AN ASSESSMENT OF THE 1920 UPRISING IN SOUTH OSSETIA
As the Red Army was approaching the frontiers of the
Transcaucasian republics, G.V.Chicherin, People's Commissar of Foreign Affairs of the
RSFSR, addressed the governments of Georgia and Azerbaijan, on January 6, 1920, with a
proposal to form a military alliance "with the purpose to beat down the White Guards
of the army in the South of Russia."
"The Soviet government", continued G. Chicherin, "regards it its duty to point out that the southern counter-revolution was and is a deathly enemy not only for the Russian Soviet Republic, but for all the small nations that used to be parts of the former Russian Empire" (*95).
The government of Georgia refused to enter into any military alliance by referring to their policy of neutrality and noninterference, but suggested to start negotiations on political settlement of relations with the RSFSR, with the purpose of securing recognition of GEORGIA'S independence by the RSFSR.
That standpoint of the Georgian government was due to the actual situation in Transcaucasia. In the summer of 1919 the British main troops withdrew from the region but remained in Batumi continuing to occupy the town and district. Meanwhile, the government of Georgia was trying to reunify Ajaria with Georgia, and the procedure of getting back Batumi and Batumi district would have become complicated if Georgia had acted against Denikin who was supported by Great Britain. G.Chicherin sent a note on 29 February condemning N.Zhordania's government for their refusal and accusing him of being a supporter of the White Guards.
V. I. Lenin also referred to that subject in his speech at the 1st session of the ALL - Union Executive Committee, 7th meeting (February 2, 1920} and reminded of their offer of an alliance against Denikin which Georgia and Azerbaijan rejected, explaining "that they would not interfere into other state's affairs. We shall see how the workers and peasants of Georgia and Azerbaijan will take it" (*96).
In the January of 1920 the Caucasian Territorial Committee of the Bolshevik Party appealed to the workers for an armed uprising, and on March 15 it applied to Soviet Russia, on behalf of all the Communist organizations and working people of Caucasia, for help in the struggle for the victory of the Soviet power.
On March 23 the same Committee held a session and decided to proclaim Soviet rule in South Ossetia and organize the South Ossetian Revcom (*97). On May 6, 1920 the latter resolved: ...subject to the order of the Caucasian Territorial Committee we admit it necessary to proclaim Soviet rule only in Roki area, block up the gorge... join the RSFSR... and bring this resolution to the knowledge of Moscow and Democratic Georgia" (*98). This was an outrageous violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia.
Soviet Russia acted upon the concepts of benefit of the strategic position of Transcaucasia and its oil fields, upon the interests of the world revolution and proletarian internationalism expressed through an idea of "bringing liberation to the workers on the bayonets of the Red Army" (*99). Consequently, it set a goal to force Soviets upon the republics of Transcaucasia by military intervention. On March 17 Lenin telegraphed to members of the Revolutionary military council (Revvoensovet) of the Caucasian front I. T. Smilga and S. K. Orjonikidze: "It is extremely, extremely necessary to seize Baku. Direct all your efforts there, being highly diplomatic in your statements and claims and making absolutely sure that the local Soviet rule is firm. The same applies to Georgia although I advise to treat it more cautiously. Communicate with the Glavkom about trans- ports" (*100).
A letter from Minister of Foreign Affairs E. Gegechkori to Supreme Commissar of Great Britain in Georgia Sir Oliver Wordrop of January 10, 1920, reveals the government's foreign policy plans. "After the failure of Bolsheviks' hopes for the socialist revolution in the West, they turned towards the Moslem world in the East where there is no ground for a social coup but there is much fuel that the Bolsheviks are going to use in their fight aga- inst the Entente...
The government to Georgia supposes that the British government acting in accordance with its own interests should support Georgia in its struggle against the danger menacing it from the South and North. In order to make this support purposeful and meeting the requirements of that moment, the (Georgian) government considers it urgent that
1) Britain should immediately recognize the independence of the Republic of Georgia;
2) Batumi district should be returned to Georgia to strengthen the Republic's frontiers;
3) An extensive assistance should be given to Georgia with arms, foodstuffs, currency.
This assistance, if timely, will encourage a great upsurge of people's forces and enable us to secure defense of mutual interests of Georgia and Great Britain whieh are completely matching at the moment..." (*101)
What was Great Britain's response to that letter of the Georgian Minister? The Entente recognized Georgia and Azerbaijan de facto, but not more.
