Oliver Wardrop

Oliver Wardrop

In early January of 1920, Britain"s High Commissioner for the South Caucasus, Oliver Wardrop, telegraphed the Allies and Britain almost every day. He informed them that Denikin"s army was retreating to the south chased by Bolshevik forces. Wardrop recommended immediate recognition of the South Caucasus republics

as well as the Mountain Republic of the North Caucasus in order to strengthen their position. He wrote that if Britain did not take active measures, the Caucasus republics would have to reach an agreement with the Bolsheviks.

On January 2, 1920, the RSFSR People"s Commissar of Foreign Affairs, Georgy V. Chicherin, sent a note to the governments of Azerbaijan and Georgia in which he called for entering into a military alliance against the Volunteer Army. However, this offer was not based on good intentions. The propagandistic aim behind it was to weaken the governments of Azerbaijan and Georgia. The victory over the Volunteer Army and the overall success of the Soviet forces in the Russian civil war gradually strengthened Russia"s position. Military triumph, in turn, increased diplomatic pressure on neighboring states and created favorable conditions for Bolshevik propaganda. In Azerbaijan"s case, this pressure manifested itself in an exchange of diplomatic notes lasting from January to April 1920. Waging war on Denikin at the behest of Soviet Russia at the time of Armenia"s aggression against Azerbaijan could have led to terrible consequences, but Chicherin was demanding that the Azerbaijani government promptly enter the war. He wrote,

Due to the heroic efforts of Russian workers and peasants, the Red Army defeated Yudenich and Kolchak and is striking crushing blows to Denikin"s White Guard gangs that are chaotically retreating towards Rostov-on-Don. In

order to speed up the destruction of the White Guard armies in the Russian South and to strike a final blow to the counter-revolutionary monarchy, the RSFSR government is offering to start negotiations with Azerbaijan

for a military agreement. The Soviet government would like to stress that the southern counter-revolution is not considered to be the enemy of the Soviet republic alone but all the smaller peoples of the former Russian

empire as well. Denikin is the enemy not just of Russian, but of Georgian and Azerbaijani workers and peasants alike. We hope that the workers and peasants of Georgia and Azerbaijan recognize their enemy. We also hope that

they are looking forward to removing the White Guard shield between Soviet Russia and the Caucasus and to restoring ties between people who once lived within the same borders. At this point, it is necessary to hasten the thrust and to join the military strike of Russian workers and peasants coming from the north. We believe that is it not too late. We are addressing our call for a battle against Denikin to the Azerbaijani government and people. The real understanding of Azerbaijan"s interests and the socio-political benefits of its working class would compel Azerbaijan to accept our offer.

Upon receiving Chicherin"s note on January 6, Nasib Usubbeyov called an emergency meeting of the Azerbaijan State Defence Committee. At the gathering, he mentioned a proposal made by then-foreign minister of Azerbaijan, Fatali Khan Khoyski, at a meeting organized by Usubbeyov in December 1919. The proposal was to sign a military pact with Soviet Russia and Georgia. On January 6, Khoyski discussed Chicherin"s note and the Azerbaijani foreign ministry"s reply to Soviet Russia with a British representative in Baku, Colonel Claude Stokes. That evening, Stokes headed to the British High Commission in Tiflis. On January 7, in his telegram to the Azerbaijani representative in Tiflis, Fariz Bey Vakilov, the Azerbaijani foreign minister inquired about Georgia"s and the British High Commission"s take on Russia"s note. The telegram said,

Yesterday I received a telegram from Soviet Russia offering to start negotiations to sign a military pact against Denikin as did the Georgian government. Please meet with Gegechkori as soon as possible and find out the Georgian government"s opinion and further actions on the matter. Our government believes that with regard to this issue, the governments of Azerbaijan and Georgia must act in a close alliance with each other. We currently consider it apt to agree to start negotiations in order to establish mutual relations between the Caucasus republics and Soviet Russia. Meet with Wardrop immediately and find out Britain"s attitude. Be sure to inquire how and in which ways Britain can assist us in the nearest future.

