated from royal Georgian control and given by the Mongols to their favorite, Sadun Artsruni/Mankaberdeli.

During the thirteenth century the Mongols managed successfully to keep the lords divided and frequently absent from the area entirely. Dividing the lords was never difficult. The Mongols were adroit at exploiting antagonisms existing within branches of the same family. Thus to punish Avag Zakarian (ca. 1243), his lands were given to his more loyal cousin Shahnshah. The Georgian royal Bagratid dynasty was another family neutralized. Eventually sanctioning two monarchs, the Mongols effectively divided the kingdom and the royal treasury, expropriating one-third of it for themselves (1250s). In the 1260s and 1270s the Mongols furthered the territorial and political ambitions of the Orbelians and Artsrunis at the expense of the Zakarids and the Georgian Bagratid dynasty. Finally, at the end of the thirteenth century and the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Mongols elevated a Jaqeli to the Georgian throne. In addition to the manipulation of nakharar precedence, the Mongols were able to divide the lords by creating conflicts of loyalty. With the aim of destroying the ties that had existed between the lords and the Georgian court, the Mongols incorporated certain prominent nakharars into their own court and administration. This is especially visible after 1256, the year in which Hulegu became ll-Khan in Iran, when Caucasian nobles were actually given symbolic offices within Hulegu's court. Cooptation of allegiance was furthered by inter-marriage between the Mongols (or officials in the Il-Khanid administration in Iran) and the Caucasian nobility. The Christian Caucasian literary sources mention eight examples of this, and the Cilician sources mention a number of Cilician Armenian notables who had Mongol spouses.

The absence of prominent lords from the Caucasus resulted from two Mongol requirements. First was the obligation of the two- to three-year journey to their capital, Kara Korum, in Mongolia, and later to Tabriz in Iran, which the Mongols insisted on for important lords. Throughout the thirteenth century, prominent Armenian lords frequently were traveling to the East. Often trips were undertaken voluntarily to advance personal interests or to resolve some local business. In any case, the effect was the removal from Armenia of the most powerful (and potentially the most dangerous) lords. In the absence of certain grandees, other lords could and did attempt to encroach upon the lands [264] and rights of their rivals. The absence of Armenian lords from their native habitats also resulted from the obligation of the lords to participate with their cavalry in Mongol campaigns. Usually forced to fight as advance attackers, the Caucasian troops had a simple choice facing them: life and the spoils of victory, or death from defeat or attempted desertion. The lords and their troops were taken on campaigns all over the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. The stringent requirements involved in participating in Mongol campaigns were a major cause of the princes' rebellion of 1259 to 1261. It is true that the Mongols placed considerable trust in certain Armenian lords, such as amirspasalar Shahnshah's son Zakare and Prosh Khaghbakian, who aided in the capture of Baghdad (1258). The honors bestowed upon the noted military man Tarsayich Orbelian by Abaqa Khan are also noteworthy. However, often the Caucasians suffered decimation. In 1261 many Armenian and Georgian warriors died when the Mongol general Kitbuqa's army in Egypt was wiped out. Prince Sevada Khachentsi was killed in the battle for Mayyafarikin. In 1261-1262 the young prince Burtel Orbelian died in the North Caucasus, fighting Hulegu's enemy, Berke. Caucasians died in the war between Arghun Khan and Baraq in the mid-1260s in Central Asia. In the late 1270s Caucasians suffered dreadful losses during the Mongols' ill-conceived campaigns in Gilan, on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea. Participation in Mongol campaigns resulted in more than the deaths of thousands of men. In the absence of the nakharar warlords, the Caucasus was left without committed defenders to protect it from the persistent raids and sorties of Mongol, Turkmen, and local rebels.

