Prince Aleksandre of Georgia

Prince Aleksandre of Georgia
Born 1770
Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti
Died 1844
Tehran, Persia
Issue Irakli Gruzinsky
Dynasty Bagrationi dynasty
Father Heraclius II of Georgia
Mother Darejan Dadiani
Religion Georgian Orthodox Church

Prince Aleksandre of Georgia (Georgian: ალექსანდრე ბატონიშვილი, Aleksandre Batonishvili) (1770–1844) was a Georgian royal prince of the Bagrationi family, who headed several insurrections against the Russian rule in Georgia. He was known as Eskandar Mirza (اسکندرمیرزا) in the Persian Empire, Tsarevich Alexander Irakliyevich (Царевич Александр Ираклиевич) in Russia, and as Alexander Mirza in Western Europe.

Aleksandre was the son of the penultimate king of eastern Georgia, Heraclius II, who entrusted him various military and administrative tasks. After the death of Heraclius in 1798, he opposed the accession of his half-brother, King George XII, and the new king's pro-Russian policy. After the Russian annexation of Georgia in 1801, Aleksandre spent the rest of his life in trying to undermine the new regime by fomenting unrest in Georgia. Eventually, Aleksandre's reliance on the Persian military and North Caucasian mercenaries deprived him of popular support. After his last major rebellion was defeated in 1812, Aleksandre permanently settled in Persia, where he died in 1844.

Early life

Aleksandre was a son of Heraclius II (Erekle), king of Kartli and Kakheti in eastern Georgia, and his third wife Darejan Dadiani. He was educated by the Catholic missionaries at the court of his father. At age 12 or 13, he was tutored by and served as an aide to the Tiflis-based German adventurer and physician Jacob Reineggs, who played a role in the Russian–Georgian diplomacy until his retirement to the Russian Empire in 1783. Aleksandre became involved in the politics and administration of his country at a very young age. In 1793, he was entrusted by Heraclius with the government of the district of Kazakh and in 1794 he was invested with the appanage in Somkhiti.[1][2] Around the same time, Aleksandre was present with the army sent by Heraclius in support of his grandson, King Solomon II of Imereti, against his rival David.[2]

In 1795, Aleksandre led a Georgian contingent dispatched to help the allied Ibrahim Khalil Khan of Karabakh against the Iranian encroachment. In June, the allies fought back a 20,000-strong force sent by Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar against Karabakh. Back in Georgia, in July 1795, Aleksandre raised a force of Turkic mercenaries brought from Karabakh against the anticipated Iranian advance.[3] Fighting by his father's side, Aleksandre witnessed the sack of Tiflis in a disastrous attack by Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar, who resented Heraclius's rapprochement with the Russian Empire and demanded Georgia's reversal to traditional allegiance to Iran. Disappointed by his failure, Heraclius, then over 75, retired to his native Telavi, leaving Aleksandre in charge of restoring Tiflis.

Break with George XII

The battle on the Iori in 1800
Map of the campaign in Kakheti in 1800

After the death of Heraclius in 1798, Aleksandre, together with his mother Darejan and brother Iulon, led opposition to the accession of his half-brother, George XII. The conflict between the sons of Heraclius had already been brewing during their father's lifetime, and now evolved into an open confrontation. Severely ill and incompetent as a ruler, George relied on the Russian protection.[4] Aleksandre, suspecting that the Russian presence in the country would eventually lead to an outright annexation, was persuaded by the shah of Iran, Fath Ali Shah Qajar, to leave Tiflis and join his forces with Omar Khan, the ruler of the Avars in Dagestan and an erstwhile enemy of Heraclius II, in 1799.[5]

Fath Ali rewarded Aleksandre's defection by promising to support his claim to the Georgian throne. Aleksandre began raising an army and issued an appeal to the people of Kartli and Kakheti, trying to justify his new alliance with the traditional foes of the Georgians and swearing by the grave of Saint Nino that the Avar army was being assembled not to ravage the country, but to defend Aleksandre's right to the throne. At the same time, he sent letters to his mother and brothers, assuring that they would be saved from the Russian oppression.[6]

In November 1800, Aleksandre and Omar Khan led their forces into Kakheti, but they were met and decisively defeated by a combined Russo-Georgian army on the banks of the Iori river on 7 November 1800. Wounded in action, Omar Khan retreated to the mountains of Dagestan, while Aleksandre and his followers fled to Ibrahim Khalil Khan of Karabakh,[7][8] and then to Dagestan.[5] In the meantime, the defeat of his allies convinced Fath Ali not to proceed with his planned invasion of Georgia and he recalled his army to Tabriz.[7] Declared by the Russians a traitor to be taken dead or alive, Aleksandre thus began three decades of resistance.[9]

