JAVAKHQ: Historical Outline (Part II)

By Ashot Melkonian
Translated by T. Sonentz-Papazian

Part II: The Tragic Page of Javakhq’s History (1918-21)

As early as before World War I, the administrative division of Trans-Caucasia became a subject of serious discussion among many national and political circles—a matter of great importance to Armenian, Georgian, and Tatar (Azerbaijani) activists who explained the Czarist-implemented divisions by the failure of the latter’s consideration of national territorial factors. These studies were restarted after the February 1917 revolution. In the summer of 1917, the Georgian Mensheviks believed that the territorial division of Trans-Caucasia should be based on principles of ethnicity; that is, wherever a given ethnic group outnumbered the others, that area should be ceded to the administrative district assigned to that particular ethnic group. As such, plebiscites were considered necessary in matters of territorial disputes. This democratic stance was acceptable to other Georgian political parties as well. And the even-handed approach was approved by all Armenian political entities. In the event of implementation, this principle would make the attachment of the mostly Armenian-populated areas of the Tbilisi Province—Borchalu (including Lori), the districts of Akhalqalaq, and the southwestern area of Elizavetpol (Karabagh and Zangezur)—to the Erivan Province inevitable. Added to the former Erivan Province, these territories would constitute 54,000 sq. kilometers with a population of 1,970,000—of which the Armenians would number 1,169,000; Muslims 546,000; Georgians 7,000, etc.

From the spring of 1917, in Petrograd, a special commission for the administrative redistribution of Trans-Caucasia started its deliberations, presided by jurist Zurab Avalov. That commission passed a resolution to make Borchalu (four fifths of the land constituting Lori), as well as the Akhalqalaq District (then part of the Tbilisi Province) part of the proposed Alexandropol Province. Parallel to this, other deliberations were taking place with the participation of Alexander Khatisian and Avetis Shahkhatunian. Later, the latter published a work substantiating the advantages of a demographic approach to the administrative apportionment of Trans-Caucasia.

In September/October 1917, Georgian political figures, particularly the national democrats, stood in opposition to the separation of the Borchalu and Akhalqalaq regions from the Tbilisi Province. In essence, they identified the concept of the “Tbilisi Province” with that of Georgian national statehood. Thus, in the results of the 1917 revisions, the question of administrative divisions turned into a basic issue of national territorial boundaries.

In the post-October period of 1917, parallel to the Georgian political inclination to come out of the Russian orbit, the ethnicity approach was gradually forgotten. In the matter of Lori and Akhalqalaq, the unyielding Georgian intransigence prevailed.

In early 1918, the Armenians of Akhalqalaq attempted to resolve this problem on their own. On Jan. 21, the Regional Executive Committee of Akhalqalaq passed a resolution to administratively unite with the Province of Alexandropol. This step was an original way to express their desire to become part of Armenia.

Towards the end of 1917 and the beginning of 1918, encouraged by the retreat of Russian forces from Trans-Caucasia, the Turkish military command began activating plans for an invasion. With Turkish instigation and support, the Meskhetians (Muslims of Akhaltskha and Akhalqalaq) staged an attack on the city of Akhaltskha, whose Armenian and Georgian population showed a heroic resistance under the leadership of the city’s young and energetic mayor, Zori Zoryan.

At the close of 1917, the National Council of Akhalqalaq was formed, headed by the mayor, Mkrtich Margarian. The Council appointed a temporary committee in charge of the defense of the province that exerted some effort in containing the excesses committed by the activist elements of the Meskhetians. In both the Akhalqalaq and Akhaltskha provinces, Armenians and Georgians acted in concert, providing stirring examples of military cooperation. In the south-western sector of Akhalqalaq Province, the Georgians of the Gumburdo, Kartzakh, and Sulda villages joined the Armenians in the fight against the Turks of the Hokam, Khavet, and Erinja villages. However, in March/April 1918, after the attack of Vehib Pasha’s forces and particularly following the fall of the Kars Province, the situation of Akhalqalaq became critical. The Akhalqalaq authorities managed to save 1,500 Armenians of the regions of Ardahan and Olti—mostly women and children—by exchanging them for the Turkish villagers of Kokia, Toq, and other places.

The Armenian Council of Tbilisi tried to provide military assistance to Akhalqalaq. Colonel Arakelov was dispatched to the province, where the work of organizing a separate company of the Armenian Corps was begun. Unfortunately, unlike in Akhaltskha, the retreating Russian garrison of Akhalqalaq had taken with it most of the weaponry and ammunition, allowing the induction and arming of only 2,000 of the 5,000 available young volunteers. The Trans-Caucasian Seim made no real effort to protect Akhalqalaq against the Turkish invasion. The appeals to the Seim of famous Akhalqalaq intellectuals, such as the writer Derenik Demirdjian and social activist Poghos Abelian, to move the rich stores of grain out of the area before the arrival of the Turks fell on deaf ears.

