Washington’s Dangerous New Consensus on China
Don’t Start Another Cold War
GEOGRAPHICALLY the Transcaucasian region forms a bridge between East and West, between Asia and Europe. Politically it has been a perpetual battleground of opposing civilizations and of invading armies; this in part accounts for the fact that it is the cradle as well as the grave of numerous cultures. Each of the conquering Powers left the imprints of its particular civilization upon the inhabitants of the land. This is particularly true of Russia, the last of the invaders. Transcaucasia as it exists today has been very largely conditioned by the century and a half of Russian domination.
Before the advent of Russia, the areas included in the present Socialist Soviet Republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan and in the eastern part of Georgia were under Persian domination. Almost all of the remainder was held by the Ottoman Turks, though some of Georgia enjoyed a certain degree of independence. But this state of affairs changed when the colossus of the north reached the Caucasus towards the close of the eighteenth century. By a proclamation of July 24, 1783, Catherine the Great placed most of Georgia under Russian suzerainty. Thirty years later the rest of Georgia, along with half of Azerbaijan, passed to Russia by the Treaty of Gulistan. After the war of 1827-1828 Persia had to surrender all territories on the left bank of the Aras river, which is still the boundary between the Soviet Union and Iran (as Persia is now called). Thus, in less than half a century Russia had become master of Transcaucasia. Today the area is an integral part of the Soviet Union under the euphemistic term "Federated Republic."
The Transcaucasian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic is one of the seven principal units of the Soviet Union. This particular unit is made up of the Republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, with an aggregate area of about 80,000 square miles and a population of slightly over 7,000,000. The population contains 2,100,000 Georgians, 1,900,000 Azerbaijan Turks, and 1,700,000 Armenians; about half of the remainder are Russians and the rest Ossetians, Lesghians, Talishians, Greeks, Kurds, and other tribes. Somewhat more than three of the seven million live in Georgia, slightly under three million in Azerbaijan, and a little over one million in Armenia.[i]
A mere glance at these figures reveals one striking fact: the rather negligible third place occupied by Armenia. Armenia stands third in nearly every respect except in homogeneity of population; here she assumes priority over both her neighbors. But her racial homogeneity was attained at the price of some territorial sacrifices which she can ill afford. A brief review of the recent history of Transcaucasia, however, will make plain why this third partner is so unequally treated under a supposedly egalitarian system.
The Georgians have managed to remain in their ancient homeland and to guard at least a part of their territory against aggressors. The Azerbaijan Turks to a lesser degree have succeeded in doing the same. But the case of the Armenians, as is well known, is quite different. As a result of successive invasions of the Armenian highlands in the Middle Ages and in later times, the native inhabitants of that region had been obliged to emigrate. This exodus had so badly depopulated the land of its Armenian elements that when Russia took it over in the early nineteenth century the Armenians formed only a minority group. It was not until after the Russo-Persian and Russo-Turkish wars of 1827-1829, and as a result of the subsequent return immigration, that the Armenians began to constitute a preponderant group there once again. But as many of their lands had already been appropriated, the Russian Government permitted groups of Armenians to settle in other parts of Transcaucasia. Some of the present-day Armenian enclaves in Georgia and in Azerbaijan have their origins
in this haphazard colonization. Of course they were uninvited guests in their new habitats. The Georgians in particular resented their presence in about the same spirit as the Arabs resent the presence of the Jews in Palestine today.
The Georgians and the Armenians are the only two peoples in Transcaucasia which can boast of a civilization and history reaching back many thousands of years; and they are the only Christian peoples in this whirlpool of varied creeds. But there is practically nothing else in common between them. Indeed, their characteristic traits and traditions have moulded their lives along such divergent lines that their contrasts rather than their similarities stand out. The nation of "mostly nobles and mostly poor," as Bryce once described the Georgians, always resented the decline of its aristocracy and feudal institutions, and looked down upon the entire range of middle-class bourgeois professions. The Armenians, on the other hand, showed an unquenchable thirst for nearly all things scorned by the Georgians. In contrast to the unchanging Georgian nobility, the Armenians of Georgia adapted themselves to the exigencies of a rising industrial civilization. Gradually they set up new industries and got control of the old ones. The tactics they employed in thus securing a preponderant hand in the commerce and industry of Transcaucasia were not unlike those used by the Jews in Palestine. It is true that Georgians also benefited by the industrialization of their land; but they could not get over the feeling that the Armenians were securing the lion's share. The causes of antagonism between these two peoples are thus to be traced back to the mid-decades of the nineteenth century. Later the gap that separated them was widened by the general resurgence of violent nationalism.
If there is the tie of religion between the Armenians and the Georgians, there has been no tie, either historic, sentimental or religious, between the Armenians and the Azerbaijan Turks. Religion is of course the chief barrier. But the enmity of these two peoples is due to more than that.
