22.10.18

3670) Battle For The Caucasus: Britain Versus Russia, 1918-20 Part I-II-III-IV-V-VI-VII-VIII



Battle For The Caucasus: Britain Versus Russia, 1918-20
By Dr Pat Walsh
Oct-Dec 2018

At the end of 1918, as a result of its Great War victory, Britain had control of a vast area stretching eastward from Istanbul into Anatolia, the Caucasus and Transcaspia. Behind this area a great belt of land running east from Palestine, through Mesopotamia and into Persia lay in England’s hands, to do what it wished with. In front of this Britain was supplying and supporting various military forces that were disintegrating the Russian State through Civil War. The Great War of 1914 had not only succeeded in destroying Germany, and the Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires but it had also seemingly won Britain the Great Game of a century of geopolitical rivalry with Russia.

But in less than two years . .
Russia was back in the Caucasus and Transcaspia and was pressing down on British Persia. And Russia was no longer Tsarist but Bolshevik Russia.

This extraordinary turn of events does not figure in the history books of the Anglosphere. So it deserves some attention and explanation.

Russia in the Caucasus

Transcaucasia (modern day Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Dagestan) had been part of the Russian Empire for only a century before the Great War of 1914. Prior to that catastrophic event the region south of the Caucasus mountains, between the Black and Caspian Seas, had been under Ottoman and Persian influence for centuries and had been the preserve of a number of local rulers.

However, by the time of the Great War the Southern Caucasus and Transcaspia were firmly in Russian hands. The Tsarist State had expanded across the Caucasus mountains in the early 19th Century, driving back Turkish and Persian influence and absorbing the territories of local Khans. By a Proclamation in 1783, Catherine the Great had placed much of Georgia under Russian suzerainty. After losing the war of 1827-1828 with Russia, Persia surrendered all territories to the north of Aras river. In 1813 the rest of Georgia, along with about half of Azerbaijan, was taken by the Tsar in the Treaty of Gulistan (leaving most Azerbaijanis to this day in modern Iran). Although it took until 1864 to pacify the area, in less than half a century Russia had become master of Transcaucasia.

The Russian State moved across the Khirghiz steppe in the 1840s and had conquered the Khanates of Bokhara, Kokand and Khiva by the 1870s. This made the entire Caucasus and Transcaspian regions a Russian domain by the 1880s with Tsarist forces appearing in Merv, within reach of Afghanistan, to the north east of the British Indian Empire.

However, Russian attempts at colonisation of the Caucasus failed and colonists returned to Russia. Russia had to settle for using the Christian Armenians as a colonial element in some areas but the Armenians only really had their religion and the fear of being engulfed by the Moslem majority to bind them to the Russians. The Russian attitude to the Armenians was to direct any nationalism they developed westward toward Ottoman Armenia and use them as instruments in any expansionary policy of the Tsarist state in that direction.

Economic development and integration into the Russian Empire, which began after the Tsarist conquest had a considerable impact on the development of the Southern Caucasus. The construction of Russian railroads from Poti via Tiflis to Baku was particularly significant and the area was connected to the main Russian railway system when the line from Rostov to Baku was opened in 1900. These developments brought Northern Persia into the Russian sphere by the latter part of the 19th Century, something that concerned Britain greatly.

The first oil wells were drilled at Baku in 1869. The city became the richest single oilfield in the world and was invaluable to the Russian economy. At the time of the Great War 8 million tons of oil were produced in Baku, with most consumed in Russia itself. Only a small amount was pumped through a pipeline to Batum and exported.

In 1923 Clare Price wrote this informative description of the Southern Caucasus. It sets the scene for the geopolitical struggle that took place between Britain and Russia between 1918 and 1920 over influence in Transcaucasia.

“East of the Black Sea… the British writ did not run. Here between the Black Sea and the Caspian is the ancient barrier of the Caucasus Range, below which the Trans-Caucasian plateau forms a bridge both to the back of the Ottoman Empire and to Persia. Below the blue peaks of the Caucasus Range lay Tiflis, the capital of the Georgian Kingdom midway between the Black Sea and the Caspian, with the Turkish village of Batum on the Black Sea shores and the Tartar village of Baku on the Caspian. Turks and Tartars were both Moslem, but the old Georgian Kingdom was Orthodox and, extending in a broad belt down through the Ottoman provinces in eastern Asia Minor were most of the Armenians.

Expanding Russia was not long in bursting the barrier of the Caucasus Range. More than a century ago, it swallowed the Georgian Kingdom, snuffed out the eight little Tartar chieftains around Baku and found itself in contact with the Armenian Catholicos and the eastern fringes of the Ermeni community in the Ottoman Empire. In further accord with its policy of undermining that Empire, it availed itself of the presence of the Armenians in the usual imperialist manner and, in its war of 1876 against the Sultan, it drove its way deeply into his eastern provinces, transferring the Armenians from Ottoman to Russian sovereignty as it went.

Its objective was the great bay of Alexandretta on the Mediterranean which was to free it of its Black Sea jail, a scheme which Great Britain recognized by secretly taking over the “administration” of Cyprus from the Sultan. The treaty of San Stefano stopped the Russian advance hundreds of miles short of Alexandretta and in front of the new Ottoman frontier, Russia developed Kars into a great fortress as a base for its further advance toward Alexandretta when opportunity offered.

Having seized Batum from the Sultan, Russia continued the consolidation of Trans-Caucasia under its own provincial governors and stamped the entire region with the unmistakable imprint of a Russian economic regime. It pierced the barrier of the Caucasus Range with a military highroad to Tiflis, which it prolonged as a railroad to Kars and the Armenian center of Erivan. It drove its railways past the east end of the Caucasus Range to make a Russian railhead and a Russian Caspian port of Baku, around which lay one of the greatest oil fields in the world. It developed the village of Batum into a fortified Russian port on the Black Sea and with its Trans-Caucasian railroads from Batum via Tiflis to Baku, it made Batum the gate to the Caspian for all the Western world. Long before, it had driven the Persians from the Caspian, making a Russian lake of that inland sea, and Russian steamship lines from Baku to Enzeli, the port of Teheran, now made Batum the world’s gate to the Persian capital.

From the Trans-Caucasian bridge, the Russian march toward the sea forked into two directions. The direction in which the Russian Armies of 1876 turned, was toward Alexandretta on the Mediterranean. The other direction was indicated later when a railroad was carried from Kars to the Persian frontier, whence it was to be continued when requisite to Tabriz and Teheran. This might have exposed the Persian Gulf to Russia, but the Government of India had already made the Gulf more British than the Mediterranean. The Gulf had become a land-locked British lake whose narrow door-way into the Indian Ocean was dominated by the potential British naval base of Bunder Abbas. If Russia had succeeded in reaching the Gulf through Persia, a Russian port on its shores would have been imprisoned by Bunder Abbas, as the Russian Black Sea ports were already imprisoned by Constantinople and the Russian Baltic ports by the Sound. For the time being, the Russian Trans-Caucasian railhead on the north-west frontier of Persia awaited events.” (The Rebirth of Turkey, pp.40-2)

The Great Game

The Southern Caucasus region was too far inland to be part of the Great Game between Russia and Britain – the great geopolitical struggle of the 19th Century. This was because Transcaucasia was beyond the reach of Britain’s primary weapon of war, the Royal Navy, and therefore beyond contest with the Tsar’s armies. For more than a century the Russians had sought a warm water port for access to the oceans and Britain had checked her everywhere.

Britain had acted as an ally of the Ottoman Empire for most of the century before the Great War in order to block the Tsar from the Mediterranean. During this period Britain was determined to preserve the Ottoman State as a giant buffer zone between its Empire and the expanding Russian Empire. It was part of what was known as the Great Game in England that “the Russians should not have Constantinople” and the warm water port that this would have given them. It was for this reason that England fought the Crimean War. Later on in the century the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli rolled back the Treaty of San Stefano that the Tsar had imposed on the Sultan and saw to it that renegotiations produced the much less advantageous Treaty of Berlin. This helped preserve the Ottoman Empire against another attempted Russian expansionism in the region.

Russia’s increasing influence in Northern Persia prompted Britain to put an obstacle in front of the Tsar by establishing a presence in South East Persia, protecting the Persian Gulf from Russian encroachment. It was a vital concern of Britain’s Indian Empire that the Tsar was blocked from getting port facilities there. Persia was part of what Lord Curzon, when Viceroy of India, referred to as “the glacis of India” in the course of an important speech to the Legislative Council in Calcutta made on 30 March 1904:

“India is like a fortress, with the vast moat of the sea on two of her faces, and with mountains for her walls on the remainder; but beyond those walls, which are sometimes of by no means insuperable height, and admit of being easily penetrated, extends a glacis of varying breadth and dimension. We do not want to occupy it, but we also cannot afford to see it occupied by our foes. We are quite content to let it remain in the hands of our allies and friends; but if rival and unfriendly influences creep up to it and lodge themselves right under our walls, we are compelled to intervene, because a danger would thereby grow up that might one day menace our security. This is the secret of the whole position in Arabia, Persia, Afghanistan, Tibet, and as far eastwards as Siam. He would be a short-sighted commander who merely manned his ramparts in India and did not look out beyond; and the whole of our policy during the past five years has been directed towards maintaining our influence, and to preventing the expansion of hostile agencies on this area which I have described.” (Earl of Ronaldshay, on the Outskirts of Empire in Asia)

A glacis is the killing ground on the approaches to a Medieval fortress.

During the 19th century Britain’s traditional enemy in Europe had been France and her traditional rival in Asia had been Russia. However, in the early years of the 20th century England gradually came to the conclusion that Germany was the coming power to be opposed. Therefore, in the interests of the Balance of Power policy which Britain had practiced for centuries to keep Europe at bay it was decided to overturn the Foreign policy of a century and to establish alliances with traditional enemies, France and Russia, so that Germany could be encircled and then destroyed as a commercial rival. The alliance that Britain entered into with Russia in 1907, therefore, was the single most important event that made a British war on the Ottoman Empire inevitable as a consequence of the War on Germany.

Britain was an island nation and it was primarily a sea power. It did not have a large army and it had been opposed to military conscription. Therefore, it would have been impossible for Britain to have defeated Germany by itself, particularly since its major weapon, the Naval Blockade, required a siege to be constructed and a cutting off of resources to the east of Germany.

In 1907 England made an agreement with Russia over Persia, partitioning the country into 3 zones of influence, with the Tsar taking the Northern part, the British controlling the South East and an intermediate “neutral” zone in between. This was part of the Anglo-Russian Convention which settled affairs with the Tsar, suspended the Great Game of Imperial rivalry, and set the two Powers on course for War on Germany and by implication, the Ottoman Empire.

George Curzon, who had been Viceroy of the Indian Empire, felt that Sir Edward Grey had been too generous in this concession to the Russians. He felt that the neutral zone might permit the Russians from reaching the Gulf in South West Persia. However, the Liberal Imperialists, who were re-orientating British Foreign Policy in preparation for a Great War on Germany – and by implication on the Ottomans because of the Tsar’s ultimate objective of Constantinople – felt the concession was necessary to gain the Tsar’s “Russian Steamroller” – the vital military force that could bear down on Berlin from the East and encircle the Germans, making a British Sea Blockade effective.

Russia’s Fateful Decision

Tsarist Russia was ready for war in 1914. It was a long-standing expansionary state with further ambitions of expansion – particularly down to the Dardanelles. It immediately went on the offensive on all fronts – Austro-German and then Ottoman. The Russian Steamroller steamed ahead until it was stopped and then it began roll back, with devastating consequences to those behind it.

After Britain had made the European war of July 1914 into a World War by joining it and expanded its conflict zone to global proportions it supported the Tsarist War effort with nearly 600 million pounds in loans. As in previous wars fought on the European continent, in pursuit of the Balance of Power, British finance was an important element in sustaining conflict to the required attritional level that the enemy could be ground down.

The Armenians were the only people of the Caucasus who engaged in quasi-independent military action during the Great War – simultaneously supporting the Tsarist War effort and also engaging in insurrection against the Ottomans for their own purposes. The Georgians served in the Tsarist armies on the same basis as other Russian subjects. The Azerbaijanis were largely excluded from military service by the Tsar and remained the most unmilitarised element in the region. They were not disloyal to the Tsar as the Ottoman Armenians were to the Sultan but they remained largely apathetic to the war, getting on with their lives as best they could.

The Great War did not intrude into the Caucasus until the collapse of the Russian lines brought it there in early 1918.

However, in the course of Britain’s Great War on Germany its ally Tsarist Russia, and not Germany or the Ottoman Empire, began to collapse in the attritional War. Germany and Turkey proved much more resilient than anticipated and Russia was not industrialised enough for the production of war materials that a long war of attrition entailed.

The enormous British loans were paid back by the Tsarist regime with a enormous shedding of blood by the Russian masses until the amount of this blood, particularly expended in the offensives of 1916, resulted in a collapse of Russian morale.

It was the Tsar’s decision to ally with Britain and continue fighting the Great War to a conclusion, under pressure from Britain, that put paid to Imperial Russia.

Tsarist Russia was not the declining decrepit state that it is often portrayed as, after 1917. It was seen as the advance guard of Western Civilisation in Asia and its “civilising mission” was admired as much as the consequences were feared in England. In the decades prior to the decision to go to War, the Russian economy was in very good shape and the fastest growing in the world. New railways were being laid at a tremendous rate. Between 1900 and the War, iron and coal production more than doubled and Russian grain fed much of the European continent. It had a vigorous intellectual life which produced Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. There was a great flowering of cultural life in the last decades of the Romanovs.

But the great gamble of acting as England’s cannon fodder to secure Constantinople in the Great War ended in disaster for Russia.

By early 1917 it was clear to Britain that the Tsarist State had begun to exhaust itself as an instrument of War on Germany. The Tsar propelled the Russian nation to War from the time he made an alliance with Britain in 1907. The Russian Army lost confidence in the Tsar’s direction of the War and turned to the Duma to construct a new social order from which the War could be continued. Prince Lyvov became Prime Minister, but soon handed over the reins of power to Kerensky.

The February Revolution was welcomed in Britain as a means by which Russia might continue the Great War. And there was indeed a brief surge in the Russian War effort as a result of the Revolution.

But it proved to be a dead cat bounce when Kerensky failed to exert authority over the War-fighting state. This let in the Bolsheviks, who had the will to power to construct a new social order and govern the Russian State.

The Provisional Government owed its existence to the Russian military elite, which was committed to the War, and was being funded by Britain to continue it. The War should have been called off at that point but how could the Provisional Government go against the Army to which it was beholden?

The continuation of the War and the failure of the Provisional Government to stabilise the state resulted in anarchy. Out of the anarchy came the Bolsheviks, a purposeful party which enacted a coup d’erat in order to curb the anarchy and save the state..

The important factor in the Caucasus was the half million strong Tsarist army occupying territory deep within the Ottoman state. The Tsarists, Armenians, Social Revolutionaries and Menshevik socialists wanted to preserve this army and wage the War to the bitter end. The Bolsheviks succeeded in disorganising this army through the formation of illegal party cells. Only after October and the Bolshevik takeover did the Caucasian front begin to crumble.

After Kerensky had failed to rejuvenate the Russian War effort the Allied governments hoped that the Bolsheviks could be “persuaded” to remain in the War, either through pressure or as a result of getting poor terms from Germany in the peace negotiations. The British feared that the Germans could nullify the Royal Navy Blockade and turn the War in their favour by exploiting the resources of the Ukraine and Caucasus.

If the Bolsheviks had been prepared to continue the War there is little doubt that Britain would have supported a Soviet Government with everything and more that it had provided to the Tsar. Bruce Lockhart’s mission was a serious British attempt to come to terms with the Bolsheviks to achieve this objective.

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed by the Bolsheviks was seen as a Russian betrayal of the War against Germany. Britain asserted that Russia had no right to secede from the War, no matter what popular support such a decision was based on. If Russia was not going to continue to wage War Britain was going to invade and occupy its territory with military forces and continue to wage that War for it.

The British maintained relations with the Bolshevik regime, while beginning to support forces opposing the Bolsheviks in the hope that a new Russian ally would emerge from the Revolution to resume the War on Germany.

A couple of months after the Bolshevik coup Britain began to intervene in Southern Russia. This intervention was to last until the summer of 1920 when Lloyd George finally decided to give up the ghost and abandon the forces Britain was supporting to their fate. By that time Germany and the Ottoman Turks had been defeated for over a year and a half.

In December 1917, the British War Cabinet voted to support the anti-Bolshevik Don Cossack General, A.M. Kaledin and others in Southern Russia. Robert Cecil, Undersecretary to Balfour at the Foreign Office sent a telegram to the British Ambassador in Petrograd on 3 December stating that “no regard should be had to expense and you should furnish to Cossacks and Ukrainians any funds necessary by any means you think desirable”. Sir Henry Wilson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, issued a similar order to his attaches in the region. The War Cabinet stated on December 14 that “Any sum of money required for the purposes of maintaining alive in South East Russia the resistance to the Central Power… should be furnished… so long as the recipients continue the struggle” (Richard H. Ullman, Intervention and the War, Anglo-Soviet Relations 1917-1921, Vol. I, p.46, p.52)

These arrangements were kept secret from the Bolshevik government, with which the British Government was still dealing, and the Russians were assured that England was “not interested in internal Russian affairs” or “counter-revolution” (ibid, p.53).

The British adopted a policy of encouraging separatist movements and the establishment of an alternative “Russia” independent of Petrograd, consisting of the Cossack regions, the Ukraine and Caucasus – which contained much of the oil, coal and corn needed by the state to function. Extraordinarily, Britain’s diplomatic service in Russia was employed to attempt to subvert the government which provided it with protection.

It is important, therefore, to understand that the British intervention in Russia in 1918 was neither an anti-Bolshevik operation or another round in the Great Game against Russia. It was primarily designed to force Russia to continue the Great War it had enlisted in to fight, no matter what its political character.

It took the massacre of the Romanovs in July 1918 to make the point that the Bolsheviks meant business and there was no going back for anyone.

The July 1918 British landings at Archangel and other Allied interventions in Siberia proved too small to either encourage the Russian masses to stay in the War or overthrow the Bolsheviks and replace them with a government that was willing to continue Britain’s Great War. Britain and France were under pressure from the German armies that Lenin – in order to gain a breathing space for Socialism to bed down – helped the Germans release from the East. They could not spare the 2 or more Divisions it was felt were necessary to abort the Bolshevik development at birth.

The Caucasus Vacuum

The situation in the Caucasus in 1918 was different to that in the rest of the Russian Empire.

Lenin had issued a Decree on Land that resulted in the melting away of the Tsarist armies on Germany’s Eastern front. In the Caucasus, however, Lenin was prepared to continue the Russian War to ensure the continued possession of the Baku oilfields, which would be essential for Soviet industrialisation, and the success of the Communist project. Industrialisation – a process usually performed by capitalism – was taken as being vital to the survival of the Communist State in a world of Capitalist industrialisation which was then becoming global. The Bolsheviks required a reconstituting of the front in the Caucasus to protect Baku, a Bolshevik hold-out in an area of seperatists, Mensheviks and Whites, from the Ottomans.

There was, as a consequence, a temporary confluence of interest between British Imperialism and Bolshevik Russia in early 1918.

Britain’s policy with regard to the Caucasus, after the Russian Revolution, was also aimed at reconstructing a Caucasian front against the Ottomans and Germans, in order to stop a drive to the East by the enemy, through the vacuum left by the initial melting away of Tsarist forces during late 1917.

Long before the Great War the German “Drang nach Osten” had been the nightmare of British observers of the East. The Great War had been fought partially to stop the German Berlin-Baghdad Railway reaching a port in the Persian Gulf and now the Great War itself had opened up the possibility of eastward expansion by leading to the collapse of one of the Allies that England had lured into fighting it!

The Pan-Turanian nightmare of Britain also became seen as a possibility in London because of the melt-down of Britain’s Tsarist ally, with the chance that the Turks would link up with the Azerbaijanis and the Moslem world beyond, in Transcaspia. Transcaspia along with Persia, to the South of the Caucasus, was part of Lord Curzon’s “Glacis of India”. Britain was also always fearful of a general Moslem rising in its great “Mussulman Empire” sparked off by any successful development of independent Moslem states.

The Brest-Litovsk Treaty seemed to preclude an Ottoman advance into the Caucasus but an Ottoman surge was facilitated when the mainly-Menshevik government of the Transcaucasian Commissariat refused to accept the Brest-Litovsk Treaty the Bolsheviks had concluded with the Germans. The Ottomans were thereby released from the German/Ottoman acceptance of territorial agreements in the Treaty and enabled to advance eastwards toward the Caspian (Firuz Kazemzadeh, The Struggle for Transcaucasia, pp.86-117).

Britain supported the Menshevik-dominated Transcaucasian Commissariat – composed of an uneasy alliance of Georgians, Armenians and Azerbaijanis – which had seized the arms of the Bolshevik garrison at Tiflis. The Transcaucasian Commissariat became the de facto authority in most of the Southern Caucasus, refusing to recognise the Bolshevik government of Russia in Petrograd. Britain also encouraged everyone and anyone to man the front in the Caucasus to prevent such a development. This included both the Bolsheviks and the Armenian Dashnaks as well as an assortment of socialists and anti-Bolshevik Russians.

The Bolsheviks, after collapsing the Tsarist lines in late 1917, now sought to reconstitute the Russian line to defend the Baku Soviet and the oil that was needed for the Russian State. In the Brest-Litovsk Treaty Lenin had conceded to Germany and taken Russia out of the ranks of the Entente. But in the Caucasus the anti-nationalist Bolsheviks collaborated with the ultra-nationalist Armenian Dashnaks in order to hold onto Baku, resulting in a massacre of 12,000 Moslems in the city in a few days in March 1918.

In the Caucasus Britain put aside its ideologically hatred of Bolshevism for the same end. British agents financed, armed and trained an Armenian army with Russian weapons and they worked with Trotsky to form a common front against the Ottoman advance into the Caucasus. Armenian bands with Tsarist weapons, financed by Britain, roamed the countryside destroying Moslem settlements and massacring their inhabitants in pursuit of expanding the territory of a future Armenian state. Britain turned a blind eye to these activities, suppressing news of such events in the outside world, in the interests of the War effort.

At the same time, however, the British worked to overthrow the Bolshevik leadership in the Baku Soviet and release it with more reliable allies. If the Bolsheviks had consented to the British Imperialist intervention at Baku the British Government, no doubt, would have worked with them against the Ottoman forces in defending the city. However, Stefan Shaumyan, the Bolshevik leader of the Baku Commune, after contacting Lenin and Stalin, decided that letting General Dunsterville’s expeditionary force defend Baku was too dangerous to agree to, since it opened the possibility of an alliance between the British and Armenian Dashnaks in Baku, fatal to the Bolshevik presence.

An alliance of non-Bolsheviks, including Mensheviks, Left SRs and Dashnaks managed to oust the Bolshevik leadership of the Baku Soviet after secret contact was established by the Armenians with Dunsterville’s forces en route to the city. Shaumyan and the Bolshevik Commissars left on ships and were all murdered on the shores of the Caspian by anti-Bolsheviks with embedded British agents.

Both in Baku and in Archangel, in North Russia, the British military interventions were preceded by coup d’etats, encouraged and supported by the British, who were then invited to intervene by these new friendly regimes. The Bolsheviks learnt well from the British Imperialists.

The British policy culminated in the lost battle of Baku, where a conglomeration of non-Bolshevik Soviet Communists, Socialists, White Russians, Armenian Dashnaks and British Imperialists stood unsuccessfully against an Ottoman and Azerbaijani army, who took the city in September 1918 and established the Azerbaijani capital there. Dunsterville’s forces deserted the city just before its fall, blaming the Armenians for their poor fighting ability in failing to hold a defensive position against only a slightly larger attacking force.

At no time did General Dunsterville fight Bolshevik forces, unlike Major-General Malleson who, to the east of the Caspian, with his British Indian army in alliance with local forces made war on the Bolsheviks.

Britain – Master of Transcaucasia

However, in only two months, the Ottoman presence in the Caucasus was ended by Britain’s victory in the Great War. For the first time, the British were masters of Transcaucasia.

The struggle for the Caucasus began after the collapse of the Tsarist state in 1917 and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire the following year, opening up a large vacuum for someone to fill. Britain found itself in an unanticipated situation of gaining a large region it had not thought possible of taking. It was, of course, unthinkable for Britain to let the region be, as it was always thought that any region left to its own devices was an open invitation for a rival to step in.

Not only that. With Germany and the Ottomans defeated the Balance of Power policy – the great constant of British Foreign Policy – demanded that England return to its main rivalry with France and Russia, the two allies that it had procured for its Great War on Germany. The War on Germany, although Great, was a transient affair to see off a young upstart Power. Normal business should resume with the traditional enemy! The Caucasus should not be easily surrendered in the resumption of the Great Game with Russia, when it inevitably recovered from its temporary disablement. An opportunity presented itself and Britain did not get where it was in the World – on top of it – by not taking its opportunities.

Britain re-occupied Baku after the Ottomans were forced out by the terms of the Mudros Armistice. Two full divisions were ordered to Transcaucasia immediately after the Armistice. On 17 November 1918 a British force from Persia accompanied by a remnant of the Russian army occupied Baku. The Dunsterforce (of Major General Dunsterville), which had been driven out of Baku by the Turks and Azerbaijani national forces in mid-1918, had regrouped near Teheran in the old Russian zone of Persia and was reinforced from British-occupied Baghdad, to form the North Persia Force.

Major-General Thompson’s force occupied the Baku oilfields on 17 November 1918 and control over oil production was instituted. General Forestier-Walker’s forces from the Salonika Army, landed at the Black Sea port of Batum, setting up their HQ in Tiflis, and occupied strategic points along the Transcaucasian Railway. Military Governorships were established in troublesome areas. Two Divisions of 40,000 men, the largest of all British Army contingents in Russia, placed both Azerbaijan and Georgia firmly under British control.

This large British show of force and occupation had the immediate impact of undermining the morale of Bolshevik soldiers in the North Caucasus. which had the effect of disintegrating the 11th and 12th Red Armies.

The British intervention in South Russia was conducted in accordance with the Anglo-French Convention on the spheres of influence that had been drawn up the previous year. The military mission to General Denikin’s Army in late November and started to investigate the general situation.

Thompson took control of the Russian Caspian fleet, moving it south from Baku to Enzeli in Persia. This gave Britain, for the first time control of the Caspian and its shipping, along with the Black Sea, which it could enter at will from occupied Istanbul.

To the South, England also controlled Persia in its entirety as well as holding all the approaches from North, South, East and West. Sir Percy Cox, the Chief Political Officer of the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force, was dispatched to Teheran to impose a new treaty on the Iranians. Persia had been devastated by a British induced famine, brought about by the removal of the food supply to feed British and Armenian forces in the area, and its population had been decimated (see Mohammad Gholi Majd, The Great Famine and Genocide in Persia, 1917-19)

A 2 million pound loan was provided to the desperate Persian government and British advisers were appointed to the key Ministries in the government. The Treaty was drawn up in secret, approved by Lord Curzon, now Foreign Secretary, and signed by the Persians in August 1919. The young and inexperienced Shah was then sent to Europe on holiday to await its ratification by the Persian parliament. Persia, which had been a country increasingly under Russian influence and military occupation only a few years earlier, was now in England’s pocket as a virtual protectorate. Or so it seemed in 1919.

