books 44









     David Marshall Lang (excerpt from the book”A Modern History of Georgia”/NY/1962)
     Maps: Andrew Andersen Georg Egge and George Partskhaladze / 2007-2010








Abdication of Nicholas II--Kerensky and the Georgian SocialDemocrats--Economic change and social revolution--Restoration of the Georgian Church--Disintegration of Russia's Caucasian Front--Short rations and Bolshevik broadsheets--The Bolsheviks seize power--The Transcaucasian Commissariat--The Turkish menace--Brest-Litovsk repudiated--An ephemeral federation-Germany takes a hand--Birth of the Georgian Republic


Abdication of Nicholas II

THE STRESSES of World War I precipitated the Russian political débâcle which many observers had long predicted. In March 1917, when the revolution ultimately took place, the fall of Tsardom was comparatively effortless. Bread riots in Petrograd were followed by a mutiny of the garrison there. The Duma refused to obey the Tsar's orders any longer. A provisional government was formed on 14 March, and Nicholas gave in and abdicated without a struggle.

When the news of the revolution reached Georgia, the fabric of authority crumbled and collapsed. In Tbilisi and elsewhere, the police vanished from their posts and administrative offices closed down. Bands of revolutionaries appeared from their hiding places. Mass meetings were held in the principal towns, at which fierce mountaineers and grimy workers fraternized and congratulated one another on the achievement of their longed-for freedom. The once formidable viceroy, Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich, haggard, with bloodshot eyes and trembling hands, declared to the local representative of the British fatherland. To the Georgian Social-Democrats Zhordania and Noe Ramishvili, the grand duke expressed the hope that he might himself be granted a seat in the Constituent Assembly which would be called upon to decide the future organization of the Russian state. However, this was not to be. Nikolai Nikolaevich was very soon relieved of his post by the new Petrograd government, and politely escorted to Tbilisi railway station by squads of cheering soldiers waving red banners and singing the Internationale.

Aware of the urgency of establishing some form of authority in Transcaucasia, the Provisional Government in Petrograd formed a special committee, consisting in the main of Caucasian members of the Duma, to exercise civil power in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The chairman of this committee, the so-called Ozakom, was B. A. Kharlamov. At the outset its only Georgian member was Prince Kita Abashidze.


Kerensky and the Georgian Social-Democrats

Representations by the Tbilisi socialists later brought about the co-option of Akaki Chkhenkeli, the Georgian SocialDemocrat, who also acted as the Petrograd Soviet's Commissar for Caucasia and on the Turkish military front. The Ozakom has been described as 'a collective Viceroy, only much weaker and without the prestige which the representatives of the Tsars had enjoyed'. 92 One of the sources of weakness of the Kerensky government in Russia was incessant rivalry between the administration and the Soviets, both of which regarded themselves as the true repositories of revolutionary power. A similar dualism existed in Transcaucasia. Everywhere selfappointed revolutionary bodies sprang up, ready to assume various functions of government. Among these we may mention the executive committees of the cities of Tbilisi and Kutaisi, which represented a wide range of social groups and classes, and normally obeyed the directives of the Ozakom, and the Tbilisi Soviet of Workers' Deputies ( Chairman, Noe Zhordania), in which the Georgian Mensheviks had a decisive majority and to which as time went on deputies of the soldiers and peasants also adhered.


Economic change and social revolution

As during the 1905 revolution, the Georgian revolutionary organizations behaved during the trying circumstances of 1917 with moderation and public spirit. They lent their influence to keeping the peace, preventing inter-communal strife, and bringing about social and economic reforms in the midst of the war conditions and general upheaval. The leading Georgian SocialDemocrats renounced for the time being the extremist slogans of Bolshevik class war and came out on the side of national unity.

