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The Beginning of Soviet Expansion

and the Treaty of Sevres


By  Andrew Andersen and Georg Egge





The Evacuation of the British troops from the South Caucasus that started in summer of 1919 and finished in the middle of summer of the year 1920[1] and the Soviet blitzkrieg  of April, 1920, against Azerbaijan followed by the rapid Sovietisation of that country performed with the help of Turkish Nationalists[2] signalled the beginning of an undeclared Soviet-Armenian war that lasted more than FIVE months and resulted in the loss of most of the disputed territories[3].


The first decade of May 1920 was marked by the Soviet 11th Army advance toward Karabakh, Gandzak and Kazakh (see Map 7). In view of the approaching Soviet troops most of the units of the Azerbaijani army as well as the members of the Azerbaijani administration quickly transformed into the Red Army and Soviet bureaucracy swearing allegiance to the new dominant power of the region[4]. Most of the Turkish officers stationed in Azerbaijan also went to Soviet service including Nuri Pasha[5]. On May 12 the first Soviet detachments reached Shusha having the directive to take over the whole of Mountainous Karabakh, Zanghezur and Sharur-Nakhichevan[6]. A week later after a few skirmishes Armenian General Draw whose troops still controlled Dizaq and most of Varanda was given an ultimatum to withdraw. By that time most of the Armenian militias in Jraberd, Khachen and Gyulistan became rather pro-Soviet under the influence of Bolshevik propaganda. As a result, all the Armenian officers and instructors there who refused to surrender to the Soviets were killed, arrested or expelled and the whole Armenian-controlled part of Karabakh to the north of Soviet-dominated Shusha-Khankendy-Askeran corridor was lost to the Soviets. In view of the loss of the above territory, as well as the change in sentiment even among Varanda and Dizaq Armenians and bad communication with Erevan, General Dro and his Staff decided to comply with the Soviet demands, and on May 25-26 all regular Armenian forces still in Karabakh withdrew to Zanghezur. After the evacuation the evacuation of the Armenian troops of Dro and Njdeh, only few isolated groups of Armenian fighters kept conducting guerilla operations in the mountains of Karabakh[7].  However, since the end of May 1920, Mountainous Karabakh now united under the Soviet red banners was administered by the two Revkoms: Muslim-dominated one in Shusha and Armenian-dominatred in the village of Taghavard[8].






Map 7. Click on the map for better resolution


The situation in the north-western section of Armeno-Azerbaijani frontier was even more complicated (see Map 7).  The county of Kazakh faced open Red Army incursions into Armenian-controlled territory in attempts to support the abortive communist uprising of May 1920[9]. The attempted communist coup in Armenia (May 10-30, 1920) was unsuccessful. Although Armenian communists managed to take over the towns of Alexandropol, Kars, Sarakykamysh, as well as several villages in disputed Kazakh-Shamshadin area, the uprising was put down by the government troops and militias in less than a month. However, it undermined the efforts of Armenia to withstand Soviet invasion and led to the series of military defeats in Kazakh-Shamshadin and Karabakh[10].


At the same period of time quite confusing was the development of events in the county of Elizavetpol (Gyanja/Gandzak). According to Kadishev, facing little resistance on behalf of disorganized and demoralized Azerbaijani army Armenian troops and guerillas took over all of the mountainous sector of the county reaching the outskirts of Gyanja[11]. The situation was further complicated by some facts of joint Soviet-Armenian operations against Azerbaijani rebels during an abortive anti-Soviet uprising that occurred in and around Gyanja at the end of May 1920[12]. As of today, it is not very easy to define where exactly stretched the limits of de-facto Armenian control in Kazakh-Shamshadin and Gandzak-Parisos in late spring of 1920. Some official documents of that period of time, define some portions of that border quite clearly making modern researchers quite confused. As an example, one can adduce an excerpt from the text of the Soviet-Georgian Treaty of Moscow signed on May 07, 1920, according to which the border between Georgia and Soviet Azerbaijan “…goes along the eastern border of Zakatala district to the south until it touches the border of Armenia”[13]. The above excerpt clearly states that Armenian territory near the city of Gyanja at least for a while could have stretched until the river of Kura.







Soviet-Armenian Negotiations in Moscow and the Summer Campaigns in Armenia, 05/1920 - 08/1920

Immediately after the fall of Baku to the Soviets the leadership of the Armenian republic found it necessary to start negotiations with Moscow in order to secure the recognition of Armenian independence and to resolve territorial issues. However it was not until the end of May when the Armenian delegation headed by Levon Shant (Seghbosian) made its way to Moscow to start direct talks with the Soviet Foreign Affairs Commissar Grigory Chicherin and his deputy Leo Karakhan[14]. By that time the Soviets had already firmly established not only in Azerbaijan proper but also in Mountainous Karabakh and Armenian troops were either withdrawn from the area, or switched their loyalty to the red army which was often mistakenly considered to be “the real Russian army” that had a traditional I mage of the liberator of the Armenians.


