Vol. 5, No. 2 (January 15, 2012)

Russian-Turkish relations between the Sovietization of Azerbaijan and the Sovietization of Armenia

PART I (A). Halil-Pasha’s program: 
A “Monroe doctrine” for Asia 

Jamil Hasanly, Dr.*
Professor of History
Baku State University

Recently a large number of articles devoted to Russian-Turkish relations and their connection with events in the South Caucasus in the 1920s have appeared in the Russian media.  Often they have sacrificed historical truth in attempts to link the events of those years to what is taking place now, and as a result, for me as an Azerbaijani historian and for others as well, they have created the impression that truth always turns out to be with the Armenians, an impression supported by outright falsification or the selective use of documents.  But no one should forget that historical truth lives its own life in the archives, and one only need seek this truth.

Following the Sovietization of Azerbaijan, one of the main directions of the foreign policy of the new Bolshevik government of Russia was the issue of relations with Turkey.  The Ottoman Empire which is viewed as having played an essential role in the proclamation of the independence of Azerbaijan in May 1918 and which had played a particularly decisive role in the liberation of Baku from its enemies had now fallen; its senior political and military figures had dispersed throughout the world, their search for reliable allies for the struggle against England having led to a series of incorrect steps.  Former Military Minister Enver-Pasha who had played an important role in the fate of Azerbaijan now attempted—together with the Russian Bolsheviks—to organize a common front against England.  This policy was balanced between yesterday’s hostility and today’s alliance and was more suitable for the irony of fate than for reality.

On the eve of the occupation of Azerbaijan in April 1920, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the RKP(b) twice, on April 20 and April 23, discussed the appeal of Enver-Pasha concerning the publication in Moscow of two Turkish-language newspapers; and its second session featured a decision to provide him and his supporters material help.  On this occasion, G. Chicherin wrote to the Central Committee of the RKP(b) that “in view of the disagreements between Enver and the Kemalists, he cannot publish his newspapers anywhere except Russia.  For us, it is very important to support anyone who does not belong to the ruling group of Kemalists in order to have the opportunity to exert greater pressure on them.  Enver has already given us great service in our relations with the Kemalists.  This is an extraordinarily shrewd politician, who has looked into things carefully and who understands that he needs us.  We propose to permit the publication of his two newspapers and to provide him full support, but at the same time to assign a communist who knows Turkish to keep track of the publication of these newspapers and regularly report on it to us.  In his report, Enver speaks only about the necessary formalities for the launch of these two newspapers; about subsidies, however, at least for the present, he says nothing.  Consequently, only a decision in principle is needed.” [1]

It is worth noting that along with the leaders of the old Turkey who sought salvation with Russia, the patriots of the new Turkey who were involved in a mortal struggle with the Entente were forced toward cooperation with Bolshevik Russia as well.  Already in the fall of 1919, the main task of Halil-Pasha and other Turkish emissaries working in Azerbaijan was to achieve by the spring of 1920 the extension of “Soviet influence to the borders of Turkey.” In his memoirs, Halil-Pasha wrote that, “the shifting of Soviet borders to Turkey clearly meant the surrender of Azerbaijan to the Russians.  I considered the handing over of Azerbaijan under the administration of Russians regardless of their political coloration to be a betrayal.  I considered Azerbaijan part of my motherland, for the independence and sovereignty of which we had made so much of an effort.  At that time, as we were fighting for independence in Anatolia, such a concession was for me and other Turkish pashas nothing other than moral suicide.”
In the political conditions of spring 1920, the leaders of the Turkish national movement considered the recognition of the independence of Azerbaijan at the Paris Peace Conference as an attempt by the Entente to interfere with the union of Turkey and Soviet Russia and hence as a step directed against the Anatolian national movement.  On April 26, 1920, Kazim Karabekir-Pasha received news about the decision taken by the newly established Ankara-based Grand National Assembly of Turkey (the first parliament of the new Turkey) to act jointly with the Bolsheviks.  To that end, he was ordered to organize, instruct and send to Baku a special mission. 

At the same time, Mustafa Kemal-Pasha sent a letter to the Soviet government in the name of the Grand National Assembly.  Among other things, the letter read: “First, we take on ourselves an obligation to combine all our work and all our military operations with the Russian Bolsheviks who have as their goal the struggle with imperialist governments and the liberation of all oppressed peoples from under their power.  Second, if Soviet forces propose opening military operations against Georgia or by a diplomatic path seek to use their influence to force Georgia to enter into a union and undertake the expulsion of the English from the territory of the Caucasus, the Turkish Government will commit itself to military operations against imperialist Armenia and to force the Azerbaijani Republic to enter the circle of Soviet states.  Third, in order first of all to expel imperialist forces which occupy our territory, the latter populated by our people, and secondly in order to strengthen our internal forces for the continuation of our common struggle against imperialism, we ask Soviet Russia in the form of immediate help to give us five million Turkish lira in gold, arms, and military supplies in a quantity which must be defined by negotiations, and in addition, certain military-technical means and medical materials, as well as food for our forces, which—according to the demand of Soviet power—should operate in the East.” [2] 

Although various interpretations have been given to this letter, in actual fact, it did not play any particularly important role in the Bolshevik occupation of Azerbaijan.  The letter reached Moscow on June 3 only, that is, somewhat after the completion of the arrival in Azerbaijan of the 11th Red Army.  Nevertheless, this message in the name of the Turkish Revolutionary Government was very warmly received in Moscow.  Chicherin immediately reported about its contents to V. Lenin, the chairman of the Sovnarkom.  On the very same day, a response was prepared, which—over the signature of G. Chicherin—was sent to Ankara by courier on June 4. 

