The Republic of Armenia and Its Relations With the Ottoman Empire

After the Russian Government, founded after the the October Revolution which demolished the tsarist regime in Russia, took the control of the center, it aimed at gaining control in the surrounding regions of the country as well. Within this framework, it sent a committee of three deputies to Caucasia to represent the three communities of the region (Turk, Armenian, and Georgian). In the meantime, the regional nations who saw the chaotic atmosphere created by the October Revolution as a chance to establish independent states started some initiatives. The gathering of the Armenian National Assembly in Tbilisi in September of 1917 is one of the examples of these independence activities. However, the revolutionists didn’t primarily allow the independence and established an administrative organization called the Caucasia Executive Assembly in the region, and they tried to prevent the separatist movements by giving representation rights in this assembly to the three big communities in the region. With the establishment of this assembly, the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic, composed of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia was declared. After the declaration of the Transcaucasia Democratic Federative Republic, a government from the Caucasia Executive Assembly was founded and five ministers of this government were Georgian, three ministers were Armenian, and three ministers were Turkish (Palabıyık-Deveci, 2009, p. 256-257).

After Russia offered peace to the Ottoman Empire to withdraw from the First World War, the Brest-Litovsk Treaty was signed on 3 March 1918 between the two states and the Ottoman Empire took Kars, Ardahan, Batumi, and Erzurum back from Russians. This situation caused a great disagreement between the countries constituting the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic. Especially Armenians claimed that the lands Ottomans got back belonged to them and reacted to the silence of the other two communities on the issue. As a result of this disagreement, the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic was dispersed in May of 1918 with the pressure of the Armenians by the revolutionists taking advantage of this disagreement. After this development, Georgia and Azerbaijan declared their independence on 26 May and Armenia declared its independence on 28 May. Therefore, the Democratic Republic of Armenia, which existed only for two years, was founded. The government of this new state mostly consisted of Dashnaksutyun members and Hovannes Katchaznuni was brought into the office of the prime ministry of the Armenian Government (Palabıyık-Deveci, 2009, p. 256-257).

Another important development in the process to the Mudros Armistice is the conference in Batum on 11 May-4 June 1918 and the Batumi Treaty signed on 4 June 1918 between the Ottoman Empire and the states founded in Caucasia after the October Revolution as a result of this conference. This treaty signed between the Democratic Republic of Armenia, the Republic of Georgia, and the Azerbaijan National Council consisted of 14 articles and was the first international contract signed by the Democratic Republic of Armenia (Uras, 1987, p. 647-648).

The narratives about the Batumi Treaty are included in history course books in the eleventh grade. In these narratives, it is mentioned that Turkey was supported by Germany, the independence of Armenia was recognized by the Ottoman Empire, and the conditions of this treaty were very harsh (11th Grade, 2010, p. 184).

Uras, who indicates that the Armenian Government negotiated with Germans and tried to get the issue solved in accordance with Brest-Litovsk despite the Batumi Treaty, points out that Armenians sent Doctor Ohancanyan and Arshak Zohrabyan to Berlin for this purpose, but they couldn’t get a positive response. Regarding this issue, which is also included in Armenian history course books, it is claimed that the reason why the expected result was not obtained was the existence of national, regional, and serious border disagreements (9th Grade, 2008, p. 24-25).

The establishment period of the Democratic Republic of Armenia and the developments in this period are presented in history course books under the title of “Formation of Government Organs” (իշխանությանմարմիններիստեղծումը – Ishkh’anut’yan marminneri steghtzumı) (9th Grade, 2008, p. 8-9).

When Armenian history course books are viewed, it is seen that the years of 1918-1920, which is the first period of Armenia as an independent state, are given a special significance. For example, this period is called “the period of heroism wars of Armenia” in the part titled “First Republic of Armenia (May 1918- December 1920),” (Հայաստանիառաջինհան-րապետությունը – Hayastani ar’ajin hanrapetut’yunı 1918 Mayis-1920 Dektember) in ninth grade history course books (9th Grade, 2008, p. 6).

