Shamkhalate of Tarki

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Shamkhalate of Tarki

Tarğu Şawhallıq
circa 8th century–1867
Location of Tarki Shamkhalate
StatusVilayet within:
Ottoman Empire
Feudal domain
Russian Empire
GovernmentFeudal monarchy
• Established
circa 8th century
• Abolishment of the Shamkhalate
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Khazar Kaghanate
Umayyad Caliphate
Golden Horde
Dagestan oblast
Terik oblast
Today part ofRussia

The Shamkhalate of Tarki, or Tarki Shamkhalate (also Shawhalate, Shevkalate, Kumyk: Таргъу Шавхаллыкъ, Tarğu Şawhallıq[2]) — was a Kumyk[3][2][4][5][6][7][8][9][10] state in the eastern part of the North Caucasus, with its capital in the ancient town of Tarki.[11] It formed on the territory populated by Kumyks,[12] and included territories corresponding to the modern Dagestan and adjacent regions. After subjugation by the Russian Empire, the Shamkhalate's lands were split between the Empire's feudal domain with the same name extending from the river Sulak to the southern borders of Dagestan, between Kumyk possession of the Russian Empire and other administrative units.

At some point Shamkhalate had vassals from Caspian Sea to Kabarda and Balkaria. The Shamkhals also possessed the title of the Vali of Dagestan[13] and had their residence in the ancient Khazar-Kumyk mountainous shelter.[14]

Final annexation of the Shamkhalate of Tarki and other territories of Dagestan into Russia was concluded by the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813. In 1867 the feudal domain of the Shamkhalate of Tarki was abolished, and on its territory Temir-Khan-Shura (currently Buynaksk) district of Dagestan oblast was established.[15]

During a short period in 1580-1590s Shawhalate was officially a part of the Ottoman Empire. Since the 16th century the state becomes a major figure of the Russian politics to the south as the main target and obstacle in conquering Caucasian region.[14]

Emergence of Shamkhalate[edit]

Arab version[edit]

According to the Arab version of events, the Shamkhalate emerged in the year of 734, when Arab conqueror Abu-Muslim appointed one of his generals named "Shakhbal" to rule over "Kumuh region". This version is based upon "Derbend-name" source, which is by itself not known to have a certain author and has many anonymous undated versions. The most recent authored version is of the sixteenth century.

Critics of the Arab version[edit]

V. Bartold also stated, that the term "Shamkhal" is a later form of the original form Shawkhal, which is mentioned both in the Russian[16] and Persian (Nizam ad-Din Shami and Sheref ad-din Yezdi) sources.[17] Dagestani historian Shikhsaidov wrote that the version claiming Arab descent was in favor of the dynasty and clerics (the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad).[18] A. Kandaurov wrote that the Arab version was elaborated by the Shamkhals themselves. Also, the title Shamkhals is not mentioned in the works of the Medieval Arabic historians and geographers.[19]

Turkic-Kumyk version[edit]

Among the supporters of Turkic version of the creation of the Shamkhalian state is Lak historian Ali Kayaev:[20][21]

Shamkhal wasn't a descendant of Abbas Hamza but a Turk, who came with his companions. After him the Shamkhalate became a hereditary state.

Also it was supported by the historian Fahrettin Kirzioglu,[22] the early 20th century historian D. H. Mamaev,[23] Halim Gerey Sultan,[24] Mehmet-Efendi,[25] and others. Dagestanian historian R. Magomedov stated that:[26]

there is all necessary proofs to relate the term to the Golden Horde, but not to the Arabs. We may think that in the period of the Mongol-Tatars they put a Kumyk ruler in that status [Shamkhal].

Russian professor of oriental studies, the Doctor of Historical Sciences I. Zaytsev, also shared the opinion that the Shamkhalate was a Kumyk state with the capital in the town of Kumuk (written thus in medieval sources). While studying works of the Timurid historians Nizam ad-Din Shami and Sheref ad-din Yezdi, Soviet historians V. Romaskevich[27] and S. Volin,[27] and Uzbek historian Ashraf Ahmedov,[28] as well as professor in Alan studies O. Bubenok,[29] call Gazi-Kumuk (also Gazi-Kumukluk in medieval sources[30]) call the Shamkhalate area as the lands of Kumyks.

