Vol. 5, no. 4 (February 15, 2012)

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

Part II (A). How Chicherin tried to give Nakhchivan to Armenia

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

After the sovietization of Azerbaijan, the return of Russians to the Caucasus became a reality.  Therefore, the new Ankara government at its very first session on May 5, 1920, decided to send a delegation to Moscow to conduct official talks with the Bolsheviks.  Bekir Sami-bey, the foreign minister in the new government, was named its head.  Economics minister Yusif Kemal-bey and Osman-bey, a deputy from Lazistan, were also members.  The Bekir Sami-bey delegation left on July 11, 1920, via the Black Sea and on July 19 arrived without difficulty in Moscow.  However, except for brief unofficial meetings with L. Karakhan on July 24 and August 4, until the middle of August, no Soviet official received it.  

Thus, the double game of the new Soviet diplomacy continued: On the one hand, Soviet Russia did not want to conduct official talks with the Turks until the clarification of its relations with Armenia, but on the other hand, the Soviet leaders were waiting until they found out the heavy conditions that would be levied on Turkey by the Sevres Treaty, which was scheduled to be signed in early August, as well as the reaction the new Turkish government would display.

In a letter from G. Chicherin, Russian peoples commissar for foreign affairs, which was delivered to Mustafa Kemal-pasha, by Ibrahim Efendi, the issue of the definition of borders with Armenia was raised very clearly.  The Soviet’s unconcealed protection over the Armenians and the use in the letter of the expression, “Turkish Armenia,” generated dissatisfaction in the hearts of members of Turkey’s Grand National Assembly.  Bekir Sami-bey, who headed the executive committee of the Milli Majlis (or Grand National Assembly) for foreign affairs, recalled in a letter on July 4, 1920, that from the moment of the signing of the Batumi convention, Turkey was the first to recognize the Armenian government and it was at that time that the borders with Armenia were defined.  

Bekir Sami-bey wrote: “By that convention, we undertook to observe precisely the conditions of the preservation with [Armenia] friendly and good-neighborly relations.  However, from the time of the conclusion of the armistice with the Entente powers, the Armenian government, feeling that it has behind it the support of England and pursuing the idea about the creation of Greater Armenia at our expense, has unceasingly conducted a policy of destroying the Muslim population in what are indisputably Turkish territories that at present have been seized by its forces, which is the result of their evacuation by us in fulfillment of the armistice conditions that have been dictated to us.  The basic goal of these pogroms and expulsions which have been conducted systematically is undoubtedly the creation of a fictional Armenian majority in these native Turkish districts.” [1] 

On July 27, 1920, units of the 11th Red Army entered Nakhchivan.  The declaration of the establishment of Soviet power in this borderland gave to Russian-Turkish relations a more intensive character.  On July 28, the Nakhchivan revolutionary committee was formed as the organ of supreme power.  Included in it were M. Bektashi, A. Kadimov, F. Makhmoudbekov, and others.  The Nakhchivan Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed.  Following the April turnover of power in Azerbaijan, the local structures of the Musavat government were disarmed, but the inexperienced newly formed Soviet power still did not have its own clearly defined policy.  Therefore, the Armenians again attempted to use terror and purges against the local Muslim population there.  Although the leadership of Azerbaijan was not in a position to stop these excesses independently, the Bureau of the Central Committee of the AKP(b) decided on July 13, 1920, that “considering that the Nakhchivan district, which is considered an indisputable part of Azerbaijan is now occupied by Turkish forces and desiring to avoid any clashes, this district ought to be vacated by Turkish forces.”  For the resolution of this issue, the Bureau named a delegation for conducting talks with Halil-pasha, in which were included N. Narimanov, A. Mikoyan, A. Karayev, N. Naneyshvili, and M.D. Huseynov. 
However, without taking any practical steps in this direction, the Bureau of the Central Committee of the AKP(b) two days later, on July 15, adopted another resolution on the issue “About the Nakhchivan District which is considered an indisputable territory of Azerbaijan.”  Bureau members including V.Yegorov, A. Mikoyan, M.D. Huseynov, Sergo Ordzhonikidze, and E. Stasova, who were joined by B. Legran, discussed the question “On peace with Armenia.”  In the second point of the decision on this question, it was noted: “To renounce [Azerbaijan’s position in Nakhchivan and] propose the occupation of these territories by the Russian army.” [2] 
The Azerbaijani leadership undoubtedly received the order to renounce Nakhchivan and Sharur-Daralagoz from Moscow, and in this direction, negotiations took place in the capital of Russia between the Armenian delegates and the peoples commissariat of foreign affairs of Russia.  In correspondence with this decision, the Bolsheviks began to be seriously interested in the political situation in Nakhchivan, and even before introducing forces into this district, they made an assessment of the military capacities of the Bayzid division of the Turks and the Armenian forces. [3] 

The chief doubts of the Russians concerning the advance into Nakhchivan were in the first instance connected with the fact that in their internal correspondence, they planned to leave to Armenia Nakhchivan, Sharur-Daralagoz and Ordubad. [4] The only obstacle in this direction was Turkey.