Struggle against Russia

Prince Aleksandre of Georgia

Russo-Persian war

After King George XII's death in December 1800, the Russian government prevented his heir Prince David from assuming the throne and brought Kartli and Kakheti more closely under its control. On 12 September 1801, Tsar Alexander I of Russia issued a manifesto, declaring the Georgian monarchy abolished and imposing a Russian administration. As the Russians began deporting the Georgian royal family members to Russia proper, many princes openly revolted. Aleksandre's brothers, Iulon and Parnaoz, fled to Solomon II, King of Imereti in western Georgia, while his half-nephew Teimuraz, a son of the late king George XII and the future historian, joined him in Dagestan.[10]

In 1803, Aleksandre attempted to win over the newly appointed Russian commander in Georgia, Prince Pavel Tsitsianov, of Georgian descent. In a warm letter sent to Tsitsianov, Aleksandre rejoiced in the fact that a "son of the Georgian soil" had been appointed as a commander and promised reconciliation provided the Georgian kingship was restored under the Russian protectorate. In response, Tsistianov, a loyal servant of the Russian Empire who saw no future for Georgia apart from Russia,[11] sent General Vasily Gulyakov to the conquest of Char and Belokan, the Lezgian communities sheltering Aleksandre and Teimuraz in Dagestan. Both fled to Tabriz and, when the Russo-Persian war broke out in 1804, joined the ranks of the reformed Persian army, Aleksandre as a senior adviser to the Crown Prince Abbas Mirza and Teimuraz as a commander of artillery. At the same time, Aleksandre sent emissaries to the rebels in Mtiuleti and Ossetia, promising them that he would be arriving with Persian armies to end the Russian rule. The Persian force under his command was decisively defeated by the Russians on 20 June 1804, near the historic Armenian monastery of Etchmiadzin.[12]

In 1810, Aleksandre joined the combined Persian-Ottoman venture of invasion of Georgia, also supported by Solomon II, the fugitive king of Imereti, and Leon, Aleksandre's nephew. However, the Ottoman mobilization was delayed and a Persian force was dispersed in a surprise nighttime attack by the Russians near Akhalkalaki. Barely escaping from captivity, Aleksandre fell back to Tabriz and Solomon retired to Trabizond, where he, the last reigning Georgian king, died in 1815.[13]

Rebellion in Kakheti

In September 1812, Aleksandre crossed into Kakheti with some 100 followers to invigorate an anti-Russian movement in the region. His force of Georgian rebels and Dagestani auxiliaries were defeated by General Dimitri Orbeliani in November 1812. According to the British officer William Monteith, who knew Aleksandre personally and accompanied him during his raid into Georgia, the rebellious prince, finding it impossible to raise the means of paying his Lezgian auxiliaries, had to consent to their carrying of Georgian slaves. As a result, Aleksandre's army was disbanded and he fled to the Khevsur highlanders. The Russians under General Stahl proceeded with ravaging the Khevsur villages, putting Aleksandre into flight to the Avars and other mountainous tribes of the Caucasus, whom the Russian authorities vainly pressured into surrendering the fugitive prince; they evinced toward him "a fidelity equal to that of the Highlanders towards Charles Edward under similar circumstances after the battle of Culloden."[14]

Aleksandre's association with the Avars gave origin to a legend widespread in the area in the 19th century, according to which Imam Shamil, the future leader of Caucasian resistance to the Russian expansion, was his illegitimate son.[15][16] Apollon Runovsky, an officer in charge of Shamil at Kaluga, claimed in his diaries that Shamil himself forged this legend in an attempt to win the support of Georgian highlanders.[15]

Life in Persia

Tabriz in the 1840s

In spite of a thorough Russian search, in 1818, Aleksandre fought his way to Akhaltsikhe and managed to safely reach Persia where the shah gave him a pension and some Armenian-populated villages in Salmas.[5] With the help of his friend, Crown Prince Abbas Mirza, and the Armenian Catholicos Ephraim, Aleksandre married Mariam, a daughter of Sahak Aghamalyan, the secular chief (melik) of the Armenians of the Erivan Khanate. Both Aleksandre and the Persian government hoped that this marriage would secure Armenian support against the Russians.[5] During his refuge life in Persia, Aleksandre maintained contacts with the European diplomats and travelers. Among these was the Jewish Christian missionary Joseph Wolff, whom Aleksandre met at his estate in Khosrova. The prince served to Wolff as a source of information about the genealogy of the Bagrationi dynasty, including a claim of descent from David, and the presence of the Jews in Georgia.[17]

