BY: ARA PAPIAN
The study of history, particularly of the history of international relations, is not an end in itself. In studying history, man tries to learn from the past, so as to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. It seems, then, that we are continually rejecting the lessons of history and directing ourselves with the delusion of perceiving what is desirable instead of what is real. If this were not the case, then we would not have signed the humiliating Armenia-Turkey protocols in Zurich, protocols which provided a temporary sense of relief, but which remained fruitless and barren, thereby rendering themselves exemplars of political onanism.
During these very days ninety years ago, the Armenians and Turks were carrying out negotiations in the ill-fated city of Alexandropol (now Gyumri), perhaps the most difficult negotiations in our brief political history. The negotiations ended with the signing of that most burdensome Treaty of Alexandropol, on the 3rd of December, 1920.
I shall relate a comparative analysis of the negotiations process, the legal status of the treaty itself and its contents in a future article. At present, a few words on what lead up to the treaty. Of course, the signing of the Treaty of Alexandropol was not some isolated incident. It was a consequence, in particular, of the military and political situation in Armenia after the havoc caused by the May, 1920 uprising, the ever-increasing Bolshevik-Kemalist co-operation, as well as the immense gap that had been formed between the authorities of Armenia and the people.
As the current state of Armenia mirrors the Armenia of May- November, 1920 in many ways, I thought it helpful to discuss certain key points. One question has always bothered me, as I am sure, it has others. How did it come to pass that, in almost the absence of an army, the Armenian people managed to defeat or at least provide an adequate defense to the Ottoman forces in open battle in May of 1918, and just two and a half years later, in September-November, 1920, with more weapons, ammunitions and soldiers than in 1918, it suffered ignominious defeat at the hands of the remnants of the very same Ottoman army in the well-bastioned fortress of Kars? When one studies the documents, press and memoirs of the time, one thing becomes clear: the roots of the defeat rested more on morale than on the military or the political.
Yes, costly mistakes were allowed in organizing the defense; yes, there were many unfavorable circumstances, even accidental ones. And, what, were there none in May of 1918? Of course there were! But in May of 1918, the Armenian man and soldier was certain that the Ottoman army was advancing towards the southern Caucasus to finish what it had started with the Armenian Genocide. Therefore, there were no alternatives to facing and struggling against the enemy; the willingness to fight was borne by the entire people. And also, the real reason for the victory of the first battle over Artsakh (Karabakh) was its own characteristic of being national, aimed at liberation and the fact that its essence was shared among the people.
But when one casts a glance at the circumstances in September-November, 1920, then it becomes clear that the Armenian soldier had simply given up on fighting, and the Armenian man, on showcasing any resistance. The most revealing testimony to that fact are the Turkish casualties. According to Kazim Karabekir, commander of the eastern front of the Kemalist forces, in the course of three days of battle (from the 31st of October to the 2nd of November, 1920), including the taking of Kars, the Turks lost only nine and had 42 wounded.1 This served as a realization of the Bolshevik calls of “the times have changed”, “these are different Turks”. And upon the withdrawal of “the Turks new and made anew”, the local authorities had to bury 4,386 bodies – 90% of which were women and children – in but three villages of Shirak (Ghaltaghchi, Aghboulagh and Barapol, as they were then called).2 This, too, was a manifestation of the policy of brotherhood towards “the new and made anew” Turks. Most unfortunately, it is the same song being sung today, the same old story; only the Bolsheviks getting assistance from abroad have been replaced by numerous grant-gulping organizations and so-called political scientists.
As the Bolsheviks were unsure whether or not it would be possible “to destroy Imperialist Armenia” solely by deluding the Armenians and breaking their spirit of resistance, they combined other steps with that of propaganda. Starting in May-June, 1919, when Semyon Budyonny met with Mustafa Kemal, the Bolsheviks provided immense military and material support to the Kemalists under the sway of the dream of a global revolution.
And those relations were particularly deepened with the signing of a secret treaty of co-operation between the Kemalists and Bolsheviks on the 24th of August, 1920. As a matter of fact, one of the signatories to the treaty on behalf of the Turkish party was that war criminal, former Minister of War for the Ottoman Empire, Enver Pasha, something which testifies to the following: although Kemal and Enver despised one another for years, all Turks found common ground in their efforts against the Armenians. Immediately following the secret treaty of the 24th of August, 1920, the Bolsheviks transferred over 200 kilograms of gold and much arms and ammunition to the Kemalists. 3
The provision of military assistance is a relatively well-known fact, but few are aware that the Bolsheviks supported the Kemalists by directly fighting within their ranks against “Armenian Imperialists.” At the end of August, 1920, the first detachment of Bolsheviks, 7,000 soldiers, arrived in Karin (Erzurum). Some time later, another detachment of 10,000 arrived in aid of the Kemalists.4 Whereas the orders of the first detachment were to participate in the military actions against Armenia, the second was to be involved in maintaining the Mesopotamian front, so that the British forces stationed there would not be able to strike at the Kemalists from the rear and come to the assistance of Armenia in that way.
And so, under these circumstances – deserted by allies Britain and France, betrayed by ally Russia, internally weakened and militarily brought to her knees – the delegation of the Republic of Armenia arrived at Alexandropol (Gyumri) on the 24th of November, 1920, in order to commence negotiations with the so-called new, self-declared revolutionary Turkey.
To be continues…
1. Harb Tarihi Vesikalari Dergisi (Journal of Documents pertaining to Military History), September, 1964, doc #1146
2. R. Hovannisian, The Republic of Armenia, v. IV, Berkeley, 1996. p. 286
3. Embassy of the Russian Federation in Turkey –http://www.turkey.mid.ru/20-30gg.html
4. M. J. Somakian, Empires in Conflict: Armenia and the Great Powers, 1895-1920, London, 1995, p. 229.