Battle for the Caucasus: Britain vs. Russia, 1918-20 (Part Seven)

A famous example of Armenian propaganda that played to the imagination of the Western Puritan moralists

Aside from the policy of the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, there were two other factors that led to the loss of the Caucasus to the Bolsheviks. The first of these was that special and discordant element in the region, the Armenians – who immensely complicated matters. The second was Britain’s continuing and purposeless hostile relations with Ottoman Turkey. These two factors were inter-related but not always dependent upon one another. 

The thing that these two factors shared was that they made the defence of the Caucasus much more difficult and ultimately unsuccessful. Combined with the policy of the Lloyd George government they led to the victory of the Bolsheviks and finally, the fall of Daghestan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia to the Red Army.

The Armenian Complication

An Armenian state in the Caucasus was not a natural development in 1919-20. It only became possible because of three factors:

Firstly, the temporary absence of Russia: A victorious Tsarist Russia, although historically employing the Christian Armenians as a colonising element in the Russian Caucasus, and a destabilising element in the Ottoman territories, would probably never have tolerated such an Armenian state. The maximum offer made by Tsarist Russia to the Armenians—and this is even shrouded in doubt—was one of vague autonomy. Tsarist Russia was a centralised state that did not do nation-building. It had no intention of establishing an independent Armenia on its land route to Constantinople. Tsarist Russia made an offer no better than the Ottoman offer to the Dashnaks in mid-1914. And we know from a reading of Dr. Pasdermadjian and others that the Russians were trusted by the Dashnaks as little as they trusted the Ottomans. As Pasdermadjian described the Tsar’s attitude: “We need Armenia, but without the Armenians” (Why Armenia Should be Free, p.29)

Secondly, there was British Imperialism’s occupation of the Caucasus and its geopolitical desire to establish an Armenian buffer between Moslem Anatolia and Russia – Lord Curzon’s “tampon state”.

Thirdly, there was the generosity of the Azerbaijanis, themselves, who decided to allow Erivan province to become the nucleus of an Armenian state, after the Dashnaks had made a Turkish Armenia impossible. Armenians had only been recent inhabitants of the Erivan area and had become a majority there with Tsarist colonisation in the previous century. However, the Armenians still found it necessary to ethnically cleanse the Moslem population of Erivan, which amounted to hundreds of thousands, between 1918 and 1920 to build a more homogeneous entity, that they felt comfortable in.

Another fact that should be mentioned in this context is that the Armenian Erivan Republic was originally established under Ottoman protection in June 1918, resulting in its first Prime Minister, Hovhannes Katchaznouni sending a delegation to Istanbul to thank the Sultan. Unfortunately, a month after the Mudros Armistice the Armenians broke the Batum Treaty, which they had signed along with Georgia and Azerbaijan, and occupied Oltu and Kars. 

The Armenian Dashnaks, after rejecting the generous pre-Great War offer made to them by the Ottomans at Erzurum, made themselves dependent on British and French Imperialism for gaining more than the Ottoman offer. They then relied on President Wilson to carry through the schemes that the Imperialists drew up on their maps. That, of course, was a stroke of good fortune and nothing at all to do with Dashnak calculations. U.S. influence would have been an unanticipated event in 1914, when the Ottoman offer was declined.

As subsequent events revealed, both Britain and Russia were unreliable allies for the Dashnaks. Despite the existence of a strong Armenian lobby in Liberal England there was an understanding in Britain that the Armenians were always a Russian instrument in the Caucasus rather than a potential British one, and the Armenians were, therefore, part of the Great Game enemy’s armoury.

George Dobson of The Times, for example, wrote in 1890:

“… as Russia has on her side the Armenian Catholicos and thus holds the keys of the Armenian Church, she is much more powerful among the Turkish Armenians, when she chooses, than we can ever hope to be. We listen to their complaints, but get nothing done for them, in spite of our protectorate over Asia Minor. The religious element has always been Russia’s strongest lever for either aggressive or defensive purposes. Without its help, the Caucasus would hardly have been conquered so soon and so completely as it was… it would probably have made all the difference in Russia’s subsequent operations. A strict attention to this matter gave Russia her first foothold in the country.” (George Dobson, Russia’s Railway Advance into Central Asia, pp.90-1)

Of course, the 1907 agreement between Britain and Russia changed that situation as the Armenians suddenly became more than the pets of the Nonconformist moralists in England and emerged as allies of an ally waging War on Britain’s enemies. However, the British War Office was still reluctant to independently arm Armenians who volunteered for service prior to the events of 1917 in Russia, when everything changed.

The Armenians turned out to be the sole ally of the British in the Caucasus during the Great War. While the Georgians and Azerbaijanis had remained loyal to the Tsar during the War (unlike the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire) both had, later in the conflict, gone over to the enemies of England, when the Russian state collapsed. The Georgians had looked to the Germans for protection whilst the Azerbaijanis had joined with the Turks for protection against the Armenian Dashnaks, and in struggling for their freedom.

The aggressive nature of Armenian nationalism and the ethnic cleansing activities of the Dashnaks had much to do with the necessity of seeking protection from bigger Powers in both cases. The Georgians – as Christians – were concerned about the Ottoman/Islam advance into the Caucasus in mid-1918 but they quickly found that the Armenians were a much greater threat to the integrity of their state and the Ottomans became their protectors, guaranteeing the existence of a Georgian state in the Batum Treaty of 1918.

So, Britain certainly owed the Armenians. They had gone into Insurrection in 1914, despite generous offers from the Ottomans, who had tried to keep them loyal to the state they were citizens of. They joined the Tsarist armies in large numbers, taking their place among the Russian invasion forces and aiding significantly in the defeat on Enver’s army in the Caucasus at Sarakamis, the capture of Van and in the disruption of the Ottoman forces behind the lines.

