Armeno-Georgian War of 1918

and Armeno-Georgian Territorial Issue in the 20th Century



By  Andrew Andersen and Georg Egge






Situation at other Frontiers of Armenia and Georgia


Escalation of the Armenian-Georgian conflict in the zone of the future border between the two republics took place against the background of quite complicated situation at other frontiers of both Armenia and Georgia.



Situation at Western, Southern and Eastern Frontiers of Armenia


Upon the surrender of the Ottoman Empire at the end of October 1918 and the abolition of the boundaries set by the Treaty of Batum that automatically became null and void, Armenia found itself in conflict not only with Georgia but also with the Azerbaijan as well as a number of quasi-state formations, created by the fleeing Ottoman troops and the local pro-Turkish forces.


Armenian plans to take control of the whole of “Russian Armenia” that would include the entire territory of the Erivan province, and also the Kars territory - met with resistance on behalf of Kars Islamic Council (Kars Islam Shurasy), formed on November 5, 1918 in the city of Kars on the initiative of the commander of the 9th Turkish Army, Gen. Yakub Shevki Pasha and headed by Fahreddin Bey. With the armed support of some 30 to 50 000 regular Turkish troops remaining in the area after the Armistice Mudros, as well as  of at least 8 000 local Muslim militias armed and trained by the Turks, Kars Islamic Council, declared its jurisdiction over the entire Kars territory. The Ittihadist-oriented Islamic Council made it quite clear that Muslims of the former Russian territory of Kars and other Muslim-inhabited regions of the South-West Caucasus were prepared to accept either Turkish or Russian sovereignty, while any attempts of Armenia or Georgia to establish their administration in the above mentioned area would be met with the mass armed resistance[1]. It should be clarified here that Kars Islamic Council claimed not only the territory of Kars but also all the lands of the South Caucasus that had been annexed by Turkey as per the Treaty of Batum including Nakhichevan and Alexandropol counties of the province of Erevan, the counties of Akhaltsykh and Akhalkalaki of the province of Tiflis and the territory of Batum (See Mар 3)[2].





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In the western part of the province of Erevan – in the county of Surmalu (near mountain Ararat) local Kurd tribes launched a guerrilla war against the small Armenian units that tried to secure Erevan, sovereignty of over that strategically located strip of land. In the course of Armenian-Muslim entanglement over Surmalu, Japhar Quli Khan of Nakhichevan proclaimed the so-called “Independent Arasdayan Republic” with its centre in Igdyr. The new quasi-state formation claimed not only the county of Surmalu but also the counties of Sharur-Daralaghez and Nakhichevan, as well as the Muslim-inhabited parts of the county of Erevan[3]. While waging war against Armenia, Arasdayan Republic could boast a few thousand-strong Tatar militia armed and trained by the Turks and a regular Turkish battalion left in the area contrary to the provisions of the Armistice of Mudros. During the first stage of the struggle for the above mentioned disputed parts of the province of Erevan, the Armenians took over Igdyr and Daralaghez while the forces of Japhar Quli Khan managed to keep under stable control only a narrow strip of land narrow strip of land along the left bank of the Araxes between Nakhichevan and Ordubad.[4] The armed conflict dragged on, creating Armenia yet another front in dangerous proximity to her capital city. If by mid-December, 1918, at least half of the Armenian troops busy in the war with Georgia could be used against Japhar Quli Khan, the entire province of Erevan, including Nakhichevan and Surmalu, could be placed under stable Armenian control no later than the end of the year.


The eastern frontier of Armenia was also quite unstable due to the bitter strife with Azerbaijan over parts of Elisavetpol and Erevan provinces. In order to facilitate the consensus between Baku and Erevan, Major-General William M. Thomson, the commander of the British expeditionary forces that started the occupation of the South Caucasus on November 17, 1918, proposed a temporary boundary between Armenia and Azerbaijan that would run more or less along the former administrative border between the provinces of Erevan and Elisavetpol, Only in Ordubad sector the boundary was to be adjusted in favour of Azerbaijan[5].


Unfortunately, “the Thomson Line” satisfied neither Armenia, nor Azerbaijan. While the government of Azerbaijan claimed not only the whole Elisavetpol province but also a considerable part of the province of Erevan (the three counties that were also claimed by the above-mentioned “Arasdayan Republic”, plus one-thier of the county of Novo-Bayazet east of Lake Sevan/Gyokcha), the aspirations of Armenia were aimed at keeping the whole of Erevan province and annexing the county of Zanghezur and mountainous parts of the counties of Jevanshir, Shusha, Karyaghino, Elisavetpol and Kazakh in the province of Elisavetpol [6].