The decision of the Azerbaijani leadership “to yield” on Nakhchivan and the desire of the Turkish revolutionary government to see precisely in that district a common border with the Bolsheviks created a crisis situation in the region.  The Armenians, who had long thrown envious glances at Nakhchivan already during the period of tsarist Russia attempted to acquire this district by means of changing its national-ethnic composition.  Now again, after the first world war, they attempted to achieve their goal either within the framework of the Sevres treaty which had been imposed on Turkey by the Entente or alternatively on the basis of “the eastern diplomacy” of Bolshevik Russia.

The emissaries of the Armenian government, as well as authoritative Armenians who had established themselves as functionaries of various kinds in the party-government circles of Soviet Russian supplied the Bolshevik leaders with inventions and openly false information about Nakhchivan.  It was good, however, that those sent from the Center as members of a Special Commission uncovered a completely different picture, even more when people were speaking about the recent history and first stages of the sovietization of the district.  It became clear that after the inclusion of the primarily Muslim Erivan and Nakhchivan khanates into Russia, a large number of Armenians from Iran and Turkey were resettled in these districts.  
Thus, according to information from 1834 [that the Special Commission cited], of the 22,336 families (63,300 males) in Erivan oblast, 29,690 men were Turks and only 10,350 of the males were Armenians of longtime residence.  The total number of residents of both sexes is said in the document to be 130,600.  Of them, 16 percent were longtime Armenian residents (together with 37 percent who were Armenian re-settlers, while 47 percent were Turkic Muslims.  This source specifies that “if it is taken into consideration that with the arrival of the Russians, a significant portion of the Muslim population left the province in order to resettle in Turkey and Persia, then it becomes clear that the percent of Muslims earlier had been incomparably higher.”  It also says that for just ten months of 1829-1830, some 50,000 Armenians resettled into Erivan oblast from the Bayazet and Karss pashalyks of the Ottoman Empire.

As far as the Nakhchivan province is concerned, the investigation of the Bolshevik commission represents still greater interest.  According to the enumeration of 1832, there were 6,538 families with 16,095 males in Nakhchivan for a total of about 32,000 people.  Of them, 59.2 percent or 3,859 families were Turks; only eight percent or 533 families were Armenians who had been living there for a long time, and 32.8 percent or 2,145 families were recent Armenian re-settlers.  In the report of the Special Commission, it is stressed, “As is clear, the Turks formed a majority in the Nakhchivan district not only before the Turkmenchay peace treaty but after it as well.”  The commission also studied the ethnic composition of the Ordubad district.  In the 1830s, 6,320 people lived there, of whom 4,314 were Turks, 1,574, that is 25 percent, were longtime Armenian residents, and 432 were recent Armenian re-settlers.” [5]

During the summer of 1920 either the complex situation that had emerged in Nakhchivan or the undefined nature of the position of Armenia in Soviet-Turkish policy led to the emergence in Anatolia, especially among certain influential circles on the Eastern front, of a desire to establish a connection with the central bureau of Turkish communist organizations functioning in Baku.  Kazym Karabekir-pasha asked Mustafa Subhi, the leader of the Turkish communists, to tell the Soviet government in Moscow and Baku that they should come to the aid of Anatolia, to explain to them that the Dashnak hangmen were destroying the defenseless toilers of Anatolia situated between Turkey and Armenia, that [the Armenian actions, if not stopped, could] close the path of Russia to the East and undermine ties between Turkey and Russia.

The Turkish general wrote that “we do not understand how the Bolsheviks, the bearers of high ideals, can put up with these bestial actions of the Dashnaks and why they do not use our forces when my army, together with the Russian and Azerbaijani armies, could in the course of three to five days put an end to these Dashnak murderers and thieves.” [6]

Despite the serious efforts of Kazym Karabekir-pasha, the forces of the Armenian government went over to the attack and seized Shakhtakhty, and on July 27, 1920, presented the residents of Nakhchivan an ultimatum containing the demand to surrender the city within 48 hours.  The ultimatum, signed by Armenian military minister Ruben Ter-Minasyan and composed of 15 points, featured a demand for the National Council of Nakhchivan to declare in the name of the population of Nakhchivan and Sharur districts that these districts are an inalienable part of the Armenian republic and that all the population must consider themselves citizens of the Armenian Republic.  The second point of the ultimatum featured a demand that the Nakhchivan National Council, as well as residents of this district, promise not to allow Turks and refugees from Vedi-Basar, Zangi-Basar, and Sharur or agitators from Azerbaijan to enter the district.  The ninth point made it a condition that each household surrender one rifle, for a total of not less than 7,000 rifles as well as 80 bullets for each rifle.  The surrender of arms was to begin 48 hours after the presentation of the ultimatum and to be completed within 15 days.  Moreover, all military forces were required to surrender their arms on the very first day.  Until the fulfillment of the ninth point, the National Council must present hostages [to the Armenian forces]: two for each village and three from each town, all of whom will be held in Erivan and Gyumri.

