The political situation in the early 1920s
After the US army’s withdrawal from Nakhchivan, Nakhchivan was left alone in the fight against the Dashnaks. In the early 1920s, the army of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey directly intervened in the Armenian-Muslim conflict in Kars and Nakhchivan. However, this intervention had more to do with the desire to weaken Armenia politically and militarily and to establish relations with Bolshevik Russia than with the intention to support Azerbaijan’s territorial claims (Baberowski, 2010:159).
Under the pretext of the Dashnak threat, the Turkish army led by Karabekir Pasha seized Nakhchivan in March 1920 (Altstadt, 1992:105). During this operation, members of the gang led by Ali Teymur Bey were involved in robberies and murders against Armenians living in Nakhchivan, which further aggravated the situation in the region. (Bagirov, 1965:50) Before that, the 11th Red Army began to move south. The army’s approach to the Azerbaijani border changed the political situation in Baku. The local Bolsheviks staged a military coup in late April. After the April coup, the Azerbaijani Provisional Revolutionary Committee was declared the supreme legislative and executive body. It consisted of Nariman Narimanov, Abid Alimov, Mirza Davud Huseynov, Aliheydar Garayev, Gazanfar Musabayov and Hamid Sultanov. On April 28, the Provisional Revkom approved the composition of the new government of the republic—the Council of People’s Commissars. Narimanov became the head of the new government, as well as the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs.
The news of the establishment of the Azerbaijan SSR in Baku soon reached Nakhchivan. On the same day, the Military Council of the 11th Red Army and the Azrevkom sent a telegram to Nakhchivan demanding the handover of power to the Soviets. Igor Ponomaryov, chairman and later deputy chairman of the Nakhrevkom (Nakhchivan Revolutionary Committee), wrote in a letter to the Azerbaijan Revkom: “On April 28, 1920, the representative of Nakhchivan in the Azerbaijani government called me and said, ‘According to a telephoned dispatch, the authority is transferred to the Soviets. You form a new government.’ After getting this information, we immediately summoned the Nakhchivan communists and influential leftists and set up a seven-member Revkom.” (Sadigov, 1995:18).
Battles between the Dashnaks and the Musavat army continued in Zangezur and Karabakh on the eve of the establishment of the Azerbaijan SSR government. The newly formed government immediately sent an ultimatum to the Dashnaks, demanding the hostilities be stopped. A note sent by Mirza Davud Huseynov, Deputy Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the Azerbaijan SSR, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Dashnak Armenia on April 30, 1920 said, “The workers and peasants’ government of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic represented by the Revolutionary Committee calls on you to 1) clear Karabakh and Zangezur of your troops immediately; 2) withdraw your troops to your borders; 3) put an end to ethnic massacres. Otherwise, the Revolutionary Committee of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic will consider itself at war with you. You have three days to respond to this note.” (Sadigov, 1995:18).
The government of the Azerbaijan SSR considered Karabakh, Zangezur and Nakhchivan as its territory. For this reason, the ultimatum to the Dashnaks demanded an end to the attack on Nakhchivan. However, the Republic of Armenia did not respond to this ultimatum and gathered its army in the direction of Nakhchivan.
Establishment of the Nakhchivan SSR
In June 1920, a 9,000-strong Turkish division under the command of Javid Bey attacked from the direction of Bayazid and Igdir and entered Nakhchivan (Bagirov, 1965:50). Using this as a pretext, the Dashnaks launched a strong attack in June to seize Nakhchivan and Sharur-Daralayaz Uyezd. Dashnak gangs occupying Sharur Uyezd committed massacres against the Azerbaijanis living here. The Nakhrevkom army and the Turkish detachment stationed in Nakhchivan were small and could not prevent the Dashnaks’ attack. In the first half of June 1920, the peasants of Nakhchivan appealed to the RSFSR and the Azerbaijan SSR to help them in their struggle for freedom against the Entente and the Dashnaks (Sadigov, 1995:18). Despite serious efforts by Kazim Pasha, the Armenian government forces captured Shahtakhty and on July 27 issued an ultimatum to surrender Nakhchivan within 48 hours. The 15-paragraph ultimatum signed by Armenian Defense Minister Ruben Ter-Minasian demanded that Nakhchivan and Sharur Uyezd be declared an integral part of the Republic of Armenia and that all residents consider themselves citizens of the Republic of Armenia. The second paragraph of the ultimatum stated that the Nakhchivan National Committee and the residents of this uyezd undertook not to allow Turks and refugees from Vedibasar, Zangibasar, Sharur and agitators from Azerbaijan to enter the uyezd (Hasanli, 2012:257).
This Dashnak ultimatum was received very harshly by the Nakhrevkom, which replaced the National Council on Sovietization in Nakhchivan. The note addressed by the Nakhrevkom to the Armenian government said that the working population of the Nakhchivan region considered itself an integral part of the Azerbaijan Soviet Republic united with the RSFSR, and Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan relied on the Red Army. The note pointed out that on all issues the Armenian government should henceforth address directly the central government of Azerbaijan and the Russian-Turkish-Azerbaijani joint command of the Red Army, who arrived in Nakhchivan on July 28. At the end of the note, it was stated that the “National Council” did not exist at present, as the “Revolutionary Committee” had been established in the country.
