Vol. 5, No. 6 (March 15, 2012)

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

Part III (A). 
“Don’t Get into a Conflict with the Turks on Behalf of the Dashnaks”

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

Intoxicated by the Sevres Treaty and experiencing euphoria from its conditions, Armenia on September 24, 1920, with the support of Great Britain declared war on Turkey, a war that ended with a resounding defeat and the collapse of Dashnak Armenia.  This war put an end to the Armenian attempts to conquer Nakhchivan by military means.  Following this, they only relied on diplomatic means and, in particular, on the promises of territory and privileges promised them by the Sevres Treaty.

Following the Sevres Treaty of August 10, 1920, the Entente took several steps to arm Armenia.  After the sovietization of Azerbaijan, the arms and ammunition shipments sent by the Military Council of the Allies to the Caucasus Republics went entirely to Armenia.  In the beginning of June, the French sent a portion of this arms’ shipment to Batumi for transfer to the Armenians.  On June 12, Paul Cambon, the secretary of the French foreign ministry, informed Lord Curzon about the transfer of arms to the Armenians. [1] 

Preparing for war, Armenia already declared a mobilization of citizens between 18 and 45.  During the spring and summer of 1920, the Armenians, taking advantage of the fact that Turkish forces in the West were conducting a war to the death with Greek occupiers, seized Olty and a number of other Turkish territories in Eastern Anatolia.  The plenipotentiary representative of the Russian Federation in Iran and Turkey, Sh. Eliava, on September 18, 1920, telegraphed Sergo Ordzhonikidze about the approach of Halil-pasha and the sharpening of Turkish-Armenian and Azerbaijani-Armenian relations.  He considered it necessary to immediately clarify the course of events and send to G. Chicherin the proposals the latter had asked for. [2] On September 21, several days before the beginning of military operations, he reported in a code telegram to G. Chicherin, V. Lenin, and L. Trotsky that “Armenia, strengthened by the hopes of Georgia and supplied with weapons and uniforms is awaiting a suitable occasion in order to go over to active operations.” [3] 

On September 24, 1920, the Armenians moved toward the realization of their plans and began military operations in the Eastern vilayats of Turkey.  On September 28, the Turkish army under the command of Kazym Karabekir-pasha by means of a first strike drove the Armenians out of Sarykamysh and Merdenek.  However, after such a success, the Turkish government, fearing certain complications, stopped the further advance of its forces and on September 30, the Turks stopped and fortified their positions along the line Saykamysh-Laloglu. 

This wait-and-see tactic was prompted by the desire of the Turkish government to clarify the reaction of Soviet Russia, Georgia, and the Entente governments to these events.  The liberation of Sarykamysh and the rapid advance of the Turks during the first days of the war seriously concerned Soviet Russia.  At the start of October, G. Chicherin asked G. Ordzhonikidze to immediately get in touch with the Kemalists and talk them out of an attack on Armenia in order not to provoke the Entente.  G. Chicherin wrote that, “we consider military operations untimely and dangerous which might provoke the Entente governments.  Use all efforts in order to prevent the possibility of such clashes.”  At the same time, Chicherin reminded Ordzhonikidze to propose the mediation services of Soviet Russia between Turkey, on the one side, and Armenia and Georgia on the other. [4] 

In turn, Lev Trotsky too in a telegram to V. Lenin and N. Krestinsky warned that an attempt of the Kemalists to seize Ardagan and Batumi could provoke the Entente to land forces near Batumi. He considered that the current situation of the Kemalists did not allow them to show such activity and to take relative to Entente such provocative steps. L. Trotsky wrote that, “France is thinking up a justification for a landing directed not against the Kemalists but against Soviet Russia and Soviet Azerbaijan.” [5] 

The Peoples Commissariat of International Affairs of Soviet Russia intentionally frightened the Turks with the dangers of the activity of the Entente under the pretext of the salvation of the Armenians from inevitable defeat.  Even before the beginning of the war, the Narkomindel sent to the Soviet representatives in Turkey, Armenia and Georgia a letter reminding that, “the center of the Eastern Policy of Soviet Russia has now shifted to Turkey.” [6] In this document, G. Chicherin declared as the main task of Soviet policy the provision to Armenians in Turkey of land and independence.