The theme that Armenians experienced severe land losses between the years of 1918-1920 is another issue often emphasized in this part. On the other hand, it is known that the fact that Turkey was the first country to recognize the independence of Armenia, which can be considered as a turning point in terms of Turkish-Armenian relations, also took place in this period. Even though this issue is included in a passage presented in the history course book of the ninth grade, it is seen that this is presented as a tragic situation rather than a positive situation:

“When you look at the general picture, Turkey had taken a region of 28 thousand square meters from Eastern Armenia. On the other hand, it is the irony of the fate that the first international document of this independent Armenia is the recognition of Armenia by Turkey…”

(9th Grade, 2008, p. 8).

When looked at the issues in the establishment years of the Republic of Armenia in the history books of Armenia, it is observed that the image of Turk and Ottoman is negative. In the part titled “The Declaration of Republic of Armenia,” -անհռչակումը – Hayastani Hanrapetut’yan hr’chakumi) when the problems of Armenia in the process of obtaining its independence are handled, “Turkish attacks” are seen to be the primary among these:

“… [Armenian] National independent state was born in historically harsh conditions. As you know, Turkish soldiers had attacked Eastern Armenia and Azerbaijan in May 1918. Transcaucasian Federal Republic was in search of special compromise ways with Turks within the framework of Georgian-Tatar majority… Armenian National Council handled the independence problem on 28 May… After fervent discussions Armenian National Council decided to declare the decision of Armenia’s independence. At the same time, Armenia (as an independent country) sent a new committee to Batumi to conclude the peace treaty with Turks…”

(11th Grade, 2010, p. 183).

One of the most interesting information pieces about the first periods of Armenia in Armenian history course books is the fact that there were Turkish deputies in the first Parliament of Armenia:

“… the elections of the Parliament of Armenia were carried out on 21-23 June. Partial election system was applied… 80 members (3 of which were women) were selected to the parliament, 72 of these were members of Armenian Revolutionists Federation – Dashnaksutyun Party, 4 of these were SR [Socialist Revolutionist], 1 was not member to any party, 2 of them were Turkish-Tatar and 1 was Yazidi”

(11th Grade, 2010, p. 186).

It is also stated in course books that Armenia had to sit at the same table with Turkey after the collapse of the Transcaucasian Republic, but this was not for the benefit of Armenians and for this very reason, they lost lands of serious amounts (9th Grade, 2008: 7).

It is seen that the expression “Kemalist Turkey” is often used for Turks in terms of the relations of the Republic of Armenia with the Great National Assembly Government in Armenian history course books. It is emphasized that the negative relations between the Assembly Government and Armenia in this period are linked to the period after the declaration of the Republic of Turkey; in other words, that the Great National Assembly Government which was the predecessor of the Republic of Turkey had a role in the victimhood of Armenia (9th Grade, 2008: 33-34).

One of the striking sentences in the above text is “there were not only all provinces of Western Armenia within the borders of Turkey, but also Kars and Ardahan regions of Eastern Armenians in the National Oath.” With this sentence, the message that the lands in Eastern and Western Armenia were demanded by Kemalists and therefore, Kemalists presented a danger, is given to the student. It is also mentioned that Russia overlooked Kemalists for its own interests and even supported them, and it is stated that Russian-Turkish interests otherised and left Armenia in a difficult situation (9th Grade, 2008: 35).

It is emphasized in course books that Armenia was stuck between Soviet Russia and Kemalist Turkey and struggled under very harsh conditions. It is claimed that Armenians were exposed to massacres due to the attitudes of these two countries. This issue is a point which is also often mentioned by Armenian researchers. For example, Zolyan and Zakaryan (Zolyan and Zakaryan, 2008, p. 786) express this situation as follows:

“The First Republic of Armenia could exist only for two and half years from 28 May 1918 until 2 December 1920. It collapsed under the pressures of the Bolshevists on the one side, and Kemalist Turkey on the other side.”

Another prominent issue in the context of the relations with the Great National Assembly is included under the title “Turkish-Armenian War” in the ninth grade history course book. The narration that Turks outnumbered Armenians and for this reason the war was not quite successful for Armenians was used in this part. In the last line of the text, Kemalists are explicitly shown as the only curator of the collapse of the Republic of Armenia (9th Grade, 2008: 36-39).

