How Russia Betrayed the “Brotherly” Armenians

Neither Soviet nor Russian historiography likes to remember this. This historical episode is as if it never happened, and at best, it is briefly mentioned in school textbooks. There is a deliberate effort to act as if nothing of the sort ever occurred, even though its consequences are evident and tragic for Armenia and other indigenous peoples of the region.

Here, perhaps more than anywhere else, a vile Russian-Soviet “omission” operates, where everyone pretends as if this shameful historical fact never existed, and thus no one talks about it: some because they are powerless to change anything, and others because of their inherent dishonesty.

One only has to look at the political map and ask: how did it happen that the Christian sanctuary of Mount Ararat has been under the “Turkish heel” for so many years? How did Mount Ararat even become Turkish?

Meanwhile, before us lies evidence of vile betrayal, abundant in the history of this Great Mess, the consequences of which still shake both Asia and Europe, bringing suffering not only to Armenians but also to Kurds, leaving the latter without a national state altogether.

It is quite timely to talk about this tragic and shameful historical fragment now, during the centenary of the genocide of Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians in the Ottoman Empire, as Russian officialdom spreads false stories of “brotherhood” and “Armenia being saved by Russia.”

The Ottoman Empire, in its final throes of imperial decay, entered World War I as part of the coalition of Central Powers or the Triple Alliance.

The Ottoman Empire did not expect much gain from the war: a probable expansion of its territories in Transcaucasia and the defense of its Middle Eastern territories from British and French claims, and the Black Sea straits from Russian ambitions.

Diverging a bit from the topic, I want to say that the ideology and domestic policies of the Ottoman Empire mirrored those in the Russian Empire. The principles of “Ottomanism” proclaimed any true believer in the empire as a full subject of the Sultan. In this way, non-Muslims in the empire were automatically classified as second-class.

Non-Muslims were forbidden to own weapons, additional duties were imposed on them, they were restricted in their rights, particularly in movement within the empire. Sounds quite similar to Imperial Russia, doesn’t it?

Regardless, the end of the war was a complete disaster for the Ottoman Empire. The Entente Powers, who had developed a unified position on post-war world arrangements during the course of the war, signed the so-called Sykes-Picot Agreement in May 1916. This agreement planned the division of Ottoman territories into occupation zones and dominions (green for Russia, blue for France, red for Britain, purple for international administration). In addition, Russia would gain control over the Black Sea straits and Constantinople.

But then the Russian February and October Revolutions happened. All secret agreements between the Entente Powers were made public by the Bolsheviks. As is known, the Bolsheviks declared a break with the Entente, withdrew from the war, and in March 1918, signed the separate Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Among other things, this treaty ceded Kars and Batum from Russia in favor of Turkey.

In November, the world war came to an end. The victorious countries held international conferences with the defeated nations. Primarily, of course, European issues were addressed, complicated by the complete collapse of Austria-Hungary and the emergence of new Central European states. Still occupied by allied troops, the Ottoman Turkey meekly awaited its fate.

Meanwhile, in May 1918, the Transcaucasian republics declared their statehood and independence. During the proclamation of independence, Turkey advanced into Armenia and, despite suffering some defeats, managed to establish itself near Yerevan and occupy significant territories.

On June 4th, the Armenian-Turkish Treaty of “Friendship and Cooperation” was signed in Batum, under which Turkey recognized Armenian statehood and sovereignty over 12,000 square kilometers of the Yerevan and Echmiadzin districts.

The formation of the government bodies of the First Republic began: parliamentary elections were held, and the government was formed. Nonetheless, the newly established republic was effectively under complete Turkish control.

On October 30th, the Armistice of Mudros was signed between Britain and Turkey. Thereby, Turkey declared its military defeat. According to the terms of the armistice, Turkey was obliged to withdraw its troops from Transcaucasia, which was carried out during November and December of 1918.

In turn, Armenian troops entered Karaklis (now Vanadzor) and Alexandropol (now Gyumri). In April-May of 1919, the Armenian army established control over Kars, Olti, and Kagyzvan.

Effectively, the border between the Ottoman and Russian Empires was almost restored. Earlier, in February 1919, an Armenian delegation had traveled to the Paris Peace Conference, the result of which for Armenia was the Treaty of Sèvres, signed in August 1920.

One of its clauses stipulated that Turkey recognized a free and independent Armenian state. Armenia and Turkey agreed to a border revision, according to which the Turkish vilayets of Van, Bitlis, Erzurum, and Trebizond would become the territory of the Republic of Armenia.

However, in March 1920, the Turkish National Revolution began in Ankara. Mustafa Kemal proclaimed the establishment of the government of the Turkish Grand National Assembly. Both governments (with the capital of the Sultanate Turkey remaining in Istanbul) existed in parallel.