Following Sarykamysh, the Turks liberated Ardagan as well, which placed Armenia in great danger.  Soviet Russia continued to use all opportunities in order to stop the Turkish attack.  On October 19, 1920, G. Chicherin again instructed G. Ordzhonikidze: “The continuation of the Turkish attack is extremely undesirable.  Try to convince them not to do this, they are harming themselves by this for they are only provoking the interference of the Entente by creating the occasion for that.  Information has come to us about the attempts of the Entente to draw in Georgia and Armenia against us in connection with a plan of attack on Baku.  The advance of the Turks deep into Armenia creates the basis for this and moves to save the Armenians will be popular in the West even among the left.” [7] 

In September 1920, in a conversation with Alexandre Barriere, an employee of the French representation in Tiflis, Russian trade representative L. Ruzer declared that, “as concerns Baku, you may be certain that this city will remain in our hands.”  In the opinion of L. Ruzer, the Bolsheviks—regardless of what happened—would hold Baku. [8] 

In his turn, L.N. Stark (pseudonyms: Afgani, L. Manucharov, P. Ryabovsky), the representative of Russia in Georgia, also sent concerned reports from the Turkish-Armenian front to G. Chicherin and L. Trotsky in Moscow and G. Ordzhonikidze in Baku.  He wrote to the Bolshevik leaders that, “on the night of September 28, the Turks with a force of about two divisions launched an attack on Olty, Badras, Karakurt, and Argadzha.  On the night of September 29, the Turks cleansed Sarykamysh, during which near Merdenek the first Armenian infantry regiment suffered grievously and lost eight guns.  Ardagan and Kagyzman were left by the Armenians without resistance.” [9] 

Alarmed by the glorious successes of the Turkish forces under the leadership of Kazym Karabekir-pasha in the very first days of the war, B. Legran on September 29 informed G. Chicerin about the events on the Turkish-Armenian front: “The Turks have begun an attack on the Kars front and have occupied Sarykamysh.  An immediate decisive appeal of the Soviet government is needed with a view to stopping the attack of the Turks or our situation will become difficult.  In the case of successful influence on the Turks and the end of military operations begun by them, chances for the peaceful resolution of our tasks in Armenia are considerably high.” [10] 

In fact, Mustafa Kemal-pasha was very careful with regard to a war with Armenia.  When the first Soviet proposals about ending military operations arrived in the middle of October, he did not send these proposals for discussion to the Grand National Assembly, since they could have generated opposition among opponents of a rapprochement with Russia, which had earlier demanded the handing over of Van, Mush, and Bitlis to the Armenians.  However, in a brief conversation with the secretary of the Soviet representation in Ankara, M. Kemal-pasha declared that no attack on Turkish territory could be accepted. [11] 

As soon as the reports about the first defeat of the Dashnaks on the Turkish-Armenian front arrived, Foreign Minister A. Ogandzhanyan on September 30, 1920, sent an immediate telegram to G. Chicherin.  He wrote the following: “From its side, the government of the Republic of Armenia expects that the RSFSR government which has frequently expressed its friendly attitude toward the Republic Armenia will devote all efforts to the immediate halting of a further attack on Armenia by allied Turkish national forces and to their withdrawal from the borders of present-day Armenia.  By the immediate adoption of these measures, the RSFSR government will give our government the chance to discuss with its Plenipotentiary Representative the conditions of a treaty, which ought to be concluded between the RSFSR and the republic of Armenia. [12] 