'The present revolution,' Zhordania declared on 18 March 1917, 'is not the affair of some one class; the proletariat and the bourgeoisie are together directing the affairs of the revolution. . . . We must walk together with those forces which participate in the movement of the revolution and organize the Republic with our forces in common.' 93

The March revolution brought again into the forefront all the old social and economic problems which the Tsarist government had failed to tackle. First and foremost was the agrarian problem. This, obviously, could not be settled overnight. Accordingly, peasants and landowners in many parts of Georgia adopted an interim solution, whereby share-cropping peasants settled on a landowner's estates simply ceased handing over the master's share of the crop, the so-called gala, amounting to between one-quarter and one-half of the total. Having no one to cultivate them on their behalf, the nobility found their domains slipping from their grasp, while the peasants were now endowed with both their own former small-holdings and those portions of their former lord's estates which they had formerly cultivated as share-croppers. Access to communal woodlands and pastures, monopolized by the landed proprietors under the terms of the liberation decrees of 1864 onwards, reverted to the peasantry. Plantations, forests and vineyards owned by members of the former Russian imperial family were confiscated and nationalized. Small farms belonging to the lesser squirearchy, a numerous category in Georgian rural society, were relatively little affected.



Restoration of the Georgian Church

Another burning question also swept into the forefront--that of the autocephaly or independent status of the Georgian Orthodox Church. As soon as news of the March revolution reached Tbilisi, the Georgian bishops invaded the headquarters of the Russian exarchate and ejected the Russian chief bishop and his staff. Georgians were appointed to take their places and administer the property and estates of the Georgian Church. The Ozakom was asked to give official sanction to the restoration of the Georgian patriarchate, abolished by Russia in 1811. However, this question was simply shelved until the eventual convention of the all-Russian Constituent Assembly. This did not deter the Georgians from going ahead with the reorganization of their old national Church. Bishop Kyrion was elected Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, taking the title of Kyrion II, and new statutes were worked out at synods held in Tbilisi in 1917 and at the historic monastery of Gelati in 1921. Patriarch Kyrion died in 1918, and was succeeded by Patriarch Leonid, who lived until shortly after the Bolshevik invasion of 1921.

The collapse of the old Tsarist police and gendarmerie inevitably led in some regions of Georgia to anarchy and unrest. During the summer of 1917 criminal elements masquerading as revolutionaries found frequent opportunities for pillage and arson. The Ozakom and the local Executive Committees set up field courts-martial and a number of terrorists were shot. Pending the establishment of a regular People's Guard, Zhordania and his colleagues recruited from Guria a detachment of people's militia commanded by V. and K. Imnadze, which helped to maintain order where needed. Belated steps were taken to introduce into Georgia the Russian Zemstvo or rural district council organization, which had played a leading part in local government affairs as well as in the liberal reform movement since its inception during the 1860's. Ilia Chavchavadze and other leading figures in Georgian public life had for half a century petitioned successive Russian governors to introduce the Zemstvo pattern of local government into Georgia--a demand regularly rejected by St. Petersburg. Only now, when the old order was already in dissolution, could this overdue reform be tried out for a brief season, only to be swept away by the invasion of Communist Russia in 1921.

From March 1917, then, local authority within Georgia resided principally with the Social-Democrats, whose Tbilisi committee, directed by Zhordania and his deputy Noe Ramishvili, formed the backbone of the Petrograd-appointed Ozakom. Between the Georgian Social-Democrats and the Kerensky régime in Petrograd there was little basic divergence of aim. With Nikolai (Karlo) Chkheidze as Chairman of the Petrograd Soviet and Irakli Tsereteli a prominent minister in the Provisional Government, the Georgian Mensheviks were able to make their voices heard insistently in the councils of Russia and the world. In fact, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks were somewhat afraid of what they contemptuously termed the 'Georgian Gironde', and accused Chkheidze, Tsereteli and Zhordania of attempting to dominate and pervert the Russian revolution and foist upon it their own provincial interests and ideology.