On May 7, 1918, Turkish forces, advancing from Chder, entered the province of Akhalqalaq. A brief resistance was staged near Kartzakh—in the area of Mount Giok Dagh—by the small, ill-equipped detachments of locally recruited fighters. Col. Araqelov, instead of proceeding to the front, continued to “command” the operations of the defense forces from a distance of 25-30 kilometers from Akhalqalaq. Thanks to former personnel of the Russian Army—Ludvig Demirdjian, Khoren Mnoyan, Zarmair Khanoyan, and Poghos Abelian—recently arrived from Tbilisi, as well as fighting groups under the command of Russian officer Reznikov, fierce defensive battles were fought, which allowed time to organize the evacuation of the population from the province. The troops of the detachment under the command of the Georgian National Council abandoned their frontline positions without firing a shot.

The population of the northern villages of the province moved to Bakurian, while those in the south went to Tzalka, leaving most of their possessions behind. Only the Turkish-speaking Catholics and the Russian Dukhobors did not evacuate. Thus, by the end of May, the majority of the population of Akhalqalaq City and the inhabitants of 61 Armenian villages had to flee.

The invading Turkish troops and the local Meskhetians plundered the villages and massacred some of those who had remained behind. From the remainder of the captured population, they picked hundreds of able-bodied men and shipped them to Turkey as slave laborers, and exiled more than one-thousand elderly and women to the refugee camp in Bakurian. A terrible fate awaited the populations from the Khorenia and Takhcha villages, who had not been able to leave the area: Most of them were herded into barns and brutally murdered.

The Turkish invaders also carried out massacres in the villages of Metz Arakeal, Gumburdo, and Abul, as well as in Akhalqalaq City and elsewhere. These atrocities would have reached disastrous proportions if the population of certain locations had not resorted to arms to defend themselves. The invaders were met with stubborn resistance around the village of Satkha. General Arjevanidze, the commander of the Georgian troops stationed in the sector of Borzhom, not only denied military or material assistance to the Armenian refugees, but he proceeded to disarm the Armenian volunteers and, following orders from the Georgian National Council, prevented refugees from Akhalqalaq from settling in Baguria or any other part of Georgia. Only Georgians received permission to move to the Georgian interior.

It was during the massive deportations from Akhalqalaq that the three Trans-Caucasian republics came to being. With its May 28 Declaration, the Armenian National Council assumed supreme power as sole authority in the Armenian provinces. Naturally, the choice of the rather amorphous “Armenian provinces” terminology was not without reason. With such a formulation, the National Council, on the one hand, was trying to avert a conflict of boundaries with the Ottoman Turks and newly independent neighboring countries at a time of geopolitical turmoil; on the other hand, it was making a statement on Armenian rights to historic Armenian lands, albeit without geographic precision. Thus, Western Armenia, Karabagh, Javakhq, and other disputed territories remained within its scope.

Hardly one week later, however, on June 4, the Georgian Mensheviks, who had prepared their declaration of independence under German auspices with a peace treaty between Georgia and the Ottoman Empire signed in Batum, reserved the right to hand over mostly Armenian-populated provinces like Akhaltskha and Akhalqalaq to Turkey. One can presume that such a step was not necessarily taken from an inability to resist Turkish pressure. It pursued far-reaching purposes. First, it created the impression that newly independent Georgia, like Armenia, was making serious territorial concessions to a victorious Turkey. Secondly, with its first international treaty, it put on record its legal right to decide the fate of those provinces. In case of an ultimate Turkish defeat, Georgia would be able to reclaim its “legal” right to Akhaltskha and Akhalqalaq. And finally, a prospect that was most desirable, Turkish occupation could radically change Javakhq’s ethno-demographic picture by depriving it of its Armenian inhabitants. Future events came to substantiate these chauvinistic Georgian policies.

Focusing on the issue of boundaries between the newly constituted republics, the Georgian and Armenian National Councils began negotiations in the beginning of June. The president of the Georgian National Council, N. Zhordania, and Prime Minister N. Ramishvili proposed to A. Aharonian, H. Qajaznuni, and A. Khatisian of the Armenian National Council to follow the doctrine of demographics in the case of Borchalu. There was no talk of Akhalqalaq, since it was occupied by the Turks—although, as mentioned, the Georgians saw the solution of that issue in favor of Georgia. Soon after, I. Tzereteli announced to the members of the special commission appointed by the Armenian National Council (Kh. Kardjikian. G. Khatisian, and G. Ghorghanian), that, for strategic reasons, Georgia could not give up Akhalqalaq, Lori, and the Pambak region of the Alexandropol Province. The Georgian statesman tried to assure the Armenian commission, that this decision was also prompted by the interests of the Armenian populations of those specific regions, since in the German-sponsored Georgian Republic a safer status could be secured for the Armenians. Kh. Kardjikian protested against the Georgian decision to disregard the accepted demographic doctrine, qualifying this Menshevik approach as a process of dividing Armenia between Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. The Armeno-Georgian consultations on the issue of boundaries entered a cul-de-sac and restarted only in the autumn, when the Turks started to evacuate the occupied areas.