On the basis of A. Ogandzhanyan’s telegram, as well as on other information received from the Caucasus, G. Chicherin prepared a report for the Politburo of the Central Committee of the RKP(b) on October 5, 1920, in which he noted that in order to establish necessary contact between Russia and Turkey, the Turks will occupy the Sarykamush-Shakhtakhty line independently of Russia and without any link with it.  Chicherin considered possible a landing at Batumi since in Istanbul some 86,000 troops of the Entente, chiefly Senegalese, had been assembled.  If the Turks continue the attack, G. Chicherin presented for the attention of the Politburo the proposal of G. Ordzhonikidze “to propose to the Armenians that the forces of Soviet Russia seize all the territory of Armenia.” [13] 

Considering the complexity of the situation in the Caucasus, G. Chicherin insisted on the immediate dispatch of I. Stalin there.  On the basis of the proposals of G. Chicherin, the Politburo on October 6, 1920, discussed the situation in the Caucasus connected with the Armenian-Turkish war.  In the Soviet leadership, I. Stalin was one of the few political leaders who could foresee the political results of the Turkish-Armenian war.  Unlike G. Chicherin, he considered that the continuation of the Turkish attack will “provide water for our mill.” [14] 

Colonel Stocks, the English representative in Tiflis by all means attempted to draw Georgia into this war and thereby ease the situation of the Armenians.  On October 13, 1920, in a telegram to Lord Curzon, he promised that Georgia would help the Armenians.  The sad news about defeats on the front, which arrived from the beginning of October, strongly agitated the Armenians living in Georgia.  In order to help and strengthen the army of Armenia, the Armenian community in Tiflis decided to mobilize young people from 18 to 35. [15] 

So it was announced that 2,000 people had enrolled as volunteers, but as subsequent events showed, not one of them reached the front.  On October 6, the Tiflis Armenians organized a meeting of protest against the Turkish attack and then went to the Russian embassy in order to show their unhappiness over the help of Soviet Russia to Turkey.

In his reports sent to Moscow at the beginning of October, B. Legran proposed to talk Armenia out of the idea of using force to gain the lands offered to it by the Sevres Treaty.  He considered that Armenia must trust in the mediating mission of Soviet Russia, which alone could resolve its territorial dispute with Turkey.  He wrote: “I consider the agreement of the Armenians to these conditions a way out of the current situation.  This would give us complete justification to firmly demand the end of the military operations of the Turks.” [16] At the same time, B. Legran very carefully dealt with the idea that the attack of the Turks had created a suitable moment for the sovietization of Armenia.  He considered that as long as Soviet Russia did not have a sufficiently large army in the region, it would be difficult to avoid the use with this goal of Turkish forces, something that would give a scandalous character to the entire operation.  B. Legran asked for authority to present to the Turkish command a demand for an immediate end of military operations and withdrawal from the territory of Armenia, but only in the case that Armenians agreed to Russian conditions. [17] 

During this time, detachments of Nakhchivan volunteers, operating independently from Bolshevik Baku and inspired by the advance of Turkish forces seized a portion of the Shakhtakhty-Julfa railroad, which by the treaty of August 10, 1920, the Russian side had arbitrarily given to Armenia.  The transfer of the railroad by the Bolsheviks to the Dashnaks, which was the only one to connect Russia and Turkey, generated enormous dissatisfaction with Mustafa Kemal-pasha.  In a conversation with the Soviet representative in Ankara, he noted, that the transfer of this rail line for the use of the Armenians was impossible to explain, for “it harmed the Russians themselves.” [18] In response to the information of B. Legran about the railroad, G. Chicherin communicated that, “We will not occupy it, it is not our task to win it back for the Armenians.  The treaty does not require that we go to war with the Turks.  Once we do not occupy the railroad, we will wash our hands of this business.  As to transit through Armenia, raise the question independently of any chances for success.  The disputed districts must for the time being remain in our occupation without their transfer to this or that side.” [19] 

In another letter sent to B. Legran on the same day, the disputed territories were compared to a Gordian knot, and the political situation connected with Armenia’s receipt of help from the Entente was analyzed.  B. Legran was given the following assignment: “The Sarykamysh-Shakhtakhty line is approximately a border line, but if the Turks go further into Armenia, they will find themselves in a serious political crisis … In your relations with the Dashnaks, respond categorically that we hardly desire that Armenia suffer any harm.  We are prepared therefore, if the Dashnaks so desire, to function as mediators.” [20] 

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


[1] Ministère des Affaires Etrangères de France, Archives Diplomatique, vol. 644, folio 65.

