Vol. 5, No. 8 (April 15, 2012)

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

Part IV (A). 
“In our struggle with Entente Armenia would always stab us in the back”

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

Not having been able to withstand the attack of the Turkish forces, the Armenian government on November 15, 1920, advised Kazim Karabekir-pasha that it agreed with the conditions of the Ankara government of November 8 and that it was only for technical reasons that it had not been able to fulfill part of these demands.  On the night of November 17-18, the Armenian government received news about the agreement of the Turks to an armistice, and on November 18, all military actions ceased.  According to B. Legran’s information, unlike the armistice of November 8, the Armenians were ready to fulfill the conditions of the armistice of November 15 and had already moved in that direction.  The front line between the sides now passed through Surmali, the Araz station, and the Alagez mountain.  The Armenian army was ordered to leave Karakilse. 

As a result of this defeat, a serious division of opinions arose among the dashnaks.  According to B. Legran, they “recognized the mistakenness of their propaganda of the seizure of Turkish Armenia and their orientation to the Sevres Treaty.” [1] After the Turks seized Gumri, the Armenian communists of the city published an appeal in which they welcomed the revolutionary Turkish army which had come to free the Armenian people from the dashnak yoke.  B. Legran informed Moscow that “victorious Kemalization threatened to drown first Armenia and then perhaps Georgia.  Even Comrade Mdivani, despite his short stay among the Kemalists trusted their plans for the sovietization of Armenia and proposes today to use “the Revkom of Soviet Army” that has been formed by the Turks. [2] 

Concerned by the advance of the Turks into Gumri, G. Ordzhonikidze pushed for the realization of the long-thought idea of transferring Zangazur to Armenia in order to strengthen the position of the Armenian communists, on one hand, and to block the direct land connection between Turkey and Azerbaijan, on the other.  The triumph of Kazim Karabekir-pasha on the Turkish-Armenian front created for the Bolsheviks the danger of a repetition of the events of September 1918, when the Caucasus Islamic Army headed by Nuri-pasha entered Baku.  Under these conditions, Sergo Ordzhonikidze proposed to I. Stalin who had come to Baku for the discussion of the critical situation in the Transcaucasus to hand over Zangazur to Armenia and in this way close Turkey’s direct access to Azerbaijan.  In order to hide the role of Bolshevik Russia in this, Ordzhonikidze thought that this Zangazur initiative should come from N. Narimanov, the first person of Sovietized Azerbaijan.

One should note that already during the summer of 1920, before the signing of a peace treaty between Soviet Russia and Armenia, G. Ordzhonikidze under pressure from G. Chicherin, made the first attempt to force N. Narimanov to withdraw from Nakhchivan, Ordubad, and Sharur-Daralagez district in favor of Armenia.  On June 20, 1920, G. Chicherin, the peoples commissar for international affairs of Russia, by direct line, gave the following directive to Sergo Ordzhonikidze who was then in Vladikavkaz: “Comrade Narimanov has misunderstood my telegram.  To unite Zangazur and Karabakh.  Under no circumstances should Nakhchivan, Ordubad and Dzhulfa be linked either to Azerbaijan or Armenia.  These places must be occupied by Russian units, rather than by Azerbaijani or Armenian ones.  There must be Russian occupation powers in them, not Azerbaijani or Armenia.  Soviet power in these localities must be subordinate to the Russian occupation powers.” [3] Having received G. Chicherin’s directive, Sergo Ordzhonikidze immediately told N. Narimanov: “Just now I spoke with Chicherin about Karabakh and Zangazur.  I proposed the immediate and unqualified uniting of these districts with Azerbaijan.  You are required to drop any demands for other oblasts [Nakhchivan, Ordubad, Dzhulfa and Sharur-Daralagez district] and to give autonomy to Nagorno-Karabakh and Zangazur.  At the same time, the latter must not in any case be included in the peace treaty [between the RSFSR and Armenia] and must originate exclusively from you.” [4] 

In November 1920, the emerging political situation forced the Bolsheviks to cleverly maneuver with respect to the interests of Azerbaijan, which had already been sovietized by that time.  “The territorial game” which G. Chicherin and G. Ordzhonikidze had laid out in June underwent significant changes after the defeat of dashnak Armenia at the hands of Kazim Karabekir-pasha’s army in the fall of 1920.  Seeking to somehow keep Armenia in their sphere of interests, the Bolsheviks were prepared to use Azerbaijani lands as the coin of the realm.  If in the summer they forced Baku to yield Nakhchivan, Ordubad, and Sharur-Daralagez district while preserving within its borders Zangazur and Karabakh, four months later, concerned by the successes of the Turkish army, Moscow undertook decisive measures in order to cut Turkey’s direct access to Baku by “the voluntary concession” of Zangazur in favor of Armenia.  These territorial shifts helped ease the Bolshevik occupation of Armenia.