The first sessions of negotiations seemed to be moderately favorable to the Armenians. Chicherin assured Shant that the Soviet Russia had no plans to invade Armenia or to establish a Soviet regime in that country.  Chicherin even offered that Soviet Russia  would take a role of a mediator in Armenian territorial dispute with the Turks keeping in mind close cooperation between Moscow and Turkish Nationalist de-facto government of Kemal Ataturk. The Armenians were promised a part of Western (Turkish) Armenia roughly corresponding with the initial proposal by Berthelot (see above)[15]. As for the border conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan the initial Soviet proposal was to leave Zanghezur and Sharur-Nakhichevan with Armenia while declaring Karabakh a disputed territory the future of which would be defined by plebiscite[16]. One should keep in mind here that Chicherin "graciously" offered the Armenians to keep only those territories that were not yet sovietized. As will be mentioned below, the format of Soviet proposals kept changing while the Red Army was taking over new Armenian-claimed territories.


The Armenian delegation was also deeply impressed by the map of a projected Armenian state that was unofficially demonstrated to them by Karakhan. The map presented by the Bolshevik diplomat was offering the Armenians not only all the territories disputed with Azerbaijan (including Mountainous Karabakh) but also most of Borchalo, the counties of Akhalkalaki and Akhaltsikhe (the latter never claimed by Armenia) and the Chorokh-Imerkhevi corridor to the Black sea (see Map 7), i.e., the territories that the Soviets recognized unequivocally Georgian by signing the Soviet-Georgian treaty in early May 1920. After being reminded of that Karakhan replied that the question of Georgian territorial integrity was “still open”[17], and significant concession could be given to Armenia if only the Armenians dropped all or at least most of their aspirations against Turkish territory.


During the first phase of Soviet-Armenian negotiations in Moscow, the 11th Army was busy putting down anti-Soviet Azerbaijani rebellions in Gyanja, Zakatala and Agdam-Shusha while Armenian forces were similarly busy with crushing Bolshevik uprisings in Kars, Sarikamysh, Alexandropol, Nor-Bayazet and Delizhan and later pacifying rebellious Muslim enclaves in Zenghibazar, Vedibazar and Peniak[18] (see Map 8).

By mid-June the Soviet tone at negotiation changed drastically. If earlier the Red Army was unable to invade Zanghezur-Nakhichevan being tied up with Azerbaijani uprisings but after the fall of Shusha on June 15, the way to Nakhichevan via Gerusy (Goris) was open.[19] Gerusy was taken by the Reds on July 5, and on July 17 the 11th Army started advance towards Nakhichevan while at the same time the detachments of Turkish Bayazet division in the amount of 9000 trespassed Iranian territory north of Khoy and concentrated in Maku. Those Turkish forces under the command of Jevad Bek were preparing to cross Aras river and enter Nakhichevan, Julfa and Ordubad from the south-west in order to block further re-conquest of the Nakhichevan county by Shelkovnikov’s Armenian troops who had already reached Shakhtakhty by July 25 (see Map 8)[20].


Reflecting rapidly changing military situation at Soviet-Armenian frontier, Chicherin now proposed that the new boundary would run along the administrative border between the old provinces of Erevan and Elizavetpol thus leaving Nakhichevan to Armenia, Karabakh to Azerbaijan and Zanghezur under "temporary" Soviet administration as a disputed territory. At some point Influenced by Sergo Orjonikidze (at that time the Chairman of Kavburo of Russian Communist Party), Chicherin and Karakhan even proposed to include Sharur-Daralaghez county into the list of disputed lands. The Armenian delegation was not prepared to accept permanent loss of Karabakh not to mention the questioning of the status of Sharur-Daralaghez, and after some fruitless discussions the talks were suspended[21]. The Red Army was meanwhile fighting Armenian militias in Zanghezur in order to capture Gerusy[22]. It may be important to mention here that immediately after the Soviet - Armenian negotiations were interrupted Chicherin started the talks with Foreign Affairs Commissar of the Turkish Nationalist government in Angora Sami Bey who arrived in Moscow to arrange joint Soviet - Turkish operations in Nakhichevan aimed at opening a stable land corridor between Soviet Russia and Nationalist Turkey[23]. One of the few results of the interrupted Soviet-Armenian negotiations was the appointment of the lawyer Boris Legran a Soviet plenipotentiary in Armenia who was supposed according to Chicherin, to finish the negotiations with the Armenian government directly in Erevan.


