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History of Kakheti

Kakheti formed a part of Kartli-Iberia until the second half of the eighth century when it was governed as a separate duchy. Before that, beginning in the fifth century, it was one of the seven principalities ruled by appointees of the king of Kartli- Iberia. In the second half of the sixth century, after the death of King Vakhtang Gorgasali in 502, much of eastern Georgia was ruled by Iran. The monarchs of Kartli-lberia were constrained to wield what influence they could from their fortress at Ujarma in Kakheti. In 575, however, with the death of King Bakur III, the Persians abolished the monarchy with the wholehearted approval of the Georgian nobility, who hoped to gain power by the absence of a strong king. This is precisely what occurred, and until the Arab invasions of the seventh century, the nobles who governed Kakheti on behalf oа the king gained larger territories, which they oversaw as independent fiefdoms.

In the seventh century, when Kartli fell under direct Arab domination, Kakheti managed to remain autonomous under the rule of the Donauri family. At the beginning of the 11th century, one Kvirike III crowned himself king. Ruled by a succession of strong local princes and the occasional king, Kakheti remained autonomous until 1105, when David the Builder conquered the region and incorporated it into a united Georgian kingdom. Until then the Kakhetian principality had resisted the efforts of the Bagratid family of kings, who had sought from the ninth through the early 11th century to annex it to their kingdom in western Kartli. As a result of David the Builder's campaign in Kakheti and elsewhere, his heirs ruled over a much enlarged Georgia. The monarchy held sway over Kakheti until the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, at which time it fell, along with the rest of eastern Georgia, under the rule of the Mongol Khan and his appointees.

Throughout the 14th century Kakheti shared a history with Kartli, experiencing the benefits of a resurgence of the Georgian monarchy under Giorgi V (1314-1346) and the devastation and terror of Tamerlane's invasion in 1386. Fratricidal conflicts by the heirs of Aleksandre I, the last king of a united Georgia (1412-1442), splintered the Georgian kingdom once again. Aleksandre's son, Giorgi VIII, having lost Kartli in a power struggle with Bagrat VI in 1465, escaped to Kakheti to form a new kingdom. His son continued to rule this new kingdom from 1476 to 1511 as Aleksandre II.

Georgia's economic decline during the 16th century did not affect Kakheti which, because of its proximity to the silk route to Astrakhan, was able to participate in trade of more international dimensions. During this period Jewish, Armenian, Persian colonies sprang up in Kakheti and enlarged the market towns. These years also saw the growth of towns like Gremi and Telavi.

When the Turks and the Persians signed the Peace of Amasa in 1555, regions of Georgia were divided between the two powers. Kakheti fell under the rule of the Safavids of Persia. Despite continual attempts to free themselves from Persian domination, Kakhetian kings ruled only by the grace of Isfahan until the Russian annexation of Georgia 245 years later.

Kakheti's desire to ally with Russia considerably predated the actual annexation. During the reign of King Levan I of Kakheti (1520-1574), initial efforts were made to interest the Tsar of Russia to aid a Christian kingdom suffering under Moslem rule. These efforts were continued by Levan's son, Aleksandre II of Kakheti, who received envoys from Moscow at Gremi and later managed to exchange ambassador with Tsar Fedor Ivanovich. Nothing more substantial occurred, however, and when Shah Abbas I (1587-1629) took power as ruler of Iran, a period of devastation for Kakheli began-which the Russians did nothing to alleviate. Shah Abbas I was interested in establishing greater Iranian hegemony over the Southern Caucasus and was therefore determined to defeat the Turks to fulfil his ambition. To this end he pressed the Georgian kings to join him on his campaigns. Aleksandre II marched with Shah Abbas against the Turks, leaving his son Giorgi to rule. Facing a Turkish threat, Giorgi found it expedient to ally himself with the Russians.