Simultaneously, the condition of the Akhalqalaq refugees continued to deteriorate. They had, in fact, encountered a unique sort of confinement. To the north, the Georgian troops had closed the road to shelter in Bakurian and Borzhom, while the Turks had interdicted the return road to the province.

In the beginning of July 1918, the Georgian government refused to grant the request of the Armenian National Council to allow the refugees access to central Georgia, or to settle down in the abandoned homes of Muslims who had fled from Borchalu. This inhuman stance was “explained” as a preventive measure against the possible spread of epidemics in Georgia. Yet from June to August, there was clearly no evidence of epidemics amongst the refugees; only in autumn did such outbreaks occur. Even with such an excuse, it is not possible to exonerate the Georgian government of its delinquency in taking care of the needs of its displaced citizens. It should be noted that, instead of performing their duty, the last detachments of General Arjevanidze abandoned the northern boundaries of the province of Akhalqalaq, allowing Turkish irregulars to harass the refugees with renewed attacks.

With the assistance of the Armenian National Council, the Javakhq natives of Tbilisi founded the “Akhalqalaq Compatriotic Society” with an executive body of 10 persons—amongst whom were noted national figures Poghos Abelian (secretary), B. Ohanjanian (president), Grigor Baboyan (vice-president), Hovhannes Malkhasian, Jalal Ter Grigorian, and Karapet Shahbaronian. With an appeal addressed to the Armenians of Tbilisi, the Society managed to collect the sums needed to help the refugees. A delegation of Akhalqalaq refugees, who had asked the Turkish command permission to return to their native lands, were met with immediate refusal. The Turks, without concealing their plans to have the Akhalqalaq Province returned to the Ottoman Empire, declared that the Armenian villages were now inhabited by Muslims from Turkey. The Young Turks—in their zeal to ethnically cleanse Akhalqalaq of its Armenian population and to annex the region to Turkey—on the matter of allowing the natives of the province to return to their homes, remained adamant in their refusal to heed the intercessions and requests of not only Armenian and other international humanitarian organizations, but those of General von Kress, the representative of their ally Germany, as well.

Thus, deprived of the right to seek refuge in any direction by the Georgian authorities and the Turkish command, the displaced Javakhq populations were condemned to perish.

In September and early October, in response to repeated protests and requests by the Armenian government and the Akhalqalaq Compatriots’ Society on the matter of permission to return to Akhalqalaq or to move to Georgia, Georgian government spokesman Kuzhukhov gave his answer, in writing, on Oct. 4, to the principal Armenian commission on refugees. Since there is a crisis of provisions in Georgia, he wrote, and the Turkish military command refuses to let the Akhalqalaq Armenians to return to their homes, the Georgian authorities are proposing to settle the refugees in the northern Caucasus or in the Armenian Republic.

A quick meeting was initiated by Samson Harutiunian, the chairman of the refugees’ commission and leader of the Armenian Populist Party, with the participation of members of the Georgian-Armenian National Assembly Presidium. Invited to represent the Akhalqalaq population, Poghos Abelian declared that he was informed by the chairman of the Turkish delegation, Abdul Kerim, that the Turks intended to evacuate Akhalqalaq and were not opposed to the return of Armenians to the province; moreover, Avetis Aharonian, the chairman of the Armenian Delegation to Constantinople, had reached an agreement with the Ottoman government.

Kuzhukhov was asked to submit the document of the Turkish refusal. No answer was received. It soon became clear that the Georgian authorities did not wish to allow the Armenians’ return and attempted to put the blame on the Turks. Thus, a contrived famine was promoted. The situation of the refugees turned acute; the cold season had started, along with rain and the decrease of fodder and cattle. The Georgian authorities allowed hundreds of bandits and speculators from Kutayisi, Coris, and Borzhom to buy at very low prices and—in many cases, with the help of the Georgian militia—to seize tens of thousands of cattle and farm animals. As a result of this purposely adopted policy, the Georgian government solved its problem of provisions for its population.

The entire burden of the refugee problem was left on the shoulders of the Armenian Refugee Commission, the Akhalqalaq Homeland Council, the Armenian Benevolent Society of the Caucasus, the U.S. Mission to Georgia and, a good part, on A. Jamalian, the representative of Armenia. In the name of the Armenian Republic, the National Council appointed Arshak Torosian in Bakuria and Ararat Ter Grigorian in Tzalka, as permanent representatives in these locations. In their turn, the refugees nominated Rev. Father Mesrop Selian as their spokesman. Yet, the number of the refugees was so great—80,000 to 85,000 people—that the efforts never achieved much success.