By the beginning of the Armeno-Georgian war, the situation east of “the Thomson Line” was follows:


  • Much of the Zangezur county was under the control of semi-guerrilla forces of Armenian General Andranik, who not only led successful battles against the Turkish troops and local Muslim militias, but also planned an invasion of  Mountainous Karabakh (the mountainous part of the three counties of Elisavetpol province) in order to put it under a stable Armenian control. Being not subordinate to the government of the Armenian Republic Andranik acted in his sole discretion, coordinating his plan and actions only with the local Armenian authorities in Karabakh and Zangezur. The fighting in the western frontier of Karabakh was terminated on December 4, 1918 under pressure of the British representatives immediately after the Armenian victory at Abdallar. After the withdrawal of Andranik’s forces from Karabakh, local Kurdish and Tatar militias massacred three fortified villages at the junction of Karabakh,and Zangezur thus complicating subsequent Armenian attempts to regain control over Mountaionous Karabakh via Zangezur[7].
  • In the mountainous part of the counties of Jabrail, Karyaghino, Shusha and Yelizavetpol - the self-appointed Armenian National Council of Karabakh (ANCK) took charge of the administration of the area and sought to unite with Armenia. However, the ANCK power was quite fragile, and its Armenian militias had to fight against the armed Muslim nomadic tribes and some regular Turkish troops that remained in the area in breach of the Armistice of Mudros[8]. The British representatives that arrived to Susha from Baku in early December, at first recognized ANCK as de-facto administration of Mountainous Karabakh, but a few weeks later the British sympathies reversed in favour of oil-rich Azerbaijan, and ANCK was forced to share power with the Azerbaijani governor Sultanov appointed by General Thomson[9].
  • Contrary to Thomson’s plan, the mountainous part of Kazakh county of the province of Elisavetpol came under the control of Armenian troops almost immediately after the evacuation of the Turks from the South Caucasus[10]


By the end of the Armeno-Georgian war (in mid-January 1919) the British command in the Caucasus confirmed its firm decision to leave Mountainous Karabakh and Zanghezur under the formal jurisdiction of Azerbaijan until the final decision on the demarcation between the new states in the region is made at the Paris Peace Conference[11].




Situation at North-Western, Eastern and Southern Frontiers of Georgia


During the same period, Georgia could boast of relative stability on the northern frontier only, where the Big Caucasian ridge served as a natural protection against her passive involvement in the escalating civil war in the Northern Caucasus. The situation in all other Georgian frontiers was tense and unstable.


In the area of ​​Georgian-Azerbaijani junction a territorial dispute arose immediately after the evacuation of Turkish forces that, fortunately, did not degrade into armed confrontation. The government of Azerbaijan laid claims on Zakatala district as well as on the predominantly Muslim-inhabited parts of the counties of Signakhi, Tiflis and Borchalo[12]. After the above claims were strongly rejected by official Tiflis, the government of Azerbaijan, lacking means to start a war against Georgia, decided to drop claim to all the disputed territories except Zakatala, where a semblance of condominium was established[13].


In the southern frontier of Georgia her troops entered the counties of Akhaltsikhe and Akhalkalaki following the Turkish evacuation and established full control over them by December 5, 1918[14]. Nevertheless, the atmosphere in Muslim-inhabited parts of the two counties remained tense[15], while further Georgian expansion – into the districts of Batum and Ardahan - was blocked by the British, who simultaneously began to occupy the district of Batumt, declaring it a special administrative unit under temporary British protectorate[16].


The most sensitive area of Georgia before the beginning of the December war with Armenia, was the zone of contact between Georgian troops and the armed groups in southern Russia (both "red" and "white" ones), fighting against each other and being quite hostile towards any state and quazi-state formations breakaway from the former Russian Empire.


