The 1804–1813 Russo-Persian War was one of several conflicts between the Persian Empire and Imperial Russia, and it began as a territorial dispute, as do many of their conflicts. Fath Ali Shah Qajar, the next Persian king, wished to unite his kingdom's northernmost reaches—modern-day Georgia—which had been captured by Tsar Paul I many years after the Russo-Persian War of 1796. Tsar Alexander I, like his Persian counterpart, was new to the throne and similarly determined to control the contested areas.
The Treaty of Gulistan, signed in 1813, gave Imperial Russia the previously contested region of Georgia, as well as the Iranian lands of Dagestan, most of what is now Azerbaijan, and minor parts of Armenia.
The first full-scale Russo-Persian War began with Tsar Paul's decision to annex Georgia (December 1800) after Erekle II, who had been appointed as ruler of Kartli by his ruler Nader Shah several years earlier, made a plea to Christian Russia in the Treaty of Georgievsk of 1783 to be incorporated into the empire. Tsar Alexander continued Paul's aggressive policy after his assassination (11 March 1801), with the goal of establishing Russian dominance over the khanates of the eastern Caucasus. In 1803, Paul Tsitsianov, the newly appointed commander of Russian forces in the Caucasus, assaulted Ganja and took its citadel on January 15, 1804. The governor of Ganja, Javad Khan Qajar, was assassinated, as were many of the town's residents. The Russian threat to Armenia, Karabagh, and Azerbaijan was seen by Qajar monarch Fath Ali Shah not only as a cause of instability on his northern border, but also as a direct challenge to Qajar power.
Because Alexander's attention was constantly diverted by simultaneous wars with France, the Ottoman Empire, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, the Russians were unable to deploy a significant number of men to the Caucasus. As a result, in the face of a massive numerical disadvantage, the Russians were obliged to rely on better technology, training, and tactics. According to some estimations, the Persians have a numerical superiority of five to one. Abbas Mirza, Shah Fath Ali's heir, attempted to modernize the Persian army by enlisting the support of French specialists through the Franco-Persian alliance, and subsequently British experts to rectify the troops' tactical disparities.
The battle began when Russian commanders Ivan Gudovich and Paul Tsitsianov attacked Echmiadzin, Armenia's holiest town, a Persian village. Due to a lack of troops, Gudovich was unable to hold Echmiadzin and moved to Yerevan, where his siege was again unsuccessful. Despite these failed excursions, the Russians dominated the battle for the majority of it, thanks to superior forces and planning. The Persians were able to organize a respectable resistance effort due to Russia's unwillingness to commit more than 10,000 troops to the operation. The Persian troops were primarily irregular cavalry of low grade.
Late in the conflict, the Persians increased their efforts, declaring jihad, or holy war, on Imperial Russia in 1810. A series of strategic wins were assured thanks to Russia's superior technology and tactics. Despite Persia's connection with Napoleon, who was an ally of Abbas Mirza, France was unable to provide much direct assistance. Even when the French occupied Moscow, Russian forces in the south continued their onslaught against Persia, culminating in Pyotr Kotlyarevsky's triumphs at Aslanduz and Lenkoran in 1812 and 1813, respectively, after a defeat in the Battle of Sultanabad. The Treaty of Gulistan, signed after the Persian surrender, gave Imperial Russia the vast bulk of the previously disputed regions. As a result, the once-powerful khans of the region were devastated and forced to pay allegiance to Russia.
During this time, Russia's major concern was with the local khanates that were under Persia's control. The khans could generally be coerced without much struggle after the violent seizure of Ganja. The main Persian army intervened twice, with one success and one failure. The main events were: the seizure of Ganja and the failure to seize Yerevan in 1804; the drive east almost to the Caspian in 1805; and the death of Tsitsianov, the capture of the Caspian coast, and the beginning of the Russo-Turkish War in 1806.
Pavel Tsitsianov demanded the capitulation of the Ganja Khanate, which was located southeast of Georgia and over which Georgia had some notional rights, in late 1803. He was now working against territory that was traditionally viewed as Muslim and Persian, rather than unifying Georgia or releasing Christians. Ganja was seized with a lot of slaughter on January 3, 1804. The army of Abbas Mirza arrived too late and withdrew to the south. Tsitsianov and 3,000 troops marched south from Yerevan Khanate's Echmiadzin in June. Abbas Mirza and 18,000 Persians pushed them back. Then they advanced east, besieging Yerevan from July to September. The citadel was held by the local khan, the town was held by the Russians, and the surrounding farmland was held by the Persians. The Russians withdrew to Georgia, weakened by sickness and fighting on half-rations, losing additional men along the way.