However, Armenia did not respond to this note and continued to attack. Although the Dashnaks failed to enter the city of Nakhchivan, they had already occupied Shahtakhty. Thousands of Muslims were forced to move from Shahtakhty to Iran. More than a hundred Muslim villages were destroyed (Hasanli, 2012:258). No other region of the Caucasus experienced as much devastation as Nakhchivan. During these massacres, the city of Nakhchivan was completely emptied, and one third of the Azerbaijanis living in the uyezd were forced to flee to Iran (Baberowski, 2010:165).
Commander of the Turkish troops in Eastern Anatolia Kazim Karabekir Pasha appealed to the government of the Azerbaijan SSR in this regard. The atrocities committed against the local population in Nakhchivan created strong national feelings among the Azerbaijani communists in Baku. In a telegram to Foreign Minister Chicherin, Narimanov said that Nakhchivan, Julfa, Karabakh and Zangezur should be part of Azerbaijan.
Narimanov expertly took advantage of the desperate position in which the Bolsheviks found themselves. Anastas Mikoyan, Stalin’s plenipotentiary in Baku, also had no choice but to reconcile with Narimanov. Thus, Narimanov’s claims were initially accepted (Baberowski, 2010:214).
Finally, on July 19, the command of the 11th Red Army made a decision to launch a military campaign to enter Nakhchivan after realizing that negotiations with Armenia would not yield any results. A cavalry detachment of 30 people from the 1st Caucasian Regiment of the 11th Red Army on the night of July 27, 1920, and cavalry detachments of the “Comrade Trotsky” 106th Regiment of the 11th Red Army on July 28, 1920, entered Nakhchivan. On July 28, 1920, the regiment of the 11th Army crossed Goris and entered Nakhchivan. The Soviet government was proclaimed here on the same day. The commander of the 1st Caucasian Regiment sent a telegram to Kirov, saying, “On July 28, we arrived in Nakhchivan without encountering enemy on the way. The people of Nakhchivan welcome the Red Army and the Soviet government with fervor.” On July 29, 1920, the Nakhchivan Revolutionary Committee was established and all authority in Nakhchivan passed to this committee.
On the same day, Nakhchivan was declared an independent Nakhchivan Soviet Socialist Republic (NSSR). This republic was in a close military-economic alliance with the Azerbaijan SSR and the RSFSR (Bagirov, 1965:51). The entry of Red Army units into Nakhchivan played an important role in reviving the activities of Bolshevik organizations here. The Nakhchivan Bolshevik organization was reorganized. Meetings of the party organization were attended by local communists A. Rustamov, M. Bektashov, N. Najafov, and Starov from the Red Army, as well as Turkish officer Khalil bey. The latter established contacts between the Nakhchivan Soviet government and the Turkish Parliament. The 11th Red Army managed to control mainly the city of Nakhchivan and its surrounding villages but was unable to repel the attacks of the Dashnak army as a whole. Dashnak troops took over Sharur Uyezd completely and mainly mountain villages of Ordubad Uyezd. The population thought that the Bolsheviks would move to Shahtakhty after coming to Nakhchivan. However, the commander of the 11th Red Army, Ivar Smilga, did not intend to move from Nakhchivan to Shahtakhty. Smilga believed it was impossible to fight the Dashnaks with only 300 soldiers. For this reason, Smilga considered the capture of Nakhchivan and its vicinity a maximum success and wanted to use it to force Armenia to peace (Hasanli, 2012:258). With this in mind, he decided to send a peace proposal to the Dashnaks.
The Nakhchivan Military Revolutionary Committee (NRC) sent a delegation including representatives of the Red Army and the Turkish army to Shahtakhty to negotiate with the Dashnak Armenia. The Dashnaks ignored the delegation’s peaceful calls and serious warnings, arrested them and sent them to Yerevan under escort. Only after strong protests from the Nakhchivan NRC were the delegates released and returned to Shahtakhty. However, the Dashnaks sent their army to Nakhchivan again in order to seize Nakhchivan. Only on August 10, as a result of a stern warning and demand of the Azerbaijan Revolutionary Committee, the intervention of the representative of the RSFSR in Armenia, a two-article agreement was reached and hostilities were suspended (Sadigov, 1995:18).
Justifying the Dashnak attack on Nakhchivan with the ethnic cleansing carried out by the Turks in the region, the Bolsheviks proposed that the latter should withdraw from the region. In August 1920, negotiations began between the Red Army Command and the Turkish military leadership on the withdrawal of Turkish units from Nakhchivan. The Turks disagreed, explaining their presence here with the need for a common struggle against the Dashnaks. Not wanting to impair relations with Turkey, the Soviet government instructed the 11th Army Command to suspend negotiations on the issue. (Bagirov, 1965:51).
Disagreement between the RSFSR and the Azerbaijan SSR on Nakhchivan
The five-month clashes between the Azerbaijani SSR, the 11th Army and the Armenian army in Karabakh, Zangezur and Nakhchivan created certain changes in the policy of the Russian SFSR. Recognizing Azerbaijan’s claim to Zangezur and Karabakh, the RSFSR was careful in the Nakhchivan issue to prevent the complete annihilation of Armenia. There were serious differences of opinion between the Russian Bolsheviks over the disputed territories between the Azerbaijan SSR and Armenia. Armenia’s claims were supported by Chicherin, while Azerbaijan’s claims were supported by Ordzhonikidze and Stalin.
