Soviet-Georgian War and Sovietization of Georgia, II-III. 1921

La guerre soviéto-géorgienne et la soviétisation de la Géorgie (février-mars 1921)


By  Andrew Andersen and George Partskhaladze
Revue historique des Armées      Numéro 254, 1/2009


Photographs: private archive of  Levan Urushadze






The Fall of Western Georgia, Retreat towards Batumi and Evacuation of Georgian Government



March 8-13



The loss of Surami in combination with successful Soviet advance from Abkhazia and Racha made the defense of the remaining Georgian territory next to impossible. On March 8, the remnants of Georgian defenders of Abkhazia retreated across Inguri river towards the town of Zugdidi which fell into the Soviet hands 24 hours later. Simultaneously, Soviet Mamisoni group advancing from Oni, wiped out small Georgian covering force near the village of Meqvena and enveloped Kutaisi from North-West. On the 10th of March, the 98th Rifle Brigade advancing from Surami approached Kutaisi and entered the city after 2-hour battle. The Georgian government hastily left Kutaisi for Batumi while some 3000 Georgian troops retreated towards Samtredia[1] covered by the armored trains.



Despite recent defeats, Georgian Commander-in-Chief Kvinitadze had a new plan for further continuation of the war against the Soviets. According to Kvinitadze, all the Georgian forces that were still battle worthy, were to cross the river of Rioni into the provinces of Guria and Ajaria and contain the Soviets along the new defense lines formed by mountain ranges and rivers running down into the Black sea. In case that strategy had failed as well, Kvinitadze considered it possible to consolidate the government and the remaining troops in the excellently fortified port of Batumi simultaneously launching guerilla warfare all over Georgia using Georgia’s alpine provinces of Svaneti and Pshavo-Khevsureti as major partisan base areas. That plan was actively supported by Colonel Kaikhosro Cholokashvili who later organized guerilla resistance and became famous field commander and a national hero[2].



However, the last strategic plan of Georgian military leadership failed largely due to the Turkish invasion of Batumi and Ajaria. Between 11th and 17th of March, the Turks under Kazim bei entered the city, took over some of the forts of its defense system and tried to take over all other forts still in Georgian hands. As General Kvinitadze wrote in his memoirs, Turkish-Georgian relationship in Batumi and around it was marked with a combination of friendly rhetoric and hostile actions[3]. 






Click on the map to get high resolution image





March 14-21



The loss of Batumi that had been considered as the last Georgian stronghold, made further resistance impossible. Facing the inevitable loss of the war, The government of Georgia sent envoys to Kutaisi to negotiate ceasefire with the command of the Red Army that in its turn, was exhausted and scattered. On March 14 an agreement was signed in accordance with which Georgian government was given several days for demobilization of the remnants of Georgian army and evacuation from Batumi to Constantinople (Istanbul).




General George Mazniashvili



General George Purtseladze




On March 17, the national government and military leadership of Georgia along with thousands of soldiers and civilians boarded two French and one Italian ships tied up at Batumi bay to leave the port next morning. The troops still remaining in Batumi were put under the command of General George Mazniashvili who was put in charge of their demobilization. On the same day Kazim bei, the commander of all Turkish troops stationed in Batumi and around it declared the city under Turkish administration with himself as a Governor General and demanded disarmament of the remnants of Georgian army. That action was confronted by Mazniashvili who ordered his troops to attack the Turks and draw them out of the city. After three days of ferocious fighting, Kasim bei’s Turks were forced out of Batumi and Northern Ajaria. Next morning, the Red Army troops under Zhloba entered Guria and Northern Ajaria and accepted capitulation of Mazniashvili’s troops. Small amount of Georgian soldiers still stationed in the area refused to surrender to the Soviets and escaped into the mountains to continue fighting as partisans under Colonel Cholokashvili. Those who surrendered, including General George Purtseladze, were shot to death at the beach near Batumi



Three days later in Tbilisi the Parliament of Georgia was dissolved by the decree of the Revolutionary Committee.






Colonel Kakutsa Cholokashvili (right) with his guerilla troopers









In 1921, the nation-building process of Georgia was interrupted as a result of the Soviet-Georgian war – lost by the Georgians - and the Sovietization of the country, except in the districts ceded to Turkey. The brief intermezzo of independence was over. Born of crisis and chaos, the First Republic did not have enough resources to solve the most important domestic problems and, at the same time, withstand outside pressure. The restored state also lacked international support partially due to the fact that her geographic position and geo-political situation in the whole East Mediterranean area did not attract enough interest on behalf of the Allied powers. An international attempt to protect tiny and weak socialist republic from her aggressive neighbors seemed much less effective than to wait for a conflict between victorious Russia and Turkey to arise around the territorial issues in the South Caucasus. Independent Georgia also did not have either dominant ideology or significant nationwide pro-independence sentiment. Among other reasons for Georgia’s military defeat, one can also mention the lack of strong professional leadership capable of consolidating the nation to win the war against significantly superior enemies.


However, shortcomings and failures aside, the precedent of independent nationhood was created, basic democratic institutions built and major economic reforms performed. Moreover, after the los of independence, Georgia was not incorporated directly into Russia as it was within the former Russian Empire. Rather, it was transformed into one of several “Soviet republics” that enjoyed limited quasi-statehood in spite of political and economic subordination to Moscow. Three years of troubled independence were never totally forgotten by the people of Georgia, and the memory of that period was forwarded from generation to generation and became a vital part of the active national liberation movement of the late 80s and the “Rose Revolution” of 2003.









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[1] Ibid., p.409.

[2] Kvinitadze, p. 324.

[3] Ibid, p. 330-332.