The Shuragel Sultanate was conquered in early 1805. This was a small area at the crossroads of Georgia, the Yerevan Khanate, and Turkey, with the strategically important town of Gyumri. The Karabakh Khanate and the Shaki Khanate both submitted on May 14. Abbas Mirza took the Askeran Fortress near the mouth of a valley that extends from the plain southwest to Shusha, Karabakh's capital, in response to the loss of Karabakh. Koryagin was dispatched by the Russians to capture the fort of Shakh-Bulakh. The area was besieged by Abbas Mirza, who marched north. When he heard that another army led by Fath Ali Koryagin was approaching, he snuck away at night and headed for Shusha. He was apprehended in the Askeran Gorge, but he was not defeated. The blockade of Koryagin and Shusha was relieved by more Russian forces. Abbas Mirza made a broad swing north and besieged Ganja after seeing the main Russian force had gone far to the southeast. His camp at Shamkir was overrun by 600 Russian infantry on July 27.
A unsuccessful naval strike on Baku in September. Tsitsianov marched east toward Baku in November, receiving the Shirvan Khanate's capitulation along the way (27 December). He was assassinated on February 8, 1806 while accepting Baku's submission. Glazenap reclaimed Russian prestige by marching north of the mountains and capturing Derbent, Quba, and Baku. (Baku formally surrendered to Bulgakov.) Tsitsianov was replaced as Viceroy by Gudovich. Turkey declared war on Russia in December.
To deal with the Turks, troops were transferred west, a truce was reached, and Nibolshin was left to watch the border. When Russia captured Echmiadzrin in 1808, fighting resumed. South of Lake Shirvan, Abbas Mirza was defeated, and Nakhichevan, or at least a portion of it, was occupied. Gudovich attacked Yerevan in September 1808. After the assault failed, the retreat became essential, and 1,000 men, largely sick and injured, perished as they froze to death. Only Nibolshin and Lissanevich's victory over a "vast horde" of Persians allowed them to flee. Gudovich resigned, and Alexander Tormasov took his position. Fath Ali was expelled from Gyumri and Abbas Mirza was expelled from Ganja in 1809. Abbas Mirza attempted an invasion of Karabakh in 1810, but was defeated at Meghri on the Aras River.
Persia invaded Karabagh in early 1812. They took over Shakhbulakh, which was afterwards retaken by the Russians. They used European-style soldiers and a few British officers to attack a Russian battalion at "Sultan-Buda." The Russians surrendered after a day of combat. In response to this unprecedented defeat, Russia moved the hero of Akhalkalaki, Pyotr Kotlyarevsky, from the Turkish to the Persian front.
Russia made peace with Turkey in the summer of 1812, just as Napoleon was ready to attack, and its Caucasian forces switched their attention to Persia. On the 19th of October, Kotlyarevsky defied Ritishchev's caution and crossed the Aras River, routing the Persians at the Battle of Aslanduz. He then crossed the snow-covered Mugan Plain and assaulted the newly constructed fort of Lenkaran after a five-day siege. The Russians suffered a loss of 1000 troops, or two-thirds of their army. Every survivor of the 4000-man garrison was bayoneted. Kotlyarevsky was discovered wounded among the bodies. He was transported to Tiflis half-dead and lived for another 39 years, unsuitable for further service. The defeat of the Persians was completed with a victory at "Karabezouk" (3 April 1813). Persia received word of Napoleon's defeat in the spring of 1813. Peace talks had already begun, and an armistice had been signed in October. Persia accepted Russian possession of all Khanates it had by the Treaty of Gulistan and relinquished all claims to Dagestan and Georgia. The northern part of Talysh's border was left to be decided later. Persia held Meghri in southwest Karabakh, which the Russians had abandoned because it was sickly and isolated from the rest of the country.
Persia attempted to reclaim its territory thirteen years later, during the Russo-Persian War (1826–28). The Khanates of Yerevan and Nakhichevan, roughly contemporary Armenia, were defeated and lost.
Although the Russo-Persian War was in many ways a continuation of a struggle for Transcaucasia's supremacy that began with Peter the Great and Nader Shah, it differed from previous conflicts between Persia and Russia in that its outcome was influenced as much by European powers' diplomatic maneuvering during the Napoleonic era as by battlefield developments. Fath Ali Shah, short on funds and desperate for an ally after the Russian takeover of the several khanates, had submitted a plea for British assistance as early as December 1804. However, in 1805, Russia and Britain formed the Third Coalition against France, which meant that Britain could no longer nurture its Persian ties at the expense of Russia, and it felt compelled to ignore the shah's repeated demands for aid. As Charles Arbuthnot, the British envoy to the Ottoman Empire, put it in August 1806,
To please the Emperor [of Russia], we have thrown away all our influence in Persia
This gave France the opportunity to challenge both Russian and British interests in Persia. Napoleon sent various envoys to Persia, including Pierre Jaubert and Claude Mathieu de Gardane, in the hopes of forging a tripartite alliance between France, the Ottoman Empire, and Persia. Their diplomatic efforts culminated in the Treaty of Finckenstein, signed on 4 May 1807, under which France recognized Persian claims to Georgia and promised assistance in training and equipping the Persian army. Only two months later, Napoleon and Alexander I agreed to an armistice and signed the Treaty of Tilsit (7 July 1807), thus ending the French mission in Persia, while the French mission continued to give military aid and attempted to broker a solution with Russia. Gudovich resumed the siege of Erevan in 1808 when the French efforts failed.
Benjamin Zix presented Askar Khan Afshar to Napoleon I at Saint Cloud on September 4, 1808.