During Vakilov"s meeting with the Georgian foreign minister, Khoyski"s plan was approved. Negotiations aimed at establishing mutual relations with Soviet Russia were seen as possible. Concerning a war against Denikin, it was noted that it was unacceptable for Azerbaijan and Georgia to be drawn to the Russian civil war. During a meeting with Oliver Wardrop, the British High Commissioner talked about the Entente"s intention to recognize Azerbaijan"s and Georgia"s independence shortly and to assist these republics in their defense policy. At the

same time, Wardrop submitted a detailed report to the British Foreign Office on the situation in the Caucasus after the note from Soviet Russia. On January 12, the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Soviet Russia that the Georgian government was ready to start talks in order to establish peaceful relations. However, it would not intervene in the civil war, which was a Russian internal affair. Two days later, Azerbaijani foreign minister Khoyski said in his response to Chicherin that despite Denikin"s posing a long-term threat to Azerbaijan and the existence of a defense pact between Azerbaijan and Georgia against him, they considered the situation to be Russia"s internal affair; meanwhile, Azerbaijan was ready to start talks in order to establish peaceful relations with Soviet Russia. In

his January 14 radiogram, Khoyski said,

In response to your January 2 radio telegram that I received on January 6, I am informing you as follows: In the course of historical events, the people of Azerbaijan have gained freedom and independence at the cost of enormous

losses and difficulties. It founded a state based on democratic principles. Established on the basis of people"s self-determination, the Azerbaijan republic insists that every nation has the right to define its fate and existence. Following its self-determination, Azerbaijan has never allowed foreign interference in its affairs and adheres to the principle of non-interference in the affairs of other nations. Proceeding from this inviolable principle, the government of Azerbaijan considers it unacceptable to interfere in the ways the people of Russia define their fate. As a neutral state, the Azerbaijan republic is determined to protect its freedom and independence from foreign aggression. For this reason the government of Azerbaijan has been battling the tsarist General Denikin who has encroached on the independence of Azerbaijani people. In order for the battle to be successful, Azerbaijan has established a defense alliance with the government of Georgia. This political programme is prioritized by

the government of Azerbaijan, and it stipulates peaceful relations between Azerbaijan and other nations. From this point of view, Azerbaijan respects the principles of independence of both states and expresses its readiness to

establish peaceful relations between the people of Russia and Azerbaijan.

It was obvious that the Azerbaijani side considered it necessary for Soviet Russia to formally recognize Azerbaijan"s independence. Only this step could guarantee protection of Azerbaijan"s national freedom. High Commissioner Oliver Wardrop was also notified of the content of the note sent to Chicherin. Azerbaijan"s point

of view did not satisfy Soviet Russia. At the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) Politburo congress on January 17-18, Khoyski"s response and the overall attitude to the government of Azerbaijan were discussed. After Chicherin"s report, at Lenin"s request, the congress made a decision in the spirit of intervention in the internal affairs of Azerbaijan. The decision stated, The People"s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs is advised to implement

restraining and distrustful policies against the government of Azerbaijan, as it refused our offer to carry out joint operations against Denikin and serves the British forces that are fighting us in the Caspian Sea. While respecting

the right of working masses of each nation to define its fate, the People"s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs must protest such behavior on the part of the Azerbaijani government.

In light of the Bolshevik threat, the situation in the Caucasus compelled the Entente to consider carefully and take concrete measures. Western political circles acknowledged that the Soviet army"s advance into the South Caucasus would help spread Bolshevik ideology to Iran and Turkey, causing upheaval in the entire Near

and Middle East. Therefore, most European politicians believed that in order to oppose Bolshevik attacks, it was necessary to strengthen Azerbaijan and Georgia and to provide them with a means of defense. However, due to the newly formed principles of international relations, aiding unrecognized states could cause the aiding party serious liability issues. Conversely, in the harsh reality of the first days of 1920, the principle of "a united and indivisible Russia," which was an obstacle to the recognition of these republics, lost its purpose and had not justified

the hopes of its advocates.