Ottoman traveler Evliya Çelebi called the Shamkhal "a natural Oghuz".[31] One of the arguments of the Turkic version is that Shamkhals were elected in the way that is traditional for Turkic peoples — tossing a red apple.[32] Ancient pre-Muslim names of the Kumuk [today Kumukh] inhabitants, as fixed in Khuduk inscription — Budulay, Ahsuwar, Chupan and others[33] — are of Turkic origin.[34] On the graves of the Shamkhals in Kumukh there are Turkic inscriptions, as noted by professor of Caucasian studies L. Lavrov.[35] The grave itself was called by the locals "Semerdalian" after the Khazar city of Semender;[36] the gravestones there are patterned in a Kipchak style.[37] In the "Maza chronicle" Shamkhals are described as "a branch of the Khan-Hakhan generations".[38] Nizam ad-Din Shami Yezdi in his 14th century Timurid chronicle The Book of Triumph[39] and Sheref ad-din Yezdi mentioned the land as Gazi-Kumukluk,[40] where the suffix "luk" is a Turkic linguistic sign.[41] The ruler of Andi people Ali-Beg, who founded a new ruling dynasty, also had a title of "Shamkhal".[42] According to the local story, starting from Ali-Beg until Khadjik, the rulers of their land spoke in the "language of the plains", i.e. Kumyk.[43]

Tarki, View from the Caspian Sea, D. Milyutin's sketch, (head of the Principal Headquarters of the Caucasian Army (1856-1860) under the prince A. Baryatinskiy). In the centre the destroyed Shamkhal palace might be found

Jamalutdin-haji Mamaev in the beginning of the 20th century wrote:[44]

The fact that the ruler in Dagestan was chosen from the Chinghiz dynasty and called shawkhal-khan [sic], derived from the Turkic, Tatar spiritual tradition, as a reliance on their genealogical ancestry (nasab), not paying attention to the science or courtesies (edeb). The house of Chinghiz is highly esteemed amongst them (shawkhals), as Quraysh amongst Muslims. They didn't allow someone to stand higher than them or lift heads.

According to French historian Chantal Lemercier-Quelquejay, Shamkhalate was dominated by the Turkic Kumyks, and the Lak people hold the honorable title of Gazis (because of the earlier adoption of Islam).[45] Apart from that, the Shamkhalate had a feudal class of Karachi-beks, a title exclusively related to Mongol-Turkic states.

Piano Karpini mentioned from his travels that Khazaria and Lak, even before falling in the hands of the "Western Tatars", belonged to the Cumans:[46]

The first King of the Western Tatars was Sain. He was strong and mighty. He conquered Russia, Comania, Alania, Lak, Mengiar, Gugia and Khazaria, and before his conquest, they all belonged to Comans.

Vasily Bartold also stated that the Arabic version is a compilation by local historians trying to merge legends with history.[17]

The original population of the "Kazi-Kumykskiy" possession, as wrote F. Somonovich in 1796, were Dagestan Tatars (Kumyks). After the resettlement of some Lezginian peoples from Gilan province of Persia, under the rule of Shamkhal, the population mixed, and the power of Shamkhal decreased, and the new population formed their own Khanate independent of the Shamkhal dynasty:[47]

The people of this province come from Dagestan Tatars, mixed with the Persian settlers; they follow the same [religious] law, and speak [one of the] Lezginian languages.


As some Persian sources say, this people settled here under the Abumuselim shah, from the Gilan Province and served under the cleric official kazi, under the rule of Shamkhal. Because of that cleric and the people of Kumukh place, who resettled here from Gilan, or, better said, by the mixture with the indigenous Kumukh people, who originate from Dagestan Tatars, the name Kazikumuk emerged. This clerics were the ancestors of Khamutay [contemporary Khan of Kazikumukh], who following the example of others claimed in their parts independence and in the present times adopted the Khan title.

Palace of the Shamkhals in their residence town of Kapir-Kumuk. Destroyed by bolsheviks during Russian Civil War


16-17th cc.[edit]

Relations with Russia[edit]

In 1556 diplomatic relations with the Moscow state were set. The peaceful embassy of shamkhal brought Ivan the Terrible a number of rich gifts, one of which was extraordinary: an elephant, not seen up to that time in Moscow.[48] Shamkhal's envoy to Russia had no success as in 1557 prince Temruk Idar of Kabardia asked Ivan the Terrible to help him against the raids of shevkalski tsar (shamkhal), Crimean khan and the Turks. Ivan the Terrible sent his general Cheremisov who took over Tarki but decided not to remain there.[49][50]

Sunzha fortress[edit]

In 1566 prince Matlov of Kabarda asked the Moscow tsar to put a fortress at the confluence of the Sunzha and Terek. For the construction of the fortress "came princes Andrew Babichev and Peter Protasiev with many people, guns and musket". In 1567 trying to prevent the Russians to build their stronghold at the mouth of the Sunzha, Budai-shamkhal and his son Surkhay were killed on the battlefield as evidenced by their tombstones at the cemetery of shamkhals in Gazi-Kumukh.