A British force had sailed out from Istanbul across the Black Sea to occupy the Eastern end of the Caucasus. General Milne controlled the strategically important port of Batum on the coast of the Black Sea and the railway connecting it to Baku. This meant that Britain held all the land between the Black Sea to the Caspian in a single front to General Denikin’s rear. This entire area which fell into Britain’s lap had been entirely held by Russia only a year before.

Plans began to be made for the development of extensive railway projects to bolster this newly gained territory and link it to British Arabia, Persia, Transcaucasia and eastwards across central Asia to Afghanistan and the Indian Empire. The glacis of India had been moved north to Bokhara, which now came within the expanded British orbit. The Russian Transcaucasian and Transcaspian Railways had been neutralised as threats to British India and the Moscow-Tashkent Railway blocked off at Samarkand and its spurs to Termez and Kushklinsky on the northern frontier of Afghanistan rendered obsolete.

The decision to occupy the Caucasus was taken by the Eastern Committee of the War Cabinet, under the Chairmanship of Lord Curzon. Curzon was prominent in the small War Cabinet that was directing the War. He was just about to be given the job of running the Foreign Office by Prime Minister Lloyd George, as Balfour, the Foreign Secretary, was due to go to Paris for the Peace Conference. Curzon was to replace Balfour later in 1919 as Foreign Secretary. Balfour, when Foreign Secretary, was opposed to British intervention and was not consulted about the decision to occupy the Caucasus.

The meetings held by the Eastern Committee of the War Cabinet in December 1918 show that the British decision to occupy the Caucasus was primarily motivated by the defence of India argument i.e. The Great Game and Curzon’s “Glacis of India” position. Added to this was the desire to keep Bolshevism out of the region.

After the Ottoman/Azerbaijani captured Baku in September 1918 The Times noted the importance of possession of the city and the Caspian Sea, presuming that the Ottoman presence would only be temporary and noting that Britain’s interest had been reawakened:

“The Caspian is a hub traversed by all significant trade routes, and if we are now just beginning to heed attention to this inland basin, it does not mean that we were previously absolutely unaware of its political and commercial value. We have been aware of this for a long time. The Caspian is one of the old British interests.” (29/9/1918)

Another reason concerned the opportunity for commercially exploiting the area, including the great oil fields of Baku, which Britain proceeded to extract great quantities of oil from over the following 9 months. Occupying the Caucasus also meant controlling the Baku-Batum pipeline and Railway. The British proceeded to defraud the Azerbaijanis of the income from the oil by taking it for lower than market prices and selling it on the international market for a higher price. It also taxed the export of the oil at Batum to pay for its occupation of the city. The British Treasury then obstructed the payments for the oil by various devices, ensuring that the Azerbaijanis never got the payments.

It gave the chance to the Royal Navy of controlling the Caspian Sea for the first time and supporting General Malleson to the East, who was propping up a Transcaspian government against Russia.

A Caucasus Wall was established by Britain in early 1919, which checked Bolshevik Russia and sealed it off from its main energy supplies. The British Indian Empire looked forward with great expectation from its new position of strength in the renewal of the Great Game.

The major question that faced the British occupiers of Transcaucasia was: which Russia would re-emerge to face the British Empire when the internal conflict between Whites and Reds, it was facilitating, reached a conclusion.


British forces had originally intervened in Russia to bolster the pro-Entente forces rather than fight the Bolsheviks. But British armies remained there as the Great War reached a conclusion and joined with local pro-Entente forces to take on the Bolsheviks afterwards. Britain’s intervention undoubtedly had a significant effect on the course of the Civil War in Russia. Without it the White side would have been overwhelmed much more quickly by the Bolsheviks, who enjoyed superiority in popular support, numbers and weaponry.

The British War Cabinet met to discuss the situation in Russia soon after the Armistice with Germany in November 1918. The unexpected collapse of Germany and the sudden victory in the Great War changed the fundamental basis of British policy toward Russia.

In December 1917, a Convention between France and England on the subject of activity in Southern Russia was signed. This agreement divided the southern part of their former ally Russia’s territory into zones of British and French influence. Bessarabia, the Ukraine and the Crimea were assigned to France. The British zone was agreed to be the Cossack Territories and Transcaucasia. Russia was paying the price for failing to see the Great War through to the bitter end, as Britain required. Its territory, despite its service in blood to the Allied cause, was therefore up for grabs to those who lasted the course.

The presence of British troops in North Russia – and Siberia – and the support offered to various White groups in other parts of the country could no longer be explained away to the Bolsheviks as a mere adjunct of the War on Germany. The unofficial diplomatic relations Britain had maintained with Lenin’s government had broken down after the ‘Lockhart plot’ (when British agents were suspected of planning to assassinate Lenin). It was clear to the Bolsheviks that the British were in a de facto state of war with Russia.

The British Government sent a military mission to the White General Denikin immediately after the Armistice as the route from the Dardanelles to the Black Sea opened up with the Ottoman defeat.

The British military mission arrived in Southern Russia during late 1918, and began to provide General Denikin’s White army with war material. The White armies had no local production facilities for making war, so British assistance was vital. It is almost certain that Denikin would have not been able to build or maintain his army of 225,000 men, or advance toward Moscow, without the British assistance. Without such help the Russian Civil War would have been confined to small scale engagements by Diehard anti-Bolsheviks. The British Mission organised, armed, trained and equipped the White Russian armies. Many of the British instructors also took part in fighting the Bolsheviks alongside Denikin’s forces.

Britain was also supporting Admiral Kolchak’s army in Siberia. But during the spring and summer of 1919, the White armies in the North suffered several defeats and began retreating. Denikin’s army was more successful in Southern Russia, taking great amounts of territory from the Bolsheviks and advancing towards Moscow. It was realised that Denikin was the White commander with the best chance to defeat the Bolsheviks. Most British military aid was directed toward to his army and Southern Russia.

There were various views in Britain about what should be done with regard to Russia. But if there was one constant in British policy it was the desire to keep Russia fighting itself for as long as possible so that the disablement of the Russian State was continued. It was much better for Britain if a weak Russia emerged from its Civil War than a strong one, whether it be White or Red. The basic aim of the British policy was, therefore, to weaken Russia and to prevent its re-emergence for as long as possible.

The issue of Nationalities

It was presumed in Britain that some Russia would emerge from the Civil War and Britain would have to deal with it, no matter what management it was under. This had an implication with regard to whether Britain should promote the development of independent states in the region, which a future Russia, of whatever complexion, would surely not appreciate.

Britain’s interest in the Caucasus had nothing to do with self-determination and any desire to establish democratic nation states. It was primarily geopolitical. The general British view was that the people of the Caucasus were unfit to govern themselves, being at a lower level of civilisation. When the states that eventually emerged from the situation of necessity finally succumbed to the Bolsheviks that was taken as proof by Britain that their view of the Caucasian people had been correct.

If the idea around “self-determination” helped the British geopolitical interest the principle was supported, but it was never a principle in Britain’s policy to establish democratic nation states in the region.

Prior to the Great War nationalism was largely undeveloped in the Caucasus. It was not in the Tsarist interest to encourage it and Britain saw little to gain in promoting it there. There was, of course, a section in Liberal England who promoted ideas of nationality in the widely dispersed Armenians but that was primarily a nonconformist Christian, anti-Turkish impulse. The British State itself did not see any advantage in supporting the idea of an Armenian state.

In August 1914 a lot of propaganda regarding “small nations” was unleashed from Britain to justify the War on Germany. But this was certainly not meant to apply to the peoples of the Russian Empire, which was the military ally of Britain against Germany.

It was the emergence of the Bolsheviks that prompted impulses in the peripheral nationalities of the Russian Empire for self-government. One of the first acts of the Bolsheviks was to issue the Rights of Peoples, published in November 1917, which declared support for “The right of all peoples to free self-determination up to and including separation from Russia and the formation of independent states.” (Firuz Kazemzadeh, The Struggle for Transcaspia, 1917-1921, p.56)

This Bolshevik declaration went further than the dreams of the most advanced nationalists in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan and it was practically an invitation to separate from the Russian state.

The Brest-Litovsk negotiations with Germany – which were very much conducted in the public gaze – consisted of the Bolsheviks issuing large amounts of propaganda around the rights of nations to self-determination. This cannot have gone unnoticed in the borderlands, where nationalism hardly existed. Rosa Luxembourg, a doctrinaire Marxist, criticised Lenin for this on the basis that the Bolsheviks were only stirring up trouble for the Socialist state in the future.

The new proto-national political expressions in the Caucasus were still acting as part of Transcaucasia and Russia, assuming that their destiny lay with Russia, even if it was to be in some form of federation, at this juncture. The Georgian, Armenian and Azerbaijani representatives of Transcaucasia stood together in order to prevent the chaos and conflict in Russia spreading to their area. This prompted the Transcaucasian Commissariat to establish autonomous government as a kind of shield against the anarchy to the North. The main intention was to protect the region against what was going on in Russia proper, until the situation improved and then some new relationship would be established with the rest of the state.

The Transcaucasian Commissariat momentarily inclined toward acting as an entity independent of Russia when it had to deal with the Ottoman advance in the Caucasus in early 1918. If it had followed through on this it could have secured peace and protection from the Ottomans.

However, the Commissariat and from February 1918, the Seim – particularly its Menshevik part in Georgia – could not bring itself to become something apart from the Russian State, despite its collapse, and the general antagonism to the Bolsheviks in the Caucasus. The Commissariat, acting as part of a Russia that was in collapse, decided to go to war with the Ottomans and lost very quickly (the Azerbaijani element was not in favour of this course).

The Bolshevik propaganda at Brest-Litovsk provoked the separate organising and arming of Armenian, Georgian and Azerbaijani military units in response to events that pushed the parts of the region toward separatisms. And in May 1918 the Seim, which had only been established 5 weeks previously, dissolved and individual declarations of Georgian, Azerbaijani and Armenian independence were made.

The four Caucasian Republics of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Dagestan came into existence in the vacuum between the advancing Ottomans and the dissolving Russian state. The Ottomans stepped into the breech that oped up, driving all the way to the Caspian and capturing Baku with the Azerbaijani national forces. The Ottomans, themselves had no problem with the Caucasian states and even placed the new Armenian state under their protection in a treaty signed with the Erivan Republic (a treaty the Armenians immediately repudiated on the Ottoman Great War defeat).

In late 1917 Britain began to encourage notions of nationality and self-determination among the peoples of the Caucasus in order to produce a new battle-line against the Germans and Ottomans. Whist some success was achieved in this with the Armenians and Georgians the British were not successful with the Azerbaijanis.

One British observer, Morgan Philips Price, a correspondent with The Manchester Guardian, who spent a number of years in the region, noted that the “national revival”/movement in Azerbaijan (and Dagestan) or “Tartar nationalism” was different from the more narrow nationalisms of the Christian peoples of the Caucasus:

“The Tartars feel that their religion gives them a particular connection with all other Moslem neighbours. They feel a certain community of interest and fellow-sympathy with their co-religionists in Turkey and Persia. This form of freemasonry is characteristic of Moslem movements, which are not nationalist in the narrow political sense, as among Christian races, but cultural, like the earlier movements in the middle of last century among the Armenians and Georgians. They aim at developing the Arabic, Persian, and Turkish literature and language, at spreading knowledge of the great Moslem writers and thinkers of the past in Islam, and, generally, at promoting intercourse between Moslems in different parts of the world. Nationalism, in the sense of separating out one group of Moslems from another on the basis of language or origin or past history, of dividing Turk from Caucasian Tartar, or from Persian, has not yet been developed; and on the whole it does not seem likely that it will be.” (War and Revolution in Asiatic Russia, pp.262-3)

Philips Price, writing in early 1918, had the sense to dismiss the nightmares of British statesmen about “Pan-Turanianism” and “Pan-Islamism” that were gripping the makers of policy in Whitehall. He understood that the Azerbaijanis were a people with a wider, more complex, culture than the Armenians and Georgians whose nationalism would be primarily territorial.

Most of the world lived in a pre-capitalist state until the Great War and it was felt – in Imperial Britain anyway – that the future was going to be Imperial rather than national. British Imperial writers predicted before the Great War that nations were dying and Empires were spreading across the earth. That was “progress” and it was very much seen as a Social Darwinist imperative.

Nations which sprang up out of the Great War are disinclined to write histories of themselves in pre-national form. The Great War catastrophe resulted in “progress” being national rather than Imperial and to not have been a fully-fledged nation in 1914 was later seen to have been backward.

After the Great War the world was organised by the victors under a League of Nations, including newly constructed nation states with only a rudimentary national character, where no nations were before. These new nations bore no responsibility for the catastrophe that had taken place and which the League of Nations was established to prevent again. However, they were now required to be nations, by the states that had organised the catastrophe and under their authority. The future was the nation – although not all nations were equal!

A handful of states, who had brought about the catastrophe, presided over these new nations, deciding who was and who wasn’t deserving of the prized national status. The world was now required to “progress” in this form within a system presided over mainly by Britain and France.

Britain had bombarded the world with propaganda about the Great War being about “democracy” and “small nations” for 4 years. When President Wilson took the U.S. into Britain’s Great War he reinforced this particular moral aspect of the War and put behind it American power. A combination of British moral humbug and US moral earnestness therefore caused the Versailles Congress and its League of Nations to present itself to the World as the beginning of a new international order of things which would operate on the basis of democratic rights, self-determination, law and justice.

Is it any surprise that the Caucasian Republics believed they could become independent nation states in this general atmosphere and in a world being re-ordered by righteous champions of democracy?

The Azerbaijanis, who, among the Caucasian peoples, were the most serious about establishing national democratic structures, took the British at face-value and accepted the occupation as a kind of transition to the new world. The Musavat set out to prove their competence in government to the British and succeeded in leaving a good impression on them.

Of course, the reality was different. Britain advocated and applied its “self-determination” principle inconsistently, as it saw fit. As a general rule it advanced the principle in areas where problems could be caused for potential rivals to British power. This enabled it to destroy functional states and put together weird conglomerations and bloated countries that spelt trouble for the future. In its own backyard – which was a sizeable part of the world in 1919 – on the other hand, Britain repressed such notions with its military forces (e.g. Ireland, Iraq, India etc.)

The new national governments were formed on a predominantly anti-Bolshevik basis and their interests conflicted with the Bolsheviks, despite the Bolshevik declaration on the Rights of Peoples. The peripheral areas, in consequence, provided potential bases for the formation of anti-Bolshevik movements whom Britain could support.

However the bigger question of Great Power politics confronted the British occupation in the Caucasus: should Britain attempt to establish and support a series of buffer states that could be employed as a barrier against a future Russian return to the area or should it obstruct the development of such entities in the interest of future relations with a traditional Power that was not going to go away?

Which British Policy?

In November 1918 General Sir Henry Wilson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, outlined three possible lines of policy Britain could adopt to Russia (and the Caucasus), in a Memorandum presented to the War Cabinet.

The first option Wilson outlined was to withdraw all Allied forces from Russia, leaving the country surrounded by a belt of buffer states in a “cordon sanitaire”. This, however, would surrender the military initiative to the Bolsheviks and leave the buffer states under threat and probably unable to counter the Bolsheviks without considerable assistance from Allied forces. The British Army, about to be demobilised by Prime Minister Lloyd George, would not have the soldiers available for such an eventuality, and General Wilson did not believe that the other Allies could help.

The second option Wilson presented was the option of defeating the Bolsheviks through large-scale military intervention. This would cut off the Bolshevik threat at source. However, the lack of available forces and the financial constraints on Britain meant that Wilson felt this option to be unrealistic.

General Wilson suggested, therefore, the War Cabinet follow a third line of policy in which Britain would continue to support anti-Bolshevik forces with military material so that Allied forces could be withdrawn from Russia, when local anti-Bolshevik forces were in a position to take over. Wilson finished his Memorandum by arguing that it should be a Russian task, rather than an Allied one, to overthrow the Bolsheviks (Memorandum on Our Present and Future Military Policy in Russia, CAB 24/70, 13.11.1918).

Sir Henry Wilson’s 3 options were very similar to the ones suggested by Britain’s agent among the Bolsheviks, Bruce Lockhart, who had returned to London in the same month. He gave a presentation to Balfour in the Foreign Office entitled Memorandum on the Internal Situation in Russia.

The difference between the 2 presentations was that Lockhart favoured massive Allied military intervention as the only means of seeing off the Bolsheviks. He believed that the middle course, favoured by Wilson, would only end in defeat and disaster for Britain. Any states established in a cordon sanitaire, to ring the Bolshevik state would probably eventually be absorbed by the Bolsheviks, according to Lockhart (Richard H. Ullman, Intervention and the War, Anglo-Soviet Relations 1917-1921, Vol. I, pp. 296-300). That would be a disaster for the prestige of the British Empire and the new order it was seeking to establish in the World in which it now predominated.

On 2 December 1918 Lord Curzon, future Foreign Secretary in the absence of the sitting Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, made the case for British control of Transcaucasia to the Eastern Committee of the War Cabinet. Curzon had visited the Caucasus in 1888 and 1889 and had written several books about Persia. He believed himself to be much more knowledgeable than anyone else in British High Politics about the region and to know best what to do with it.

At the following meeting, however, the actual Foreign Secretary, Balfour, intervened and insisted that Britain should not take over the Caucasus but exercise through the League of Nations a controlling influence. Curzon asked Balfour how he would prevent the Russians crushing the Caucasus states in the absence of a British military force.

The Foreign Secretary revealingly replied that “If Russia is in a position to crush them, why not? We should not go there to protect them from the Russians. It would be folly from a purely military point of view, for us to keep a military force there.”

Balfour advised temporising if Britain was called upon to assist the Caucasian Republics and playing for time. He chastised Curzon with the following remark, aimed at the glacis of India thesis:

“I find there is a new sphere which we have got to guard, which is supposed to protect the gateways of India. Those gateways are getting further and further from India… Remember before the War there was a great military power in occupation of these places… which we could not hit, which we of all people were helpless against. They had it and we did not tremble.” (CAB 27/24, EC 9/12/1918)

Balfour asked why it was that Curzon thought the Caucasian Republics should be given “a chance to stand on their own feet”? Curzon replied with irony that the only alternative was “to let them cut each other’s throats”. To which the Foreign Secretary replied: “I am all in favour of that… if they want to cut their own throats why do we not let them do it?… I shall say that we are not going to spend all our money and men civilising a few people who do not want to be civilised.” (CAB 27/24, EC 9/12/1918)

Balfour at a subsequent Eastern Committee meeting accused some of his colleagues of wanting to gather “as many colonies as they could get” and “huge protectorates all over the place” but “where were they going to find the men or monies for these things?” These were “the governing considerations” of British policy according to Balfour. (CAB 27/24, EC 16/12/1918)

The reticence of Arthur Balfour was all very different from the Britain that existed before the Great War. Continual expansion had become part of the national habit of England. Britain’s island character had made it uneasy with the idea of land frontiers, especially those shared with formidable Powers. The practice of projecting “Protectorates” beyond British administrative frontiers had developed to overcome the fear of coming up against the territory of other Powers. Britain projected itself across these “Protectorates” to warn off rivals without an official presence. But the “Protectorates” had the habit of becoming formal parts of the Empire given time – annexations.

Why not a British Protectorate in 1919 over the Caucasus that would gradually develop into more than that?

There was a strange reluctance within the British ruling elite to pursue the habits of the recent past. It seems that the fighting of the Great War had knocked the stuffing out of those who had previously presided over an unstoppable force of nature. Demoralisation had come to exist within triumph.

The argument between Balfour and Curzon could be seen as the gulf between post-Great War British dissipation of will and the pre-Great War Imperial confidence.

Churchill wrote in The Sunday Herald of 30th May 1920:

“The British nation is now in the very forefront of mankind. Never was its power so great, its name so honoured, its rivals so few.”

After the Great War of 1914 was won Great Britain was the World’s sole super-power. However, appearances were deceptive. Britain’s will to power and its consequent actual loss of power in 1918-20 was disguised by the massive extension of its Empire as a result of the Great War. It was the very effort that Britain had to make to win its War for World primacy and expand its Empire that seems to have subverted its ability to act purposefully after the event.

At the Imperial War Cabinet meeting of 12 December the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, upheld the Foreign Secretary’s point that the Caucasus would not be defended by Britain from a future Russian attack.

Sir Eyre Crowe at the Foreign Office suggested that Britain recognise the Caucasian Republics in a form that would suit all eventualities – that would satisfy the Republics but would not lead the Russians to believe that her temporary disadvantage had been taken advantage of, if Russia were able to return and reintegrate them into a Russian state. Curzon agreed but was inclined to only accept this position if applied to a White Russia and not a Red one.

Lord Curzon also agreed with the analysis of Sir Halford Mackinder, famous Professor at the London School of Economics and father of Geopolitics, that a series of buffer states in the Heartland was required to deny any Power or combination of Powers control of it. This included the Russians, French or a resurgent Turkey. It was generally agreed that it was necessary to foster nationhood in the peoples of the Caucasus to make them “resolved to bar to the utmost the advance of Bolshevism.” (Cab 27/38, EC 43, 5/12/1918 and FO 371/7729/E8378)

The Eastern Committee of the War Cabinet finally formulated a position of desiring to see strong independent states in the area – but without prejudice to their future relationship to Russia, which was a matter for themselves! (Cab 27/24, EC 43, 16/12/1918)

This position was a fudge and it never answered the question whether Britain was prepared to develop and support independent states in the Caucasus or was simply taking care of them for Russia in the interim. The answer would only be revealed later, in practice.

In January 1919 General George Milne, who led the British military in the Caucasus, wrote the following to his superior, Sir Henry Wilson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, telling him just what the British military thought of the various peoples of the Caucasus:

“I am fully aware that the withdrawal of the British troops would probably lead to anarchy but I cannot see that the world would lose much if the whole of the inhabitants of the country cut each others throats. They are certainly not worth the life of one British soldier. The Georgians are merely disguised Bolsheviks led by men who overthrew Kerensky and were friends of Lenin. The Armenians are what the Armenians have always been, a despicable race. The best are the inhabitants of Azerbaijan, though they are in reality uncivilised.” (Papers of Sir Henry Wilson, IWM DS/Misc/80, 37/5, 22/1/1919)

When General Thomson, the British Military Governor of Azerbaijan, entered Baku he declared that “there is no question of the Allies retaining possession of one foot of RUSSIA.” (FO 371/3667/11067, 9.5.1918). He insisted that the National Council of Azerbaijan, which now acted as a government in Baku, and whose members had been elected to the Russian Constituent Assembly in late 1917, act as a part of Russia, governed temporarily by the British military until the Whites could take over power.

General Thomson, whilst clearing all Azerbaijani forces out of Baku invited the forces of General Bicherakhov, the White Russian, back into the city. He gave his support to the armies of Denikin, Kolchak and Yudenich and demanded that the Azerbaijan National Council establish relations with the Russian National Council, which was demanding the full recognition of Russia’s territorial integrity, the overall authority of the Russian Constituent Assembly and allegiance to Kolchak’s government in Ufa.

When the Chairman/Prime Minister of the Azerbaijani government, Fatali Khan Khoyski, met the British General, Thomson told him he had come to Allied Russia and not Azerbaijan. He refused to recognise the Azerbaijani Republic. He made it clear that if the Azerbaijanis disputed the British authority they would have to do it through military force rather than the democratic process (Anar Isgenderli, Realities of Azerbaijan: 1917-1920, pp.175-82).

However, General Thomson was soon repelled by the attitude of the Russian National Council who wanted complete control. He informed them that they were acting as if Russia existed when it really didn’t. Thomson, instead, was impressed with the governing qualities of Khoyski and the Azerbaijani National Council, and decided to work through Azerbaijan’s existing structures and depend on native military formations, who were scattered throughout the national territory and who were allowed to re-enter Baku a few months later (WO 106/1562).

It was decided that the status of Azerbaijan, along with the other Caucasian peoples, would be decided by the Paris Peace Conference to be held in the following year.

The Denikin Problem

In the Summer of 1918 Generals Denikin and Alexeiev had organised a volunteer army in Southern Russia to overthrow the Bolsheviks. It managed to dislodge the Bolsheviks from the area around the Black Sea and went on to occupy all of the Russian territory to the North of Georgia and Dagestan.

There was always a contradiction between Britain’s support for Denikin and building independent Caucasian Republics. Denikin, who Britain was lavishing with armaments and supplies against the Bolsheviks, made it clear that he intended to re-incorporate the Caucasus into a new Russian state, when he had seen off the Bolsheviks.

In December 1918 Armenian forces attacked Georgia, attempting to take a strip of territory and add it to the Erivan Republic, which was being governed by a Dashnak dictatorship. Firuz Kazemzadeh summed up the Armenian attitude:

“Had it not been for their faith in the Allies, they would never have attacked Georgia. They had been sure that Britain and France would not object to the punishment of a people who had collaborated with the Germans during the war. The West they felt owed them a debt. Had not Gladstone once said that to serve Armenia was to serve civilization? And ever since British, French, and American statesmen, writers, clergymen and diplomats had been repeating this phrase. Yet now that the Allies were in Transcaucasia they failed to champion the Armenian cause.” (The Struggle for Transcaucasia, 1917-1921, p.181)

Around the same time the Dashnaks began attacking Azerbaijan. General Andranik took his Special Striking Division into Karabakh, only to be stopped by General Thomson in Baku, who informed him that a dim view would be taken of any further aggressions. Andranik was encouraged to go on a tour of Europe, to get him out of the way.

The British had suspected an Armenian plot with General Denikin against the Georgians. Denikin’s volunteer force had occupied Georgian Sochi in January 1919 claiming to act on behalf of the Abkhazians, presenting a difficult problem for the British.

In early 1919, after his victories against the Bolsheviks, Denikin invaded Dagestan, crushing the young Mountaineer Republic with great brutality. He then massed forces on the borders of Georgia and Azerbaijan and threatened Baku. Both Georgia and Azerbaijan attempted to help the Republic of Mountaineers against Denikin but without Allied support they could not save Dagestan. The British were at the same time aiding Denekin with war materiel that he was using against the Dagestan people.

Denikin also ran an underground organisation in Baku armed with explosives, rifles and communication material which was preparing for a rising – before being discovered. The White General Bicherakhov, who had been brought back to the city by the British, was found to be plotting a coup and had to be removed to England. When he was there his forces were expelled from Baku by General Thomson.

The threat from Denikin and his attempts to take the Caucasus back into Russian control prompted the Georgians and Azerbaijanis to draw up a mutual defence agreement in June 1919. Finally, the British acted. Major-General Cory defined a demarcation line to the North of the Caucasus mountains that Denikin had to withdraw behind. Denikin instituted a food blockade of Georgia and Azerbaijan and delivered a large quantity of ammunition to the Armenians in response (The Struggle for Transcaucasia, 1917-1921, pp.246-7).

