One Day of Two Treaties


One Day of Two Treaties

Armenia’s Double Capitulation on 2 December 1920

Text: Tigran Zakaryan

People as well as nations tend to remember their victories, while trying to forget defeats. Yet there are defeats which are impossible to forget and analysis of such catastrophes crystallize into lessons for the future. 

Such is the case with 2 December in the Armenian history, the day when Armenia gave up its independence to Soviet Russia and large swathes of territories to Kemalist Turkey. While the Alexandropol Treaty with Turkey was and still is commonly described as an “infamous” or “disgraceful”, the other used to be celebrated in Soviet Armenia (although not precisely on 2 December but on 29 November when the Revolutionary Committee of Armenian Bolsheviks entered into the town of Ijevan from Azerbaijan and declared Soviet power in the country).  


Prelude to Disaster 

It is interesting what brought about such a turn of events. Therefore, it would be of interest to remind the regional situation prior to the fatal treaties of 1920. 

In 1920 Vladimir Lenin and Mustafa Kemal both were heads of unrecognized regimes who de-facto were ruling over the major parts of Turkey and Russia respectively. Their rapprochement against the Entente powers trying expand their zones of influence in Eastern Europe and the Middle East was quite understandable.

Armenia, who was considered as an ally of the Entente was naturally perceived as a hostile entity by both of those regimes, trying to establish direct land communication between themselves. Overrunning Baku without opposition in late April 1920 Bolshevik Russia established soviet regime in Azerbaijan, a move that never was in any way opposed by the nationalist Turkish government in Ankara. 

Moscow also instigated coups in Armenia and Georgia in the early days of May, however both of those failed. While busy in its costly war with Poland Moscow used controversies between Armenia and now Soviet Azerbaijan.

Ultimately on 10 August, the same day the Armenian delegation signed the Sevres Treaty with the imperial authorities of Turkey, another delegation of Armenia signed a treaty in Tiflis with representatives of Soviet Russia. Under the last documents Soviet Russia deployed its troops in Karabakh, Zangezur and Nakhijevan considered as contested territories between Armenia and Soviet Azerbaijan. 

The Disaster 

Days after signing the Sevres Treaty and the Soviet-Armenian Tiflis Treaty, Turkish delegation and the Soviet leaders signed a deal in Moscow offering the Ankara government support in military equipment and finance as well as a Russian consent of redrawing Turkey’s eastern borders. The latter point meant occupation of Armenia’s western territories and soon it became reality during the Turkish-Armenian war which started in September of 1920. The Armenian resistance virtually disintegrated by the beginning of November as the city of Alexandropol fell to the Turks and a temporary ceasefire was soon declared for negotiations. 

Bolshevik Russia’s tactic was more ideological and political and involved a second attempt of a regime change in Armenia, which by that time, given the Turkish invasion, had become a much easier job, than back in May 1920.  

Mirroring Steps 

An observer of Kemalist Turkey’s and Bolshevik Russia’s political moves and tricks in the Armenian question cannot help having an impression that a tight race of establishing a collaborationist regime in Armenia was ongoing in the second half of November 1920, when the hostilities on the front had stopped. Turkish leaders had their own plans of using Armenian Bolshevik elements for their aims and as early as on 17 November they established a so-called Revolutionary Committee in the occupied city of Alexandropol which proclaimed a soviet regime in Armenia. Needless to say, that this was an attempt at establishing a puppet regime in Armenia which would make the rest of Armenian territories an appendix to the victorious Turkey. Soviet Russia’s response was establishing yet another “Armenian” Revolutionary Committee in Baku, whose members entered in Armenia from Azerbaijan on 29 November and proclaimed Soviet power in the country. In fact this was the second time Armenia was proclaimed a Soviet republic, the first being the proclamation by the above-mentioned puppet Revolutionary Committee in Alexandropol, functioning under the Turkish occupying forces.  

A view of Alexandropol in early 20th century


Capitulation to Different Victors 

On 2 December Armenia signed two treaties – in fact capitulated to Soviet Russia and Kemalist Turkey. While the capitulation to Russia can be understood given the political and military situation of the country in that period the Treaty of Alexandropol, which – in case it was fulfilled – would have turned Armenia into a vassal state. The last treaty still is and most probably will be hotly debated. It was signed under severe pressures by Turkish military command, threatening to resume hostilities and occupy the rest of Armenia while there were no guarantees that the Bolsheviks would or could reclaim any occupied territory from Turkey. 

Lessons Learned?

In order to draw a lesson from this tragic day in Armenian history we – first of all historians and those who are engaged in popularizing history and control historical discourse – need to reconceptualize those events. We need to realize that the simple term “Sovietization” was nothing short of a forced capitulation and that those two events were very much interconnected.  

Whether such a turn of events could be avoided is a topic of debate, but first we need to unearth lots of hitherto unknown or little-known facts, of which Soviet Armenian historiography had remained tight-lipped for decades. 
After all, only clear vision of the past can pave way for more conscious political steps in the present and establishment of more constructive relations with regional neighbors.