When the Tsarist armies began to melt away in late 1917 only the Armenians remained to man the Caucasian front for the Allies for 7 months. Britain armed and trained the Armenian forces during early 1918 to halt the Ottoman counter-attack into the Caucasus. An Armenian force stood with Major General Dunsterville, unsuccessfully, in the defence of Baku against the Ottomans and Azerbaijani national forces in September 1918.

And, of course, the Armenians suffered terrible casualties arising from the decision of the Dashnaks to aid the destruction of the Ottoman State. Along with that their activities made the continued existence of an Armenian community among the majority communities of Turks and Kurds very problematic indeed.

Part of the Moral War

For decades before the Great War a segment of Liberal England, which supported the Armenian cause, had publicised and hugely inflated any casualties the Armenian community had suffered in risings designed to provoke foreign intervention in Ottoman territory. They created hysteria in the Anglosphere about the “Terrible Turk” and their “Armenian massacres”. When the Great War came to the Ottoman Empire dire predictions of massacres were made and the Turks duly obliged when, invaded from all sides, they had to fight for their survival as a people by taking extraordinary measures against the Armenian community.

The propaganda produced by Arnold Toynbee, James Bryce, Wellington House under Charles Masterman and John Buchan, and a host of English literati, fed into the moral case for the Great War in Britain. As well as being told they were fighting against the “Barbarian Hun” in the West the British public were whipped up by tales of the Terrible Turk “ravishing” Christian Armenia (titilating the repressed sexuality of the English Puritan middle classes).

During the Great War the British stated on occasion that the Armenians would no longer have to tolerate Ottoman rule. Lloyd George famously promised them that “Britain is resolved to liberate the Armenians from the Turkish yoke” at the Guildhall in November 1916. However, these statements were always vague and had more the appearance of moral exhortations than formal declarations. The British were careful in their words, raising Armenian expectations and encouraging them to be a destabilising element in the Ottoman State which Britain now sought to dismantle, but promising them nothing concrete. Whilst making numerous offers and promises to various states and peoples, in secret or public, there were no formal promises made of a separate, independent Armenian state.

The Mudros Armistice, concluding the British War on the Ottoman Empire, had nothing to say on ‘Armenia’. The Eastern Committee of the British War Cabinet suggested “a national home for the scattered people of the Armenian race” akin to the promise made to the Zionists. But there was no equivalent of the Balfour Declaration.

The British Foreign Minister, apparently said to the head of the Armenian national delegation, Boghos Nubar, in October 1918, that the creation of an Armenian state was one of the goals of the Entente but Balfour himself, proved more in favour of the people of the Caucasus “cutting each other’s throats” than establishing states with help from the British Empire (see FO 371/3404/16745, 12.10.1918 and Akaby Nassibian, Britain and the Armenian Question, 1915-1923, p.141).

The Armenians were not mentioned in the official announcement of the countries participating in the Peace Conference. President Wilson explained to Boghos Nubar that Armenia had not been “welcomed into the family of nations” as yet and not to take offence (The newly constructed/invented “Czechoslovakia” was invited and joined the founders of the League of Nations in 1920).

An Armenian State?

The support for a Great Armenia after 1918 had nothing to do with the events of 1915. If the casualty levels suffered by the Armenian populace of the Ottoman territories that were reported in the West were accurate Magna Armenia was an impossibility. No “Armenia” had appeared in the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 when Tsarist Russia had taken part in negotiations with the British and French over the division of Great War spoils. (Akaby Nassibian, Britain and the Armenian Question, 1915-1923, p.127)

The only conclusion that can be reached is that Great Armenia was all about what happened in Russia in 1917.

Whilst there was support for a mandate being conferred over an undefined “Armenia” there was, from the time of the Armistices, extreme reluctance for Britain to take it up itself. Arnold Toynbee, one of the strongest propagandists of Armenian massacres, argued that on no account should England take up responsibility for them, in case Russia, whatever it might become, was offended. Eyre Crowe agreed for similar reasons. The British Foreign Office suggested that the French might be persuaded to take up a mandate for Armenia, in exchange for concessions to Britain in Syria, Palestine and Mesopotamia.  (CAB 27/36, EC 7.11.1918)

The Armenian issue was discussed by the Eastern Committee of the War Cabinet at a number of meetings in the aftermath of the Armistice. Lord Curzon, the Chairman, declared that Britain had had a special interest in the Armenians since the 1870s and desired a self-governing Armenia at some time in the future. He then outlined the reasons for setting up an Armenian state:

“… to provide a national home for the scattered peoples of the Armenian race. As long as they are diffused in helpless and hopeless minorities… any chance of settled life or autonomous existence cannot be said to exist. Secondly, we want to set up an Armenian State as a palisade… against the pan-Turanian ambitions of the Turks, which may overflow the Caucasian regions and carry great peril to the countries of the Middle East and East. Thirdly, we want to constitute something like an effective barrier against… any foreign Powers, impelled by ambition or by other motives to press forward in that direction.” (CAB 27/24, EC. 40, 2/12/1918)

So what Curzon had in mind in theory was a colonial project that would plant a large numbers of Armenians from different regions to produce something that would either construct a majority, or close to it, within a distinct territory, to make a viable Armenian state. This state would act as a buffer against the Ottoman Turks joining up with the Azerbaijani Turks and any other Turkic people to the East of the Caucasus, as well as Russia.