On February 24 the Supreme Allied Council of the Entente adopted a new resolution on the Russian question n which it would not recommend "the states outlying Russian to conduct war against it, but if Soviet Russia attacked them, the Entente would protect them" (*102). As for Batumi, the Allies announced it to be "porto franco". Georgia was denied assistance with arms, money, etc.
In the meantime, the Red Army detachments were moving fast to the Republic's frontiers. In the radiograms of April 15 and 22 to G. V. Chicherin the Georgian government inquired about the Soviet government's intentions in respect of Georgia and again suggested to begin negotiations for a peace treaty. On April 24 G. Chicherin cabled back: "The Government would by no means wish to intrude into its territory" (*103). Further G. Chicherin actually expressed consent to begin negotiations with Georgia. Soviet Russia was forced to give the consent because of the activities of Poland and Gen. Wrangel on the one hand, and Britain's demands "to stop the military actions in Caucasia" (*104) where they "had already taken everything valuable" (*105) as G. Chicherin put it in his telegram to M. M. Litvinov (he certainly implied the oil of Baku-A.M). On May 5, G. Chicherin sent a note to Lord Curson in which he referred to the problem of Caucasia saying "the Soviet government pointed out that the military actions of the Soviet troops have already been stopped and the Soviet government applied to the neighboring governments with a proposal to start negotiations immediately, which does not exclude the readiness of the Russian government to accept and discuss specific interests of Great Britain in Caucasia since they do exist and since the British government will declare them" (*106).
On May 7, 1920, a treaty of friendship" between Russia and Georgia was signed by a member of the Georgian Constitutional Assembly G. Uratadze, and Assistant Commissar of Foreign Affair of Russia L. M. Karakhan (specially authorized by V. I. Lenin)" (*107). According to that treaty the RSFSR recognized unconditionally the independence and self - government of the Georgian state and voluntarily waived any "sovereign rights that Russia had with respect to the people and land oil Georgia" and "committed itself to renunciate any intervention whatsoever in the internal affairs of Georgia" (*108).
On May 6, I.V. Stalin cabled S. K. Orjonikidze prohibiting the Red Army detachments to move towards Georgia since such actions were absolutely inconsistent "with our policy" (*109).
Being ordered by the "center", the Caucasian Territorial Committee started to eliminate the uprising that had begun in South Ossetia.
In the May of 1920 the Communist Party of Georgia was created (exercising the rights of a territorial organization of the Worker's Communist Party of Bolsheviks) with its Central Committee which drew the Communists' attention to peaceful methods of struggle. However, the South -Ossetian territorial Committee refused to obey the orders of the Caucasian Bureau and the Georgian CPCC and continued armed struggle against the system existing than in Georgia.
The government of Georgia sent the regular Army and People's Guard against the rebels. The South - Ossetian Revcom turned for help to Soviet Russia. In the note of May to the government of Georgia G. Chicherin wrote: "...We have got trustworthy information that Great Britain's troops are landing on the territory of Georgia in Batumi district. Subject to the agreement, Georgia committed itself to have all foreign troops removed from its territory; moreover, Georgia ought to take measures not to permit new British troops into the country... We were alarmed to know Georgian troops were sent to South Ossetia to eliminate the Soviet rule there. We insist, should it turn out to be true information, that you should call your troops back from Ossetia since, in our opinion, Ossetia must have that rule which it wished to have. Georgia's intervention into Ossetia's affairs would be nothing but intervention into foreign internal affairs" (*110).
But that very standpoint of the Soviet government was an open intervention into the internal affairs of the Georgian Republic with an obvious violation of clauses 2 and 3 in the treaty of May 7 subject to which the RSFSR had recognized South Ossetia as an integral part of Georgia.
In his reply to Chicherin's note Gegechkori pointed out: "Noting with satisfaction a tendency towards support to restoration of Georgia's historic borders, the government of Georgia was extremely puzzled by that passage in your note which speaks of Georgia's intention to suppress by force of arms the Soviet Republic in South Ossetia. Therefore I consider it my duty to inform you, that, there is no South Ossetia within the boundaries of Georgia, and the Ossetian villages situated in Georgia are located on the undisputable territory south of the former border of Tiflis gubernia, i.e. south of the borderline set between Russia and Georgia. All of these districts are under the Georgian rule in the form of local democratic bodies. As for information about the Soviet rule in South Ossetia, it seems to imply the villages of Roki at the mountain pass where, as we have already informed you, a detachment of Soviet troops with two canons has penetrated... We hope you will take urgent measures to withdraw the Soviet detachment from Roki. After the commitment of Russia, subject to the peace treaty, not to allow in its territory any organizations aimed at destroying the current order in Georgia, your note in defence of the Soviet rule, supposedly existing in one of the districts of Georgia, seems incomprehensible and based on some misunderstanding. Feeling that this may cause creation of an atmosphere of mutual misunderstanding, I should be very much obliged to you for appropriate explanation of the matter" (*111).