The Bolsheviks used Denikin’s aggression to court the Caucasus peoples. Commissar Chicherin published an appeal which declared that the British intended to give them up to Denikin:

“Comrades, workers and Peasants of Azerbaijan, Daghestan and Georgia! Soviet Russia has no intention of marching against your republics… She stands firmly on the principle of self-determination… And if you, the Muslims and the Georgians of the Caucasus, are satisfied with the form of government of your republics, live in tranquility, exercise your right of self-determination, and restore good neighbourly relations with us… Soviet Russia expresses the firm hope that the workers and peasants of Daghestan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia will not allow their freedom to be trampled under the feet of the Tsarist General, the English executioner, Denikin.” (ibid, p.248)

The Caucasus Republics could not, of course, respond to the Bolshevik appeal because of the British occupation. The British realised the danger. Denikin was brought to heel with the knowledge that without British support he could not maintain his forces.

Britain’s immediate policy in early 1919 just aimed at keeping General Denekin, out of the Caucasus, and directed against the Bolsheviks.

Part 3

In January 1919 General George Milne, who led the British military in the Caucasus, wrote the following letter to his superior, Sir Henry Wilson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, telling him just what the British military thought of the various peoples of the Caucasus:

“I am fully aware that the withdrawal of the British troops would probably lead to anarchy but I cannot see that the world would lose much if the whole of the inhabitants of the country cut each others throats. They are certainly not worth the life of one British soldier. The Georgians are merely disguised Bolsheviks led by men who overthrew Kerensky and were friends of Lenin. The Armenians are what the Armenians have always been, a despicable race. The best are the inhabitants of Azerbaijan, though they are in reality uncivilised.” (Papers of Sir Henry Wilson, IWM DS/Misc/80, 37/5, 22/1/1919)

There was a distinct contrast between the British occupations in the various parts of Transcaucasia. Of the three Caucasian states Georgia received the most favourable treatment by Britain, despite the suspicions of Bolshevism. The Georgians received a letter from the British Foreign Office pledging support for their independence from Russia. Outside of Batum the British military occupation was very light.

Martial Law was declared in Azerbaijan, General Thomson was appointed Military Governor and British military police were drafted in to “impose order” on the populace. The Azerbaijani Banks were taken over by the Imperialists, food rationing was introduced and labour was strictly controlled. In the words of a Foreign Office Report “it was necessary to re-establish an administration in almost every department of the country’s life” (A 34 page summary of the British Imperial administrations in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia is retrospectively given in FO 371/6280, 31.5.1922).

Armenia got no military occupation at all and was largely left to its own devices aside from aid and sometimes British military intervention, when it exercised its impulses toward irredentist nationalism against its neighbours.

The British objective in relation to Armenia seems to have been to establish a buffer state in the Caucasus between the Turks and Azerbaijanis to prevent a linking up of these two Turkic peoples, that would create a more powerful bloc against British interests. Lord Curzon referred to the Erivan Republic as a “tampon state.” (Cited in Emin Shikhaliyev, Britain’s Armenian Policy in the South Caucasus, IRS, Spring 2017, p.61)

At this point in time Britain did not know what size an Armenian state would emerge. However, it seems to have been intent to incorporate the Azerbaijani region of Nakhchivan in it to increase its area. Major Gibbon was sent there to settle Armenians, under the guise of humanitarian effort, and when he failed, due to local hostility, General Thomson dispatched military forces and General Devy to support the population relocations aimed at Armenianising Nakhchivan (ibid, pp. 51-2 and IRS, Autumn 2017, pp. 36-40).

It was probable that the British, although encouraging the Armenians into demands for a Great Armenian state in Ottoman eastern Anatolia, were knowledgeable enough to realise that this was wholly unrealistic, given the demographics. So a concentration of Armenians around Erivan province was viewed as a more practical alternative.

However, this British attitude – the non-supervision of Armenia – enabled the Erivan Republic to ethnically cleanse from its territory large amounts of Moslems to create the most ethnically homogeneous state in the Caucasus (see Ilgar Niftaliyev, Genocide and Deportation of the Azerbaijanis of Erivan, 1918-1920, IRS NO. 15, 2013, pp.40-44)

When General Thomson, the British Military Governor of Azerbaijan, entered Baku he declared that “there is no question of the Allies retaining possession of one foot of RUSSIA.” (FO 371/3667/11067, 9.5.1918). He insisted that the National Council of Azerbaijan, which was acting as a government in Baku, and whose members had been elected to the Russian Constituent Assembly in late 1917, act as a part of Russia, governed temporarily by the British military until the Whites could take over power.

General Thomson, whilst clearing all Azerbaijani forces out of Baku invited the forces of General Bicherakhov, the White Russian, back into the city. He gave his support to the armies of Denikin, Kolchak and Yudenich and demanded that the Azerbaijan National Council establish relations with the Russian National Council, which was demanding the full recognition of Russia’s territorial integrity, the overall authority of the Russian Constituent Assembly. He also demanded that it give allegiance to Kolchak’s government in Ufa.

When the Chairman/Prime Minister of the Azerbaijani government, Fatali Khan Khoyski, met the British occupiers General Thomson told him he had come to Allied Russia and not Azerbaijan. The British Imperialists refused to recognise the Azerbaijani Republic in existence. Thomson made it clear that if the Azerbaijanis disputed the British authority they would have to do it through military force – rather than the democratic process, knowing that this was impossible (Anar Isgenderli, Realities of Azerbaijan: 1917-1920, pp.175-82).

However, General Thomson seems to have had a change of mind during his administration of Azerbaijan. He soon became repelled by the attitude of the Russian National Council, who wanted immediate and complete control of the Caucasus. General Thomson informed them that they were acting as if Russia actually existed – when it really didn’t. At the same time Thomson, became impressed with the governing qualities of Khoyski and the Azerbaijani National Council, and decided to work through Azerbaijan’s existing structures and depend on native military formations, who were scattered throughout the national territory and who were allowed to re-enter Baku a few months later (WO 106/1562).

It was decided in Whitehall that the status of Azerbaijan, along with the other Caucasian peoples, would be decided by the Paris Peace Conference to be held in the following year. This was communicated by Thomson to the Azerbaijanis.

The issue of Nationalities

In a Memorandum to the War Cabinet on 1 November 1918, Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary stated:

“Recent events have created obligations which last beyond the occasions which gave them birth… In the South-east corner of Russia… in Transcaucasia and Transcaspia… new anti-Bolshevik administrations have grown up under the shelter of Allied forces. We are responsible for their existence and we must endeavour to support them.” (CAB 23/8, WC 511, 1.11.1918)

It was presumed in Britain that some Russia would emerge from the Civil War and Britain would have to deal with it, no matter what management it was under. This had an implication with regard to whether Britain should promote the development of independent states in the region, which a future Russia, of whatever complexion, would surely not appreciate.

Britain’s interest in the Caucasus had nothing to do with self-determination and any desire to establish democratic nation states. It was primarily geopolitical. The general British view was that the people of the Caucasus were unfit to govern themselves, being at a lower level of civilisation. When the states that eventually emerged from the situation of necessity finally succumbed to the Bolsheviks that was taken as proof by Britain that their view of the Caucasian people had been correct.

I must emphasise: If the idea around “self-determination” helped the British geopolitical interest the principle was supported, but it was never a principle in Britain’s policy to establish democratic nation states in the region.

Prior to the Great War nationalism was largely undeveloped in the Caucasus. It was not in the Tsarist interest to encourage it and Britain saw little to gain in promoting it there. There was, of course, a section in Liberal England who promoted ideas of nationality in the widely dispersed Armenians, but that was primarily a nonconformist Christian, anti-Turkish impulse. The British State itself did not see any tangiable advantage in supporting the idea of an Armenian state.

In August 1914 a lot of propaganda regarding “small nations” was unleashed from Britain to justify the War on Germany. But this was certainly not meant to apply to the peoples of the Russian Empire, which was the military ally of Britain against Germany. Disrupting the Empire of an ally in a war situation was not a favourable outcome.

It was the emergence of the Bolsheviks that prompted impulses in the peripheral nationalities of the Russian Empire for self-government. One of the first acts of the Bolsheviks was to issue the Rights of Peoples, published in November 1917, which declared support for “The right of all peoples to free self-determination up to and including separation from Russia and the formation of independent states.” (Firuz Kazemzadeh, The Struggle for Transcaspia, 1917-1921, p.56)

This Bolshevik declaration went further than the dreams of the most advanced nationalists in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan and it was practically an invitation to separate from the Russian state.

The Brest-Litovsk negotiations with Germany – which were very much conducted in the public gaze – consisted of the Bolsheviks issuing large amounts of propaganda around the “rights of nations to self-determination”. This cannot have gone unnoticed in the borderlands, where nationalism hardly existed. Rosa Luxembourg, a doctrinaire Marxist in Germany, criticised Lenin for this on the basis that the Bolsheviks were only stirring up trouble for the Socialist state in the future.

The new proto-national political expressions in the Caucasus were still acting as part of Transcaucasia and Russia, assuming that their destiny lay with Russia, even if it was to be in some form of federation, at this juncture. The first congress of the Musavats in November 1917 demanded national territorial autonomy within the Federative Russian state and an all-Russian Congress to settle territorial disputes (see Rahman Mustafayev, From Imperial Province to Parliamentary Republic, IRS, No. 1 2010, p.5)

The Musavats initially supported the Bolsheviks both because of the Bolshevik declarations for self-determination of the peoples and a common desire for the ending of the War. This contrasted with the Menshevik programme of a “one and indivisible Russia” and continuation of the War on behalf of the Entente (see Huseyn Tosun, Developments in Azerbaijan after the Bolshevik Revolution, IRS, Spring 2018, pp.98-9).

However, Lenin’s dispersal of the Russian Constituent Assembly in Petrograd in January 1918, after it had rejected Bolshevik dominance, led the Musavats and the Caucasus Commissariat to break off relations with the Bolsheviks and establish the Seim. The Musavats were forced into an untenable temporary alliance with Georgian Mensheviks and Armenian Dashnaks to preserve the basics of existence – order and stability.

The Bolshevik acquiescence to Brest-Litovsk had a number of implications for Russia that are not generally understood, due to the mystifications of anti-Stalinism. It, for one thing, represented the isolation of revolutionary Russia, with a virtue having to be made of “socialism in one country” by Lenin. Of course, the Bolsheviks hoped for the spread of the proletarian revolution to the West but they were disappointed.

If the Bolsheviks had held out for a non-annexationist treaty that allowed for a belt of states to be formed as a buffer between the Soviet state and the West, and the Germans had agreed, it would have been the case that self-determination was a possibility. But the Bolsheviks ensured the isolation of the Russian proletarian state whilst hoping for its expansion, uncurbed by buffer states to the west and south.

Lenin’s gamble of signing Brest-Litovsk also had internal consequences for Russia as it isolated the Bolsheviks from their allies, like the left SRs, who wished to continue it. So the decision not to wage war in defence of the state, against the Germans, led to a different form of war – Civil War. In the Civil War social life had to coalesce around the Bolshevik nucleus, which demanded all power to the Bolsheviks.

If the Soviet system could have developed into a multi-party democracy it could only have done so in early 1918. But the Bolsheviks closed off that possibility themselves because they had no faith in such a thing – not because of a civil war or as an emergency war measure. When the war on the Bolshevik state ended in 1920 Lenin did not discard the arrangements made in 1918 against multi-party democracy – he built upon them, extending and strengthening the one party totalitarian state.

The dispersal of the Constituent Assembly narrowed the broadly based political support in defence of the February Revolution, which contained the Bolsheviks as one element, and Brest-Litovsk obliterated it entirely. This made a one-party state and the reduction of the Soviets to mere appendages of the Bolsheviks inevitable. Henceforth, the Bolsheviks determined on the annihilation of all other political tendencies in the society as a prerequisite to their own survival. This would inevitably bring them into conflict with parties like the Musavats and the March 1918 events in Baku were one of the consequences.

The Georgian, Armenian and Azerbaijani representatives of Transcaucasia were therefore brought together not only in order to prevent the chaos and conflict in Russia spreading to their area but through Bolshevik action. This prompted the Transcaucasian Commissariat to establish autonomous government as a kind of shield against the Bolsheviks in November 1918. The main intention of this federation was to protect the region against what was going on in Russia proper, until the situation improved and then some new relationship would be established with the rest of the state, with the Bolsheviks gone.

However, Lenin’s gamble paid off – almost accidentally – because the Allied lines in the West held against the million extra Germans transferred to the front. Germany lost the War and the Bolsheviks as a consequence survived to face a Britain that, although triumphant, was substantially weakened, both physically and in terms of will, by 4 years of German resistance.

Lenin was either a genius or he was very lucky, saved by circumstances that were largely beyond his control. But from then on the totalitarian state he established, constructed in the circumstances of early 1918, made, in the years to come, a fundamental social revolution possible.

The Transcaucasian Commissariat momentarily inclined toward acting as an entity independent of Russia when it had to deal with the Ottoman advance in the Caucasus in early 1918. If it had followed through on this it could have secured peace and protection from the Ottomans. But it was disinclined to do so until the end.

The Commissariat, and from February 1918, the Seim – particularly its Menshevik part in Georgia – could not bring itself to become something apart from the Russian State, despite its collapse, and the general antagonism to the Bolsheviks in the Caucasus. The Commissariat, acting as part of a Russia that was in collapse, decided to go to war with the Ottomans and then lost very quickly (the Azerbaijani element was not in favour of this course).

It was the Bolshevik propaganda at Brest-Litovsk which provoked the separate organising and arming of Armenian, Georgian and Azerbaijani military units in response to events that pushed the parts of the region toward separatisms. And in May 1918 the Seim, which had only been established 5 weeks previously, dissolved and individual declarations of Georgian, Azerbaijani and Armenian independence were made.

The four Caucasian Republics of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Dagestan came into existence in the vacuum between the advancing Ottomans and the dissolving Russian state. Georgia decided to accept German protection and declare independence before Azerbaijan put its trust in the Ottomans and declared its own independence on 28 May. Armenia followed suit on the same day. An agreement was reached between the Azerbaijani National Council and the Armenians consenting to the creation of an Armenian state within the limits of the Aleksandropol Province. The city of Erivan was ceded to the Armenians on condition that Armenians would give up their claims to the mountainous part of Karabakh in the Elizavetpol Province (see Ismayil Hajiyev, Lost Historical Lands of Azerbaijan, IRS, No.24, 2016, pp.50-1)

The Ottomans stepped into the breech that had opened up in Transcaucasia, driving all the way to the Caspian and capturing Baku with the Azerbaijani national forces. The Ottomans, themselves had no problem with the Caucasian states and even placed the new Armenian state under their protection in a treaty signed with the Erivan Republic (a treaty the Armenians immediately repudiated on the Ottoman Great War defeat).

Britain Encourages Caucasus Nations

In late 1917 Britain had began, for the first time, to encourage notions of nationality and self-determination among the peoples of the Caucasus in order to produce a new battle-line against the Germans and Ottomans. Whilst some success was achieved in this in relation to the Armenians and Georgians the British were not successful with the Azerbaijanis.

One British observer, Morgan Philips Price, a correspondent with The Manchester Guardian, who spent a number of years in the region, noted that the “national revival”/movement in Azerbaijan (and Dagestan) or “Tartar nationalism” was different in kind from the more narrow nationalisms of the Christian peoples of the Caucasus:

“The Tartars feel that their religion gives them a particular connection with all other Moslem neighbours. They feel a certain community of interest and fellow-sympathy with their co-religionists in Turkey and Persia. This form of freemasonry is characteristic of Moslem movements, which are not nationalist in the narrow political sense, as among Christian races, but cultural, like the earlier movements in the middle of last century among the Armenians and Georgians. They aim at developing the Arabic, Persian, and Turkish literature and language, at spreading knowledge of the great Moslem writers and thinkers of the past in Islam, and, generally, at promoting intercourse between Moslems in different parts of the world. Nationalism, in the sense of separating out one group of Moslems from another on the basis of language or origin or past history, of dividing Turk from Caucasian Tartar, or from Persian, has not yet been developed; and on the whole it does not seem likely that it will be.” (War and Revolution in Asiatic Russia, pp.262-3)

Philips Price, writing in early 1918, had the sense to dismiss the nightmares of British statesmen about “Pan-Turanianism” and “Pan-Islamism” that were gripping the makers of policy in Whitehall. He understood that the Azerbaijanis were a people with a wider, more complex, culture than the Armenians (and Georgians) whose nationalism would be primarily territorial.

Most of the world lived in a pre-capitalist state until the Great War and it was felt – in Imperial Britain anyway – that the future was going to be Imperial rather than national. British Imperial writers predicted before the Great War that nations were dying and Empires were spreading across the earth. That was “progress” and it was very much part of a Social Darwinist imperative that saturated Imperial thinking at the time.

Nations which sprang up out of the Great War are disinclined to write histories of themselves in pre-national form. The Great War catastrophe resulted in “progress” being national rather than Imperial. Not to have been a fully-fledged nation in 1914 was later seen to have been backward.

After the Great War the world was organised by the victors under a League of Nations, including newly constructed nation states with only a rudimentary national character, where no nations were before. These new nations bore no responsibility for the catastrophe that had taken place and which the League of Nations was established to prevent again. However, they were now required to be nations, by the states that had organised the catastrophe and under their authority. The future was the nation – although not all nations were equal!

A handful of states, who had brought about the catastrophe, presided over these new nations, deciding who was and who wasn’t deserving of the prized national status. The world was now required to “progress” in this form within a system presided over mainly by Britain and France. Unfortunately, the tendency is to now write history within this scheme of things, which invariably results in deference to the definers of progress and gratitude for their recognition.

Britain had bombarded the world with propaganda about the Great War being about “democracy” and “small nations” for 4 years. When President Wilson took the U.S. into Britain’s Great War he reinforced this particular moral aspect of the War and put behind it the new American power. A combination of British moral humbug and US moral earnestness therefore caused the Versailles Congress and its League of Nations to present itself to the World as the beginning of a new international order of things which would operate on the basis of democratic rights, self-determination, law and justice.

Is it any surprise that the Caucasian Republics believed they could become independent nation states in this general atmosphere and in a world being re-ordered by righteous champions of democracy?

The Azerbaijanis, who, among the Caucasian peoples, were the most serious about establishing national democratic structures, took the British at face-value and accepted the occupation as a kind of transition to the new world. The Musavat set out to prove their competence in government to the British and, it should be said, succeeded in leaving a good impression on them.

Of course, the reality was different. Britain advocated and applied its “self-determination” principle inconsistently – as it saw fit. As a general rule it advanced the principle in areas where problems could be caused for potential rivals to British power. This enabled it to destroy functional states and put together weird conglomerations and bloated states that spelt trouble for the future. In its own backyard – which was a sizeable part of the world in 1919 – on the other hand, Britain repressed such notions with its military forces (e.g. Ireland, Iraq, India etc.)

The new national governments were formed on a predominantly anti-Bolshevik basis and their interests conflicted with the Bolsheviks, despite the Bolshevik declaration on the Rights of Peoples. The peripheral areas, in consequence, provided potential bases for the formation of anti-Bolshevik movements whom Britain could support.

However the bigger question of Great Power politics confronted the British occupation in the Caucasus was: should Britain attempt to establish and support a series of buffer states that could be employed as a barrier against a future Russian return to the area or should it obstruct the development of such entities in the interest of future relations with a traditional Power that was not going to go away?

That was a question which it never fully resolved. The answer to it had to be supplied by the Bolsheviks themselves.

The Denikin Problem

In the Summer of 1918 Generals Denikin and Alexeiev had organised a volunteer army in Southern Russia to overthrow the Bolsheviks. It managed to dislodge the Bolsheviks from the area around the Black Sea and went on to occupy all of the Russian territory to the North of Georgia and Dagestan.

General Denikin was the main British Imperial instrument against the Bolsheviks in the absence of forces of their own, which had been hurriedly demobilised by Lloyd George at the end of 1918.

There was always a contradiction between Britain’s support for Denikin and building any independent Caucasian Republics. Denikin, who Britain was lavishing with armaments and supplies against the Bolsheviks, made it clear that he intended to re-incorporate the Caucasus into a new Russian state, when he had seen off the Bolsheviks.

In December 1918 Armenian forces attacked Georgia, attempting to take a strip of territory and add it to the Erivan Republic, which was being governed by a Dashnak dictatorship. Firuz Kazemzadeh summed up the Armenian attitude:

“Had it not been for their faith in the Allies, they would never have attacked Georgia. They had been sure that Britain and France would not object to the punishment of a people who had collaborated with the Germans during the war. The West they felt owed them a debt. Had not Gladstone once said that to serve Armenia was to serve civilization? And ever since British, French, and American statesmen, writers, clergymen and diplomats had been repeating this phrase. Yet now that the Allies were in Transcaucasia they failed to champion the Armenian cause.” (The Struggle for Transcaucasia, 1917-1921, p.181)

Around the same time the Dashnaks began attacking Azerbaijan. General Andranik took his Special Striking Division into Karabakh, only to be stopped by General Thomson in Baku, who informed him that a dim view would be taken of any further aggressions. Andranik was encouraged to go on a tour of Europe, to get him out of the way.

The British had suspected an Armenian plot with General Denikin against the Georgians. Denikin’s volunteer force had occupied Georgian Sochi in January 1919 claiming to act on behalf of the Abkhazians, presenting a difficult problem for the British.

In early 1919, after his victories against the Bolsheviks, Denikin invaded Dagestan, crushing the young Mountaineer Republic with great brutality. He then massed forces on the borders of Georgia and Azerbaijan and threatened Baku. Both Georgia and Azerbaijan attempted to help the Republic of Mountaineers against Denikin but without Allied support they could not save Dagestan. The British were at the same time aiding Denekin with war materiel that he was using against the Dagestan people.

Denikin also ran an underground organisation in Baku armed with explosives, rifles and communication material which was preparing for a rising – before being discovered. The White General Bicherakhov, who had been brought back to the city by the British, was found to be plotting a coup and had to be removed to England. When he was there his forces were expelled from Baku by General Thomson.

The threat from Denikin and his attempts to take the Caucasus back into Russian control prompted the Georgians and Azerbaijanis to draw up a mutual defence agreement in June 1919. Finally, the British acted. Major-General Cory defined a demarcation line to the North of the Caucasus mountains that Denikin had to withdraw behind. Denikin instituted a food blockade of Georgia and Azerbaijan and delivered a large quantity of ammunition to the Armenians in response (The Struggle for Transcaucasia, 1917-1921, pp.246-7).

The Bolsheviks used Denikin’s aggression to court the Caucasus peoples. Commissar Chicherin published an appeal which declared that the British intended to give them up to Denikin:

“Comrades, workers and Peasants of Azerbaijan, Daghestan and Georgia! Soviet Russia has no intention of marching against your republics… She stands firmly on the principle of self-determination… And if you, the Muslims and the Georgians of the Caucasus, are satisfied with the form of government of your republics, live in tranquility, exercise your right of self-determination, and restore good neighbourly relations with us… Soviet Russia expresses the firm hope that the workers and peasants of Daghestan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia will not allow their freedom to be trampled under the feet of the Tsarist General, the English executioner, Denikin.” (ibid, p.248)

The Caucasus Republics could not, of course, respond to the Bolshevik appeal because of the British occupation. The British realised the potential danger, however. Denikin was brought to heel with the knowledge that without British support he could not maintain his forces in the field.

Britain’s immediate policy in early 1919 aimed at keeping General Denekin, out of the Caucasus, and directed against the Bolsheviks.

The British military mission that arrived in Southern Russia during late 1918, provided General Denikin’s White army with war material. The White armies had no local production facilities for making war, so British assistance was vital. It is almost certain that Denikin would have not been able to build or maintain his army of 225,000 men, or advance toward Moscow, without the British assistance. Without such help the Russian Civil War would have been confined to small scale engagements by Diehard anti-Bolsheviks. The British Mission organised, armed, trained and equipped the White Russian armies. Many of the British instructors also took part in fighting the Bolsheviks alongside Denikin’s forces.

Britain was also supporting Admiral Kolchak’s army in Siberia. But during the spring and summer of 1919, the White armies in the North suffered several defeats and began retreating. Denikin’s army was more successful in Southern Russia, taking great amounts of territory from the Bolsheviks and advancing towards Moscow during the Summer. It was realised that Denikin was the White commander with the best chance to defeat the Bolsheviks. Most British military aid was directed toward to his army and Southern Russia.

There were various views in Britain about what should be done with regard to Russia. But if there was one constant in British policy it was the desire to keep Russia fighting itself for as long as possible so that the disablement of the Russian State was continued. It was much better for Britain if a weak Russia emerged from its Civil War than a strong one, whether it be White or Red. The basic aim of the British policy was, therefore, to weaken Russia and to prevent its re-emergence for as long as possible.

Part IV
2018-11-17


British policy with regard to Russia and the Caucasus was formed in the Imperial War Cabinet. This was founded in 1916 after Lloyd George replaced Asquith as Prime Minister. Its function was to concentrate power in the hands of the few (rather than the 22 of the normal Cabinet) so that the War could be directed to a conclusion with greater cohesion by 5 or 7 chosen men. The War Cabinet outlived the Great War it was established to win and was maintained for a year after the Armistices of 1918.

The Eastern Committee of the War Cabinet, headed by Lord Curzon, dealt with policy in relation to the Russian periphery. The Eastern Committee, following Curzon’s policy, assumed that a corridor of buffer states would be constructed between the Russian centre and the British Empire. But what happened in the Russian heartland was to have a great bearing on what happened in the periphery.

British policy on Russia and the Bolsheviks was fought over by 3 men – the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, the Minister for War, Winston Churchill and the new Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, who succeeded Arthur Balfour in mid-1919.

Lloyd George and the Democracy

A very important development that had great effect on Britain’s policy toward Russia, the Bolsheviks and the Caucasus, occurred in February 1918, when the electorate was doubled at a stroke by the Fourth Reform Act. The consequences of this only became apparent after the General Election in December 1918, when the Lloyd George Coalition won a landslide victory to dominate Parliament.

Before the Great War Britain was an oligarchic democracy in which the traditional elite held sway above a limited enfranchisement which had, in 1914, reached about a third of the populace. The British system before the War was one of government by the ruling class eliciting consent of the governed masses. But in 1918 the oligarchic, ruling class that planned and organised the Great War in Britain, behind the scenes, gave way to the democracy which the Great War brought forth.

Britain became a democracy as a result of the unprecedented mass mobilisation it found necessary to invoke – in defiance of the traditional voluntary principle – in order to defeat Germany and the Ottomans. There was no need for conflict because the greatest of the Reform Acts, introduced under cover of the War, in the great mass enthusiasm for it, was done through an act of ruling class patronage.