Whilst outlining this strategic objective, Lord Curzon stated at a Eastern Committee meeting that the Armenian state-building project was not straightforward for Britain:

“We want the establishment of an Armenian state as a barrier against the aspirations of Turkish Panturanism. However, there are two worries ahead related to the matter. Firstly, this is about the borders of the established Armenian state. Secondly, it is about a huge mandate-power that is crucial for the establishment of this state. We are not interested in the responsibility concerning the future of Armenia. In any case, we have lots of things to do.” (CAB 27/34, 2.12.1918)

Lord Curzon tended to oppose the Foreign Office preference for a large Armenian state of 6 Ottoman vilayets, plus Cicilia, plus Erivan (Magna Armenia) which he saw as an unviable project. And the British Foreign Office proposal, suggested in a Memorandum by Sir Eyre Crow, that Magna Armenia, once established, should be placed under a French Mandate, ran into immediate opposition in the War Cabinet and its adjuncts.

Sir Henry Wilson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, warned in a General Staff Memorandum that it would be “most undesirable” for such an important strategic region, that linked Southern Russia to the approaches to India, at Baku, should be handed over to Britain’s “historic world rival” – France. Chief among the fears was that France might join up with a revived Russia to threaten British interest in the geopolitical Heartland of the World.

The British General Staff also made their belief clear that if an Armenian entity came into existence Turkish Armenia must be separated from Caucasian Armenia. That was the main reason why Britain decided to jump in and solely occupy and control the Caucasus in November 1918 – to keep anyone else out. (CAB 27/36, EC 5/12/1918)

It was decided by the Eastern Committee of the War Cabinet, therefore, that France should be excluded from the area and suggested that in the absence of Britain, the United States should be invited to take up a Mandate, on Britain’s behalf. Because of issues regarding expenditure, only in the last resort should Britain take it up. (CAB 27/24, EC, 16/12/1918)

Lord Curzon wanted to include Erzurum in an Armenian state as its future capital. At San Remo, in April 1920, he explained the reasons for this which “were  essentially strategical rather than moral” (i.e. not about self-determination) and which he said had influenced the London Conference, whose decisions had informed the future Treaty of Sevres to be imposed on the region:

“He wished the Supreme Council to envisage the future possibilities in this connection. There might be a great pan-Moslem or pan-Turanian movement, and faced with this, the London Conference had felt that it was desirable… to place a wedge between the Moslems of Turkey and of the further East in the form of a Christian Community, which could be a new Armenian state… The London Conference had perceived the difficulties in the way of constituting a greater Armenia, but they felt that her case, historically, was analogous to that of the Zionists. The case for the Zionists was not based upon the numbers of this people actually inhabiting Palestine.” (DBFPC, VIII, No.11, p.108)

Curzon described Armenia as a “tampon state” in its strategic purpose for Britain.

The original Erivan Republic established under Ottoman protection in May 1918 had been 9,000 sq. kms. Britain expanded its de facto territory in November, before the final instalment of Greater Armenia, to 50,000 sq. kms, and including Kars, Ardahan, Sourmalou and Nakhchivan. Dashnak forces invaded Kars Province, an overwhelmingly Moslem area of 1.7 million people, in April 1919 with British support (After Mudros and the forced withdrawal of the Ottoman Army, small states had been established in the Caucasus for self-protection including Meshketia, the Araz-Turk Republic of Nakhchivan, the South-West Caucasus Democratic Republic and the Kars Democratic Republic.) 

The Statement of British Policy in the Middle East for Submission to the Peace Conference which emerged from all these deliberations, prepared for the British Delegation to the Peace Conference, however, decided upon the Magna Armenia option. This supported an Armenian state stretching from the Mediterranean Sea in the West up to the Black Sea in the North and right into the Caucasus, within 200 miles of the Caspian. The document stated that:

“the Armenians are at present the most progressive and prolific element in the population; there will be an immigration of Armenians from abroad and they are likely to play the leading part in the future.” (FO 608/83/7442, 18/2/1918)

It was realised that because the Armenians could not possibly constitute a majority in this gigantic ‘Armenia’ (they would have made up a very small minority) the Peace Conference could not leave the Armenians in control of “Armenia”. It would collapse in bloodshed. Control and “keeping the peace” should, therefore, be awarded as part of the Mandate to one of the Peace Conference members.

The effect of the British take over of Transcaucasia was to isolate the Armenians from their traditional sponsors and allies, the Russians. The Armenians were now wholly dependent on the British for their future. However, in early 1919, when the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir Henry Wilson, approached the government to ask for support in strengthening the Batum-Baku line the British occupation had created, he found that both Lloyd George and Balfour were in favour of clearing out of the Caucasus altogether. 

The Armenians at Paris

In February 1919 the British Delegation at Paris informed the Peace Conference that it was “in favour” of a great Armenian state comprising six Ottoman vilayets plus Cicilia and “Russian Armenia”. However, it had already been decided at that point that not only was Britain not prepared to use its power to establish this state it was proposing, it also intended to evacuate its military forces from the area, and attempt to pass on responsibility for Armenia to the U.S.

Since by then the Armenians had made enemies of all their neighbours – Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Persia and Bolshevik Russia – with extravagant territorial demands and armed agressions against them – this was like a mother abandoning her child to a stranger.

