From the Archives: Russian Peacekeeping Brigade’s Symbolic Karabakh Link

Russian Brigade 15th brigade is awarded the flag of 5th Hussar Regiment on Nov. 4, 2019. Wikimedia photo.

By Emil Sanamyan

The peacekeeping forces deployed in Karabakh since November 2020 come from Samara Oblast-based 15th motor-rifle brigade of the Russian army. Prior to Karabakh, the brigade was deployed in Abkhazia between 2005 and 2008, and is the only Russian military unit fully dedicated to peacekeeping operations.

While the 15th brigade was created in 2004, from 2019 it was made a formal successor of the 5th Alexandrian Hussar (Cavalry) Regiment of the Russian Imperial Army, giving it a curious historic link to Karabakh, a year before its deployment there. The 5th regiment was established in 1776 in the Ukrainian town of Alexandria and in 1918, when it was disbanded by the Bolsheviks, was based in Samara.

From 1812 to 1815, as most of the Russian army, the 5th regiment participated in the wars with Napoleonic France, making its way from Moscow to Paris. One of its commanders at the time was Karabakh-born Armenian Valerian Madatov. Madatov was born in the village of Chanakhchi, now known as Avetaranots (from late October 2020 it has been under Azerbaijani occupation). The future general made his way to Russia as a youth in 1796 and was recommended for military education by Archbishop Iosif Argutinskiy and businessman Ivan Lazarev, the most prominent Russian Armenian leaders of the time.

Russian general and Karabakh-born Armenian Valerian Madatov painted by George Dawe.

Following the Napoleonic wars, Madatov was transferred to the Caucasus to command Russian forces in the war against Persia from 1826 to 1828. That war ended with the Turkmenchay Treaty that made Erivan and Nakhichevan Khanates part of Russia and soon forming the Armenian Oblast, effectively the precursor to the Armenian republic. Ironically, the Armenian-populated Karabakh and Zangezur (Syunik) were not included in that Oblast since they became part of Russia a decade earlier. That circumstance helped localize the geography of the future territorial disputes between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

General Madatov died in 1829 shortly after defeating Turkish forces in Bulgaria. His best known portrait, painted by British artist George Dawe, depicts Madatov in the uniform of an Alexandrian Hussar.

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