However, the Bolsheviks also remained neutral in the Nakhchivan issue. Shahtakhtinski pointed out in order to influence Lenin on Nakhchivan, “Zagatala District, Karabakh and Nakhchivan, which belonged to Azerbaijan before the April coup, should remain part of Soviet Azerbaijan. These territories undoubtedly belonged to Azerbaijan during the Musavat government and have always been an integral part of it, historically, ethnographically and economically closely connected with it. For moral and political considerations, Soviet Russia must not allow the alienation of lands of Soviet Azerbaijan, the demolition of this state at the gates of the East by the Dashnaks and Georgian Mensheviks before its people’s eyes.” (Hasanli, 2012:58).
In the summer of 1920, secret negotiations began between the RSFSR and Dashnak Armenia. These talks were met with dissatisfaction by the government of the Azerbaijan SSR. Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of Azerbaijan Nariman Narimanov and Armenian Bolsheviks Anastas Mikoyan and Avis Nurijanyan also opposed the signing of an agreement with the Dashnak government. The telegram they sent to Chicherin and Ordzhonikidze said, “There is a local self-government in Julfa and Nakhchivan that has been defended against the Dashnak government for more than a year. This area must be captured by our troops and annexed to Azerbaijan in order to establish direct connection with Turkey. In our opinion, the current negotiations between the Soviet government and the Republic of Armenia and the discussion of the Turkish-Armenian issue are ill-timed.” (Guliyeva, 1989:28).
However, the influence of the RSFSR Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Chicherin on Lenin was stronger. Long before the agreement was signed, the memorandum prepared by Chicherin for Lenin stated: “The Azerbaijani government has declared its claim to Karabakh, Zangezur, Nakhchivan and Sharur-Daralayaz Uyezd. Most of these lands are in fact in the hands of the Republic of Armenia. To seize these territories, Azerbaijan has to send its Muslim units against the soldiers who oppose the Soviet government. It is absolutely unacceptable to send Azerbaijani units against Armenians, and it would be a great crime.” (Hasanli, 2012:171). On August 10, the chairman of the Nakhchivan Revolutionary Committee, Bekdashov, wrote a letter to Narimanov stating that the Nakhchivan region recognized itself as an integral part of the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic. However, the agreement signed between the RSFSR and Armenia on the same day came as a surprise to the Azerbaijani Bolsheviks. The articles of the agreement were as follows:
- The hostilities between the troops of the RSFSR and the Republic of Armenia shall be considered ceased from 12 p.m. on August 10, 1920.
- The troops of the Republic of Armenia stop in positions in the direction of Shahtakhty-Khok-Aznaberd-Sultanbey and Kuku-Bazarkend. The Soviet army takes control of the disputed territories of Karabakh, Zangezur and Nakhchivan. (Except for the areas defined by this agreement for the deployment of Armenian troops).
- The occupation of the disputed territories by Soviet troops does not prejudge the rights of the Republic of Armenia or the Azerbaijani SSR over these territories. With this interim administration, the RSFSR intends to create favorable conditions for a peaceful settlement of territorial disputes between Armenia and Azerbaijan on the basis of a peace treaty to be concluded between the RSFSR and the Republic of Armenia in the near future.
- After the cessation of hostilities, the parties shall restrict the movement of military forces in both disputed and border areas.
- Until the signing of the agreement between the RSFSR and the Republic of Armenia, the operation of the Shahtakhty-Julfa railway shall be transferred to the Armenian Railways. (Excluding use for military purposes).
- The RSFSR provides free access (with weapons and equipment) to the Armenian military units behind the line occupied by the Soviet army (Oreshkova, 1999:229).
The RSFSR did not inform the Azerbaijan SSR about the articles of the agreement. According to the Russian-Armenian agreement signed on August 10, the fate of Nakhchivan and Sharur-Daralayaz Uyezd would be determined in the future. The front line was to serve as the USSR-Armenian border for some time. This meant that Shahtakhty would stay in Armenia. Although Shahtakhtinski, Ambassador of the Azerbaijan SSR in Moscow, objected to the agreement, it did not matter. It is clear from the letter he sent to Lenin on August 13 that he had heard about the agreement from the press and did not have precise information about its provisions. He wrote, “The transfer of the Shahtakhty-Yerevan and Shahtakhty-Julfa railways to Armenia together with all relevant facilities means handing all of South Azerbaijan over to the Dashnaks, and if this move unites the Dashnaks with the British forces in Iran, it deprives Azerbaijan of all ties with the Turkish revolutionary movement.” In the letter, Shahtakhtinski noted, “The Dashnaks used the British to capture Nakhchivan. However, as soon as the British left, the population revolted and the Armenian army sent against them, armed from head to toe, was disbanded. Giving this land, which was liberated from the Dashnaks after three years of bloody struggle led by the working people and united with Azerbaijan, this land, where no Armenian lives today, to the Dashnaks is a clear violation of the generally accepted principle of self-determination of peoples and the rights of Soviet Azerbaijan. The people of Nakhchivan have established a Soviet regime in the country, and they do not want to even think that Soviet Russia may hand over Nakhchivan to the Dashnaks against the will of the entire population, while not only will the Soviet system be destroyed under their rule, but also the physical existence of the population will be in danger, as is the case in the territory of Dashnak Armenia.” (Hasanli, 2012:175). Nariman Narimanov also expressed his official protest to Soviet Russia over the agreement. “Armenians who call themselves Communists, but are, in fact, consciously or unconsciously nationalist, will not give up their insidious plans against Muslims.” (Baberowski, 2010:165).