The resulting story is a microcosm of the complexity of Georgian politics of the period, a story that led to disastrous consequences for Kakheti. Aleksandre returned in Kakheti in 1605 with his son Konstantin, who had been raised a Moslem in the court of Shah Abbas. Soon after their return Konstantin, acting on the shah's orders, murdered both his father and older brother Giorgi and crowned himself king. Kakhetian nobles, led by Queen Ketevan, one of Aleksandre's daughters-in-law, revolted against Konstantin, who was killed in battle. Ketevan's son, Teimuraz I (1606-1664), was made king. Shah Abbas thought it politically expedient to recognize Teimuraz, but at the first opportunity he invaded Georgia again and in 1616, drove Teimuraz from the throne. Shah Abbas replaced him with a grandson of Aleksandre II, Iese Khan, who had been raised as a Moslem. In 1616 the Kakhetians rebelled against the Moslem king. Shah Abbas exacted a savage retribution, invading Kakheti and killing between 60,000 and 70,000 peasants. More than 100,000 Kakhetians were deported to Iran, the majority to a region called Fereidan near Isfahan. Though now Moslem, to this day bread is still baked in the shape of a cross in the region. Many of the villages are named after places in Kakheti.

As a result of Shah Abbas' policy, the population of Kakheti declined by two thirds and whole towns like Gremi ceased to exist. Though Teimuraz, exiled in Imereti, requested aid from the Russians to march against the Persians, he managed to regain his throne only as a result of the guerrilla war waged by the powerful Georgian soldier Giorgi Saakadze in 1625. Unwilling to face further rebellion by the Georgians and fearful of Russian intervention in the region, Shah Abbas recognized Teimuraz as king. Despite this capitulation and the death of Shah Abbas in 1629, Iranian influence in Kakheti remained strong until the beginning of the 18th century, when the Turks dominated the region.

The Turks put Teimuraz II (1733-1744) on the throne of Kakheti. He succeeded his brother, King Konstantin, who was murdered for trying to throw off Turkish domination. Teimuraz II did just that when he allied himself with Nadir Shah, the ambitious new ruler of Iran. A combined Georgian-Iranian force drove out the Turks, and Teimuraz II ruled in Kakheti as an Iranian governor. His son, Herekle, served under Nadir Shah during his Indian campaign. This fact should be remembered when you see the portrait of a turbaned Herekle in the Historical and Ethnographical Museum in Telavi. As a result of loyal service to the shah, Teimuraz II was made King of Kartli (1744-1762) and his son Herekle was named King of Kakheti (1744-1762).

When Nadir Shah was murdered in 1747, the father-and-son kings of Kartli and Kakheti set about filling the void created by the absence of a strong Iranian ruler. In this they largely succeeded, and when Teimuraz died, Herekle II became king of a united Kartli-Kakheti (1762-1798). Known as patara kakhi ("the little Kakhetian"), Herekle forged a kingdom that actively redressed many of the economic and social problems that had plagued eastern Georgia under Iranian hegemony. Commercial ties to Russia increased.

In Kakheti, Telavi and Sighnaghi grew as market centers. Herekle realized that the safety of his kingdom from Turkish, Iranian, and Daghestani incursions could best be obtained by an alliance with Catherine the Great. Despite repeated promises from Catherine and repeated disappointments suffered by the Georgians, Herekle signed the Treaty of Georgievsk on July 24, 1783, placing Kartli-Kakheti under Russian protection. A copy of this document is in Herekle's summer palace in Telavi; the original is held in the Institute of Manuscripts in Tbilisi.

Russian troops were garrisoned in Tbilisi, but at the outbreak of the Russo- Turkish War in 1787, Catherine withdrew her soldiers and Herekle was forced to face an invading Iranian force in 1795. The Iranians, under Shah Agha Mohammed Khan, captured and burned Tbilisi, and Herekle fled to Kakheti. He died there in 1798. Herekle's son, Giorgi XII (1798-1800), had no choice but to continue to press the Russians for protection. On December 18,1800, Catherine's son, now Tsar Paul, annexed Kartli-Kakheti to Russia. Under the terms of the Treaty of Georgievsk, the continuation of the Georgian crown was guaranteed to Herekle and his heirs.

Giorgi XII died at the beginning of l801, just before the arrival of Russian troops in Tbilisi. Tsar Paul's son, Alexander 1, simply abolished the Georgian-Bagratid monarchy and incorporated the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti into the Russian Empire.