While Legran’s mission was slowly making his way to Erevan with prolonged stops at Baku and Tiflis marked with the exchange of proposals with the Armenian government, the Soviet-Armenian warfare escalated in Zanghezur. After having taken over Gerusy in early July 1920, the Soviets established the red terror regime in the north of Zanghezur and in the middle of the month tried to expand southwards in an attempt to sovietise the whole county (see Map 8). However, the first Soviet expedition into the heart of Zanghezur ended up in fiasco by the beginning of August. Defeated by the militias of Njdeh near Kapan and attacked by the regulars of Dro in the rear from Angelaut the components of the 11th Army rapidly evacuated Northern Zanghezur and retreated into Varanda[24]. Following Dro’s ultimatum to clear “all occupied Armenian territories” including Karabakh, the Soviets started counter-offensive on August 05, and two days later Gerusy was lost by the Armenians for the second time. The Shusha-Gerusy-Nakhichevan corridor vbetween Nationalist Turkey and Soviet Azerbaijan was re-opened, and both Turkish and Soviet officers celebrated that victory as partners[25].


Meanwhile, in the county of Nakhichevan Soviet-Turkish and Armenian troops facing each other halfway between Nakhichevan and Shakhtakhty tried to abstain from open hostilities following verbal “Gentlmen’s agreement” between Armenian General Shelkovnikov and “the commander of the united troops of RSFSR and Red Turkey”, Colonel Tarkhov[26]. On July 28 “Soviet Socialist Republic of Nakhichevan” was proclaimed, and its “Revolutionary Committee” offered Erevan to recognize the  new “independent state”.






Map 8. Click on the map for better resolution



On August 10 1920, the cease-fire agreement was signed in Erevan by the representatives of Soviet and Armenian governments leaving Armenia without most of the disputed territories but temporarily ending major hostilities along Soviet-Armenian front-lines. As per the agreement, the temporary south-eastern border of Armenia was defined as follows:


“Shakhtakhty-Khok-Aznaburt-Sultanbek and further the line northward from Kyuki and westward from Bazarchai (Bazarkend). And in the county of Kazakh – the line they hjeld on 30 July of this year. The troops of RSFSR will occupy the disputed districts: Karabakh, Zanghrzur and Nakhichevan, with the exception of the zone determined by this treaty for the disposition of the troops of the Republic of Armenia… The occupation of the disputed territories by the Soviet troops does not predispose the question about the rights to those territories of the Republic of Armenia or the Azerbaijan Socialist Soviet Republic. By this temporary occupation, the RSFSR has in view the creation of favorable conditions for the peaceful resolution of the disputed territories between Armenia and Azerbaijan on the principles to be laid down in the peace treaty to be concluded between the RSFSR and the Republic of Armenia as soon as possible” [27] (see Maps 8 and 9). 


Thus the Soviet negotiators assured their Armenian counterparts that the occupation of the disputed territories by the Red army did not necessary mean their annexation by Soviet Azerbaijan but was of a temporary character and would not last only until the future peace treaty is concluded by all the involved parties to resolve all the border disputes. Armenia was also given ex-territorial rights for the Shakhtakhty-Julfa section of Erevan-Julfa railway[28]. According to Hovannisian, the preliminary treaty between Soviet Russia and Armenia was a result of Soviet bogging down in the war against Poland and the anti-Soviet government of Baron Wrangel as well as the dangerous anti-soviet uprising in Kuban[29]. In any case, that treaty gave Armenia 22 days of peace interrupted only by sporadic attacks on Sadarak-Karabaglar section of Erevan-Julfa railway performed by Muslim irregulars from Persian territory (see Map 9).


After August 10, some fighting also continued in Zanghezur where the Armenian forces under Lieutenant Colonel Garegin Njdeh refused to evacuate and the mountainous area of southern Zanghezur between Gerusy (Goris) and Meghri which they kept under stable control even after the August counter-offensive of Soviet General Nesterovsky[30]. The guerillas of Njdeh kept their formal loyalty to the Republic of Armenia and were getting some support from Erevan but that support was of rather private than official nature.






Map 9. Click on the map for better resolution



The Treaty of Sevres, 10.08.1920

While the fierce fighting was going on in Karabakh, Kazakh, Zanghezur, Nakhichevan and other corners of the former Russian Armenia, heated debates were going on at the Paris Peace Conference regarding the future of Western (Turkish) Armenia.  Despite Armenian aspirations the fate of their country remained undecided until the end of summer of the year 1920[31]. One of the major advocates of Armenian aspirations was US President Woodrow Wilson whose outspoken sympathy with the Ararat republic was one of the decisive factors that finally led to the inclusion of the Armenian aspect into “the Treaty of Peace between Allied and Associated Powers and Turkey” signed on August 10, 1920, in Sevres (France) by the representatives of 14 nations including Armenia.