Disintegration of Russia's Caucasian Front


Nevertheless, Tbilisi and Petrograd were not always in complete harmony. Divergences often broke out over tactics and priorities. Thus, Zhordania was strongly critical of the 'democratic cretinism' which inspired the Kerensky government to postpone settlement of the many crying social and economic problems left over from Tsardom until these could be referred to a constituent assembly convened with every refinement of electoral procedure from all corners of the farflung Russian state. Many of the Tbilisi Social-Democrats were also opposed, in private at least, to continuance of the unpopular war with Germany and Turkey which, it was manifest, was beyond Russia's physical resources and presented a serious threat to the future of the revolution. There was indeed much to be said in favour of a ceasefire on the Caucasian front, where the Russian army had conquered vast areas of Turkish Anatolia and Armenia and was holding out deep in Turkish territory against the depleted and demoralized remains of the Ottoman Army. Terms advantageous to Russia could, on this front at least, readily have been obtained. Zhordania later recalled:


'Preoccupied with these matters, we got into direct telephone contact with I. Tsereteli and K. Chkheidze at Petrograd. We had discussions with them and acquainted them with the views of our party and our Soviet. We demanded reforms, decisive steps towards the conclusion of peace, and so forth. No reply could we get, except for vague reassurances and appeals for calm: "We are making preparations, everything will be all right, etc., etc."'94

In the meantime, Russia was moving rapidly towards the left. Demands for peace at any price resounded through the land, while Bolshevik agitators urged the peasants to seize the landlords' estates without awaiting the nebulous deliberations of the Constituent Assembly. By failing to come to grips with these two fundamental problems--peace and land reform-the Kerensky government dug its own grave, while Zhordania and his associates impotently fretted and fumed far away in Tbilisi.




In May 1917, the first congress of delegates of the Caucasian army met in Tbilisi. It was dominated by the Mensheviks and the Social-Revolutionaries. There were only a few Bolsheviks among the delegates, notably Korganov, later Commissar of War in the Baku Commune, and the Georgian S. Kavtaradze. The Social-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks professed, in public at least, to believe in the need to continue the war to a victorious end, whereas the Bolshevik minority unsuccessfully demanded peace at any price. Whatever the Georgians might have felt, the need to continue the struggle to the bitter end was irresistibly pressed by the Armenian Dashnaks and other representatives of the Armenian nation. Mortally afraid of the Turks, the Armenians had been encouraged by the American President Wilson to believe that an Allied victory would be followed by the creation of an independent Greater Armenia carved from the debris of the Turkish empire and stretching from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea. The Armenians called for complete support of the Petrograd government and the prosecution of war to the death. And so the war on the Caucasian front was allowed to drag on for many months more.


Short rations and Bolshevik broadsheets

As the year 1917 wore on, the situation of Russia's Caucasian Command became increasingly unfavourable. The majority of the half-million troops engaged against Turkey were not Georgians or Armenians, but Russian peasants from the European provinces, whose only concern was to finish fighting as soon as possible and return home to seize their share of the estates of dispossessed landlords. Conditions at the front were extremely harsh. At times, the men of the 4th Caucasian Rifle Division, whose chief of staff was the Georgian General Kvinitadze, received only half a pound of bread per day, and horses only one and a half pounds of barley. There was no meat and no conserves, and the men were boiling soup from the flesh of donkeys, cats and dogs. Bolshevik newspapers and broadsheets began to circulate in the ranks, while democratic changes introduced into army structure by the Provisional Government under pressure from the Workers' and Soldiers' Soviets rapidly affected discipline and morale. In June 1917, the Russian commander in the Caucasus, Yudenich, resigned and was replaced by General Przhevalsky. This change did not improve the military position. The standstill along the front continued, while there was a further increase in incidents and disturbances in the rear echelons. With the October Revolution, demobilization became spontaneous and irresistible, even before Trotsky began the official negotiations that led to the peace of Brest-Litovsk.