According the ultimatum, the Muslim population at its own expense was to rebuild the destroyed part of the railway to the south of Shakhtakhty and transfer it to the Armenian ministry of transportation. [7] Such a challenging and diplomatically impermissible ultimatum to the Revolutionary Committee, which following the sovietization of Nakhichevan replaced the National Council, was very harshly received.   

In response, the Revolutionary Committee of Nakhchivan indicated to the government of Armenia that, “the toiling people of the Nakhchivan district have declared themselves to be an inalienable part of the Azerbaijan Soviet Republic which is in an alliance with the RSFSR” and “rely on the heroic, powerful and undefeated Russian, Turkish and Azerbaijani red armies.”  In addition, the note pointed out that from now on, the Armenian government should appeal directly to the Azerbaijani Central Government and to the united command of the Russian, Turkish and Azerbaijani Red Armies, the units of which have occupied the Nakhchivan district since July 28.  At the end of the note, in connection with the changes, which had taken place in Nakhchivan, it was noted that a Revolutionary Committee has been formed and that there is no longer “a National Council.” [8] 

The Armenian armed detachments, despite the fact that they had not been able to enter Nakhchivan had already seized Shakhtakhty.  Thousands of Muslims were forced to flee to the territory of Iran.  More than one hundred Muslim settlements were erased from the map.  Kazym Karabekir-pasha was very much angered by the indifference of the Russian Soviet Government in the face of these Dashnak crimes, although this “anger” did not pass beyond the limits of simple regret.  Only at the beginning of August 1920 were the attacks of the Dashnaks stopped.  In this connection, Halil-pasha in a letter to M. Subhi held that there was a need for the active intervention of N. Narimanov in order to take all possible measures against the Dashnaks and liberate Nakhchivan and its already sovietized districts from the game of the Armenian imperialists. [9] The Russians did not intend to move from Nakhchivan to the side of Shakhtakhty.  They considered the occupation of Nakhchivan the greatest success possible and wanted to use this in order to force Armenia to sign a treaty on August 10.  Namely on that day, G. Ordzhonikidze telegraphed V. Lenin, L. Trotsky, and G. Chicherin that Nakhchivan had been seized by the Soviet army; and B. Legran signed a treaty with Armenia on the end of military operations and securing the agreement of the Armenian government to the occupation of Nakhchivan by Soviet forces. [10] 

* The article originally appeared, in Russian, in Russia’s Regnum News Agency at http://www.regnum.ru/news/1438182.html#ixzz1Xevxl1D3. 


[1] Letter of Bekir Sami-bey to G. Chicherin, 4 July 1920, Foreign Policy Archive of Russian Federation (hereafter FPA RF), f.04, op.39, p.232, d.52987, l.9. 

[2] Protocol of the session of the Bureau of the Central Committee of the AKP(b), 15 July 1920, Political Documents Archive under the President of Azerbaijan Republic (hereafter PDA PAR), f.1, op.1, d.18, l.13. 

[3] Telegram of G. Orzhonikidze to V. Gittes, 17 July 1920, Russian State Archive of Social-Political History (hereafter RSASPH), f.85, op.14, d.7, l.3.

[4] Telegram of G. Ordzhonikidze and B. Legram to G. Chicherin, 14 July 1920, RSASPH, f.85, op.13, d.51, l.1. 

[5] Report of the Special Commission for Investigating the Nakhchivan district, 6 June 1925, RSASPH, f.85, op.25, d.523, l.14-15. 

[6] Letter of K. Karabekir-pasha to M. Subhi, 23 July 1920, RSASPH, f.17, op.84, d.104, l.17.

[7] Conditions governing the recognition by the Muslim population of Nakhchivan district of the authority of the government of the Republic of Armenia, 27 July 1920, RSASPH, f.17, op.84, d.104, l.25-25.

[8] To the Command of the Armenian detachment in Shakhtakhty to be handed over to the Armenian government, July 1920, RSASPH, f.17, op.84, d.104, l.26-26.

[9] Letter by Khalil-pasha to M. Subhi, 04 April 1920, RSASPH, f.17, op.84, d.104, l.20. 

[10] Telegram of G. Ordzhonikidze to V. Lenin, L. Trotsky, and G. Chicherin, 10 August 1920, RSASPH, f.85, op.14, d.5, l.10.