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))

31/12/1917 Chaos in Trebizond as the Russian army disintegrates #1917Live

The war against Turkey had gone well for Russia, but now the Bolsheviks have signed an armistice with the Turks, agreeing to return their gains since the war’s start. Russian forces are now withdrawing from the former frontline. The situation is becoming chaotic as the Russian army disintegrates, leaving a power vacuum in the countryside.

In the Black Sea port of Trebizond (also known as Trabzon), Russian troops are out of control, defying their officers to either commandeer ships to bring themselves home or engaging in riotous bacchanalia. The Russian army commanders in Trebizond declare martial law in an attempt to bring the disorders to an end, but the effort is futile; they no longer have any means with which to enforce their authority.

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Trebizond in more peaceful times (Karalahana – Turkey’s Black Sea Region: Old Trabzon photos)

18/12/1917 Russia and Turkey agree an armistice #1917Live

The Russians have already signed an armistice with the Germans and Austro-Hungarians and are about to begin negotiations for a peace treaty with them. Now they also sign an armistice with Turkish representatives at Erzincan. The Caucasus front against Turkey had been the one theatre of the war where things had gone well for the Russians, with considerable gains of territory achieved after repelling an initial Turkish invasion. Now, in keeping with Bolshevik plans to use peace negotiations to trigger revolution across the world, the Russians agree an armistice with the Turks based on the principle of no annexations and no indemnities. The Turks cannot believe their luck: after years of defeat they are about to recover all the lands they have lost.

In truth, the Russians do not really have much of an option. The Russian army in the Caucasus is beginning to disintegrate, gripped by the same revolutionary spirit that has consumed Russian armies to the north. Soldiers want to return home now to benefit from the recently announced land owners. They no longer want to fight and die or be told what to do by their former masters. But in Petrograd Lenin and his Bolshevik colleagues hope that the Turkish armistice is just a step on the road to world revolution.

8/8/1916 The Armenian calvary continues

The Turkish authorities continue their extermination of the Armenians. While many Armenians have been shot or otherwise executed, most are suffering a slow death from starvation, dehydration, sickness or exposure. The Turks have sent the Armenians on death marches from their homes in Anatolia to camps in the Syrian desert. Little or no food or shelter is provided to the Armenians while they are on the move. Once in the desert they find themselves left to die.

The extermination is not happening in secret. While the Turkish authorities are keen to deny that anything untoward is taking place, their abuse of the Armenians is being extensively reported. In neutral America the press carries frequent reports of the Armenians’ sufferings, relying on information gleaned from US diplomats in the Ottoman Empire or from journalists operating there.

Today the New York Times carries another report on the Armenian calvary based on a diplomatic source in the Turkish Empire. The paper notes that the source is not an American one, which may mean that the account derives ultimately from a German or Austro-Hungarian diplomat; many of Turkey’s allies have been shocked by what is happening. The report paints a disturbing picture.

“The witnesses have seen thousands of deported Armenians under tents in the open, in caravans on the march, descending the river in boats and in all phases of their miserable life. Only in a few places does the Government issue any rations, and those are quite insufficient. The people, therefore, themselves are forced to satisfy their hunger with food begged in that scanty land or found in the parched fields.

“Naturally, the death rate from starvation and sickness is very high and is increased by the brutal treatment of the authorities, whose bearing toward the exiles as they are being driven back and forth over the desert is not unlike that of slave drivers. With few exceptions no shelter of any kind is provided and the people coming from a cold climate are left under the scorching desert sun without food and water. Temporary relief can only be obtained by the few able to pay officials.”

image source (Wikipedia)

18/4/1916 Russian forces seize Trebizond; the scale of Turkey’s abuse of the Armenians becomes increasingly apparent

In eastern Anatolia the Turks have been on the back foot since the Russian capture of Erzurum. Russian advances are continuing, taking advantage of the Turks’s disarray and encountering little or no effective resistance. Today the ancient city of Trebizond (also known as Trabzon) falls, abandoned by the Turkish military.

Their victories should be a source of great rejoicing to the Russian forces, but their advances are leading to a shocking discovery. The territories they are advancing into used to house the Ottoman Empire’s thriving Armenian community, but now the Armenians are gone. Seeing them as disloyal and pro-Russian, the Turks are removing the Armenians from Anatolia. Some have been murdered en masse (several thousand of Trebizond’s Armenians have reportedly been driven into the sea or thrown overboard from boats). Most though have been deported from their homes and sent off on death marches, dying from exhaustion or lack of food and water while facing the constant threat of robbery, rape and murder from the ghouls who see the deportations as an opportunity for random cruelty and personal enrichment. The survivors of the death marches find themselves in remote concentration camps, where they are deprived of food, water and shelter, with no future ahead of them save a lingering death.

It seems also that the Armenians are not the only victims of the fear and loathing of Turkish authorities. Members of the Assyrian and Greek communities are also facing persecution and abuse, including murder.

The diplomats of Turkey’s German and Austro-Hungarian allies have reported the scale of the horror back to their respective capitals. The Germans have made some protests but they are wary of alienating Turkey and do not press the Turkish leaders too closely on the issue.

But blood will have blood. There are reports that the Russians are wreaking vengeance on the Turkish civilians in areas they have conquered.

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The surrender of Trebizond (Western Front Association)

Armenian Genocide (Mental Floss)