Vol. 5, No. 9 (April 01, 2012)

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

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

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

On November 28, 1920, peace talks were supposed to begin in Gumri.  After the new government was formed, a peace delegation was formed, given plenipotentiary powers of the government and parliament and sent to Gumri.  That delegation included the former head of government and member of parliament Aleksandr Khatisyan, the former finance minister and member of parliament Abraam Gulkhandanyan, and the deputy minister of internal affairs Stepan Korganyan.  The Turkish side included Kazym Karabekir-pasha, Erzurum governor Hamid-bey, and the member of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey from Erzurum Suleyman Necat-bey.  However, it is not only in Gumri that Armenia’s fate was being decided at that moment, but also in Dilizhan, as well as in the Kazakh district of Azerbaijan.  At the direction of the leading circles of Soviet Russia, Armenian communists were immediately mobilized and sent to Kazakh and further to Dilizhan in order to proclaim Soviet power there.  In the last days of November, two revolutionary committees were established in Armenia in the process of the struggle for power there.  The Turks formed one of them in Gumri, one without communists and willing to cooperate with them, and the other the Russians formed in Kazakh from among Armenian communists.  The struggle for Armenia moved into its concluding stage.

The representatives of Soviet Russia, B. Mdivani, B. Shakhtakhtinsky, and Dzh. Korkmasov, at the start of the talks already were in Gumri, but were not allowed to participate in the negotiations.  At the end of November, an immediate telegram from G. Chicherin addressed to Sergo Ordzhonikidze for transmission to Budu Mdivani arrived and read as follows: “Immediately report on the state of negotiations going on in Aleksandropol [Gumri] in which Mdivani is involved.  Have him update us on the latest news.  It is especially important for us to achieve that the Armenian-Turkish delimitation of the border will be handed over to a mixed commission with our participation.  Have Mdivani continuously keep us updated on what is taking place.” [1] 

G. Ordzhonikidze explained to G. Chicherin that B. Mdivani did not have a direct link with Baku, that, rather, he had it through B. Legran and that Chicherin’s directives would be given to Mdivani via that channel.  From the moment of the beginning of the Turkish-Armenian negotiations, Soviet Russia through B. Mdivani was interested in how the Turks looked at how to begin talks for the conclusion of a treaty and where and in what form they proposed to conduct negotiations.  In order to clarify the intentions of the Turks, Sergo Ordzhonikidze and A. Sheynman advised G. Chicherin to propose to the Turks to conduct talks around the following questions: the borders of Soviet Armenia must be defined by a treaty with Russia; the time of the launch of an attack on Georgia must be defined by an agreement with Russia; and the war with the Entente should be renewed, that is, the war should be conducted actively.  “Provided that these conditions are observed, the dispatch of arms, finances and other things is possible.” [2]  

Interestingly, at the moment of the dispatch of this telegram, Soviet power had still not been proclaimed in Armenia, even though in the correspondence with Moscow, the borders of Soviet Armenia are discussed as a fait accompli.

After the return of Bekir Sami from the North Caucasus, a draft agreement—although not fully agreed to—was sent to Ankara via Yusuf Kamal.  G. Chicherin, via B. Legran, asked B. Mdivani the following: “It would be desirable for us to know whether the Turkish government received the draft accord developed by us together with Bekir Sami and sent to Ankara with Yusuf Kemal.  Does the Turkish government consider it acceptable and how does it relate to those points of disagreement between us and Bekir Sami on which the latter could not take a decision.” [3] On November 28, B. Legran, citing B. Mdivani, reported to G. Chicherin and G. Ordzhonikidze that the Turks intended to publish their peace conditions and that it was expected that these conditions would be severe.  B. Mdivani should be instructed as to how he was to act if the Turks refused from mediation and what conditions in favor of the Armenians he could defend.  He considered essential the need to leave to Armenia the Karaklis-Gumri-Erivan-Nakhchivan rail line, for that would correspond to Russia’s interests.  B. Legran asked for an immediate response as to whether “military help will be offered to Armenia by the introduction of our forces if the Armenian government requests them, something that will undoubtedly happen if the Turks propose severe conditions?  According to the directives developed in Baku when Stalin was there, [Legran continued, he had given] corresponding assurances to the Armenians.”  B. Legran considered possible the establishment of an Armenian Soviet government, consisting of a majority of communists and several dashnaks supportive of Dro.  The rejection by the Turks of Soviet Russia’s mediation, the formation by the Turks of an Armenian revolutionary committee, and the new demand for the withdrawal of forces from the southeastern part of Sharur district and the Shakhtakhty station next to it, presented to the Armenian command all testifies about the effort of the Turks to push out the Russians and keep the initiative in their own hands.  Thus B. Legran concluded. [4] On November 28, 1920, B. Mdivani sent to Ordzhonikidze in Baku the following radiogram from Gumri: “There is a revolutionary committee calling itself the Revkom of the Armenian Soviet Republic here.  The composition of the Revkom is weak.  It is supported by the Turkish command.  There is a need to send here authoritative comrades in view of the inclination of the Turks not to trust Armenian communists.” [5] 