By December 1918, typhoid and cholera epidemics began decimating the refugee masses. In a “Mshak” news article of the time, written by Poghos Abelian, one could read the following: “The annihilation of the people of Akhalqalaq is making such swift headway, if timely and effective steps are not taken to save them, this generation of Akhalqalaqis will be the last one on earth.”

From June to November 1918, over 18,000 people lost their lives in the woods of Bakurian. Almost the same amount of victims could be counted among the Armenians who had sought refuge in the Tzalka and Manglis regions. By the next spring, the number of victims had reached 40,000.

By November 1918, overcoming the difficulties created by the Georgian military authorities, the remainder of the refugees managed to return to their ruined and ransacked homes via seldom used, secondary roads. To allow passage from Bakurian to Akhalqalaq, the Georgian military demanded affidavits from the Armenian refugees attesting to their willingness to accept Georgian citizenship and recognition of the province as an integral part of Georgia.

Small armed groups of refugees tried to bring law and order to Akhalqalaq after the retreat of the Turks. The region around lakes Madatapa, Parvana, and Saghamo, adjacent to Alexandropol, was put under military supervision.

However, on Nov. 29, the Georgian representative in Yerevan, S. Mdivani, declared that, according to his government, the boundary between Georgia and Armenia should be set on the southern limits of the former Tbilisi Province, making Lori and Akhalqalaq part of the Georgian state.

Hardly a week after this declaration, on Dec. 5, the Georgian forces that had already occupied Lori since November, pushed their way into Akhalqalaq under the command of Gen. Maghashvili. The local Armenian troops were disarmed, while the small unit sent from Armenia, in order to avoid a Georgian-Armenian armed confrontation, evacuated the area of the Ephremovka-Troyitskoye villages, which it had occupied upon the retreat of the Turks.

The Qajaznuni government, having been empowered by the Armenian Parliament to deal freely with this issue, protested more than once against the illegal occupation of Lori and Akhalqalaq. But the Georgians remained adamant. Thus, by mid-December the Georgian-Armenian war had started, a conflict caused mainly by Turkish designs: Before evacuating these disputed areas, they had told each one of the Georgian and Armenian governments, separately, that they were ceding the regions to them.

The Armenian troops led by Dro liberated most of Lori. On Dec. 11-12, a detachment of the Fourth Armenian Infantry Division moved from Alexandropol towards Akhalqalaq and after a clash with the Georgian troops, secured most of the Akhalqalaq Province. The Georgian forces retreated towards the north.

During this war, the Georgians staged a veritable manhunt of Armenians in Tbilisi. Thousands of Armenians were declared prisoners of war and shipped to Qutayis.

As the war progressed, the Entente powers sought to find ways to put an end to it. On Dec. 25, British and French high-ranking officers signed an agreement with N. Zhordania; it proposed a cease-fire, the positioning of Georgian troops in areas north of the Jalaloghli-Dsegh line, and the Armenians to hold the areas south of that line. A Georgian regime was to be imposed on Akhalqalaq under Allied supervision, with Armenian and Muslim representatives participating in the administration.

Designated to sign this agreement, Arshak Jamalian categorically refused to do so, objecting to the terms concerning Akhalqalaq. The British attached the following addendum to the document: “Mr. Jamalian does not agree with the point that stipulates Georgian occupation of Akhalqalaq.” In essence, the Allies, discounting the opinions of the Armenian side, tried to implement the proposed agreement.

A few days later, on Dec. 31, the Armeno-Georgian hostilities ceased with the intercession of the British. The Jan. 9-17, 1919 peace conference of Tbilisi decreed a status of neutrality for Lori, while the status of Akhalqalaq remained pending. In March, both republics recognized each other’s independence and railways were reopened for regular travel. The tension between Armenia and Georgia gradually abated.

By March 1919, the remaining groups of Akhalqalaq refugees regained their homeland. The province was thoroughly sacked and the stocks of grain were taken to Turkey. Only the Turkish-speaking villages of Armenian Catholics and Russian Dukhobors were left relatively unscathed. Both communities assisted the returning refugees to resettle and to restart their lives.

Already in June, the Armenian government had managed to share the grain received by rail with those facing starvation in Akhalqalaq. This relief operation was put on a state level. In Tbilisi, the Armenian Mission created a special commission under the leadership of D. Davitkhanian. In May alone, Armenia allotted 3 million rubles to the needy and 74 million rubles for the purchase of grain to stave off the threat of starvation.