In this context, the conversations by direct line between I. Stalin who had returned from Baku and V. Lenin who was also very much concerned by the successes of the Turks at the front are interesting to note.  Already on the way, on November 23, 1920, Stalin sought to introduce clarity on the following issues:

 “1.The information received from Mdivani in Erivan says the following: the Armenians do not have any forces, the Turks if they want can occupy all Armenia without difficulty.  The representative of Kemal in Turkey, Kazym-bey is conducting himself in a more than suspicious way, so that Mdivani thinks that the occupation of Armenia is happening not without a certain agreement between the Kemalists and Georgia and perhaps with the agreement of the Entente as well.
 2. According to Ordzhonikidze’s report, the Turks have already sought to establish ties with dissatisfied elements in Azerbaijan, are accepting petitions from the latter and seeking to have a common border with Azerbaijan, something that is especially dangerous now.
 3. The note of the Turkish Government responding to our note about mediation, which has been sent to you, speaks about the presence of the more than ambivalent position of the Turks.
 4. According to a report of the same Ordzhonikidze, several thousand English troops in Persia are concentrating against Enzeli and Resht and conducting major preparatory work in the direction of solidifying the position of the English in Persia so that the Anglophile cabinet replaces the Anglophobic one in Persia.
 5. Generalizing, Ordzhonikidze thinks that we are standing before a new major war in the south of the Caucasus, organized by the Entente with the mediation of Georgia and perhaps with the neutralization of Turkey in the best case, or in the worst in an alliance with Turkey against us and above all against Bolshevik Azerbaijan.  On this point, I completely agree with Ordzhonikidze. 
 6.  As a practical step, Ordzhonikidze proposes right now to drive a wedge between Turkey and Azerbaijan.” [5] 
Having heard Stalin’s arguments, V. Lenin responded that without a meeting of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the RKP(b), there was nothing he could suggest, and advised I. Stalin, “either to make a concrete proposal to the Politburo or to act in exact correspondence to his existing plenipotentiary powers or to advance his arrival in Moscow for the resolution of the entire Caucasus issue as a whole.  I. Stalin reported that on that very night he would arrive in Moscow and himself gave an order to Ordzhonikidze to conduct preparatory work and wait for orders from Moscow. [6] On the basis of the results of this conversation, a week later, on December 1, 1920, at a celebratory session of the Baku Soviet devoted to the proclamation of Soviet power in Armenia, N. Narimanov, the president of the Azrevkom, acting strictly according to the order of Moscow, made a declaration about the transfer of Nakhchivan and Zangazur to Armenia.
In order not to lose the initiative in the negotiations, the Soviet delegates hurried to Gumri.  The Turks, having defeated the Armenians, attempted to avoid Russian mediation, while the dashnaks, on the contrary, in the name of preserving their power wanted to independently conclude a treaty with the Turks.  The dashnaks sought to get out of the crisis situation through the formation of a coalition government with the pro-Russian Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks.  To that end, A. Terteryan and Dro (D. Kanayan) were coopted into the cabinet.  On November 21, 1920, B. Legran and Budu Mdivani reported to I. Stalin and Sergo Ordzhonikidze that, “the dashnaks are forming up groups amongst themselves that are prepared to accept the Sovietization of Armenia.  Dro is in charge of one of them.  With a view to seizing power, work on the unification of these groups is being conducted.  With the formation of a Soviet government, the dashnaks will have to be given many more places than has been planned in Baku.  According to the plan adopted in Baku, as soon as the new Soviet government asks for help, we will guarantee the rapid introduction of the Red Army into Armenia.” [7] A day later, B. Legran, in a telegram to G. Chicherin and G. Ordzhonikidze, was already interested in the number of armed forces in Kazakh [a city on Azerbaijan’s western border with Armenia] and the level of their readiness for introduction into Armenia. [8] From another immediate telegram of B. Legran, it is clearly evident that Kazim Karabekir-pasha did not feel the need for Mdivani’s mediation and this reduced the trust of Soviet Russia toward Turkey.  Now, the trust of the Soviet representatives in the Turks’ promise not to seize Batumi depended on how the latter would conduct themselves on the Armenian question. [9] 

