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Save Me From Hope That I'll Be Saved: The Birth and Death of the Democratic Republic of Armenia

Chris Scanlan

CSI221 (F11): Israel and Palestine: The Clash of Nationalisms

Aaron Berman

December 14, 2011

Background: This paper focus starts at tail end of World War I. In order to contextualize the events covered, some general information is necessary. First, following the implementation of genocidal policies by the Ottomans, Armenia's defense was largely the responsibility of Russian volunteer units, staffed mostly by ethnically Armenian nationalists. The genocide itself was conducted through massacres and deportations to the Levant and the Arabian peninsula. The death toll has been estimated to be at least one million, a huge proportion of the Armenian population. Throughout the world war, the Dashnaks remained the leading Armenian nationalist group, and continued to engage Ottoman troops in an attempt to protect civilians. The genocide was publicized, mostly through Christian missionaries from the west, and the Allies were generally sympathetic to the Armenian plight. Important Cities: Batum is in western Georgia, on the southeast shore of the Black Sea. Kars is in northwest Armenia, and Alexandropol is directly east of Kars. Yerevan is in central Armenia. The Armenian-Azerbaijani territorial conflicts are centered around Karabakh, on the southern half of Armenia's eastern border. Historically, Armenia extends beyond the western shore of Lake Van in the south, and west of Erzinjan in the north.

“Probably Armenia was known to the American school child in 1919 only a little less than England. The association of Mount Ararat and Noah, the staunch Christians who were massacred periodically by the Mohammedan Turks, and the Sunday School collections of fifty years for alleviating their miseries-all accumulate to impress the name Armenia on the front of the American mind.” - Herbert Hoover (Koolakian 26).


On the eighth of February 1919, a remarkable group of American politicians, Allied dignitaries, and celebrities gathered in the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Plaza in New York City for the Inaugural Ball of the American Committee for the Independence of Armenia (ACIA). George Koolakian notes that the guest list included, in addition to nearly 400 other attendees, Edith Wilson, the widow and sister of the late Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Warren Harding, William Howard Taft, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, William Jennings Brian, Charles Evan Hughes, J.P. Morgan, Jr.; Bernard M. Baruch (the director of the War Industries Board), Garegin Pasdermadjian (the de facto Armenian ambassador to the United States), Samson Harutinian (Armenia's minister of judicial affairs), and several members of the American, French, and Japanese delegations to the Paris Peace Conference (115-6). Less than two years later, on December 2, 1920, the Democratic Republic of Armenia, caught between an invading Turkish army and Soviet expansionism, was officially sovietized. The American Senate had defeated Woodrow Wilson's proposal for a mandate in Armenia (submitted May 24, 1920) 52 to 23 on July 1, 1920; the United States had refused to officially recognize the government of the Democratic Republic of Armenia until April 23, 1920 (Policy 167; Vol. III 436).

The failure of the Armenian independence movement, however, was not only caused by a lack of American support. This paper will argue that Armenia's fate was sealed as early as November 1917, and certainly no later than May 1918. The rise of the Bolsheviks in Russia, the realpolitik employed by Georgian politician Akaki Chkhenkeli, and Armenian military fatigue after three decades of war, combined with a lack of international support, make it nearly impossible to envision a successful Armenian state following the First World War. For the sake of brevity and clarity, the scope of this paper is limited to the period between the formation of the Trancaucasian Federative Republic in 1918 and the sovietization of Armenia in December 1920, with a focus on three particularly important incidents: the disintegration of the Trancaucasian Federative Republic at the Batum Conference in May 1918, the near constant state of crisis experienced by the Democratic Republic of Armenia for its entire existence, and the aggressive Turkish military campaign during the fall of 1920 that ultimately caused the downfall of the Democratic Republic of Armenia. Intertwined with the story of the Armenian national movement is that of the parallel American political movement supporting Armenian independence, and later, an American mandate in Armenia. As such, this paper will also briefly discuss that parallel movement as an important facet of Armenia's national struggle.