[2] Telegram of Sh. Eliava to G. Ordzhonikidze, 18 September 1920, Russian State Archive of Social-Political History (hereafter RSASPH), f.85, op.18, d.50, l.1.
[3] Code telegram of Sh. Eliava to V. Lenin, G. Chicherin, and L. Trotsky, 21 September 1920, Foreign Policy Archive of Russian Federation (hereafter FPA RF), f.04, op.39, p.232, d.52987, l.36.

[4] Telegram of G. Chicheriin to G. Ordzhonikidze, 5 October 1920, RSASPH, f.85, op.14, d.15, l.2-2 ob.  

[5] Telegram of L. Trotsky to V. Lenin and N. Krestinsky, 5 October 1920, FPA RF, f.04, op.39, p.232, d.52987, l.39.

[6] Letter of G. Chicherin to Sh. Eliava, L. Stark, and B. Legran, 15 September 1920, FPA RF, f.04, op.39, p.232, d.52987, l.34.  

[7] Telegram of G. Chicherin to G. Ordzhonikidze, 19 October 1920, RSASPH, f.85, op.14, d.15, l.5. 

[8] Alexandre Barrier, Report on the Baku trip, 18 September 1920, Archives d’Ali Mardan-bey Toptchibachi, carton n° 1. Le Centre D'études des Mondes Russe, Caucasien et Centre-Européen (CERCEC), l'École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS, Paris), p.1. 

[9] Telegram of L. Stark to G. Chicherin, L. Trotsky and G. Ordzhonikidze, 15 October 1920, RSASPH, f.85, op.14, d.16, l.3-4.  

[10] Immediate telegram of B. Legran to G. Chicerin, 29 September 1920, RSASPH, f.64, op.1, d.21, l.149.

[11] Code telegram of Upmal-Angorsky to Chicherin, 18 October 1920, RSASPH, f.5, op.1, d.2203, l.3. 

[12] Immediate telegram of A. Ogandzhanyan to G. Chicherin, 30 September 1920, RSASPH, f.64, op.1, d.21, l.150-151. 

[13] Letter of G. Chicherin to the Politburo of the Central Committee of the RKP(b), 5 October 1920, FPA RF, f.04, op.39, p.232, d.52987, l.40. 

[14] Telephone conversation of I. Stalin with V. Lenin, G. Ordzhonikidze and G. Chicerin, 5 October 1920, RSASPH, f.2, op.1, d.24461, l.1-1 ob. 

[15] Telegram of L. Stark to G. Ordzhonikidze, 5 October 1920, RSASPH, f.85, op.14, d.16, l.1-2. 

[16] Telegram of B. Legran to G. Chicherin, 7 October 1920, RSASPH, f.85, op.14, d.17, l.3.

[17] Telegram of B. Legran to G. Chicerin, 7 October 1920, RSASPH, f.85, op.14, d.17, l.3. 

[18] Upmal-Angorsky, Report to the Deputy Peoples Commissar of International Affairs, 8 November 1920, RSASPH, f.5, op.1, d.2158, l.7.  

[19] Telegram of G. Chicherin to B. Legran, 9 October 1920, RSASPH, f.64, op.1, d.21, l.172.

[20] Instructions given to B. Legran from the Center, 9 October 1920, RSASPH, f.64, op.1, d.21, l.173-174.