The Dashnaks failed to repopulate Georgia with militant "refugees" from Eastern Turkey and... Georgia managed to avoid the fate of Irevan and Zangezur!

24.08.22 15:00

Recently the Javakhk TV channel, which specializes in virulent anti-Georgian propaganda, once again linked to an article by Benyamin Mailyan entitled "A Brief Sketch of the Exile of Armenians from 'Javakhk' in 1918", which it presented in January 2021. The article blamed Georgia for the suffering of "Javakhk Armenians" and that "in 1918 the number of Javakhk Armenians was reduced by more than 2 times because of anti-Armenian policies". ( ).


The main emphasis in Mailyan's account is that the "brutal" Georgian authorities allegedly did not want to host the "unfortunate" "Javakheti Armenian refugees". And nothing is said that these refugees in general were not Armenians living in Samtskhe-Javakheti at the beginning of 1918 (those Armenians, in fact, have not escaped and their descendants still live where they lived). At that time, in 1918 they tried to flood Georgia in masses. At that time, "refugees" or, more precisely, Dashnak fighters from Eastern Turkey tried to flood Georgia en masse.


Speaking of the "Javakhi refugees", Mailyan does not specify what kind of "refugees" they were. And this is just necessary, especially given the fact that at the end of 1918 the Armenian-Georgian war broke out as a result of Armenian aggression against Georgia. No one knows what the outcome would have been had the Georgian authorities yielded to pressure and deployed heavily armed "refugees" throughout the country. However, the example of the Azerbaijanis of the province of Erivan and Zangezur, who were subjected to genocide and expulsion from their homes by the "refugees" from Eastern Turkey, shows that a great danger was awaiting Georgia as well.


However, the fact is that at the time of the 1917 revolution in Russia, large areas of eastern Turkey were occupied by the Russian army. Dashnak Gangs operated in the rear of this army, ruthlessly exterminating the Muslim civilians, including Muslim Georgians, Lazs and Adjarians. After the collapse of the Caucasian front and Russia was forced to withdraw its troops from the occupied territories of Turkey after signing the Brest Peace Treaty, the Dashnak gangsters started to flee in a hurry.


Part of these militant "refugees" flocked to the province of Erivan, in the territory of future Ararat Armenia, where the Dashnaks were already in power, and who accommodated "refugees" in Azerbaijani villages and towns, killing and expelling the indigenous Azerbaijani population. Meanwhile, another part of the Dashnak armed 'refugees' rushed into the areas of Samtskhe-Javkheti inhabited by 1830 Armenians. From there they intended to "disperse" throughout the rest of Georgia, just as they had dispersed throughout western Azerbaijan. 


Meanwhile, Georgian statehood was only just beginning to be restored. Georgia did not yet have its own army, its own national state apparatus and even its own police force. Clearly, the dispersal of thousands of Dashnak thugs across Georgian territory could have led to the destruction of the Georgian state before it had had time to fully recover.


The article by Beniamin Mailyan, presented at the Seventh Annual Scientific Conference of the Russian-Armenian (Slavonic) University "A brief sketch of the eviction of Armenians from "Javakhk" in 1918", should also be studied on this basis. We present excerpts from it:


"...With the collapse of the Russian Empire, inter-ethnic relations in the Transcaucasus began to be seen also through the prism of the division of the territory of the region, between its most numerous nationalities, which exacerbated the former Armenian-Georgian socio-economic antagonism, giving it the form of a political conflict. Under these conditions, a serious crisis arose in the relations between the political elites of both peoples. Georgian politicians began to view almost all issues in terms of a territorial dispute.