Another point emphasized in the part “Turkish-Armenian War” is that Armenia had to withdraw from its rights by the force of Turkey. Also, the fact that the regions Turkey took with the treaty were lost now and Armenia was exposed to injustice, although these places were never within the border of Turkey before in the past, is expressed with the sentence that “[these regions] had never been within the body of Turkey recently.” Another message given to the student in this part is that “Turks gave the lands they got from Armenians to Azeris.” It can therefore be said that the image that the Azeris obtained the lands they couldn’t get from Armenians through the Turks is attempted to be established (9th Grade, 2008, p. 36-39).

Consequently, it is observed that the key message about Turkey-Armenia relations in the Armenian history course books is this: “Turkey was unjust to Armenia in the treaties and unfairly took the lands of Armenia” (9th Grade, 2008, p. 6-20). It is observed that the wideness of Armenia’s lands before and after the treaties is often indicated. It is also seen that the point that Turkey imposed sanctions on Armenia is also prominent. It also includes words of some European and Armenian diplomats and soldiers on the political conditions of Armenia in the establishment period of the Republic of Armenia in some passages of the course books. The remarks of a German diplomat among these is striking: “Turks gave space to Armenians to swim in Sevan but they didn’t give them space to come out and get dried” (9th Grade, 2008, p. 8). Similarly, the words of the Armenian National Office Chair (Foreign Affairs Minister of Armenia in 1918), Alexander Khatisyan, in a letter about the Turkish-Armenian negotiations that “We will bring a bad compromise contract but we will gain an independent Armenia, homeland, nest, in short a place for which democratic mind struggled in this way” (9th Grade, 2008:8) are noteworthy. It is also seen that Turkey is shown as the only curator of the wars in the region with the withdrawal of Turks from the region (9th Grade, 2008: 11).

The lands that the Turks took back both with Brest-Litovsk and with the Gymri Treaties actually belonged to Armenians, and even Georgians and Azeris are accused of remaining silent during the occupation of Armenian lands by the Turks in Armenian history course books. Attention is also drawn to the point that along with Turks, the British and Russians also helped Azeris against the Armenians, and that the Armenians were victimized.

Bibliography

վ, 2008. (V. Barkhudaryan, A. Hakobyan, H. Harut’yunyan, V. Ğazakhetsyan, Yu. Hovsep’yan, E. Minasyan, E. Melk’onyan, Hayots Patmutyunı: Dasagirk’ Hanrakrt’akan Dprotsi 9-rd Dasar, Armenia, Makmilan, 2008 – V. Barkhudaryan, A. Hakobyan, H. Harut’yunyan, V. Ğazakhetsyan, Yu. Hovsep’yan, E. Minasyan, E. Melk’onyan, Armenian History: Secondary School 9th Grade Course Book, Armenia, Makmilan, 2008).

Ա. (A. Melk’onyan P. Çobanyan, A. Simonyan, A. Nazaryan, V. Barkhudaryan, E. Gevorgyan, E. Khaçatryan, Hayots Patmut’yun: 11-rd Dasaran Dasagirk’, Yerevan, Zangak, 2010 – A. Melk’onyan P. Çobanyan, A. Simonyan, A. Nazaryan, V. Barkhudaryan, E. Gevorgyan, E. Khaçatryan, Armenian History: 11th Grade Course Book, Yerevan, Zangak, 2010).

Palabıyık, M. S.ve Y. Deveci Bozkuş. (2009). “Turkish – Armenian Relations (1918-2008)”, (Der.) Ömer Engin Lütem, The Armenian Question, Basic Knowledge and Documentation. Ankara:Terazi Publishing.

Uras, E. (1987). Tarihte Ermeniler ve Ermeni Meselesi.İstanbul:Belge Yayınları.

Zolyan, M.ve T. Zakaryan. (2008). “Representations of “Us” and “Them” in History Textbooks of Post-Soviet Armenia”, Internationale Schulbuchforschung/ International Textbook Research, Cilt 30, No 4.

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