The Moscow Treaty: The History of an Invalid Document

On March 16, 1921, a treaty was signed in Moscow between Soviet Russia and Turkey, under which three provinces were ceded from Armenia to Turkey and Azerbaijan: Kars, Nakhichevan, and Surmali.

“The term ‘Turkey’ in this treaty refers to the territories included in the Turkish National Pact of January 28, 1920, developed and proclaimed by the Ottoman Chamber of Deputies in Constantinople and communicated to the press and all states,” the treaty’s preamble states.

In the autumn of 1921, based on the Moscow Treaty, a four-sided Kars Treaty was signed between Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, which became a revised version of the Moscow Treaty.

Important note: The Armenian SSR, created as a result of the joint Russo-Turkish military invasion into the Republic of Armenia, was not admitted to the Moscow negotiations, despite the fiction of its sovereignty and recognition of its interest. For more details, read “International Legal Assessment of the Moscow and Kars Treaties – Criminal Conspiracy.”

The signing of the Kars Treaty is also logical because the Moscow Treaty with Turkey was signed on behalf of Russia and formally did not yet apply to the Transcaucasian countries.

In 1921, the “Sovietization” of Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan had indeed concluded, but it was still too unstable for the RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic) to trust these republics to independently sign international treaties, especially ones as significant as those confirming the division of the region.

According to the second article of the Moscow Treaty, the Kars and Surmali provinces of Armenia, along with Mount Ararat, were ceded to Turkey, while the third, i.e., Nakhichevan, went under Azerbaijan’s protectorate. Thus, through Armenia, the appetites of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia were satisfied.

Interestingly, the Moscow Treaty’s text ends the third article on the ownership of Nakhichevan with the words “without the right to transfer to a third party,” implying Iran.

However, this phrase is missing in the text of the Kars Treaty. By the fall of 1921, Iran no longer hid its irritation about the establishment of a state in Transcaucasia named “Azerbaijan,” which claimed to unite with the Iranian province of the same name and create a unified “Soviet Azerbaijan” with a population of almost 20 million.

But the most interesting part is that the treaty, according to numerous archival documents, was concluded for a term of 25 years. In 1925, the Ambassador of the RSFSR to Turkey, Vinogradov, in an official note demanded the denunciation of the Russo-Turkish Treaty of 1921, accompanying such an unconventional move in international practice with statements about Russia’s readiness to unilaterally implement it.

Moreover, according to a Turkish source, Ambassador Vinogradov in an oral conversation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained: “We cannot wait 25 years and signed the treaty because we were weak then. Now we are strong and demand the restoration of Armenia’s borders.” To this, one of Turkey’s most prominent statesmen at the time, İsmet İnönü, successor to Kemal Atatürk as President, immediately responded:

“A new country must adhere to its international obligations, and in 25 years Turkey will, of course, return these territories.” Thus, the ownership of three provinces severed from Armenia in favor of Turkey and Azerbaijan, from a legal standpoint, as of March 16, 1946, is historically nonsensical.

Nevertheless, after 1921, the first official document at the level of a bilateral agreement between the USSR and Turkey, stating that the parties have no mutual territorial claims, is the intergovernmental treaty signed in August 1978 during the official visit of Turkish Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit to Moscow.

The treaty was signed on the Soviet side by Alexei Kosygin on August 22, 1978. The paragraph about the absence of mutual territorial claims is the second one. Responses from the Turkish press at that time openly and joyfully point to the Russo-Turkish Treaty of 1921.

In the text of the treaty, there is another very important point that somehow is not taken into account. “…to ensure the opening of the straits and the freedom of passage of commercial vessels for all nations,” reads one of the articles.

The Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits have always been an important tool in Turkish foreign policy, and not to make use of them in any case would be sinful. This is especially true in the “Armenian issue.”

Taking into account that establishing a favorable regime for the passage of straits for its own vessels has always been very important for Russia, the signing of similar treaties is not ruled out in the future.

In fact, the Bolsheviks did everything in their power to secure themselves from the East, and for this, they sacrificed Armenia, which had no value for the Kremlin rulers.

Let’s repeat once again: The Moscow Treaty is invalid for many reasons, but most importantly, it was concluded between two unrecognized subjects of international law: Kemalist Turkey and Bolshevik Russia. In 1921, Turkey was still called the Ottoman Empire, and Sultan Mehmed VI Vahdettin ruled there.

In Russia, the Bolsheviks were in power. The Turkish Republic, with which the Moscow Treaty was concluded, was proclaimed on October 29, 1923. After 92 years, all these “minor details” are somehow forgotten, and Armenia continues to insist on the denunciation of a treaty that actually does not exist.

International law, which Turkey and Azerbaijan so love to refer to, should logically deny the treaty’s validity. However, the opposite is exactly the case.

Unfortunately, the treaty legally formalized the conquest and partition of the Republic of Armenia between the RSFSR, Turkey, and Azerbaijan. This is at least how it is perceived today. And back then too—Turkey needed to expel the last Armenians from their historical homeland.

“World Revolution” is a very convenient term for conquest and for acquiring friends who are needed right now; the need for them disappears later. The main thing for Moscow was to support Atatürk.

This was done: 5 million rubles in gold and mountains of weapons were transferred to support the “national liberation struggle of the Turkish people.” It is simply interesting to know against whom this “national liberation struggle” was conducted.

One does not need to delve deeply into Eastern policy to understand that it was directed against the Christian population of the Ottoman Empire—Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians. The massacre in 1922 in Izmir (Smyrna), the re-expulsion of Armenians returning to Cilicia, was carried out with Russian money and Russian weapons.

In 1919, tens of thousands of Armenians from Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine were returning to Cilicia, where French rule was being established based on a mandate. For some time it seemed that Cilicia could become a fully independent state from Turkey under the protectorate of France.

Many Armenians, of course, remembered the French-Armenian brotherhood that had arisen specifically in Cilicia during the Crusades. Unfortunately, the experience of French mandate rule was short-lived and led to catastrophic consequences for Armenian repatriates.

Let’s also recall another fact. On October 30, 1918, aboard the British cruiser “Agamemnon” in the port of Mudros, the Mudros Armistice was signed.

It stipulated: the opening of the Black Sea straits for the naval fleets of the Allies, with the provision for the allies to occupy the forts of the Bosporus and Dardanelles; the surrender of the remaining Turkish troops in the Hejaz, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and their withdrawal from Iran, Cilicia, and the Caucasus; the occupation by the allies of six Armenian vilayets “in case of disorder in any of them,” and generally any strategic point in Turkey if the allies deemed it necessary for their “security.”

Bolshevik Russia urgently needed a treaty with Turkey at any level to neutralize the Entente, and Mustafa Kemal lacked weapons and money.

Such is the history of the unfortunate Moscow Treaty for Armenians, which almost nobody recalls in the political arena today unless… it is needed to achieve one’s own goals. And if needed—both Turkey and Russia can easily revive the agreement, contradicting any principle of international law.

Karine Ter-Saakyan
Translated Vigen Avetisyan

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