Armeno-Georgian War of 1918

and Armeno-Georgian Territorial Issue in the 20th Century



By  Andrew Andersen and Georg Egge



Escalation of the Conflict: Uprising in Lori and Armenian Offensive

(See Map 4)



On December 5, a Georgian soldier was killed in the village of Uzunlar while the remaining soldiers of the Georgian garrison were disarmed and taken prisoners. Four days later, General George Tsulukidze sent a detachment to Uzunlar to “pacify” the village. However the Georgian troops failed to accomplish their mission facing numerous armed villagers enforced by professional Armenian soldiers who had crossed Kamenka and entered the territory to the north of the demarcation line[1]. The skirmish near Uzunlar that lasted over 9 hours, resulted in casualties, and the Georgians had to retreat towards Sanain together with the armoured train that had been sent to support them[2].


General Tsulukidze apparently believed that the territory entrusted to him was an arena of some sort of a local conflict, and the provocative activity of certain armed groups, but not of a large-scale war against the regular army of a neighbouring state. That is confirmed by the fact that he asked the command in Tiflis to reinforce the 200 Georgian troops that he had under his command with just one company that was immediately sent to him.


Meanwhile, even before the reinforcement arrived, Sanain was approached by regular Armenian units of the 4th Infantry Regiment joined by armed local Armenians, and the area around the railway station turned into a battlefield.  Armenian troops and rebels attempted to outflank the Georgian border guards by taking over the outskirts of Alaverdi. in view of the disadvantageous situation that got even worse after the sabotage on the railway line between Alaverdi and Sanain, Tsulukidze sent the company that arrived from Tiflis together with the second armoured train to Alaverdi. As a result of that maneuver, the Georgian forces in the troubled area were split into two isolated groups: one headed by General Tsulukidze remained in Sanain and another one was deployed in Alaverdi[3].


While the armed clashes continued throughout December 10 and 11 two more companies of the 5th Infantry Battalion with two cannons were sent to the area of conflict. However, the new reinforcement was ambushed by the Armenians, and facing the new development General Tsulukidze decided to transfer his staff from Sanain to Alaverdi. That relocation was covered by the batteries of the armed train trapped in Sanain and a small detachment of infantry.




General George Tsulukidze



On December 12, the reinforcements that finally came from Tiflis managed to seize control of a few heights around Alaverdi despite the heavy fire. Next day they attempted to break through the enemy lines to the armoured train and the remnants of infantry detachment still blocked in Sanain but had no success because the Armenians dismantled the railway and blew up the railway bridge.  The armoured train moving at high speed failed to complete an emergency brake and went off the rails.


Thus the Georgian forces in Sanain-Alaverdi area found themselves in a very difficult situation. The first group consisting of the Sanain detachment of the Provincial Battalion (60 infantrymen) and an armoured train with the team – blocked in the village of Sanain. The second group - three companies of the 5th Infantry Regiment, one company of the 6th Infantry Regiment, an artillery battery, two mortar platoons and the second armoured train (about 600 men, in total) took defensive positions in Alaverdi, at the bottom of the Debed (Borchala) River gorge surrounded by overwhelming numbers of Armenian troops that included the 4th and the 6th regiments of the 2nd Armenian Rifle Division, battalions of the 1st Regiment of the 1st Armenian Rifle Division, three squadrons of the Mounted Brigade and unites of local Armenian militia (at least 4.000 men altogether plus 20 artillery pieces)[4]. On December 14 facing the above situation Tsulukidze ordered evacuation of both Sanain and Alaverdi and break through enemy lines towards Sadakhlo station.


By that time, the Armeno-Georgian military conflict was not any longer limited to its main zone in the Sanahin-Alaverdi area, and the hostilities spread into two more areas: one – around the villages of Vorontsovka and Privolnoye, and another – further westwards - in the county of Akhalkalaki.


During the three days (December 12-14) Georgian forces under command of General Tsitsianov were involved in heavy and bloody battles in the triangle formed by the villages of Alexandrovka, Vorntsovka and Privolnoye, with the one company strong Armenian formations that invaded Georgian territory across Kamenka  from the villages of Jelal-Ogly and Kotur-Bulag. Tsitsianov also reported to Tiflis the spread of the rebellion to Akarak, Ovnagar and other ethnic Armenian villages[5]. Georgian troops in this area were even fewer in number than in Sanain being limited to the 4th company of the Provincial Battalion, an element of National Guard Artillery Battalion and border guard (less than 300 men, in total). Paradoxically, on the 12th of December, already after the commencement of active hostilities, the Guard detachment in Vorontsovka was revoked to Tiflis to take part in a military parade, arranged in connection with the first anniversary of the National Guard.