They envisaged a solution to the "Javakhk" problem exclusively in favour of Georgia. The Armenian refugees from Javakhk, who had fled their homeland because of the Turkish invasion, were forbidden by the Georgian authorities to leave the mountainous border zone, where they had lost about half of their original number due to starvation, cold and epidemic diseases during the period from June to November 1918. The refugees were also forbidden to buy foodstuffs in Georgia. Official Tiflis, showing ostensible concern for them, proposed the resettlement of some of the Javakheti Armenians in the North Caucasus. The leaders of the "democratic republic" decided to use the opportunity and, using all available methods, sought to prevent as many Armenians as possible from repatriating to Javakhk. In this way, they intended to create a serious obstacle to the annexation of this region to Armenia, a possibility which Georgian politicians had not denied even before the formation of the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic (TDFR).


Since the events of February 1917, everything that had previously been so successfully glorified in the streets and squares under the banner of freedom began to materialise in Russia. The October Coup in Petrograd gave an entirely different impetus to the rapidly unfolding events, radically changing the entire political situation in the former Russian Empire. The consequence of serious national-territorial disputes and mutually exclusive political positions was the widespread mutual distrust and general hostility in the Transcaucasus. Intra-regional tensions rose steadily, to the advantage of Turkey, which was preparing to make a decisive move into the Caucasus. The growing aggravation of inter-ethnic relations created widespread chaos in the Transcaucasus and as a result the Armenian national forces fighting the Turks had virtually no reliable and solid rear. The areas inhabited by Caucasian Tatars (now known as Azerbaijanis) and all the Muslim-populated areas of the Transcaucasus region were crawling with Ottoman agents and infiltrators who raised their co-religionists against Armenians.


The military and political blocs of Germany and Turkey had very different objectives in the Caucasus region and there were elements of rivalry in their relations. Georgian politicians (N.N.Zhordania, A.I.Chhenkeli, E.P.Gegechkori and others) were known to take advantage of this in order to achieve the most acceptable form of exit from the dramatic situation for their people. The result of these negotiations was the German-Georgian agreement, which gave the necessary guarantees and ensured Berlin's patronage of the newly formed Georgian republic. Its conclusion, unfortunately, came as a complete surprise to the Armenian side, which at the Batumi Conference entrusted A.I. Chhenkeli to negotiate with the Turks and Germans also on its own behalf. Extremely negative and unflattering assessments of the political integrity of the Georgian party figures followed, which naturally caused additional mutual friction. The essence of the accusations was that the Georgian side broke the Armenian-Georgian alliance for its own illusory well-being and tried to solve problems with Ottoman Turkey at the expense of the interests of the Armenian people. In early June 1918 representatives of the Georgian republic in Batumi accepted the fact of the occupation of 'Javakhk' by the Ottoman army.


The Georgian side, however, regarded the Batumi Treaty with Turkey, which it had concluded under strong military pressure from the Ottomans, as only temporary and not without German support hoped to subject it to substantial adjustments. Armenian politicians tried to act in a similar way. In their calculations, the territory of "Javakhk" was to become part of the Armenian state. Yerevan was proceeding from the important fact that the vast majority of the population of "Javakhk" (Akhalkalaki district) belonged to Armenian nationality. One of the main foreign policy priorities of the Armenian government was the prompt return of the refugees from "Javakhk" to their places of permanent residence before the issue of the nationality of the region was finally resolved. On the contrary, official Tiflis made little effort to ensure the safe return of refugees. Moreover, Georgian authorities forbade refugees to cross a certain line that they had defined, which separated mountainous parts of the Bakurian and Tsalka districts from the rest of Georgia. On these uninhabitable mountain slopes tens of thousands of people were crowded outdoors and exposed to infectious diseases because of unbearable living conditions. According to a rough estimate starvation and epidemics killed half of the total number of refugees. Subsequently, no more than 40,000 Javakhk Armenians were able to return home.


Throughout the second half of 1918 the Georgian leaders continued to think of seeing Javakhk within the borders of their own state. However, they were unwilling to recognise Armenian refugees from the region as their own citizens. The Armenian side became under the impression that the ultimate objective of the Georgian government was to completely rid "Javakhk" of its Armenian population. This was achieved through an agreement with Turkey, which, although it had assumed control of Javakhk, could no longer be regarded by the parties concerned as a permanent factor even in the short term. The international conference to be held in Constantinople (Istanbul) with the participation of Germany, its allies and representatives of the Caucasian republics was to be convened, and the right to revise the Batum Treaty was to be delegated to this conference. In the capital of Ottoman Turkey until the beginning of November 1918 there was a Georgian delegation which was not hiding its strong intention to return a number of disputed regions, including Javakhk, to Georgia.