Despite the serious shortcomings of life under the Mongols, for most of the thirteenth century Armenian culture developed freely. This was due as much to the generally free status of the church as to the largesse of the lords and merchants. In the thirteenth and early fourteenth century, there were a number of large monastic complexes where clerics were educated and where the many manuscripts surviving from this period were written, copied, and illuminated. Among the flourishing monasteries were Ayrivank. Sanahin, Haghbat, Nor Getik (Goshavank), Khoranashat, Kayenadzor, Khor Virap, Kecharuyk, and Gladzor. This last institution was founded by a student of the historian Vardan Areveltsi in the 1280s, and is described as a "university" in a colophon dating from 1321. Possessing at least nine professors and some fifteen lecturers, Gladzor's rise and decline followed that of its patrons, the Proshians and Orbelians. [265]

The Collapse of the Il-Khans

The reign of Ghazan Khan (1295-1304) is regarded by scholars as a watershed, during which important changes took place in the Mongol Empire. Some changes, such as fiscal reforms, did not take root among Ghazan's successors. Others, such as the Islamization of the Mongols, were of a permanent nature. A fundamental problem was that the economic system of the nomads was incompatible with the agricultural and mercantile economy of Armenia. In the thirteenth century the Mongols had expropriated for their own use vast tracts of land across the Armenian highlands, taking certain choice farming areas for summer and winter pasturage for their herds. The slopes of the Aragats Mountains, and the areas of Vayots Dzor, parts of the plain of Ayrarat, and areas around Karin/Erzerum, Van, Berkri, and Baghesh/Bitlis became summer yaylas, while Vaspurakan, the Ayrarat plains, and the Kharberd/Kharpert region were used for wintering places. Formerly these areas had been under intensive agricultural development, but increasingly in the late thirteenth and in the fourteenth century they became semidesert. Parts of southern and western Armenia were used almost solely for animal husbandry. The Mongols and Turkmen nomads used the area between Erzinjan, Baiburt, and Sebastia/Sivas, and areas around Van and in Diarbekir for these purposes also. Not only was good farmland allowed to desiccate, but with the mass enslavings and deportations of whole villages, there were fewer farmers; and with the theft of livestock, remaining farmers often were deprived of their only source of power for pulling the plow.

The severity of Mongol tax policies had been responsible for both Armenian rebellions of the thirteenth century. Not only was the rate of taxation high, but the manner in which taxes were collected was brutal. Beyond the difficulties posed by "legal" taxes were the problems of the illegal exactions. Such extraordinary taxes demanded by local Mongol officials and/or rebels included money and goods. The billeting of Mongol couriers and envoys in Armenian villages was another draining abuse decried in the sources. Ghazan attempted to stem the deterioration of the central government's control over its officials, but by the early fourteenth century, it was too late. The last Il-Khan, Abu Sa'id (1316-1335), futilely attempted to forbid the practices that were destroying the population and the countryside. A revealing inscription of this khan, carved on the wall of Ani's Manuche mosque, describes the situation: "[In the past] taxes were collected and force was used...the place [266] started to become deserted, men from among the common people scattered, the elders of the city and of the province because of the taxes...abandoned their possessions real and movable and their families, and went away." The breakdown of economic life in the early fourteenth century was accompanied by increasing religious intolerance. With the Islamization first of Ahmad Khan (1282-1284) and then with Ghazan's conversion to Islam, Christianity quickly passed from the status of a favored religion to that of a tolerated religion. Anti-Christian persecutions began almost at once. Though checked during part of Ghazan's reign, they became the rule rather than the exception under his intolerant successors. In the Caucasus, anti-Christian persecution was launched with the plundering and killing expeditions of the fanatical Muslim zealot Nauruz (1295-1296) during the reign of Ghazan Khan. Although Nauruz eventually was hunted down and executed at Ghazan's command, with Christian Caucasians gleefully participating, the situation never reversed itself. Religious persecution intensified during the second part of the reign of Ghazan's successor, his brother Muhammad Khuda-Banda (1304-1316). In 1307 Khuda-Banda resumed collection of the jizya, or head tax on non-Muslims, something Ghazan had tried but was obliged to discontinue. The sources report that even month-old children were registered for payment of the jizya. In the 1320s Grigor, bishop of Karin/Erzerum, was killed after refusing to convert. In 1334 Christians were obliged to wear special blue badges as a visible indicator of their subordinate status. The requirement of the blue badge, kerchief, or hat to set the Christians apart from Muslims was observed by the Bavarian captive Johann Schiltberger around 1400, and so was a feature of the entire fourteenth century.