In the autumn of 1917, the food shortage in Georgia and Transcaucasia generally became acute. Caucasia had long depended for a large portion of her wheat and other grain supplies on South Russia. With the general anarchy prevailing in Russia, these supplies were largely cut off. On 15 October, a special conference on food supplies was convened in Tbilisi, attended by the Russian commander on the Caucasian front, General Przhevalsky. It was estimated that the requirements of the Caucasian Army amounted to 24 million poods (1 pood = 36 lb.) of flour and 36 million poods of corn, oats and barley annually, while the needs of the civilian population of Transcaucasia amounted to another 51 million poods of grain-a total of 111 million poods. The procurement of such quantities was out of the question. For the civilian population of Tbilisi, ten wagon-loads of wheat a day were required, whereas only four were currently being delivered. A ship which arrived at Batumi carrying corn from Russia was commandeered by demobilized soldiers, who sailed back to Russia in it without unloading the cargo. The bread ration in Georgia was cut still further, while measures were taken to evacuate town dwellers to country districts. Schools in Tbilisi were shut down and the pupils sent off to rural areas. By such measures as these, the population of the Georgian capital was quickly reduced by some 15,000.


The Bolsheviks seize power

Early in November 1917, news was received in Tbilisi of the successful Bolshevik uprising in Petrograd and the fall of Kerensky's Provisional Government. The reaction of the Georgian, Armenian and Azerbaijani Soviets and executive committees was immediate and hostile. On 8 November 1917, the Regional Centre of Soviets of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies met at Tbilisi together with the executive committees of the Social-Revolutionary and Social-Democratic (Menshevik) parties and resolved that the interests of the revolution demanded the liquidation of the Bolshevik insurrection and the immediate convocation of the all-Russian Constituent Assembly. A few days later, another meeting declared that the war with Germany and Turkey should go on and no separate peace be concluded.

The position of the Georgian Social-Democrats at this juncture was somewhat paradoxical. In their dim, dogmatic way, they were, no doubt, excellent patriots, though rather indifferent nationalists, being wholeheartedly devoted to the fashionable slogans of international brotherhood and workingclass solidarity. Since the beginning of the century, they had been stumping the country proclaiming Georgia's destiny to help the workers and peasants of the entire Russian Empire towards economic and political fulfilment, and combating those who thought that Georgia's national salvation lay in independence through separation from Russia. With public speakers of the calibre of Irakli Tsereteli and Nikolai Chkheidze prominent first in the Tsarist Dumas and then under Kerensky, the Georgian Mensheviks exerted an influence in Russian affairs out of all proportion to their numerical strength. The Russian political dog had sometimes been wagged by its Georgian Menshevik tail. With the triumph of Lenin's Bolsheviks, the Russian dog had cut itself adrift with a vengeance, while the Georgian tail was left wagging furiously in a void. Far from rejoicing at their new-found freedom, the Georgian Mensheviks quailed at the prospect before them. 'A misfortune has befallen us,' Noe Zhordania lamented. 'The connection with Russia has been broken and Transcaucasia has been left alone. We have to stand on our own feet and either help ourselves or perish through anarchy.' 95

Instead of proclaiming Transcaucasia's independence, as they could readily have done, and coming to terms immediately with Turkey and the Central Powers, the Caucasian politicians dallied and played for time. On 24 November 1917, a conference of the Regional Centre of Soviets, the Regional Soviet of the Caucasian Army, the Tbilisi City Council, the Ozakom, the trades unions and other representative bodies met in Tbilisi and decided that since Transcaucasia could not recognize the Bolshevik usurpation in Petrograd, a local régime would have to be organized. Since this was regarded as merely a temporary expedient, pending the suppression of the Bolshevik rebels, the Georgians continued to make arrangements for the forthcoming elections to the all-Russian Constituent Assembly. This much-heralded body, it was fondly believed, would soon quell the unspeakable Bolsheviks and bring Russia back to the paths of reason and order. In the event, the Constituent Assembly, in which Lenin's followers were a minority, was forcibly dispersed by Bolshevik troops after one sitting in January 1918--an event which marked the deathknell of Russian parliamentary democracy.


