1921: Bolsheviks cede Western Armenia to Turkey

Neither Edward Luttwak, in his 2015 review of They Can Live in the Desert and Nowhere Else by Ronald Grigor Suny, nor Mark Mazower, in his 2001 review of The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-16 by James Bryce and Arnold Toynbee (yes, that Toynbee), mention the Bolshevik-Kemalist alliance that ended all hopes for Armenian unification, crushed the first Armenian Republic, and resulted in the ultimate Turkization of Western Armenia.

Under the Kars Treaty of 1921, the Bolshevik government transferred to Ankara the Kars and Ardahan areas, taken away from the Ottomans in 1877-8, and even ceded to Turkey Armenia’s national symbol, the Ararat mountain, annexed from Persia in 1828 under the terms of the Turkmenchay peace. Official Soviet histories never made a secret out of Lenin’s enthusiasm for Kemal nor of the Communists’ hostility to the Armenian “bourgeois nationalists,” the Dashnaktsutyun.

What was omitted from the official line, as a rule, was the fact that the Bolsheviks’ view of Turkish nationalists as natural allies against the Entente “imperialists” translated into financial aid and weapons shipments from the Soviets to the Kemalists. This omission allowed Soviet historians to blame Armenia’s Dashnak government for losing Kars and Ardahan to the Turks in 1920 and to present the 1921 Soviet-Turkish treaties as a necessary settlement reflecting the actual front lines, without mentioning how Soviet assistance had contributed to the Kemalists’ advance and the Armenians’ defeat.

I should add that the Kars treaty was only valid for 25 years. Moscow did make noises about reclaiming Western Armenia after WWII but, for reasons that probably had to do with the emerging Cold War, quickly backed down.


  1. The Bolshevik takeover of Armenia was a pretty grubby affair. At first the Bolsheviks promised amnesty to the Dashnaks and the first Revolutionary Committee contained five Communists and two Dashnaks. Obviously, the Bolsheviks went back on their word and soon began to persecute the Dashnaks. The Bolsheviks imposed War Communism on Armenia with disastrous consequences, which caused a Dashnak-led uprising. “When the Cheka prisons were opened, a scene of horror greeted the liberators. Seventy-five bodies were discovered, hacked by axes. Among the dead were the Dashnakist heroes, Hamazasp (Srvandztian) and Colonel Dimitrii Korganov…” (Ronald G. Suny). The Red Army went in and the rebellion was soon crushed.

    The “power-sharing” trick reminds me of Stalin’s takeover of the Spanish Republic during the Civil War and Czechoslovakia after WW2, where other parties were initially co-opted before being destroyed. Remember, the Dashnak Party was left-wing, a member of the Second Socialist International. More evidence that Stalinism was really a continuation of Leninism.

    • A power-sharing offer was also made to the Georgian mensheviks, who had to accept as Turkish forces were about to take Batumi. Perhaps it all started with the original deal, the Bolshevik – Left SR government of 1917-18.

      • Perhaps it all started with the original deal, the Bolshevik – Left SR government of 1917-18.

        That’s right. I’d forgotten that.

        The Bolsheviks also played on ethnic discontent in Abkhazia and South Ossetia to undermine Menshevik Georgia. Some things never change.

  2. Lenin wasn’t the only one fascinated by Kemalism. I’ve just noticed
    Ataturk in the Nazi Imagination by Stefan Ihrig, published by Harvard University Press last November. It’s a little outside my price range at the moment, but I’ve downloaded a Kindle extract. Here’s the blurb:

    “Early in his career, Adolf Hitler took inspiration from Benito Mussolini, his senior colleague in fascism – this fact is widely known. But an equally important role model for Hitler and the Nazis has been almost entirely neglected: Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. Stefan Ihrig’s compelling presentation of this untold story promises to rewrite our understanding of the roots of Nazi ideology and strategy. Hitler was deeply interested in Turkish affairs after 1919. He not only admired but also sought to imitate Ataturk’s radical construction of a new nation from the ashes of defeat in World War I. Hitler and the Nazis watched closely as Ataturk defied the Western powers to seize government, and they modeled the Munich Putsch to a large degree on Ataturk’s rebellion in Ankara. Hitler later remarked that in the political aftermath of the Great War, Ataturk was his master, he and Mussolini his students. This was no fading fascination. As the Nazis struggled through the 1920s, Ataturk remained Hitler’s star in the darkness, his inspiration for remaking Germany along nationalist, secular, totalitarian, and ethnically exclusive lines. Nor did it escape Hitler’s notice how ruthlessly Turkish governments had dealt with Armenian and Greek minorities, whom influential Nazis directly compared with German Jews. The new Turkey became a model for the Nazis’ plans and dreams in the years leading up to the invasion of Poland.”

    • I would guess that Hitler also admired the three pashas behind the Armenian-Assyrian genocide no less than he worshiped Kemal. One of those, Enver Pasha, tried to position himself as a nationalist rival to Kemal briefly around 1920. The Bolshevik government not only reversed the generally sensible policy of supporting the Christians of Ottoman Empire (essentially betraying the Armenians) in the hope of winning over the Muslim and/or Turkic world via an alliance with the Kemalists. Moscow also hedged its bets by taking in Enver Pasha when Kemal blocked his return to Turkey, and another of the criminal triumvirs, Djemal Pasha. Enver defected to the Basmachi and was killed in a skirmish with a Red Army unit. Djemal was assassinated by Armenian avengers in Soviet-controlled Tbilisi in 1922.

      • According to Ihrig, Enver Pasha was so well known in Germany before and during WW1 that Turkey was nicknamed “Enverland”.

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