With the sudden advent of adult majority participation in elections in Britain account had to be taken of the masses. They began to be pandered to by “the men who won the war”. Here is a good description of it from a 1922 book by Alfred Zimmern of the Round Table/Chatham House:

“During the week after the armistice the moral thermometer of the British people went down some fifty degrees. During the subsequent month, right up to polling day in the middle of December, it continued to fall. The… sense of national and individual responsibility for the making of a better world… were dissipated in a riot of electioneering, thrown like chaff on the winds of demagogic claptrap and invective… After a few vain attempts at evasion the Premier yielded, and was then led on, floundering and uncomfortable, from one pitfall to another. Ignoring the state of Europe and the appeals which were already pressing in for the services of British troops in maintaining order… he pledged himself to rapid demobilisation… Meanwhile, what was happening in the wider world? The story of the first eight or ten weeks after the armistice can be summed up in three words – delay, confusion, and disillusionment.” (Europe in Convalescence, pp.106-109)

As Zimmern noted, the chief panderer to the masses was the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, the closest thing there was to “the people” in the Government. The Prime Minister won a great majority in the General Election with the “Hang the Kaiser” slogan exciting the masses. Then Lloyd George began his pandering to the masses by demobilising the massive conscript British Army that he had built up after the voluntary principle had been abandoned in 1916.

This left much Imperial work undone and unable to be done in the areas the British Empire had won for itself. The old Imperial governing class looked on with regret when they saw the dissolution of the forces that could have been used to stabilise the world Britain had won through great sacrifice of blood and treasure. A functional settlement in Europe was prevented in the process by the new British democracy and its “wheeler-dealer” Prime Minister.

Zimmern made this comment about the selfishness of the new democracy:

“History will assess the full measure of the moral injury inflicted upon the world, and the British Empire, by Britain’s sudden swerve towards selfishness. For the moment, it would seem to mark the first step in a process of disintegration which later statesmen, even if, as they surely must, they acknowledge, and seek publicly to retrieve, the sins of their predecessors, will find it hard to arrest; for the accumulated moral capital of a wide-spreading commonwealth.” (ibid p. 122)

The combination of British democracy and “a wide-spreading commonwealth” spelt disaster for the world after Britain had gained its primacy over the earth.

The man who was Prime Minister of Britain in 1918, Lloyd George, lived through his wits in the company of social superiors, within a rapidly changing situation, brought about by the sudden introduction of mass democracy. He was a man who had once had principles but who had largely abandoned them to rise up the greasy pole and stay at the top of it. He had assumed the character of a weather vane, blowing one way or another, as events affected him, to stay at the top.

It was the character of this man and the unprecedented situation that pertained in Britain at the end of the Great War that needs to be understood if we are to get to grips with what happened in relation to British policy on Russia and in relation to the Caucasus from 1918 to 1920.

Lloyd George was a Liberal Prime Minister heading a Coalition with a largely Conservative Cabinet. The chief Tories in the War Cabinet, Balfour and Bonar Law, were opposed to large scale Allied intervention in Russia because of fear of Bolshevism spreading to Britain.

A series of peace proposals were advanced by the Bolsheviks after the Armistices with Germany and the Ottomans. The British Foreign Office urged that nothing be done that would give the Bolsheviks recognition and, in consequence, “moral strength” since “beset by internal dangers and struggles and surrounded by enemies” the Soviet government “might well crumble to ruin in the near future” (FO 371/3346, 23.12.1918).

The Prime Minister too initially advocated that “no fixed attitude” should be taken to Bolshevik “Central Russia”. He was “definitely opposed to military intervention in any shape” – meaning direct British force – noting that the British war on the French Revolution a century ago had enabled Danton to “rally the French” and “create a great military machine imbued with a passionate hatred” of Britain (CAB 23/42, 31.12.1918).

Lloyd George advocated a policy of “non-interference in the internal affairs” of the area under Bolshevik control, “any assistance, financial or material… possible, excluding troops” for those occupying the Russian periphery, like Denikin and assistance to states which had declared their independence from the Russian Empire i.e. Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan (CAB 29/28/1, 13.1.1919).

The Prime Minister was against any significantly increased level of British intervention in Russia beyond the forces already there because of fear of costs in both blood and treasure. He advanced the argument in Cabinet that civil wars were won ultimately by the side that is able to attract the greater popular support, and therefore is deserving of victory.

This line facilitated the policy of Britain giving the anti-Bolshevik forces as much support as they needed without actually making the Russian Civil War Britain’s war. If the Whites succeeded in winning the support of the Russian people they would win, if they could not they would lose, and Britain could abandon them as quickly as she had supported them.

The Prime Minister’s policy on Russia held primacy in the British Cabinet and was only really contested by the War Minister, Winston Churchill and to a lesser extent, the Foreign Secretary, from mid-1919, Lord Curzon.

Lloyd George favoured inviting the Bolsheviks to negotiations, along with the other Russian factions, to Paris, or somewhere else, if that was unacceptable. A meeting was proposed by him to the Allied Supreme Council in early 1919 to take place on the Princes Islands (Prinkipo) near Istanbul to settle differences among the Russians. But this suggestion was shot down by the French government and the White Russians.

Churchill against Lloyd George

By the time Winston Churchill had become Secretary of State for War and a member of the War Cabinet, British forces were already committed in various regions of the Russian Empire and engaged in battle with the Bolsheviks.

Churchill demanded a clear Russian policy from the British Cabinet. He argued that Britain should either pull out or take determined action in support of the anti-Bolshevik forces in Russia.

At the Imperial War Cabinet on the last day of 1918 Churchill argued for collective intervention to destroy the Bolsheviks. He wanted to use military force to impose an election on Russia that he was sure the Bolsheviks would lose (CAB 23/42, 31.12.1918). Churchill put his proposal to the Allied Supreme Council in February 1919. He also sent two telegrams to the Prime Minister in Paris, outlining his plans for Russia.

Lloyd George replied to his War Minister, explaining the basis of his opposition to large-scale direct intervention in Russia, saying he was

“very alarmed at your… planning war against the Bolsheviks. The Cabinet have never authorised such a proposal. They have never contemplated anything beyond supplying Armies in anti-Bolshevik areas… I beg you not to commit this country to what would be a purely mad enterprise out of hatred of Bolshevik principles. An expensive war of aggression against Russia is a way to strengthen Bolshevism in Russia and create it at home. We cannot afford the burden. Chamberlain (Chancellor of the Exchequer) tells me we can hardly make both ends meet on a peace basis even at the present rate of taxation and if we are committed to a war against a continent like Russia it is the direct road to bankruptcy and Bolshevism in these islands.” (Lloyd George, The Truth about the Peace Treaties, Vol. I, pp. 371-2)

Churchill, in his demand for a “Crusade against Bolshevism”, was supported by Marshal Foch who wished to raise an army of Polish and east Europeans to support the Whites in bringing down the Bolsheviks. However, both Lloyd George and Woodrow Wilson opposed such a large intervention and the Allied Council rejected Churchill’s and Foch’s proposals.

A Second Brest-Litovsk?

In February 1919 there was an opportunity for a settlement to be made between the Allies and the Bolshevik government in Russia. The Bolsheviks, at this point, had made a number of attempts to make peace with those who were supporting armed insurrection on Russian territory.

If a peace settlement had been successfully concluded at this moment it would have changed the history of Russia, the Caucasus, and perhaps that of Europe as a whole. However, it was lost, primarily due to the subsequent evasion and inaction of the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George.

In February 1919 William Bullitt, a US State Department Intelligence Officer, working with Colonel House in Paris, was sent on a secret “fact finding” mission to Moscow. It was more than a “fact finding” mission, though. Prior to his departure, Bullitt had been briefed by the British Cabinet Secretary, Sir Maurice Hankey, and Sir Philip Kerr, a Round Table/Royal Institute of International Affairs man, who was part of the British delegation at Paris. These two influential figures, after conferring with the British Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, gave Bullitt the task of obtaining “an exact statement of the terms on which” the Bolsheviks “were ready to stop fighting” (The Bullitt Mission to Russia: Testimony before the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United States Senate, pp. 34)

Kerr detailed the terms he ascertained from Lloyd George that would result in a peace settlement – if the Bolsheviks agreed to them. After a ceasing of hostilities on all fronts the Soviets had to allow “All de facto governments to remain in full control of the territories which they at present occupy.” (ibid, p.37)

After meeting Chicherin, Litvinov and finally Lenin himself, in long conferences, Bullitt and his colleagues were presented with the terms Lenin would settle for in return for an end to the blockade, trade embargo, military assistance to the Whites and Allied intervention in Russia.

Almost all of the British demands were conceded by Lenin. These included most importantly the Bolshevik concession that

“All existing de facto governments on the territory of the former Russian Empire and Finland would remain in full control of the territories they occupied at the moment of the Armistice, the revision of frontiers to take place only by the self-determination of the inhabitants. Each government would agree not to use force against any of the others.” (ibid pp. 39-44)

Bullitt later commented:

“Lenin’s proposal meant, therefore, that the Soviet government offered to give up, at least temporarily, the whole of Siberia, the Urals, the Caucasus, the Archangel and Murmansk areas, Finland, the Baltic States, a portion of White Russia, and most of the Ukraine.” (William C. Bullitt, The Tragedy of Versailles, Life, Vol. XVI, No.13, March 1944, pp.98-118)

In effect, this was a second Brest-Litovsk, with Lenin and the Bolsheviks prepared to buy off Allied military and economic pressure through the concession of large swathes of territory which could not be conquered at the time. The Russian heartland would be retained by the Bolsheviks in the hope that a spread of the revolution might bring about a future resurrection.

After Bullitt received the Soviet terms on 14 March he communicated them to the British and wrote in his Memorandum to the President of the U.S. that he believed it to be:

“an opportunity to make peace with the revolution on a just and reasonable basis – perhaps a unique opportunity… No real peace can be established in Europe or the world until peace is made with the revolution.” (Foreign Relations, 1919, Russia, pp.85-9)

Lenin insisted on a reply within a month, to safeguard against Allied advances before the peace deal.

The Bullitt Mission was leaked to the British press and The Daily Mail produced a ferocious editorial against parleying with “an evil thing known as Bolshevism”, penned by the newly appointed editor of The Times, Henry Wickham Steed. This, linking Bullitt’s mission to the pre-War pacifism, the Prinkipo proposal and appeasement of Germany, shook Lloyd George, according to Bullitt’s testimony to the Senate Committee (The Bullitt Mission to Russia: Testimony before the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United States Senate, p. 66).

In the British Parliament, under questioning from Conservative MPs who seemed to know of the Soviet proposals, the Prime Minister denied any knowledge of the Bullitt Mission, despite having received the US Intelligence Officer for breakfast in Paris, for a full report on his Mission, only a few days before. Lloyd George then used the occasion to make a major policy statement on Russia which ruled out recognition of the Bolsheviks and any peace moves entirely.

President Wilson also gave Bullitt the brush-off. Colonel House passed him off to hostile subordinates and all was lost as the April 10 deadline was allowed to pass without reply to the Soviet offer.

George Kennan later commented:

“An… important cause of Bullitt’s misfortune was no doubt the domestic-political situation in England, which did not permit Mr. Lloyd George to do what he thought would have been sensible about the Russian problem. Here you get into another of the characteristic disadvantages of democratic-diplomacy – the fact that a system of government under which the executive power is sensitively attuned to the waves of popular sentiment, and of parliamentary opinion, is one which finds it difficult to adjust rapidly and incisively to a complicated and fast-moving series of circumstances, especially when controversial domestic issues are involved… All this was doubly true of the representatives of democratic governments who struggled with the Russian problem…” (Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin, p.135)

In short, the British democracy blew Lloyd George away from a peace policy toward the Bolsheviks and prevented a functional settlement being made with Russia in 1919, which condemned the Caucasus to its subsequent fate in the following year.

Churchill’s Private War?

Without a peace settlement that confined the Bolsheviks to the Russian heartland and gave time for states around the periphery of the old Russian Empire to bed in, what policy was possible?

A speech by the Minister for War, Winston Churchill, made at the moment of decision for Lloyd George over the peace proposals, seems to have put considerable pressure on the Prime Minister.

At the Aldwych in London, on 11 April, Churchill told his audience:

“Of all the tyrannies in history, the Bolshevist tyranny is the worst, the most destructive, the most degrading… The atrocities by Lenin and Trotsky are incomparably more hideous… than any for which the Kaiser himself is responsible. There is also to be remembered – whatever crimes the Germans have committed… at any rate they stuck to their allies. They misled them, they exploited them, but… they did not desert or betray them. It may have been honour among thieves, but that is better than honour among murderers… Every British and French soldier lost last year was really done to death by Lenin and Trotsky… by the treacherous desertion of an ally without parallel in the history of the world… A way of atonement is open to Germany. By combating Bolshevism, by being the bulwark against it, Germany may take the first step toward ultimate reunion with the civilised world.” (The Times 12.4.1919)

When the Prime Minister heard about Churchill’s speech he is said to have exclaimed: “He has Bolshevism on the brain. Now he wants to make a treaty with the Germans to fight the Bolsheviks. He wants to employ German troops, and he is mad for operations in Russia.” (Lord Riddell, Intimate Diary of the Peace Conference and after 1918-23, p.50)

Lloyd George was presumably enraged because at this point the Royal Navy was operating and tightening a starvation blockade on Germany in order to secure its capitulation to the Treaty of Versailles.

In 1919 Churchill tried to act in accordance with the world he had operated within before the War, on the presumptions that had existed before 1914. He wished to secure the position that had been hard won and defend the civilisation Britain had gained predominance within along with the duty to defend it. The War Britain had won had wrecked much of what was European civilisation and rendered others incapable of its defence against that which had been produced that threatened it.

All the British Government was anti-Bolshevik but Churchill was the most anti-Communist member of the War Cabinet and saw the defeat of “the Bolshevik poison” as the main issue in the world in 1919. In the Aftermath volume of his World Crisis Churchill made clear his hatred of Bolshevism and what he thought it had brought forth:

“… not a wounded Russia only, but a poisoned Russia, an infected Russia, a plague-bearing Russia; a Russia of armed hordes… accompanied and preceded by swarms of typhus-bearing vermin which slew the bodies of men, and political doctrines which destroyed the health and even the soul of nations.” (The World Crisis, V, p.263)

Bolshevism had to be destroyed lest it infect civilisation everywhere. That is why Churchill proposed a British alliance with the Germany Britain had only just defeated, for a war on Bolshevism (instead of it being punished for War Guilt). The appearance of Bolshevism demanded a common civilisational defence and the hysterical moral propaganda of the Great War on Germany needed to be cast aside.

Churchill outlined his views in a Memorandum to the Prime Minister he wrote criticising policy on Russia:

“Since the Armistice my policy would have been ‘Peace with the German people, war on the Bolshevik tyranny’. Willingly or unavoidably, you have followed something very near the reverse… we are now face to face with the results. They are terrible. We may win may be within measurable distance of universal collapse and anarchy throughout Europe and Asia. Russia has gone into ruin. What is left of her is in the power of these deadly snakes.” (Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis, Vol. V, p.257)

It was said that the War of 1914 was a “war for civilisation” on Britain’s part – “Civilisation and the Barbarian” as it was put by Professor Tom Kettle in the Liberal press. Churchill knew that that was all propaganda. In 1919 there was a real war for civilisation taking place.

Churchill was later to lavish praise on both Mussolini and Hitler for defending Western Civilisation against the Bolshevik threat. In 1919 he identified the influence of the Bolshevik state acting upon the situation of flux caused by the Great War and its settlement at Versailles as threatening the foundations of civilisation in Europe. Fascism was needed as a bulwark against Bolshevism and Churchill supported it on this basis as an antidote to poison. He proposed that Germany could atone for its War Guilt by acting as a European bulwark against Bolshevism and Hitler subsequently took Churchill at his word.

Churchill saw a strong link between what happened in Russia and what happened in Germany. In a Memorandum written later in 1919 he described this:

“Generally speaking, it may be said that there are two Russias and two Germanies, a Bolshevik and an anti-Bolshevik Russia, and a pro-Bolshevik and an anti-Bolshevik Germany. Both Germanies look to Russia as their only means of regaining world power. Either by the pro-Bolshevik or anti-Bolshevik road Germany is determined to get hold of Russia… the moment the Allies take steps which are fundamentally injurious to anti-Bolshevik Russia, and make it clear they do not care whether it is crushed or not, both the Russian hands will be stretched out alternatively for Germany to clasp, and either in one way or another these two mighty branches of the human race will come together in effective action.” (CAB 24/89, 16.9.1919 and Winston S. Churchill, World Crisis: Aftermath, pp.251-3)

Churchill evidently believed in the view, most famously advanced by Prof. Halford Mackinder, that the most vital necessity of British geopolitics was to prevent Germany and Russia joining forces and control the “Heartland” of what Mackinder called the “World Island” in his 1919 book, Democratic Ideas and Reality. This is primarily why a series of buffer states – or cordon sanitaire – was erected by the Allied Powers at Paris, between Germany and Russia..

We shall hear of Mackinder in relation to the Caucasus, later.

The bungled British War on Germany of 1939-40 led to Churchill having to enter alliance with the forces of “anti-civilisation” in order to defeat those who he had previously praised for defending civilisation. Such are the vagaries of the British Balance of Power that turned Churchill the Fascist into Churchill the anti-Fascist (see Zionism versus Bolshevism: A Struggle for the Soul of the Jewish People, Sunday Herald, 8.2.1920 and Mr. Churchill on Fascism, Antidote to Soviet Poison, The Times, 21.1.1927 for example.)

Churchill continued to argue that the procrastination of the British Government had worsened the situation in Russia. He saw the early months of 1919 as having been disastrous for the anti-Bolshevik cause, because of the lack of substantial intervention by the Allies. The Allied Supreme Command finally declared its official support for Admiral Kolchak in attempting to overthrow the Bolsheviks in June 1919 but Churchill felt this was too little too late.

Along with putting forward a vigorous anti-Bolshevik policy Churchill subsequently operated something of a private war against Lenin from the War Office, from mid-1919. Frustrated with the lack of a clear Cabinet policy on Russia and the obstructionist tactics of the Prime Minister, he began to pursue his own Russian policy independently of the War office.

Churchill’s private war should be understood as a last aristocratic hurrah against a democracy that was making a mess of the world it had won in its Great War victory.

Lloyd George Blown Away

On 16 April, under pressure from the backbenchers over the suspicion that he had had a hand in peace overtures to the Bolsheviks and Churchill’s call for war on Russia Lloyd George made a major speech on his Russia policy. He said:

“I should like to say a few words about Russia. I have read, and I have heard of very simple remedies produced by both sides. Some say, “Use force!” Some say, “Make peace!” It is not easy; it is one of the most complex problems ever dealt with by any body of men. One difficulty is that there is no Russia. Siberia is broken off. There is the Don, one of the richest provinces of Russia, the Caucasus, and then there is some organisation controlling Central Russia; but there is no body that can say it is a de facto Government for the whole of Russia… To begin with, let me say at once, there is no question of recognition. It has never been discussed.—it was never put forward, and never discussed for the reasons I have given. I can give two or three more. There is no Government representing the whole of Russia. The Bolshevik Government has committed against Allied subjects great crimes which have made it impossible to recognise it, even if it were a civilised Government, and the third reason is that at this very moment they are attacking our friends in Russia. What is the alternative? Does anyone propose military intervention? I want to examine that carefully and candidly… I believe I may say every man in this House wholly disagrees fundamentally—with all the principles upon which the present Russian experiment is based. We deplore its horrible consequences—starvation, bloodshed, confusion, ruin, and horror. But that does not justify us in committing this country to a gigantic military enterprise in order to improve the conditions in Russia.

“Let me speak in all solemnity, and with a great sense of responsibility. Russia is a country which it is very easy to invade, but very difficult to conquer. It has never been conquered by a foreign foe, although it has been successfully invaded many times. It is a country which it is easy to get into, but very difficult to get out of… If we conquered Russia—and we could conquer it—you would be surprised at the military advice which is given us as to the number of men who would be required, and I should like to know where they are to come from. But supposing you had them. Supposing you gathered together an overwhelming army, and you conquered Russia. What manner of government are you going to set up there?… Look at it in another way. We have an Army of Occupation (in Germany). I know what it costs. You cannot immediately leave Russia until you have restored order. It will take a long time to restore order in Russia… I share the horror of all the Bolshevik teachings, but I would rather leave Russia Bolshevik until she sees her way out of it than see Britain bankrupt. And that is the surest road to Bolshevism in Britain… To attempt military intervention in Russia would be the greatest act of stupidity that any Government could possibly commit. But then I am asked if that be the case, why do you support Koltchak, Denikin, and Kharkow? I will tell the House with the same frankness as I put the other case. When the Brest-Litoff treaty was signed,. there were large territories and populations in Russia that had neither hand nor part in that shameful pact, and they revolted against the Government which signed it.

“As long as they stand there, with the evident support of the populations… It is our business, since we asked them to take this step, since we promised support to them if they took this step, and since by taking this stand they contributed largely to the triumph of the Allies, it is our business to stand by our friends. Therefore, we are not sending troops, but we are supplying goods. Everyone who knows Russia knows that, if she is to be redeemed, she must be redeemed by her own sons. All that they ask is—seeing that the Bolsheviks secured the arsenals of Russia—that they should be supplied with the necessary arms to enable them to fight for their own protection and freedom in the land where the Bolshevists are anti-pathetic to the feeling of the population. Therefore I do not in the least regard it as a departure from the fundamental policy of Great Britain not to interfere in the internal affairs of any land that we should support General Denikin, Admiral Koltchak, and General Kharkoff.” (Hansard cols. 2939-2945, 16.04.1919)

At the Supreme Allied Council a couple of months earlier, during the Prinkipo discussions, Lloyd George had repeated that the Bolsheviks were undoubtedly the dominant force in Russia and they had to be come to terms with. And he had attempted to come to terms with them through the Bullitt Mission. But he had changed his tune after the criticism made of the peace overtures and Churchill’s anti-Bolshevik speech.

Dr. Emile Joseph Dillon in his incomparable account of the Peace Conference at Paris makes the following comment about the failure of the Allied policy toward Bolshevism and Russia:

“The Allies… might have solved the Bolshevist problem by making up their minds which of the two alternative politics — war against, or tolerance of, Bolshevism — they preferred, and by taking suitable action in good time. If they had handled the Russian tangle with skill and repaid a great sacrifice with a small one before it was yet too late, they might have hoped to harvest in abundant fruits in the fullness of time. But they belonged to the class of the undecided, whose members continually suffer from the absence of a middle word between yes and no, connoting what is neither positive nor negative. They let the opportunity slip.” (E.J. Dillon, The Inside Story of the Peace Conference, p.399)


PART V

As early as the end of January 1919 Lloyd George indicated to the Allied Supreme Council that, despite the influx of troops over the previous mouths, he saw the British occupation of the Caucasus as a temporary phenomenon. On 6 March the Inter-Departmental Conference on Middle Eastern Affairs under Lord Curzon, to which the Cabinet had delegated authority on such mattes, agreed that preparations should be made for a withdrawal of British forces (CAB 23/9, 6.3.1919).

The British and Denikin

It was decided, as an alternative to British occupation, to use Denikin’s forces as a shield over the Caucasus. British arms and military equipment would be supplied in abundance to Denikin on the understanding that Denikin’s Volunteer army would fight the Bolsheviks and not turn their attention to the Caucasus states Britain had established to its rear.

The Chancellor of Exchequer and Treasury, Austen Chamberlain, was demanding the “severest economy” from government and military and the requisite savings could “only be obtained by reductions in men.”

Another problem Britain faced at this moment was the situation in Ireland. The Irish people had overwhelmingly voted for independence in the first UK democratic General Election of 1918 and established a parliament to institute the mandate it had won. When Britain ignored the result and attempted to repress the Irish democracy Britain by military force it was faced with insurrection on its own doorstep.

Sir Henry Wilson, Churchill’s Chief of the Imperial General Staff, a strong anti-Bolshevik, was also a hardline Unionist opponent of Sinn Fein. As more and more British troops were required for the “storm centres” of Ireland, India and Egypt and to enforce a treaty on Turkey Wilson began to become less supportive of occupying the Caucasus with valuable military forces required immediately elsewhere (Major-General Callwell, Field Marshall Sir Henry Wilson, His Life and Diaries, Vol. II, p.182).

On 21 March the Foreign Secretary, Balfour, secured the agreement of the Italians to step into Britain’s shoes in the Caucasus and replace the withdrawing British forces. However, the Italian government of Orlando and Sonnino fell soon after the agreement and was replaced by a new one led by Francesco Nitti, who cancelled the despatch of Italian forces.

A frustrated Balfour then sought the replacement of British forces with American troops – using the Armenians as bait – but the U.S. was unwilling to have the problem palmed off on it and engage in such a responsibility at that moment.

The British evacuation of the Caucasus coincided with other withdrawals from North Russia and the Baltic Republics. But it also coincided with the period (September-October) when the White forces were achieving their greatest successes against the Bolsheviks, when victory seemed possible.

The decision to withdraw British forces from the Caucasus and instead fund Denikin’s forces against the Bolsheviks had the effect of facilitating Churchill’s policy of war on the Soviets, despite the Prime Minister’s reluctance to embrace it. Churchill believed that the Bolsheviks could be defeated by increasing supplies to the White Armies and supporting them with British volunteers and military advisers. He used the British Cabinet’s vague policy to support anti-Bolshevik forces in Russia by authorising massive material aid to Kolchak and Denikin, for a situation of the “utmost military urgency” (John M. Thompson, Russia, Bolshevism, and the Versailles Peace, pp. 122-3).

As long as the Prime Minister pursued an obscure policy with regard to Russia his War Minister was able to pursue a private war on the Bolsheviks, within limits. In mid-1919, without consulting the Cabinet, Churchill instructed the Imperial General Staff to increase the amount of supplies to Denikin’s Army to be sufficient to fully equip 250,000 men. The supplies included 25,000 poison gas shells. Churchill described mustard gas as the “ideal weapon against our beastly enemy”.

In the Summer of 1919, after the reversal of Kolchak’s fortunes in Siberia, Lloyd George concluded that because he had failed to muster enough popular support to defeat the Bolsheviks it would be wise to concentrate efforts in supporting Denikin, who at least seemed to command support in Southern Russia. Churchill argued that Kolchak was still worth supporting, if only to draw Soviet forces away from Denikin’s advance.

Churchill convinced Lloyd George that it was cheaper to supply Denekin with surplus British Great War matériel than to transport it to England and store it. The amount supplied by Britain to Denekin’s forces was enormous. It included full British Army kit for 500,000 men, 1,200 field guns with 2 million rounds of ammunition, 6,000 machine guns, 200,000 rifles with 500 million rounds of ammunition, 600 lorries and motorcars, 300 motorcycles, 70 tanks, 6 armoured cars, and 200 aircraft, field hospitals and signal and engineering equipment. This was sufficient to fully equip an army of 250,000 men and more than Denikin was ever able to use, as the combat strength of his army was only ever around 150,000 men. In all at least 100 million pounds was spent on Denikin’s army, according to Churchill’s figures (Information can be found in 3 White Papers, Statement of Expenditure on Naval and Military Operations in Russia, Cmd 307, 11.11.1918-31.7.1919; Cmd 395, to 31.10.19, Expenditure on ; Cmd 772 revised. Also FO 371/5448, Major General Sir H.C. Holman’s Final Report of the British Military Mission, South Russia, April 1920)

The British Military Mission, which organised the training of Denikin’s forces was about 2,000 strong. Training the White army in the use of the new British weapons was an essential part of the aid from London.