The main striking force of the Armenians in the direction of Vorontsovka and Privolnoye was the 5th Infantry Regiment under command of Colonel Ter-Nikogosov reinforced with the bands of local Armenian rebels (between 500 and 600 men in total). The general attack on Vorontsovka started early in the morning on December 14 from two directions. After a few hours of heavy fighting Armenians were reinforced with a cavalry unit, and, despite the devastating fire of Georgian artillery using shrapnel shells, the village of Vorontsovka fell by the middle of the same day. The Georgian casualties reached one hundred men killed in action with 3 officers among them. By the end of December 19, the decimated Georgian retreated towards Ekaterinenfeld (Ekaterinovka) while the Armenian vanguard reached the river Mashavera[6].


In the county of Akhalkalaki the situation was radically different from Lori, largely because the local Armenian population did not seem to object to being under Georgian jurisdiction, and refrained from rebelling against Georgian troops. Also ethnic  Russian Dukhobors who inhabited the southern part of the disputed county, were not only loyal to the Georgian government, but preferred Georgian adminstration to the Armenian one[7]. One could also assume that the county enjoyed relative stability due to the presence of quite significant Georgian forces (more than 6 000 men) under command of General Ilia Makashvili.





General Ilia Makashvili



The significant Georgian militarty presence in the county could be explained by the fact that it had just been evacuated by the Turks, but there still remained the danger of anew conflict with pro-Turkish elements who were very active in the nearby county of Ahaltsykh and the district of Ardahan. But despite all the above factors, the county of Akhalkalaki was on December 6 invaded by Armenian troops, who occupied several villages (Troitskoe, Efremovka, Gorelovka and Bogdanovka) inhabited by the Russian Dukhobors.


Two days later, Gen. Makashvili sent an ultimatum to the Armenian commanders demanding the immediate evacuation of the occupied part of the county. The Georgian officers, who delivered the ultimatum, were accompanied by Mr. Abelian who represented local Armenian Refugee Committee. The ultimatum was followed by a series of maneuvers (mainly with cavalry units) between December 8 and 14. After that the Armenian troops left the county without fighting[8]. Nevertheless, on December 16, Armenian cavalry attacked Georgian positions near the village of Troitskoe and forced the Georgians to retreat towards Efremovka. By the end of the same day, the Georgians received reinforcement, launched a counterattack and recaptured Troitskoe. Georgian casualties were 60 killed in action and missing or taken prisoner. Four days later, on December 20, the Armenian units stationed in the village Kazanchi resumed hostilities by attacking a Georgian detachment on the highway near the village of Troitskoe. The attack was unsuccessful: due to the snowstorm with strong wind combined with heavy Georgian machinegun fire, Armenian troops were repelled and suffered heavy casualties (about 100 killed, including 3 officers). However, the Georgians, in turn, were unable to counterattack because of the strong head wind and snow. That was the end of all combat operations in Akhalkalaki zone of the Armeno-Georgian war of 1918.


Meanwhile, the new Armenian offensive began in the eastern zone of the conflict. In the early morning of December 14, the units of the 4th, 5th and 6th Armenian Regiments under the command of Colonels Levon Ter-Nikogosov, Nesterovsky and Korolkov, advanced in three columns towards the line Vorontsovka – Privolnoye – Opreti - Ayrum. The total strength of attacking force, including reserves, was about 6000 infantry and 640 cavalry with 26 machine-guns and 7 mountain guns, not including several thousand armed rebels[9]. In face of the Armenian attack, Georgian defenders of the area left Alaverdi, in accordance with the above mentioned order issued by General Tsulukidze and by December 15, reached the station Sadakhlo, moving in two directions: the infantry walked along the country road through Shamlug plant, while the armored train covering fire was to retreat by rail. However, the train crashed between the stations of Aghpat and Akhtala, and its crew had to fight their way through Armenian lines to Akhtala on foot. In Akhtala, where this detachment kept the defense for three days, it was joined by civilian refugees – mostly the staff of railway stations of Alaverdi, Sanain and Aghpat together with their families. On December 17, the defenders of Akhtala and the refugees managed to break through towards Sadakhlo with the help of one more armored train (the third one) that came to the rescue from Tiflis. By the end of the second day of the offensive, the Armenians captured Vorontsovka, Privolnoye, Sanain, Mikhailovka and Alaverdi, as well as the heights dominating the village of Aghpat[10].


