15/9/1918 Massacres in Baku as the city falls to the Turks

Turkish forces are advancing in the Caucasus, hoping to recover territories lost to Russia in previous wars. They are also seeking to assist their ethnic kinfolk in Azerbaijan, where fighting is taking place between Azeri nationalists on the one hand and a motley alliance of socialists, Armenians and a British intervention force on the other.

A Turkish attempt to capture Baku in August was repulsed with the aid of a British formation led by Lionel Dunsterville, but now the reinforced Turks have another go. Under the command of Nuri Pasha, brother of war minister Enver Pasha, the Turks rout the defenders and storm the city.

Disorder in Baku in March saw atrocities committed against Azeris living in the city. Now it is the turn of the city’s Christian population, with Armenians in particular being subjected to massacres by the victors. In some respect the slaughter is revenge for events of earlier in the year, but it is also a continuation of the extermination of the Armenians that the Turkish authorities have been implementing over the last number of years.

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Turkish troops on the move (Wikipedia)

5/8/1918 Allied intervention in Russia and the defence of Baku

Russia is now in the grip of civil war between the Bolshevik government in Moscow and its various enemies. However the chaotic situation in the country is not merely an internal matter, as foreign powers are now beginning to intervene. This is mainly a matter for the Allies, as the Central Powers are too busy with the territories they wrested from Russia at Brest-Litovsk to actively take sides in the civil war. Allied intervention in Russia however is somewhat confused, with a lack of clear goals or a consistent approach.

In the Russian Far East, Japanese and American troops have landed in Vladivostok, to secure the city for the Czechoslovak Legion. This is implicitly an anti-Bolshevik intervention, as the Czechoslovaks are fighting the Bolsheviks on behalf of the Komuch government in Samara. British forces meanwhile have established themselves in the north Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangelsk. They landed initially to secure military supplies that had been sent there to support the Russian war effort. The British were also keen to deter German or Finnish expansion in this region, which meant that there was some tacit support for their landing on the part of the Bolsheviks. Since then though there are suspicions that the British are working with anti-Bolshevik elements.

In Baku British intervention is fighting to block Turkish expansion in the Caucasus region. Turkish forces have been expanding here since Russia signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, seeking to recover territory lost in previous conflicts with Russia. Their attempts to advance into Georgia had put them at loggerheads with the Germans, who favour Georgian independence. It seemed briefly as though the Turco-German alliance would collapse over the issue, but instead Enver, Turkey’s war minister, backed down and redirected his men towards Azerbaijan.

Following inter-communal violence in April, Baku is now largely devoid of Azeris and is under the control of the Central Caspian Dictatorship, an alliance of Armenian nationalist and various anti-Bolshevik forces that recently seized power in the city. The Dictatorship is now facing a Turkish army under the command of Nuri Pasha, Enver’s half brother. The defence of Baku is aided by an amphibious British force, which arrives today from Persia. The British are only too happy to take on the Turks, fearing that if they are victorious in Baku they will then attempt an overland march on India. Their expeditionary force is nick-named Dunsterforce, after its commander, General Lionel Dunsterville, who is reputedly the real-life model for the eponymous character in Rudyard Kipling’s Stalky & Co.

The arrival of Dunsterforce at Baku proves decisive. The Turks are forced back. For now at least Baku remains a safe haven for Armenians.
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British troops advancing to the aid of Baku (Wikipedia: Battle of Baku)

Armenian fighters (Wikipedia: Sebastatsi Murad)

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)