In June 1918 the government of Georgia formed a special commission to determine the borders between its country and the neighbouring republics of the Caucasus. Representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan were also invited to its meeting. During the first discussion the chairman of the commission I. Tsereteli stated that Javakhk, Tavush, Lori Tashir and Pambak should be fully included in Georgia. In this regard, representatives of the Armenian National Council (A. Khatisyan, H. Karchikyan and others) responded that they saw in this ultimative proposal from the Georgian side only a plan to divide Armenia between Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey.


In September 1918 the Georgian government rejected the mediation of the Armenian National Council of Georgia, which had offered to host refugees from 'Javakhk' in Armenian settlements in the country. The Georgian press kept repeating that 'if our government allows the refugees to leave their concentration camps and settle in the villages, Georgia will turn into Armenia today or tomorrow'. In October 1918 the head of the Georgian government chancellery, I. Kachukhashvili, proposed to deport the Javakheti Armenians to the North Caucasus, but strongly objected to the counter proposal to move them to Lori Tashir. This region was also seen by the Georgian side at the time as a disputed one and the increase in the number of Armenian elements there was not to the advantage of official Tiflis.


This attitude towards its century-old neighbours was caused by the exacerbation of the anti-Armenian syndrome that had been affecting the most conservative part of the Georgian noble intelligentsia for some time. The relations between the two peoples became hostage to the former strictly socio-economic antagonism between the Georgian nobility and the Armenian bourgeoisie, which had already been growing since the second half of the 19th century. The latter had rather strong positions in Tiflis, a significant part of whose population was then still Armenian. The Georgian fundamental traditionalists made xenophobia and the vicious idea of expelling most of the non-Cartvelian population from the country the key to the successful building of their national state. Veshapeli, who called from a parliamentary rostrum: "Let us conclude an alliance with Azerbaijan and the [North Caucasian] mountaineers and put an end to the Armenian [resettlement] policy once and for all, let us cleanse our capital from the Armenians who have nested here in the most ruthless manner and drive the Armenian colonists on Georgian territory towards Lake Sevan". It is known that most of the Armenians of Javakhk are descendants of those who settled there only after the establishment of Russian hegemony in Transcaucasia. Some contemporary Georgian authors (Sh. Vadachkoria, G. Markhulia) again, unfortunately, continue to view them as a legacy of Russian colonialism on Georgian soil. The consequence of this subjective attitude was once a desire to get rid of the Javakheti Armenians by any means, even inhumane.


Although the refugees managed to get some of their own cattle out of Javakhk, their herds were subjected to constant raids by Turkish and Ossetian robber gangs. There were isolated cases when Georgian militia also took part in the looting. The refugees tried to sell their livestock as quickly as possible in Tbilisi and other cities of Georgia in order to save at least a part of their possessions. However Georgian authorities forbade refugees to sell their livestock at markets and the cattle were sold by speculators for next to nothing. Furthermore, the administration did not allow the refugees to use the proceeds to buy grain or flour in rural areas of Georgia. This prejudice led to a mass starvation affecting thousands of Armenians in Javakhk. The Armenian speaking press of Georgia attempted to give an objective assessment of the events. In the pages of the Ashkhatavor newspaper it was suggested that the Georgian government appeared to be seeking to resolve the territorial dispute with Armenia in Javakhk in such a way that "not a single refugee would be left alive".