Although it was stated that only British advisers were present in the Caucasus and it was denied that British forces were participating in the Russian Civil War, they did indeed take place in front-line operations, because much of the new British weaponry, like tanks and warplanes, could not be operated effectively by the Russians. British anti-Bolshevik “volunteers” were recruited from demobilised men and 47 Squadron RAF, partly manned with volunteer Aces from the Great War, bombed Russian towns and villages. There was even a plan for the RAF to bomb Moscow, although Churchill cancelled it at the last minute.

Whilst supporting a full-blooded war on Bolshevism Churchill was ultimately in favour of withdrawal from the Caucasus. He, like Balfour, was indifferent to the fate of the peoples there. If Britain was to put scarce resources into anything, Churchill believed it should be into defeating the Bolsheviks and overthrowing them at source. If he had succeeded the Caucasus would have undoubtedly remained part of the Russian Empire.

Britain and White Russia

When Denikin’s forces seemed to be on the cusp of victory against the Bolsheviks in the Autumn of 1919 there was a debate about what now confronted Britain in the event of a White victory. In a debate about what “the ultimate aim” of British policy toward Russia should be Lloyd George was recorded as asking the Cabinet whether it

“would be in the interests of the British Empire to aim for a united Russia under any government, whether it was Bolshevist or anti-Bolshevist, or of any other tendencies, however good it might be. It would be inevitable that such a government would have a natural inclination to creep forward and, as Lord Beaconsfield had pointed out in connection with the situation in the past, such a government would… result in a peril not only to the British Empire but to the peace of the world… The future of the British Empire might depend on how the Russian situation developed, and he personally did not view with equanimity the thought of a powerful united Russia of 130,000,000 inhabitants.” (CAB 23/15, WC 624A, 11.9.1919)

The Prime Minister suggested the setting up of an independent Ukraine, a Don Cossack state and Turkestan to limit Russia in the future.

Churchill spoke against the Prime Minister in favour of the “Great Russia” position and against any independence for the Caucasus states, if it placed Britain into conflict with Denikin. He believed that Britain had to remain on good terms with Russia, when it re-emerged after the Bolshevik interlude (FO 371/3961, 5.10.1919). At a previous Eastern Committee meeting he had suggested that one day Britain would “depend upon a restored Russia as a balance against Germany” (FO General/216, 6.3.1919).

What concerned Churchill most was that with Denikin advancing successfully on Moscow an attempt might be made to cut off his supplies in order to curb his power. In no circumstances should the interests of the Caucasus states be placed on the same level as the defeat of Bolshevik by Denikin (FO 371/3961, 5.10.19). The War Office refused to challenge Denikin when he moved forces into Dagestan in June 1919.

The Caucasus states saw Denikin’s forces as a more immediate threat to them than the Bolsheviks. Denikin, pursuing the policy of “Holy and Undivided Russia” did not recognise the sovereignty of these states and was particularly hostile to the Georgian Menshevik-dominated government in Tiflis, which the Whites viewed as being not very different from the Bolsheviks. Already there developed clashes between White and Georgian forces in early 1919.

Britain could not recognise an independent Georgia for fear of alienating Denikin, who it now depended upon as the major element in the war on the Bolsheviks.

When the British General Briggs met Denikin for the first time he gave the White General an ultimatum on behalf of the British Government to cease hostilities with the Georgians and turn his attention to the Bolsheviks or military aid to him would be reconsidered by London. Denikin replied:

“I am a Russian and I will help Russians and Armenians against these savage Georgians, who are acting like Bolsheviks… I will not listen to the orders of an alien government, but I have issued orders, and they will be carried out to kick these Barbarians over the frontier. If HM Government will withdraw her assistance we will carry it out on our own resources.” (WO 95/4958, 20/2/1919)

General Denikin regarded the Armenians as his allies in the traditional Tsarist relationship which employed them as justification for a Russian presence in the Caucasus. He regarded the Georgians and Azerbaijanis, on the other hand, as enemies to be crushed.

Denikin then asked Briggs what were the British and French “zones of influence” he had heard about and what were the British actually doing in the Caucasus, since no one had actually invited them there?

Despite the tough talking Denikin, however, was forced to continue to toe the British line, as they were maintaining his army through His Majesty’s Treasury.

Churchill’s private war seemed to be paying dividends in October and all talk of peace had dried up. Lloyd George made no public statements on Russia from April until November 1919.

In late May Admiral Kolchak’s forces crossed the Urals and began to penetrate into European Russia. In the South Denikin’s Volunteer army was pressing toward Odessa, Kharkov and Tsaritsyn (Stalingrad).

Denikin began a great offensive in the late Spring of 1919 with a series of victories. Kiev, Kursk and Voronezh all fell to the White volunteers. A British tank battalion, which was particularly effective on the rolling grass plains, and two squadrons of the RAF played important roles in the victories. The RAF destroyed the Bolshevik Volga flotilla.

During the summer, the Bolsheviks were on the defensive along the whole of the Southern Front, and had to concentrate most of the Red Army against his Volunteer army. In mid-October 1919, at the high point of the Whites’ fortunes, Denikin was only 300km from Moscow and controlled a large part of Russia, containing 40 million people.

On 7 September, however, the British Cabinet, taking the lead of the Prime Minister, decided to terminate aid to Denikin. Churchill was instructed to deliver one “final packet” of aid to Denikin to the value of 15 million pounds. Churchill was instructed to inform Denikin of the fact that this was the final shipment and that the British Military Mission would be withdrawn from South Russia in the spring of 1920. All aid would cease on 31 March 1920. The Cabinet’s instructions were clear and left Churchill with no more room for manoeuvre (CAB 23/12, 7.10.1919).

A week later Churchill declared to the Cabinet that the Bolsheviks would soon be beaten, in a final attempt to stiffen their resolve to overthrow Lenin. (Churchill’s Memorandum ‘Situation in Russia’, CAB 24/90, NA, 15.10.1919)

So when Denikin marched into the Ukraine it was “now or never” and this was the climax of the Russian Civil War.

The advancing Whites committed a large number of anti-Jewish pogroms in the territory they captured, particularly in the Ukraine. They saw the Bolsheviks as a Jewish conspiracy and this view was widely shared by British officers and observers among them. After reading reports of the massacres of Jews, the Prime Minister, concerned at public opinion, asked Churchill to make enquiries about their treatment by “his friends”. Churchill explained to Lloyd George, citing British Military Mission reports, that the anti-Jewish violence was simply local vengeance because “the Jews had certainly played a leading part in Bolshevik atrocities” (Michael J. Cohen, Churchill and the Jews, pp.55-7)

When Chaim Weizmann, the Zionist friend of Lloyd George, complained to the government about the pogroms Eyre Crowe at the Foreign Office wrote in a Memorandum: “It is to be remembered that what may appear to Mr. Weizmann to be outrages against the Jews in the eyes of the Ukrainians be retaliation against the horrors committed by the Bolsheviks who are all organised and directed by the Jews.” (FO 608/196, 1.8.1919)

The Jewish community of the Ukraine were caught between a host of anti-semitic forces. Not only did they suffer the anti-Bolshevik Whites but Ukrainian partisans, who fought Russians of all persuasions and, who were furociously anti-semitic, wiping out entire Jewish communities when they got the chance.

Bolshevik Resurgence

The Bolsheviks, however, recovered from the White offensive and turned it back. There were a number of reasons for the resurgence.

In November 1918 the British had imposed a blockade on Soviet Russia to go with the one the Royal Navy was tightening on Germany, after the Armistice. This starvation blockade killed at a rate of over 100,000 civilians each month in both countries until Germany signed the Peace Treaty and Russia proved unbeatable.

The British Blockade, by land and sea, forced the Bolsheviks into a war economy – War Communism – and autarky, just when Lenin had it in mind to make compromises with International Capitalism, to boost the Russian economy.

The Red Army had been assembled by Trotsky behind the German shield of Brest-Litovsk, during 1918. Of course, one of the terms of the treaty had been that the Bolsheviks should have no standing army. However, the Germans, having seen off Russia and having urgent business on the Western Front, were inclined to turn a blind eye to anything their Bolshevik instruments were doing. It was small beer in the context of things. The Bolsheviks, presumably, could be dealt with when affairs were closed to the West.

When Lenin saw the Allies winning the War in October 1918 he ordered a general conscription aimed at building a new army of 3 million by the Spring of 1919, when it might be needed.

The continued Allied presence in Russia after the Armistices justified the building of this army. When it became apparent to Russians that they were to be harshly punished by the Allies for unilaterally concluding the War with the Germans tens of thousands of ex-Tsarist officers flocked to it during the Winter of 1918/19.

The German withdrawal at the Armistices, particularly from the Ukraine and Georgia removed the buffer between the Western Imperialists. Admiral Kolchak was appointed “Supreme Ruler” of an “All-Russian Provisional Government” in Omsk with the approval of the British presence there and Russia and the Civil War began in earnest.

Despite being the governing force of a fragmenting society the Bolsheviks had some strategic advantages. They held the heartland of Russia with the great bulk of the Russian population at their disposal. They controlled the great Russian railway network which radiated out from Moscow across the country to Petrograd, Archangel, the Don, Urals and Western Siberia. They had the arsenals of the old Tsarist armies as well as almost all the munitions factories.

Their opponents, on the other hand, were a notch-potch of political tendencies, occupied only the wide periphery of the Empire with its assortment of peoples, many of whom who feared the Whites every bit as much as the Bolsheviks.

The Bolsheviks did not collapse under Denikin’s offensive in the Fall of 1919 and popular resistance to the White Volunteer Army actually stiffened. Russians in the areas Denikin’s army liberated from the Bolsheviks showed a marked reluctance to support the Whites.

At this time the Soviets were also at war with the Polish army of Marshal Pilsudski and were doing badly in the field against them. Pilsudski’s aim was to see Russia, of whatever colour, out of Poland. He decided in late 1919 when Denikin was in the ascendency that it was “a lesser evil to help Soviet Russia defeat Denikin” and he adopted a policy of disengagement with the Soviet Army. During Denikin’s offensive Pilsudski secretly informed Lenin, in October, that he was doing this on purpose, allowing Trotsky to transfer over 40,000 men to the Southern front (Richard Pipes, Russia under the Bolshevik Regime, pp.90-1).

In November 1919 the Reds captured Kursk and the Whites went into a headlong and disorderly retreat.


PART VI

Lloyd George gave the coup de grace to the Russian Whites in his infamous Guildhall speech of 8 November 1919.

He made the speech without consulting his Cabinet colleagues and it had the effect of a bombshell. As Harold Nicolson wrote the diplomacy of Lloyd George was most of all characterised by its privacy – not only in method but also in aim (Curzon: The Last Phase, 1919-1925, p.56).

In his Guildhall speech Lloyd George said that: “I do not like the outlook in Russia.” Denikin’s march on Moscow had been “checked” and the indication was one of “prolonged and sanguinary struggle” – a phrase which must have recalled the terrible attritional slaughter that had been recently experienced in France among his audience.

Lloyd George: Je ne regret rien

The Prime Minister stated that he had no regrets for what Britain had done in Russia and insisted that it had “discharged” its “debt of honour… to the gallant men in Russia who helped us to fight the Germans when the Bolshevist leaders were betraying the Allies.”

He went on:

“We have sent a hundred millions’ worth of material, and of support in every form… We have given them the opportunity, if Russia wished to be liberated, of equipping her sons in order to free themselves. If the Russian people wish for freedom, we can always say that we have gave them the chance… We have held positions of danger in that country until the Russians were prepared to hold them themselves. We cannot, of course, afford to continue so costly an intervention in an interminable civil war. Our troops are out of Russia – frankly I am glad. Russia is a quicksand. Victories are easily won in Russia but you sink in victories. Russia is a dangerous land to intervene in. We discovered it in the Crimea, but true to the instinct which has always saved us, we never went very far from the sea. “

The Prime Minister’s reference to having “never went very far from the sea” was a reminder to his audience that Britain had always primarily been a maritime power and had sensibly got others to to her fighting for her in the interior where armies were easily swallowed up.

Lloyd George dismissed the fear “that the Bolshevist Armies are going to conquer the whole of Russia” on the basis that “the free peasantry of the South have in their hearts a detestation of Bolshevism, and I do not believe that the Bolsheviks will conquer that aversion.”

It was true that during the Civil War the Soviet State had directly requisitioned food from the peasantry – War Communism. The peasantry had tolerated this, presumably because the White enemy of the Bolsheviks in the Civil War had the purpose of restoring the Tsarist system, including landlordism. Russia, far from being proletarianised, was still a pre-capitalist economy, overwhelmingly peasant, two years after the Bolshevik takeover. Peasant farms had been increased from about 16 million to about 25 million by the division of the great landed estates. There was no class war, as yet. The general socialist revolution only began in 1928, after the ending of the NEP, with a new revolution against the bourgeois revolution in landownership Lenin had fostered. In 1919 the peasants had a simple choice between the Bolsheviks, who had given them the land and increased their number, and the Whites, who wished to take away their land.

Was the British Prime Minister so ignorant of the facts or was he just spinning a yarn to support his policy?

Having failed in military intervention Lloyd George said that “other methods must finally be resorted to for restoring peace and good government in that distressed land.” (The Times 10.11.1919)

In this phrase he signalled he had returned to the idea he had entertained originally, of negotiating with the Bolsheviks and hinted at a return to the Prinkipo peace conference he initiated earlier in the year. Indeed, his whole speech had the air of an “I told you so” about it.

News of the new line in British policy led to a collapse in morale and panic among the Whites in South Russia when Lloyd George’s Guildhall speech was published in the local newspapers. The British government seemed to be deserting the common struggle against the Bolsheviks and leaving the White Russians to their fate. As Richard Pipes wrote:

“The whole atmosphere in South Russia was changed… Mr. George’s opinion that the Volunteer cause was doomed helped to make that doom almost certain.” (Russia under the Bolshevik Regime, p.129)

The attitude among the Whites towards the British turned sour and became openly hostile. White officers began to say that the British Government’s fundamental intention was to dismember and weaken Russia ‒ not to overcome her Bolshevik enemies. The sapping of morale and spread of defeatism accelerated the decline of the White Russian command and its supply network. (Lauri Kopisto, The British Intervention in South Russia, 1918-20, p.161)

The Guildhall speech also outraged British officers serving in Russia and the Caucasus.

During the following weeks the Prime Minister continued on the same lines in Parliament, in a bid to soften opposition to his policy. He argued that Russia was a danger to its neighbours in its present state of “unrest and disturbance” and peace would result in less chance of Bolshevik propaganda gaining leverage in the West (Hansard, Col. 471-5, 13.11.1919)

There was opposition in England to the new policy. The Times noted that earlier peace proposals with the Bolsheviks had been conceived by “prominent Jewish financiers in New York whose interest in Trotsky is of old standing” and concluded that the Prime Minister’s speech “makes British policy stink in the nostrils of all patriotic Russians.” The Daily Mail accused Lloyd George of “Shaking hands with murder.” (10.11.1919)

The Times editorial referred to “Lenin’s Proposals for Peace – Texts of the Offers made by the Soviet Government to the Allies” which it printed in the same edition. It laid out both offers – those made to the Bullitt Mission in the Spring and a recent one made to Colonel Malone – which had been revealed to the Daily Herald, a few days before (8.11.19) to show the similarity and constancy of the Soviet proposals. It noted how the Prime Minister had denied knowledge of the offer made to Bullitt but seemed to be gravitating toward them and a new Prinkipo, which The Times vigorously opposed.

The Times showed how the text of the offer made to the Bullitt Mission in the Spring was the same as that made now to Colonel Malone:

“All existing de facto governments on the territory of the former Russian Empire and Finland would remain in full control of the territories they occupied at the moment of the Armistice, the revision of frontiers to take place only by the self-determination of the inhabitants. Each government would agree not to use force against any of the others.”

But the Soviets had even added a section, emphasising and clarifying their concession, so there could be no mistaking the proposal on the part of the Allies:

“The Russian Soviet Government… and all other Governments that have been set up on the territory of the former Russian Empire, the Allied and Associated Governments… to agree not to upset by force the existing de facto Governments which have been set up on the territory of the former Russian Empire.” (The Times 10.11.1919)

Both “Azerbaidjan” and “Armenia” – which the Soviets had refused to recognise – were specifically mentioned as part of the Soviet offer (but not Menshevik Georgia).

Presumably, Lenin, at this moment of the turning of the tide in favour of the Soviets, in November 1919, was still offering to stay out of Azerbaijan and Armenia, in return for an end of war on Bolshevik Russia and its existing territory. The Allies were given a week to reply.

But whilst Lloyd George had become interested in capitalist trading with the Bolsheviks, instead of undermining them in a Civil War, he could not bring himself to make a formal peace with them. Less than a year later in the summer of 1920 the Soviet Government made a very generous offer to the Poles – more generous than the Allies were contemplating – which was never tested because of the unexpected success of the Polish army. It was probable that Lenin aimed to settle boundaries to consolidate the Soviet state and let Communist propaganda do its work within the states he settled accounts with.

It might be that the Lloyd George did not trust Lenin and anticipated that he would not honour any settlement made – that he had acquired a British attitude to treaty making. However, Britain never put the Bolsheviks to the test so we will never know. All we do know is that Lloyd George did not engage with the Bolsheviks and the territories under question were lost to them anyway for 70 years.

A week after his Guildhall bombshell, on 17 November 1919, the Prime Minister gave a statement to Parliament on policy with regard to Russia. It identified the contradictions in the situation that prevented unity against the Bolsheviks:

“Let us really face the difficulties… There is Finland, there is Poland, there is the Caucasus, Georgia, Daghestan, Azerbaijan, the Russian Armenians; then you have Koltchak and Petlura, all those forces anti-Bolshevist. Why are they not united, why cannot you get them united? Because their objects in one fundamental respect are incompatible. Denikin and Koltchak are fighting for two great main objects. The first is the destruction of Bolshevism and the restoration of good government in Russia. Upon that he could get complete unanimity amongst all the forces, but the second is that he is fighting for a reunited Russia. Well, it is not for me to say whether that is a policy which suits the British Empire. There was a very great Statesman, a man of great imagination… Lord Beaconsfield, who regarded a great, gigantic, colossal, growing Russia rolling onwards. like a glacier towards Persia and the borders of Afghanistan and India as the greatest menace the British Empire could be confronted with. I am not on that now, except that it has perhaps great relevance to… the consolidation of these nationalities on their own ground… Georgia, General Denikin says, is part of Russia; it is an essential part of his policy to re-incorporate Azerbaijan, Daghestan, Russian Armenia in Russia, but they do not want it. They are fighting for independence, and one of the conditions they make… is that it is a condition of their uniting in any attack on the Bolshevists that we should guarantee their independence, and not merely that, but that we should guarantee them supplies and cash enabling them to pay their Armies.

What I want to point out is how complicated the whole Russian situation is. It is not a plain, straightforward fight between two rival ideals or two rival systems… The first difficulty is that two rival systems are fighting one another. The second is that one set of anti-Bolshevist forces are fighting for consolidating, reuniting, reknitting together the old powerful Russia that overlay two continents; the other great anti-Bolshevist forces are fighting for local independence, for their nationality.” (Hansard, col 723-5, 17.11.1919)

However, the Prime Minister gave no answers to the problems he described to Parliament. His speech was purely impression with no actual conclusion drawn about what was to be actually done. He just relied on the fact that no one else (aside from Churchill) had any alternative policy, for a general acquiescence to his own.

Churchill’s Last Hurrah

Churchill later gave the following explanation for the inaction of Lloyd George in relation to the Bolsheviks – that he underestimated them:

“The Prime Minister argued that revolutions like diseases run a regular course, that the worst was already over in Russia, that the Bolshevik leaders confronted with the responsibilities of actual government would quit their Communistic theories or that they would quarrel among themselves and fall like Robespierre and St. Just, that others weaker or more moderate would succeed them, and that by successive convulsions a more tolerable regime would be established.” (Winston S. Churchill, Great Contemporaries, p.132)

The Prime Minister held the view (or at least asserted it, since sincerity is a thing no one could be sure of with regard to Lloyd George) that Britain, by making war on the French Revolution had actually consolidated and strengthened it. If war had not be waged in 1793 the Jacobin and Girondin would have fallen out among themselves.

But, of course, Britain had already helped strengthen the Russian Revolution by waging a proxy war on it and the Russian people.

Lloyd George now hoped that the West could turn the tables on Bolshevik Russia asserting to his Allies: “The Bolsheviks had talked much of propaganda” but “civilisation might also undertake its peaceful penetration.” (Richard Ullman, Britain and the Russian Civil War, p.318)

However, the Bolsheviks were to be much more successful with regard to the West than the West was in Bolshevik Russia.

The Allied Powers met in December 1919 to attempt to come to a common policy on Russia. The end result of these discussions was the decision to wind up assistance for the remaining White forces and “to leave Bolshevik Russia, as it were, within a ring fence.” (Richard Ullman, Britain and the Russian Civil War, p.315) Churchill, in opposing this line, concluded to the British Cabinet that the new policy signified “the abandonment of the anti-Bolshevist forces in Russia which we had supported up to now.” (CAB 23/18, 12.12.1919)

Churchill was not finished, however. On 3 January 1920 at Sunderland, in a speech made to Coalition supporters, he warned of “the ghost of the Russian Bear” which “ranges widely over the enormous countries which lead us to the frontiers of India, disturbing Afghanistan, distracting Persia, and creating far to the Southward great agitation and unrest among the millions of our Indian population who have hitherto dwelt in peace and tranquility under British rule.”

Churchill then condemned the “thin-blooded defeatists” who previously had “obstructed victory” in the Great War and now opposed the use of the full power of the British Empire against the “Bolshevists, fanatics who are avowed enemies of the existing civilisation of the world.”

Rounding on the “defeatists” Churchill exclaimed: “Their ideas are essentially cosmopolitan… They consider that one race of men is as good as another” (“cosmopolitan” was code word for Jewish in those days) and “they believe in the international Soviet of the Russian and Polish Jew. We are still putting our confidence in the British Empire.” (The Times 5.1.1920).

Following on this theme, The Morning Post, commenting on Churchill’s speech, declared that “Lenin… is not, in fact, Lenin at all, but a secret organisation directed by Revolutionary Jews to the destruction of the world.” (5.1.1920). It appears that the state that was establishing the Zionist entity in Palestine at that very moment was saturated with anti-Semitic understandings of the world.

Whilst the issue of continued formal intervention seemed to be settled, the question that was still unresolved was the position of the “ring fence” around Russia and whether it would be given sufficient reinforcement by the Allies to withstand the Bolsheviks.

The ever thoughtful Lord Esher wrote the following in his Diary on 19 November:

“What a black chapter in our history is all this Russian business. And we have the experience of the French Revolution behind us. In 1793 we went to war against the French Bolshevists because they cut off Louis the Sixteenths head. The war lasted twenty-one years and we restored the Bourbons. Where are they now? And the principles of the French Revolution minus its trimmings of atrocities spread over the civilised world! Probably this is precisely what will happen to the principles of Lenin and Co. L.G. divines this, being a prophet in his better moods. Cruelties and atrocities are relative things – unfortunately. (Journals and Letters of Reginald Viscount Esher, Vol. 4, 1916-1930, p.246)

The book on Britain’s battle with Russia for the Caucasus was far from being closed at the end of 1919.

Lord Curzon’s Special Preserve

The former Chairman of the Eastern Committee, Lord Curzon, became British Foreign Secretary in October 1919, at the height of the Denikin offensive against the Bolsheviks. It was an opportune moment since Curzon’s policy of a cordon sanitaire boxing in Russia was an idea whose time had come upon the defeat of Churchill’s war on the Bolsheviks.

Curzon, despite being a strong anti-Bolshevik, was reluctant to see any Russian government in the Caucasus and was determined that Britain should not finance General Denikin so that the Whites could walk back in when they had defeated the Bolsheviks.

Lord Curzon, as a past Viceroy of India, had the traditional geopolitical orientation of the Indian Office and Empire: Russia was England’s main enemy in the world and its political character at any time was of secondary importance. The primary consideration was Russia itself and how it could be bested by the British Empire in the control of Asia.

Curzon had actually taken charge of the Foreign Office from January 1919 when Balfour had gone to the Paris Conference. Balfour had been an indolent Foreign Secretary and, exhausted, wanted out of the position before a treaty was imposed on the Turks – he had a far-seeing mind. In October 1919 the Prime Minister finally obliged making Curzon Foreign Secretary (see David Gilmour, Curzon, pp.501-6.)

When he took the reins of the Foreign Office from Balfour, Curzon noted how obscure and shambolic British Foreign Policy on the Caucasus had become. In a Memorandum written on 1 October 1919 he went through the existing policy in a series of points to try to get a grip on it himself:

“a. We are pro-Denikin North of the Caucasus. b. We are anti-Denikin South of the Caucasus. c. We are pro-Georgia in so far as she is respectable and orderly. d. We are anti-Georgia in so far as she is Bolshevik and violent e. We are pro-Armenia in so far as we do not want to see them exterminated. f. We are anti-Armenia in so far as we do not mean to assume the responsibility either with supplying them with arms or of guaranteeing an Armenian State or of repatriating them to a larger Armenia. g. Whether we are pro-Azerbaijan or anti-Azerbaijan I have not the least idea. h. As to the Hill State (Daghestan) I suppose it is little more than various groups of bandits who are smashed by Denikin when his troops are in the neighbourhood, and who smash him when he is elsewhere employed.” (FO 112/3864, 1/10/1919)

The Caucasus was a secondary interest of the new Foreign Secretary. Lord Curzon’s pet project was Persia, which he saw as his own special preserve. Curzon’s biographer, the Earl of Ronaldshay, described Curzon’s interest in the country in the following passage:

“On assuming the direction of affairs in London, he had at once turned his gaze eastwards to those lands where his heart always lay… And as he gazed curiously over the constantly changing kaleidoscope of the Near and Middle East, his eyes came to rest finally upon Persia – that magnetic land of mystery and romance whose dusty plateaux and through whose ancient cities, crumbling uncared-for into inert but picturesque decay, he had travelled all but thirty years before. Persia that had provided him with material for the most monumental of all his books; the decrepit descendent of a mighty nation into whose veins he had struggled so hard throughout the seven years of his Viceroyalty to infuse the blood of a new vitality. And, finding himself at last in a position not merely to formulate, but to enforce a policy, he was determined to make a supreme effort to drag her from the slough into which she had fallen, and to make of her what he had always dreamed that, with the benevolent co-operation of Great Britain, she might some day become — a worthy successor to the kingdom of Gyms and a strong link in a chain of friendly States, stretching from the confines of Europe to the frontier of the Indian Empire.

