Armeno-Georgian War of 1918

and Armeno-Georgian Territorial Issue in the 20th Century



By  Andrew Andersen and Georg Egge






Diplomatic Overtures of the Parties in November 1918



Bilateral talks between Armenia and Georgia started in November 1918, when Georgian MP Simon Mdivani, arrived to Erivan from Tiflis as a special envoy whose mission “was to establish friendly relations with the Government of Armenia”[1]. Simultaneously, the Georgian government has proposed to the governments of other states of the South and the North Caucasus that recently proclaimed their independence, to organize a conference in Tiflis that would be aimed at "resolution of common ... vital problems, including the issue of delimitation"[2]. To promote the idea of ​​the above mentioned conference to Official Erevan was one of the major tasks imposed on Mdivani’s mission.


In accordance with the proposals of the government of Georgia, the agenda of the planned Conference was to include the following issues:


  1. Mutual recognition of the states whose governments were expected to attend the Conference.
  2. Resolution of all disputes, not excluding the border issues, on the basis of an amicable agreement between the parties concerned. In the absence of consensus on certain issues - to allow their resolution through arbitration.
  3. Mutual commitment not to enter into any agreements with third countries to the detriment of the interests of the nations represented at the Conference.
  4. Joint, based on mutual support, presentation of all the nations participant in the proposed Conference, at the “World Congress“[3] scheduled for the beginning of 1919, seeking international recognition of their independence as sovereign states and protection of their common interests[4].


Although the idea of the above Conference was generally well received by the government and Khorhurd (legislature) of Armenia, nevertheless, the following two concerns were raised in connection with that proposal of Georgia:


1.     The major concern of Armenia was that the government of Georgia set up the time and place for the proposed Conference unilaterally and without prior consultation with Erevan, not to mention that the deadline was quite short and did not leave enough time for the Armenians to form their delegation and arrange its travel to Tiflis.

2.     Armenian leaders were not prepared to discuss border issues at any conference, whichever could take place in Georgia’s capital at that particular moment.


Mdivani reported from Erevan that the format itself of Georgian proposal regarding the planned Conference caused protest not only on behalf of Armenian politicians in Erevan but also among the heads of Armenian diasporas all over the world who viewed it as the Georgian claim for political leadership in the whole of the Caucasus. The Armenian concern was shared by Georgian diplomatic representative in London Prince Zourab Avalishvili who wrote that “the tone of the ‘invitation’ signed by N. Ramishvili (Foreign Minister pro tem...) reminded one somewhat of a circular of the Ministry of Home Affairs”[5]. The above concern was neutralized by means of talks between Mdivani and the top Armenian officials during which he explained the urgency of convening the Conference by rapidly changing political realities. However, unequivocal Armenian demand to withdraw the issues of delimitation from the Conference agenda remained fundamentally unchanged.


Meanwhile, the planned conference was opened in Tiflis on November 10, 1918. The hosts of the conference (the government of the Georgian Democratic Republic) were represented by the head of MFA of Georgia Eugene Gegechkori and Interior Minister Noah Ramishvili. The only two delegations to arrive to Tiflis were those of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (Mohammed Yusuf Jafarov and Mustafa Bek Vekilov) and the Cis-Caucasian Mountaneer People’s Republic  (Pshemakho Kotsev и Vassan-Ghirai Jabaghi)[6].


The Armenian delegation did not come to the Conference, which was announced by the representative of Armenia in Georgia Arshak Jamalyan. The explanation provided by the Armenian Foreign Ministry referred to the poor rail service between Erivan and Tiflis, because of which the representatives of Armenia have not been able to arrive to the Georgian capital at the desired time. In response, the delegates to the Conference decided to postpone its work until November 13, and immediately notified Erevan of that change. However, the Official Erevan declined that initiative as well, this time, citing their unpreparedness as well as lack of clarity on several issues - namely, the status of the delegation of the Mountaneer Republic (also referred to as “the United Mountaineers”) and Azerbaijan's attitude to the idea of the Conference[7].