Formally Soviet Russia did demonstrate an intention to assist Georgia to restore its historic borders. In the treaty of May 7 the RSFSR recognized Batumi district as a part of Georgia and "expressed readiness to recognize, as integral parts of the former Caucasian Viceroyalty that will belong to it according to future agreements with other states "adjoining Georgia." That is why Chicherin's note of 17 May demanding to withdraw the army from Georgia's historic territory caused natural protest and perplexion of the Georgian government. The uprisal in South Ossetia left its mark on further policy of the Georgian government in respect to the Communists of Georgia who, despite the right to legal activity granted them by the treaty of 7 May, were persecuted as the "initiators and participants" of the South Ossetian armed uprising. S. M. Kirov representing the RSFSR in Georgia wrote to Chicherin on June 28: "The problems with Communists are particularly acute. They are arrested all over Georgia, without any grounds, but formally on charges of participation in the South Ossetian uprising, of the calls to the soldiers to disobey orders, etc.," (*112).
The entry of the Soviet troops into South Ossetia as well as Chicherin's note of May 17 did not contribute to establishing friendly relations between the RSFSR and Georgia as had been predetermined in the treaty of May 7.
In a letter to G. Chicherin of August 1920 Kirov noted: ...distrust, some unhealthy suspiciousness were the only guides of the Georgian government. It is absolutely confir- med that in the person of our representation here arrived "Georgian Revcom". All the foreign missions here are of the same opinion" (*113).
The South Ossetian uprising was doomed to failure as it had not been supported by the workers of Georgia. Inside Georgia there were no conditions for mass armed uprising against the existing state system, Besides, the leaders of the uprising would not realize that the Georgian Communists, directed by the Bolshevik Party Central Committee, started a peaceful struggle.
The erroneous standpoint of the South Ossetian Bolsheviks was well demonstrated in a document entitled Memorandum of the South Ossetian Workers", of May 28, 1920, addressed to all the chief Party, Soviet and military organizations of Russia and signed by 70 leading Communists of South Ossetia. The Memorandum read: "...The victorious Red Army has closely approached us and occupied all the Terek district. The workers and proletarians of South Ossetia occupying an area north of Tiflis and Kutaisi gubernia and adjoining the Soviet Terek district have overturned the miserable rule of Georgian Mensheviks within its boundaries as that rule was forced upon and extremely unpopular among the people.
In pursue of our revolutionary struggle we turned to the Party 'territorial Committee for support in the Communist upraise; however, the members of the Territorial Committee who arrived at Vladikavkaz started negotiations with comrade Orjonikidze and told us that it was prohibited to start any uprising in Georgia while that in South Ossetia ought to be eliminated; that Georgia was recognized as independent; and that now we would have a Communist party of our own which would organize a revolt, etc. Is it treason, charlatanry or madness? Our Communists realize that peace between Soviet Russia and such counter -revolutionary parts as Estonia, Latvia, Georgia and others does not mean at all that the revolutionary movement will be stopped there and the counter-revolutionary forces will set foot. We strongly believe that a true revolutionary shall always remain faithful to the ideas of Communism and Bolshevism. But the demand of the Territorial Committee to put out the flames of revolution in South Ossetia sounds outrageous to us. It could be issued only from those who are on the side of N. Zhordania's government, from pseudo-socialists and pseudo-communists. They propose liquidation of the uprising under a pretext that "strong" Georgia would crush us down, that if Menshevist Georgia should war with Britain we will have, as the Territorial Committee members put: it, to fight "side by side with Mensheviks."
But we cannot and we would not stand side by side with Mensheviks, as we are offered by our former comrades. We would not submit to the rule of counter - revolutionary chauvinists or to the command from the Entente. Remaining true to our revolutionary duty we declare that we cannot wait for any new preparations of some separate organiza- tions; will not sacrifice our sacred cause to the interest of Zhordania and C.
We have overturned the Menshevik rule and proclaimed the rule of the Soviets and we once confirm the firm will of the South Ossetian workers expressed back in 1918.
