Russo-Persian War (1804–13)
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (January 2012)|
|Russo Persian War (1804–1813)|
|Part of the Russo-Persian Wars
and the Napoleonic Wars
This painting by Franz Roubaud illustrates an episode near the Askerna river where the Russians managed to repel attacks by a larger Persian army for two weeks. They made a "living bridge", so that two cannons could be transported over their bodies.
|Russian Empire||Persian Empire|
|Commanders and leaders|
| Alexander I
Pavel Tsitsianov †
| Fath Ali Shah Qajar
Javad Khan Qajar †
Alexander of Georgia
|48,000 troops, 21,000 irregular cavalry||50,000 Nezam-e Jadid (modern style infantry), 20,000 irregular cavalry, 25,000 other allied or old style Persian troops|
The 1804–1813 Russo-Persian War, was one of the many wars between the Persian Empire and Imperial Russia, and began like many of their wars as a territorial dispute. The new Persian king, Fath Ali Shah Qajar, wanted to consolidate the northernmost reaches of his kingdom—modern day Georgia and Dagestan—which had been annexed by Tsar Paul I several years after the Russo-Persian War of 1796. Like his Persian counterpart, the Tsar Alexander I was also new to the throne and equally determined to control the disputed territories. The war ended with the Treaty of Gulistan which ceded the previously disputed territories to Imperial Russia, but added most of what is nowadays Azerbaijan, and parts of Armenia to it.
The origins of the first Russo-Persian War can be traced back to the decision of Tsar Paul to annex Georgia (December 1800). After Paul’s assassination (11 March 1801), the activist policy was continued by his successor, Tsar Alexander, aimed at establishing Russian control over the khanates of the eastern Caucasus. In 1803, the newly appointed commander of Russian forces in the Caucasus, Paul Tsitsianov, attacked Ganja and captured its citadel on 15 January 1804. Ganja's governor, Javad Khan Qajar, was killed, and a large number of the inhabitants slaughtered. The Qajar ruler, Fath Ali Shah, saw the Russian threat to Armenia, Karabagh, and Azerbaijan not only as a source of instability on his northwestern frontier but as a direct challenge to Qajar authority.
The Russians were unable to commit a large portion of their troops to the Caucasus region, because Alexander's attention was continually distracted by simultaneous wars with France, the Ottoman Empire, Sweden and Great Britain. Therefore, the Russians were forced to rely on superior technology, training, and strategy in the face of an overwhelming disparity in numbers. Some estimates put the Persian numerical advantage at five to one. Shah Fath Ali's heir, Abbas Mirza, tried to modernize the Persian army, seeking help from French experts through the Franco-Persian alliance, and then from British experts, with a mind to achieving this cause, but this merely delayed the Persian defeat.
Outbreak of war
The war began when Russian commanders Ivan Gudovich and Paul Tsitsianov attacked the Persian settlement of Echmiadzin, the most holy town in Armenia. Gudovich, unsuccessful in the siege of Echmiadzin due to a lack of troops, withdrew to Yerevan, where his siege again failed. Despite these ineffective forays, the Russians held the advantage for the majority of the war, due to superior troops and strategy. Russia's inability, however, to dedicate anything more than 10,000 troops to the campaign allowed the Persians to mount a fairly respectable resistance effort. The Persian troops were of a low grade, mostly irregular cavalry.
Holy war and Persian defeat
The Persians scaled up their efforts late in the war, declaring a holy war on Imperial Russia in 1810; however, this was to little avail. Russia's superior technology and tactics ensured a series of strategic victories. Nor did it avail the Persians that Napoleon – who was the ally of Persia's Abbas Mirza but could provide little concrete direct help – invaded Russia itself. Even when the French were in occupation of the Russian former (and future) capital Moscow, Russian forces in the south were not recalled but continued their offensive against Persia, culminating in Pyotr Kotlyarevsky's victories at Aslanduz and Lenkoran, after the setback in the Battle of Sultanabad in 1812 and 1813 respectively. Upon the Persian surrender, the terms of the Treaty of Gulistan ceded the vast majority of the previously disputed territories to Imperial Russia. This led to the region's once-powerful khans being decimated and forced to pay homage to Russia.
After capturing Ganja, Tsiatsianov marched on Erevan, encountering the army of Abbas Mirza near Echmiadzin. Tsiatsianov, with fewer troops but more artillery, defeated Abbas Mirza on 7 June but failed to capture Erevan. Between 1805 and 1806, the Russians persuaded the khan of Shirvan to submit; conquered the khanates of Karabakh, Shaki Khanate, Baku, and Qobba-Darband; and had ambitions to annex Khoy and even Tabriz. After the failure of the Russian siege of Erevan and an unsuccessful attempt to invade Gilān, Tsiatsianov was assassinated in 1806 and his head delivered to Tehran, while attempting to negotiate with the governor of Baku, Husayn Quli Khan. Russia had thus gained control of all the disputed areas north of the Kura and some of those between the Kura and the Aras, a situation which would not change significantly for the remainder of the war, but was finding it difficult to expand any further. The situation for the Russians was further complicated by the outbreak of war with the Ottoman Empire (1806–12). Tsiatsianov was succeeded by Ivan Gudovich, who sought without result to reach a peace settlement; he then resumed the Russian offensive in 1808, temporarily occupying Echmiadzin and Nakhchivan and laying siege to Erevan, but he still could not capture that city, wich was under the capable governorship of Husayn Quli Khan Qajar. Erevan remained a bulwark of Persian defenses for the rest of the war. The Qajars, having obtained a fatwa declaring the conflict to be a Holy War, and then receiving significant support from Britain, went on the offensive in 1810, invaded Karabakh, won the Battle of Sultanabad on the Aras (13 February 1812), and recovered territory in Talesh in 1812.