In spite of the measures taken, the economy of Javakhq did not improve. The Georgian authorities imposed heavy duties not only on grain being exported to Armenia, but also on grain being shipped to Akhalqalaq, to be shared by both Armenian and Georgian refugees. The number of animal stock had dwindled sharply. Because of the freezing weather begun at the close of 1918, the Turks had not been able to take all of the animals and movable goods from the province. Poghos Abelian approached Makaev, the newly appointed governor general of Akhalqalaq, requesting that the remaining goods be turned over to the refugees. Makaev flatly refused the request. With regret, the Georgian-Armenian Council that, especially since the Armeno-Georgian war, had become quite ineffective, failed to support Abelian’s, and numerous other concerned activists’, efforts.

Makaev disarmed the Armenian population and, utilizing the Georgian militia brought from Imeretia and Tbilisi, established an oppressive regime, under which Georgians and Meskhet Turks retained their right to bear arms. Only Armenians “volunteers,” forcibly conscripted into the Georgian army to fight against rebellious Abkhazian and Ajarian regions, were given arms.

The policy of colonizing Javakhq with ethnic Georgians had started. By the end of 1920, a few hundred Imeretian families were relocated in Akhalqalaq under the supervision of the Georgian government. The local Georgian authorities confiscated from the Armenians large areas of grazing land in the north and east, and handed them to the newcomers. By various machinations, certain villages were left without tillable land. There was considerable misfeasance concerning the administration of lands belonging to the Akhaltskha’s Holy Savior Church in Kartzakh, Dadesh, Sulda, and other locations. The Georgian government did not hesitate to implement a policy of ethnic assimilation with a campaign of “Georgianizing” all Catholic Armenians.

Naturally, the chauvinistic policies implemented in Javakhq by the Menshevik government did not go unnoticed in Armenia. But in 1919, the Armenian government, for a variety of reasons, deemed it necessary to be satisfied by just sharing its grain with Akhalqalaq and delaying its boundary discussions with Georgia until a satisfactory agreement could be reached at the coming Paris Conference. Writing about this subject, Ruben Ter Minassian states: “Georgia’s intentions concerning Armenia were unjust, considering that she had seized a purely Armenian-populated region like Akhalqalaq from us, in spite of the fact that, both geographically and demographically, that province belongs to Armenia. Georgia was unjust also in coveting Lori… In spite of these disturbing facts, the Bureau was of the opinion that it was necessary to be patient and to yield to the Georgians to the limits of feasibility.” But Ruben and the other leaders of the Republic had to consider that the more the Armenian side showed willingness to be accommodating, the more the Georgian side became intractable on the issues of Akhalqalaq and Lori.

On Sept. 17, 1919, a new Armeno-Georgian conference convened in Tbilisi. Georgia was represented by N. Ramishvili and S. Mdivani; the Armenian representatives were S. Mamikonian and S. Khachatrian. Apprehensive over the possibility of renewed Armeno-Georgian confrontation following the British withdrawal from Lori, the Georgians proposed an approach of “mutual concessions” on the issue of boundaries, leaving to the Armenians the areas south of the village of Sqori and the plain of Lori (Jalaloghli-Vorontsovka), while Georgia would keep all lands north of that line, as well as the province of Akhalqalaq. They considered this “concession” temporary, until the granting of Western Armenian provinces to Armenia by the Paris Conference.

The Armenian delegation announced that it was authorized by its government to cede to Georgia the Khrami (Tzalka) area, and the northern and central regions of Akhalqalaq Province. The southern Javakhq lakes region, along with the villages of Heshtia, Satkha, Hokam, and Azmana, up to the River Kur, was to be attached to Armenia. Based on the Armenian plan, the boundary would extend to the north of Koghb, along Lalvar. Although either side was less than satisfied by the plans presented and no written agreement followed, because the Armenian side had shown a willingness to cede the major part of Akhalqalaq, Georgia agreed to grant Armenia transit rights, telegraphic communication, and other facilities. It is noteworthy that Georgia took “readiness to yield” as an actual concession and assumed freedom to make final dispositions in regards to Javakhq. “The Georgians took advantage of our weakness,” wrote Ruben, “and utilized their geographic advantage in a brutal fashion, to trample our people’s integrity and legitimate rights.”

The boundary discussions continued in Tbilisi. S. Mamikonian and S. Khachatrian remained there and, as they used to say in those days, continued to haggle over boundaries in “a fruitless bazaar”—a situation that left both Georgian and Armenian circles dissatisfied. Convinced, since 1919, that it was meaningless to continue asking the Georgians to make mutual concessions on the matter of boundaries, the Armenian side strived to put this issue on the Paris Conference agenda.

As one positive outcome of the negotiations, one can perhaps mention the Nov. 14, 1919 Armeno-Georgian agreement, according to which all present and future matters of contention between the parties would be resolved through political means or arbitration.