During the retreat, Georgian forces suffered heavy losses in manpower and equipment: the advancing Armenians took prisoner hundreds of Georgian soldiers, a significant number of horses, one locomotive, some fifty railcars and a few machine guns and light cannons The Georgians also lost two of their armoured trains: the one - blocked in Sanain – was blown up and the one that went off the rails near Alaverdi – was disabled by its crew due to impossibility of its evacuation[11].


It was only on December 16, when the Government of Georgia finally qualified the events in the counties of Borchalo and Akhalkalaki as a war with Armenia, and handed a note to Armenian representative in Tiflis. It took two more days for the approval of a mobilization order that was issued on December 18.


By that time Armenian left flank under the command of Ter-Nikogosov advanced in the direction of Bolnis-Khachen and Ekaterinenfeld (Ekaterinovka), and on the right flank the troops of Korolkov by a surprise maneuver took over the Ayrum station. As a result of the two-day long Ayrum operation, Georgian units of the 5th and 6th Regiments almost miraculously managed to escape from the encirclement, losing more than 500 men killed, wounded and taken prisoner and leaving behind 25 machine guns and 2 cannons[12].


On December 18, the forces of Tsulukidze (about 200 men strong, not including sick and wounded) entrenched in the foothills around the village and station of Sadakhlo. Due to the small number of troops, the Georgian commander found it impossible to mount some of the dominant heights (such as, for example, Tana-Dagh Mountain located north-east of Lambalo) and had his men dispersed as follows: in the east – on the north-western slope of Tan Dagh Mountain, in the south – the positions just south of Sadakhlo railway station, in the south-west – on the “Height 324"[13], in the west – on the “Height 436” (Katykh-Dagh Mountain) and on the height over the village of Damia. The same day the station was attacked by Armenian forces, but to no avail. After the first unsuccessful attack on Sadakhlo, the Armenian forces outflanked the Georgian defenders and in the morning on December 19 entered Shulavery. Simultaneously, Korolkov ordered mobilization of all men of military age in Shulavery and the surrounding Armenian-inhabited villages to resume the offensive. On December 20, after artillery preparation, the Armenians launched a new attack on Georgian positions, this time taking over the train station of Ashagi-Seral, thereby cutting off the defenders of Sadakhlo from Tiflis. On December 22, after one more attack, the Armenians entered Sadakhlo, but were repulsed by Georgian infantry and the armored train[14]. Next day ( December 23), Tsulukidze ordered the remnants of his troops to fight their way north. With the help of artillery, and the armored train, the Georgians succeeded in breaking through the Armenian ring and retreat to the line Baytalu - Ulashlo - Kachagani. On the same day, General Tsulukidze departed for Tiflis to the report to the government, while the command over his forces is taken by General Sumbatashvili.


By that moment, the Armenian forces in Borchalo reached the Khrami river, which the Bureau-government in Erevan claimed to be the border of Armenia. As for the county of Akhalkalaki, the troops of the conflicting parties were located along the demarcation line on which the Government of Georgia insisted before the outbreak of the hostilities (that is along the administrative border between the provinces of Tiflis and Erevan).










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[1] Там же, р. 104

[2] Из истории армяно-грузинских взаимоотноошений, стр. 87-91

[3] Hovannisian, Vol. I, p. 104

[4] Чачхиани, стр. 115

[5] Там же, р. 105

[6] Там же, стр. 124

[7] Из истории армяно-грузинских взаимоотноошений, стр. 127; доклад ген. Макаева (ГИА, фонд1946/3, стр 123).

[8] Из истории армяно-грузинских взаимоотноошений,, стр. 127-128

[9] Hovannisian, Vol. I, p. 111

[10] Там же, p. 112

[11] Там же, p. 113

[12] Там же, р.113

[13] Here and below designation given according to old Russian military maps on scale of two versts (approx., 1.06  km) to the inch, indicating the height in fathoms; on modern maps it is marked as “Height 680, Peri-Tepe”.

[14] Чачхиани, стр. 139