After the Russian-Armenian agreement, the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Azerbaijan CP(b) discussed the situation in Nakhchivan and instructed the Azerbaijan Revolutionary Committee to define the Nakhchivan issue and the Azerbaijani-Armenian border. In addition, the Azerbaijan Revkom was instructed to resolve the issue of organizing the government in Nakhchivan and nominating a candidate for the post of commissar in consultation with the 11th Army MRC. The disagreement between the Azerbaijan SSR and the RSFSR over Nakhchivan ended in September 1920. The reason was the war that broke out between Turkey and Armenia.
The Armenian–Turkish war
On August 10, 14 states in France signed the Treaty of Sèvres, which formalized the division of the Ottoman Empire. According to this agreement, the Ottomans were to recognize Armenia as an independent state and cede the eastern provinces of the country, Van, Bitlis, Erzurum and Trabzon, to Armenia. The agreement was rejected by the Turkish parliamentary government. Armenia could achieve the fulfillment of the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres only by winning the war. During this period, the size of the Armenian army on the border with Turkey reached 30,000 people against the 50,000-strong Turkish army. The struggle against the imperialists created an Azerbaijan-Turkey-Russia alliance against Armenia in the region. On September 14, the Bolsheviks called on Armenia to give up the Sèvres agreement and allow the creation of a corridor between Turkey and Azerbaijan. Armenia refused. The Armenian leadership started a war against the Ankara government, hoping that the Western countries would support them.
The Dashnaks were supplied with ammunition and military equipment by the United States. The Dashnak army was equipped with vehicles and even planes. The arms factory in Kars and the cartridge factory in Alexandropol were funded by the Americans (Sadigov, 1995:19). On September 24, Dashnak troops attacked the Turkish army near Bardiz and Ketak. After the attack of the Dashnak army was repelled, the Turkish units launched a counterattack and captured Sarikamish on September 29 and Merdenek  a day later (Bagirov, 1965:52-53). As Turkish units advanced rapidly, many Armenian civilians were unable to flee the area. The Turkish army destroyed the civilian Armenians living in the area in cold blood. In response, the Armenian army began ethnic cleansing in Turkish and Azerbaijani villages in the Irevan Governorate and Kars Province.
Ruben Ter-Minasian, Minister of Defense of Dashnak Armenia, was elected for his harsh attitude towards Azerbaijanis. Ter-Minasian aimed to expel all Turks living in Kars and Nakhchivan and completely Armenianize the region. Some Armenian historians praise him and the Dashnaktsutyun government for arming Armenia and thus securing its future. All this made the Dashnak war with the Turkish army, the protector of Muslims in the region, inevitable (Bloxham, 2005:105). The Dashnak army also launched an attack in the direction of Nakhchivan in September. Along with this move of the Armenian army, the Azerbaijan SSR and the RSFSR also joined the war. On September 18, 1920, Red Army units, Turkish troops and local military units repelled the attack of the Dashnak army. In a counterattack, the allies captured Ordubad and surrounding villages. By the end of October 1920, the Dashnaks were expelled from the entire Ordubad Uyezd. Revolutionary committees were set up in the captured territories. Defeated on the Ordubad front, the Dashnaks began to pull in their forces to Sharur and Shahtakhty this time.
On November 7, 1920, Abbasgulu bey Shadlinski’s “Red Battalion” together with units of the Caucasian Regiment of the 11th Red Army, Turkish troops, 1,500 volunteers from the local population launched a counterattack against the Dashnaks. The counterattack began in several directions—in the direction of the villages of Sharur, Givrag, Garabaglar and Aznaburd. It was so unexpected and devastating that the Dashnak army left its positions without resistance. Operation Sharur ended with the complete defeat of Dashnak troops (Sarkissian, 1990:79-80). Dashnak General Shelkovnikov’s 2,500-strong division surrendered. Thus, by November 1920, Nakhchivan and Sharur-Daralayaz Uyezd were completely cleared of Dashnaks (Sadigov, 1995:19).
The Dashnak army was also severely defeated on the Turkish front. On October 13, Armenian troops attempted a counterattack from Kars but failed. In early October, due to the difficult situation on the front, Armenia appealed to the governments of Great Britain, France, Italy and other allied countries.
However, the great powers had problems of their own and did not provide any assistance to Armenia. The only country that responded was Greece. The operations launched in the west of Asia Minor did not seriously affect the advance of the Turkish army in the east. On October 28, the Turkish army attacked along the entire front line. On October 30, Kars was captured. The loss of Kars discouraged the Dashnaks, and the army began to retreat in a disorderly manner. The Turkish army approached Alexandropol (now Gyumri). On November 3, the Armenian government was forced to ask the Turkish government for peace.