Firuz Kamemzadeh, the Iranian/Russian historian, says the following about the Armenian demands at Paris: 

“The Armenian leaders were drunk with victory and power. Their demands for an Armenia on three seas and for exorbitant indemnities were bound to antagonise those whom it was their purpose to win over. Among the Armenians only a few voices were heard protesting against the dangerous course adopted by the Dashnaktsutiun… (The two Armenian delegations…) held conferences and meetings at which hundreds of journalists, writers, singers, and ex-ministers, made long speeches in support of the Armenian cause. The Armenian delegates followed Wilson, Lloyd George, and Clemenceau, reminding them every minute of the “debt they owed Armenia”. Their importunity annoyed everyone, and they began to lose friends… The excessive demands and the tone in which they were made finally drove most people to dislike them.” (The Struggle for Transcaucasia, p.257)

The Armenians sent two delegations to the Peace Conference. One was led by Boghos Nubar, an emigre who had been working for the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire for many years. The other came from the Eriven Republic of Armenia. They began out-bidding each other with more and more extravagant demands on the Allied Powers.

The two delegations immediately began “auctioning” or outbidding each other in demands for territory.

Having already begun to wash their hands of “Armenia” the British and the other Imperialist powers now had the excuse to begin to abandon the Armenians as an impossible people with impossible demands.

At the Paris Conference the Armenians denied the existence of an Azerbaijani nation and deluged other delegations with anti-Moslem and anti-Georgian propaganda. Whilst the other Caucasian states went with an understanding that collaboration was necessary, the Armenians were totally orientated toward securing everything for themselves, at the expense of the other peoples of the region (Anar Isgenderli, Realities of Azerbaijan: 1917-1920, pp.189-192 and pp.206-7).

Britain, Armenia and the U.S.

Because Britain did not want the responsibility of the Armenian Mandate herself – or for France to take it – she decided to lure the United States into the region, to manage a great and unstable buffer state in the British interest. And so the Armenians were being led to believe that they would get something that just couldn’t even begin to exist.

After Armenia was recognised as a de facto state by the League of Nations Arthur Balfour wrote to his brother, Gerard:

“Great Britain has no interest whatever in Armenia except the interest of humanity which she shares to the full with the United States.” (Balfour Papers, MS 49749, ff. 186-91, 16.2.1920)

Armenia had been trumpeted as the great cause of “Humanity” and Sir Edward Grey, as Foreign Secretary, had accused the Ottomans of “Crimes Against Humanity” in killing Armenians. Why Armenian lives were seen to be of greater concern for “the interests of humanity” was never explained and it is rarely questioned. It was just taken for granted that the lives of Christian Armenians were worth more than the lives and existences of the general mass of non-Armenian humanity. And England and its Anglo-Saxon cousin (the Anglosphere) represented “the interests of humanity” being, of course, the highest form of “Humanity” that existed in the world.

Forgetting, for a moment, the racial hierarchy of the world that existed, what Balfour actually meant, when he said that Britain shared the Armenian burden in “the interests of humanity”, was that they wished to off-load the Armenian section of Humanity to the protection of the United States. Sharing was, in fact, giving.

When the issue of “Armenia” came up at the Paris Conference, Lloyd George was very happy when President Wilson stated that the U.S. would accept a mandate for “Armenia” upon the consent of the Senate. Britain was most pleased that America would take on such an unselfish and “noble mission” in “the interests of humanity”. 

A U.S. Mandate for Armenia would not only have served the cause of “Humanity” it would also have been very useful for British geopolitical purposes in the region. It would have created an American buffer against a Russian return to the region (or the Pan-Turanian fantasy). The Armenians had constituted the major Russian claim to intervention in the Eastern Provinces of the Ottoman Empire – which was the one saving grace for the Liberal Anglosphere in the despised Tsarist Autocracy. The English Liberals had a toleration of Russian expansionist autocracy if it involved dealing with the Moslem Turk on behalf of the Christian Armenian.

A U.S. Mandate, bolstering a substantial Armenia would also have immediate benefits in putting the Ottoman Turks down. It would seal the Turks up, to be dealt with by the Greeks on Britain’s behalf, cutting them off from the rest of Islam (and possibly the Bolsheviks in the eventuality of them winning the Civil War in Russia).

However, by the Summer of 1919 it was clear that despite President Wilson’s sympathy for the Armenians the American democracy was very reluctant to become entangled in foreign adventures on Britain’s behalf, as a form of scaffolding for the expanded, but creaking, British Empire. General Harbord was sent on a fact finding mission and he recommended to the Senate in April 1920, wisely, that the U.S. stay out of such an undertaking.

Others were also offered the Armenian problem. When the weakest link in the Imperialist chain, Italy, refused Britain’s poisoned chalice Lloyd George began peddling the “cause of humanity” all over Europe, offering the Armenians to everyone and anyone – Holland, Sweden, Romania, Canada, New Zealand and to the League of Nations itself. 

But there were no takers for Armenia – except of course, the Bolsheviks.

Whither Armenia?

The British estimated the Armenian Erivan Republic as having a population of around 1.3 million at the end of 1919 with around 300,000 non-Armenians. It saw little chance of Armenia ever functioning as a democracy, like Azerbaijan, with its democratic constitution and structures:

“The politics of the Erivan Republic are dominated by notorious Armenian secret society known as ‘Dashnaktsution’… Its present policy in the Caucasus is centred on 1. The acquisition of territory for the Erivan Republic. 2. The extension and equipment of the Armenian armed forces; and 3. The propagation the doctrine of the Tashnaks… It seems impossible that sound democratic government will be attained in the Erivan Republic until the activities of this society have been ended. The society by its methods of terrorism prevent the better and broader-minded elements of Armenian society from taking up official positions.” (FO S81, to Wardrof, representative in Tiflis, 24.12.1919)

As Lord Curzon had said, Britain had “lots of things to do” in the world and if it was ever serious about providing the Armenians with anything, it was now having serious doubts, with the knowledge of what a difficult task such a project would prove, about seeing an enhanced Armenian state through to fruition, given the existing character of the Erivan Republic. Or perhaps it was just looking for excuses for abandoning the Armenians and ridding itself of the problem it had brought about, to someone else. 

