Armeno-Georgian War of 1918

and Armeno-Georgian Territorial Issue in the 20th Century



By  Andrew Andersen and Georg Egge






The Failed Alliance and Final Delimitation after the Fall of the First Republics



In the beginning of 1920 the East Mediterranean was once again the scene of dramatic geopolitical change. The decisive victories of the Soviet Russia in the Civil War and the defeat of Russian anti-Bolshevik armies, on the one hand, and the simultaneous rise of the Nationalist movement in Turkey, on the other - led to the formation of alliance between Moscow and Ankara by the spring of 1920. Russian Bolsheviks under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin and Turkish Nationalists led by Kemal Ataturk, were united by their hatred of the Entente and by their  expansionist aspirations. Both the Russian Bolsheviks and Turkish Nationalists aimed at the restoration of their countries’ pre-revolutionary borders, and if possible - to extend their spheres influence even further. Strengthening of Russian-Turkish alliance required among other things, to establish a common border. Therefore, it was decided in Moscow and Ankara to share the Caucasus, ending with the independence of South Caucasian democratic states (Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan)[1]. The Allied Powers did almost nothing to prevent the new partition of the South Caucasus. The British government of David Lloyd-George, seeking to establish economic relations with the Soviet Russia, did not consider it necessary to interfere with the above plans[2]. At the same time, the governments of France, USA and Italy – although having some desire to limit Soviet-Turkish expansion in the East Mediterranean - did not see a real opportunity to do so lacking sufficient forces, funds and public support for any major military projects in that region[3].







Vladimir Lenin

David Lloyd-George

Kemal Ataturk



By late summer 1919, the British forces completely evacuated from the South Caucasus, with the exception of the Batumi region in which they remained until mid-summer of the following year[4]. This evacuation was followed by the Soviet blitzkrieg  of April, 1920, against Azerbaijan and the rapid Sovietisation of that country performed with the help of Turkish Nationalists[5].  In turn, the fall of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan signalled the beginning of an undeclared Soviet-Armenian war that lasted more than four months. Finally, 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 territories disputed with Azerbaijan[6].


In the same month “the Treaty of Peace” was signed in Sèvres (France) by the representatives of 14 “Allied and Associated nations” including Armenia and the Sultan's government of Turkey[7]. Article 89 of the Treaty of Sèvres virtually gave Armenia some territory in Eastern Turkey that encompassed a considerable part of the former Western (Turkish) Armenian lands[8]. Legally satisfying about 40% of the Armenian claims to the “Ottoman estate” at the Paris Peace Conference the Treaty, however, it did not specify the exact borders between Armenia and Turkey as well as Armenia and Georgia delegating that decision to the US President Woodrow Wilson[9]. 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.


The fragile status quo was dissatisfactory to both Armenia and Nationalist Turkey, and in early September of 1920 the Turkish-Armenian war broke out. The first two weeks of military operations resulted in the series of military defeats that brought Armenia to the edge of collapse. The Turks were on advance, and while Woodrow Wilson, sitting in the Oval Office of the White House and drawing the maps of a virtual Armenian state that would include Erzerum, Van and Trebizond, the troops of Karabekir-Pasha were taking over Penyak, Sarykamysh and  later on – Kars and Alexandropol


One should mention here that the war could have been avoided if the governments of Armenia and Georgia would have succeeded in the establishment of a military alliance aimed at preservation of their independence and territorial integrity. The government of the First republic undertook some demarches in that direction in mid-August, 1920[10] largely under the influence of Lt.-Colonel Claude Stokes (new British chief Commissioner in the South Caucasus) who was a strong believer that Armeno-Georgian alliance could have not only secured the area from the new Turkish expansion but could have also resulted in forcing the Soviets out of Azerbaijan[11]. The possibility of such an alliance was a great concern for the Turkish Nationalists even in the midst of the Turkish-Armenian war[12]. Nevertheless, the projected Armeno-Georgian defence block was never created due to the inability of the governments of both nations to overcome their differences and due to the efforts of Turkish diplomacy in Tiflis.


Meanwhile, in a two-week lull that followed the loss by the Armenians of Sarykamysh, Kagyzman, Penyak and Merdenek, the Georgians attempted to take control of another part of the disputed district of Ardahan (see Mар 7 and Figure 3). On October 1, 1920, Georgian troops entered the area of ​​Lake Chyldyr (Chrdili), as well as the village of Okam (Gel’) on "the Armenian side" of the river Kura.