On May 7, 1920, a mutual recognition agreement was signed between Russia and Georgia. With this agreement, Russia recognized Georgia’s claims on Lori, Akhalqalaq, and Zaqatala. In that connection, Prime Minister Hamo Ohanjanian sent telegrams of protest to the governments of the Soviet Russian Federation and Georgia, stating that by considering Lori and Akhalqalaq their own, the Georgian authorities were countermanding the 1919 Armeno-Georgian agreement to consider the ownership of these territories undecided.

The 1920 law on Armenian citizenship, which in essence guaranteed citizenship rights to Armenians residing abroad, displeased the Georgians and prompted them to take demagogic positions during the Armeno-Georgian discussions taking place over the months of July and August. They were opposed to the granting of Armenian citizenship to the Armenians of Georgia; they argued that, in that case, they should be moved to Armenia. At these same meetings, the Georgian delegation demanded from the Armenians the entire Akhalqalaq Province, along with the lakes region, Lori, up to the Sanahin station, and a major portion of the provinces of Ardahan and Olti. The Armenian side rejected these demands.

Faced with an impasse, the Armenian and Georgian sides asked the Entente powers to help resolve the dispute. It was no accident that a special clause was introduced into the Aug. 10, 1920 Sevres Treaty, stipulating that the question of boundaries between the Trans-Caucasian countries be resolved by a commission formed of representatives of the interested parties and, in the case of failure to reach an agreement, that it be left to the adjudication of the Allied powers.

In the autumn of 1920, during the days of the Armeno-Turkish war, the Armenian government, aware of the secret ties between the Turks and the Georgians, found itself compelled to make concessions to Georgia on the matter of boundaries. On Nov. 13, the Georgians sent troops to the neutral zone of Lori and to Ardahan.

Towards the end of February and the beginning of March 1921, the province of Akhalqalaq was subjected to a new attack by the Kemalist Turks. Invading Javakhq (considered Georgian territory at the time), the Turks acted against the secret Turkish-Georgian agreement not to move into Georgian territory. There are grounds to believe that, just before the fall of independent Georgia’s government, for political reasons, permission was given to the Turks to enter the province of Akhalqalaq after disarming, once more, the Armenian population.

The troops of Ghumantar Pasha and the Turkish mob, along with Jamal Agha and Molla Bairam of the Turkish-populated village of Hokam, moved towards the province’s southern villages of Kartzakh, Sulda, Dadesh, and Gumbordo. Many inhabitants of Gumbordo, amongst them women, fell in an unequal battle, and the Turks took hundreds of men as prisoners, killing some of them at the Kuri gorge, and drowning the rest in wells. There were also massacres at other villages. This time, the population of the province did not migrate. The Turks encountered a stiff resistance at the approaches of Alastan, Molit, Tabatzghuri, and other villages.

As a result of the Turkish aggressions of 1918 and 1921, the Akhalqalaq region lost 42-45 percent of its Armenian population through armed conflict, famine, and epidemics. Thus, while the city of Akhalqalaq had a population of 5,070 in 1917, it had only 2,737 in 1922.

In the second half of March 1921, the troops of the 11th Red Army entered Akhalqalaq. While the Red Army entered Lori from Armenia, it entered Akhalqalaq from Georgia, via the Borzhom-Akhaltskha railroad—a fact that would later play an important role, in the adjudication process of its ownership.

After the retreat of the Turkish forces, the petitions of the Javakhq population to the RevComs of Soviet Armenia and Georgia, the leadership of the Red Army, as well as other pertinent courts, to attach the province to Soviet Armenia or Russia became more frequent. In one of them, written on April 23, representatives of the Sulda, Mragoval, Dadesh, Vachian, and Karzakh villages told the Armenian representative in Georgia: “We request that our province, where of the 80,000 inhabitants more than 60,000 are Armenian…be attached to the Republic of Armenia… If our homeland does not become part of Armenia, which would protect us against massacres…oppression, furthermore, if our homeland does not become part of Soviet Russia, and the Turkish scimitar is not removed from above our heads, we can no longer stay in our fatherland which, over the last years, has turned into hell, and we will be forced to migrate to the hinterlands of Russia….”

From spring 1921, the problem of many disputed territories between the Trans-Caucasian republics, including those of the Akhalqalaq and its adjacent Khram (Tzalka) regions, were discussed by the newly created Soviet republics of Trans-Caucasia. A special commission created on May 1921 by the Caucasian Bureau of the Communist Party of Russia had its very first meeting in June 25-27 in Tbilisi under the chairmanship of S. Kirov. Georgia was represented by two, Azerbaijan by three, and Armenia by one (A. Bekzadian) commission member. At the very first meeting, Bekzadian, mentioning the unjust territorial adjudications imposed by the Czarist regime, and the dire straits Soviet Armenia found itself in, asked the commission members to concede the mainly Armenian-populated (72 percent) province of Akhalqalaq, Lori, and Nogorno Karabagh (94 percent) to Armenia. But, he remained a minority faced with the Georgian and Azeri representatives, who also enjoyed the support of Kirov, arguing that such territorial changes would encourage anti-revolutionary activity in Georgia and Azerbaijan. Bekzadian’s proposal was rejected. The latter demanded that the final decision be left to the Central Committee’s Caucasian Bureau.

