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The Atabegs of Azerbaijan rose from the ashes of the vast Seljuk Empire in the beginning of the 12th century. The atabeg (literally father lord in Turkish) was the title referred to the guardians appointed for minor princes of the Seljukid line who were nominally set over garrisons in provinces. Atabegs, usually Turkic slave-officers, were tutors and vice-regents to their princes, but in the political circumstances of the time, they were the actual rulers.

In 1136, Sultan Masud appointed Shams ad-Din Eldegiz (ca. 1135-36 - 1175) to be an atabeg of Arslan-shah, the juvenile successor of the throne and transferred Azerbaijan to his possession as iqta. Eldegiz chose Bardamarker as his residence, and attracted the local emirs to his camp. From 1161, the Seljukid princes at Hamadanmarker fell under the control of the Atabeg of Azerbaijan.

Shams ad-Din Ildeniz (Eldeniz)

Shams ad-Din Ildeniz became the ruler of the remainder of the north Iran and South Caucasus of the Seljuk empire. He was taking every measure to consolidate the power of his own anointed, but powerless sultan. The word “Azam” (Azam stands for Great) was added to the title of Azerbaijani Atabeg's. All of the State’s subsequent rulers used to hold this title. During his reign, Ildeniz, according to the evidence of medieval historians, e.g. Sadraddin al-Husseini, could subdue a spacious territory between the Caucasus and Persian Gulf. The territory belonging to him “stretched from the gate of Tiflis up to Mekran. He had possessed Azerbaijan , Arran, Shirvan, Djibal, Hamedanmarker, Gilanmarker, Mazandaranmarker, Isfahanmarker and Reimarker”. The Atabeks of Mosulmarker, Kermanmarker and Farsmarker as well as the feudalists of Shirvan, Khuzestanmarker, Hilat, Arzan-ar-Rhummarker and Maragamarker became his liegemen.

Georgia, whose army was strengthened by 40,000 Kipchak Turkic warriors , was the strongest antagonist of the Shamseddin Eldeniz. In 1138 Georgianmarker king Demetre I, attacked earthquake-ridden city of Ganjamarker. While leaving the city his troops carried off the well-known iron gate of Ganja as their trophy, which up to this date remains on display in the city of Gorimarker. From 1161 onwards they began to make plundering raids on Ani, Dvin, Ganja, Nakhchivan and other regions controlled by Atabegs. Eldeniz formed a union with other Seljukids in the beginning of 1160s to fight against the Georgians, and in 1163 the allies inflicted a defeat on king George III of Georgia. In response to this defeat the king of Georgia occupied Ganja in 1165. The Georgians took several fields in Azerbaijanmarker and they could reach such faraway cities as Nakhchivan and Beylakan. As a rule, Georgians used to be paid their tribute and then they left. In 1173, Atabeg Shamseddin Eldeniz began his big campaign against Georgia but he was defeated. Atabeg’s troops retreated and Shamseddin Eldeniz died in 1174 in Nakhchivan.

Muhammad Jahan Pehlevan

After the death of Shams ad-Din Eldeniz, in 1175, the Seljuk Sultan Arslan Shah tried to escape from the yoke of the Grand Atabeg of Azerbaijan but failed, and was poisoned to death by Shams ad-Din's son, the new Grand Atabeg Mohammed Jahan Pahlavan (1174-1186). Pahlavan transferred his capital from Nakhchivanmarker to Hamadanmarker in western Iran, and made his younger brother, Qizil Arslan Othman (1186-1191), the ruler of Azerbaijan. In 1174, Qizil Arslan captured Tabrizmarker, which subsequently became his capital.

Jahan Pahlavan suppressed all rebellious emirs and appointed faithful mamluks to key positions. He apportioned each of them any region or town as iqta.The twelve years of his rule are considered the most peaceful period of the State’s existence. Under his reign the central power was strengthened and no foreign enemy invaded the territory belonging to the Atabegs. Friendly relations with Khorezmshakhs, the rulers of Central Asia, were founded. All those facts had positive influence on the development of science, handicraft, trade and arts.

Qizil Arslan

After Muhammed Djahan Pehlevan’s death his brother Qizil Arslan (1186-1191) ascended the throne. He continued his successful struggle against the Seljuk rulers. At the same time the central power began to get weaker as mamluks who had strengthened their power in their allotments did not want to obey the Sultan. Even Shirvanshakh Akhsitan who used to be Atabeks’ liegeman decided to benefit from the weakening of the Atabek’s power and invaded his territories in 1186. But he was defeated. His troops had to flee in pursuit of Atabek’s army. They reached Baku. At the same time Qizil Arslan occupied all the land of Shirvan lying between Shamakha and Derbent. In 1191 Togrul III, the last Seljuk ruler was overthrown by Qizil Arslan. Then, by Khalif’s leave, he proclaimed himself a Sultan.The same year Qizil Arslan who had become the individual ruler of the Great Selchuk Empire was assassinated. The power was divided among his three sons: Abu Bakr, Qutluq Inandj and Amir Amiran. Abu Bakr governed Azerbaijan and Arran, and his brothers were the rulers of Khorasan and several neighboring regions. Soon, these three successors began to fight for the throne. And Abu Bakr was the one to win this war. But the State’s defense capability was stricken. Khorezmshakhs’ andGeorgians’ non-stopping forays aggravated the situation in the country and speeded up its decay.


This process was speeded up during the reign of Atabek Uzbek (1210-1225) who was enthroned after Abu Bakr’s death. That’s when Hassan Djalal Mikhranid (1215-1262) began his separative activities. This had shaken the fundamentals of the weakened State, and it could be invaded by the troops of Georgian Queen Tamara. The troops occupied several Azerbaijani towns but they had to return to Georgia. The Atabek State fell in 1225 when it was included into the Khwarezmian Empire. Finally the area of it passed to Mongol Empire in 1231.


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