Reviews

A. Ferrari stresses the lack of studies of the Armenian nobility of the late mediaeval period, compared with its historical importance. It is true that the fall of Armenian kingdoms in the Caucasus (eleventh century) and in Cilicia (in 1375) has dissolved the historical nobility, even though some influential families could survive and to play important roles in the vernacular society till the Russian conquest. According to the author, historical research on nobility is useful to the extent that it helps to “reduce the excessive identification of Armenians with a merchant and cosmopolitan image that does not correspond to their general social structure.” It leads to more nuanced reading of Armenian history, which often remains divided into two opposite faces ― viz., an ancient reputation as brave soldiers vs. the “greed and cowardice” of a merchant Diaspora. The so-called meliks of Eastern Armenia had flourished in Siwnik‘, Arc‘ax and in some territories of Georgian kingdoms (Lori, Somxiti) in the late mediaeval period. A. Ferrari convincingly stresses the important place occupied by Armenians in Georgian society, a still poorly studied aspect of both Armenian and Georgian national historiographies. Some nineteen Armenian families are associated in the present study with Georgian nobility. Those families pursued the revival of Armenian statehood and monarchy in seventeenth and eighteenth-century Transcaucasia, under Russia’s protection. Among the protagonists, one finds not only Islarel Ori, who led an unsuccessful but legendary mission to Europe and Russia, but also famous leaders of the Armenians during the troubled period that followed the fall of the Safavids, like Kat‘olikos Esayi of Ganjasar and probably also Dawit‘ Bek. However, the power of the melik families significantly declined towards the late eighteenth century, due to the rise of the Muslim Khanate of Shushi in the heart of Qarabakh and to internecine conflicts within the Armenian nobility. These circumstances casted a dark shadow over the ambitious project set up in 1783 by Yovsep Arłt‘ean, from an Armenian-Georgian princely family. Yet his plans for the revival of an Armenian Kingdom, with its capital in the Ararat region, his national emblems combining many symbols of the Pre-Christian and Christian legacies of Armenia show the continuity of a sense of nobility and a preference for monarchy in the Armenian gentry. This so called “northern” project is compared with the “southern” one promoted by Shahamir Shahamirean, the leader of the Madras group which in the same year defended the idea of a republican state for Armenia. These considerations and others notwithstanding (including Russian general Potemkin’s zeal to establish a sovereign state in Asia Minor with Armenian nobles), the weak position of Armenians in their homeland made any attempt to revival the Armenian statehood impossible. Although “Qarabakh failed to become the Piedmont or the Prussia of Armenia,” A. Ferrari suggests that the result of the research on the history of the Armenian nobility in the eighteenth century provides us with a new perspective. This article contains many important suggestions for future Armenian and Caucasian studies. Its extensive bibliography also helps researchers to access to the materials of this poorly studied but very attractive subject, and to the global modern history of a people endowed with a particularly dramatic past.

Maeda Hirotake, Osaka University
CER: II-3.3.B-211