Figure 3: The first phase of Turkish-Armenian war and Georgian occupation of the disputed Chyldyr-Okam area (August, 1920)



  • Gray-green color indicates Turkish troops and their advance in Armenia during the first phase of the Turkish-Armenian war.
  • Purple color indicates Armenian troops and their defensive and offensive operations.
  • Dark blue color indicates the maneuvers of Georgian troops (without a fight).
  • The yellow color indicates the territory under de facto control of Georgia, orange color - the territory controlled by Armenia, and gray-green - the de facto possessions of Turkey.
  • Thin red lines indicate modern national boundaries.



On October 1 1920, Georgian troops occupied the small area near Chyldyr lake and entered the village of Okam (Gyole) on the ”Armenian side” of Kura.

The above demarche caused indignation and protests on behalf of the Armenian Foreign Affairs ministry especially keeping in mind that the capture of disputed area was taken place during the negotiations Tiflis regarding the possible Armeno-Georgian alliance aimed against Soviet and Turkish expansion. The talks ended up with no result partially due to the efforts of Turkish diplomats in Tiflis who in fact encouraged the government of Georgia to take over the disputed territories to the south of Ardahan. Against the background of Turkish “support”, Georgian acting Foreign Minister Konstantin Sabahtarashvili made an open statement that the disputable status of Ardahan district made the presence of Georgian administration in it as legitimate than the Armenian one. A few days after the Georgian incursion south of Kura, the Armenian command ordered the West Armenian regiment of Sebough to move into Okam. In order to avoid military confrontation, the Georgian troops evacuated Okam on October 6 and retreated back to Ardahan. The Chyldyr sector with the town of Zurzuna remained under Georgian control, and on October 13 it was ceremonially declared Georgian[13]. The very same day the lull at the Turkish front was broken, and the Republic of Armenia  was in no position to re-take Chyldyr from Georgia. Ironically, just four months later that was taken over by the Turks as a result of the Soviet-Turkish conquest of Georgia.







Click on the map for better resolution



In the course of the second phase of Turkish-Armenian war (Oct.-Nov./1920) the Turks were on the offensive along the line of the border between Armenia and Georgia. On October 30, the Armenians left Kars[14]. Seven days later the Turks were already in Alexandropol, and the Armenian troops were in retreat to the east along AlexandropolKaraklis railroad, while the Turks were getting ready for the final spurt on Erevan (Ironically enough, it was the beginning of November when US President Wilson was done with the final sketches of the Sevres-based Turkish-Armenian borders[15]).  At that moment, the troops of Georgia took over the Neutral Zone (the Shulavera Condominium) established between the two countries in early 1919. The Government of Armenia gave permission to that Georgian action in order to prevent the occupation of this disputed territory by the Turks. However, the Georgians marched a bit further southwards taking over the whole of the former Lori sector which Tbilisi considered unequivocally Georgian from the first day of independence[16] (see Mар 7 and Figure 4). After a very quick plebiscite the whole sector was annexed by Georgia to stay within that country for another twelve months[17]. We do not possess any information that would confirm or refute whether the Armenian government permitted the Georgians to take over the whole of Lori sector or only that part of it that formed the Neutral Zone, or whether the procedure of the plebiscite was properly organized but in any case, the vote of local Armenian, Greek and Russian population in favor of Georgia was rather logical keeping in mind the circumstances of the Turkish-Armenian war and the defeat of the First Armenian Republic. Incorporation into Georgia at least guaranteed inviolability of Christian lives and property in the sector while possible Turkish occupation definitely meant the loss of both. It was also reported that on November 15 1920, Turkish Nationalist envoy in Tiflis, Colonel Kiazim Bey gave the Georgian government guarantee of Georgia’s territorial integrity as the reward for her neutrality in the Turkish-Armenian war and ask to grant his country an exclusive right for the railroad sector from Sanain to the Azerbaijani border at Poily[18]. It might be important to mention here that Georgian annexation of the territories claimed by Armenia were never subjected to any forms of ethnic cleansing unlike the Armenian territories taken over by Turkey and, to a certain extent, Azerbaijan.


In any case, the border between Armenia and Georgia moved one more time, and remained unaltered for another year[19].






Figure 4: Georgian occupation of the Neutral Zone and other disputed territories within the former Borchalo county of the p rovince of Tiflis (November / 1920)


Explanation: the whole legend is exactly the same as in Figure 4 (see above)




By early December 1920 the remainder of Armenia not yet taken over by the Turks, was occupied by the Red Army and sovietised. The Democratic Republic of Armenia ceased to exist and turned into one more Soviet republic only nominally independent of Moscow.