At the end of October 1918, the Ottoman government finally conceded defeat in the World War. Under the terms of the Truce of Mudros with the Entente countries the Turks were obliged to liberate the territories they had occupied in the Caucasus. Turkish diplomats (Ottoman representative in Tiflis Abdul Kerim and others) began a very subtle intrigue, the main purpose of which was to cause a clash between Georgia and Armenia. Turkish representatives in Tiflis and Erevan in late November 1918 simultaneously assured Georgian and Armenian authorities that "Javakhk" would be transferred to their control and not that of the neighbour. The issue of the ownership of Javakhk and the return of its Armenian population to their permanent residence was therefore firmly on the agenda. First a preliminary agreement on this was reached between the head of the Armenian delegation in Istanbul A. Aharonyan and the Ottoman government and then with the Turkish command in Alexandropol (Gyumri). Official Tiflis, however, falsely referring to the Turkish side, refused to give final permission for the repatriation of Javakheti Armenians. Although in November 1918 up to 500 refugees were killed daily in the snow-covered mountains of Bakurian, it became clear that the Georgian side was not eager to rush to resolve this burning issue. General A. Makashvili (B. Makayev) whose detachment was charged with entering Javakhk personally appeared in Bakuriani and delivered an ultimatum to the refugees. This high-ranking Georgian military official demanded that the Armenians in Javakhk give him written confirmation of their recognition of Georgian citizenship before officially authorising the repatriation. It seems that Tiflis hoped to be able to show this ill-gotten "paper trail" to the British military mission that arrived in Georgia as some kind of proof of their "undisputed" right to Javakhk. As for the Armenians of Javakhk, "big politics" had already made them hostages of the tragic situation and the people on the brink of extinction should not have tested their fate further.


A number of Georgian historians (M. Vachnadze, V. Guruli, G. Markhulia and others) attempt to place all responsibility for the subsequent Georgian-Armenian war on official Yerevan and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) "Dashnaktsutyun" party. They are, however, forgetting the profound syndrome that affected Armenian political circles, who witnessed the mass extinction of the Armenians of "Javakhk. The tragedy of the Armenians of Javakhk in 1918 has left an indelible mark in the minds of their contemporaries, who were also convinced that certain Georgian figures from the "government of the democratic republic" were involved in it. The armed conflict that suddenly erupted between the two neighbouring countries in December 1918 was only the tip of an iceberg in an atmosphere of mutual mistrust, which had become unprecedentedly hostile precisely after the mass deaths of the Armenians of Javakhk. This important circumstance is assiduously and hypocritically suppressed by the above mentioned Georgian authors, while spreading baseless fabrications about some aggressive intentions of O. Kachaznuni's government. Kachaznuni government against their country, which has already become commonplace in their publications.


Summing up the above and to summarise, it can be said that there are no closed historical topics. Consequently, when addressing even the most problematic issues of our past, it is necessary to consider them comprehensively and objectively ...".


Beniamin Mailyan is keen to look at issues "comprehensively and objectively". But why has he nowhere mentioned that the so-called "Javakhk refugees" in their vast majority had nothing to do with Samtskhe-Javakheti in the first place. That there were only a negligible number of "Javakhk Armenians" among the "refugees" and that they were mostly recruited into Dashnak gangs.


All the inhabitants of Samtskhe-Javakheti of Armenian ethnicity were recognized by the authorities of the young Georgian state as their citizens and no obstacles were put in their way. Even Mailyan is compelled to mention the Georgian government's demand for Armenians of Samtskhe-Javakheti to recognize themselves as subjects of the Georgian state (the same could be done by Turkish Armenians who appeared in Samtskhe-Javakheti - no one really conducted a check). And such Armenians could move freely throughout the territory of Georgia.


However, the appearance of tens of thousands of heavily armed Armenian Dashnak militants in the guise of refugees, who outnumbered the Georgian army that was then just being formed on Georgian territory, was dangerous. All the more that they did not consider themselves citizens of Georgia and did not intend to do so! They came to Georgian territory to build "the great Armenia"! Especially, if you remember that in 1918 the Dashnaks also organised an armed aggression against Georgia. Therefore, the Georgian government restricted movement of these armed militants in Georgia. And in general this is what any sovereign state that is concerned about its security would do.



Giorgi Kvinitadze

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