The British were alarmed by the rise of French influence in Persia, which they saw as a prelude to an attack on India, and the Franco-Russian rapprochement at Tilsit provided an opportunity for a now-isolated Britain to resume its efforts in Persia, as evidenced by subsequent missions by John Malcolm (1807–8) and Harford Jones (1809). According to the preliminary treaty of Tehran (15 March 1809) established by Jones, Britain pledged to train and equip 16,000 Persian infantry and pay a £100,000 subsidy if Persia was invaded by a European state, or to mediate if that nation was at peace with Great Britain. Despite the fact that Russia had been making peace overtures and Jones had thought that the preliminary agreement would facilitate a solution, Fath Ali Shah's determination to continue the war was encouraged by these events. With Abu'l-Hasan Khan's visit to London in 1809 and his return to Persia in 1810 with Gore Ouseley as ambassador and minister plenipotentiary, Anglo-Persian relations warmed even further. In 1812, the preliminary treaty was turned into the Definitive Treaty of Friendship and Alliance, which confirmed prior assurances of military aid and increased the amount of the subsidy for that purpose to £150,000 under Ouseley's supervision.
Then, in the story's third and final twist, Napoleon invaded Russia in June 1812, reuniting Russia and Britain as allies. Britain, like France after Tilsit, was forced to choose between antagonizing Russia and breaking its obligations to Persia, with the best choice being to mediate a resolution of the conflict. Since the setbacks of 1805–6, and as recently as 1810, when Alexander Tormasov, who had replaced Gudovich as commander after his unsuccessful siege of Erevan, and Mirza Bozorg Qaem-magham attempted to arrange an armistice, the Russians had been periodically interested in finding a negotiated settlement. However, the Russians were unwilling to make significant sacrifices in order to terminate the war, and the Persians were as hesitant to settle because the war was not going badly in their eyes. Ouseley, on the other hand, saw the incongruity of Britain's resources being used against its Russian partner, and predicted that the situation for Persia would deteriorate after Russia was liberated from Napoleon's conflict. As a result, he was receptive to Russian efforts to act as an intermediary, and he looked for ways to compel the Qajars to accept a settlement. He advocated changes to the Definitive Treaty, reduced British military involvement (leaving two officers, Charles Christie and Lindesay Bethune, as well as several drill sergeants with the Persian army), and threatened to stop paying the Qajars the subsidy guaranteed.
N. R. Ritischev took command of the Russian soldiers in February 1812 and began peace discussions with the Persians. Ouseley and his representative at the talks, James Morier, served as middlemen and offered a number of ideas to Rtischev, but none of them were accepted. Abbas Mirza resumed hostilities in August and conquered Lankaran. Negotiations were halted when word arrived that Napoleon had captured Moscow (Raman 1227/September 1812). While Ritischev was gone in Tbilisi, the general Peter Kotliarevski conducted a surprise night attack on the Persian encampment at Aslanduz, resulting in the complete rout of Abbas Mirza's army and the death of one of the British supporting officers (Christie). The Russians were emboldened to conduct a more robust campaign in the Caucasus when it became clear that Napoleon's invasion in Russia had failed miserably. The Persian citadel of Lankarn fell and its garrison was annihilated in early 1813, allowing the Russians to retake most of Talesh. Despite their desire to continue fighting despite these failures, Fath Ali Shah and Abbas Mirza were forced to surrender to Ouseley, who told the Shah that either the Russians would make territorial concessions or the British would continue to provide the subsidies they had promised.
Russia fought on two fronts – with the Ottoman Empire between 1806 and 1812, and with the Persian Empire between 1804 and 1813 – and both wars were terminated by treaties: the Treaty of Bucharest with the Ottoman Empire in 1812, and the Treaty of Gulistan with the Persian Empire in 1813. Russia was recognized as the state in charge of the South Caucasus, western and eastern Georgia, and Muslim khanates till Baku and Quba were under Russian rule and administration under this treaty.
With control over the administration of the Caucasus, Russia was regarded as a power in the region, but the Treaty of Gulistan's accomplishment was eclipsed by the Ottoman menace. The Treaty of Bucharest favored the Ottoman Empire, which received the lands that Russia had conquered during the war: Poti and Anapa, both Black Sea port cities, as well as Akhalkalaki. Despite the relatively stable conditions of sovereignty in these years, Russia had the ability to govern the region through defense lines in the complex political landscape of the South Caucasus.
Prof. William Bayne Fisher (et al.) claims:
With Napoleon's defeat, Russia was able to devote more resources to the Caucasus front. The disparity between Abbas Mirza's tribal levies and well-drilled, well-equipped, disciplined forces was decisive. At Aslanduz on the Aras, 2,260 Russians led by General P.S. Kotlyarevsky fought a two-day fight with 30,000 Persians led by Abbas Mirza, killing 1,200 enemy men and capturing 537 at a cost of only 127 killed and wounded to themselves. Though the Persians fought hard on occasion, such as at Lankaran, where the same Kotlyarevsky lost 950 of his 1,500 men and was severely incapacitated, the war was clearly lost.