It was ail part of a perfectly definite and logical policy which had taken shape with his first glance at the political map of Asia while still a boy at Eton, and had remained clear-cut in his mind ever since. It rested upon a single and quite simple conception — the creation of a chain of buffer states stretching from the northern confines of India to the Mediterranean sea, to serve as a screen, giving protection against attack to India and the great arterial line of communication between Great Britain at one end and Australia, New Zealand and the Far East at the other. That the source of possible attack had changed, made no difference to the policy; it remained valid whether the potential aggressor was Russia, as it had long been, or Germany, as it had more recently become. And, with this urgent necessity always in mind, he had laid constant stress throughout the war upon the importance of the Eastern theatre.” (Life of Lord Curzon, Vol III, pp.208-9)

Persia had been a British buffer against the expansion of Russia into Central Asia and toward India. The Russians had reached Tashkent in 1865, Samarqand and Bokhara in 1868, Ashgahad in 1881 and Merv in 1884, taking the Tsar’s forces up to the Afghan frontier.

Curzon had been unhappy at Sir Edward Grey’s appeasement of the Tsar in the 1907 Convention that led to the concession of a large part of Persian territory to Russian penetration in the partition of it between the two Imperialisms. However, with the collapse of the Tsarist state Curzon saw no obligation to honour the pre-War Treaty, particularly since Britain now was the sole occupier of Persia. Persia was prostrate, after being ravaged by war and famine over the previous 3 years and was in no state to dispute its occupation by British forces at that time. Britain occupied all the land and sea to the North, South, East and West of the country so there was little hope of escape from the British embrace in 1919.

A Persian delegation, armed with fantastic territorial claims, turned up at the doors of the Paris Peace Conference, but was refused entry to the proceedings. It was also not considered for Mandatory treatment, like other countries. Persia was earmarked for British “protection” within Lord Curzon’s designs.

So providing an annual subvention of 30 million pounds and bribing the young Shah and his family with a handsome personal subsidy, Curzon secured the services of the Persian Court. He then gained the loyalty of the three main ministers of state with a generous provision of baksheesh through the British-run Bank of Persia, organised by Sir Percy Cox. That helped secure the Anglo-Persian Treaty of 9 August 1919 which put Persia, with its client regime, under British tutelage.

Lord Curzon believed that Persia should not be allowed “to rot into picturesque decay” and become “a hotbed of misrule, enemy intrigue, financial chaos and political disorder” (Curzon Papers, 112/253, August 1919). All Persia needed to do was “play the game” – by the British rules – to become a functional state, supplying oil to the Royal Navy and keeping out the Russian Bolsheviks. Britain provided financial, political and military advisers to guide the Persians toward “civilization” and in the required direction of travel.

Curzon, of all the British ruling elite, was the most open to officially recognising the Transcaucasian states. His motivation, however, was not that of a democrat or advocate of the rights of nations – which Curzon, being an old Indian Empire man was hardly an advocate of. Curzon’s interest was essentially geopolitical and Indian Empire. He wanted a chain of buffer states in front of the main buffer, in which he had a long term interest – his personal re-creation and fiefdom – Persia.

The Cordon Sanitaire

In July 1919 Curzon managed to secure the appointment of Oliver Wardrop, an expert on Georgia and the Caucasus, as Britain’s High Commissioner in Tiflis. Wardrop was a strong supporter of the independence of the Caucasian states. Colonel Stokes, another supporter of this policy, was appointed representative in Baku.

Up until October the pro-independence sentiments expressed by Wardrop and Stokes were ignored in London. Denikin’s forces were on the offensive and the British were uninterested in such proposals. However, with the turning of the tide and the Lloyd George speech at the Guildhall signalling the abandonment of the Whites the situation dramatically changed. Alimardan Topchubashi, the leader of the Azerbaijani delegation at Paris, noted the change in a report in early November. (Giorgi Mamulia and Ramiz Abutalibov, History of Recognition of Azerbaijan’s De Facto State independence at the Paris Peace Conference, IRS, Spring 2018, pp. 29-30)

Upon becoming Foreign Secretary in October 1919 Curzon appointed the famous writer on geopolitics at the London School of Economics, Sir Halford Mackinder, as British High Commissioner to South Russia. Mackinder gathered intelligence on the Bolsheviks for Curzon and assisted General Denikin and the White Russians forces. Mackinder’s observation of the situation led him to conclude that the military assistance Britain was supplying would not be enough to defeat Bolshevism.

Mackinder met Denikin in January 1920, after his army was routed by the Soviets. He advised Denikin that he must establish a state in the area he still controlled in Southern Russia. This would involve instituting taxation on the populace, the development of financial institutions and an economy to supply Denikin’s military forces. Mackinder told Denikin that he could not indefinately rely on the continued support of the British Government (Report on the Situation in Southern Russia, No. 656, Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-39, HMSO, pp.775-86.)

On 29 January 1920, Mackinder presented the British Cabinet with a comprehensive strategy he had written up on H.M.S Centaur on his departure from the Caucasus. It advised refusal to make peace with the Bolsheviks and consistent military, economic and diplomatic support of the Whites, along with the immediate establishment of a ring of buffer states including a White Russian state, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Dagestan. Prof. Mackinder predicted that if the Bolsheviks gained control of the rim-states, the Russian State would acquire the means to return to the status of a Great Power (CAB 23/20, 29.1.1920).

In his famous 1919 book Democratic Ideals and Reality Mackinder wrote:

“It is a vital necessity that there should be a tier of independent States between Germany and Russia. The Russians are… hopelessly incapable of resisting German penetration on any basis.” (p.118)

Just because Germany had been defeated it did not mean that many in England did not still fear a resurrection. And the fear of a German resurrection was always viewed as being likely through a combination between German Socialism and Russian Communism, which were seen as being one and the same thing, to a great extent.

Halford Mackinder did not just mean the Central/East European interface when he wrote about the necessity of building “a tier of independent States between Germany and Russia”. He meant cordoning off the entire area from the Baltic to the Caspian Seas. And he famously insisted:

“Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland;

Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island;

Who rules the World-Island commands the World.” (p.152)

Prof. Mackinder, analysing things in a geopolitical manner, argued that Russia needed to be dismembered or the Bolsheviks would be capable of rejuvenating the Heartland as a powerful tellurocratic force.

When Mackinder received no definite support in the British Cabinet and it signalled that negotiations would now be undertaken with the Bolsheviks he resigned as High Commissioner. But his policy of a cordon sanitaire in the Caucasus, and across Europe, was all that was left for Lloyd George and the British Government. It now looked to take it up – although in the same piecemeal way it had waged war on the Bolsheviks.

Britain Swaps Denikin for a Caucasus Shield

On 22 December 1919 at a meeting in London between the British Foreign Minister and the Secretary General of the French Foreign Ministry it was noted that if Denikin suffered a catastrophic defeat the Allies could consider the recognition of Georgia and Azerbaijan in the Spring of 1920 (CAB 24/95, 22.12.1919).

Two days later Curzon recommended this course in a Memorandum advising the establishment of an anti-Bolshevik bloc of nations, within a federal Transcaucasia, under a British or American mandate. This, it was suggested, could then be extended to a series of states encompassing Transcaucasia, the Don region, Kuban, Terek and the Ukraine, until the region was formed into a great federal state (CAB 24/95, 24.12.1919). Denikin, however, was still seen as an obstacle to such a policy.

Curzon was of the belief that Georgia was more ready for independence than Azerbaijan but he also realised that if Azerbaijan was not given full support both countries would be doomed. Their fates were inextricably linked (It should be noted that Armenia was not included in discussions about independence because the Allies could not agree about the extent of its borders and kept putting a decision off. This issue will be dealt with in a later section).

A final suggestion Curzon made, which he seemed to favour above the others, should be noted for its duplicity. This was that Georgia and Azerbaijan should be recognised de facto temporarily, granting the United Nations the final say on de jure independence at a later date. This would have the advantage of keeping Denikin on board with British plans so that if Bolshevism was defeated within the following years a new Russia could reincorporate Georgia and Azerbaijan into a federal Russian state (CAB 24/95, 24.12.1919 and FO 371/6269).

Although we cannot be certain whether this was the policy that was ultimately intended it looks suspiciously like what was actually done by Britain. And it shows that the Caucasian states were really just pawns in the renewed Great Game with Russia.

In January 1920 the British government wrestled with the issue of de facto recognition of Georgia and Azerbaijan. The issue of de facto versus de jure independence was dressed up in British diplomatic languages to soothe the sensitivity of not granting full, unqualified freedom:

“1. That in the case of a state such as Azerbaijan, which has had no previous independent existence, de facto recognition is a necessary step to de jure recognition, and 2. de facto recognition involves a qualification to the effect that it is only granted on a specified condition such as e.g. the maintenance of stable Government or the decision of a Conference.” (FO 371/3666, 2.1.1920)

The explanation of Curzon’s points by an official in the Foreign Office, Mr. Kidston, reveals that this was in essence a flexible policy designed to satisfy the Azerbaijanis, whilst providing Britain with the means of adjusting itself to any situation that might emerge – including a Bolshevik takeover. The immediate concession of de jure independence would have surrendered British leverage over the situation in relation to Russia, which was always Britain’s main concern.

The point about Azerbaijan not being ready for de jure recognition because it had “no previous independent existence” was a canard. After all hadn’t Britain just established innovatory states called “Yugoslavia” and “Czechoslovakia” at the very same time, as part of their “tier of independent states between Germany and Russia”? Czechoslovakia was not only given de facto recognition it was granted the status of one of the founding members of the League of Nations on 10 January 1920, when Azerbaijan was conceded only de facto recognition.

Czechoslovakia was a fledgling state of very doubtful nationality with “no previous independent existence” in which large segments of different peoples were subject to the rule of a minority nationality with no experience of governing. It was, of course, primarily a buffer state. And it was sacrificed to Hitler in 1938, even though his position was militarily weak, when the state that the League had sanctioned was suddenly seen to be internally dysfunctional and deemed undefendable.

The Azerbaijani delegation had conducted itself with great dignity at Paris and presented the Peace Conference with moderate requests, upon being granted an audience with President Wilson. They were based on Wilsonian principles of self-determination and included requested admission to the League of Nations. Whilst other delegations – including the 2 Armenian delegations – advanced ridiculous territorial claims, the Azerbaijanis stuck closely to demographic and geographical reality. Wilson, however, was cold and unsympathetic to them, saying the Conference did not want to break the world into little pieces (despite the principle of self-determination) and the Azerbaijanis should wait for the resolution of the Russian question before they could get a full hearing from the Great War victors. (Firuz Kazemzadeh, The Struggle for Transcaucasia, 1917-1921, p.266)

The Azerbaijani National Council had no experience in statecraft and in many ways the Azerbaijani people had been forced into nationhood in order to preserve their continued existence to a great extent. However, the new state had made a good start in establishing democratic institutions – with seats reserved for Armenians – and it became one of only a handful of states in the world to enfranchise women (the first in the region).

Functional institutions of state were founded, foreign relations established and an army began to be organised. The Republic maintained a strict policy of neutrality in the Russian Civil War to the North after British forces left at the end of August 1919. The Azerbaijan Republic was in most respects a model state, fully deserving of independence and capable of making its way in the world (see Audrey L. Altstadt, The Azerbaijani Turks, pp.94-96 and Anar Isgenderli, Realities of Azerbaijan: 1917-1920, pp.174-200, for more details).

From all accounts available from the British military they left Baku and Azerbaijan with regret – it had been one of the most peaceful occupations the British had ever experienced as the Azerbaijanis took them at the word to develop themselves for nationhood.

The British, although having abandoned the Whites, were still sensitive to the charge of betrayal their allies and the effect a recognition of separatists would have on White resistance to the Bolsheviks to the North of the Caucasus. They maintained that although they were withdrawing military aid they were not withdrawing “official support”. That would be withdrawn if Denikin did not accept the de facto independence given to Georgia and Azerbaijan (CAB 24/96, 6.1.1920). Denikin, with little choice in the matter, except extermination and oblivion, duly obliged leaving open a future possibility – conveyed to him by Britain:

“I recognise the independent existence of the de facto governments of the border areas which struggle against Bolshevism. The establishment of mutual relations of these borderlands with Russia shall take place through treaties between the All-Russian Government and the governments of the borderlands. The mediation of the Allied Powers is admissible.” (Firuz Kazemzadeh, The Struggle for Transcaucasia, 1917-1921, p.249)

As Denikin’s armies began to crumble it became imperative to do something to construct a new defence against the Bolsheviks and time was running out if any new states were to be able to organise themselves for their own defence. Britain, therefore, acted at the last moment.

On January 7 Fatali Khoyski, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister, contacted the British, showing them a telegram from Commissar Chicherin demanding an alliance with the Georgians and Azerbaijanis against Denikin. Without British recognition and backing Khoyski told Colonel Stokes it might be better to make terms with the Bolsheviks. This message was communicated by High Commissioner Wardrop to the Foreign Office. (FO 608/271)

On January 10 1920 Lord Curzon sent a telegram to the Foreign Office reporting that on his initiative the British Prime Minister and the Supreme Council of the Allied Powers had decided to recognise the de facto independence of Georgia and Azerbaijan (CAB 29/41, 10.1.1919 and FO 608/271, 10.1.1920).

The same telegram, however, warned both states that

“recognition of de facto independence of Georgian and Azerbaijan Governments does not of course involve any decision as to their present or future boundaries, and must not be held to prejudice that question in smallest degree.” (FO 608/271, 10.1.1920).

Territorial readjustment, in favour of a future presently-undefined Armenia was held as a lever against the Georgians and Azerbaijanis until the end.

Having seen the Bolshevik breaking of its shield above the Caucasus – General Denikin’s forces – Britain began to finally accept the idea of the Georgian and Azerbaijani states constituting a new shield above Persia and Mesopotamia and the British Empire.

When Denikin’s forces began to break up, Britain at last, through the League of Nations, decided to give de facto recognition to the Azerbaijani, Armenian and Georgian Governments on 12 January.

Pawns in a Losing Game

As the Supreme Council of the Allied Powers was conceding de facto recognition to Georgia and Azerbaijan the British Cabinet and an Interdepartmental Committee held a series of meetings concerned with what to do about the Bolshevik advance toward the Caucasus. Several possible defence lines were considered. A forward line of Constantinople/Batum/Baku/Merv was considered militarily impractical because it would require 7 British Divisions to man it. A more defensive Palestine/ Mosul line was favoured by the War Office. The CIGS, Sir Henry Wilson, insisted he did not have the army to defend the Caucasus line, although losing the Caspian to the Bolsheviks would represent a “first class disaster” (FO 371/3980, 12.1.1920) As Richard Ullman notes:

“To provide even… two divisions – much less seven – was out of the question, however. The British government’s campaign of repression in Ireland was demanding increasingly large forces… And from India, Mesopotamia (Iraq), and Egypt came insistent requests for military manpower… This meant giving up the Caucasus and even much of Persia, and concentrating on the defence of India and the oil fields of the Persian Gulf.” (Britain and the Russian Civil War, p. 325)

It seems that the British forces required to defend the Azerbaijani democracy were required instead to deal with the more important matter of repressing the Irish democracy and rising peoples elsewhere in Britain’s expanded Empire!

Sir Henry Wilson recorded his thoughts in his Diary that night, as to the reality of the situation:

“It was quite true that Georgia and Azerbaijan would go Bolshevik, in spite of the fact that those fools in Paris only yesterday agreed to acknowledge the “de facto governments” of those countries. It was also true that we should clear out of Persia, in spite of the treaty Curzon had just made…” (Major-General Sir C.E. Callwell, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, His Life and Diaries, Vol. 2, p.222)

In subsequent meetings no commitment to defending the Caucasus with British forces was made and the policy of getting the Georgians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis and Mountaineers to do it themselves had to be adopted.

On 14 January Georgian and Azerbaijani missions were assured by the Supreme Council in Paris that the Allied Powers were obligated to defend the states they had newly recognised from foreign i.e. Bolshevik aggression (Anar Isgenderli, Realities of Azerbaijan: 1917-1920, pp.192-3).

However, when Lloyd George made this pledge he had not consulted with his Cabinet colleagues or military advisers. On 16 January he did and there was a clear division over the issue.

Lord Curzon called for the “organisation of the excellent defensive line of the Caucasus” and an Allied military effort to protect the Transcaucasian Republics and Persia from a Bolshevik invasion. Admiral Beatty, who was keen to retain the oil fields of Baku and Persia for the Royal Navy, supported the Foreign Secretary and demanded that Britain take back the ships given to Denikin, to re-establish direct British naval control of the Caspian from Baku.

Churchill made one last explosive plea for continued support of Denikin and war on the Bolsheviks. He vigorously attacked the current policy which he summarised as:

“to allow Denikin’s armies to be destroyed without making any further effort to help them in the field… to abandon to their fate all our present friends in Russia who have been fighting the Bolsheviks; to adopt two new proteges in the feeble and divided States of Georgia and Azerbaijan; to make new doles of arms, munitions and supplies to them… In other words, having refused to combine any of the large factors in the struggle against the enemy, having allowed them to be smashed up one by one on the grounds that we could not face the expense or run the risk, we are now to try to make a new front out of little weak pawns that are left to us and to lavish vainly on them resources which, applied in time and with a real “will to win” to Kolchak, Denikin, Poland, the Baltic States and Finland, concerted and combined, might well have given us victory instead of the defeat which is now upon us…” (CAB 21/177, 17.1.1999. This paper, although in the Cabinet files, was prevented from being a Cabinet paper and circulation by the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Maurice Hankey, such was its straight talking.)

Churchill said that attempting to shore up Georgia and Azerbaijan against the Bolsheviks was “like using a piece of putty to stop an earthquake.”

Instead he proposed: “a policy of making war on the Bolsheviks with every available resource and by every possible means”. By this he meant attacking the Bolshevik state on all fronts through every available force.

“We left the problem unsolved in exactly the state we have always left it since last November (1918)… LG is totally unable to offer a solution & simply drifts from one crisis to another.” (Major-General Sir C.E. Callwell, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, His Life and Diaries, Vol. 2, p.224)

On 10 January Georgian and Azerbaijani delegations were summoned to the Allied Conference and faced hostile interrogations from Lloyd George, Curzon, Churchill and Clemenceau who did not conceal their displeasure at the view that they might come to terms with the Bolsheviks rather than fight for the British interest with their countries as battlegrounds (ibid, p.224).

The final decision made by the Allied Powers was to despatch to Georgia and Azerbaijan unspecified quantities of food and munitions but no military forces. They also agreed to give de facto recognition to an Armenian state, without specifying its territory, which would not have encouraged Georgia or Azerbaijan, who were both victims of expansionary Armenian designs.

It is an inescapable fact that Britain delayed in recognising the independence of the Caucasus Republics until Denekin was effectively beaten. The only explanation for Britain’s belated recognition of Azerbaijan and Georgia is that with Denekin beaten it was necessary to motivate these people to defend themselves against the advance of the Red Army, in order to maintain British influence in Transcaucasia.

The British recognition of the the Caucasian Republics was, therefore, not conceded as a recognition of self-determination. Both Curzon and Lloyd George made it clear to the Allied representatives that Britain was primarily in favour of it, in Lloyd George’s words “on the express condition that the Caucasian States will resist the Bolsheviks and garrison Baku with all their strength.” (HMSO, Documents on British Foreign Policy, Vol II, 19/1/1920)

Assistance to the Republics was, therefore, conditional on them resisting the Red Army. Britain hoped that a Bolshevik advance on Persia, a key location in the defence of the Indian Empire, would be stopped in the Caucasus. Also, they hoped to interpose the Caucasian Republics between the Bolsheviks and Turkey.

Britain had provided substantial and unconditional assistance to the Armenian Dashnaks, pro-Entente Russians and even the Soviets who blocked the way of the Ottoman army in mid-1918, during the Great War. This contrasted sharply with the minimal and conditional help it provided to the Caucasian states to defend themselves against Bolshevism in early 1920. Britain, in mealymouthed fashion, sent a token supply of some surplus and faulty weaponry to the Republics to defend themselves against the Bolsheviks, and Curzon refused them loans. The fear was that if they lost, which they expectation was that they would, any munitions sent would simply fall into the hands of the Bolsheviks, as those supplied to Denikin’s army had.

The outcome of the Russian Civil War decided the fate of the Caucasus nation states rather than any British upholding of the principle of self-determination. British Foreign Policy, in hesitating until the final minute, demoralised the Caucasus nation states and hastened their fall to the Bolsheviks. As a result of the indecision in London the Caucasian Republics were obstructed in their development into independent states and were told to wait on the decision of the Peace Conference at Paris through 1919. Although they were allowed to become nation states in embryo, managing much of their own affairs, they were denied de jure recognition and were unable to secure loans on the international money markets.

It was only when the anti-Bolshevik forces were seen as incapable of winning the Civil War that the British gave de facto recognition to the Republics of the Caucasus. This fact suggests that if Denikin had won the Civil War in Russia there would have been no British recognition for Georgia and Azerbaijan. As Winston Churchill noted, for Britain, they were merely the “little weak pawns that are left to us” in the losing game against Russia.

It was in the winning of the Civil War, rather than the Revolution itself, that the Bolsheviks achieved mastery of Russia.

Lloyd George could neither wage full-blooded war against the Bolsheviks or make peace with them. Instead, he tacked between the two policies as the wind blew one way and another. Britain slid from a half-hearted war with Soviet Russia, using the Whites, to a half-hearted support for self-determination of the anti-Bolshevik states in the Caucasus. Too little, too late.

Britain’s actions toward Russia were the first steps of a blundering giant in the world it predominated in – an Empire bloated by a Great War victory that could do no good, due to mental and physical incapacity within its impressive stature.

If Britain had not the will and the means, after its Great War, to destroy the Bolshevists, it should have made peace with them and bottled them up – saving the states that lay outside Russia, in the Caucasus and Ukraine, for democracy. It was certainly, as the predominant Power in the world, capable of that, at least.

But the British Prime Minister, acting for the British democracy, took the pressure off the Leninist regime by preventing Churchill getting his way, and gave space for the Soviet Union to develop as a force in the world. This began the chain of events that led to a Second World War in the same generation.

PART VII
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 intuit 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.

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.

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.

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.

Part VIII


The British Great War on Ottoman Turkey had nothing at all to do with the establishment of an Armenian state. However, the making of a functional Peace Settlement with Turkey was made problematic because of what the Great War produced and the fact that the Armenian cause had been made into such a celebrated and vital moral plank of the most moral war in history by the Anglosphere.

The Young Turk government in Istanbul (aside from Enver Pasha anyway), the Sultan/Caliph, and even the leader of the Turkish resurgence in Eastern Anatolia, Mustapha Kemal, were all favourably disposed to Britain and the West. The Turkish leadership would have been very open to a reasonable and honourable peace settlement with the Allies, either negotiated in early 1918 or imposed in 1919, it it had been made. The Grand National Assembly that had been established in Ankara was a thoroughly Western institution, neither Ottoman, nor Soviet in character. In fact, as the subsequent history of the Turkish Republic showed, from the time when a Peace Treaty was actually made, Turkey was a natural partner of the West and a strong barrier to the eastward spread of Bolshevism.

One can only conclude in the light of subsequent events that the British and other Imperialist occupations of Turkey, and the continued hostilities, were a great waste of blood and treasure. Of course, the blood spilt was very largely other peoples – Greeks, Armenians, Turks, Kurds – rather than English.

It was, however, not the British failure to win that condemns British policy in the light of history. If Britain had won things would have undoubtedly been worse, even from the perspective of the Anglosphere.

If the British Prime Minister had succeeded in his policy of dismembering Turkey in the Treaty of Sevres, through his Greek and Armenian proxies, it is very likely that Bolshevism would have spread across the region, westward, in a situation of great discontent and instability.

The thoughtful part of the British State must have understood this in 1922 and disposed of Lloyd George before he did any more damage to the world.

The Bolshevik/Turkish Conjunction

Republican Turkey and Bolshevik Russia combined to defeat the British Empire and see off Lloyd George. But they were hardly natural allies. It was Britain and the Armenians that forced them into a rather unnatural alliance of convenience in 1919-22 that had revolutionary consequences for the world. Both forces combined temporarily in the interests of common survival and broke the British Empire’s power from the Bosphorus to Transcaspia.

The British War Minister, Winston Churchill, in his Sunderland speech, made during the first few days of 1920, had noticed that something was stirring in Eastern Anatolia that boded ill for the British Empire. According to Churchill that something should not have existed but for the hesitancy of the “great nations” at Paris (or “masters of the world” as Alimardan Topchubashov, leader of the Azerbaijani delegation accurately called them) in following through on what British military force had achieved in 1918:

“Turkey fell prostrate before the armies of General Milne and Marshal Allenby. She looked up to her conquerors, and saw with intense relief that they were British. She asked for our orders and appealed for our guidance… The great nations gathered together were for more than a year unable to agree to a plan and in the meantime the Turkish Army has largely passed from our control. A new force of turbulent, warlike character has come into being in the highlands of Asia Minor, who reach out with one hand to the advancing Bolshevist armies from the north… A conjunction of forces between Russian Bolshevism and Turkish Mahommedanism would be an event full of danger to many States but to no state in the world it be more full of danger than to the British Empire, the greatest of all Mahommedan states. Up to the present time the armies of Denikin and Koltchak have absorbed the whole of the strength of Bolshevist military power, and have protected British interests… But the armies of Koltchak are almost gone, and those of Denikin are in serious danger, and if they were to disappear, as they may, a series of evil consequences, incalcuble in their scope, would be immediately set in motion, and from those consequences, we of all countries, would be the most affected.” (The Times 5.1.1920)

Whatever about the beneficial aspects of the pleasure of being conquered by the British, the facts of the matter were that the British might have been the conquerors, but the conquest was now being sub-contracted by the British Government to the Greeks and Armenians. And the Greeks and Armenians certainly weren’t the British, either in military power, interest or intention.

It was probably better, as Churchill noted, to be conquered by the relatively disinterested British Imperialism, than by the Greeks and Armenians, who each had a very fundamentalist agenda for the Turkish people that was far from benevolent. But could the Greeks and Armenians, as Lloyd George hoped, really make the conquest for Britain, even with substantial assistance from His Majesty’s Government?

Churchill was prophetically right, of course. The situation created by the Russian policy of the British Government from 1918-20 set off a chain of events which generated the most effective anti-Imperialist struggle in history, in terms of its impact on the world: The Bolsheviks were about to clear British Imperialism out of the Caucasus; Mustapha Kemal was about to clear Britain out of Turkey; the clearing would lead to the great British defeat at Chanak and the fall of the Lloyd George Coalition (and Churchill himself); this event was to inspire subjugated peoples across the world to smash the imposed treaties of the “masters of the world”; it was to generate resistance movements all over the Moslem world and elsewhere; and the Soviet State was going to emerge, triumphant, as a beacon against Western Imperialism for oppressed peoples, as well as a threat to Western Capitalism, that led to great concessions to the working classes across Western Europe.

And the world was radically changed for the best part of a century.

As has been noted, a vital condition necessary for the defence of the Caucasus against Bolshevism was an honourable and speedy British accommodation with Ottoman Turkey after Mudros in October 1918. The Turks were the only force on the ground who could have resisted the Bolsheviks, in the absence of a British will to intervene directly. However, Lloyd George pursued a policy of slowly throttling the Turks, using Greek and Armenian catspaws, before and after the punitive Treaty of Sevres was finally revealed in all its glory, to be imposed on Turkey.