The leadership of Armenia asked specialists and people of knowledge in the matter to prepare documentation on the disputed territories. With the recommendation of Armenia’s foreign minister, A. Mravian, in July 1921, Poghos Abelian presented a detailed document on Akhalqalaq, containing the historical, geographic, demographic, and economic foundations for the valid Armenian claims on that province. “The Armenians of Javakhq,” wrote Abelian in his report, “consider the Menshevik government worse than Turkey. They are so apprehensive, that they will not accede to any Georgian rule… This is the truth. The inhabitant of Akhalqalaq wants the region to be Russian, forever immune to Turkish aggression; short of that, he wants his fate tied to that of Armenia and, at this time, he wants to join Soviet Armenia.” Abelian ruled out any form of autonomy. As a last resort, he was ready to consider an autonomous Javakhq—along with Tzalka—under Armenian supervision.

On July 7, 1921, the plenary meeting of the Caucasian Bureau, with the participation of J. Stalin, examined the matter of the disputed Lori and Akhalqalaq provinces claimed by both Armenia and Georgia. With six votes for and one undecided, it was decided to attach the neutral zone of Lori to Armenia, and to refer the matter of ceding the regions of Akhalqalaq and Khram (Tzalka) to Armenia to the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party, and to submit the latter’s decision to the scrutiny and evaluation of the Caucasian Bureau’s plenary meeting. It is not hard to guess that, left to the whims of the Georgian Bolsheviks, the Armenian claims would be rejected. And sure enough, on July 16, the Politbureau of the Georgian Communist Party CC considered the claim unacceptable, basing its decision on concocted economic “ties” with the regions and other “political considerations.” By a strange “coincidence,” with similar “arguments” in its July 5 plenary meeting, the Caucasian Bureau decided to detach another
Armenian region, Nagorno-Karabagh, from Armenia and attach it to Azerbaijan. In July 1921, a Georgian-Azeri concord was quite obvious. Thus, the historically Armenian Javakhq was given to Georgia.

During 1918-21, the matter of Javakhq’s reunification with the mother country remained unresolved for the following fundamental reasons: The Republic of Armenia, considering the acquisition of Western Armenia paramount, did not demonstrate the necessary zeal in the matter of Georgian- and Azeri-occupied Armenian territories. Because of the 1918 and 1921 Turkish incursions, nearly half (40,000 Armenians) of the population was killed, while the province was near total economic collapse—conditions that prevented the Armenian population from effectively pursuing the cause of reunification with Armenia.

Informed of the decisions of the Caucasian Bureau and the Georgian Communist Party, the Armenians of Javakhq in July 1921 sent several letters of protest to Moscow, Tbilisi, and Yerevan. The Georgian RevCom seemed bent on exacerbating the problem. Arustamov, a well-known Bolshevik and Red Army member, enjoying the respect and trust of the Akhalqalaq population, was summarily dismissed from the chairmanship of the RevCom. All the petitions of the people remained unheeded, and Comrade Arustamov had to leave Akhalqalaq in the midst of popular demonstrations of sympathy and support. Soon after, a man intensely disliked by the people, S. Nadiradze, a leader of special punitive units of the former Menshevik regime, was appointed military commander of the province. When, under popular pressure, the RevCom dismissed him from his post, the Georgian Bolsheviks of Tbilisi returned him to Akhalqalaq, with wider prerogatives and authority. Renewed protests by the people were followed by the arrival of a special commission. By the commission’s orders, several people were arrested, including Mnoyan, a well-known Armenian Bolshevik member of the RevCom. They were taken to Tbilisi and handed over to the Cheka (Extraordinary Commission). A month later, a new special commission arrived in Akhalqalaq and, on charges of “chauvinistic” activities, arrested longtime Bolshevik activist Karapet Ghazanjian, one of the founders of the Akhalqalaq RevCom. (Having been a commander of one of the companies of the 11th Red Army, Ghazanjian had distinguished himself in February 1921 during the battles waged against Georgian Menshevik forces for the liberation of Lori.)

Along with the liquidation of Armenian Communist cadres, between April and July 1921, the confiscation of Armenian peasants’ possessions was completed. The local Turkish population, which had taken part in the robbery and murder of the Armenians, amassing a fortune at the Armenians’ expense during the two Turkish incursions, was now being catered to in all possible ways.