The question about the Lori sector was again raised on the 3rd January 1921 when the government of already Soviet Armenia enjoying the support of Soviet Russia began negotiations with the government of Georgia regarding the transfer of the above territory to the Armenian SSR[20]. These negotiations were held, with interruptions, during two months and were finally halted by the Soviet-Georgian war, which broke out on February 11, 1921 (just 16 days after the recognition of Georgia's de jure independence at the Paris Peace Conference on January 26 of the same year)[21].


The war waged against Georgia by Soviet Russia in alliance with the Soviet Armenia and Soviet Azerbaijan (formally independent, but in fact Russian protectorates[22]) began with the Red Army invasion of the Lori sector of Borchalo county under the pretext of support for the  "popular uprising" initiated by the Bolshevik agents in a few ethnically Armenian villages of that frontier area[23]. After four weeks of fierce resistance by Georgian army and militias, the last independent country of the South Caucasus was taken over by the Soviets by March 18, 1921, becoming another Soviet puppet republic.


Within a few months upon the fall of Georgia (until the end of 1921), the Soviet Armenia was given no opportunity to annex any parts of the disputed county of Borchalo. The Kremlinite logic behind keeping the whole of Borchalo within the borders of Soviet Georgia was based on the fact that it was  the sector of Lori (Borchalo county) where the pro-Soviet uprising in Georgia started in  February 1921[24], and thus ceding that territory to Armenia immediately after the end of the Soviet-Georgian war, could question the legitimacy of the Sovietization of Georgia[25].


In late December, 1922 the Russian Empire was re-born under the new name and on the basis of a new ideology (Communism/Bolshevism) through the creation of the USSR – a constitutionally federal socialist state in Eastern Europe and Northern Asia. In fact though, that meant the absorption of some short-lived independent states carved out of the ashes of the fallen empire under the umbrella of the ARCP(B)[26]-run Russian Soviet Federal Socialist republic.


In order to soften the loss of formal independence of the new-conquered Soviet republics of the South Caucasus an instruction was given from Moscow to their leaders to form a pseudo-federation of three units that later were to be incorporated into the Soviet Union -  a prototype of the “Global Soviet Republic” planned by the architects of “the world revolution”[27]. It is important to keep in mind that as soon as the short-lived states of the South Caucasus were sovietised, they were run by the local communist parties that, in fact, were not independent communist parties but constituent parts of ARCP(B), local branches of “highly-centralized political organization directed by a small group of men in Moscow”[28] and bound by strict party discipline. Following the orders from Moscow and Zakkraykom of RCP(B) that replaced the Kavbureau RCP(B) in February, 1922, the representatives of the three Soviet republics of the South Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) signed on March 12, 1922, in Tbilisi the federal treaty establishing the Transcaucasian Federal Soviet Socialist Republic, also known as ZSFSR (dissolved on December 5, 1936). Less than a year later, on December 30, 1922, ZSFSR got completely absorbed by the Bolshevik-recreated empire, through signing the Union Treaty that signalled the establishment of the USSR and formally subordinated the three Soviet republics (Belarus, Ukraine and the Transcaucasian Federation/ZSFSR) to the Kremlin. The instruction that came from the Kremlin regarding the creation of the Transcaucasian Federation also prescribed that the leaders of the South Caucasian soviet republics should have resolved all the outstanding territorial disputes between them prior to the formation of the ZSFSR. In fulfillment of that directive, an agreement was concluded on the 6th of November 1921 between the Soviet Republics of Armenia and Georgia regarding border delimitation between them. The above agreement awarded to Armenia the sector of Lori of the county of Borchalo that had been disputed between the two nations since 1918 and finally incorporated into Georgia during Turkish-Armenian war of 1920 (see above) together with the southern part of Borchalo sector of the county bearing the same name that had been acquired by Armenia by the Treaty of January 17 1919 and lost to Georgia in the course of the Turkish-Armenian war of 1920 (see Map 8). The above adjustment of Georgian-Armenian border was formally made in accordance with the declared “ethnical principle” keeping in mind that the above territory had mixed Armenian, Russian and Greek population with Armenian majority.







