Armenians and Russia (1626-1796). A Documentary Record

George A. Bournoutian (ed.)
Mazda Publishers, Costa Mesa (CA), 2001.

During the XIX century some scholars, among which S. Glinka, A. Berzhe, G. Aghaneants, A. Ezov, started to publish documents concerning the historical relations between Armenians and Russians. In the soviet years this publication went on with the due ideological reference to the “everlasting friendship of the Armenian and Russian peoples”. From 1940s to 1970s several volumes, edited by different scholars, appeared on the armeno-russian relations (“Armiano-russkie otnosheniia”), on the so called “union” of Eastern Armenia to Russia, and on more specific aspects, such as the military ones. Many other materials needed to reconstruct the armeno-russian connections was to be found in volumes devoted to Persian, Turkish, or Georgian documents. Therefore, scholars had already hoards of historical documents to sustain the study of the different phases of the relations between Russian and Armenia, before and after the tsarist conquest of Caucasus. Nevertheless, this volume by George A. Bournoutian is extremely useful because the translation in English of a huge number of documents, originally written in Armenian, Russian, Georgian, French, Persian, German and Latin, enables a much wider audience than that of specialists to get acquainted with fundamentals issues of the period going from the XVII to the XVIII century, which was a decisive one for the fate of Eastern Armenia. This volume contains several important historical documents, among which I would like to mention the commercial agreement between Russia and Armenian merchants (1667); the plea of the Meliks of Karabakh to Peter the Great to help them free Armenia (1699); the treaties between Russia and Persia (1723), Russia and the Ottoman Empire (1724), Russia and Georgia (1783); the proposed alliance between Armenians and Russia, still 1783, until the Manifesto of Catherine II in 1796, the same year of the Caucasian expedition of General Zubov. As well as in the book published in 1999 regarding the following historical period, Russia and the Armenians of Transcaucasia, 1797-1889: A documentary record, Bournoutian chose to privilege the readability on the literal translation of the texts. The consequence is the systematic omission of the salutations at the beginning of documents and the cuts operated to the translation of some documents. In my opinion this can sometimes produce an oversimplification. Indeed, the titling of documents has an important historical meaning, though it can sound out-of-date and redundant to a modern reader. Furthermore, the cuts to some documents are not limited, as the introduction seems to suggest, to the elimination of the “repetitive material” (p. 4). For example, in the translation of the already quoted plea of the Meliks to Peter the Great, Bournoutian omits long and important passages, among which those related to the sufferings of the Christians of Caucasus, both Armenians and Georgians. The final passage of the same document, in which Armenian nobles commit their lives and fortunes to the Russian tsar if he will succour them, is omitted, too. Also the translation of the Manifesto of Catherine II lacks a conspicuous part of text, even though less meaningful than those of the former example. On the other hand, the text by Bournoutian is positively connotated for the notes to the various documents which specify their origins and clarify some passages otherwise difficult to understand. Besides, the language competence of Bournoutian allows him to correctly understand Persian, Turkish and Arab expressions, as well as the numerous dialect words to be found in these documents. Indeed, one of the best points of the works of this scholar is his attention to the oriental sources dealing with the Armenian history, which can be seen both in his monographs and in the numerous translations. The book is completed by a vast commentary, more than 50 pages, which summarises the historical context of the armeno-russian connections of this period; by some geographic charts; by an appendix containing the lists of Russian, Persian, Ottoman and Georgian sovereigns besides those of Armenian Kat’oghikos and Patriarchs; by a glossary; by the biographic notes on the main personalities quoted in the documents; by a bibliography and by a list of names and places. Strangely enough, a list of the translated documents is missing, which could have been helpful for the consultation of the volume. In conclusion, this work reaches the point of making the historical documents of the examined periods widely known and at the same time contributes to increasing the knowledge of Armenian history of XVII-XVIII centuries.

Aldo Ferrari