Karabekir Pasha demanded the withdrawal of the Armenian army from Gyumri and the cessation of hostilities. Fulfilling this demand, the Armenians left Gyumri. After the Turkish army entered Gyumri on November 7, they offered peace to Armenia on terms similar to capitulation. The Dashnaks rejected these demands and decided to turn to Soviet Russia for mediation. On November 11, the Turkish army continued its offensives, entered Igdir and began to move inside Armenia. The outcome of the war was already clear. The Armenian army did not want to fight. The Turkish army already stood “at the gate of” Yerevan. On November 15, the Republic of Armenia addressed the Grand National Assembly of Turkey with a peace talks proposal. On November 23, the Armenian delegation left for Gyumri. On December 2, the representative of the Republic of Armenia Alexander Khatisian and the head of the Turkish parliamentary delegation Karabekir Pasha signed the Treaty of Alexandropol. Some important points of the agreement were as follows:
- The border between Turkey and Armenia is defined as from the mouth of the Ashagi Garasu to the Araz River, north of Kekach, Arpachay, Garakhan gorge, east of Tiknis—east of Boyuk Kamli—Gizildash—Boyuk Agbaba mountain range. The fate of the settlement south of the strip passing through the mouth of the Ashagi Garasu near the Araz River (Nakhchivan, Shahtakhty, Sharur) will be determined later by referendum. Armenia will not interfere in the form of government and the territory covered by this government, and a local administration will be established in this area under the auspices of Turkey.
- In order to prevent further violations of discipline and security as a result of provocation and pressure from the imperialist powers, the Yerevan (Armenian) government undertakes to have a lightly armed gendarmerie for domestic security and not to have more than 1,500 troops armed with 8 cannons and 200 machine guns to protect the country. There will be no compulsory military service in Armenia.
- The Yerevan government considers the Treaty of Sèvres, which was categorically rejected by the Turkish Grand National Assembly, to be invalid, and takes upon itself to recall its representatives in Europe and America, a tool of provocation in the hands of some imperialist governments and political circles, and to eliminate all misconceptions between the two countries.
- The Turkish government will ensure the freedom of transit between Iran, Baku and Armenia via Sharur, Nakhchivan, Shahtakhty and Julfa. The Armenian government undertakes not to impose taxes on goods, cars, wagons and all transit operations between Azerbaijan, Iran, Georgia and Turkey. (Treaty of Gyumri, 2004:4-7).
The Treaty of Alexandropol virtually turned Dashnak Armenia into a small republic around Yerevan and Lake Goycha. With this agreement, Armenia fell into a position of dependence on Turkey, and Nakhchivan, Shahtakhty and Sharur regions became Turkey’s protectorate. According to the terms of the agreement, Armenia had to give up its claim to Nakhchivan (Bagirov, 1965:56-57).
The Treaty of Alexandropol essentially meant an alliance between the Turkish Parliament and Dashnak Armenia against the Soviet government in the Caucasus. According to this treaty, the Turks promised the Dashnaks armed assistance to suppress the revolutionary movement in Armenia and Nakhchivan.
In December 1920, the command of the Turkish army decided to arrest the revolutionary committees in the NSSR and disarm the Red Army units stationed in Nakhchivan. The representative of the Turkish command, Veysal Bey, declared himself the emergency commissioner of Nakhchivan. (Bagirov, 1965:58). This step strained the relations between Turkey and the RSFSR. However, on the eve of the signing of the Treaty of Alexandropol, a Soviet government was formed in Armenia as a result of a military coup and the treaty was annulled.
Sovietization of Armenia and the Nakhchivan issue
The crushing defeat of the Armenian army inflicted by the Turkish troops created a gap on the eastern borders of this country. Taking advantage of this opportunity, the Army of Soviet Azerbaijan and the 11th Red Army, together with a group of Armenian Bolsheviks, entered the city of Ijevan on November 29, 1920 and announced the establishment of the Revolutionary Committee. One day later, RSFSR official Boris Legran gave an ultimatum to the Armenian government, demanding that the power be handed over to the Bolsheviks immediately. On December 2, the Armenian parliament convened and unanimously decided to hand over power to the Armenian Bolsheviks. On December 4, the Soviet army entered Yerevan. The newly formed government refused to recognize the agreement between Dashnak Armenia and the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.
The Sovietization of Armenia brought up the issue of disputed territories again. The establishment of Soviet power in Armenia was not part of the plans of the Turkish Parliament. Turkey’s attitude towards Soviet Armenia remained the same as towards Dashnak Armenia. The Turks openly claimed Nakhchivan, citing their agreement with the Dashnaks (Sarkissian, 1990:80). The Russian Bolsheviks also had the idea of giving Nakhchivan to the Turks. This was possible if Turkey became the leader of the revolutionary movement in the Muslim East. Legran wrote to Chicherin, “If the Turks have the opportunity to exert a revolutionary influence on neighboring Muslim countries and they can raise a revolutionary movement in the East, it will certainly be great, then we can give them Nakhchivan. But first we need to test the Turks.” (Hasanli, 2012:308).
During the Bolshevik military coup in Armenia, a meeting of the Azerbaijani Politburo was held in Baku with the participation of Ordzhonikidze. At the meeting on November 30, 1920, under Ordzhonikidze’s pressure, Narimanov renounced the Azerbaijan SSR’s claim to Nakhchivan. Azerbaijan giving up the disputed territories was part of the plan to ensure a smooth transfer of power in Armenia. However, these steps were misunderstood by both the Nakhchivan Bolsheviks and the Armenian Bolsheviks. After the decision was made, Azrevkom member Behbud Shahtakhtinski arrived in Nakhchivan. Shahtakhtinski here announced Azrevkom’s decision to cede Nakhchivan to the Armenian SSR, and made a careless statement: “Azerbaijan has sold you, I would have not allowed it if I had been in Baku.” Then, turning to the crowd, he said, “Today, as a member of Azrevkom, I am leaving with Comrade Valibeyov. Neither I nor Valibeyov have any role in making this decision. Now the Turks are your only salvation. Hold on to them.” (Sarkissian, 1990:80-81).
