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Ottoman Empire

By the 15th century, the Mongols could no longer keep their large empire together. As the Caucasus region had been enjoying its revived status as a trade crossroads, Turkey was piecing together its past. Osman (1258–1326), a charismatic “warrior of the faith” became the founder of the Ottoman Empire, which soon stretched into the Balkans and part of Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). Following the death of Tamerlane, the last great Mongol conqueror in Asia Minor, in 1405, the Ottoman Turks invaded Asia Minor and by the beginning of the 16th century held all of it. One notable exception was the eastern area of the Caucasus. Persia continued to try to reclaim its empire by mobilizing attacks in this area. The area was chronically disputed between the two countries for the next two centuries. Interestingly, the Safavids, the rulers of Persia at the time, had originally been Turks, but through years of conquest and intermarriage, they became a distinct group that wanted to overthrow the Ottomans.

As the Ottomans began to overtake the Byzantine Empire, the borders in the Caucasus region continued to shift back and forth between the Safavids and the Ottomans. In 1553, the Safavids held the eastern half of present-day Georgia and all of present-day Azerbaijan. The Ottomans held Azerbaijan from 1578 to 1603. In 1615, having gained control of the entire area, the Persian ruler, Shah Abbas I (r. 1588–1629), solidified his control by deporting thousands of people.

In the 1720s, the Ottomans attempted another conquest, but the Persians expelled them again. Persia then placed the Georgian kingdom of Kartli under the rule of royalty descended from the Bagratids, setting the stage to create most of modern-day Georgia. In 1747, Nadir Shah, the ruler of Persia, was assassinated in a palace coup. His kingdom quickly fragmented into many small regions, leaving the Caucasus region once again ripe for conquering.