The Georgian-Armenian Conflict
16 September, 2010

The historical Loreh - this small but very old Georgian land which is now part of the Armenian territory – was declared a neutral zone and was supposed to be ruled by Georgians and Armenians in regular turns. Professor Simon Maskharashvili has more.

 


GJ – In November of 1918, Germany and its allies surrendered. As a result, the young democratic state of Georgia lost its strategic allies, but Georgia and the rest of the South Caucasus in general, were not only within the sphere of German and Russian interests. What was the situation like around Georgia at further stages of historical development?
SM – As soon as Georgia lost its allies our neighbors took advantage of the situation momentarily.

GJ – Do you mean Russia?
SM – This time the conflict occurred between Georgia and Armenia because of the controversy about the border line. Armenia was backed by Great Britain. Georgia was not reckoned as a reliable partner because of its former alliance with Germany. The mistrust was further aggravated because Georgia was at that time ruled by the socialists, the unacceptable political force for Britain. When conflict occurred between Georgia and Armenia, Britain refused to play a mediating role although they had never encouraged Armenia to develop the conflict. The worst part of the situation was that Georgia lost the battle from the diplomatic view point although it came out a pure winner, speaking militarily.

GJ – This sounds very illogical though. How come that a winner in the conflict was also a loser? 
SM – The thing was that armistice was signed between Georgia and Armenia through British efforts and mediation, but the act was equal to a complete disaster for Georgia.

GJ – Why?
SM – Because the genuine Georgian territory - the historical Loreh - which is now part of today’s Armenia, was declared neutral. This simply meant that this small but the oldest Georgian land, which has always been part of the historical Georgian territory and used to be part of the Georgian Province of the Russian Empire, was supposed to be ruled by Georgia and Armenia in regular turns. This armistice was signed with the insistence of the British Mission in the South Caucasus, and it was signed when the Georgian army had totally pulverized the Armenian military force. As a mater of fact, it was quite possible to avoid that conflict in general. Logically speaking, Great Britain should have been more interested in maintaining unity in the South Caucasus rather than demonstrating its support for one particular country or political force. What happened in reality was that the Georgian-Armenian conflict was sparked immediately after the fact of substitution of Germany by England in the South Caucasus as an external military and political force. When Georgia was under the German protection, we had never made even one step in this direction.

GJ – What direction?
SM – It was not Georgia who had instigated the confrontation. It was Armenia who started it. And Armenia was backed by Great Britain. And there might be no ambiguity about that. Meanwhile, the most justified behavior on part of Great Britain would have been its attempt to consolidate South Caucasus, not to separate it. Britain made a mistake but it quickly understood it. Let’s call it a strategic political error, shall we? As a result, Britain embarked on a new role of a mediator in the conflict. To fulfill this, the British army entered Tbilisi. They also assumed another role of a trouble-shooter between Georgia and Russia, but they deliberately procrastinated the recognition of independence of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Eventually, Britain recognized only Georgia’s independence in January of 1921 which was a very belated act at that time. Had they recognized the independence of all three states in 1918-1919, the processes would have taken a completely different direction. Instead, Great Britain kept bargaining with the Russian White Guard - General Kolchak’s authorities - which was in no way considering the recognition of independence of any state that used to be part of the Russian Empire.

GJ – How could one justify such a passive behavior of Great Britain? That was the attitude which encouraged the Bolshevik Russia to annex those republics one more time. 
SM – Britain was trying its best not to interfere in Russia’s internal affairs, considering the issue of territories as such. Britain was trying to bargain on issues like territories with General Kolchak as well as the Bolshevik Russia, but they made very bad bargains in both cases. Now that we are trying to analyze those historical events, ours should not be the only shoulders to put the blame on. There were many dialogues, consultations and recommendations going on between British and Georgian diplomats about a possibility of finding common tongue among Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, but all was in vain – nothing was being done practically to consolidate the South Caucasus republics. Britain’s first step should have been the recognition of independence of those three countries. At the same time, Georgia’s Menshevik government was making serous mistakes in the process of building the state. The first mistake was made in building the army. At that time, the British experts calculated and estimated all resources of Georgia and made a conclusion that Georgia could easily afford 56-thousand-strong armed force.

GJ – What was the estimation of British experts based on? 
SM – After quitting WW1, all the armament used by the Russian Empire on the southern front was found at Georgia’s disposal – the entire aviation, artillery, tanks, etc. In addition to that, Georgia had its own 25 generals who happened to be not just the generals of the newly-created army but the generals who had fought in the First World War. 23 of them were awarded the title of Heroes of the War and had been decorated with St. George Orders. Besides, Georgia had 20 thousand officers and 60 thousand soldiers with years of the WW1 experience under their belts. The mentioned military gear, Georgia’s geographic location and the battle-field experience of its warriors made up a very serious military potential of the country.