Although the decision to hand over Nakhchivan to Armenia was announced, the territory was actually controlled by the Turkish army. Thus, Soviet diplomats’ entry to and exit from Nakhchivan were controlled by Turkish groups on the border. In the Nakhchivan issue, the Turkish delegation thought that Nakhchivan would remain theirs at the request of the population (Sargsyan, 1990:88).
However, the Azerbaijan SSR was against it. Shahtakhtinski considered it more acceptable to give the territory to Russia than to give it to Turkey: “For strategic considerations, this very important land should not be given to the protectorate of the Turks. We must not allow it to be annexed to Armenia now either, because, firstly, the very population of this region opposes this, and, secondly, the Turks will not agree to this. Therefore, it is necessary for the time being to turn this territory into a self-governing region under the protectorate of Soviet Russia. This solution will move the Turks from their position and cannot but satisfy Armenia.” (Hasanli, 2012: 308). The people of Nakhchivan wanted to unite only with Azerbaijan. After the announcement of the handover of Nakhchivan to Armenia, mass protests began in the region with the support of the Turks. Bahadir Valibeyov wrote about it, “I went to Yerevan to report to the Armenian Revkom and the Central Committee of the Communist Party on the political situation in Nakhchivan and the people’s response to the statement of Azrevkom. They listened to my report very carefully there and promised to take measures to stabilize the situation.” (Sadigov,1995: 22-23).
Following Valibeyov’s report, the Armenian Revkom issued a comprehensive statement on Nakhchivan on December 26, 1920, declaring that the area had been voluntarily annexed to Armenia. However, only two days later, on 28 December, in its second statement on Nakhchivan, the Armenian Revkom recognized Nakhchivan as an independent Soviet republic and reaffirmed the right to self-determination of Azerbaijanis living in Nakhchivan. Surprisingly, both documents were signed by the chairman of the Armenian Revkom Kasyan and his members Avis and Bekzadyan. (Saparov, 2014:102). Armenian and Azerbaijani historians explain the contradictory declarations of both Azerbaijan and Armenia in December 1920 by the Turkish factor, and Russian and European scholars by the RSFSR factor. Ultimately, the December 28 statement of the Armenian Revkom is believed to have been made under pressure from Lenin. Lenin said, “Azrevkom’s proposal to give Nakhchivan to Armenia as a ‘fraternity’ mission should be welcomed. However, the will of the people is the key in this matter. The Soviet government in Armenia represents the will of the people. For this reason, the working people of Nakhchivan must use their right to self-determination to choose their own fate.” (Madatov, 1968:95).
According to the referendum held at the beginning of 1921, 90% of Nakhchivan’s population wanted to be included in the Azerbaijan SSR “with the rights of an autonomous republic” (Altstadt, 1992:116). The results of the referendum showed the ethnic division in the region. A large number of Armenians living in Nakhchivan had been expelled from the region, especially in the 1920 wars. Thus, in 1926, Armenians made up 11% of the total population of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. Therefore, it is not surprising that over 90% of the participants voted in the 1921referendum for the unification with Azerbaijan. (Shnirelman, 2003:242-243)
Treaties of Kars and Moscow
Although it was confirmed in January 1921 that Nakhchivan remained part of Azerbaijan, Turkey persisted in its claim to the region. The Turkish army was still in Nakhchivan and did not want to leave the area. After negotiations with the RSFSR, the Turkish Parliament agreed to give up Nakhchivan in favor of Azerbaijan, Gyumri in favor of Armenia, and Adjara in favor of Georgia. The first negotiations between the RSFSR and the Turkish Parliament resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Moscow on March 16, 1921. The third clause of the agreement concerned Nakhchivan: “Both Contracting Parties agree that the Nakhichevan Region, located within the boundaries specified in Annex I (C) of the present Treaty, will hereafter from an autonomous territory under the auspices of Azerbaijan, under the condition that Azerbaijan will not relinquish the protectorate to any third party. The borders of the triangle-shaped Nakhichevan Region are formed by the Araz river bed on one side, and on the West, by the line that passes through the mountains Danga, Velidag, Bagirsag, and Komurludag. The third border line of this territory, which begins at the Komurludag mountain, passes through the Saraybulag mountain and the Ararat Station, and finishes at the junction of Karasu with Araz, will be properly corrected by a special commission made up of delegates from Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia.” (Treaty of Moscow, 2004:26-27). The settlement of the Nakhchivan issue at the Moscow conference was a great victory for both Turkish and Azerbaijan SSR diplomacy. It was because of his role in resolving the Nakhchivan issue that Narimanov wrote to Behbud Shahtakhtinski, the Azerbaijani representative at the Moscow conference, “Thank you very much for Nakhchivan! You see, you have already dived deep into work and you are doing it right. This makes me happy, because some people from a certain group kept saying that I had chosen poorly.” (Hasanli, 2012:369-370).