On the day the negotiations started, November 28, Kazym Karabekir-pasha met separately with the representatives of Soviet Russia.  Following long talks about how tsarist Russia together with other countries of the Entente conducted a policy directed at the division of Turkey and about the Bolshevik revolution and the political results the revolution had generated, K. Karabekir said that, “the Turks, having decided to support with all their forces Soviet Russia, nonetheless are not inclined to establish a Soviet system for themselves immediately.  This does not mean that we do not like communist ideals … Soviet Russia better than anyone else is aware that the Turks were the first to respond to the Russian revolution, which subsequently contributed to the change of power in Azerbaijan in the hope that Russia through Azerbaijan will establish a link with revolutionary Turkey, but Russia did not undertake anything for the establishment of such a link with revolutionary Turkey.” [6]

As far as the situation in the South Caucasus was concerned, Kazym-pasha in recalling the past said that, “Russia proposed to Turkey to refrain from any thought of attacking Armenia presenting itself as a most sincere ally of the Entente.  Despite the fact that during our struggle with the Entente Armenia always plunged a knife in our back, we all the same decided to hold off to satisfy Russia.  After all this, Soviet Russia demanded the transfer to Armenia of certain districts of Anatolia.  For the good of the revolution, Turkey destroyed a more viable than Armenia Muslim government in Azerbaijan, and Russia in an obvious undercutting of its own goals wanted to establish a reactionary Greater Armenia without Armenians at the expense of Turkey and Azerbaijan at a time when Armenia itself was trying to create a coalition of Georgia, Persia and Armenia for a joint attack against Russia in Azerbaijan.  And finally, Russia has given the Nakhchivan district to Armenia.  This was the single corridor through which the Turks maintained a link with Russia.  By virtue of this step of Russia, all the actors who led the Turkish revolution were almost disarmed before the Turkish masses, who lost faith in the possibility of the Russian support.”

“On the other hand,” Kazym-pasha continued, “news started to arrive about horrors being committed in Azerbaijan.  All this taken together has given aid and comfort to our enemies to claim that not only is it impossible to expect any help from Russia but that one must be worried about it.” [7] As far as the last Armenian-Turkish war is concerned, he said, “Russia allowed us to occupy Sarykamysh and Nakhchivan district without willing to offer us in this operation any military help.  At the very same time, the Armenian forces began to attack and inflict violence on the Muslims in Olti district.  The patience of the Turkish people ran out, and it demanded that the dashnaks be punished.  My task was not of the easiest: dealing with Armenia would not be so difficult, but everything suggested that in such an attack we would have to deal with Armenian and Georgian armies and therefore I must have assembled such a force that would be able to master not only the Armenian, but also the Georgian army.  The Armenian forces were destroyed so quickly that Georgia could not even think of acting.  At the gates of Erivan, the government of Armenia asked for mercy, having declared its willingness to agree to all our conditions.  We were reliably informed that our advance into the borders of Armenia was interpreted in Russia as an effort to reach the borders of Azerbaijan as a result of an agreement between us and the Entente on that point.  Thus, all out actions, which involved large losses for us and was directed against a common enemy generated suspicion and distrust.” [8] The content of this conversation, B. Shakhtakhtinsky transmitted on the same day and then sent the text to Sergo Ordzhonikidze.

The last issue touched upon by Kazym-pasha, rumors about an agreement between Turkey and the Entente on the occupation of Azerbaijan.  Those rumors were so widespread that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Mukhtar was forced on December 1, 1920 to send a telegram denying this to Karabekir-pasha, the commander of the Eastern front in Gumri, to Memdukh Shevket-bey, the Turkish representative in Baku, and to Kazym-bey, the Turkish representative in Tiflis.  His telegram said that, “According to the information received, the English are trying all forms of trickery in order to embroil us and the Muslim world in a conflict with the Bolsheviks.  They hope that if they are able to do so, they will be able to put each of us down in turn.  Among these provocations are suggestions by the English that they have promised us Azerbaijan if we will promise to distance ourselves from the Bolsheviks and so on.  You are authorized to immediately and in the most categorical way deny these rumors using all the means in your possession.” [9] Sergo Ordzhonikidze transmitted the text of this telegram to the Peoples Commissariat of International Affairs of Russia.  In addition, on December 2, the Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Mukhtar sent G. Chicherin a special letter in which he called false reports about problems of the Western powers to hand over Azerbaijan to Turkey in exchange for struggle against Soviet Russia. [10] 