The Transcaucasian Commissariat

Meanwhile, the Transcaucasian Soviet and party organizations had set up on 28 November 1917 a provisional government, called the Transcaucasian Commissariat. It included three Georgians, three Azerbaijanis, three Armenians and two Russians. The Georgian Menshevik Evgeni Gegechkori was elected chairman, as well as being Commissar of Labour and External Affairs. The other two Georgian commissars were Akaki Chkhenkeli (Interior) and Aleksiev-Meskhiev(Education). While predominantly Menshevik in character, the commissariat also included nominees of the Muslim Musavat organization, the Armenian Dashnaks, and the SocialRevolutionaries. The Bolsheviks were excluded. On the very next day, a detachment of Georgian Red Guards, recruited from Menshevik workers and led by a former Bolshevik named Valiko Jugheli, seized the Tbilisi arsenal, held hitherto by a detachment of Russian soldiers with strong Bolshevik leanings. Ordered by the Tbilisi Soviet to surrender the place, the baffled soldiers gave in after a token resistance. In this way the Georgian capital was preserved from the marauding hordes of Russian troops returning home pell-mell from the Caucasian front. The capture of the arsenal was a decisive setback to the Georgian Bolsheviks, and Lenin was extremely displeased when the news reached him.

While shrinking still from any formal declaration of independence from Russia, the Transcaucasian Commissariat entered forthwith into negotiations with the Turks for an armistice on the crumbling Caucasian front. A provisional agreement between the Russian General Przhevalsky and the Turkish commander, Vehip Pasha, was concluded at Erzinjan on 18 December 1917. However, Enver Pasha's Young Turk government at Istanbul was well aware of the heaven-sent chance which the Russian revolution offered for Turkey to recover Caucasian territories wrested from her by Russia over the preceding century, so that this move was mainly designed to gain time pending further weakening of Russia's military and political grip on Caucasia. Meanwhile, the Russian Bolsheviks were busily negotiating a separate peace with Germany and Austro-Hungary at Brest-Litovsk, at which conference, however, the Caucasian peoples were not directly represented.


The Turkish menace

During the winter of 1917-18, the situation in the Anatolian border areas around the Russo-Turkish front lines deteriorated still further. Vehip Pasha protested repeatedly to the Russian commander and the Transcaucasian government about alleged massacres of Turks and other Muslims by vengeful Armenian guerilla bands. On 12 February 1918 the Turks broke the truce and advanced against Erzinjan. Before the end of the month, Erzinjan and Trebizond were once more in Turkish hands. The Russian Army had by now virtually melted away. Against Vehip's force of 50,000 men and 160 field guns, the Georgians could muster only about 10,000 men, of indifferent quality and morale, while the small Armenian national army, heroic but hopelessly outnumbered, was spread thinly over a very wide area of difficult and exposed country. The nominal head of these armies was the Russian general, Lebedinsky, but the real confidence of the Transcaucasian government was given to the Georgian commander, General I. Z. Odishelidze, a Knight of the Order of St. George, former Governor of Samarkand, and late chief of staff of one of the Russian armies on the European front. Erzurum was defended by an Armenian garrison under the partisan leader Andronik. The RussoCaucasian forces were hampered by thousands of panicstricken refugees, Christian Armenians for the most part, fleeing from the implacable vengeance of the advancing Turks. There was every prospect that hundreds of thousands of the Turks and Tatars living in the Caucasus would rise in support of their triumphant Muslim brethren. Andronik evacuated Erzurum on 12 March 1918, while Batumi, Ispir, Kars and Van were menaced by the Turkish spearheads.





In the meantime, Trotsky had signed the Treaty of BrestLitovsk, whereby the Bolsheviks agreed to exclude from Russian territory the districts of Batumi, Ardahan and Kars, where the fate of the population was to be decided by a free plebiscite. In prevailing conditions, this meant abandoning the Armenian and Georgian Christian inhabitants to the mercy of the Turks.

A peace conference between representatives of Turkey and Transcaucasia opened at Trebizond on 14 March 1918. Vehip Pasha immediately demanded the evacuation of all districts abandoned by Russia at Brest-Litovsk. The Transcaucasian delegates, led by the Georgian politician Akaki Chkhenkeli, protested that they did not recognize Brest-Litovsk and were not bound by its conditions. Prolonged parleys took place until the Turks, flushed with victory, delivered an ultimatum demanding the evacuation of the disputed districts not later than 10 April 1918.