Click on the map for better resolution




Soon after the beginning of Russian Campaign (1941-46), following the Axis plans for the dismemberment of the USSR and creation of new satellite-states on its territory, the “Liberation Committees” of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia were formed in Berlin. Those Committees regarded by the Nazi leadership as embryonic governments of the future satellite-states of Germany, since April 15, 1942, wee graned the status of “full-right allies” of the Third Reich[29]. During the “Battle for the Caucasus” also known as the “Operation Edelweiss”(1942-43) when the Axis occupation of the South Caucasus became a real possibility, the”Liberation Committees” of the three nations of the South Caucasus and the North Caucasia received a directive from Adolf Hitler to resolve their territorial disputes. As a result of quite heated talks, the leaders of the Caucasus collaborators agreed on the following terms:


  • Armenia was supposed to gain Nakhichevan and all of the Mountainous Karabakh (including North Artsakh) and a small part of Javakh (Akhalkalaki district of Georgia)
  • Georgia was to receive the former Sochi  county and Zakatala district, lost in 1919-1921 to Russia and Azerbaijan
  • For al territorial concessions to Armenia and Georgia, Azerbaijan was to be compensated by the most of Daghestan where Azeri-Turkish language was lingua franca (later it was replaced in that capacity by Russian)[30]


Armenian and Georgian “Liberation Committees” (AONK and GNK) were also given promises by Alfred Rosenberg that in case of Axis invasion of Turkey, Armenia would be granted Western Armenia and Cilicia while Georgia was supposed to receive parts of the historical Paryadria (The Empire of Trebizond)[31].


The defeat of the Axis powers in 1945 put an end to the above virtual projects and left them almost completely forgotten even by the historians.









[1] Richard G. Hovannisian, “Caucasian Armenia between Imperial and Soviet Rule: the Interlude of National Independence” in Ronald Grigor Suny (Ed.) Transcaucasia, Nationalism and Social Change: Essays on the History of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia (Ann Arbor, 1996), p.287

[2] Kazemzadeh, p.331

[3] Kazemzadeh, pp.97, 260-263, 271-272

[4] Кадишев, стр. 470

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

[6] Kazemzadeh, p. 309.

[7] Договор был подписан именно султанским правительством, на тот момент не контролировавшим даже Константинополь, в котором оно пребывало. Националисты же, имевшие свое правительство в Анкаре категорически отказались признавать его. (Авт.)

[8] “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.

[9] Ibid., p. 673.

[10] Richard G. Hovannisian. The Republic of Armenia, Vol. IV: Between Crescent and Sickle: Partition and Sovietization,  (Berkeley, 1996), p.98.

[11] Ibid., pp. 206-207.

[12] Ibid., pp.245-246, 249.

[13] Hovannisian, рp. 222-226.

[14] Hovannisian, pp.253-261; Kadishev, p.325.

[15] Kazemzadeh, p. 265

[16] Hovannisian, p. 287-289.

[17] Kadishev, p.368.

[18] Hovannisian, p. 347;

     Archives de l’Armee, 7N/829, dossier 3, Corbel’s Nov.16, and Political report,  Nov.30,1920;

     20N/183, dossier 4, Revue de la Presse, 16-30 Nov. 1920;

     20N/187, dossier 1, Rport on political situation, Nov. 1-15, 1920.

[19] Кадишев, стр. 368

[20] Ibid., p.307

[21] A. Andersen and G. Partskhaladze, “La guerre soviéto-géorgienne et la soviétisation de la Géorgie (février-mars 1921)”, Revue Historique des Armees, No. 254 - 1, 2009 (Paris, 2009), pp.68-70

    Kazemzadeh, p. 313

    Ronald Grigor Suny, The Maling of the Georgian Nation (Indianopolis, 1994), p.207

[22] В соответствии с принципом партийной дисциплины большевистские правительства советских республик Южного Кавказа были обязаны беспрекословно подчиняться директивам ВКП(б), поступавшим из Москвы при посредстве специального органа, называвшегося Кавбюро ЦК ВКП (б)  (Авт.)

[23] F. Kazemzadeh, pp. 318-319

[24] A. Andersen and G. Partskhaladze,La guerre soviéto-géorgienne et la soviétisation de la Géorgie

     (février-mars 1921)”, Revue Historique des Armees, No. 254 - 1, 2009 (Paris, 2009), pp.68-70.

[25] Tsutsiev, p.60.

[26] All-Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) – the old name of the CPSU (auth.)

[27] M. Volodarsky, The Soviet Union and its Southern Neighbours (Ilford, 1994), p.ix.

[28] R.G. Suny, “Soviet Armenia” in R.G. Hovannisian (ed.), The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times (New York, 2004), Vol. II, p. 354

[29] J. Hoffmann, Kaukasien 1942/43: Das deutsche Heer und die Orientvoelker der Sowietunion (Freiburg, 1991), p. 356

[30] E. Abramian, Zabytyj Legion (Erevan, 2005), p. 37

[31] Ibid., p. 38