Straight after Curzon’s statement at San Remo likening Armenia to a second Israel the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, had made a short and deliberate interjection against his Foreign Secretary, which boded ill for the Armenians:

“Mr. Lloyd George thought that the Armenians had really no right to indulge in unjustifiable hopes.” (DBFPC, VIII, No.11, p.108)

Anyone who has studied the career of Lloyd George will know what he was signalling here.

The size and territory of an Armenian state was kept in the balance by Britain all through 1918-1920. It was actually only defined to any degree when it became impossible to establish. The effect, however, was to make collaboration impossible in the Caucasus between the Georgians, Azerbaijanis and Armenians, when the former two states were always likely to lose substantial parts of their territories to a new, territorially undisclosed Armenian state, defined by British Imperialism, or President Wilson, a man very sympathetic to Armenian claims.

Not only that. The Armenians were attempting to seize parts of Georgia between 1918 and 1919. They even claimed the Georgian capital, Tiflis. In December 1918, with the evacuation of the Ottoman army from the Caucasus, the Armenians advanced all the way to the Iori region in Georgia. This advance seriously threatened the very existence of Georgia since the Georgian capital would have been completely surrounded by newly-acquired Armenian territory. The Armenian army under General Dro advanced to the hinterland of Tiflis before the Georgians finally repelled the Armenian invasion and the British, concerned at the instability in their domain, stopped the fighting.

During 1918-20 the Dashnaks were responsible for substantial massacres and ethnic cleansing not only in Erivan province but in the Azerbaijani territories of Baku, Shamakhi, Quba, Nakhchivan, Zangezur, and Karabakh. Whenever there was an opportunity, as in the Russian collapse in 1917-18, the Ottoman evacuation at the end of 1918, or the British evacuation in mid-1919 there were attempts to expand Armenian territory into areas with predominantly Moslem populations.

Andranik – Armenian Hero, an Armenian account, is quite frank about the activities this involved after the Armistices of 1918:

“Andranik’s irregulars remained in Zangezur surrounded by Muslim villages that controlled the key routes connecting the different parts of Zangezur. According to David Bloxham, Andranik initiated the change of Zangezur into a solidly Armenian land by destroying Muslim villages and trying to homogenize key areas of the Armenian state. In late 1918 Azerbaijan accused Andranik of killing innocent Azerbaijani peasants in Zangezur and demanded that he withdraw Armenian units from the area. Antranig Chalabian wrote that, “without the presence of General Andranik and his Special Striking Division, what is now the Zangezur district of Armenia would be part of Azerbaijan today…” Andranik’s activities in Zangezur were protested by Ottoman General Halil Pasha, who threatened the Dashnak government with retaliation for Andranik’s actions. Armenia’s Prime Minister Hovhannes said he had no control over Andranik and his forces.”  

When the decision was taken by the British Cabinet to withdraw its military forces there was little interest in England about what might happen to the Georgians, Azerbaijanis or Mountaineers (Daghestanis). The voices of concern in England all said one thing: “Will the Armenians be massacred”?

It is unclear why it was thought the Armenians might be massacred by those who lived around them. In fact, there are two possible reasons that may have existed in the minds of those who warned about such an eventuality. Firstly, the one which was based on the propagandist understanding of the situation – that Turks, Kurds and Tatars (Moslems) always had a tendency to do such things when the Christian Armenians were left unprotected by the great Western Christian Powers.

Of course, the British ruling class was too worldly-wise to really believe such a thing.

Lord Esher was the most influential member of it during the Great War, without formal position. He had turned down most of the great offices of State to preserve an independence of mind useful to High Politics and Imperial Statecraft. After the publication of the Bryce Report on the “Armenian massacres” he wrote to General Macdonogh explaining why propaganda should always be kept separate from factual information by a state that wished to base its policy on what actually happened and existed in the world. When one took to believing one’s own propaganda, which was essentially “a system of falsehood” one was corrupted by lies that began to be believed and policy became dysfunctional:

“The more I hear and see of propaganda, the more chaotic it appears. I quite agree that if you could begin afresh it could be united under one supreme head in London. This is now impossible owing to the position occupied by Mr. Masterman.

“The cardinal principle that underlies the whole subject is the clear separation of propaganda and intelligence. The one is mainly a system of falsehood, while the other aims at the exact truth. It is corrupting for the furnishers of truth that they should be engaged in manufacturing lies. Both Napoleon and Bismarck understood this division of labour. They each of them had a cabinet for the Collection of Information, and another Cabinet for the Promulgation of Falsehood. Roughly, the one is eminently the function of soldiers, while the second can be left to the Foreign Office.” (Journals and Letters of Reginald Viscount Esher, Vol IV, 1915-1930, p. 58, 17.10.1916)

It is noticeable that whilst propagandists in London were infatuated with the Armenians, British soldiers and administrators on the ground in the Caucasus, who experienced the realities of the situation, had a much lower opinion of them and developed a much greater respect for the honest and straightforward “Tartars”.