After the Treaty of Moscow, the Turkish delegation demanded from the RSFSR that a separate agreement on border issues be signed with both the Azerbaijan SSR, the Armenian SSR, and the Georgian SSR. In addition, the Turks stated that the territory of the Nakhchivan SSR would be given to Azerbaijan within the territories mentioned in the agreement signed with Dashnak Armenia in 1920. This was met with dissatisfaction by the Armenian Bolsheviks.
The Turkish delegation stressed the importance of the issue for the security of Turkey’s eastern borders and therefore insisted on the border issue. The RSFSR delegation said that in this situation it was necessary to comply with the border previously demanded by Azerbaijan itself. At the suggestion of the Azerbaijani SSR and at the insistence of the Turkish delegation, it was decided to attach half of the former Sharur-Daralayaz Uyezd beginning from the Komurludag-Saraybulag mountain, to the Nakhchivan SSR (Sarkissian, 1990:90).
Chicherin said in this regard, “Armenia and Azerbaijan have the Nakhchivan issue. The article on a tripartite commission consisting of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey to adjust the borders in the triangular zone appeared as follows: When the ‘transfer of Nakhchivan to the protectorate of Azerbaijan’ was resolved, the Turks defined the borders of Nakhchivan province under the Treaty of Gyumri, which gave the southern triangle of Irevan Province to Nakhchivan. These borders were adopted by a special commission of experts due to the mistake of military experts without our knowledge. Therefore, when the issue came up again at the conference, we could only protest against the return of the borders to the southern triangle. After a long struggle, It was decided that a commission consisting of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey would finally clarify the borders in these areas. Earlier, when Shahtakhtinski spoke to us about Nakhchivan, he believed that the last borders of Nakhchivan province reached the Gurd Gapisi (Wolf’s Gate). By the way, the triangular zone, i.e., the southern triangular part of Irevan Province, is larger than Shahtakhtinski claims. At present, this area extends beyond the Wolf’s Gate. The Soviet Azerbaijan must first determine the border between the Nakhchivan SSR and the Armenian SSR. This is necessary because we need to know with what the Armenian and Azerbaijani representatives entered the tripartite commission with Turkey.” (Hasanli, 2012:379-380).
On October 13, 1921, a treaty of friendship was signed in Kars with the participation of the RSFSR between the governments of the Armenian SSR, the Azerbaijan SSR, the Georgian SSR, on the one side, and the government of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, on the other side. The Treaty of Kars was signed by Kazim Karabekir Pasha, Memduh Şevket Bey, People’s Commissar for State Control of the Azerbaijani SSR Behbud Bey Shahtakhtinski, Commissioner for Foreign Affairs of the Armenian SSR Askinaz Mravyan, People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs Pogos Makinzyan, People’s Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs of the Georgian SSR Shalva Eliava, People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs and Finance Alexander Svanidze and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the RSFSR to Latvia Yakov Gapetsky. The annex to the agreement indicated the borders of the Armenian SSR with Turkey and Iran, established the border of the Nakhchivan SSR with Turkey at 11 km to Arazdeyen station, and the border with Iran as 176 km long, i.e., as it was according to the 1828 Treaty of Turkmenchay. Article 5 of the agreement reaffirmed that the Turkish government and the governments of Soviet Armenia and Soviet Azerbaijan agreed to establish an autonomous territory under the auspices of Azerbaijan within the borders specified in Annex III to the agreement (Sadigov, 1995:26). Appendix III established the border of Nakhchivan SSR with Armenian SSR in the direction of Dashburun mountain—eastern Dashburun mountain—Jehennem gorge—Bulag—Bagirsag mountain—Elevation 6587 and in the direction of Elevation 6629—Komurludag—Elevation 3080—Sayatdag—Kurdgulag—Hamasur mountain—Elevation 8022—Kukudag (Treaty of Kars, 2004:79-80).
There was a small change concerning Nakhchivan in the Treaty of Kars compared to the Treaty of Moscow. The treaty did not include Azerbaijan’s “non-relinquishing the protectorate of Nakhchivan to any third state.” The leadership of Soviet Azerbaijan tried by all means to avoid making such an obligation to the Turks. This was primarily due to the weakening of the position of the Turks by Azerbaijani diplomacy, which was obsessed with Soviet solidarity at the conference and took the joint stance with Armenia (Hasanli, 2012:433-434).
Thus, with the Treaty of Kars, it was finally decided that the Nakhchivan SSR would remain part of Azerbaijan. Armenian American historian Richard Hovannisian describes the signing of the Treaty of Kars as Soviet Russia sacrificing the Armenian issue in order to strengthen the alliance with Turkey (Cornell, 2015:62).
Formation of Nakhchivan ASSR
After Nakhchivan officially remained in Azerbaijan in January 1921, the Turkish army began to leave the region. The dual power that has existed in the region since 1917 (sometimes there were 3 and even 4 powers) was over. The Nakhchivan SSR formed its first independent government after the signing of the Treaty of Moscow. On April 4, 1921, a new government of the Nakhchivan SSR was formed. The composition of that government was as follows:
- Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars Abbas Gadimov (also the chairman of the Revolutionary Committee).
- Commissar for Emergency Situations, Post and Telegraph Sh. Aliyev.
- Chief of Nakhchivan garrison Abbasgulu bey Shadlinski.
- Chairman of the National Economic Council Mehdiyev.
- Health Commissar A. Abbasov.
- Financial Commissar Beneniyarski.
- Commissar for Education and Justice A. Rustamov.
- Land Commissar Hajilarov.