The Treaty of Sevres legally satisfied less than 40% of Armenian claims in Western Armenia. Article 88 of the Treaty gave international recognition to the Democratic Republic of Armenia as a sovereign and established nation, whereas a Article 89 gave Armenia the vilayat of Erzerum, half of the vilayats of Van and Trebizond and almost all of the vilayat of Bitlis delegating the decision regarding the exact borders between Armenia and Turkey as well as Armenia and Georgia, to the President of the United States (see Figure 3.4).


As can be seen from the below quotation of Article 89 (Section IV, Part III) of the draft piece treaty with the Turkey, it lacked clearance regarding the future Turco-Armenian border delegating the final decisions to the US President:


89. Turkey and Armenia as well as the other High Contracting Parties agree to submit the arbitration of the President of the United States of America the question of the frontier to be fixed betweenTurkey and Armenia in the vilayats of Erzerum, Trebizond, van and Bitlis[32].


The treaty contained even less clearance in regards with the borders between Armenia and her South Caucasian neighbors. In accordance with Article 92:


92. The frontiers between Armenia and Azerbaijan and Georgia respectively will be determined by direct agreement between the States concerned[33].





Figure 3.4


Ironically, the Republic of Armenia was in no position to put the legally acquired lands under its control. The Treaty of Sevres was signed by the government of Sultan Muhammad VI whose real power did not go beyond the Allied-occupied Constantinople, while the Nationalist-dominated Grand National Assembly and the new nationalist government formed in Angora by Kemal Ataturk, rejected it. By the end of summer of the year 1920, Turkish nationalists were in real control of the most of Anatolia and Western Armenia, and the Muslim (Turk and Kurd) population of the territories assigned to Armenia were ready to take up arms against anyone who would attempt to enforce the provisions of the Treaty of Sevres on them and what they believed to be their land.
















[1] Kadishev, p. 470

[2] Godovoy otchet NKID k VIII S’ezdu Sovetov / 1919—1920  (Moscow., 1921)

[3] Kazemzadeh, p. 309.

[4] Hovannisian, pp.183-185 and  194

[5] Z. Melik-Shakhnazarov, Zapiski karabahskogo soldata (Moscow, 1995) p. 73.

[6] Hovannisian, p.195.

[7] Kadishev, pp. 288-289 and  301-304

[8] Ibid., pp.196-200.

[9] Ibid., pp. 244-247

[10] Hovannisian, pp. 209-253.

     Kadishev, pp.280-289.

[11] Kadishev, pp. 290 and 303,

     Melik-Shakhnazarov, p. 74.

[12] Melik-Shakhnazarov, pp. 74-77

[13] Ju. Klyuchnikov and A. Sobanine, Mezhdunarodnaja statistika novejshego vremeni v dogovorah, notah i deklaratsiyah (Moscow, 1928) Part 3, Iss.1, pp. 22-23


[14] Richard G. Hovannisian. The Republic of Armenia, Vol. IV: Between Crescent and Sickle: Partition and Sovietization,  (Berkeley, 1996), pp.48-49.

[15] Hovannisian, pp.50-52

[16] Ibid., p.52.

[17] Ibid., p.53

[18] Richard G. Hovannisian. The Republic of Armenia, Vol. III: From London to Sèvres, February-August

    1920,  (Berkeley, 1996), pp.290-302;

    Kadishev, p.289-302.

[19] Kadishev, pp. 293-302.

[20] Kadishev, p. 305

[21] Richard G. Hovannisian. The Republic of Armenia, Vol. IV: Between Crescent and Sickle: Partition and Sovietization,  (Berkeley, 1996), p. 55.

[22] Kadishev, pp. 303-304.

[23] Hovannisian, pp. 58-59

[24] That operation of Dro and Njdeh resulted not only in the liberation of Goris but also in seizure of some 500 kilograms of gold that the Soviet government was planning to deliver to Nationalist Turkey

[25] Hovannisian, pp. 88-89.

[26] Richard G. Hovannisian. The Republic of Armenia, Vol. III: From London to Sèvres, February-August

    1920,  (Berkeley, 1996), pp.318.

[27] Richard G. Hovannisian. The Republic of Armenia, Vol. IV: Between Crescent and Sickle: Partition and   

     Sovietization,  (Berkeley, 1996), p. 95;

     Kadishev, p. 309

[28] Hovannisian, p. 95.

[29] Hovannisian, pp. 101, 182.

[30] Hovannisian, p. 109.

[31] Winston S. Churchill, The Aftermath (N.Y., 1929) p. 359

[32] “Treaty of Piece between the British Empire and Allied Powers (France, Italy, Japan, Armenia, Belgium, Czecho-Slovakia, Greece, the Hedjaz, Poland, Portugal, Roumania and Serb-Croat-Slovene State) and Turkey- Sevres, August 10, 1920” in British and Foreign State Papers, CXIII, 1920, ed. Edward Parkes et al. (London, 1923), p. 672.

[33] Ibid., p. 673.