Armeno-Georgian War of 1918
and Armeno-Georgian Territorial Issue in the 20th Century
By Andrew Andersen and Georg Egge
Ethnic Composition of the Disputed Territories
Armenia in turn considered the two disputed counties Armenian basing on their ethnic characteristics. Indeed, by the beginning of the 20th century, Armenians formed the majority in both counties while their Georgian population was reduced to a tiny minority.
According the Russian census of 1897, the ethnic makeup of the two disputed counties looked as follows:
Table 1: Ethnic makeup of the counties of Borchalo and Akhalkalaki (Source: Russian Imperial Census, as of February 9, 1897.)
Although Armenians as follows from the above table formed a little bit less than one-third of the whole population of Borchalo, they were the largest ethnic group of the county as a whole Meanwhile, in its southernmost sector of Lori, absolute majority of the population was Armenian. The non-Armenian minorities Lori were presented by Russian sectarian colonists (Molokans) who inhabited a few villages in the western part of the sector and Greeks who resided predominantly in the town of Alaverdi and around it.
Tthe northern part of Borchalo, in turn, was much more ethnically diverse: besides Armenians, Russians and Greeks, its ethnic palette included significant amount of Tatars as well as German and Georgian communities.
The below table illustrates ethnic composition of the four sectors of Borchalo county , as of the end of the 19th century:
Table 2: Ethnic makeup of the sectors of Borchalo county (Source: Family Lists of the province of Tiflis, 1887)
Historically, both Armenians and Georgians inhabited the territory of Borchalo county at least since the early Middle Ages. The above statement can be confirmed by the architectural and cultural heritage. In particular, the architectural heritage of historical province of Lore (the sector of Lori) demonstrates the traces of both Armenian and Georgian styles of mediaeval architecture illustrated by Armenian monasteries of Odzun, Sanain and Akhlat as well as Georgian churches in Akhtala and Aqori. At the same time, the northern parts of the former Borchalo county are clearly marked with the prevailing Georgian elements the examples of which include but are not limited to one of the oldest among existing Georgian churches – that is Bolnisi Zion erected in the 5th century and still bearing authentic scripts.
Four centuries of almost permanent warfare that preceded the absorption of Georgia by Russian Empire, resulted in the drastic changes in ethnic composition of the south-western frontier of the kingdom of Kartlo-Kakheti including historical provinces of Borchalo, Shamshadin and Pambak (After incorporation into Russia, Shamshadin and Pambak were re-organized into the county of Kazakah of the province of Elisavetpol and the county of Alexandropol of the province of Erivan). The expansion of regional Muslim powers Ottoman Turkey and Iran, in combination with regular raids of nomads, resulted in almost total annihilation or exodus of local Christian population that had predominantly consisted of Georgian and Armenian farmers. Later, depopulated Borchalo-Pambak area was settled by Turkic-speaking nomadic tribes whose descendants still reside there nowadays. After the annexation of Kartlo-Kakhetian kingdom bu Russia the imperial government launched the program of colonising still partially depopulated Borchalo-Pambak area with Christian refugees from Turkey (mostly Armenians but also Greeks) In order to consolidate Russian dominance in this unstable area the government of Russia also encouraged resettlement of farming communities from central Russia and Germany into the county of Borchalo thus making its ethnic palette even more complicated.
As for the county of Akhalkalaki, one can say that by the beginning of the 20th century its Armenian majority formed over seventy per cent of total population. The proportion of Georgians there was larger than in Borchalo but still did hardly exceed six per cent. This ethno-linguistic situation was created within much shorter period of time if compared with Borchalo. In the province of Javakheti (later reorganized into the county of Akhalkalaki) the drastic changes in ethnic composition occurred within the last two thirds of the 19th century when the province was conquered by Russia from Ottoman Turkey. Most of the local Georgians who formed majority in Javakheti as of 1827, just prior to the beginning of another Russo-Turkish war (1828-29), have already been loyal Muslim subjects of the ottoman Empire for several generations only few of them still adhering to Orthodox Christianity or Roman Catholicism. Those Georgians who refused to convert from Orthodox Christianity either to Islam or to Catholicism during the period of Turkish domination (1590-1827), were mostly forced to flee the province. During the war of 1828-29, the Islamized Georgians of Javakheti were actively resisting Russian invasion, and following Ottoman defeat most of them left their native land to find refuge in Anatolia (central Turkey). The victorious Russians almost immediately colonized the empty province with the Turkish Armenians (mostly from the province of Erzurum) who were encouraged by the Russian government to re-settle from the Ottoman lands to the new Russian possessions in the Caucasus.
One could add to the above that during the First World War thousands of Armenian refugees from Turkish Anatolia (the survivors of the ethnic cleansings of 1915-1918) arrived to the two disputed counties many of them settling there permanently.
The architectural heritage of the former county of Akhalkalaki was also significantly different from that of Borchalo. Here one can still find a considerable amount Georgian architectural monuments going back to both Early and High Middle Ages that include fortified monasteries of Vardzia and Zeda-Tmoghvi, the churches in Azaveti, Poqa, Qumurdo and many other famous landmarks. On the other hand, most of the Armenian churches of the former Akhalkalaki county are dated back to the period not earlier than the middle of the 19th century
Fresco and chapel in mediaeval Vardzia monastery
The below map shows the complicated ethnic palette of the territories disputed between Armenia and Georgia as it was in 1913. The areas of Armenian majority is marked by pink and red colors while lemon-yellow color goes for Georgian settlements, light brown – for Russian colonies, yellow-gold color marks the areas of Greek colonization, light green goes for the Tatar majority areas, grayish-green goes for Anatolian Turks, light blue – for Germans settlements and lilac denotes the areas of Kurdish concentration. The white color goes for uninhabited or sparsely inhabited alpine and steppe territories.
 Here and below we use the term “Tatars” as it was the only one officially used in the early 20th century to denote the ancestors of modern Azerbaijanis.
 The counties of Russian Transcaucasia were further subdivided into sectors (uchastki)
 The majority of these inhabitants of Georgian frontier define themselves as Azeri Turks while some of them prefer to be reffered to as the Turcomans despite the fact that during the whole Soviet period all of them were officially defined as Azeri Turks or Azerbaijanis.
 Following the agreement between the Ottoman Empire and Vatican, Georgian Catholics were exempt from ethno-religious prosecution or discrimination.