1. South Ossetia is an inseparable part of Soviet Russia;
2. South Ossetia enters Soviet Russia on common basis, directly;
3. We would not admit any indirect entry into Soviet Russia through Georgia or any other Republic, even if it is Soviet, because from our viewpoint, all the small national Republics (such as Georgia with 60 - 70% of its population being of different nationalities: Armenians, Tatars, Russians, Jews, Abkhaz, Ossetians, etc.) unavoidably preserve a possibility of developing nests of nationalisms that will eventually lead-to harmful consequences. An example of Soviet Russia is inapplicable to the small Transcaucasional Republics: entry into the Russian Soviet Republic is psychologically encouraging for the working elements of any nation because the Russian proletariat sets the fashion to the whole world; however, entry into such republic as Georgia is (even if it were Soviet) would kill psychologically anyone in that separatism. One can't ignore this truth. Whatever is termed "Georgia" must be joined to Soviet Russia directly, on common basis, as Tiflis and Kutaisi gubernias.
We are confident that true revolutionary Communists from the' working classes of Georgians are in solidarity with-us; those Communists - separatists who are against us are former Mensheviks who have not yet been cured from nationalism. These rebaptized Mensheviks are to be sought in the center. And they are reshaping Communism into nationalist separation, falsifying the will of the revolutionary masses.
We understand, quite soundly and correctly, the structure and essence of the Soviet power. Whoever should declare it, it must be the true conductor of the great ideas of Communism. But we do not approve of a tendency to separate small republics. Separatism is not a plus, but a minus in the Soviet construction. The United Russian Soviet Republic, as a step towards the World Soviet Socialist Republic ought to satisfy any true and reasoning Communist who is not soiled by the black dirt of nationalism. We support and cheer Soviet construction in that ideal direction;
4. South Ossetian party organization will remain in the same form it has had until now: under UK- flag of the Russian Communist Party (of Bolsheviks). Refusing to make a backward step, from plus to minus, it will not join the .Separate Georgian or any other Communist Party.
At this very moment we are representing only ourselves; we are shedding blood in the struggle against Georgian chauvinists. We are appealing to our comrades Communists and the victorious Red Army for help to crush down all kinds of chauvinists and Mensheviks all over Transcaucasia and put up the Red Banner of Communism. We trust that our outstretched hands will not be paralyzed and our Russian comrades will not leave us waiting for fraternal assistance.
We send our greetings to the Russian proletariat, to its leaders comrades Lenin, Trotsky, Chicherin and others, to the comrades of the Red Army bringing liberation to all the oppressed.
Down with the criminal separatism. Long live the Soviet power, the World Socialist revolution and the triumph of Communism..." (*114).
This long passage from the Memorandum has been cited to enable the reader to know the standpoint of the South Ossetian Bolshevik leaders concerning the crucial problems and their offhand attitude to such matters as national self-determination, sovereignty, territorial integrity, proletarian internationalism, world revolution, etc.
The misinterpreted ideas of the unsuccessful "world proletarian revolution", erroneous counter positioning of principles of proletarian internationalism to the right of self- determination of every nation, including secession of a state, free, independent development, which were expressed through psceudo-revolutionary slogans, absolutely detached from the historic reality; staking on external, foreign military forces; stubborn denial of the directions of central and Georgian Communists concerning changes in the tactics of struggle and cessation of the armed uprising all these and many other mistakes that the South Ossetia Bolsheviks made, brought to tragic results and vain human sacrifices.
Speaking of South Ossetia as a part of Soviet Russia, the authors of the Memorandum violated the principle of territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Georgian Republic which had been recognized by Soviet Russia in the treaty of May 7, 1920, wherein clause 3 acknowledged the territory of Georgia as that of the former Tiflis gubernia, including the historic Georgian district Shida Kartli, officially named now South Ossetia. Those claims of the South-Ossetian Bolsheviks looked inconsistent and even ridiculous, if not for the sad consequences, in the first place, for the Ossetian population. This originally Georgian land was also inhabited by Georgians whose opinion concerning the entry into Soviet Russia was ignored. It is therefore hard to understand what legal basis the authors of the Memorandum referred to, when they declared South Ossetia an "inseparable part of Soviet Russia."
As for the revival of statehood of Georgia, the author's of Memorandum would deprive the Georgian people of their right to create their own state. The same idea applied to the other "small Transcaucasian republics" (meaning Armenia and Azerbaijan - A.M.). Instead, they suggested a "united Russian Socialist Soviet Republic as a step toward the World Socialist Soviet Republic" that would quite "satisfy any true and reasoning Communist who is not soiled by the black dirt of nationalism."