Thus, the Armenians of Akhalqalaq, oppressed and abused under Georgian rule, whose casualties numbered in the tens of thousands during the two Turkish invasions, found themselves—in the spring and summer of 1921—left to the tender mercies of chauvinistic and predatory Georgian Bolsheviks. It is not by accident that representatives of certain villages (particularly Catholic ones) were in those days assisting their fellow villagers to migrate to Russia. Many villagers had already left on their own. The government of Soviet Georgia, apprehensive of an eventual depopulation of the region, forbade the exodus of the Armenians by special decree.

It is also significant that in many letters addressed to the Soviet Armenian authorities—petitions that one cannot read without empathy and emotion—the Armenians of Akhalqalaq described the local nightmarish conditions and expressed the conviction that the only solution to the predicament was the reunification of the region with Soviet Armenia. “…in order to lift the blockade on Javakhetia,” read one letter, “…to put an end to the visits of special commissars, to stop all kinds of juvenile eccentricities and institutionalized pilfering, there is only one way, a solution that is the profound wish of the Armenians of the province, constituting 75 percent of the entire population, which is to return the province to its ethnic Soviet Republic.”

Even after the July 7 Caucasian Bureau and July 16 Georgian CC decisions, certain Armenian Bolsheviks representing the national wing took various steps to rectify the foreign subordination problem of both Javakhq and Nagorno-Karabagh. ArmRevCom chairman, A. Miasnikian, visited the province of Akhalqalaq to defuse the rising popular unrest, stem the exodus of the population, and seek ways to solve the problem. With his initiation, in 1922, a group of field workers prepared a proposal to set up an autonomous Armenian area within the Georgian state that would include the province of Akhalqalaq and the Armenian-inhabited areas of Borchalu. But the Georgian ruling circles and certain intellectuals, particularly the historian I. Javakhashvili, rejected the concept, regarding it as a step to dismember Georgia. In 1923, the proposal was officially killed.

Outnumbered and outmaneuvered by the Georgian and Azeri Bolsheviks, who also enjoyed the backing of the Center, the weakened Armenian leadership finally gave in. By means of oppressive measures, the Soviet regime succeeded in silencing the Armenians of Javakhq by demolishing their dream to see their homeland returned to its legitimate owners, as an integral part of Armenia.


A new administrative region was formed from large areas of the Akhalqalaq province using the same name. Of the northern villages, Tabatzghuri, Molit, and Chkharola were attached to the Borzhomi region, while Damalan was integrated into the more recently formed region of Aspindza. In 1930, the southeastern sector of Akhalqalaq was detached and reconstituted as the region of Bogdanovka (later renamed Ninotzminda).

During the years of the Soviet regime, as a result of the prevailing difficult socio-political conditions, the population’s exodus from Javakhq became an endemic demographic phenomenon. In that context, it was not by chance that during World War II, more than other Armenian-populated regions, Akhalqalaq had an extensive loss of inhabitants. Of the 12,684 wartime recruits, Akhalqalaq suffered 7,788 (61.4 percent) casualties, partly missing in action. The Meskhet Turks were also victims of “ethnic cleansing” after Stalin, in the summer of 1944, accused them of treason; they were gathered from Akhaltskha, Adigeni, Aspindza, and other areas of Akhalqalaq and deported to Central Asia. Local Armenians were not allowed to inhabit the vacated villages; instead, large numbers of Georgians were moved in from Imeretia by the government and given title to the properties left behind by the Meskhetians. As a result of these government-sponsored demographic redistributions, a Georgian-inhabited entity called Aspindza emerged between the Armenian inhabited regions of Akhaltskha and Akhalqalaq. At the same time, between 1946 and 1949, Armenians from various regions of the Georgian SSR—including Javakhq—were deported to the Alta region and to Siberia.

From 1950-70, the migration of the Armenians to the Armenian SSR, north Caucasus, and other republics of the USSR, caused by economic and political factors, accelerated noticeably. That is why regions with high reproductive rates like Akhalqalaq and Bogdanovka (constituting the historic Upper Javakhq Province) in 1989 showed the same number of inhabitants (105,000) as in 1917.

In the aftermath of the 1989 earthquake in Ajaria, the Georgian government wasted no time in relocating the homeless and others affected by the disaster to the Akhalqalaq villages of Kotelia, Hokam, Gogashen Chunchkha, and others, building for them two-story homes in the villages of the Russian Dukhobors. Throughout the seven decades of Soviet rule, Akhalqalaq and Bogdanovka had never seen residential construction on such a large scale. However, even this periodic attempt to change the demographic picture proved ineffective. The harsh climate of the region forced most of them to return home.

Today, historic Javakhq, with its two regions, its Armenian populated 100 villages and a population of more than 100,000 (95 percent Armenian), constitutes the most homogenous Armenian territory outside the borders of the Armenian Republic that continues to exist as a living entity of Armenian language, culture, and customs.

Guest Contributor

Guest Contributor

Guest contributions to the Armenian Weekly are informative articles or press releases written and submitted by members of the community.

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