Andrew Andersen






On November 7, 1917, the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia. The following day they declared the withdrawal of their country from the war and announced total demobilization of the old army. Demoralized by these events, Russian troops started leaving both the Turkish front and South Caucasus.


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Meanwhile, on the 12th of February, 1918, the Turks began recapturing all the territories they had previously lost to the Russians and their Armenian collaborators, simultaneously massacring any remnants of the Armenian population in Eastern Turkey. In the vacuum that remained as a result of the Bolshevik coup, the leading political parties of south Caucasus started seeking independence of the disintegrating Russian empire in a desperate attempt to prevent anarchy and protect the area from the menace of Turkey.




On May 26, 1918, an independent Armenian Republic was proclaimed in Yerevan. The birth of the first republic was facing economic disaster, Turkish invasion and political isolation. During the next week the advancing Turkish armies were defeated by Georgian volunteers on the river of Cholock to the North of Batumi and by the Armenian army and militia at Sardapat. These military victories of the new-born democracies prevented total annexation of the Caucasus by the Turks and saved remaining Armenians from total annihilation.


On May 26, 1918, an independent Armenian Republic was proclaimed in Yerevan. The birth of the first republic was facing economic disaster, Turkish invasion and


political isolation. During the next week the advancing Turkish armies were defeated by Georgian volunteers on the river of Cholock to the North of Batumi and by the Armenian army and militia at Sardapat. These military victories of the new-born democracies prevented total annexation of the Caucasus by the Turks and saved remaining Armenians from total annihilation.


On June 4, 1918, a peace-treaty was signed in Batum, according to which considerable part of South Caucasus was assigned to Turkey, most of Georgia remained under German protectorate and the Armenian Republic was cut down to a tiny enclave around the cities of Yerevan and Echmiadzin. Turkey was also given carte blanche to act in Azerbaijan. Regardless of the Batumi treaty, some Armenian troops under general Andranik continued to conduct guerrilla operations against the Turks from the mountain areas of Karabakh-Zanghezur, where another de-facto independent Armenian state had been proclaimed.


The end of March 1918 was marked by the establishment of the Azerbaijani People's Democratic Republic in Ganca (Elisavetpol). By the end of summer 1918, Turkish troops supported by the mainly Azeri “Army of Islam” took over the whole territory of the former Russian Azerbaijan and marched into Baku where they massacred of at least 25,000 Armenians still residing in the city. Baku became the new capital of the new Azerbaijani state.


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The surrender of Ottoman Turkey on October 30, 1918, and the subsequent end of World War I in November resulted in evacuation of regular troops of the defeated Central Powers from the Caucasus. The major European powers recognized the new independent states of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. According to the decisions of the Paris Peace Conference, Turkey had to surrender all of its previous territorial claims. Moreover, seven eastern provinces (former Turkish Armenia and Paryadria) were to be ceded to the Armenian Republic.


Because of temporary crisis situations in Russia and Turkey, both of which unable to satisfy their ambitions in the Caucasus at least during the year 1919, the new nations of South Caucasus had a chance to establish their statehood. Besides the variety of economic and political problems, the period of nation-building in South Caucasus was marked by numerous territorial disputes, which caused both financial and ideological exhaustion of the young nations. The Republic of Armenia claimed the Eastern provinces of Turkey with the cities of Erzerum, Van and Trabzon. These territorial ambitions were legally satisfied by the terms of the Treaty of Sevres on August 10, 1920, but the Armenian Republic was still unable to put the acquired lands under its control because by that time there were no Armenians left in Eastern Turkey, and local Turkic and Kurd population took up arms against Armenian administration.



ARMENO - GEORGIAN WAR: 05/12/1918 – 01/01/1919.


At the same period of time, the leaders of the Georgian Republic aimed at the establishment of Greater Georgia within its historical borders, ignoring the fact that the ethnic makeup of the area had changed drastically compared to the 13th and even 18th century. In late 1918, Georgia claimed control over all former Tiflis and Kutais provinces, as well as over the two districts of Kars Territory. Some of the territories under Georgian control, namely Ahalkalaki and Borchalo duistricts of Tiflis province, as well as Ardahan and Olti districts of Kars territory, had high percentage of ethnic Armenian population and were claimed by the Republic of Armenia. From the point of view of Georgian government and historians, the above territories were unquestionable parts of Georgia due to the fact that in various periods of history they comprised Georgian provinces of Gogharena and later – Trialeti, Javakheti and Tashiri (Ahalkalaki and Borchalo duistricts), Samtskhe (Ardahan district) and Tao (Olti district). From the point of view of Armenian leaders and intellectual elite though, the above territories were inalienable parts of historic Armenia due to the fact that some or all of the above territories were administered by Armenia from 189 BC to 115 AD and were administered by Armenian governors between 1124 and 1240 AD. Armenians regarded the disputed territories as Armenian historical provinces of Javakh and Tayk.