Following the death of Abu Sa'id in 1335, nine years of internecine warfare broke out among various nomadic elements vying for power. Between 1335 and 1344 no less than eight khans were enthroned, only to be deposed or murdered shortly afterward. But the collapse of the Il-Khans, far from signaling freedom from oppressive rule for the Armenians, meant only that their land now became the theater of warfare for the various new contenders. During the first part of the fourteenth century, the first set of new contenders consisted of two nomadic clans, the Jalayirids and the Chobanids. As a result of warfare between these tribes, parts of southwestern Armenia were ravaged. The Chobanid Malik Ashraf turned his wrath on the remnants of the once-great Armenian noble houses in Ani and Bjni, decimating them in the early [267] 1350s. The rule of the Chobanids was ended by another northern invasion, from Khan Jani Beg of the Golden Horde (1357). The latter part of the fourteenth century was occupied by warfare between two new contenders, the Kara Koyunlu Turkmens and the Ottomans. The Ottomans were part of the Oghuz tribesmen who had first come into Asia Minor in the eleventh century, but greatly increased with new arrivals during the thirteenth century. By the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Ottoman entity had emerged as the strongest of the many small states to arise on the ruins of the Sultanate of Rum. Throughout the fourteenth century the Ottomans continued to expand at the expense of other Turkrnen principalities. Toward the end of the century, they controlled areas of western Armenia, such as Sebastia/Sivas, Erzinga/Erzinjan, and Melitene/Malatia.

The confused situation thus created in the Caucasus and Asia Minor did not go unnoticed by Khan Tokhtamysh of the Golden Horde. In 1385, with an army of 50,000, he invaded Azerbaijan via Darband and Shirvan. After taking Tabriz, his marauding army divided into sections, one group going via Marand to Nakhichevan and Siunik, which was plundered from south to north. Khan Tokhtamysh's divided army reunited in Karabagh and then returned north via Shirvan. With them went 200,000 slaves, including tens of thousands of Armenians from the districts of Parskahayk, Siunik, and Artsakh.

The Timurid Invasions

In 1386-1387, 1394-1396, and 1399-1403, Armenia was subjected to what were perhaps the most brutal invasions yet. These were led or directed by the lame warlord Timur (Tamerlane) and constituted the last major invasions of the Armenian highlands from Central Asia. During the first Timurid invasion of 1386-1387, Nakhichevan was captured and the fortress of Ernjak was besieged (though it did not surrender until 1401). The towns and fortresses of Karbi, Bjni, Garni, Surmari, and Koghb fell, and the districts of Ayrarat and Lesser Siunik were devastated. Tiflis was taken and sacked. After wintering in Mughan in Azerbaijan, Timur's generals crossed into the Kajberunik and Chapaghjur districts of southern and southwestern historical Armenia, where they fought unsuccessfully against the Kara Koyunlu Turkmens. Some Timurid detachments reached as far north as Karin/Erzerum, looting, pillaging, and taking slaves as they went. In 1387 Timur besieged the [268] emir Ezdin at Van. When he took the citadel after a month's besiegement, the women and children were enslaved, while some 7,000 males of all faiths were killed by being hurled from the walls. After Timur left Asia Minor in 1387, severe famine ensued. Due to the disruptions he had caused, crops were not planted, and now there was nothing to harvest. Cannibalism was reported in some areas.