Given such a rapid development of events, the recognition of Azerbaijan"s and Georgia"s independence became an urgent matter. For this purpose, Great Britain suggested that the Paris Peace Conference Allied Powers Congress be called on January 10. British, French, and Italian heads of state, foreign ministers, American and Japanese delegates, and ambassadors to France participated in the congress. Issues around the South Caucasus were thoroughly discussed at the congress held at the Quai D"Orsay. The British prime minister addressed the situation. He expressed his concern with regard to the Bolsheviks moving along the Caspian shore. If they defeated Denikin and seized control over the Caspian Sea, it would be possible for the Turks to unite with them (here he meant the

national movement headed by Mustafa Kemal that had emerged in Turkey). At that juncture, the Caucasus states would find themselves in a hopeless situation. Therefore, Lloyd George proposed feasible ways to supply these states with weapons and ammunition. Following his suggestion, the Allied powers requested that military experts propose ways of providing assistance to the South Caucasus republics. French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau agreed with Lloyd George"s suggestion and noted that the British delegates who had experience in Caucasian matters prepare a memorandum concerning aid to the republics. The congress called for an examination of possibilities for providing military aid to the Caucasus in the battle against Bolshevism. The experts were then to report to them along with the British delegates to the Allied powers.

In the afternoon, the Allied powers" congress continued without the presence of Lloyd George, Clemenceau, and Nitti, being now conducted by the foreign ministers. On British foreign minister Lord Curzon"s initiative, they discussed the political side of the South Caucasus agenda. In his statement, Curzon informed his colleagues that Lloyd George planned to bring up the question of recognizing the independence of Azerbaijan and Georgia before the Allied powers congress. He added that the Armenian question was to be resolved as part of the Turkish question. After a long discussion, the foreign ministers came to the conclusion that Azerbaijan and Georgia were facing a triple threat. First, Bolshevik Russian troops were moving into the south. Second, Denikin"s retreating army could make an incursion into these republics. Third, the Kemalists could invade these republics upon an agreement with Russia. Due to the critical nature of the situation, the governments of Azerbaijan and Georgia had appealed to the Entente for help. After informing the audience about those requests, Curzon proposed to immediately recognize Azerbaijan and Georgia de facto. Mir Yagub Mehdiyev later wrote, describing the situation of the time, "The atmosphere of the conference at Versailles enabled the recognition of autonomous countries. A push toward it was all that was needed, and that push was made at the peace conference by British foreign minister Lord Curzon." According to Curzon, Britain had established closer ties with the South Caucasus republics as its troops were the first to enter the region after the Mondros armistice was signed. One day later, on January 11, 1920, the Allied powers at Curzon"s recommendation made a decision in substance that the Allied states recognize the Governments of Georgia and Azerbaijan as "de facto" governments. Thus, Azerbaijan"s independence was de facto recognized

by the Paris Peace Conference on January 11, 1920. The representatives of the United States and Japan had agreed to consult such an important issue with their respective governments before making any statements. Shortly afterward, on February 7, Japan also concurred with the Allied powers" decision. The United States, however, officially refused to do so. This decision of the United States stemmed from various reasons. First, the American government was concerned with the growing British influence in the South Caucasus. Second, at the final stage of the peace conference, serious disagreements emerged between the United States and its European allies. On January 13, the American ambassador to France, Hugh Campbell Wallace, informed authorities in Washington that Great Britain and France had de facto recognized the independence of Azerbaijan and Georgia and were considering providing the latter with military aid. At the same time, the Allied powers" decision was given to the French ambassador to the United States to inform the American government. The document stated that the Allies

have recognized the independence of the neighbors of Russia, to list of which has just been added Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, and that in the eventuality that the Bolsheviks would refuse to make peace with with

these states and would attempt to infringe on the independence of the said communities by force, the Allies would accord these states the fullest support in their power. The Allied Governments are very desirous of knowing wether

the Government of the United States is disposed to concur in this policy.

The Azerbaijani government was notified of the recognition of Azerbaijan"s independence by the Allied powers through Britain"s diplomatic representative in the Caucasus, Oliver Wardrop. In his January 12 telegram sent to Baku from Tiflis, he wrote, I have the honour to inform you that Lord Curzon authorises me to inform you, the Azerbaijan government, that he yesterday in Paris took the initiative in recommending immediate de facto recognition of the republics of Azerbaijan and Georgia. The Supreme Council of the Allies accepted this unanimously.

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