As a result, the opening of the Conference was postponed, first to the 20th, and then - to the 30th of November, but the Armenian delegation kept postponing its arrival under various pretexts (requiring excluding of border issues from the agenda, the lack of a train available for Erevan-Tiflis trip, etc.). Finally, the Conference was disrupted. Five days later, on December 5, 1918, Mdivani mission departed from Erevan for Tiflis. Immediately after that, the government of Georgia informed Erevan of its readiness to exclude the issue of the boundaries of the Conference program. But even this time an agreement did not take place: the governmental telegram came to Erevan with a delay due to sabotage on the telegraph lines. The text of the telegram was duplicated on the radio, but that happened on December 14 only, when the war already broke out.[8]


In parallel with the above diplomatic turmoil, there were other frictions between the two countries. One of them was about the denial by Georgian authorities of the admission of Armenian refugees from Turkey and their resettlement in Georgian-controlled part of the Lori sector of the county of Borchalo. Because official Erevan considered Borchalo to be part of Armenia, it viewed the above denial as an unfriendly act, and on October 23, 1918 an official note of protest was issued to the Georgian government[9].


The majority of the researchers who studied that period of Armenian history tend to agree that the intransigence of Erevan on the territorial issue was related primarily to the fact that the leaders of both the First Republic and the Armenian diasporas believed that the triumph of the Entente in the war would finally reward the Armenians for their contribution to the Allied victory and for all their sufferings incurred in this connection[10]. Thirty two years after the events described, Firuz Kazemzadeh defined the state of mind that dominated the Armenian society at the time of the surrender of the Central Powers as follows:


«The capitulation of the Ottoman Empire in November, 1918, seemed to herald a new era in Armenian history. Her hereditary foe was on his knees. Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and the entire Arabian peninsula had been liberated, The victory which had come to Armenia after so much suffering turned the heads of her leaders. They visualized a Greater Armenia, a country stretching from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, and from the Black Sea to the Caspian. (...) Their fantasies were encouraged in Paris, London, and especially Washington. (...) But the Armenians were being misled by their hopes and these promises[11]


There are many reasons to believe that, the leadership of the revived Armenian state hoped that the victorious allies would offer them much more territorial gains than it was possible to achieve through bilateral negotiations with each of the neighbouring countries. Moreover, it seems quite possible to agree with Kazemzadeh, stating that the leaders of Armenia would never dare to use military force in Borchalo at the end of 1918, unless they were completely sure of full and unconditional support from of Britain and France of their idea to "punish" Georgia for her recent, albeit brief, stay in the German sphere of influence[12]. Further developments in the Caucasus and around it, clearly showed the fallacy of those calculations, but this lies beyond the scope of our study.


It is also important to mention here that during the talks that occurred in Erevan between Simon Mdivani and the leadership of the Democratic Republic of Armenia, the Armenian side expressed readiness to make concessions in Akhalkalaki and Borchalo, if Georgia agreed to help Armenia reclaim Mountainous Karabakh or part of the Turkish Armenia. However, the Government of Georgia did not seem to possess neither the capacity nor the desire to get involved in new conflicts with her neighbours, thus making it difficult to achieve consensus between the two governments.


Against the background of almost fruitless negotiations and the failure of diplomatic efforts, the situation in the disputed counties of Akhalkalaki and Borchalo  was quite troubled. It was exacerbated by the fact that Georgian military units were deployed in the villages, instead of building temporary military camps. That situation led to mutual dissatisfaction and accusations: ethnic Armenian peasants accused Georgian troops of the lack of discipline and bad attitude, while the Georgians, in turn, blamed local Armenians for provocative behaviour[13].









[1] Iz istorii armiano-gruzinskih vzaimootnoshenij, р. 44

[2] Ibid.

[3] By the “World Congress” the Georgian government meant the Paris Peace Conference, 1919 (Аuth.)

[4] Iz istorii armiano-gruzinskih vzaimootnoshenij, р. 46

[5] Z. Avalishvili, The Independence of Georgian in International Politics 1918-1921 (London, 1940),  p. 149

[6] Iz istorii armiano-gruzinskih vzaimootnoshenij, р.53

   R. Hovannisian, The Republic of Armenia (Los Angeles, 1982), Vol. I, p. 97

[7] Iz istorii armiano-gruzinskih vzaimootnoshenij, p. 55

[8] Ibid., p.60

[9] Ibid., p.62

[10] Hovannisian, Vol. I, pp. 95-96

[11] Kazemzadeh, p.213

[12] Ibid., p.181

[13] Hovannisian, Vol. I, p. 103