On November 24, 1920, B. Mdivani arrived in Gumri and on the same day met with Kazim Karabekir-pasha who reported to him that the Armenians had accepted all conditions and that the Ankara government therefore considered the mediation of Soviet Russia to be unnecessary.  He also added that he had received an instruction from Ankara to conduct talks only with the Armenians.  At the same time, Kazim Karabekir-pasha alongside the Armenian-Turkish talks without the Russians did not rule out Russian-Turkish negotiations of “friends seeking a common goal” without the Armenians.  In the talks, Kazim Karabekir-pasha recalled that, “Moscow promised the Turkish command that Soviet army would simultaneously advance into Armenia from Azerbaijan, something that unfortunately had not happened.” [10] 

On the very same day, a second meeting took place between B. Mdivani and Kazim Karabekir-pasha, at which the Turkish representative insisted that the Red Army immediately begin an advance from Azerbaijan and occupy Tiflis.  He promised that if the English tried to attack through Batumi, he with his army would block their path to Tiflis. [11] On November 26, two influential members of Turkey’s Grand National Assembly headed by Kazim-pasha conducted negotiations with Mdivani.  They insisted that a treaty should be concluded, even if formal, between the two states.  On this occasion, Budu Mdivani wrote to I. Stalin and G. Ordzhonikidze that, “they only demand assistance in the form of arms.  They undertake to conduct an unceasing struggle against the English and to advance our policy in the East.  Based on their proposals about a treaty, about the introduction of our units into Armenia and Georgia with their support for preventing an English strike against Batumi, I consider that there is still no agreement between them and England.” [12] 

When the Turks rejected Russian mediation and the dashnaks preferred to act independently, the Soviet delegation immediately began to come up with new plans for retaining Armenia under its influence.  B. Legran informed the Center that the Turks, having refused Russian mediation, had created a situation, which required immediate decisions.  “We need a program of independent actions in the Caucasus which the Turks will be forced to reckon with.”  The Bolsheviks planned to carry out this program of actions with the help of Dro, who had been included in the new government.  B. Legran wrote that the government of A. Ogandzhanyan and the groups defending him, which were trying to conclude independently, behind the back of Soviet Russia, a treaty with Turkey had suffered defeat.  Dro in turn has declared himself a supporter of federation with Russia and of the creation of a soviet system in Armenia.  “Dro seeks agreement with us, and [asks] whether we could guarantee in the case of need armed force and the demands of the Armenians for territories.” [13] In a report from Erivan, it was noted that Dro was not afraid if Armenia were to lose its independence, because he considered that only in the status of a federative unit of Soviet Russia could Armenia preserve its existence. [14] 

On November 25, 1920, a new government of Armenia was formed under the chairmanship of S. Vratsyan.  In that cabinet, Dro had the post of military minister and A. Teteryan that of ministry of charity.  On November 26, B. Legran reported to G. Chicherin and G. Ordzhonikidze that, “the government crisis has been resolved on the basis of a compromise, supporters of a Russian orientation, including Terteryan and Dro have been included in the cabinet.  From the report of Mdivani, it is clear that as a result of the refusal of the Turks from mediation, he in general does not consider necessary the provision to the Turks of any particular conditions relative to Armenia.  I consider this a mistake; it is necessary to immediately give Mdivani orders concerning the acceptable conditions of peace with Armenia.” [15] The Soviet representatives tried to clarify the conditions under which the Turks and Armenians intended to conclude a peace treaty.  They did not want to be passive observers as the Turks drew Armenia into their sphere of influence.  B. Legran reported to B. Mdivani in Gumri, to G. Ordzhonikidze in Baku and to G. Chicherin in Moscow that, “the Turks have freed for themselves Nakhchivan” and as if they had stopped their attack on Armenia on the order of the Entente, but the Musavatist power remains under the control of Kazim Karabekir-pasha.  B. Legran wrote that, “Dro has declared that in the course of the next few days, he will force the government to take a decision about the introduction of Soviet forces into Armenia.  I raised the question about the liberation of communists and the return of our prisoners currently held in Armenia.  There is a basis for expecting a favorable result.  Measures have been taken to establish telegraph links with Baku through Dilizhan and Kazakh.” [16] In another radiogram sent to G. Ordzhonikidze on the same day, B. Legran confirmed the fact of the seizure by the Turks of Nakhchivan and considered extremely unfavorable the participation of a Soviet detachment in this joint attack.  B. Legran reported to G. Chicherin that, “the misfortune in this is that our command is giving in to the nationalistically inclined circles of Azerbaijan, and the army at the same time lacks a good commissar staff.” [17] 

