Disputes over territories along the southwestern coast of the Caspian Sea and in the eastern Transcaucasus led to war between Russia and Persia from 1804 to 1813 and again from 1826 to 1828. The military conflict between the two empires was nothing new, but it entered a more decisive stage with the dawning of the nineteenth century. At the root of the first Russo-Persian War was the desire of Shah Fath Ali to secure his northwestern territories in the name of the Qajar dynasty. At the time, Persia's claims to Karabakh, Shirvan, Talesh, and Shakki seemed precarious in the wake of Russia's annexation in 1801 of the former kingdom of Georgia, also claimed by Persia. Meanwhile, Russia consolidated this acquisition and resumed its military penetration of border territories constituting parts of modern Azerbaijan and Armenia, with the objective of extending its imperial frontiers to the Aras and Kura rivers.
War broke out when Prince Paul Tsitsianov marched to Echmiadzin at the head of a column of Russian, Georgian, and Armenian troops. The outnumbered Russian army was unable to overcome the town's stubborn defense and several weeks later also unsuccessfully besieged Yerevan. Throughout the war, the Russians generally had the strategic initiative but lacked the strength to crush the Persian resistance. Able to commit only about ten thousand troops, a fraction of their total force in the Caucasus, the Russian commanders relied on superior tactics and weapons to overcome a numerical disadvantage of as much as five to one. Overlapping wars with Napoleonic France, Turkey (1806–1812), and Sweden (1808–1809), as well as sporadic tribal uprisings in the Caucasus, distracted the tsar's attention. Yet state-supported, centralized military organization provided Russian columns with considerable combat power. In contrast, the Persian forces were largely irregular cavalry raised and organized on a tribal basis. Abbas Mirza, heir to the throne, sought French and British instructors to modernize his army, and resorted to a guerrilla strategy that delayed the Persian defeat.
In 1810, the Persians proclaimed a holy war, but this had little effect on the eventual outcome. The Russian victories at Aslandaz in 1812 and Lankarin in 1813 sealed the verdict in Russia's favor. Under the Treaty of Golestan, Russia obtained most of the disputed territories, including Dagestan and northern Azerbaijan, and reduced the local khans to the status of vassals.
Another war between Russia and Persia broke out in 1826 following the death of Alexander I and the subsequent Decembrist revolt. Sensing opportunity, the Persians invaded in July at the instigation of Abbas Mirza, and even won some early victories against the outnumbered forces of General Alexei Yermolov, whose appeals to St. Petersburg for reinforcements went unfulfilled. With only twelve regular battalions, the Russians effectively delayed the Persian advance. A contingent of about eighteen hundred, for instance, held the strategic fortress at Shusha against a greatly superior force. On September 12, a Persian army under the personal command of Abbas Mirza was defeated at Yelizabetpol. In the spring of 1827, the Russian command passed to General Ivan Paskevich. He captured Yerevan at the end of September and crossed the Aras River to seize Tabriz. In November, Abbas Mirza reluctantly submitted. Under the Treaty of Torkamanchay (February 1828), Persia ceded Yerevan and all the territory up to the Aras River and paid a twenty million ruble indemnity.
See also: caucasus; georgia and georgians; iran, relations with; military, imperial era
Atkin, Muriel. (1980). Russia and Iran, 1780–1828. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Curtiss, John S. (1965). The Russian Army under Nicholas I, 1825–1855. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Kazemzadeh, Firuz. (1974). "Russian Penetration of the Caucasus." In Russian Imperialism: From Ivan the Great to the Revolution, ed. Taras Hunczak. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Robert F. Baumann