A close study of the Memorandum shows that, wishing to appear arch - internationalists, its authors reduced to a standpoint of international, chauvinism" as Lenin put it, expressed in an aspiration to be an internationalist, but in reality were just chauvinists" (*115).
The major blunder of the South Ossetian Bolsheviks evidently was the underestimation of the real historic situation in Georgia. There were neither external nor internal prerequisites for overturning the state system by armed uprisings. And it was nothing it adventurism to incite an armed revolt in any district without mass popular support of the rest of the Republic, or to rely upon foreign military forces, i.e. export of revolution.
The South Ossetian Party organizations kept appealing to V. I. Lenin and G.V.Chicherin and the CC the RCP for help against the Georgian army and People's Guard. A telegram informed about 25 burnt down villages and 20,000 refugees escaping to the Tersk district." (*116) No real help was extended in response, but in a letter to S. K. Orjonikidze of 19 July, G. Chicherin noted: "The Ossetian upraise has to be liquidated painlessly. With Kirov's diplomatic assistance, we must have the population amnestied by the Georgian government and helped to restore the destroyed houses" (*117).
Amnesty is usually granted to those who broke the legal laws. Therefore, the Soviet government did consider the South Ossetian uprising as illegal. The casualties, refugees and damages were all caused by the erroneous, extremist standpoint of the South Ossetian Bolshevik leaders. Any government in any civilized country would defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity using the force of arms.
The fundamental principles of Soviet Russia's policy in Caucasia were formulated in an instruction for the Revolutionary Military Council (Soviet) of the Caucasian front, approved by V. I. Lenin and Politbureau of the Russian Communist Party Central Committee on 7 July, I920. (*118) It said that "the agreement between the RSFSR and Georgian government must be steadily observed and practically applied in all its details. The Russian Soviet authorities whose activity concerns Georgia in any way, must rigorously consider and observe the terms of the treaty..." The RCP CC suggested the Cavbureau and Party organizations of Georgia and Armenia "to forbear unconditionally from any attempts to incite a revolt against the governments of Georgia and Armenia" and "to explain those who are aspiring for such a revolt in the Republics, that proceeding from the general political considerations concerning both the world - wide and our internal situation, they ought not to start realizing their purpose right now. They ought tc observe the provisions of the treaty... Consequently, the uprising that has started in South Ossetia, for instance, must be painlessly liquidated." (*119) But the South Ossetian Bolsheviks would not fulfill those directions of the CC of RCP and V.I. Lenin himself.
On June 16 the Communist, newspaper of the Tersk district bureau of the RCP printed a report "Revolt in Georgia" telling about the role of the RCP CC and Cavbureau in the uprising in South Ossetia. The Georgian government asked for appropriate explanations in a note to the Russian government. To that S. Kirov replied (in a note to E.Gegechkori): "I have already mentioned before that the Russian Communist Party, either its Central Committee, or the Central Committee Bureau, has absolutely nothing to do with the uprising in South Ossetia, and neither has the command of the Caucasian front, because an explici order to cease every possible military action against Georgian troops had been issued even before the formal peace treaty between Russia and Georgia were signed, and any possible border incidents are to be settled by negotiations. Therefore, the report in the newspaper of the Tersk RCP Bureau and Revcom of June 16 is fully on the Editor's responsibility.
In addition, I have been informed that the Central Committee of the RCP is unaware of any South Ossetia district committee, and if such an organization does exist, the Central Committee never granted it any rights to act in the name of the RCP. This passage in the article that happened to be an irresponsible statement, had been a result of the Editor's negligence. The Editor has been dismissed and is now called to legal account for the negligence in fulfilling his duty.
Please, accept my assurance in my perfect esteem. Plenipotentiary envoy of the RSFSR in Georgia, S. Kirov" (*120).
In this way the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party of Bolshviks, in the person of S. Kirov, dissociated themselves from the South Ossetian district committee regarding it as an impostor.
What conclusions can be drawn from .what has been rendered above? The lessons of the past have demonstrated that shortsightedness, adventurism and extremism in politics invariably lead to a tragedy that makes hundreds and thousands of innocent people suffer.
The current situation existing in some regions today may have disastrous- consequences if the lofty speeches on the further development of languages, cultures and national self- consciousness of the peoples inhabiting Georgia keep turning into extremist slogans aimed at violation of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic. The blunders of the past must not be made anew, for the sake of the future of alt our peoples.
See also related topic:
GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ RELATIONS IN 1918-1921