THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
the Armenian National Education Committee (ANEC)
The Treaty of Alexandropol
(December 2-3, 1920)
The Armenian-Turkish war of 1920 put the Republic of Armenia on the brink of collapse. It also brought back the very real threat of physical disappearance for the Armenian people. The secret pact signed between the Turkish Great National Assembly led by Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) and Soviet Russia in August 1920 had ensured the support of Bolshevism to the Turkish insurgents. The latter, unlike the Ottoman legal government, were leading the so-called “war of independence” against Greece in order to overturn the partition of the Ottoman Empire that included the division of current Turkey into different zones of influence and the loss of most of its territories.
Turkish forces commanded by General Kiazim Karabekir had already reached Alexandropol (now Gumri) at the end of November 1920 when a ceasefire was forced upon the Armenian government. On the other side, a small group of Armenian Bolsheviks had crossed the border from Soviet Azerbaijan into Armenia on November 29 and proclaimed Armenia a Soviet republic, appealing for the intervention of the Red Army. The government of the Republic of Armenia, led by Prime Minister Simon Vratsian (who had assumed power on November 25), was forced to choose the lesser of two evils: to turn away the potential annihilation of Eastern Armenians, it decided to relinquish power to the Communists. The change of regime was legalized through the signature of an agreement between the authorities of the Republic of Armenia and Boris Legran, representative of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR), in the morning of December 2, 1920. It was enforced on the same day at 6 pm. It established that Armenia would become an independent Soviet Socialist republic within the frontiers that had been under the jurisdiction of the government before the Turkish invasion and a revolutionary committee would take power temporarily. On its final session of the same day, the government of the Republic of Armenia decided to resign power. After more than two and half years, the first independence had come to an end.
The sovietization of Armenia did not end the Turkish menace. Karabekir threatened to resume his offensive unless his terms were accepted. The onerous terms obliged Armenia to renounce the Treaty of Sevres and all claims to Western Armenia and the province of Kars, and to accept temporary Turkish jurisdiction in Nakhichevan, among other issues. Alexander Khatisian, representative of the Republic of Armenia, signed the treaty in the wee hours of December 3.
However, the Armenian government had already resigned and, therefore, Khatisian had no power whatsoever. On the other hand, Kiazim Karabekir represented the Great National Assembly of Turkey, with headquarters in Ankara, but the legal authority of Turkey, until November 1922, was in the hands of Sultan Mehmed VI and the Ottoman government in Constantinople. Legally, none of the signing parties had any attribution to stamp their signature under the document. Writes Richard Hovannisian: “Denounced and branded a traitor by Soviet and other non-Dashnakist authors, Khatisian justified his action as an exigency measure taken with the knowledge of the new Erevan government and intended to give time for the Red Army to enter Armenia in sufficient numbers to block a further Turkish advance. Realizing that he had not legal jurisdiction, Khatisian hoped that the new Soviet government, with the support of Russia, would repudiate his action and force the Turks to withdraw, at least to the pre-war boundaries.”
The Treaty of Alexandropol was never ratified and was replaced by the treaties of Moscow and Kars (March and October 1921). The latter was signed by the Great National Assembly of Turkey, Soviet Russia, Soviet Armenia, Soviet Georgia, and Soviet Azerbaijan. However, these treaties cannot be recognized as valid according to international law. Mustafa Kemal had not been invested with any powers by the legally recognized Ottoman government, and Soviet Armenia was not a legally recognized state anymore.