10/6/1918 Vorontsovka: Germany and Turkey come to blows

Germany and Turkey are allied to each other, but their goals are starting to diverge. Turkey’s leaders see the collapse of Russian power in the Caucasus as an opportunity for expansion; they have sent their troops racing to occupy territory lost to the Ottoman Empire in previous wars. Enver also hopes to expand Turkish power into central Asia, where he anticipates a warm welcome from the Turkic peoples there. The Germans however want to set up friendly client states in the Caucasus, to serve as buffer between Soviet Russia and the Turks; they have already recognised Georgia as independent and despatched a small force there under Kressenstein.

The problems caused by Germany and Turkey’s divergent goals come to a head today. Turkish forces advancing into Georgia clash with a combined Georgian and German force at Vorontsovka. The more numerous Turks have the upper hand, driving away their opponents and taking several German prisoners. As news of this incident filters back to the German high command there is outrage at this gross impertinence on the part of their supposed allies.

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map (Kafkasya Cephesi’nde Osmanlı-Alman Rekabeti – Ottoman-German Competition in the Caucasus Front)

26/5/1918 Georgia exits the Transcaucasian Federation #1918Live

Last month a new country joined the family of nations: the Transcaucasian Democratic Federal Republic, uniting Georgians, Azeris and Armenians in a federal union, together with members of other smaller ethnic groups. Today, barely a month after its formation, the Federal Republic begins to disintegrate.

The odds were stacked against the federation from the start, with internal ethnic divisions exerting a strong centrifugal force. More immediately threatening is the continued advance into the Caucasus of the Turkish army, with Enver Pasha determined to restore Turkish prestige by re-absorbing long-lost territories back into the Ottoman Empire. Georgian leaders fear that the federation is too weak and internally divided to resist the Turks, so now they declare independence. A German force under Kressenstein has already arrived in Tbilisi. The Germans declare Georgia to be under their protection, preventing the Turks from overrunning this new state.

With Georgia gone, the Transcaucasian Democratic Federal Republic is effectively dead. Mutual hostility between the Azeris and Armenians mean that they will not be able to peacefully coexist in a single federation. It cannot be more than a few days before the federation is formally dissolved.

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Meeting today of Georgia’s National Council (Wikipedia: Democratic Republic of Georgia)

22/4/1918 The Transcaucasian Democratic Federal Republic joins the family of nations #1918Live

Today a new country emerges from the ruins of the Russian Empire: the Transcaucasian Democratic Federal Republic. The new nation seeks to unite Armenians, Georgians, Azeris and other ethnic groups of the region into one federal state. The new state’s leader is Prime Minister Akaki Chkhenkeli, a socialist Georgian from the anti-Bolshevik Menshevik party.

The new Transcaucasian Republic faces desperate problems. Aside from internal tensions between its different peoples, it also faces the external threat of Turkey, whose forces are expanding into Transcaucasia in an effort to maximise Turkish power there. In the future the wayward region may also need to worry about efforts by Soviet Russia to bring it to heel.

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Akaki Chkhenkeli & 1903 map of Transcaucasia (Wikipedia: Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic)

2/4/1918 Azeris massacred in Baku #1918Live

The Caucasus region is now in a somewhat chaotic state. While nominally still part of Russia, the writ of the Soviet government barely runs here, with local revolutionary and nationalist forces having to be accommodated by the Bolsheviks. Turkish forces meanwhile are advancing beyond their pre-war frontier, with Enver Pasha seeing this moment as an opportunity to restore Ottoman power in the region.

The situation is therefore tense. In the Caspian Sea port of Baku an alliance of Bolsheviks and Armenian nationalists holds sway. A few days ago clashes took place between demobilised Azeri Muslim troops and the Armenian-Bolshevik authorities. These have escalated into bloody violence that has something of the character of an ethnic pogrom to it, with as many as 12,000 Azeris, mostly civilians, losing their lives. Now the violence begins to die down, in large part because the Azeris are fleeing the city.

Nationalist Turks like Enver feel an ethnic affinity to the Azeris. Turkish expansion in the Caucasus now has a new impetus: to protect the embattled Azeris and to avenge their treatment at the hands of the Turks’ enemies.