For centuries the Armenians in Azerbaijan constituted a serf class under the khans and begs, who treated them with considerable brutality. After the Russian conquest these serfs were liberated. The Tsarist government treated the Armenians with indulgence, which naturally greatly displeased their former Moslem overlords. The begs soon realized that their erstwhile serfs, under Russian protection, were rapidly laying the foundations of a bourgeois society which eventually would sound the death-knell of the old semi-feudal institutions. The resultant animosities of the two peoples were not lessened by the fact that the Armenians were deliberately employed by the Russians in suppressing unruly Mohammedan tribes. Armenians also served with distinction in the Russian armies that fought the Persians and the Ottoman Turks. The Turks of Azerbaijan have never forgiven this.
The worst, however, was yet to come. If up to the last decade of the nineteenth century they had incurred the hatred of their principal neighbors, the Armenians could at least count on the friendship of the Russian Government. But beginning with the nineties the government itself made a sudden volte face; it came to be felt that the Armenians had become too powerful. This change of attitude was partly due to the spread of a number of Armenian revolutionary organizations. Ostensibly the activities of these were confined to the Ottoman Empire; but the government strongly suspected that they also had connections with the Russian revolutionary groups. This was the excuse for launching an open anti-Armenian campaign, which culminated in the decree of 1903 confiscating Armenian church property and charity funds. In all this the government had the further inducement: divide et impera. It was in pursuance of this policy that the bloody massacres of February 1905 took place in Baku, during which "the governor of the city was driving about the town openly encouraging the Azerbaijan Turks and slapping them on the back."[ii]
In the World War the three peoples of Transcaucasia continued to hate each other. After the Revolution had broken out and the Russian armies had withdrawn, it is true that the Armenian, Georgian and Azerbaijan leaders did finally draw together and in April 1918 formed the provisional government of the Transcaucasian Federation, independent of Petrograd. But the independence thus declared had to be defended by force of arms against the advancing Turkish army. The provisional government had only a small organized force at its disposal, and it was loath to employ this against the Turks. The territory invaded by the Turks was, for the most part, Armenian territory; and the other two peoples felt no urge to defend it. The Georgians were not at all disposed to weaken their position by opposing the Turks at such a critical juncture, while the Azerbaijan Turks were indeed glad to have the Turkish forces advance into Transcaucasia, for only by joining hands with the Ottoman Turks could they hope to realize their Pan-Turanian schemes. Thus, instead of making common cause against the enemy, each people preferred to follow its own national dictates. Under these circumstances the life of the Transcaucasian Federation was short. Towards the end of May, after an existence of about six weeks, it gave way to the separate national independence of each of its parts. And immediately after declaring their independence they began fighting with each other. In this struggle the Armenians were hopelessly outnumbered. They were at the same time involved in a life and death struggle with Turkey. All three states were, of course, courting the enmity of the Bolsheviks. Before they were able to compose their differences and put their own houses in order they were absorbed (1920-21) into the Soviet Union.
It is now some fifteen years since the Transcaucasian peoples were drawn within the Soviet orbit. Yet all three nourish unrealized ideals and dream of unfulfilled missions. The Armenians might be expected to display less resentment than the others towards the Soviet Union, even though they are less satisfied with the existing territorial arrangements, for it was by the diplomatic action of the Bolsheviks in November 1920 that they escaped complete annihilation at the hands of the Turks. Their most pressing problem, however, the settlement of the refugees, still awaits solution. More than 500,000 Armenians are scattered far and wide. This problem has been dragging on for all these years and is likely to defy satisfactory solution as long as the hammer and sickle hold sway over the land.
The Georgians should have no complaint against the Soviet régime, since they have gained greatly through the nationalization of a vast amount of movable and immovable wealth, formerly held by Armenians, and since in general they are given preferential treatment within the Soviet Union. (Incidentally, Stalin is a Georgian by birth.) Yet they seem to cherish the idea of national independence more fervently than either of their neighbors.
The Azerbaijan Turks have real grounds for complaint; they feel that the resources of their country, and especially the oil fields of Baku, are being exploited for the benefit of the Soviet Union as a whole. They also see in the Soviet régime an insurmountable obstacle to the realization of their cherished ideal, the formation of a Pan-Turanian league under the leadership of the Turks.
Taken as a whole, then, the Transcaucasian region may be described as a land of discontented peoples, thwarted national aspirations, and vain hopes; the home both of violent chauvinists and fanatical Marxists; the goal, too, of some 500,000 Armenians now dispersed in Turkey and other parts of the Near East, yet for whom there is no room in the reduced Armenian home-land.
[i] Some of the material used in this article was gathered while the writer was visiting Transcaucasia in 1935 on a fellowship granted by the American Council of Learned Societies.
[ii] L. Villari: "Fire and Sword in the Caucasus," London, 1906, p. 195.