In 1569 prince Chopan, son of Budai-shamkhal, was elected shamkhal. Territory of Chopan-shamkhal in the north extended beyond Terek river and adjoined the Khanate of Astrakhan. In the west his territory included part of Chechnya up to Kabarda. In the south, territories of Chopan-shamkhal extended "up to Shemakha itself" according to I. Gerber.[51]

In 1570 Chopan-shamkhal jointly with Turks and Crimeans undertook an expedition to capture Astrakhan. The city was not taken and the army retreated to Azov but then invaded Kabarda. Despite the demolition of the Sunzha fortress the Russian advance to the Caucasus by the end of the 1580s recommenced.[52][53]

Alliance with Iran[edit]

In Persia in the court of the shah, shamkhal had an honorable place next to the shah. Sister of Chopan-shamkhal was married to shah Tahmasp I (1514–1576). "First of all, in Persia at the time of the great festivities there were made on the right and left side of Shah's throne, the two seats on each side for the four noble defenders of the state against the four strongest powers, namely: for the khan of Kandahar, as a defender against India; for shamkhal, as a defender against Russia; for the king of Georgian, as a defender of the state against the Turks; for the khan who lives on the Arab border". According to A. Kayaev, the influence of Chopan-shamkhal in Caucasus was great so that he "intervened in the affairs of succession of Persion throne in Iran".[54]

The capital town of Tarki on 17th century engraving based on Adam Olearius's Travels.

Alliance with Turkey[edit]

In 1577 Chopan-shamkhal jointly with his brother Tuchelav-Bek, Gazi-Salih of Tabasaran and in alliance with the Turkish army undertook a military campaign against Sufi-Qizilbashes who were defeated.[55][56] After the victory over Qizilbashes in Shirvan, Chopan-shamkhal carried out a visit to Turkey and was met in Eastern Anatolia with honors. Chopan-shamkhal was given many gifts. For his services in the war with the Persians shamkhal was given sanjak Shaburan and his brother Tuchelav sanjak Akhty and Ikhyr. Ibrahim Pechevi reported that the governor of Shirvan Osman Pasha married a daughter Tuchelav.[57][58] Chopan Shamkhal pledged to defend Shirvan.

Aggression from Russia[edit]

At the end of the 16th century shamkhal feuded with krym-shamkhal who was supported by part of the "Kumyk land". King Alexander of Kakheti reported at the time that "shamkhal affair was bad as they (shamkhal and krym-shamkhal) scold among themselves". In 1588 the Georgian ambassador Kaplan and Hursh reported that shamkhalate was in turmoil and asked the Russian tsar to send troops as a measure of military action against the raids shamkhal on Georgia.[59] Russians captured Tumen principality in the northern Dagestan.[60]

In 1594 a Khvorostinin's campaign into Dagestan took place who retreated after fighting. In 1599 Georgian ambassadors in Moscow, Saravan and Aram, reported to king Alexander of Kakheti that "neither you nor your men should be sent to fight shevkal (shamkhal), shevkal lives in the mountains, the road to him is narrow". Georgian ambassador Cyril in 1603 reported in Moscow that "shevkal and his children live more in Gazi-Kumuk in the mountains, because that place is strong".[61]

In 1604 a Buturlin's campaign into Dagestan took place. In 1605 Russian army that occupied lowlands of Dagestan (about 8,000 men) was surrounded and routed in Karaman field 20 kilometres north of Makhachkala.[62]


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  60. ^ Лавров Л. И. Кавказская Тюмень // Из истории дореволюционного Дагестана. М. 1976, с. 163-165. Lavrov defined Tumen as "an ancient Kumyk possession with seaside town of Tumen, which consisted of a mixed population of Kumyks, Kabardins, Nogais, Astrakhans, Kazan Tatars and Persians". The possession of Tumen was located near Sulak river in Dagestan and refers to the possession of Tumen mentioned by Khalifa ibn Hayyat in the 8th century. As it was reported, warlord Marwan capturing Gumuk and Khunzakh, headed north, towards the possession of Tumen. Bakikhanov links Tumen with 'Tumen-shah' in the eastern sources. (Бейлис В. М. Сообщения Халифы ибн Хаййата ал-Усфури об арабо-хазарских войнах в VII - первой половине VIII в. // Древнейшие государства Восточной Европы. 1998. М.,2000. С.43).
  61. ^ Белокуров С. Указ. раб. С. 302, 405.
  62. ^ Н. М. Карамзин. История государства Российского. Т.XI. Кн. III.)