In 1394 Timur returned. Entering western historical Armenia from northern Mesopotamia, he took Erzinjan, parts of Basen district, and Avnik fortress. Kars, Surmari, Koghb, Bagaran, and Ayrarat were ravaged, and the Kara Koyunlu Turkmen areas, centered at Arjesh north of Lake Van, were attacked. At this point Timur turned upon Khan Tokhtamysh of the Golden Horde, who had been raiding Shirvan. The Timurids defeated Tokhtamysh and sacked his principal cities of Astrakhan and Sarai. Timur appointed Miran, his half-mad son, as governor of Iran, Iraq, Armenia, and other parts of the Caucasus. In 1396 Miran continued operations against Ernjak in the south and expanded warfare against the Kurdish emir of Bitlis. In 1397 southern Vaspurakan was ravaged and Ani in the north fell. Strangely, all powers of resistance had not been completely broken by the Timurids. In 1399 King Giorgi VII of Georgia attacked the Timurid besiegers of Ernjak fortress, temporarily freeing those inside from the thirteen-year siege. But when Timur learned about this, he left Samarkand and headed for the Caucasus. In revenge, he attacked northeastern Armenia and southern Georgia, killing, destroying, and taking slaves. More than 60,000 Caucasians were led into slavery this time (in 1400), and many districts in northern Armenia were depopulated. Subsequently, Timur headed for western historical Armenia, where he took Sebastia/Sivas and Melitene/Malatia from his arch enemies, the Ottomans. After conquering Aleppo, Damascus, Mardin, and Baghdad, Timur decisively beat and captured the Ottoman sultan, Sultan Bayazid II, in 1402. The next year Georgia was invaded again and its king finally submitted to Timur. During 1403-1404 Timur wintered in Karabagh before returning to Samarkand, where he died in 1405.

By the end of the fourteenth century, the condition of the Armenians of central and eastern Asia Minor was bleak. Information on this period derives from the History of Tovma Metzopetsi (d. 1446), from colophons, and from the accounts of foreign travelers. Hamd Allah Mustawfi Qazvini, the accountant-general of Iran, noted the decline of the cities and towns in Caucasia and across the Armenian highlands in his day (1340). Speaking of Georgia and Abkhazia, he stated that [269] "revenues in the time of their native kings amounted to near 5,000,000 dinars of the present currency; but in our times the government only obtains 1,202,000 dinars." About Rum, which embraced western historical Armenia, he said: "Its revenues at the present day amount to 3,300,000 dinars as set down in the registers; but during the time of the Seljuks they were in excess of 15,000,000 dinars of the present currency." The walls of Sebastia/Sivas were in ruins; Avnik was in ruins; Baiburt "was a large town; it is now but a small one"; Mush, "in former times a large city, but now a ruin"; Berkri, "a small town, that was a large place formerly." Khlat "is the capital of this province [Greater Armenia] and its revenues in former days amounted to near 2,000,000 dinars of the present currency; but now the total sum paid is only 390,000 dinars" (Qazvini, 1919). Until the Seljuk invasions, Siunik had some 1,000 villages, while at the end of the thirteenth century the figure had declined to 677 villages. According to Samvel Anetsi and Matthew of Edessa, the former Artsruni kingdom in Vaspurakan had over 4,000 villages, but thirteenth- and fourteenth-century authors speak of that area with distress, as if describing a desert. Furthermore, in the 1350s the trade routes shifted away from the northern cities of Ani and Kars, to the southern cities of Khlat, Mayyafarikin, and Arjesh, helping to impoverish northeastern Armenia.

Toward the end of the fourteenth century, the Armenian Church and especially its hierarchy was under attack. In 1387-1388, Stepanos, archbishop of Sebastia/Sivas, was executed for refusing to convert to Islam. His monastery of St. Nshan was transformed into a dervish sanctuary, and other churches were demolished. In 1393-1394, Catholicos Zakaria of Aghtamar and Teodoros, the catholicos of Sis, both were executed. Between 1403 and 1406, according to the Spanish ambassador Clavijo, Timur demolished the churches of Erzinjan and Bekarich. In addition to attacks from without, the Armenian Church was suffering from internal division at the end of the fourteenth century. The influence of Roman Catholicism, which had been growing on the Cilician Armenian clergy during the thirteenth century, led to a break between Echmiadzin and Sis during the tenure of Catholicos Hakob of Sis (1327-1341, 1355-1359). But by mid century the Dominicans had won over to Catholicism the influential Hovhannes Krnetsi of southern Siunik, who began attracting to Catholicism his former classmates. The fight against the Armenian Catholics of Krna preoccupied the Armenian Church leadership for much of the fourteenth century. During the reign of Catholicos Hakob, matters had deteriorated to the point that the [270] Cilician catholicos supported Krna's efforts against Echmiadzin. Another source of jurisdictional conflict in the fourteenth century was the catholicosate (or anticatholicosate) of Aghtamar.