The Transcaucasian Federation: From Birth to Death

November 1917 was a dangerous time to be Armenian in the Caucasus. The Ottoman Empire was engaged in a violent campaign of total war and civilian deportation to the Middle East, and the only immediate defenders of the Armenian populace, the Russian army, were under orders to retreat from battle: the Bolsheviks,

led by Lenin, had succeeded in their bid for control of the Russian Empire, and were committed to peace at all costs. In March 1918, the Russo-German Treaty of BrestLitovsk was signed with that philosophy in mind; its ratification effectively hamstrung the Armenian military, which had previously consisted of Russian volunteer units, as the Bolsheviks agreed “'to withdraw from the provinces of Eastern Anatolia and return them to Turkey' (Article IV), and to 'demobilize and dissolve the Armenian bands in Russia and in the occupied Turkish provinces' (Article I)” (History 148). By April, what remained of the Armenian military was defeated, excepting the garrison at Kars. Acting unilaterally, premier-designate Akaki Chknekeli bypassed the Seim (The Transcaucasian legislative body), contacted the Ottomans “in a secret communication [and] notified Vehib Pasha that the terms of Brest-Litovsk were now acceptable” (History 150). [He] ordered the Armenian troops to halt their hostilities against the Turks, and finally commanded General Nazarabekian to relinquish Kars without firing a shot. His entire activity was kept secret from the Dashnakist fraction of the Seim and even from those Armenians whom he had approached to enter his cabinet (On the Road 162-3).

Armenians reacted explosively to Chkhenkeli's actions; several nationalists withdrew from his cabinet, and the Dashnaks demanded that he be overthrown. Georgian Mensheviks were equally outraged, however they publicly called for the Armenians to “display gallantry by remaining in the government. The future of Transcaucasia rested on cooperation” (Road 167). In an act that put nationalist sentiments and calculating realpolitik ahead of genuine cooperation, the Georgians responded to Armenian complaints with a veiled threat: When the Dashnakists refused to heed such idealistic phrases, the Mensheviks played their trump card. They would agree to topple Chkhenkeli on the condition that the new premier be a Dashnak...the move would be seen as the restoration of a war cabinet, the Tatars [Azerbaijanis] would withdraw from the Transcaucasian

Federation, and the Ottoman forces would resume an all out offensive. With Kars already lost, the final stages of Armenian decimation would be enacted in the heart of Transcaucasia (Road 167). Faced with a choice between Chkhenkeli or an Ottoman invasion, the Armenians were forced to back down, and on April 28, Vehib Pasha informed Chkhenkeli of his government's recognition of the Transcaucasian Federative Republic. In large part due to the deteriorating relationship between Armenia and its neighbors, Turkey “achieved a major military and diplomatic victory [and] offered to resume the peace negotiations at Batum” (History 150). The peace conference at Batum opened May 11, 1918 with Halil Bay, Ottoman minister of Justice leading the Ottoman delegation; also present were German observers General Otto von Lossow, the military attache to Turkey; Count Friedrich von Schulenburg, former vice-consul in Tiflis,; and Otto Guenther von Wesendonk, an adviser on Caucasian affairs (Road 172). After Chkhenkeli opened with a request for a text of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty for his delegation to reference, Halil responded by presenting a draft treaty prepared by the Ottoman government. He rejected the terms of Brest-Litovsk as the basis for negotiations because “'the struggle between the Turkis and Transcaucasian forces was resumed...the character of our relations has changed'” (Road 173). The opening meeting proved to be the only official meeting between the delegations. Halil warned the Transcaucasians that “obstinacy would result in deleterious consequences;” in spite of this, infighting among and between the delegations continued, and “Turkish armies...[advanced] toward the few remaining Armenian districts of Transcaucasia” (Road 174). Interestingly, von Lossow, before departing for the conference, was given orders

