Persian Expedition of 1796

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Persian Expedition of 1796
Part of Russo-Persian Wars
Date 1796
Location North Caucasus, South Caucasus
Result Russian withdrawal
Belligerents
 Russian Empire Flag of Agha Mohammad Khan.svg Persian Empire
Commanders and leaders
Russia Catherine the Great
Russia Valerian Zubov
Flag of Agha Mohammad Khan.svg Agha Mohammad Khan
Strength
13,000 Tofangchi Musketeers
Royal Regiment of Mohammad Khan
Northern Town Watch
Casualties and losses
2,150 men unknown

The Persian Expedition of 1796 was the last Russian military campaign of the reign of Catherine the Great. It was ordered in response to the Persian invasion of the Russian protectorate of Kartli-Kakheti the previous year. The protectorate was quickly restored and the Azeri khanates, Persian client states, conquered, but before the invasion of central Persia could begin, Catherine died and her successor, Tsar Paul, recalled his troops.

The last decades of the 18th century were marked by continual strife between rival claimants to the Peacock Throne. Catherine the Great of Russia took advantage of the disorder to consolidate her control over the weak polities of the Caucasus. The kingdom of Georgia, a subject of the Persians for many centuries, became a Russian protectorate in 1783, when Erekle II signed the Treaty of Georgievsk, whereby the Empress promised to defend him in case of the Iranian attack. The shamkhals of Tarki followed the lead and accepted Russian protection three years later.

With the enthronement of Agha Mohammad Khan as Shah of Persia in 1794 the political climate changed. He put an end to the period of dynastic strife and proceeded to strengthen the hold of the Caucasus by ravaging Georgia and reducing its capital Tbilisi to a pile of ashes in 1795. Belatedly, Catherine II determined to mount a punitive expedition against the Shah.

Although it was widely expected that a 13,000-strong Russian corps would be led by a seasoned general (Gudovich), the Empress followed the advice of her lover, Prince Zubov, and entrusted the command to his youthful brother, Count Valerian Zubov. The Russian troops set out from Kizlyar in April 1796 and stormed the key fortress of Derbent on 10 May. The event was glorified by the court poet Derzhavin in his famous ode; he was later to comment bitterly on Zubov's inglorious return from the expedition in another remarkable poem.

By mid-June, Zubov's troops overran without any resistance most of the territory of modern day Azerbaijan, including three principal cities — Baku, Shemakha and Ganja. By November, they were stationed at the confluence of the Araks and Kura Rivers, poised to attack mainland Iran.

It was in that month that the Empress of Russia died and her successor Paul, who detested the Zubovs and had other plans for the army, ordered the troops to retreat back to Russia. This reversal aroused the frustration and enmity of the powerful Zubovs and other officers who took part in the campaign: many of them would be among the conspirators who arranged Paul's murder five years later.

References[edit]

  • Gen. V.A. Potto. The Caucasian Wars of Russia from the 16th century onward. Volumes 1-5. SPb, 1885-86, reprinted in 2006. ISBN 5-9524-2107-5.