- Food Commissar Mammadov.
- Workers and Peasants’ Inspectorate Musayev.
In 1921-1924, when the Nakhchivan SSR was independent, its rights and powers were broader. Diplomatic and economic relations of the NSSR with Iran and Turkey, as well as with the Transcaucasian republics, were carried out through consulates and missions. Consulates of Nakhchivan in Maku, Khoy and Tabriz, Nakhchivan representation office under the Consulate of the RSFSR in Kars, Turkey, were established. The Turkish military representation office in Nakhchivan functioned until July 1924, and the Iranian consulate in Nakhchivan until November 17, 1938. Ismayilbey Jamalbeyov in Maku and Gasimbey Jamalbeyov in Tabriz were the first consuls of the Nakhchivan SSR. Balabey was the representative plenipotentiary of Nakhchivan in Kars. Representation offices of the Nakhchivan SSR were also established in Baku, Tbilisi and Yerevan. Aziz Sharif was appointed the representative of Nakhchivan in the Georgian SSR in January 1922 (Sadigov, 1995:26).
After the signing of the Treaty of Kars, some changes were made in the state system and government mechanism of the Nakhchivan SSR. In December 1922, a special resolution of the First Congress of Transcaucasian Soviets on this issue stated: “The Republic of Nakhchivan should be considered an inalienable and integral part of the Azerbaijan SSR in the right of autonomy.” After that decision, the issue of Nakhchivan’s autonomy within the Azerbaijan SSR was discussed among the leadership of the Transcaucasian and Azerbaijani Communist Parties, and the Nakhchivan Regional Congress of Soviets was instructed to draft a relevant declaration. The status of Nakhchivan as an autonomous but indivisible part of the Azerbaijan SSR was confirmed in February 1923 by the TFSSR and the Russian CP(b). (Altstadt, 1992:127). The decision stated that “the entire Nakhchivan territory with its institutions should be included in the Azerbaijani SSR in the right of an autonomous territory.” Taking this into account, the 5th Congress of the Azerbaijan CP(b) held in March 1923 discussed the Nakhchivan issue in detail. It was noted that it would be more appropriate to recognize the region as an integral part of Azerbaijan in the right of autonomous unit, because a large district such as the Nakhchivan Republic having remained until recently under the protectorate of Azerbaijan did not meet a number of requirements. The third session of the second convocation of the Azerbaijani Soviets in June 1923 granted the request of the Nakhchivan Congress of Soviets, and on June 16, the Central Executive Committee of Azerbaijan decided to attach Nakhchivan to Azerbaijan (Hasanli, 2012:441-442). At Chicherin and Narimanov’s suggestion, the issue “On Nakhchivan” was discussed at the meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the RCP(b) on August 23, 1923. According to the decision, Chicherin’s proposals mentioned in the above letter were taken into account and the Central Committee Secretariat was instructed to “settle the Nakhchivan issue with the Transcaucasian Territorial Committee.”
In December 1923, the leadership of the Azerbaijan Communist Party, taking into account the importance of the issue, proposed the establishment of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. On December 31, 1923, the Central Executive Committee of Azerbaijan decided to transform the Nakhchivan SSR into the Nakhchivan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within the Azerbaijan SSR and asked the Transcaucasian Central Executive Committee to approve it. On January 8, 1924, the first plenum of the Transcaucasian CEC discussed the report on the transformation of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Territory into the Nakhchivan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and the relevant decision of the CEC of Azerbaijan, and decided to transform the Nakhchivan Autonomous Territory into the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic within the Azerbaijan SSR. The first plenum of the Nakhchivan Central Election Commission was convened on January 18, 2006. The issue of transformation of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Territory into the Nakhchivan ASSR on the basis of the decisions of the Transcaucasian and Azerbaijan Central Executive Committees was discussed and approved. By the decision of the Plenum, the authorities of the Central Executive Committee of the Nakhchivan ASSR, the Council of People’s Commissariats and commissariats (land, internal affairs, education, health), as well as the People’s Commissariats of the Azerbaijan SSR (finance, labor, military commissariat) were established. The plenum elected a 7-member presidium of the CEC, and commissions on electrification, telephony and housing construction were established under the CEC of the Nakhchivan ASSR. Nakhchivan ASSR was administratively divided into three districts: Sharur, Ordubad and Nakhchivan. The decree of the Central Executive Committee of the Azerbaijan SSR dated February 9, 1924 established the transformation of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Territory into the Nakhchivan ASSR (Sadigov, 1995:29). The Council of People’s Commissars of Azerbaijan, headed by Gazanfar Musabeyov, demanded for Nakhchivan not only administrative but also political autonomy within the Azerbaijan SSR. Moscow accepted this demand, and in March 1924, with the establishment of the Nakhchivan ASSR, its political autonomy was ensured (Altstadt, 1992:105). Thus, the settlement of the Nakhchivan issue was completed legally.
Sources in Azerbaijani and English
Altstadt, Audrey (1992) The Azerbaijani Turks. Power and Identity under Russian Rule.
Bloxham,Donald (2005), The Great Game of Genocide Imperialism, Nationalism, and the Destruction of the Ottoman Armenians.
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 Present-day village of Chalkhangala, Kangarli District.
 Present-day Şenkaya (Erzurum).
 Present-day Kötek (Qars)
 Present-day Göle (Ardahan).