For instance the British correspondent, Robert Scotland Liddell, who saw extensive service on the Russian front during the Great War and wrote three books about his experiences there wrote in The Morning Star during September 1919:

“Armenians are known as the best propagandists in the world. Their propaganda does not date back to recent years; on the contrary, it has been carried out systematically for years. You cannot find a person who can put a good word in for Armenians both in Russia and in the Caucasus. Russians, Tatars, and Georgians doubt and hate them. I cannot say whether it is right or wrong; but the fact is that Armenians deserve hatred. However, they are progagandized abroad in such a way that Europe and the whole world sides with them. Indeed, they have suffered a lot, however, thousands of Muslim men, women, and children have been oppressed by them. Armenians have, certainly, been subjected to ferocity, however, they themselves committed the same or even more enormous atrocities in the Muslim villages which Turks have never perpetrated against them. Armenians have committed violence against Tatars and they were hurt by them in due course. Tatars stood against Armenians in this respect. Generally speaking, Tatars are superior to Armenians in many respects and, indeed, more courageous than them.” (cited in Musa Gasimli, From the ‘Armenian Issue’ to the ‘Armenian Genocide’: In search of Historical Truth, pp.453-4)

The old phrase “The Turk is a gentleman” began to be uttered again in England, after it had been discarded during the War, in the interests of propaganda.

One of the main reasons for the dire warnings of “Armenian massacres” in 1919 was the cynical attempt to get the United States, which was known to have a strong and influential Protestant Missionary lobby constantly running pro-Armenian propaganda, to put pressure on Congress to secure Britain’s objective of an American mandate. 

The other reason why the Armenians might be massacred – which could not be said publicly but which accorded much more closely with the truth – was that they, in search of Magna Armenia, had done much massacring and ethnic cleansing, themselves, against all the other peoples in the Caucasus (Georgians, Kurds, Turks, Azerbaijanis, Jews etc.). They were in a small minority in the area and although the most militarised people in the region, without the support of an Imperial Power there was a strong chance of them driving themselves toward destruction when confronted by the demographic substance around them that they had antagonised greatly.

After the British Withdrawal

The withdrawal of Allied forces from the Caucasus in August 1919 led immediately to further acts of Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan. The lands claimed by the Armenians included not only Turkish territory to the West, and areas  with largely Moslem populations, but also Azerbaijani land, with long-standing settlement as well as the pasture/grazing lands of nomadic Tatars. Nakhichevan and the mountains and valleys of Karabakh soon became the object of Armenian attention, concentrated military activity and resistance to the Dashnaks. And some British forces collaborated in such activity: British General Devy attempted to assist the Armenians in conquering Kars and Nakhchivan from the local populace but his superior in Baku, General Thomson opposed such an inflammatory policy.

There is an eye-witness account from the autobiography of an American Navy Lieutenant, Robert Steed Dunn (who acted as US High Commissioner Admiral Mark Bristol’s eyes and ears in the Caucasus) of the type of activity the Dashnaks were engaged in. The information must have led to Admiral Bristol forming his negative opinion about American intervention and the U.S. having serious doubts about what the Armenian cause actually represented, along with the decision not to have anything further to do with them. 

Sometime in mid-1920 Lieutenant Dunn got the chance to observe at first hand one of General Dro’s military activities in the Nakhchivan/Karabakh regions. It should be noted that Lieutenant Dunn was scrupulously objective between the different peoples and rival territorial claims in the Caucasus and actually admired Dro’s military prowess. The Dunn account below is well worth reproducing to reveal what Greater Armenia was all about:

 “Dro was national patriot, army chief, legendary guerrilla, Assassin of Russia’s viceroy in that cockeyed 1905 revolution, by ’15 he was kissed and decorated by Grand Duke Nicholas for taking Erzurum. Today on the world-end uplands of southeast Transcaucasia, he kept Lenin’s boys out of Persia. My sixth sense said go with Dro…

At morning tea, Dro and his officers spread out a map of this whole high region called the Karabakh. Deep in tactics, they spoke Russian, but I got their contempt for Allied “neutral” zones and their distrust of promises made by tribal chiefs. A campaign shaped; note raids on Moslem villages… “Dro’s force, mainly cavalry, moves in units of about sixty.” my report to the admiral would read. Angelaoot was on a main Baku-Nakhichevan road, by which the Bolsheviks aimed their sweep into Iran. For the moment this had stalled because many Tartars still resisted. Also Nouri Pasha, brother-in-law of Turkey’s Enver, waited to see how fast Marxism would convert.

…”When we secure the frontiers,” said Dro with a a wink, “I shall make them serve in the Armenian army.” It was a lie, they said, that Trotsky had ordered Azerbaidzhan tostop attacking Armenia. Two days ago twelve of his agents had been seized near here. Lately they’d stolen cows at Kushi. Now the reprisal would be a Tartar village called Djul.

Soon we reached a town, Zangebazar of the telephone calls, larger and livelier than Angelaoot. In the main street men stacked rifles, handled machine guns… Here Armenian and Tartar had long borne with one another, but a hero had to act in character, make a demagogic appeal to race and nation like ours to “democracy.”

“My troops have freed forty-five infidel villages in Zangezour,” he said loudly, in the Russian I caught. Next he launched into Bolshevism as a “heathen curse,” while rapt faces looked into space.

“Dro, you’re up against it, bucking Red propaganda.” I told him afterwards. “They’re fanatics too.”

“Well, then, so I must be,” he said with a shrug and a grin that simplified things, Dro, yawning, dictated orders—a subaltern in the saddle all night must rope his guns up cliffs to new positions. The town called Djul was on every tongue.

“It will he three hours to take,” Dro told me. We’d close in on three sides.”

“The men on foot will not shoot, but use only the bayonets,”

Merrimanov said, jabbing a rifle in dumbshow.

‘“That is for morale,” Dro put in, “We must keep the Moslems in terror that our cruelty beats theirs.” 

“Soldiers or civilians?” I asked.

“There is no difference,” said Dro.”All are armed, in uniform or not.”

“But the women and children?”

“Will fly with the others as best they may.”