At the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth century, a few small Armenian principalities still existed. These were in the same areas that had withstood previous invaders and owed their semiautonomy to the forbidding mountainous terrain: areas of Vayots Dzor, Siunik, Artsakh, Gugark, Rshtunik, Mokk, Sasun, and Mush. The Timurids preserved the Orbelians in Siunik, the Dopians in Tsar, the Proshians in Vayots Dzor and Shahapunik. However, the circumstances of the Armenian lords were far from easy. Most were under constant pressure to convert to Islam. Tovma Metzopetsi as well as foreign travelers described the plight of the remaining lords:

During the first year of his reign [Umar, Timur's grandson], he forcibly made to apostatize three princes of our people who had remained like a tiny cluster of grapes among us: the son of Ivane and grandson of Burtel, Burtel, ter (lord) of Orotan, of the Orbelian family; his brother Smbat whom they took with his family to Samarqand (but subsequently, through divine mercy and their prayers they returned to their patrimony); the ter of Eghegis named Tarsayich, son of Gorgon they caused to apostatize; the ter of Maku they detached from the false and diophysitic [beliefs] of Aghtarmayutiun [Roman Catholicism], and the son of an azat named Azitan from Aghtsuats village in the Ayraratian district. Later, however, they repented and became true Believers in Christ and heirs of the Kingdom. (Tovma Metzopetsi, 1987)
The same sources refer to Crypto-Christianity, the observance of Christianity in secret. Other lords converted. Clavijo and Tovma Metzopetsi both mention the Armenian prince Taharten, governor of Erzinjan. His son by a daughter of the emperor of Trebizond was a Muslim and (perhaps because of his faith) Timur's governor of the same city. Another probable Armenian lordly convert to Islam is the emir Ezdin of Van, whom Tovma Metzopetsi described as being "of the line of King Senekerim," that is, of some Artsruni background (1987).

As a result of the unsettled, unsafe times, some lords of completely impregnable fortresses, unable to maintain themselves in any other way, turned to banditry. Prime sources of loot were the increasingly rare caravans passing over the bandits' lands, or even booty captured from [271] Timurids and Turkmens. Sometimes bandit lords operated alone, sometimes in alliance with others, Christian or Muslim. Tovma Metzopetsi speaks of one such mixed group of Kurdish Muslim and Armenian Christian brigands from Sasun and Khut that looted a Timurid camp in southwestern Armenia in the early 1390s. The Spanish ambassador Clavijo encountered Caucasian bandits both en route to Erzinjan from Trebizond in 1403, and on his return, again in northwestern Armenia and southwestern Georgia: "for though they are Armenians and profess to be Christians, all are robbers and brigands; indeed they forced us, before we were let free to pass, to give a present of our goods as toll for right of passage" (Clavijo, 1928).

Despite the extremely bleak situation across the Armenian highlands at the end of the fourteenth century, the sources still report a few instances of secular and clerical Armenian lords enjoying some influence with the Timurids. Among the secular rulers belong the unnamed woman ruler of Igdir castle mentioned by Clavijo and the Armenian lord of Bayazit. Another such lord was the Roman Catholic Nur ad-Din, mentioned earlier. Among the clerical lords enjoying some influence with the Timurids belong the director of Metzop monastery, Hovhannes, and the noted intellectual, vardapet Grigor Tatevatsi (Gregory of Tatev), who was a confidant of Timur's son, Miran.

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