The first Russo-Georgian clashes occurred as early as in March, 1918, when the units of Bolshevist Red Army invaded Abkhazia (until then known as the district of Sukhum of the province of Kutais) and took Sukhum (Sukhumi). In view of the spread of anarchy, the self-appointed Abkhazian National Council (ANC) appealed to the Georgian government and later, on July 24, 1918, signed a treaty that confirmed the incorporation of the district of Sukhum into Georgia providing that it would enjoy local autonomy[17]. By that time, regular Georgian troops under the command of General George Mazniev (Mazniashvili) expelled the reds from the whole district (which was from that time called Abkhazia, as that was how the region had been called prior to its incorporation into the Russian Empire in 1864[18]), repelled Turkish interventionist  corps that landed at the end of June at the mouth of Kodori near Ochamchira[19], and advanced further to the northwest along the Black Sea coast, taking over the districts of Sochi and Tuapse at the request of ANC and the local council of Sochi[20]. One should mention here that at that moment the government of Georgia was considering to get some compensation for the territories lost to the Turks as per the Treaty of Batum by annexing the Black Sea province up to Anapa basing on the fact that the above territory had been part of historical Abkhazia that, in turn, was part of Georgia for a few centuries[21].  In September, 1918, the Georgians were defeated in Tuapse by the Taman Regiment of the Red Army,[22] which was retreating from the north under the pressure of the anti-bolshevist White Army of Generals Alekseev and Denikin that took Tuapse a few days later. By late November, Alekseev- and Denikin's troops completed the defeat of the Red forces in Kuban and came into contact with the Georgian troops under Mazniashvili in Sochi district. The last delimitation line established prior to the outbreak of the Armeno-Georgian war, was the river Loo near the village bearing the same name[23].


Georgian claims on Abkhazia and the Black Sea province were opposed by the leaders of the Mountain Republic, who wanted to get access to the Black Sea. They were also strongly rejected the command of the Russian anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army, also known as the Armed Forces of the South Russia (AFSR). The re-deployment of more than half of most of Mazniashvili’s forces from Abkhazia to Borchalo in December, 1918, due to the beginning of the Armeno-Georgian war, facilitated further advance of AFSR in that area.










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[1] Hovannisian, Vol. I, pр. 199-201

[2] Kazemzadeh, p. 199

[3] И.М.Гаджиев, А.А. Гулиев, Нахчыван в прошлом и сегодня. (Анкара, 1998), с.44

[4] Ахмед Эндер Гойдемир, Юго-Западное Кавказское правительство, (Анкара, 1989), с.63-66

[5] У. Томсон, Обращение командующего британскими войсками в Закавказьи генералаТомсонапредседателю правительства Грузии ипредставителю Армении в Тифлисе (Tифлис, 14.04.1919), ЦИАГ, ф.200, оп.1,  д.191, л.34 и об.

[6] The mountainous districts of the counties of Jevanshir, Shusha and Karyaghino were commonly known as Mountainous Karabakh (Please note, though, that both historical and geographical Mountainous Karabakh was much bigger than the autonomous unit of NKAO formed within Azerbaijan upon Sovietization). The mountainous districts of the county of Elisavetpol and sometimes even of the county of Kazakh, were known as Northern Karabakh.

[7] Х. Политидис, И. Зая, И. Артемов, «Рыцарь Византизма», Русский альманах, 3-й выпуск (Москва., 1999), стр.84; Hovannisian, Vol. I, pр. 88-89

[8]  Нагорный Карабах в 1918—1923 гг.: сборник документов и материалов (Ереван, 1992)

    Michael P. Croissant, The Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict: Causes and Implications (London, 1998), p. 15

    Hovannissian, Vol. I, p.89.

[9] Hovannisian, Vol. I, pр. 89-90

[10] Там же, стр. 82

[11] Kazemzadeh, p. 215

[12] Kazemzadeh, p. 155

[13] Ibid., p. 226

[14] Кадишев, 463

[15] Г. Квинитадзе, Мои воспоминания в годы независимости 1917-1921 (Париж, 1985), стр. 88

[16] Там же, стр. 166

[17] Kazemzadeh, p. 233

[18] David Marshall Lang, A Modern History of Georgia (New York, 1962), p.97

[19] ЦГАА (02.09.1918), ф. И-39, оп.1, д.6, л.7

[20] Кадишев, стр. 76

[21] П. Ингоркова П.,О границах территории Грузии (Константинополь, 1918)

А. Ментешашвили, Исторические предпосылки современного сепаратизма в Грузии (Тбилиси, 1998),

стр. 42

[22] Kazemzadeh, p. 234

[23] Иван Воронов, «Кавказская миссия Деникина», Красноярский рабочий, 16 августа 2008