Although this Russo-Persian War was in many respects a continuation of a struggle for supremacy in Transcaucasia dating back to the time of Peter the Great and Nader Shah, it differed from earlier conflicts between Persia and Russia in that its course came to be affected as much by the diplomatic maneuvering of European powers during the Napoleonic era as by developments on the battlefield. Following the Russian occupation of the various khanates, Fath Ali Shah, strapped for cash and anxious to find an ally, had made a request for British support as early as December 1804. In 1805, however, Russia and Britain allied in the Third Coalition against France, which meant that Britain was not in a position to cultivate its Persian connection at Russian expense and felt it necessary to evade repeated requests from the shah for assistance. As the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Charles Arbuthnot, put it in August 1806,
To please the Emperor [of Russia], we have thrown away all our influence in Persia.
This opened the door for France to use Persia to threaten both Russian and British interests. Hoping to forge a tripartite alliance of France, the Ottoman Empire, and Persia, Napoleon sent various envoys to Persia, notably Pierre Jaubert and Claude Mathieu de Gardane, whose diplomatic efforts culminated in the Treaty of Finckenstein, signed on 4 May 1807, under which France recognized Persian claims to Georgia and modern day Dagestan, and promised assistance in training and equipping the Persian army. Only two months later, however, Napoleon and Alexander I agreed to an armistice and signed the Treaty of Tilsit (7 July 1807), which effectively rendered the French commitments to Persia untenable, although the French mission did continue to provide some military assistance and tried to mediate a settlement with Russia. The French efforts failed, prompting Gudovich to resume the siege of Erevan in 1808.
The rise of French influence in Persia, viewed as the prelude to an attack on India, had greatly alarmed the British, and the Franco-Russian rapprochement at Tilsit conveniently provided an opportunity for a now isolated Britain to resume its efforts in Persia, as reflected in the subsequent missions of John Malcolm (1807–8) and Harford Jones (1809). According to the preliminary treaty of Tehran arranged by Jones (15 March 1809), Britain agreed to train and equip 16,000 Persian infantry and pay a subsidy of £100,000 should Persia be invaded by a European power, or to mediate if that power should be at peace with Great Britain. Although Russia had been making peace overtures, and Jones had hoped the preliminary agreement would encourage a settlement, these developments strengthened Fath Ali Shah ’s determination to continue the war. Anglo-Persian relations warmed even further with the visit of Abu’l-Hasan Khan to London in 1809 and his return to Persia with Gore Ouseley as ambassador and minister plenipotentiary in 1810. Under Ouseley’s auspices, the preliminary treaty was converted into the Definitive Treaty of Friendship and Alliance in 1812, which confirmed the earlier promises of military assistance and increased the amount of the subsidy for that purpose to £150,000 .
Then, in the third and final twist to this story, Napoleon invaded Russia in June 1812, making Russia and Britain allies once again. Britain, like France after Tilsit, was thus obliged to steer a course between antagonizing Russia and violating its commitments to Persia, with its best option being to broker a settlement of the conflict between the two. The Russians had been periodically interested in finding a negotiated settlement since the setbacks of 1805–6 and as recently as 1810, when Alexander Tormasov, who had replaced Gudovich as commander after his unsuccessful siege of Erevan, and Mirza Bozorg Qaem-magham had sought to arrange an armistice. Yet the Russians were unwilling to make serious concessions in order to end the war, and the Persians were also less than eager to settle since from their point of view the war was not going all that badly. Ouseley, however, realized the awkwardness of having Britain’s resources deployed against its Russian ally and that the situation for Persia was likely to worsen once Russia was freed from the struggle with Napoleon. He was thus receptive to Russian requests to act as an intermediary and sought ways to pressure the Qajars into accepting a settlement. He proposed revisions to the Definitive Treaty, scaled back British military involvement (leaving two officers, Charles Christie and Lindesay Bethune, and some drill sergeants with the Persian army), and threatened to withhold payment of the subsidy promised to the Qajars .
In February 1812, N. R. Ritischev assumed command of the Russian forces and opened peace negotiations with the Persians. Ouseley and his representative at the talks, James Morier, acted as intermediaries and made various proposals to Rtischev, but they were not accepted . In August, Abbas Mirza resumed hostilities and captured Lankaran. After news arrived that Napoleon had occupied Moscow, the negotiations were suspended (Ramażān 1227/September 1812). Then, on 24 Shawwal 1227/31 October 1812, while Ritischev was away in Tbilisi, the general Peter Kotliarevski launched a surprise night attack on the Persian encampment at Aslanduz, which resulted in the complete rout of the army of Abbas Mirza and the death of one of the British supporting officers (Christie). As it also became increasingly apparent that Napoleon’s offensive in Russia had failed disastrously, the Russians were emboldened to pursue a more aggressive campaign in the Caucasus. In early 1813, the Persian fortress at Lankarān fell and its garrison was annihilated, enabling the Russians to occupy most of Talesh again . Although Fath Ali Shah and Abbas Mirza wanted to fight on after these setbacks, they eventually had to yield to Ouseley, who assured the Shah that either the Russians would make territorial concessions or the British would continue the subsidy they had promised.
- Erik Goldstein, Wars and Peace Treaties: 1816 to 1991 (Routledge, 1992), p.67.
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- N. Dubrovin. История войны и владычества русских на Кавказе, volumes 4–6. SPb, 1886–88.