to “strive for a solution favorable to the Armenians,” specifically to secure autonomous Armenian territory in both the Caucasus and the Ottoman Empire (On the Road 177). Despite this, shortly after arriving at the conference, von Lossow began secret negotiations with the Georgian delegates. Because of the critical Baku-Batum oil pipeline and the natural resources (including copper mines) within Georgian territory, “Germany agreed to provide military and economic assistance to an independent Georgia” (History 150). Five days after beginning negotiations with the Georgians, on May 19 1918, von Lossow offered to mediate between the Transcaucasians and the Ottomans. Despite Azerbaijani resistance to the measure, von Lossow's offer was eventually accepted (Road 181). It took just one week for negotiations to collapse entirely, bringing the federation with them. “On May 25 an aide of von Lossow received the completed texts of the [Georgian] agreements...von Lossow informed the Transcaucasian delegation that he had news of the impending collapse of the Republic and was departing” (Road 184). Von Lossow met the Georgians the following day; the Georgians publicly announced their independence. The Azerbaijanis followed suit May 27, 1918, and on May 28, the Armenian National Council sent a delegation to Batum with unlimited negotiating power. Armenian nation leaders were not united in their support for independence, but “Armenian preferences notwithstanding, the National Council had no alternative but to opt for independence and establish a modus vivendi with Turkey (History 150). Two days later (May 30, 1918), the Democratic Republic of Armenia quietly declared independence. Chkhenkeli's secret negotiations had, for the second time in as many months, left the Armenians with little political leverage. As part of their peace agreement with the Ottomans, Armenia was forced to cede control of a significant

amount of territory, but, for the next five months at least, “the crude wheels of government began to grind” (Road 244).

Cause Célèbre

In the United States, public awareness of the Armenian plight (which had begun in earnest around the time of the Hamidian massacres in the late 1890s) reached its apex. During the war, several Armenophile organizations were formed throughout the diaspora to promote the independence of Armenia...However, none became as influential as the ACIA, established in November and December 1918. Unlike all the others, the leaders of the ACIA were non-Armenians. (Koolakian 93).

After the end of World War One, “most Armenians believed that the Unites States would take the lead in guaranteeing their liberation and rehabilitation” (Volume III 316). For a time, the United States did take that lead. Under the authorization of the US government, the Near East Relief fund distributed $19.5 million in aid in 1919 alone; all told the United States provided $25 million in supplies, services, and direct financial aid to Armenia, by far “[leading] the world in feeding, housing, clothing, and educating the Armenian refugee population” (Moranian 312). The ubiquity of public sympathy for the Armenian cause, and the apparent bipartisan support by American politicians, however, would not last. As Moranian points out, American support for Armenia was ultimately paradoxical; the “self interest that impelled the United States to engage on behalf of the Armenians is the same self interest that impelled the United States to abandon the Armenians” (309).

A Nation Born on the Precipice

Following independence, refugees began to return home, only to find “devastated neighborhoods...[where] a mixture of occupation, plunder, and destruction had prevailed” (Gerlach 102). At the end of 1918, the nascent Democratic Republic of Armenia sunk further into crisis. Facing a harsh winter, and plagued by food shortages and a typhoid epidemic, “the chaotic situation in Armenia was intensified by the presence of approximately 500,000 refugees” (Vol I 126). Hovanissian describes the following months: The winter of 1918-19 was one of the longest and most severe in the annals of Erevan. The homeless masses, lacking food, clothing, and medicine, passed the hellish months in blizzard conditions. The starving people sometimes demonstrated or rioted for foodm but these sporadic outbursts were to no avail...The pitiful multitudes lay in the snow, in partially destroyed buildings, on doorsteps of churches, eventually too weak to protest, or even to beg any longer...By the spring of 1919 the typhus epidemic had run its vicious course, the weather had improved, and the snows began to thaw...The statistics were horrifying. Approximately 200,000 people, almost 20% of Russian Armenia's population, had perished by mid-year. In 1919, for each 1000 persons in Armenia, there were 8.7 births and 204.2 deaths (Vol I 127, 130). Matters were made worse by territorial disputes with both the Georgians and the Azerbaijanis. In December of 1918, the Armenian population of Georgia-controlled Lori requested unification with Armenia. The spat “escalated hostilities into open warfare” on December 14, 1920; a truce was mediated by the Allied Powers after swift British military intervention, with hostilities ceasing December 31 (History 155). Thanks in part due to strong diplomatic and cultural ties to the Ottoman Empire, Azerbaijan's military was able to “strengthen [its] position vis-a-vis Armenians” (History 155). By September 1919, skirmishes along the border had merely strengthened Armenian resolve to forcibly resist “Turkish-Azeri demands for submission” (History 155). Again, British intervention forced a truce, but the subsequent “termination of the brief British military presence in Armenia increased the vulnerability of the Erevan government...the small [Armenian] army was stretched to a perimeter of more than 300 miles (Vol II 62).