Sir Robert Ker Porter, who saw Aleksandre in Tabriz in 1819 and noted his "bold independence of spirit" and irreconcilability to the Russian possession of Georgia, compared the refuge prince to "the royal lion hunted from his hereditary waste, yet still returning to hover near, and roar in proud loneliness of his ceaseless threatening to the human strangers who had disturbed his reign".[18] William Monteith recalled that Aleksandre "never showed any pride of birth, nor did he gave way to useless regrets for the loss of his fortune and princely dignity, though he had no hesitation in talking of his adventures, or giving any information that was asked for concerning them."[19]

The problem of protection offered by Iran to Aleksandre was one of the main points at issue during the ambassadorial mission of Semyon I. Mazarovich, sent in 1819 by the Russian government to Iran as a permanent resident diplomatic mission, to which the young poet Alexander Griboyedov was also attached.[20]

Later years

Aleksandre continued his efforts to stage anti-Russian revolts in various provinces of Georgia.[5] The Asiatic Journal report from the period of the Russo–Persian war of 1826–1828 noted that Aleksandre, "one of the principal refugee chiefs" in Iran and "a man of an enterprize", had lost confidence among the Georgians who were suspicious of his use of Dagestani auxiliaries and showed no "disposition to rise on the present occasion against their rulers."[21]

In 1832, several Georgian nobles and intellectuals plotted a coup against the Russian rule. According to their plan, the principal Russian officials were to be invited to a ball where they would be either arrested or killed. Then Aleksandre would be invited to assume the crown of Georgia. But the plot was betrayed and its leaders were arrested by the Russian government.[22] Abandoning all of his hopes to return to Georgia, Aleksandre continued to live as a broken man and died in 1844 in extreme poverty in either Tabriz or Tehran and was buried at a local Armenian church.

Family and descendants

In the lifetime of his father, in 1790, Aleksandre was betrothed to the daughter of a Circassian chief from Greater Kabarda, of the Misostov clan.[23] Monteith refers to her as Aleksandre's wife,[1] but the girl, baptized in Georgia as Nino, died after her arrival in Tiflis before the marriage was effected.[23]

Aleksandre married Mariam (12 August 1808 – 7 October 1882), a daughter of the Armenian dignitary Sahak Melik-Aghamalyan, in 1825 in Erivan. Through her mother, Mariam was a cousin of the prominent Armenian writer Khachatur Abovian.[24] In 1827 she, together with their son, Irakli, settled in her native Erivan, which was soon conquered by Russia. In 1834 the Russian government ordered her to move to Saint Petersburg, where she was known as tsarevna Maria Isaakovna Gruzinskaya (Russian for "of Georgia") and lived on a state-granted pension until her death in 1882.[25] Mariam's remains were moved to Tiflis and interred there, at the northern wall of the Armenian Vank cathedral. After the demolition of the cathedral by the Soviet government in 1930, her marble gravestone with a trilingual Russian, Armenian, and Georgian epitaph was moved to the State Museum of the History of Georgia in Tiflis (now Tbilisi).[26]

Aleksandre's son, Prince Erakly (18 August 1826 – 27 April 1882), pursued an officer's career in the Russian army. Erakly's only son of his marriage to Princess Tamar Chavchavadze, Aleksandre, died at the age of 2 in 1879. His daughters, Yelizaveta (1870–1942) and Yekaterina (1872–1917), were married to the princes Mamuka Orbeliani and Ivan Ratiev, respectively.[27]

Aleksandre also had an illegitimate daughter, also named Yelizaveta, who was the second wife of Samson-Khan (Samson Yakovlevich Makintsev; 1770–1853), a Russian defector and a high-ranking commander in the Qajar army. Samson's son of this marriage, Jibrail-Khan, subsequently served as an aide-de-camp to the shah Naser al-Din.[28]


In 2014, Georgian media reported that the Armenian church in Tehran where Prince Aleksandre was buried had been identified, and that attempts were being made to exhume his remains and return them to Georgia.[29]


See also



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