The 5th of December 1918, was the beginning of Armeno-Georgian war that lasted only 26 days but had quite harmful consequences for the two forming nations. That day Armenian government sent troops to take over Akhalkalaki and Borchalo. The first clashes between Armenian and Georgian forces started on December 9 and reached their culmination three days later when Armenians took over the village of Sanain in Borchalo district and were forced to evacuate it on December 14. Two weeks later the hostilities were ceased under the pressure of the British mission and an agreement on borders was signed by both sides in early January 1919 in accordance with which Armenian government officially dropped their claims over Ardahan and Akhalkalaki districts, while Georgia agreed to the condominium over Lori canton of Borchalo district. However, while ending the war the agreement left both parties unsatisfied and ended in permanent strain between the two governments and severe transportation problem between the two countries.





Mutual territorial claims of Armenia and Azerbaijan caused the series of brutal and confusing wars between the two nations. Guerrilla and Semi-Guerrilla operations accompanied by periodical massacre of civilians in the disputed districts of Kazakh-Shamshadin, Naxcivan, Zanghezur and Karabakh, began in October 1918 and finally ended only in 1922. One can assume that conflicting views on history should be mentioned were among the main reasons for most of ethnic conflicts and territorial disputes of the last hundred years of human history. Azeri-Armenian conflict that is still far from being resolved does not seem to be an exception. 


According to Armenian nationalists, reviving Armenian state was to include among other territories the whole of former Yerevan province including Naxcivan and Ordubad districts, as well as the eastern and southern parts of Elisavetpol (Ganca) province of the former Russian empire.


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From Armenian perspective, these territories were historical Armenian provinces of Kazakh-Shamshadin, Artsakh (Karabakh), and Syuniq (Zanghezur). That point of view went back to the ancient and early mediaeval periods of Armenian history when the above-mentioned territories were incorporated in various Armenian states. It was also supported by numerous examples of ancient Armenian architecture (mostly churches and their ruins) scattered all over the area.


The above made absolutely no sense to the nationalists and pan-turkists of Azerbaijan. According to their views, there was absolutely no territory in the Caucasus to which Armenian people had any historical right. The politicians and the majority of the intellectual elite of Azerbaijan based their opinions on the fact that Armenian statehood in South Caucasus ceased to exist in 1081 when it was overrun by the Seljuk Turks coming from Central Asia. The mass migrations of population and numerous massacres that followed left most of the historical Armenian lands populated by Turcic-speaking and/or Muslim majority and run by Muslim/Turcic rulers. The Armenians became minority in the land they claimed theirs and could boast only “significant Armenian presence” in some areas of South Caucasus and eastern Turkey. Azeri nationalists also considered “extreme generosity” the fact that Turkey and Azerbaijan agreed to “tolerate” Armenian national homeland in Yerevan and Echmiadzin districts of the former Yerevan province.


As a result of the above conflicting views, neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan was satisfied with the border proposal made in late November 1918, by John Oliver Wardrop, British Chief Commissioner in South Caucasus. According to Sir Oliver Wardrop, Armenian claims against Azerbaijan should not go beyond the administrative borders of the former Yerevan province, while Azerbaijan was to be limited to the provinces of Baku and Ganca (Elisavetpol). Armenia was not prepared to drop her claims to Kazakh-Shamshadin, Zanghezur and Karabakh while Azerbaijan was not accepting the idea of Armenian control over Naxcivan and Ordubad. The fragile peace with an unresolved territorial dispute a its background did not last long and the series of Azeri-Armenian wars broke out at the very end of 1918.


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THE ARAXI WAR: 05/1919 - 08/1919.


In December 1918 Japhar-Kouli khan of Naxcivan declared an ”independent Araxi republic” in Naxcivan and Ordubad districts of the former Yervan province assigned to Armenia by the British Chief Commissioner in the South Caucasus. The government of Armenia did not recognize that new state formation and sent its troops to the breakaway area. By the middle if June 1919 Naxcivan was put under Armenian control together with the whole territory of the self-proclaimed republic. The fall of the Araxi republic triggered the invasion of regular Azerbaijani army trained and commanded by Turkish officers. By the end of July, Armenian troops were forced to leave the city of Naxcivan to the Azeris. After the series of skirmishes all over the Naxcivan district, the cease-fire agreement was concluded and lasted until March 1920.






General Andranik

In early March of 1920, regular troops of Azerbaijan attempted to suppress the Armenian-controlled enclaves in Karabakh. That triggered the outbreak of armed clashes all over Karabakh, as well as Naxcivan and Ordubad districts. In the middle of March, Armenian troops launched offensive in all the areas disputed with Azerbaijan.


By the end of March heavy fighting was going on in Karabakh for the towns of Shusha, Xankendy, Terter, Askeran. Zanghezur and Naxcivan were put under stable Armenian control. Skirmishes in Kazakh-Shamshadin reached western outskirts of Ganca. During the war both sides reportedly committed numerous crimes and performed ethnic cleansing in the areas with mixed Armenian-Azeri population. That added to already existing prejudice and planted seeds of the future conflicts between the two peoples.



In April 1920, Soviet Russian 11th Army invaded Azerbaijan. By the end of April, Azerbaijani People's Democratic Republic collapsed. Facing little resistance on behalf of disorganized Azerbaijani army Armenian troops and guerillas took over all of the disputed territories. On April 29, Soviet occupants and local communists proclaimed Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic in Baku.