Azerbaijan Between Two Empires: Ottoman Administration of a Borderland Province

The history of Ottoman-Safavid borderlands is beginning to get some attention by historians. The Ottoman campaigns into Iran aimed at punishing the Safavid state for supporting the Qizilbash in Anatolia, and bringing the silk growing region of Ganja and Shirvan as well as the city of Tabriz, which was the most important silk entrepôt in the eastern Mediterranean trade zone under Ottoman control. Based on Ottoman archival sources, I will examine the Ottoman administration of Azerbaijan in two periods, in the late sixteenth (1585-1603) and the early eighteenth centuries (1725-30), highlighting the transformation of Ottoman policies in administering this rich borderland region during these two periods. The first period witnessed a tight Ottoman central control and very harsh policies by Ottoman governors, in part due to sectarian warfare and the Celali rebellions, leading to great economic dislocation and local rebellions. The second occupation of Azerbaijan took place after the disintegration of the Safavid state and the Afghan occupation of Iran. The Ottomans state reached an agreement with peter the Great of Russia to occupy the northern and western provinces of Iran. The Ottoman empire followed a more decentralized control over Azerbaijan during this period and coopted members of local nobility as well as tribal leaders into its administration. It farmed out the sources of revenue to its own military as well as local ayan who submitted to Ottoman rule and followed the Persian tax registers in assessing taxes. This policy proved more effective in reviving the economy as revenues began rising. But the dispersal of some major local tribes between the Russian and Ottoman held territories caused a major uprising by the Shahsevan tribe against Ottoman and Russian policies. In brief, Ottoman policies in attempting to rule over tribes in Azerbaijan proved ineffective and the joint Russian-Ottoman control of this region caused major dislocation among the Shasevan tribe. Based on cadastral surveys and Muhimme registers, this paper will examine the nature of Ottoman administration of this important borderland, as well as the demographic makeup, agricultural and economic resources of this rich borderland province in two periods of Ottoman rule.