Shortly thereafter, the British brokered the Armenian (re)annexation of Kars, stretching the Armenian military even thinner.

The Bolshevik Menace

At the same time that the Erevan government tried to deal with the problems of an over extended military surrounded by hostile armies, the stirrings of internal revolt began in a secret meeting of Bolsheviks in Erevan. By January 1920, the Bolsheviks had formally created the Armenian Communist Party, and begun a massive propaganda campaign “vilifying the Allied Powers and their Dashnakist 'collaborators'” (History 165). The sovietization of Azerbaijan (in April 1920) served only to encourage Armenian Bolsheviks open revolt, and in May 1920, they staged the two week long “May uprising,” threatening to overthrow the city government in Alexandropol (Vol III 209, History 165). Simultaneously, tensions with Azerbaijan once again erupted into open warfare. Two months later, at the end of July 1920, Turkey agreed to sign the Treaty of Sevres. By that time, though, “constant attacks by the Bolsheviks, Azerbaijani, and Turkish forces had...render[ed] [Armenia's] physical survival highly unsustainable” (History 165). In mid-September, Turkish forces moved eastward, determined to recapture Kars.

Wilson and the Isolationists

Simon Payaslian argues that Woodrow Wilson's dedication to the League of Nations far outstripped his commitment to Armenia, and that “had Wilson seriously wished to render economic and military assistance to the Republic of Armenia...he could have done so with little constraint from Congress” (Policy 172-3). Payaslian further argues that congressional stonewalling on the Armenian question stemmed from an

“effort on the part of the Senate to guard its constitutional prerogatives against an executive branch that had accumulated enormous power” rather than a resurgence of isolationism (Policy 173). Regardless, any serious consideration of a mandate was undermined by Wilson's ambivalence about direct military intervention. In March 1919, he ordered a military commission to assess the situation in Caucasus in general, and Armenia in particular. Major General James G. Harbord led the month-long expedition across the Near East from September to October 1919. It should be noted that the Allied Powers did not recognize the Democratic Republic of Armenia until January 1920, and that the United States did not grant formal recognition until April 23, 1920, over a week after the Harbord Commission submitted its final report to the Senate (Volume III 436). Harbord's report, submitted April 13, 1920, contained 13 specific arguments in favor of a mandate in Armenia accompanied by 13 arguments against such a mandate. Among the reasons favoring a mandate: “America is practically the unanimous choice and fervent hope of all the peoples involved...America is the only hope of the would stop further massacres...[and] better millions for a mandate than billions for a war.” Similarly compelling, though, were the arguments against becoming a mandatory power: “the United States has prior and nearer foreign obligations...other powers [have] shown continued interest in the welfare of the Armenians.” Most compelling were the projected costs of the first five years of handling the mandate; between financing the Armenian government, building infrastructure, and providing military support, Harbord estimated that United States would spend $756,014,000 in Armenia over five years. The report noted: “the mission has not felt that it is expected to submit a recommendation as to the United States accepting a mandate in the Near

East.” Following the Harbord Commission, Wilson submitted a proposal for an Armenian mandate to the Senate on May 24, 1920. The following day, the New York Times bluntly wrote, under the headline “Congress Likely To Deny Grant Of Power,” It is not believed that the President has any real hope or expectation that Congress will favor an Armenian mandate, but this has not deterred him from his determination to do his utmost to try to persuade Congress that this country should undertake the responsibility of endeavoring in definite and practical fashion to aid the Armenians to work out their salvation.