At this time, the leadership of Soviet Russia already possessed certain necessary information concerning the Anatolian movement from the first Turkish representatives who had arrived in Moscow earlier.  Following the completion of the occupation of Baku at the end of April 1920, Halil-Pasha and one of the distinguished representatives of the Turkish Communist Party, Dr. Fuad Sabit-bey were dispatched for talks in Moscow.  On April 30, the Russian Telegraph Agency (RTA) reported from Patigorsk that Turkish representatives were being sent for talks in Moscow at the direction of the Anatolian government of Mustafa Kemal-Pasha.  In a conversation with a RTA correspondent, Hallil-Pasha noted that after the Mudross agreement, Turkey had fallen into a difficult situation.  Now the allies and primarily the English were running things in Istanbul.  The entire Asian half of Turkey had been divided among the victors.  Greece had received all the coastline near Izmir, and France had seized Syria.  According to Hallil-Pasha, recently, the population of Lesser Asia, which at that time exceeded ten million, had begun to shift to the side of the Soviet system.  RTA reported to Moscow that “the Soviet system of administration of the country is considered by the Turks of Lesser Asia as completely acceptable … The new government is experiencing shortages in arms and military equipment.  That explains the trip to Moscow of Halil-Pasha and his colleague Dr. Fuad.  Their goal is to obtain in one way or another a defensive alliance against the Entente.” [3] 

By the middle of May, Halil-Pasha and Dr. Fuad Sabit-bey were already in the Russian capital.  On May 15, the Politburo of the RKP(b) discussed the question “On Halil-Pasha” and approved Chichern’s proposal for negotiations, which were set for the next day.  The Politburo took a decision to officially seek the opinion of G. Ordzhonikidze and, if G. Chicherin considered it necessary, to arrange a meeting of Halil-Pasha with Lenin.

On May 16, a meeting between the Turkish delegates and G. Chicherin took place in the Peoples Commissariat of Foreign Affairs of Russia.  The talks lasted more than three hours. Chicherin reported about the discussions to V. Lenin: “We must never be led astray by too broad prospects and begin adventures which exceed our strength, but with this qualification, I must say that rapprochement with the Turkish National Center [having in mind the Grand National Assembly of Turkey] could lead to an enormous strengthening of our policy in the East.  The National Center still has not divided up in parties and the program of its domestic policies has not been worked out.  In any case, Turkey will be a republic.  They explained that the Turkish masses consist of peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie.  Their oppressors were the bureaucracy, high-ranking pashas, and speculators; their capital was owned by the West; the upper bourgeoisie consisted of Armenians and Greeks.  In lesser Asia, major land holdings were destroyed already by Mahmoud II; since then, they have been restored in part, but there are very few land owners and they will probably be pushed out.  There is no basis for communism, but bolshevism is extremely popular with hatred against western capital and the domestic oppressors being enormous.  Halil, having clarified our attitude wants to return to Sivas and then get back to us.  He asks that we sent together with him our representatives, as well as Armenian comrades, in view of the complicated relations with Armenia.  He not only permits, but insistently asks that we establish with them our own permanent representation, typographies, libraries, and a publishing house for books and journals.  They ask that there be both Muslims and fully ethnic Russian comrades in this representation.  We will have the fullest freedom of propaganda.  The introduction there of a Soviet Republic is possible, but this will not be our Soviets, for every peasant loves his parcel of land and only step by step could communism be popularized in the countryside.  I personally do not see any use from such anything but genuine Sovietism, which will only confuse minds.  In military affairs, Halil asks for ammunition and money.  They completely recognize the right of self-determination of all nationalities and are ready for separations and autonomy.”

”The program of Halil-Pasha,” Chicherin continued, “is a Monroe Doctrine for Asia, the struggle of all Asian peoples against European imperialism.  He recognizes Soviet Russia as the only friend of the Asiatic peoples and understands that without us they will fail.  In Persia, he is ready to assist our work by the dispatch of Turkish partisans, because the struggle will be against the Shah and the feudals, as well as for an agrarian revolution, which still does not affect the urban bourgeoisie.  His agents will also support our policy in Afghanistan and India.  In this way, the center of gravity of our near eastern policy will shift to Turkey.  The need for immediate contact with Turkey means that we must use the rail lines of Armenia, and for this we must conclude a treaty with Armenia.  We will need to threaten Georgia for it not to allow the English detachment to seize points needed for our contact with Turkey.  Arms can be sent under Azerbaijan’s company name.  In the next few days, all the practical military side of this matter will be clarified by our military men in conversation with Halil.” [4] 
* The article originally appeared, in Russian, in Russia’s Regnum News Agency at http://regnum.ru. 


[1] Chicherin, G. to the Central Committee, RKP(b), April 1920, Russian State Archive of Social-Political History (hereafter RSASPH), f. 5, op. 2, d. 315, l. 38. 

[2] Letter of Mustafa Kemal-Pasha to the Soviet government, 26 April 1920, RSASPH, f. 5, op. 2, d. 315, l. 38.

[3] Report of the Russian Telegraph Agency, 3 May 1920, RSASPH, f. 4, op. 51, p. 321a, d. 54868, l. 2.

[4] Report of G. Chicherin to V. Lenin on negotiations with Halil-Pasha, 16 May 1920, RSASPH, f. 4, op. 51, p. 321a, d. 54868, l. 3-4.