Lloyd George seems to have despised the Turks as an inferior people unfit for governing and he had a corresponding delusional faith in the quality of the Greeks, as a great people, from his Classical education.

Of course, the Prime Minister was a Nonconformist Liberal, a group known for their hostility toward the Moslem Turk over the decades. Lord Riddell, a close friend, revealed that Lloyd George was also prejudiced against the Turks as “a decadent people” who had “nearly brought about our defeat in the War.” And he had a belief in the Greeks as “a rising people” that he could make great again. The British Prime Minister complained about the British military’s high regard for the Turks, which he put down to them being Tories. (Lord Riddell’s Intimate Diary of the Peace Conference and After: 1918-1923, p.208)

If the Prime Minister believed the Greeks to be “a rising people” he soon put a stop to this when he used them as instruments of his policy in Anatolia.

The moment of Churchill’s speech was really the final chance for a reappraisal of British policy toward the Turks. The Winter of 1919 had suspended most of the fighting, the Parliament in Istanbul had returned a Nationalist majority to signify Turkish resistance, President Wilson was an invalid, the Senate was refusing to ratify the Peace of Paris, and, as Churchill had described at Sunderland, trouble was stirring in Eastern Anatolia.

In fact, Winston Churchill had, with great foresight, already pointed all this out to the Prime Minister, back in October 1919, in a Memorandum, suggesting a clean settlement with the Ottomans. In this Churchill suggested to Lloyd George that the Allies should “renounce all separate interests in the Turkish Empire other than those which existed before the war” including the conquests of Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia.

Furthermore:

“Instead of dividing up the (Ottoman) Empire into separate territorial spheres of exploitation, we should combine to preserve the integrity of the Turkish Empire as it existed before the war but should subject that Empire to a strict form of international control, treating it as a whole and directing it from Constantinople.”

Churchill impressed on the Prime Minister the fact that Britain already possessed “far more territory… than we shall be able to develop for many generations” and “we ought to… concentrate our resources on developing our existing Empire instead of dissipating them in new entanglements.” (25.10.1919, cited in Sean McMeekin, Ottoman Endgame, p.435)

But the British Prime Minister did not listen to such statesmanship from the aristocratic Churchill. He blew this way and that as the winds from the British Democracy took him. He put his faith in the army of a lost civilization and gambled for the final time.

Turkish Resurgence

In early April 1920 the Treaty that Britain was wishing to impose on the Turks was at least 12 months overdue when an Allied Conference was held at San Remo to discuss the situation. The Conference consisted of the Prime Ministers of Britain, France and Italy and also Venizelos, the Greek Prime Minister who wished to create a Greater Greece in Ottoman Anatolia and return Istanbul to Constantinople and establish a new Byzantium.

Sir Henry Wilson recorded this entry in his Diary on 19 March of a meeting he and Churchill had with the Greek Premier in which they warned him not to put his faith, and the future of his people, in Lloyd George’s schemes:

“Winston and I had an hour with Venizelos this afternoon. We made it clear to him that neither in men nor in money, neither in Thrace nor in Smyrna, would we help the Greeks, as we had already taken on more than our small army could do. I told him that he was going to ruin his country, that he would be at war with Turkey and Bulgaria, and that the drain in men and money would be too much for Greece. He said that he did not agree with a word I said.” (Major-General Sir C.E. Callwell, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, His Life and Diaries, Vol. 2, p.230)

The present writer is not particularly disposed to either Winston Churchill or Sir Henry Wilson. But in studying British policy in the Caucasus, 1918-20, both men have gone up greatly in my estimation.

At the moment of the San Remo Conference the Red Army was massing on the border of Azerbaijan, having conquered the Mountain Republic of Daghestan, and was waiting to knock down the first of the 3 Transcaucasian states that Britain and the League of Nations had recently established.

Sir Henry Wilson recorded in his diary another meeting he had in San Remo, with the Prime Minister, which vividly reveals the hole Lloyd George had dug for himself in relation to Turkey, Armenia and the Caucasus. After discussing the French occupation of the Ruhr in Germany with Lloyd George:

“Then we discussed Turkey. I told him that I… agreed with (Marshal) Foch and worked out 25-30 divisions to enforce the Treaty, of which we had 15-20 there already… At 4 o’clock we had a meeting of the full Conference. I think this was the most incompetent, impotent, cynical meeting of all the hundreds I have been present at. Subject – Turkey. Nitti (Italian Prime Minister) opened, and then Lloyd George that it had been decided that morning that none of the three Powers would send a single battalion to Armenia; that they had decided to arm the Armenians, and to let them fight it out with the Turks; if their cause was just, and if they were strong enough they would win, and if not then they were not worth saving. (Note – Not much mention here of protection of minorities, of Small States, of self-determination, of the brutality of the Turk, of poor Christians massacred by Mahammedans, etc.) This absolutely cynical avowal was concurred in by Millerand… Then Venizelos said he had lots of troops and could work up to 12-13 divisions. He said it would be time to look after the minorities after he had established himself firmly in Thrace and Smyrna. The others agreed. Anything more cynical I have not heard.

Curzon spoke good sense when he asked how the boundary between Turkey and Armenia could be traced if, for example, Erzurum, now occupied by the Turks, was given to Armenians who were totally unable to take it away from the Turks, or if Armenia were given access to the sea and could not get there. I asked, ‘How do you expect Armenia to hold her own against a fully armed Turkey and a rearmed Azerbaijan?… These sort of questions proving too much for the Frocks (Frock-coated Politicians). Nitti closed the Conference! Foch and I walked down the hill arm in arm, and we agreed that this was the most pitiable of any meeting we had been present at. ‘La politique a deus sous’ as the old Marshal said. It was a shocking exhibition.” (Major-General Sir C.E. Callwell, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, His Life and Diaries, Vol. 2, pp.233-4)

The first thing that is noteworthy about this is how the need for particular forces to impose the Peace Treaty on Turkey made a defence of the Caucasus impossible. Secondly, in the absence of forces, the Imperialists were entrusting the future of the Armenians to the fate of the Greek Army and its invasion of Anatolia. Thirdly, what is striking is how irrelevant the defence of Azerbaijan was to the Western Imperialists, although it was strategically, as the gateway to the Caucasus, the vital defence line that needed to be held.

We shall find out the probable reason for this last fact later.

In May 1919 the Greeks had been landed at Smyrna/Izmir by Allied shipping to begin the conquest of Anatolia on behalf of the British Empire. This was a momentous decision, sparking off the beginnings of Turkish resistance to the British occupation, which was now rightly seen as a colonising/extermination project against the Turkish people.

The Armenians had also been transported into Cilicia, on the Mediterranean, to bolster the French occupation and begin the dismemberment of the Ottoman State in the South, in preparation for the imposition of the punitive treaty. But when an Armenian Legion, employed by the French Imperialists, began to flex its muscles in Cilicia, with the intention of establishing a part of Magna Armenia there, popular resistance, which had not made an appearance under the earlier British occupation, was generated.

In July 1919 in Erzurum, in eastern Anatolia, the Turkish resurgence had began with the issuing of the National Pact. The Congress held at Sivas in September then signalled the development of an independent source of political power and influence in Turkey. In January 1920 a Parliament was returned with a Nationalist majority in Istanbul which ratified the National Pact, frustrating the British occupations scheme of creating a client regime that would do its bidding in Turkey.

The stirrings of Turkish resistance to the Imperialist occupation motivated Lloyd George to order the military repression of the Ottoman Parliament in March 1920 (as he had attempted in Ireland the year before), the declaration of Martial Law, the imposition of strict military censorship, and the establishment of a puppet government, placed under close supervision. The Sultan/Caliph was then advised that if he was incapable of pursuing the British interest, 100,000 Greek soldiers would be dispatched to the capital to assist him. There were curfews instituted and massive heavy-handed arms searches and sweeps organised across Istanbul. A Royal Navy Blockade of the Bosphorus was instituted on 15 March, British soldiers killed a number of people and began seizing others for deportation to Malta. Show trials were organised for potential opponents of British authority with the Law bent to facilitate “justice” (see Ferudun Ata, The Relocation Trials in Occupied Istanbul).

These measures, known as “The Second Occupation”, in which the British threw down the gauntlet to the Turks, really began the struggle for power between Britain and the new Turkey that was to have a direct bearing on the situation in the Caucasus. Lloyd George ignored all good advice to start the war he desired in Anatolia to see his Treaty through to success (see Sean McMeekin, Ottoman Endgame, pp.436-7).

However, straight after the British repression in Istanbul, Mustafa Kemal began to reorganise a Turkish state in central Anatolia – at Ankara – far beyond the range of the Royal Navy’s guns. A National Convention was established at the end of April 1920 as an alternative source of power to Istanbul, which reassembled the repressed representatives of the Turkish democracy from Istanbul, in Angora/Ankara.

The Ottoman Sultan/Caliph, whose Palaces lay within the gun-sights of British battleships, attempted to suppress the alternative source of power in Ankara, with some initial success. Detachments of his “Army of the Caliphate” formed in April captured towns close to the rebel capital, there were a number of risings against the “excommunicates” and a division of the new Republican army was annihilated by the Sultan’s forces.

But the Sultan’s efforts were destroyed when the British announced the terms of the Treaty of Sevres at the end of May 1920 – which declared the destruction of the Ottoman State and the confinement of the Turks to a small inland territory in about a third of Anatolia, where they could be whittled away like the natives on the American prairies or Australian outback. Istanbul and the Straits was to be put under international control with the rest of the country balkanised and placed under spheres of influence of the various Imperialist Powers, Greeks and Armenians.

This was completely against the Wilsonian principle of self-determination and statements made by Sir Edward Grey and Lloyd George during the War. The Treaty’s Article 89 left to the judgement of the President of the United States the boundaries of an Armenian state. (see Jorge Blanco Villalta, Ataturk, pp 251-2)

With the publication of this extremely punitive Treaty the whole basis of the Sultan’s war on Ankara collapsed, since no one would fight for such a miserable future. And so the British had a lot less success in promoting Civil War in Turkey than they did in Russia (and later in Ireland) and the risings soon petered out, with the Caliph’s Army either melting away or fleeing behind British protection.

One of Mustapha Kemal’s first acts in response to this existential threat was to make contact with the Bolsheviks. A Turkish Commission was sent to Moscow in May 1920 to parley with Lenin. Soviet Russia was the only country from which necessary help could be obtained. In the conditions of mid-1920 a Turkish/Bolshevik alliance against the Imperialist Powers was essential both to the survival of Turkey and the geopolitical recovery of Russia in the region. Kemal and Lenin were acutely aware of the geopolitical situation in the Caucasus and the Bolshevik leadership recognised a true anti-Imperialist in the Turkish leader.

The British “Guarantee”

The Russian Soviet State had refused to recognise the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, established in January 1920, as it had refused to acknowledge previous Azerbaijani governments from May 1918. It maintained both political and military pressure on Azerbaijan from the moment the British evacuated in August 1919. However, Lenin made two offers of recognition – to the Bullitt Mission in March and to Captain Malone in November 1919 – in return for an end to the British proxy-war on Russia. Lloyd George ignored both offers for reasons undisclosed, so they remain in the sphere of historical “what might have beens”.

In January 1920 Russian Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Chicherin, issued the first of his Notes to the Government of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic demanding an alliance against the White counter-revolutionaries in Southern Russia. In reply the Azerbaijanis asked for official recognition of the ADR before negotiations on any issue would ensue and that the Soviets uphold the principles of national self-determination they had proclaimed, and extended to Finland and Estonia.

With Daghestan cleared of Denikin’s forces in March 1920 the Azerbaijanis, alarmed at the concentration of Soviet forces on their Northern border, telegraphed Chicherin, declaring their wish to live in tranquility and establish good-neighbourly relations with the Soviet State. This was the final act of Azerbaijani diplomacy as the Soviet State moved to reclaim the country for Russia. (Firuz Kazemzadeh, The Struggle for Transcaucasia, p.278-82)

There were a number of economic, political and strategic reasons why the Soviets wanted to take possession (or repossession from the Russian viewpoint) of the area that had become Azerbaijan. First, of course was the natural resources, and in particular the oil fields of Baku, which composed 75% of the Soviet supply and which was vital for industrialisation and the survival of the Communist State. Second, the conquest of Azerbaijan, the gateway to the Southern Caucasus, opened the way to Armenia and Georgia as well as to Persia for Bolshevism. Thirdly, it facilitated the export of communist propaganda in all directions from this strategic hub. And lastly it blocked the influence of the Imperialists, particularly Britain, from the region.

Despite the fact that the will had been lost in Britain to fight the Bolsheviks, and a speedy British withdrawal of remaining forces had been already undertaken, to the defence of a new line to the South, encouragement continued to be given to Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan to resist the Bolsheviks in any invasion of their territories

The Caucasus states had, of course, been recognised by the League of Nations and Bonar Law, stated the Allied Governments’ position clearly in the House of Commons, on 24 February 1920:

“If the communities which border on the frontiers of Soviet Russia, and whose independence or de facto autonomy they have recognised, were to approach them and to ask for advice as to what attitude they should take with regard to Soviet Russia, the Allied Governments would reply that they cannot accept the responsibility of advising them to continue a war which may be injurious to their own interests. Still less would they advise them to adopt a policy of aggression towards Russia. If, however, Soviet Russia attacks them inside their own legitimate frontiers, the Allies will give them every possible support.”

This was understandably taken as a British guarantee to provide all support necessary in the event of a Soviet invason. However, in late April, when the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan called the British Foreign Office, expressing his fear of an imminent Bolshevik attack, Lord Curzon cabled the British High Commissioner in the Caucasus, Oliver Wardrop, with the following advice:

“There is no question of our giving Georgia and Azerbaijan active military support in case of an attack on them by Soviet forces, and you should be careful not to put any such interpretation on Mr. Bonar Law’s statement of February 24th.” (DBFP, Vol XII, 27/4/1920)

On March 20 1920 a report with the headline ‘Turkish Intrigues in the Caucasus. Azerbaijan Enmeshed. Pan-Turanian Danger.’ appeared in The Times. Presumably this was a signalling of a washing of the British hands of Azerbaijan, as the Red Army massed on its borders:

“In consequence of information received from Transcaucasia there is reason to believe that the Turkish Government have concluded an alliance with the Republic of Azerbaijan… The Tartar Republic has, from its inception, been looked upon as a protege by the Young Turks and Pan-Turanian extremists who saw in it a means of establishing communication with Turkestan and getting a foothold on the Caspian. The immense value of the petroleum fields in the Apsheron Peninsula round Baku made the political control of this State additionally desirable.”

The Times alleged that an “offensive and defensive alliance” between Turkey and Azerbaijan

“appears to have been the result of meetings between representatives of the Turkish Government acting in the interests and under the instructions of the Nationalist leader, Mustapha Kemal Pasha, and a Tartar delegate, General Kerimoff. It was signed in October of last year in Constantinople. It’s most important provisions are those which bind the two States to grant reciprocal assistance in case of foreign aggression against the territorial integrity of either, as that may be established by the forthcoming Treaty of Peace yet to be signed, or in case any Foreign Power should attempt to establish a political, administrative, or economic protectorate over either.”

The document which detailed military arrangements between the Azerbaijan Republic and the Turks was signed by Jevad Pasha, Chief of the Ottoman General Staff, according to The Times.

The Times editorial, commenting on the revelation, stated that “The issue presented is one of considerable gravity, because the British Government recognised the Republic on January 15, when they were presumably unaware that the Azerbaijan had entered into formal relations with an enemy Power.”

It continued that the Turks

“conceived that it might be used as a half-way house for the development of the Pan-Turanian movement in Central Asia. Though it is apparantly not signed by any Turkish Minister, it must have been made with the cognisance and approval of the Turkish Government. As well as of Mustapha Kemal Pasha, the leader of the Turkish Nationalist forces in Asia Minor. The latter probably arranged its terms. Further light on this matter is thrown by letters from Constantinople published this week in Near East. These letters state that Enver Pasha and his brother Nuri have made Baku their headquarters for a wide-flung net of Pan-Islamic intrigue in the Middle East”.

The letters, according to The Times show that the Azerbaijan Republic “sought Turkish support… because they were afraid that they might be brought under the influence either of the Bolshevists or of General Denikin.”

Noting that an Azerbaijani delegation was in London at that very moment The Times suggested that “the only course now open to Great Britain is to inquire whether the Azerbaijani Government admit the existence of the Convention, whether if so, they are prepared to denounce it, and whether in any case they will undertake to cease harbouring Enver or his criminal associates.”

A month later the Times revealed that the Government had taken its advice and interrogated the Azerbaijani delegation on this military convention involving the training and arming of the Tartar army:

“It’s existence was denied by the Tartar Delegation in London, but recent events show that it is possible that the Delegation may not have been in possession of full information on the subject.” (28.4.1920)

The Azerbaijani delegation was in London requesting urgent assistance against Bolshevik invasion on the basis of the British guarantee made by Bonar Law a couple of months previously.

But, at the same time, Georgia and Azerbaijan had already become resigned to their abandonment by Britain through the non-appearance of the arms they had been promised as part of the “every possible support.” The British War Office obstructed their delivery, believing they would ultimately end up in the hands of the Bolsheviks. So Georgian and Azerbaijani delegations met Lloyd George on 11 March and appealed to him to use the leverage of his trade negotiations with Lenin to enable them to secure agreements with the Soviets (FO 371/4932).

The Fall of Baku

The Azerbaijani Government were actually the least anti-Bolshevik government in all the states of the former Russian Empire. They had observed a strict neutrality in the Russian Civil War and had opposed British efforts to support Denikin from it. The ADR only wished to pursue an independent course. But in the Spring of 1920 the Azerbaijani leaders, with the failure of Britain to make good its promises, knew that the survival of their Republic depended entirely on the good will of Soviet Russia.

With over 70,000 Soviet troops of the 11th Army massed on Azerbaijan’s Northern border and its army diverted to Karabakh to resist an Armenian insurrection the Azerbaijani parliament voted to hand over power to the Azerbaijani Communist Party, to avoid bloodshed. Good terms were offered by the Soviets including “the protection of the territory of Azerbaijan” from “any kind of aggression and annexations”, the retention of the Azerbaijani army, the continuance of the right of political parties to “enjoy freedom of activity”, the right to “freely determine the form of government”. (Anar Isgenderli, Realities of Azerbaijan: 1917-1920, p.202)

Needless to say, the Bolsheviks reneged on most of these offers after occupying the country. The Bolshevik slogan of “self-determination” had become “Self-determination of the toiling classes of each nationality.” The Bolsheviks themselves defined what the attitude of “the toiling classes of each nationality” was, they being the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. So self-determination became a matter of political expediency and this was demonstrated by the recovery of the Caucasus and other Tsarist territories for the new Russia. With the exception of Finland, whose independence was recognised back in the early days, in 1917, Lenin’s policy of “self-determination” had be reined in to become, in practice, a fiction. (Robert Vincent Davies, The Conscience of the Revolution: Communist Opposition in Soviet Russia, pp.96-7)

Norman Narimanov, Chairman of the Presidium of the Revolutionary Committee of Azerbaijan, wrote a number of letters to Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky and Radek, protesting the loss of Azerbaijani independence and some territory, but to no avail (Khagani Ismail, The Armenian Question and Turkic-Muslim Genocide, pp.377-380)

On 28 April the Red Army entered Baku and the Soviet administration, directed by the Georgian, Sergio Ordhonikidze, a close fried of Stalin, declared all relationship with the Entente to be over. There was some solid resistance in the countryside to the Soviet invasion, particularly around Ganje, but the Red Army quickly established its authority over the country.

Bolshevik/Turkish Collaboration

The Turkish/Russian alliance was fatal to the Caucasian Republics and there was an understandable feeling among some Azerbaijanis that the Turks had let them down in forming an alliance with the Bolsheviks that had put paid to their short lived freedom.

The present writer can understand why this is a difficult issue for both Turks and Azerbaijanis and it is perhaps only an outsider who can give an objective estimation of it.

It was Ankara that facilitated the relatively bloodless Soviet coup in Azerbaijan by working through Turkish and Azerbaijani Communists, to secure the “rapid overthrow of the present, pro-British government of Azerbaijan and its replacement by a government that is able to co-operate with the Bolsheviks.”

It was insisted in a Resolution by Halil Pasha and Fuat Sabit, of the Turkish Communist Party in Baku, presented to Kazim Karabekir, Commander of Turkish forces in Eastern Anatolia, that “the occupation of Baku by the Red Army” only take place at the request of the Azerbaijani Communist Party and “the conquest of Azerbaijan must be avoided.” (see Sahib Jamal, Last Spring of the First Republic, IRS, Spring 2016, p.42)

The Bolsheviks in Baku had been greatly discredited after their alliance, under Stephan Shaumyan, with the Dashnaks, which resulted in the massacre in the city of 12,000 in March 1918. After that Azerbaijani Communists had worked through the Hemmat, the oldest political party in the country. After the Bolsheviks in Hemmat forced a split in the party and the exit of the Menshevik element they turned the Hemmat into the Azerbaijani Communist Party.

When in September 1919 a delegation of Turkish nationalists arrived in Baku to enlist the support of the Azerbaijani Government they were refused support by the Musavat government, fearing British retaliation. The Communist Party of Azerbaijan took up the offer and “played the role of a bridge between the proletarian revolutionary Moscow and the revolutionary movement in Turkey.” (Firuz Kazemzadeh, The Struggle for Transcaucasia, p.232)

The Azerbaijani Communist Party engaged in intense propaganda which accused the Musavat government in Baku of being too close to British Imperialism and it proclaimed the message that only the Sovietisation of Azerbaijan would really free the peasantry and workers and secure genuine independence for the country. Within the Musavat Party itself there were also pro-Bolsheviks who preferred the idea of Soviet hegemony to British Imperialism. (Tadeusz Swietochowski, Russia and Azerbaijan: A Borderline in Transition, p.172)

Kazim Karabekir’s recommendations formed the basis of a letter from Mustapha Kemal to Lenin on 24 April 1920. The day before the National Assembly in Ankara demanded that Azerbaijan allow “Soviet troops to move to the borders of Turkey to defend them from British attack”. Halil Pasha attempted to mollify the government of the ADR by claiming that the Red Army “would only pass through the territory of Azerbaijan on their way to Anatolia, where they would join the Turkish war of liberation.” (ibid, p.43)

On 26 April Mustapha Kemal promised the Bolsheviks that in return for Russian finance of 5 million gold rubles, medical supplies, food and the war materiel necessary to defeat British Imperialism “the Turkish government commits itself to take military operations against the imperialist Armenian government and secure the inclusion of Azerbaijan in the group of Soviet states.” (Baskin Oran, Turkish Foreign Policy, 1919-2006, p.94).

Former Ottoman officers smoothed the Red Army’s way through Daghestan by urging the Mountaineers not to resist (Bulent Gokay, A Clash of Empires: Turkey between Russian Bolshevism and British Imperialism, p.75)

Later, the Turkish leader, Mustapha Kemal, explained to a meeting on 14 August 1920, how “with our influential help and assistance” the 10th and 11th Red Armies “easily passed through the North Caucasus and entered Azerbaijan. Azerbaijanis met the troops who arrived with complete peace of mind. The Soviet armies took the necessary military and strategic measures on the borders of Armenia and Georgia and began to establish direct communication with us.” (ibid, p.44).

What we can conclude, therefore, is that geopolitical realities made the Turkish nationalist/Bolshevik alliance an imperative for mutual survival and it was Britain and its relationship with the Armenians that was responsible for it. It was essential that the “Caucasus Wall” be surmounted to secure the flow of material Westwards from the Bolsheviks to Ankara. The Azerbaijani policy of neutrality prevented this. So Azerbaijan, which was opened as a corridor by an alliance between Mustapha Kemal and Lenin for the transmission of Soviet aid to the Turkish independence forces, and which assisted the successful Turkish War of Independence became, as a consequence, part of the Soviet State for 70 years.

Mustapha Kemal did not abandon the Azerbaijanis – because the British position made resistance to the Bolsheviks impossible for them. Only with Turkish backing could the Azerbaijan Republic resist and Turkey was, at that moment, engaged in a life or death struggle for existence.

What Mustapha Kemal secured was a relatively bloodless takeover of Azerbaijan by the Red Army. Only a pragmatic British alliance with Turkey in the period after the Mudros Armistice, on the lines Churchill suggested to the Prime Minister in October 1919, would have made a defence of the Caucasus possible, since the British Government showed itself unwilling to conduct one themselves. The British War on Turkey condemned Azerbaijan to Soviet conquest.

For Azerbaijan to survive Turkey, first, had to live. And Turkey would have found it much harder to continue in existence, let alone revive itself, with a hostile Russia and Armenia on her Eastern flank.

Azerbaijan: Unwanted by Britain; Wanted by the Bolsheviks

The fall of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic went almost unnoticed in the West and there was little lamentation for it. Firuz Kamemzadeh noted:

“The Great Powers hardly noticed the disappearance of Azerbaijan from the national scene. In a note to the Italian Ambassador in Paris the United States Secretary of State wrote that this country would like to see the restoration of a unified Russia with the possible exception of Finland, Poland and Armenia. Azerbaijan was not even mentioned. The delegation of the now defunct State sent a note of protest to the Ambassador of the United States… The delegation expressed its hope that the Peace Conference would help Azerbaijan to regain its independence and appealed to the democratic sentiment of the American people. Dozens of such appeals… were sent to various governments. They had no effect. The case of Azerbaijan was closed, its delegates in Paris joining the ranks of the numerous Russian emigres.” (The Struggle for Transcaucasia, 1917-1921, p.285)

On 28 April 1920 The Times announced the “Bolshevist coup at Baku. Alliance with Soviet Russia.” The underlying message from London was good-riddance to the Tartar state, given recognition by Britain, only a few months earlier. Under the dismissive headline “Azerbaijan’s Dubious Career. In League With the Turk.” the Azerbaijan Republic was given a short orbituary.

The Times noted, after a short history of events earlier in 1918 that had led to the Ottoman capture of Baku, that

“The Turkish occupation and influence came to an end soon after the Armistice of October 31, 1918, and since then the Azerbaijan Government has pursued a somewhat devious policy. The Tartar administration, although its formation had been greatly assisted by the Turks, professed friendship for the Allies, on the one hand, while with the other welcome and protection were extended to refugees from Turkey whose names were on the Allied list of war criminals… In spite of the suspected pro-Turkish proclivities of the Azerbaijan Republic, the Allies agreed to recognise it as a de facto Government.”