Turkey’s refusal of Moscow’s mediating “services” for the negotiations at Gumri infuriated the Bolsheviks.  This is obvious from the instructions, which B. Legran gave B. Mdivani on November 29.  In these instructions, B. Mdivani was sharply but diplomatically criticized for allowing initiative to pass to the Turks.  B. Legran wrote: “Have You received an official notice of the Turkish government about the refusal of our mediation?  On what conditions do the Turks think to conclude peace with Armenia?  What have they reported to You about this?  What declarations did You make?  One must not passively react to the Turkish effort to keep us out of the resolution of the question about Armenia.  Karabekir, in addition, demands the withdrawal of forces from the district of Shakhtakhty and part of Sharur region—the Turks are liberating for themselves Nakhchivan.” [11]   
As far as the Armenian revolutionary committee set up by the Turks was concerned, B. Legran asked who is in this committee, are they local Armenian communists or is this another form of organization?  Legran wrote that, “it is necessary to keep in mind that our comrades cannot be dispatched to this revkom; such a Turkish invention does not deserve the slightest faith as long as they continue to conduct a completely independent policy in Armenia and do not want to recognize our mediation.”  However, I. Stalin, in the spirit of a telegram to V. Lenin on November 16, sent the same telegram on November 29 to the Soviet mission in Erivan in which he advised B. Legran and B. Mdivani that “they must not hurry; they must achieve a strengthening [of the position].  One should not fight with the Turks on behalf of the dashnaks, but it is also impermissible to make concessions to the Turks in everything.  It is necessary … to leave open the question about Kars.  By all appearances, the Turks are acting in Armenia with the approval of the Entente; therefore one must not trust them, one must break them away from the Entente, one must direct them at Georgia and test whether they will go against Georgia.” [12]  
In order not to remain at the side from dramatic events in such a difficult situation, Soviet Russia tried on the one hand to renew the peace talks with the Turks in Moscow that had earlier broken down, but on the other was preparing a revolution in Armenia.  On November 27, the Politburo of the Central committee of the RKP(b) heard a report by I. Stalin “On Caucasian Affairs” and adopted a corresponding decision.  On November 29 at 14:30, Sergo Ordzhonikidze reported to V. Lenin and I. Stalin from Baku that, “I have just received the decision of the Central Committee.  The Armenian revkom dispatched to the Kazakh district for preparatory work has received a mass of appeals from the peasants of the Karavansaray district and Dilizhan, with notes that there is no power there, the army has broken up, and asking for help.  The Revkom at night independently crossed the border and continues its advance on Dilizhan where Soviet Armenia will be proclaimed.” [13] Five minutes later, Sergo Ordzhonikidze telegraphed B. Legran in Erivan and Budu Mdivani in Gumri that, “According to reports just received, the Armenian Revkom, having received a mass of appeals from the peasants of the Dilizhan district, crossed the border that night and were met with delight by the population.  Take all measures for support from the side of Erivan the group of Terteryan and Dro.  Guarantee them inclusion in the revkom and complete security of the dashnaks.” [14] 

Such is the chronology and the essence of the political crisis on the eve of the Sovietization of Armenia.  In fact, as can be seen, the proclamation of Soviet power for the Armenians on November 29, 1920 in Kazakh and Dilizhan had as its goal the salvation of Armenia, which had suffered collapse in the war with the Turks.

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


[1] Immediate telegram of G. Chicherin to G. Ordzhonikidze, 26 November 1920, Russian State Archive of Social-Political History (hereafter RSASPH), f.85, op.14, d.26, l.1.  

[2] Telegram of G. Ordzhonikidze and A. Sheynman to G. Chicherin, 29 November 1920, Foreign Policy Archive of the Russian Federation (hereafter FPA RF), f.04, op.39, p.232, d.52987, l.49. 

[3] Telegram of G. Chicherin to B. Legran, 2 December 1920, RSASPH, f.85, op.14, d.26, l.6. 

[4] Telegram of B. Legran to G. Chicherin, 28 November 1920, RSASPH, f.64, op.1, d.21, l.255-256.

[5] Radiogram of P. Mdivani to G. Ordzhonikidze, 28 November 1920, RSASPH, f.85, op.14, d.33, l.6.

[6] B. Shakhtakhtinsky to G. Ordzhonikidze, Conversation with Kazym-pasha, 28 November 1920, RSASPH, f.85, op.C /Turkey/, d.31, l.3. 

[7] B. Shakhtakhtinsky to G. Ordzhonikidze, Conversation with Kazym-pasha, 28 November 1920, RSASPH, f.85, op.C /Turkey/, d.31, l.3. 

[8] B. Shakhtakhtinsky to G. Ordzhonikidze, Conversation with Kazym-Pasha, 28 November 1920, RSASPH, f.85, op.C /Turkey/, d.31, l. 3-4.  

[9] Text of a telegram of Ahmed Mukhtar-bey to K. Karabekir-pasha, Mehmet Shevket-bey and Kazym-bey, 1 December 1920, FPA RF, f.04, op.39, p.232, d.52987, l.53. 

[10] Letter of Ahmet Mukhtar-bey to G. Chicherin, 2 December 1920, FPA RF, f.04, op.39, p.232, d.52987, l.58. 

[11] Telegram of B. Legran to P. Mdivani, Copy to G. Chicherin, 29 November 1920, RSASPH, f.64, op.1, d.21, l.259. 

[12] Telegram of I. Stalin to B. Legran and P. Mdivani, 29 November 1920, RSASPH, f.64, op.1, d.21, l.260. 

[13] Telegram of G. Ordzhonikidze to V. Lenin and I. Stalin, 29 November 1920, RSASPH, f.85, op.14, d.33, l.2. 

[14] Telegram of G. Ordzhonikidze to B. Legran and P. Mdivani, 29 November 1920, RSASPH, f.85, op.14, d.33, l.3.