Brest-Litovsk repudiated

The Turkish ultimatum was received with the greatest indignation in the Transcaucasian Diet or Seim. This new parliamentary body, which assembled at Tbilisi on 23 February 1918, was a local substitute for the short-lived Russian Constituent Assembly in Petrograd which had been so unceremoniously dispersed by Lenin's Bolsheviks. Nikolai Chkheidze and Irakli Tsereteli, dethroned from their tribunes in the Petrograd Soviet and Provisional Government, now reappeared in their native Georgia to raise the clarion call of revolutionary democracy. A tug-of-war ensued between the Transcaucasian delegation at the Trebizond peace conference and the government and Diet in Tbilisi. On 10 April 1918, Chkhenkeli declared himself willing to accept the Brest-Litovsk treaty and conduct further negotiations based upon it. Simultaneously, Tbilisi was gripped by patriotic and warlike frenzy. On 13 April 1918, Irakli Tsereteli declared in the Diet: 'Turkish imperialism has issued an ultimatum to Transcaucasian democracy to recognize the treaty of Brest-Litovsk. We know of no such treaty. We know that in Brest-Litovsk the death sentence was passed upon Revolutionary Russia, and that death sentence to our fatherland we will never sign!' Tsereteli's speech was greeted with thunderous applause. The next day, Evgeni Gegechkori, the Transcaucasian Premier, telegraphed Chkhenkeli and told him to break off negotiations with the Turks and leave Trebizond. That night, despite the manifest reluctance of the Muslim representatives, the Transcaucasian Diet declared war on the Turks.

This bellicose act was a piece of somewhat ridiculous panache. Divided against itself, Transcaucasia had neither the means nor, in so far as the Muslim elements were concerned, the will to resist. On 15 April 1918, it was announced in Istanbul that the Turkish Army had entered Batumi. Some of the forts had surrendered without firing a shot and the town and port had been occupied without resistance. The Muslim Georgians of Lazistan and of Atchara, of which Batumi is the main city, were helping the Turks, tearing up railway lines, wrecking trains and conducting guerilla operations generally. Having now seized most of the territories they coveted, the Turks renewed their peace overtures. On 22 April 1918, Vehip Pasha telegraphed Chkhenkeli and asked whether he was now prepared to resume peace talks. The Transcaucasian Diet had no alternative but to accept the offer.


An ephemeral federation

For the last six months, the Transcaucasian Commissariat had clung to the illusion that Russia would soon quell the Bolshevik usurpers and revert to the paths of true democracy, in which case Transcaucasia would be painlessly restored to the broad bosom of Russian Social-Democracy. While refusing to recognize the surrender at Brest-Litovsk, these half-hearted patriots delayed taking the only step which could preserve their country from complete ruin--namely a declaration of complete independence from Russia, combined with a real effort to enlist the support of interested foreign powers against the Turkish peril. At the end of March 1918 the question of Transcaucasian independence was discussed in the Diet, which voted 'categorically and irrevocably' against independence. On 22 April another lengthy debate on this issue took place, as a result of which the majority of the assembly adopted the motion 'that the Transcaucasian Seim decide to proclaim Transcaucasia an independent Democratic Federative Republic'. The formation of a cabinet was entrusted to the Georgian Chkhenkeli.

On 26 April 1918, Chkhenkeli, who combined the offices of Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, published the names of the members of his new Transcaucasian Ministry, which contained four Georgians (including Chkhenkeli himself), five Armenians and four Azerbaijani Muslims. The other Georgian ministers were Noe Ramishvili (Minister of the Interior), G. Giorgadze (Minister of War) and Noe Khomeriki (Minister of Agriculture). When presenting his cabinet to the Diet, Chkhenkeli made a speech in which he outlined his government's programme, which featured the writing of a constitution, the delineation of the new state's frontiers, the liquidation of the war with Turkey, the combating of both counter-revolution and anarchy, and finally, the carrying through of land reform. On 28 April 1918, the newly created Democratic Federative Republic of Transcaucasia was recognized by the Ottoman Empire.