The Kemalist government refused to recognize the Treaty of Sèvres. After the Bolshevik takeover of Azerbaijan in April-May, Kemal’s government started receiving substantial military support from the Bolsheviks, both in terms of weapons and personnel. Moreover, units of the Red Army, Kemalist troops, and the Baku Revolutionary Committee entered the disputed areas of Zangezur, Nakhichevan, and Karabakh.

On September 14th, Soviet envoy Boris Vasilyevich Legran arrived in Yerevan. He presented three demands to the Armenian government:

  1. To renounce the Treaty of Sèvres.
  2. To allow Soviet troops to pass through Armenia to join forces with Mustafa Kemal.
  3. To resolve border disputes with neighbors through the mediation of Soviet Russia.

The Armenian government rejected the first point but agreed with the other two, submitting a treaty proposal under which the RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic) would recognize Armenia’s independence, include Zangezur in its territory, and agree to mediate in establishing borders between Turkey and Armenia. Legran verbally accepted the offer but did not proceed to implement it.

Legran did not proceed to implement it because, in response to Kemal’s letter to Lenin in April 1920 alone, the Bolsheviks supplied 6,000 rifles, over 5 million rounds of rifle ammunition, 17,600 shells, and 200.6 kg of gold bullion.

This allowed Kemal’s army to first carry out a military operation against Armenia, and the following year, against the Greek army. To jump ahead, after the signing of the Moscow Treaty “on friendship and brotherhood” on March 21, 1921, the Soviets provided Kemal with 10 million rubles in gold, more than 33,000 rifles, about 58 million rounds of ammunition, 327 machine guns, 54 artillery pieces, over 129,000 shells, 1,500 sabers, 20,000 gas masks, 2 naval destroyers, and “a large amount of other military equipment.”

Armed and equipped by the Bolsheviks, Kemal’s army attacked Armenia on September 23, 1920. The next day, Kemalist Turkey officially declared war on Armenia.

The forces were unequal: by November 7, the Turks had occupied Adrianople and were advancing towards Yerevan. On November 22, Armenia agreed to a ceasefire, and on December 2, the Armenian representative agreed to the terms of the Turkish General Karabekir, signing the Treaty of Alexandropol on the night of December 3.

However, this signature meant nothing at that point. Armenia had already been “Bolshevized.” On November 29, 1920, a group of Armenian Bolsheviks, aided by the Soviet 11th Army and the troops of Soviet Azerbaijan, entered the town of Ijevan and proclaimed the establishment of a Revolutionary Committee, an uprising against the Dashnak government, and the establishment of Soviet power in Armenia.

On November 30 of the same year, Soviet envoy Boris Legran made an ultimatum demanding Armenia’s entry into the Soviet sphere. On December 2, an agreement was signed between him and the representatives of the Armenian government, according to which Armenia was declared an “independent Soviet Socialist Republic.” On December 4, units of the Red Army entered Yerevan, and on December 6, the Ijevan Revolutionary Committee followed. And it all came full circle…

The aforementioned Moscow Treaty established the Soviet-Turkish border. According to this treaty, Turkey was granted Kars, the southern part of the Batumi region, and the Surmali district of the Yerevan region along with Mount Ararat.

The remaining part of the Batumi region was transferred to the Georgian SSR under the condition of “broad autonomy for the local population, and privileges for Turkey in the Batumi port.” The third article of the treaty established a “protectorate of the Azerbaijani SSR” over the Nakhichevan district of the Yerevan Governorate, on condition that “it will not be transferred to a third party” (i.e., Armenia).

Thus, a grandiose and vile betrayal of the “brotherly Armenian Christian people” took place. The inhabitants of Western Armenia, scattered around the world, lost their homeland forever, forming the most numerous diaspora on the planet.

Armenia lost the chance to become a democratic, strong state with access to the sea. The “brotherly” Russian people left Armenians with the consolation of a truncated Soviet “independence” covering a third of historical Armenia’s territory. And, mockingly, they drew both Ararats on their coat of arms…

And now, a diminished Armenia, weakened by military conflict, meekly follows in the wake of new Russian mad imperial kleptocrats, disregarding the historical lessons of the past.

It’s amusing that the “leader and teacher” in the final months of World War II wanted to nullify the Moscow Treaty and put forth territorial claims against Turkey. He demanded the return of all former imperial territories, the implementation of joint control over the Black Sea straits, and the placement of a Soviet naval base there.

In response, the Allies showed Uncle Joe the cold shoulder. After Uncle Joe went to hell, his successors tucked tail and dropped all territorial claims against Turkey.

So, comrades, if the Russians say they’ve “saved” someone somewhere, know this: it definitely wasn’t without vile betrayal on their part.

Written by Evsey Belmesov.
Translated Vigen Avetisyan

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