Off in the dark Dro’s voice was raised in a final harangue to the ranks — no playing up Christ now, or even patriotism, but primordial greed. He was mixing Armenian and Russian in sheer outlaw talk. The word plunder, gradesh, kept coming. “Tomorrow the road will be open —” Back of church, home, and nation, I grasped, man had exact, hard urges, more freshly. Dro was playing on these, as here an eye glittered, there lips were licked… 

The ridges circled a wide expanse, its floors still hidden. Hundreds of feet down, the fog held, solid as cotton flock. “Djul lies under that,” said Dro, pointing. “Our men also attack Muslims from the other sides.”

Then, ‘Whee-ee!’ — his whistle lined up all at the rock edge. Bayonets clicked upon carbines. Over plunged Archo, his black haunches rippling; then followed the staff, the horde — nose to tail, bellies taking the spur. Armenia in action seemed more like a pageant than war, even though I heard our Utica brass roar.

As I watched from the height, it took ages for Djul to show clear. A tsing of machine-gun fire took over from the thumping batteries; cattle lowed, dogs barked, invisible, while I ate a hunk of cheese and drank from a snow puddle. Mist at last folded upward as men shouted, at first heard faintly. Then came a shrill wailing.

Now among the cloud-streaks rose darker wisps — smoke. Red glimmered about house walls of stone or wattle, into dry weeds on roofs. A mosque stood in a clump of trees, thick and green. Through crooked alleys on fire, horsemen were galloping after figures both mounted and on foot.

“Tartarski!” shouted the Armenian gunner by me. Others pantomimed them in escape over the rocks, while one twisted a bronze shell-nose, loaded, and yanked breech-cord, firing again and again. Shots wasted, I thought, when by afternoon I looked in vain for fallen branch or body. But these shots and the white bursts of shrapnel in the gullies drowned the women’s cries.

At length all shooting petered out. I got on my horse and rode down toward Djul. It burned still but little flame showed now. The way was steep and tough, through dense scrub. Finally on flatter ground I came out suddenly, through alders, on smoldering houses. Across trampled wheat my brothers-in-arms were leading off animals, several calves and a lamb. 

Corpses came next, the first a pretty child with straight black hair, large eyes. She looked about twelve years old. She lay in some stubble where meal lay scattered from the sack she’d been toting. The bayonet had gone through her back, I judged, for blood around was scant. Between the breasts one clot, too small for a bullet wound, crusted her homespun dress.

The next was a boy of ten or less, in rawhide jacket and knee-pants. He lay face down in the path by several huts. One arm reached out to the pewter bowl he’d carried, now upset upon its dough. Steel had jabbed just below his neck, into the spine.

There were grownups, too, I saw as I led the sorrel around. Djul was empty of the living till I looked up to see beside me Dro’s German-speaking colonel. He said all Muslims who had not escaped were dead.  

“The most are inside houses. Come you and look.”

“No, dammit! My stomach isn’t—”

“One is a Turkish officer in uniform. Him you must see.”

 We were under those trees by the mosque, in an open space.

Lint and wool flakes blew about, over the reddish cobbles; they came from bedding slashed to bits for hoarded coins or women’s gewgaws, and had a smell of sweat and char.

“I don’t believe you,” I said, but followed to a nail-studded door. The man pushed it ajar, then spurred away, leaving me to check on the corpse. I thought I should, this charge was so constant, so gritted my teeth and went inside.

The place was cool but reeked of sodden ashes, and was darkat first, for its stone walls had only window slits. Rags strewed the mud floor around an iron tripod over embers that vented their smoke through roof beams black with soot. All looked bare and empty, but in an inner room flies buzzed. As the door swung shut behind me I saw they came from a man’s body lying face up, naked but for its grimy turban. He was about fifty years old by what was left of his face — a rifle butt had bashed an eye. The one left slanted, as with Tartars rather than with Turks. Any uniform once on him was gone, so I’d no proof which he was, and quickly went out, gagging at the mess of his slashed genitals. 

I spread my blanket in a lane between wheatfields. Nearby lay a young lieutenant wearing czarist chevrons, his round Russian face cheerful but unsmiling…

 “How many people lived there?”

“Oh, about eight hundred.” He yawned.

“Did you see any Turk officers?”

“No, sir. I was in at dawn. All were Tartar civilians in mufti.”

The lieutenant dozed off, then I, but in the small hours a voice woke me — Dro’s. He stood in the starlight bawling out an officer. Anyone keelhauled so long and furiously I’d never heard. Then abruptly Dro broke into laughter, quick and simple as a child’s. Both were a cover for his sense of guilt, I thought, or hoped. For somehow, despite my boast of irreligion, Christians massacring “infidels” was more horrible than the reverse would have been.

From daybreak on, Armenian villagers poured in from miles around. Men drove off cattle and sheep, some limping from the crossfire. The women plundered happily, chattering like ravens as they picked over the carcass of Djul. They hauled out every hovel’s chattels, the last scrap of food or cloth, and staggered away, packing pots, saddlebags, looms, even spinning-wheels.