The Federative Republic, born under such unfavourable auspices, lived but one brief month. Three days after its formation, the Turks occupied the great fortress of Kars, from which thousands of panic-stricken men and women streamed out, carrying their children and their possessions on their backs. Those who were too old or too sick to walk were left to the mercies of the Turk. Food shortages were producing famine in many regions of Caucasia, notably in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Another disruptive factor was the situation in the great oil port of Baku on the Caspian, which was a Bolshevik stronghold within otherwise Menshevik Transcaucasia. In December 1917, Lenin had appointed the Armenian Bolshevik Stepan Shaumian as Commissar Extraordinary of the Caucasus. Shaumian was chairman of the Baku Soviet, in which he was backed by the well known Georgian Bolshevik Prokopi (Alesha) Japaridze. In March 1918, the Baku Soviet was involved in open conflict with the Azerbaijani nationalist organization, the Musavat. This led to inter-communal fighting between the Baku Armenians and Tatars, lasting for several weeks, and resulting in wholesale massacre of innocent victims. When the streets had been cleared of thousands of dead bodies and the fires extinguished, the Bolsheviks emerged as the strongest force in the city. On 25 April 1918, a local Council of People's Commissars, modelled on the one in Moscow, was formed under Shaumian's chairmanship. Spurning all allegiance to the Menshevik régime in Tbilisi, the Baku Bolsheviks nationalized the vast oilfields around their city and placed them at the disposal of the Moscow government, from which they derived constant moral support.

The resumed peace talks between Turkey and Transcaucasia opened at Batumi, now in Turkish hands, on 11 May 1918. The Transcaucasian delegation, forty-five strong, was headed by Premier Chkhenkeli, and also included the veteran Georgian revolutionary and publicist Niko Nikoladze, and the jurist Zurab Avalishvili. Vehip Pasha stated that the old peace conditions no longer applied, since the Armenians and Georgians had responded to the earlier Turkish proposals by armed resistance. Vehip now demanded the cession of the Georgian regions of Akhaltsikhe and Akhalkalaki and the Armenian district of Aleksandropol by the Turks of all Transcaucasian railways so long as the war against Great Britain continued. In view of the impossibility of armed resistance, there seemed nothing to prevent the Turks from establishing complete hegemony over the Caucasian isthmus.


turskata invazija



German takes a hand

The Turks had reckoned without one very important factor, namely the intervention of their ally Imperial Germany, which at this time dominated the Ukraine and the Crimea and had virtually turned the Black Sea into a German lake. The Germans were in urgent need of the oil of Baku and had no desire to see the entire Middle East, and perhaps Central Asia too, fall into the hands of their ambitious Turkish friends. Thus it was that a strong and alert German delegation also attended the Batumi conference. Headed by the Bavarian general von Lossow, it also included Count von der Schulenburg, a former German Consul in Tbilisi, Arthur Leist, famous as a translator and scholar of Georgian literature, and O. von Wesendonk, later Consul-General in Tbilisi and author of studies on Georgian history and civilization. Von Lossow proffered his services as mediator between the Turks and the Transcaucasians. He also sent to Tbilisi Colonel Kress von Kressenstein, who entered into close touch with the Georgian members of the Transcaucasian government and started collecting together a special German task force from prisoners of war, peasants from the German settlements around Tbilisi, and any other German nationals whom he could assemble. Since the Georgians and Armenians regarded the Germans as among the highest representatives of European culture, science and technology, they were delighted at the sudden prospect of this excellent barrier which would halt Turkey's onward advance. At railway stations and other strategic points German helmets were soon to be seen, which the Christian inhabitants thought vastly preferable to the Turkish fez.