The Senate eventually rejected Wilsons proposal by a vote of 52 to 23 on July 1; in light of the Senate's rejection of the Treaty of Versailles the previous November, any hope for an American mandate in Armenia was effectively shattered (Policy 167). Wilson's attempt to capitalize on US power “which compelled him to rescue the Armenians from brutality” ultimately led to the abandonment of the Armenians, due to both political backlash and self interest domestically (Moranian 317).

Death Throes

Turkish forces led by General Karabekir, confident that the Allied powers would not interfere, captured Kars October 30, 1920. The Armenian leadership, desperate for assistance, called on the civilian population to defend their country, a futile request directed at war-weary citizens (History 168). The Turkish forces advanced east, towards Alexandropol, and the capital, Yerevan; by mid-November, almost all of Armenia's defenses were gone (History 168). On the eastern front, Armenia was under heavy diplomatic pressure from Soviet Azerbaijan and Russia. Recognizing that the Soviet army was the only force capable of defending Armenia against the Turks, the Dashnak

led cabinet accepted Soviet rule. On November 29, 1920, the Armenian Bolsheviks declared the sovietization of Armenia; two days later, facing the reality of already advancing Bolshevik troops, the legislature voted in favor of accepting Soviet rule. The Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic was formally established December 2, 1920.

An Unsustainable Exercise

Ultimately, the Armenian national experiment was doomed nearly from the start. Lenin's ascendance left Armenia with only a bare bones defense against the Ottomans, and within 6 months, most of Western Armenia had been conquered. Allying with Georgia and Azerbaijan had not been the first choice of the Armenian leadership, but Transcaucasia at least provided some level of political, if not physical, protection. The nationalist movement itself, which had been galvanized in the late 19 th century in the face of genocidal Ottoman policies, had been engaged in near constant war for nearly 30 years by the time the DRA declared independence. Though the DRA was ruled by a political plurality, the Dashnaks filled most of the cabinet, the Prime Minister's office, and constituted a large portion of the political elite in Armenia. At the nadir of the Transcaucasian Federation, Chkhenkeli and the Mensheviks recognized that any government led by the Dashnaks would (quite reasonably) be seen as a war cabinet. The failure at Batum can be blamed largely on the collapse of the Transcaucasian Federation, itself an intentional power play on the part of the Georgians. The collapse left Armenia in a precarious geopolitical position. Azerbaijan was culturally and militarily tied to the Ottomans, and Georgia had German support; Armenia had no such allies. Only postwar Allied occupation prevented border skirmishes and territorial disputes from erupting into open warfare. Had the Transcaucasian Federation survived

through the Paris Peace Conference, it is entirely possible that events would have unfolded in a completely different manner. Regardless, as of May 30, 1918, Armenia was completely reliant on Allied support, with a mounting refugee crisis, massive housing and food shortages, and hostile neighbors on all sides. Simply put, the prospect of an Armenia independent and self sufficient was bleak at best. Even a mandate was ultimately out of reach: the geopolitical situation in Armenia changed on a nearly day to day basis; the US Senate took nearly two years to formally recognize the Dashnak government, by which time the May uprising was all but inevitable. The aggressive military policies of nationalist Turkey and Soviet expansionism were also inevitably going to interfere with any nation situated in the Caucasus. Georgia and Azerbaijan both were sovietized unwillingly, just as Armenia was. Barring the US accepting mandatory powers, there was simply no feasible course of action that would have kept Armenia independent in the aftermath of World War I.

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