Under the heading “A Revolution in Azerbaijan” The Times’ editorial on the same day commented:

The Times continued:

“The Republic of Azerbaijan has for a long time been in an extremely equivocal position…is there a chain of intrigue stretching from the Turkish military conspirators recently in Constantinople through Mustapha Kemal Pasha in Asia Minor to Enver Pasha in the Caucasus, and so byway of the Azerbaijan revolutionaries to the Bolshevist leaders? It certainly looks as though, throughout this long line, there have been intimate links, but on the other hand the Government now overthrown leaned strongly in the direction of the Turks, and were reputed to regard the advance of the Bolshevists with alarm. The chief motive of the Bolshevists is believed to be an ardent craving for the oil of Baku…”

“Although Baku has for years been famous for its oil resources… It is probable that its importance in this connexation is on the wane. It’s production has for some years been falling in quantity, and the political eruptions, which have become endemic in that part of the world, cause grievous dislocation of its once profitable industry.”

In contrast to the British dismissal of Azerbaijan Stalin was quite open about the reasons why the Soviets decided to recaptur Azerbaijan for the Russian State. In The Policy of the Soviet Government on the National Question in Russia, written a couple of months after the fall of Baku, Stalin explained:

“Three years of revolution and civil war in Russia have shown that unless central Russia and her border regions support each other the victory of the revolution and the liberation of Russia from the clutches of imperialism will be impossible. Central Russia, that hearth of world revolution, cannot hold out long without the assistance of the border regions, which abound in raw materials, fuel and foodstuffs. The border regions of Russia in their turn would be inevitably doomed to imperialist bondage without the political, military and organizational support of more developed central Russia. If it is true to say that the more developed proletarian West cannot finish off the world bourgeoisie without the support of the peasant East, which is less developed but which abounds in raw materials and fuel, it is equally true to say that more developed central Russia cannot carry the revolution through to the end without the support of the border regions of Russia, which are less developed but which abound in essential resources.The Entente undoubtedly took this circumstance into account from the very first days of the existence of the Soviet Government, when it (the Entente) pursued the plan of the economic encirclement of central Russia by cutting off the most important of her border regions. And the plan of the economic encirclement of Russia has remained the unchanging basis of all the Entente’s campaigns against Russia, from 1918 to 1920, not excluding its present machinations in the Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Turkestan. All the more important is it, therefore, to achieve a firm union between the centre and the border regions of Russia. Hence the need to establish definite relations, definite ties between the centre and the border regions of Russia ensuring an intimate and indestructible union between them…

The demand for the secession of the border regions from Russia as the form of the relations between the centre and the border regions must be rejected… Apart from the fact that the secession of the border regions would undermine the revolutionary might of central Russia, which is stimulating the movement for emancipation in the West and the East, the seceded border regions themselves would inevitably fall into the bondage of international imperialism. One has only to glance at Georgia, Armenia, Poland, Finland, etc., which have seceded from Russia but which have retained only the semblance of independence, having in reality been converted into unconditional vassals of the Entente; one has only, lastly, to recall the recent case of the Ukraine and Azerbaijan, of which the former was plundered by German capital and the latter by the Entente, to realize the utterly counter-revolutionary nature of the demand for the secession of the border regions under present international conditions.

When a life-and-death struggle is developing between proletarian Russia and the imperialist Entente, there are only two possible outcomes for the border regions: Either they go along with Russia, and then the toiling masses of the border regions will be freed from imperialist oppression;Or they go along with the Entente, and then the yoke of imperialism will be inevitable.There is no third course.The so-called independence of so-called independent Georgia, Armenia, Poland, Finland, etc., is only an illusion, and conceals the utter dependence of these apologies for states on one or another group of imperialists…

Soviet Russia is performing an experiment without parallel hitherto in the world in organizing the cooperation of a number of nations and races within a single proletarian state on a basis of mutual confidence, of voluntary and fraternal agreement… In that lies the guarantee of the consolidation of the revolutionary union between central Russia and the border regions of Russia, against which all the machinations of the Entente will be shattered.” (Pravda, No. 226, October 10, 1920. J.V. Stalin, Collected Works, Vol. 4, November, 1917 – 1920)

The Soviets had, unlike the British, no doubt about the value of the oil of Baku and its other attractions. They also provided the stability and order in the region for its continued extraction in great quantities, to serve the economic needs of the Union.

Whilst Britain at the height of its power, failed in its attempts to occupy and stabilise the region, and abandoned it in only the space of a year, the Soviet State took it in hand, imposed a territorial settlement that lasted for 70 years and quelled “the political eruptions” which made the British despair of it. And when the Soviet Union crumbled in 1990 the disputed territories again were subject to “the political eruptions” that led to a re-run of 1918-20 and the loss of Karabakh to the Armenians.

On September 1 1920 the Bolsheviks convened the famous Congress of the Peoples of the East at Baku, broadcasting the message that the Soviet State stood with the world’s oppressed against Western Imperialism.

Just after the fall of Azerbaijan a Soviet trade delegation arrived in England at the invitation of the British Prime Minister, whom it met on 31 March.

Armenia’s Final Gamble

The Red Army would probably have rolled into Armenia and Georgia straight after the fall of Azerbaijan, if it hadn’t been for the Polish Army reaching the gates of Kiev in May. This forced the Bolsheviks to abandon the conquest of the Caucasus temporarily and conclude treaties recognising Armenia and Georgia. Communist parties were established in both countries through these treaties in preparation of a resumption of the conquest, which was put on hold whilst the Red Army was otherwise engaged.

The U.S Senate, who well understood Britain’s game in the Caucasus, on 24th May 1920 passed a resolution declining Wilson’s acceptance of a US Mandate over Armenia, taking America was out of the game.

In the weeks following the publication of the Treaty of Sevres the Greek Army swept forward from Smyrna into the Anatolian interior. The new Turkish Army was only finding its feet and was outnumbered by the Greek forces. The line of the Turkish sans culottes broke under pressure and there was some panic in the National Assembly in Ankara, with a number of deputies demanding French Revolutionary justice to be applied to those who had led them into this position. There was despondency and even a desire to yield to the Imperialists and accept their terms, rather than face destruction (see Jorge Blanco Villalta, Ataturk, pp 249-252).

And then, at that critical moment, the Armenians presented Mustapha Kemal with the chance to raise morale and restore confidence in the new Turkey.

Under the protection of England the Armenian Erivan Republic had been formed with Kars as its de facto capital. This, of course, was seen as merely the nucleus of the Great Armenia that was to come and which, under the provisions of Sevres, was to extend over the whole of Eastern Turkey in a broad belt from Batum and Trebizond on the Black Sea through Kars and Erzurum to the Persian frontier.

In attempting to help impose the Treaty of Sevres of August 1920 on the Turks the Erivan Republic took advantage of the Greek offensive in Western Anatolia and attacked Moslem settlements in the Anatolian/Caucasus borderlands. This was in the area known as the Three Sanjaks which Russia had gained by the Treaty of Berlin in 1877, had lost to the Ottomans under Brest-Litovsk in early 1918, and which the Turks had evacuated under the terms of the Mudros Armistice in late 1918. These areas had been a source of dispute and the place of skirmishes between the Armenians on the one side and the Turks and Kurds on the other. Now the Dashnaks entered the Kars Sanjak and began massacring the Moslem population.

This attempt to grab territory from the Turks fatally isolated the Armenians. They were now surrounded by enemies – Nationalist Turkey, Bolshevik Russia, Menshevik Georgia, and Soviet Azerbaijan – and almost completely reliant on Britain to pull them out of the dire situation they had got themselves into. The Erivan Republic was without oil or electricity because its aggressive actions against Azerbaijan, which had led to its sole supply of oil, from Baku, being cut off.

The first Armenian Prime Minister, Hovhannes Katchaznouni, later conceded:

“It is an irrefutable fact… that we have not done everything that we should have done – it was our duty to do – in order to avoid war. And we have not done everything for the simple but unpardonable reason that we were ignorant of the real strength of the Turks, and too sure of our own strength. Therein lies our fundamental mistake. We were not afraid of war, because we were sure of being victorious. With carelessness of inexperienced and ignorant men, we remained unaware of the forces that the Turks had organised on our borders, and so we were not cautious. On the contrary, the hasty occupation of Olti was the gauntlet which we threw down, as if intentionally; as though we ourselves were desirious of war and sought it.” (Hovhannes Katchaznouni, Dashnagzoutiun has Nothing to do Anymore, p.41)

The Turks did not want war with the Armenians. They were under great pressure from the Greek advance and even from their Soviet allies, who were trying to make a deal with the Armenians in order to Bolshevize Turkish territory at Kars.

Turkish national forces bided their time, whilst the Greeks advanced, and then moved against the Armenians, driving them out of Kars, in October 1920. General Kazim Karabekir’s army reached the gates of Erivan and occupied 80 per cent of Armenian territory.

The Turks then imposed the Treaty of Gumru on the Armenians, in which the Erivan Republic gave up its claims in the Sevres Treaty and submitted itself to Turkish supervision. This finally confined Armenian territory to the Caucasus and effectively blew away the castle of cards dreamt up by President Wilson, arbiter of the territories of the Armenian state. It was agreed by the Erivan Republic that Nakhichevan and Zangezur would remain as Azerbaijani territories.

The original Erivan Republic, established under Ottoman protection in May 1918, had been 9,000 sq. kms. Britain had then expanded its de facto territory, in November 1918 to 50,000 sq. kms. Under the Treaty of Gumru, with the Turks, it was reduced to a territory of 27,000 sq. kms.

Britain lost its Eastern ally with the Armenian renunciation of the Treaty of Sevres and was from then on heavily dependent on the Greeks.

Russia and Turkey – A Revolutionary Marriage

Dagobert von Mikusch noted the effect of Mustapha Kemal’s victory over the Erivan Republic:

“This successful Armenian campaign, promoted by Mustapha Kemal at the right moment, had three very important results – it revived the spirits of the despondent and renewed their decision to continue the resistance; it freed the Ankara Government from any attack from the rear, and, in the third place, it established immediately contact between Russia and revolutionary Turkey.

These two outlaws, excluded from the European family of nations, were thrown into each other’s arms. As long as England occupied the Dardanelles and thus commanded the Black Sea, the existence of the infant Soviet State was continually menaced. Accordingly the statesmen in Moscow were convinced that they were defending their own interests in supporting the Angora Government, since the National Pact of the Kemalists had as one of its principal demands the unconditional possession of Constantinople and the Straits. On the other hand Russia was of incalculable value to Turkey as a source of material help and moral support. Without the friendship of Moscow Mustapha Kemal would scarcely have succeeded in reaching his goal…

After the settlement of the dispute about the boundary, an offensive and defensive Alliance was concluded between Angora and Moscow – a revolutionary marriage, so to speak, between Nationalism and Communism, in which both parties made their own mental reservations.” (Dagobert von Mikusch, Mustapha Kemal, Between Europe and Asia, p. 260).

Von Mikusch mentions “the dispute about the boundary” as an obstacle to a Turkish-Bolshevik alliance. This was about the area around Kars and Ardahan on the Trans-Caucasian frontier, which the Armenians claimed as part of Magna Armenia. The Bolsheviks were using the Armenians as bargaining chips against the Turks, while in the process of aiding Ankara against the common enemy of Western Imperialists. The Turks refused to cede the Kars/Ardahan area to the Armenians/Bolsheviks for Sovietisation and a stand-off developed.

In 1683 a Polish army had saved Vienna from the Ottoman advance into Central Europe. In late September 1920 Mustapha Kemal availed of Marshal Pilsudski’s stylish victory over Lenin’s Red Army outside Warsaw to capture Ardahan and Kars from the Armenians, which the Bolsheviks had earmarked for Sovietisation, and the issue was finally settled. The Bolsheviks, being pragmatists, recognised the territory as Turkish and not Armenian, and contented themselves with mopping up the lands that the Erivan Republic still possessed, before it collapsed.

In return the Turks gave up any claim they had to the important strategic port of Batum on the Mediteranean, which the British had occupied and which the Soviets wanted.

The chief logistical benefit for Ankara in the alliance with the Bolsheviks was in the supply of war materiel. Turkish forces, which had only a rudimentary system of arms production in Anatolia, inferior to the British-supplied Greeks, were supplied with Bolshevik arms and munitions from the East, including 40,000 rifles, 63 million bullets and 15,000 shells. Lenin also transferred substantial finance in money and gold to the Turkish anti-Imperialists. This was a major contribution, considering the need for the same in Russia itself. (Baskin Oran, Turkish Foreign Policy, 1919-2006, p.91)

The driving force behind the Turkish/Soviet alliance against British Imperialism was undoubtedly Josef Stalin. Stalin overcame stiff resistance within the Bolshevik state to the accommodation with Turkish nationalism to seal the deal (see Salahi Sonyel, Turkish Diplomacy, 1918-1923, pp.62-5).

Stalin viewed the opportunity of dealing a significant blow to British Imperialism as much more important than any adherence to doctrinaire Marxism. He was proved correct in the effect the policy had on the Moslem world and particularly in relation to Iran, where the British hegemony began to unravel as British will and power was revealed to be much more insubstantial than it appeared at the time of the Armistices.

Of course, the Bolsheviks had another agenda in this giving of aid in gold rubles to the Ankara treasury and Bolshevik propaganda:

“The Bolsheviks supported the Turks, but, at the same time they put temptation in their path. The alliance with the Nationalists was not a question simply of self-protection for the Soviet; it was meant, by driving a new trench westwards, to further the advance of a world-revolution. With matchless political jugglery Mustapha Kemal was able to make use of Moscow, never altogether dashing its hopes of converting him, and yet at the same time reducing its communistic missionary activity ineffective.” (Dagobert von Mikusch, Mustapha Kemal, Between Europe and Asia, pp 259-60).

With great political skill Mustapha Kemal accepted the Bolshevik aid, negated Communist influence in Turkey and made the Bolshevik/Turkish co-operation a major source of concern to Britain. By doing this he smoothed the way for a British facilitation of a strong and independent Turkish State when he had won the military contest in Anatolia against the Greeks and the Western Imperialist Powers.

Britain and Armenia – The Final, Fatal Embrace

Even after the fall of the gateway to the Caucasus, Azerbaijan, the British still encouraged Armenia and Georgia to hold out against the Bolsheviks. But little support was provided beyond moral and political statements and some obsolete Ross rifles. Britain withdrew its last remaining forces from Batum at the end of June 1920. The port of Batum was strategically important as a barrier between resurgent Kemalist Turkey and a Bolshevik takeover of Georgia and it was on the main the supply route to Armenia.

The British wanted the Armenians to hold out against the Soviets as the Erivan Republic was the sole barrier to a land route between Russia and Turkey through which the Turkish nationalist forces could be supplied with munitions against the Greek Army, which was doing Lloyd George’s work from the West.

The Armenians had facilitated the Bolshevik advance into Azerbaijan by occupying the main bulk of the Azerbaijani army in defending Karabagh from a Dashnak insurgency. Now the Bolsheviks and Soviet Azerbaijan demanded the withdrawal of all Armenian nationalist forces from Azerbaijani territory, including Karabakh, Nakhichevan and Zangezur. Armenia rejected the Soviet ultimatum and, after relying on Britain to the death, instead of coming to terms with the Bolsheviks, was defeated in a series of encounters. The Erivan Republic was forced to sign a peace with the Soviets at Tiflis in August 1920 conceding the Azerbaijani territory to Soviet Azerbaijan.

Armenia rejected further Soviet offers based on the proviso that she sever all ties with the Entente. Armenia continued to place all her trust in England.

Armenia got no credit for relying on British moral support and it was now damned for having conceded so quickly to the Red Army. The British acting-High Commissioner in the Caucasus, Commander Luke, after finding out about an Armenian side-deal that sought to allow the Bolsheviks to occupy Azerbaijani Nakhchivan, told the Armenian government in Erivan that they had been guilty of “a betrayal of trust” and that they had “committed an act of treachery against Great Britain” which was “deplorable”, especially after having recently received “a large consignment of British munitions” (FO 371/4959/E10726, 11/081920).

The Armenians assured the British that they had only yielded temporarily to the Bolsheviks and would now form an anti-Bolshevik bloc with the Georgians (FO 371/4959/E10733, 12.08.1920). This was, of course, impossible because the Georgians could never trust the Armenians. The British, themselves, did little more to help the Armenians but urge their other catspaw, the Greek army in Anatolia, on to save them.

The Allied High Commissioner for Relief in Armenia, William Haskell, chose this moment to leave Erivan and tell the British Foreign Office what it wanted to hear, in order to abandon the Armenians to their self-deserved fate:

“The country is a desert and the people nothing but professional beggars… There is no administrative or political capacity in the country, no money, and no resources to develop. Foreign Armenians who have amassed fortunes… will neither contribute nor return to the national home.” (FO 371/4960/E12174, 20.09.1920)

Unlike the Zionist project in Palestine the Armenian colonial project had utterly failed for Britain and it was now time to abandon it to the Bolsheviks to pick up the pieces. Britain and France closed the doors of the League of Nations to Armenian appeals and refused it entry to its ranks to save it.

This was one of the first examples of the League of Nations showing that it would not become what it was supposed to be. It was not going to defend its own decisions, taken by the Peace Conference which established it, to defend the Caucasian Republics it had set up. Furthermore, the League was going to be used by Britain, the sole World Power, in its own interests, when it suited it, and ignored when it did not.

At the end of 1920 Lord Curzon initialed the following Foreign Office Memo:

“whatever may have been expected of us originally we intend to do as little as we can for Armenia either in money or men.” (FO 371/4963/E14026, 9.11.1920)

The Armenian surrender to the Treaty of Gumru provoked the Bolshevik takeover in Erivan. The Red Army, which was then invited in by a section of Armenians who desired to be saved from oblivion, Bolshevized what was left of Armenia – although a better term might be rescued.

When Armenia requested a loan of 1 million Sterling to pay for their continued defence Curzon refused them as they had no Sterling credit. Both H.M. Treasury and the War Office were insisting on the repayment of previous loans to the Armenians with interest. A year earlier Curzon had promised his spiritual leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury that: “You may rely on me to spare no effort for the safety of these unhappy people.” (Akaby Nassibian, Britain and the Armenian Question, p.178 and p.193)

At this point of time the Armenians, having earlier abandoned Denikin and the Whites, sounded out the Bolsheviks as possible instruments for what was left of the Greater Armenia policy (see Sean McMeekin, Ottoman Endgame, pp.442-3). However, the Soviets had their own agenda and Stalin’s nationalities policy did not correspond with the Dashnak one. Armenia’s main attraction for the Soviets was that it drove a wedge between the two Turkic nations – Turkey and Azerbaijan. Not bottling up Turkey would link it to Moslem Transcaucasia, Transcaspia and beyond.

Afterwards the Armenians regretted not surrendering to the Soviets earlier, since it might have been advantageous for a land-grab against Turkey and Azerbaijan. As the last Prime Minister of the Erivan Republic, Simon Vratsian, later wrote:

This idea, undoubtedly, has long occupied and continues to occupy Armenian politicians. I confess it has not let me rest either, and continuously torments me. Did we not perhaps commit a fatal mistake? Should we not have Sovietized Armenia right along with Azerbaijan, or soon after, in the months of July and August? Should we not have spat on Europe, the Sevres Treaty and Wilson and tied our hope with Moscow?…

“There are those who say that if the government of Armenia had been able to find common ground with Soviet Moscow at that time, further disasters could have been avoided and Armenia, albeit Soviet, could have had more expansive borders, encompassing even territories from Turkish Armenia.

Of course, it was exceedingly difficult in those days to have dared to take such a step. Who would have dared to even think that Sevres would be voided… and Europe’s and America’s promises and committments would not be worth an eggshell.” (Along Life’s Pathways, Vol. 5, p. 167)

Everything beyond the desire for a great Armenian state was secondary to the Armenians. Any political force, of whatever character was acceptable to them if it facilitated the expansion of Armenian territory and the cleansing of alien populations from it to create a great homogenous Armenian state.

In 1921 General Drastamat Kanayan (Dro), the Dashnak leader, proclaimed himself Military Dictator and suddenly metamorphosed into a Bolshevik and Supreme Leader of Armenia’a Bolshevik Revcom, declaring Armenia a Soviet state, awaiting the embrace of the Red Army.

That might have been understandable in terms of expediency. But Dro did not last long in his new guise and was invited to Moscow and placed under Cheka surveillance, before he made his escape, to Paris. A couple of decades later he was leading Hitler’s Armenian Legion in the invasion of Soviet Russia. Dro had a lot of the characteristics of the National Socialists, and he put the skills he had developed in ethnic cleansing operations in the Caucasus at the disposal of the Nazis for use against the Jews in the Crimea. However, one constant remained: What he did in his career with the Nazis was always done for what he saw as the interests of Armenia, first and foremost. (see Antranig Chalabian, Dro – Armenia’s First Defense Minister of the Modern Era, pp.241-8 for ‘Dro’s Collaboration with Nazism’)

In February 1921, with the Red Army engaged in its conquest of Georgia, there was an attempted Dashnak rising against the Communist government. The Soviet Union was unable to suppress the insurrection and had to temporarily abandon Armenia. The Armenians appealed to the West for assistance.

The leader of the revolt, Vratsian, seeing no help forthcoming, even appealed to the Turks to save Armenia from the Bolsheviks, invoking the Treaty of Gumru/Alexandropol, in which Ankara had promised to assist Armenia if she was attacked. However, the government of Armenia had already repudiated the Treaty on 10 December 1920 and had requested that the Turks declare it null and void, to establish friendly relations with Soviet Armenia. (Firuz Kazemzadeh, The Struggle for Transcaucasia, 1917-1921, p292 and pp.322-3)

There was, then, no Turkish rescue of the Armenians from the Bolsheviks.

When the Red Army refocussed its attention on Armenia, it was soon subdued in April. The last remaining Dashnak resistance retreated from Zangezur into Persia.


Endgame

The Allied Supreme Council recognised the de jure independence of Georgia in January 1921. However, by then the British had made up their minds to not defend the state which the League of Nations established. After some resistance Georgia fell to the Soviets in February/March. Lenin provided generous terms to the Georgian Mensheviks to ensure an easy transition to Bolshevism. Having signed the deal with Lenin the Menshevik government, however, decided to leave for exile.

The Bolsheviks concluded a Treaty of Friendship and Fraternity with the Turkish National forces in Moscow on 1 March 1921 settling border disputes and other outstanding matters that impeded co-operation. The Treaty of Kars of 13 October 1921 brought Soviet Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan into the terms of the Moscow Treaty.

With the fall of Georgia and the crushing of Armenian resistance Russia was Master of the Caucasus again. And there was worse to follow for Britain. The good understanding between resurgent Turkey and Russia destroyed the British plans to dominate the Caucasus and Iran:

“The fall of Tsarism augmented British responsibilities and with them British opportunities. By the end of 1918 the exigencies of war had drawn British forces into an occupation of all Persia. They had found their way beyond Persia’s northern boundaries into central Asia and introduced British sea-power to the Caspian… There was no serious intention to extend the British Empire to the Caucasus and the Caspian, much less to the Sea of Aral. But it could not be expected that Britain would renounce all the savoury prospects that the simultaneous ruin of the Ottoman and Tsarist Empires offered her. The Cabinet accepted Curzon’s project of a semi-independent Persia under British tutelage, and an Anglo-Persian treaty embodying his ideas was signed in the summer of 1919 by a subservient Persian government.

In a few months, however, the situation had entirely altered. Curzon’s self-congratulations over his diplomatic masterpiece were premature. The Treaty had not yet been ratified. While it was being concluded, Denikin was advancing on Moscow, the Bolsheviks were in extremities and British troops in Transcaucasia still guarded the northern frontier of Persia. Protests by Persian nationalists were overborne. But by the following spring Denikin had been put to flight, the Red Army in pursuit entered Baku, which British troops had just left, crossed the Caspian, landed on Persian territory and pushed the scanty British force into the interior.

The combination of Communist propaganda and pressure by the Red Army was irresistible. Persian nationalists, listening to Soviet manifestoes and deciding that Russian imperialism constituted a lesser threat to their aims than British, gradually obtained the upper hand at Teheran and prevented ratification of the Anglo- Persian treaty. Ultimately the treaty was repudiated, in terms that added insult to injury, and a Persian-Soviet treaty substituted for it. Curzon’s discomfiture was complete and his exasperation at the Bolsheviks, for their share in the slaughter of his favourite offspring, bitter.” (K.W.B. Middleton, Britain and Persia, pp.125-6)

Lord Curzon’s desire for “a Moslem nexus of states” as a buffer against Russia began to unravel in 1920. In May the Bolsheviks attacked the strategic port of Enzeli on the Iranian Caspian forcing the surrender of the British garrison and fleet. The British failure to defend Persia shattered Curzon’s Anglo-Persian Treaty, which remained unratified as the Persians faith/fear in Britain began to dissolve. In February 1921 General Ironside, who had been brought in to restore order in the country organised the Reza Khan military coup to put in place a strongman administration, which he felt could be trusted to keep out the Bolsheviks, when Britain departed. But the new government repudiated the Agreement and turned to Bolshevik protection against British Imperialism in place of British “protection” against Russia.

Not only was Russia master of the Caucasus again, it had rolled back British Imperialism in Persia. And worse was to come a year later when Britain met a resurgent Turkey at Chanak and had to abandon the Treaty it had sought to impose on the Turks and conclude a new one at the conference table at Lausanne.

In November 1920 Stalin stated:

“The importance of the Caucasus for the Revolution is determined not only by the fact that it is a source of raw materials, fuel, and food supplies, but also by its position between Europe and Asia, between Russia and Turkey in particular: and also by the presence of most important economic and strategic roads (Batum-Baku, Batum-Tabriz, Batum-Tabriz-Erzurum). All of this is taken into account by the Entente, which, possessing at present Constantinople, that key to the Black Sea, would like to keep a direct road to the Orient through Transcaucasia.

Who shall finally establish himself in the Caucasus? Who shall use the oil, the most important roads leading into the depth of Asia, the Revolution or the Entente? – that is the whole question.” (J.V. Stalin, Sochineniia, Vol. IV, p.408)

The answer was the Revolution. Britain had lost the Caucasus to Bolshevik Russia.



Source Part I
Source Part II
Source Part III
Source Part IV
Source PART V
Source Part VI
Source PART VII
Source PART VIII


.

0 comments:

Post a Comment

Would You Please Update/Correct Any Of The
3700+ Posts by Leaving Your Comments Here

- - - YOUR OPINION Matters To Us - - -


We Promise To Publish Them Even If We May Not Share The Same View

Mind You,
You Would Not Be Allowed Such Freedom In Most Of The Other Sites At All.

You understand that the site content express the author's views, not necessarily those of the site. You also agree that you will not post any material which is false, hateful, threatening, invasive of a person’s privacy, or in violation of any law.

Please READ the POST FIRST then enter YOUR comment in English by referring to the SPECIFIC POINTS in the post and DO preview your comment for proper grammar /spelling.

You need a Google Account (such as Gmail) to publish your comments.

How To Publish Your Comments:

-Please enter your comment in plain text only (NO Formatting) in an editor like notepad first,
-Then copy and paste the final/corrected version into the comment box here as Google/Blogger may not allow re-editing/correcting once entered in some cases.
-And click publish.
-If you need to correct the one you have already sent, please enter a
-New Comment-
as we keep the latest version and delete the older version as default

Spammers
Your comment will never appear at this site.

More . . :
http://armenians-1915.blogspot.com/2007/05/Submit-Your-Article.html

All the best