Otto von Lossow

Friedrich Freiherr Kress von Kressenstrin


Germans on their way to Tiflis



Germans in Tbilisi


Captain Egon Krieger: Head of German military mission in Georgia



Birth of the Georgian Republic

There was no time to lose, if anything was to be salvaged from the wreck of united Transcaucasia. The Azerbaijani Muslims, who had nothing to lose by a complete Turkish victory, were opposed to further resistance. The Armenians, for all their heroism, were exhausted and incapable of organized action. Each of the Caucasian nations had to look to its own corporate survival. As soon as this became evident, Noe Zhordania, leader of the Georgian Social-Democrats and President of the Georgian National Council in Tbilisi, was summoned to Batumi. There he concerted measures with the Georgian delegation at the peace conference and then returned to Tbilisi with the necessary authority to proclaim Georgia an independent republic and to bring about the final dissolution of the Transcaucasian Diet. On 24 May 1918, von Lossow announced that owing to Turkish intransigence, his efforts at mediation had failed, and that the German delegation would leave Batumi at once on the S.S. Minna Horn. Two days later, the Transcaucasian delegation received a Turkish ultimatum, demanding the acceptance of all Turkish proposals within seventy-two hours, including the cession to Turkey of vast tracts of Georgian territory. But the Turks had been outwitted. That same day, 26 May 1918, Irakli Tsereteli in the Diet in Tbilisi had proclaimed Georgia a sovereign country independent of the Transcaucasian Federative Republic, which was now dissolved; Zhordania read a formal Act of Independence; and von Kressenstein and von der Schulenburg appeared in person at the Tbilisi Town Hall, to announce the establishment of a German protectorate over the newly born Georgian republic.

The first Prime Minister of the Georgian Republic was Noe Ramishvili, while Akaki Chkhenkeli received the portfolio of Foreign Affairs. These two new ministers immediately hurried to the Black Sea port of Poti, where von Lossow and his German colleagues were waiting impatiently on board their steamer. A provisional agreement between Imperial Germany and the Georgian Republic was signed at Poti on 28 May 1918. this convention provided among other things for Germany to have free and unrestricted use of Georgia's railway system and all ships found in Georgian ports, for the occupation of strategic points by German troops, the free circulation of German money in Georgia, the establishment of a German-Georgian mining corporation, and the exchange of diplomatic and consular representatives. Von Lossow also sent a secret letter to the Georgian government, pledging his good offices towards securing international recognition for the Georgian republic and safeguarding her territorial integrity. Thereupon, von Lossow and his suite set off across the Black Sea to Constanza, taking with them a Georgian delegation composed of Chkhenkeli, Avalishvili and Nikoladze, who were sent on to Berlin to enter into formal discussions with the Kaiser's government and the officials of the Wilhelmstrasse. Lengthy negotiations between the Georgians and the German Foreign Ministry ensued, only to be rendered abortive by the defeat of Imperial Germany at the hands of the Allies in November 1918.

Back in Batumi, a peace treaty between Turkey and Georgia was signed on 4 June 1918, whereby Turkey regained Batumi, Ardahan and Kars, as well as Akhaltsikhe and Akhalkalaki. However, the main treaty of peace and friendship between Georgia and Turkey was never formally ratified. True to their policy of playing off the Turks and Germans against one another, the Georgian delegation in Berlin declared to the German Foreign Ministry that 'inasmuch as Georgia, under direct pressure from Turkey, was compelled to sign any agreement whatsoever with her alone, the obligations incurred in such conditions must be considered null and void'. An attempt by Turkish troops to take possession of certain border areas of Georgia allegedly ceded to Turkey by the treaty of 4 June was repulsed by Georgian and German troops acting in concert, provoking a regular crisis between the German and Turkish governments. On 20 June 1918, a Georgian delegation headed by Evgeni Gegechkori arrived at Istanbul to take part in a general conference to revise the treaties of Batumi. Before anything had been settled, military defeat brought the Ottoman Empire itself tumbling down in ruin. By the end of 1918, as we shall see, German and Turkish hegemony over Caucasia had melted away, to be replaced for a short season by the rather less popular occupation of the victorious British.



Click on the map for better resolution


Click here to continue


92.   F. Kazemzadeh, The Struggle for Transcaucasia, 1917-1921, New York, Oxford 1951, p. 34.

93.   Quoted by Kazemzadeh, The Struggle for Transcaucasia, p. 37.

94.   N. Zhordania, Reminiscences, p. 113.

95.   Quoted by Kazemzadeh, The Struggle for Transcaucasia, p. 55.