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Postcard showing Iranian consul and Azeri victims (Wikipedia: March Days)

Collecting the dead (Wikipedia: March Days)

12/3/1918 Turkey recovers Erzurum and presses on towards the Caucasus #1918Live

In eastern Anatolia Turkish forces are advancing to recover the territory lost since the war started and to occupy the three lost provinces promised to them by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The Turks also want to stake their claim to as much of the Russian territory south of the Caucasus as possible. That the Turks should be expending so much effort here when they are under pressure from the British in Palestine might seem strange, but Enver Pasha, Turkey’s war minister and paramount leader, sees this as a chance to restore the prestige of the Ottoman Empire. Enver also wants to rescue Turkic peoples of the Caucasus from the horror of government by Christians.

A good command of logistics has not been a strong point of the Turkish army, so it should be difficult for it to maintain this rapid advance. However Turkish troops are able to sustain themselves on what the Russians have abandoned. Today Turkish forces recapture Erzurum, whose loss in 1916 was a terrible blow. They find the city abundantly stocked with supplies left behind by the Russians, supplies the Turks can now use as they press on towards the pre-war frontier.

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Erzurum after abandonment by the Russians (Wikipedia: Schlacht von Erzurum)

3/3/1918 Brest-Litovsk: Germany and Russia agree a peace treaty #1918Live

Germany’s unstoppable advance in the East has forced the capitulation of Soviet Russia. Today a Soviet delegation signs a peace treaty with the Germans at Brest-Litovsk. The terms are harsh. Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are all detached from Russia, notionally independent but effectively German colonies.Russia has lost a third of its population, more than half its industry and nearly 90% of its coal mines. Russia has also lost much of its railways and sources of iron ore, as well as the rich agricultural lands of Ukraine. Within Russia itself the treaty grants privileges to Germans: their businesses are immune from nationalisation or other interference by the Bolshevik regime. And Russia must pay an indemnity to the Germany.

Germany has done well out of the treaty, acquiring both the territories in the East it has already overrun and effective control of Ukraine. Austria-Hungary has done less well, having to make do with promises of a share of the grain to be extracted from Ukraine. The other beneficiary of the treaty is Turkey. Russia is obliged not merely to withdraw to its frontiers from before the war but also from the three provinces of Kars, Batum and Ardahan it gained from Turkey in 1878. The future status of the three provinces is to be determined by plebiscite, but one to be conducted by the Turks. Turkish forces are now pushing eastwards to not merely occupy the territory they are being awarded at Brest-Litovsk but as much of Transcaucasia as they can.

Acceptance of the Brest-Litovsk treaty is controversial within Russia. Many leading Bolsheviks oppose the treaty while the support of Trotsky is lukewarm at best (he has resigned as foreign minister to avoid having to sign it himself). The Left faction of the Socialist Revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks’ coalition partner, sees the treaty as turning the country into a German client state; so incensed are the Left SRs that their ministers resign from Sovnarkom (Soviet Russia’s government). But Lenin sees peace as essential to give socialism the breathing space it needs in Russia. With time revolution will spread across Europe, negating the treaty.

For Germany the treaty’s signature is a relief. Grain from Ukraine should alleviate the country’s food problems. And crucially it stops the country’s leaders from having to worry about the Eastern Front. Ludendorff is now free to concentrate on the great offensive he is planning in the West.

images source (Wikipedia)

24/2/1918 Lenin accepts the Germans’ final peace terms

After Trotsky walked out of the Brest-Litovsk peace talks the Germans and Austro-Hungarians launched Operation Faustschlag, an offensive intended to force the Bolsheviks to accept their draconian peace terms. Their advance has faced little or no resistance, in a short time making gains that would have been unimaginable even a year ago. Meanwhile the Turks too are advancing unopposed into territory seized from them earlier in the war. Today the Turks arrive in Trebizond, where a Russian army brass band plays to welcome them into the city.

Yesterday Germany communicated its final peace terms to the Russians. The Germans are now demanding all the territory captured since the start of Operation Faustschlag, which means that Estonia will now be theirs as well as Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and much of Byelorussia. Ukraine is also to be separated from Russia, notionally independent but effectively a German client state.

In Petrograd Lenin argues that if the German terms are rejected then even worse ones will be forced on Russia in a few more weeks, ones so draconian they could spell the end of Bolshevik rule. By threatening to resign he secures Trotsky’s abstention at the Bolshevik central committee, which votes to accept the peace, though Bukharin and his faction then resign in protest. The Soviet Executive then approves the peace proposals by 116 to 85 votes, with Left SRs and many of Lenin’s own party shouting “Judas!” at him.

Early today Lenin sends to the Germans an unconditional acceptance of their terms.

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Vladimir Lenin (Marxist Internet Archive: V.I.Lenin – Founder of the Soviet State (October 1917-1918))