The appearance of Turks in the Caucasus and the deep crisis in Armenia this caused, as well as the shift of the Armenian-Turkish conflict into a sharp stage, generated serious concern in the Politburo of the Central Committee of the RKP(b) about the possibility of a repetition of the events of September 1918.  Therefore, having discussed the situation in the South Caucasus, the Politburo decided that the first order task at the present moment was the strengthening of the defense of Azerbaijan and the establishment of control over the waters of the Caspian Sea. [18] 


[1] Telegram of B. Legran to G. Chicherin, 28 November 1920, Russian State Archive of Social-Political History (hereafter RSASPH), f.64, op.1, d.21, l.252.

[2] Telegram of B. Legran to G. Chicherin, 28 November 1920, RSASPH, f.64, op.1, d.21, l.253-254.

[3] Conversation of G. Chicherin with G. Ordzhonikidze by direct line, 20 June 1920, from the collection of documents of the RSASPH.

[4] Conversation of G. Ordzhonikidze with N. Narimanov by direct line, 20 June 1920, from the collection of documents of the RSASPH.

[5] Telephone conversation of I. Stalin with V. Lenin, 23 November 1920, Foreign Policy Archive of the Russian Federation (hereafter FPA RF), f. 04, op. 39, p. 232, d. 52987, l. 47.

[6] Telephone conversation of I. Stalin with V. Lenin, 23 November 1920, Foreign Policy Archive of the Russian Federation (hereafter FPA RF), f. 04, op. 39, p. 232, d. 52987, l. 47.

[7] Code cable of B. Legran and B. Mdivani to I. Stalin and G. Ordzhonikidze, 21 November 1920, RSASPH, f. 64, op. 1, d. 21, l. 243. 

[8] Code cable of B. Legran to G. Chicherin and G. Ordzhonikidze, 22 November 1920, RSASPH, f. 64, op. 1, d. 21, l. 244. 

[9] Code cable of B. Legran to G. Chicherin, I. Stalin, and G. Ordzhonikidze, 21 November 1920, RSASPH, f. 85, op. 14, d. 17, l. 19. 

[10] Radiogram of B. Legran to G. Chicherin and I. Stalin, 24 November 1920, RSASPH, f. 85, op. 14, d. 17, l. 24.  

[11] Code telegram of B. Mdivani to I. Stalin and G. Ordzhonikidze, 25 November 1920, RSASPH, f. 64, op. 1, d. 21, l. 246. 

[12] Code cable of Mdivani to I. Stalin and G. Ordzhonikidze, 29 November 1920, FPA RF, f. 04, op. 39, p. 232, d. 52987, l. 52. 

[13] Radiogram of B. Legran to G. Ordzhonikidze, 28 November 1920, RSASPH, f. 85, op. 14, d. 17, l. 25. 

[14] Telegram of B. Legran to G. Chicherin, 28 November 1920, RSASPH, f. 64, op. 1, d. 21, l. 253. 

[15] Telegram of B. Legran to G. Chicherin and G. Ordzhonikidze, 26 November 1920, RSASPH, f. 64, op. 1, d. 21, l. 249. 

[16] Radiogram of B. Legran to P. Mdivani, G. Chicherin, and G. Ordzhonikidze, 29 November 1920, RSASPH, f. 85, op. 14, d. 17, l. 31-31 ob.

[17] Telegram of B. Legran to G. Chicherin, 28 November 1920, RSASPH, f. 64, op. 1, d. 21, l. 253. 

[18] Telegram of N. Krestinsky to G. Ordzhonikidze, 28 November 1920, RSASPH, f. 85, op. 18, d. 29, l. 1.