“Thank you for a lot, Dro,” I said to him back in camp. “But now I must leave.”…

We shook hands, the captain said “À bientôt, mon camarade.” And for hours the old Molokan scout and I plodded north across parching plains. Like Lot’s wife I looked back once to see smoke bathing all, doubtless in a sack of other Moslem villages up to the line of snow that was Iran.” (Robert Dunn, World Alive, pp. 140-150)

When the British began to withdraw from the Caucasus the massacres and ethnic cleansing that took place were not done to the Armenians but carried out within the Armenian Erivan Republic against its remaining Moslem population. 300 Moslem villages in the Erivan, Echmiadzin, Surmali and Novobayazet districts were destroyed, tens of thousands killed and 150,000 driven out. Later in the year 62 villages were devastated by Dashnak units with large numbers dying of starvation and for want of shelter in the countryside. During January and March 1920 there were further ethnic cleansing operations conducted by Dashnak forces against Moslem villages which resulted in many deaths. (Musa Gasimli, From the ‘Armenian Issue’ to the ‘Armenian Genocide’: In search of Historical Truth, pp.465-8)

In the course of 30 months of rule the Dashnsksutyun reduced the non-Armenian population of their state by at least two-thirds and even the Armenian section by a third. (A.A. Lalaian, The Counter-Revolutionary Role of the Dashnagzoutiun Party, pp.96-7)

The Armenian writer, Anastas Mikoyan, described this behaviour as “rampant Blackhundred Dashnak chauvinism” saying

“As a result of this policy the entire Muslim population of Armenia was removed from power, terrorised by bandit gangs who were ready to reduce the foreign ethnic element in Armenia out of their love for blood and for patriotic reasons, and wipe out as many of them as possible.” (see Ilgar Niftaliyev, Genocide and Deportation of the Azerbaijanis of Erivan Province, 1918-1920, IRS, No.65, 2013) 

The first Prime Minister of the Erivan Republic, Hovhannes Katchaznouni, looking back from orderly Sovietized Armenia, admitted similarly that the Dashnaks had in their constant drive to create a homogenised nation actually destroyed their own lands rather than see an “alien” element live upon it:

“We governed our country for two and a half years… We had wars with Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey… We had continual internal fights – Agapapa, Zod, Zanki-Bazar, Vedi-Bazar, the valleys of Milli, Sharour, Nakhichchevan, Zangezour… We had kept the entire country under arms, in constant fighting, we had kept all working hands on the battlefields all the time when there was the greatest demand for construction work. The Bolsheviks have freed the people from that calamity, from that heavy burden. We destroyed bread-producing lands like Sharour and Verdi, cattle lands like Agagapapa, wantonly and without benefit to us.” (Dashnagtzoutiun Has Nothing to do anymore – Report Submitted to the 1923 Conference, pp.89-90)   

During November and December of 1919 attempts were made by the Azerbaijani Government to resolve territorial disputes with the Armenians in conferences in Tiflis and Baku so that mutual co-operation could take place in the defence of the Caucasus.

The problem was that the Armenians would never agree to settle outstanding territorial issues when they were of the belief that they would get a better deal from the British. 

And at the same time as the Armenian government was negotiating with the Azerbaijanis it sent a Military Mission, headed by General Andranik, to New York, to acquire arms for use “against the Turks and Kurds and Tatars, the enemies of Christianity” (General Andranik’s Appeal to the Government of the United States in Antranig Chalabian, Dro, pp. 152-4) 

Defence Disabled

The expansionary nationalism of Armenia, therefore, disabled any prospect of a common defence of the Caucasus and meant that the Bolsheviks could pick off Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia, one by one. Dashnak activity in Zangezur and Karabakh in early 1920 tied down the Azerbaijan army, away from the frontier with Daghestan, from where the Red Army was mustering in force.

The Armenia issue was discussed at the London Conference, held during February-April 1920. Its decisions formed the basis of The Treaty of Sevres of 1920, which Britain attempted to impose on the Turks using Greek and Armenian proxies, incorporating “Wilsonian Armenia” in its terms. The idealistic President Wilson was in favour of taking a Mandate for Armenia, getting his map makers to draw up a great Armenia on a map. Lloyd George made every effort to disown responsibility for any promises that might have been made to them or future disaster that would befall them.

At the end of April 1920, after San Remo, when the Armenian issue was again discussed, Lloyd George told Parliament,

“He knew that some of the Armenian… aspirations had been of a rather colossal character, beyond anything that could be realized under present conditions. They involved… an Armenian Kingdom from sea to sea, from the Mediterranean up to the Black Sea, over a gigantic tract of country where the Armenian population was, unfortunately, but a small percentage. That would be an impossible achievement. To obtain it would be simply to provoke further disaster. Armenians could only maintain that position by means of the help of a great country like the United States. With regard to the boundaries of Armenia they had left these to the arbitration of President Wilson” (The Times 28.4.1920)

Lloyd George had allowed the British delegation in Paristo support this “Greater Armenia” that “would be an impossible achievement” and which, he knew, would “provoke further disaster” for the Armenians and others. But that was fine because Britain had now succeeded in washing its hands of the problem and passed it over to President Wilson to arbitrate on to his heart’s content.

The British relationship with the Armenians had a large part to play in the fall of the Caucasus to the Bolsheviks and its occupation for 70 years by the Soviet Union. This was because for the Caucasus to be defended there had to be two essential conditions.

The first condition was the unity of the Transcaucasian Republics, and this was impossible due to the insatiable desire of the Armenians to take territory off both Azerbaijan and Georgia to create an ever larger Armenian state. As Lord Curzon at San Remo, discussing the defence of the Caucasus, on 20 April 1920 said:

“The Armenians had forces which might be estimated at 20,000 to 30,000 men. These were unfortunately being employed in fighting neighbouring states. Efforts were being made to put a stop to this…” (DBFPC, Doc.6, p.46)

It was the presence of an Armenian state in the Caucasus that poisoned relations in the region (and continue to poison relations even today with the illegal seizure of nearly 20 per cent of Azerbaijan in the early 1990s at the fall of the Soviet Union).

The second essential condition for the defence of the Caucasus was a speedy British/Ottoman Peace settlement. This, of course, was made much more difficult by the British relationship with the Armenians.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.