This book review is from Volume 10 of the Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies (1998 1999 [2000]), pp. 142-142. The original pagination has not been kept intact and the paragraphing has been altered for web use. This web edition 2001 Dennis R. Papazian.

George A. Bournoutian. Russia and the Armenians of Transcaucasia, 1797-1889: A Documentary Record. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Press, 1998. Pp. 578.


This book is indeed a documentary record of the relationship between Russia and the Armenians in Transcaucasia (South Caucasus) from 1797 to 1889. The numerous documents translated and published here are a rich source for an outline history as well as for details concerning certain issues and events.

Bournoutian's "Introduction" provides the broad picture which places the documents in perspective, and his "Commentary," which follows the documents, is in effect a telling of the story based chiefly on the documents in the book. The author takes a particular interest in select topics: (1) Russia and the Armenian Church; (2) the Polozhenie; (3) Russia and the meliks of Karabakh; (4) the Armenians and the Russian conquest of Transcaucasia; (5) the Russian view of the Armenians and Armenian attitudes toward Russia; (6) the Armenians and the Russian administrative divisions of Transcaucasia; (7) the Armenians and Russian demographic surveys of Transcaucasia; and (8) the Armenians and the economic development of Transcaucasia.

Bournoutian chooses these topics, in my opinion, because they deal with fundamental issues which in some cases are relevant even today, as is the documentation on Russia's positive treatment of the meliks of Karabakh, which confirmed their historic status. As far as the Armenian Church is concerned, the Russians recognized the preeminent unifying role it played, in the absence of an Armenian state structure, by binding together the Armenians who were spread throughout the Caucasus and, indeed, all over the world. The Polozhenie, or tsarist-promulgated rules governing the Armenian Church, established the tsar's ultimate authority while at the same time confirming the autocephalic status of the Armenian Church and regularizing its administration.

The Armenian meliks of Karabakh ruled small principalities in the mountainous area. The Safavids, like the Turkish and Mongol rulers before them, granted the meliks an autonomous status. When the emperor Paul withdrew Russian troops from the Caucasus, the meliks, who had aided the Russians, were granted lands, subsidies, and noble status, and the Russians sheltered them until such time as they could return to their homes under Russian protection. Many of the meliks joined the Russian civil and military ranks, where they rose to high positions.

The Russian treatment of the Armenians varied from time and place, yet on the whole the Russians protected or assimilated the rich and powerful and did little or nothing for the peasants, who continued to owe service to their Muslim landlords. The Armenians, in their turn, generally viewed the Russians as co-religionists and protectors, but with some notable exceptions. In any case, the Armenians accepted the Russians as carriers of a higher civilization in the nineteenth century when both Persia and the Ottoman Empire where in decline.

The Russian administrative units, as Bournoutian shows, were changed over time. Between 1806 and 1827 the Russians viewed Transcaucasia as four distinct zones; from 1828 to 1840 those zones were altered substantially; between 1840 and 1854 the divisions were reduced to three; between 1845 and 1868 Transcaucasia was once more transformed into five provinces; and between 1868 and 1880 there were numerous small changes made for administrative convenience which ignored ethnic lines. It is little wonder that the territorial disputes of today can be traced back directly to arbitrary tsarist manipulation of borders.

Innumerable wars and raids tended to drive out the original Armenian population of Transcaucasia, except for mountainous Karabakh, and to increase the Muslim population. As the Russians brought peace and security to Transcaucasia, the residual Armenian population was enlarged by immigration, and their proportion raised by Muslim emigration. Mountainous Karabakh never lost its Armenian majority, even when the meliks themselves moved for a while to southern Georgia.

A group of seven excellent maps by Robert Hewsen makes it possible to follow the many changes of boundaries and place names. The Appendix lists, for the period in question, Russian tsars, Persian shahs, Ottoman sultans, Georgian kings, the catholicoi of jmiatsin, the catholicoi at Sis, the catholicoi at Aght'amar (Van), the catholicoi at Gandzasar (Karabakh), the patriarchs of Jerusalem, and the patriarchs of Constantinople.

The Appendix also has a list of Russian administrative chiefs in the Caucasus (including Transcaucasia). There also is a "Table of Ranks" of the tsarist government, an extensive glossary of place names (original names and variants over time), a glossary of terms (Russian, Persian, and Turkish), and thirty-six pages of valuable biographical notes. The whole is followed by an extensive bibliography.

We must be grateful to Bournoutian for producing this encyclopedic compendium. It is a useful place for specialists to begin their research, a treasure trove for graduate students, interesting reading for undergraduates, and a wonderful reference source for the public. No library or personal collection should be without it.

The University of Michigan-Dearborn
Dennis R. Papazian

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