1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Georgia

GEORGIA, the former province of Russia (see 11.758), in 1917, in consequence of the collapse of the Russian Empire, recovered an independent position, first as part of the Federal Republic of Trans-Caucasia, and then, alone, as the republic of Georgia.

As a republic Georgia comprised the two old Russian “governments” of Tiflis and Kutais, and the “districts” of Batum and Artvin, and was contained by the range of the Caucasus Mountains in the north, the Black Sea and the Turkish frontier in the west, and the borders of the sister republics of Erivan and Azerbäijän in the south and east. As a whole the country lacks geographical unity. Only on the north and west are its frontiers natural ones; in the south and east they had not yet been determined in 1921, except in part. The eastern half of Georgia, containing the old Russian “government” of Tiflis, occupies the upper basin of the Kura, a river entering the Caspian Sea; the western half, comprising Kutais, Batum and Artvin, is drained by various smaller streams flowing to the Black Sea. Much of the country where not mountainous is very fertile; forests cover a considerable area, and the mineral wealth is great, particularly in manganese, copper and coal.

Area and Population.—The area of the republic is about 28,000 sq.m., but in addition are some 4,500 sq.m. in dispute with the adjoining republics of Erivan and Azerbäijän. The territory of the republic contained, by the Russian census of 1916, a pop. of 2,770,000, comprising 1,620,000 Georgians, 233,000 Russians and other Europeans, 425,000 Armenians, 249,000 Moslems, and 244,000 other elements. Territory in dispute had a pop. of about 240,000, of whom Georgians numbered perhaps 9,000, Russians and other Europeans 8,000, Armenians 50,000, Moslems 160,000, and other elements 14-15,000.

Railway Communication.—Possession of a coast line on the Black Sea has greatly affected the course of recent Georgian history. Owing to the configuration of sea and land in western Asia the Georgian port of Batum is the natural port not only for Georgia, Erivan and Azerbäijän but for wide regions of Central Asia. Railroad development, determined by this geographical fact, has therefore made Batum the gateway for a large part of the continent of Asia. It is in the power of Georgia to keep the gate closed or open, or to exact tolls; in fact it is in her power to penalize or favour her inland neighbours as expediency or need, friendship or hostility may move her. And the military importance of Batum is not less than the political and economic. The port is in rail communication with Erivan, with Erzerum in Asia Minor, with Tabriz in northern Persia, with Russia and with Baku in Azerbäijän; from Baku all the coast line of the Caspian Sea lies open; from Baku to Krasnovodsk is a few hours' steaming, and at Krasnovodsk begins a line of railway which runs to the Afghan frontier and the Pamirs. Whether Georgia be a weak power or a strong it cannot avoid the great influence exerted by Batum.

The Georgian People.—The Georgian people so placed are, as a race, the most advanced in civilization of any in Trans-Caucasia, or indeed in Asia. They have a further advantage over their neighbours in possessing a cherished tradition of comparatively recent independence. Towards the close of the 18th century a Georgian kingdom made a treaty of close alliance with Russia, whereby in return for support against the Ottoman the great northern Power guaranteed Georgian internal independence. Within 20 years, however, the terms of the treaty were violated and Georgia was incorporated as a Russian province. Although the lot of the country in these conditions was not unsatisfactory, the breach of faith was never forgotten and served to keep alive the memory of past nationhood; Georgian national consciousness therefore centres more in the State than in the race, though elsewhere in Trans-Caucasia racial consciousness predominates. Due perhaps to this wider outlook and tradition is the distinct capacity for self-government which the Georgian people showed during the early period of independence. While professing and practising an advanced form of socialism in political and economic affairs, they displayed no want of patriotic zeal, and were opposed to Bolshevism. Indeed, the resistance this small people had shown up to 1921 to intense Bolshevik propaganda and efforts at corruption was remarkable.

Recent History.—For the first 18 months of the World War Georgia's part was that of any Russian province; that need for independent action might arise was not so much as suspected. But in the spring of 1917 distinct signs became visible in Trans-Caucasia that a serious upheaval was fast approaching in Russia; and that an opportunity might present itself for Georgians and Armenians to obtain their independence and perhaps the independence of all Trans-Caucasia. It was recognized further that a Russian collapse would leave the Trans-Caucasian provinces open to Turkish invasion unless the people were prepared to take care of themselves. From this point events in Russia moved fast. In April the Provisional Government, established after the abdication of the Tsar, declared for the self-determination of peoples, and the conclusion of a permanent peace without indemnities. In June occurred the mutiny of the Russian Black Sea fleet at Sevastopol; and in the same month the Russian armies in Asia Minor, putting Bolshevik theories into practice, left their positions and voluntarily retired behind the pre-war Russo-Turkish frontier. Here for a time they were held together by the great personal influence of the Grand Duke Nicholas, the commander-in-chief. Russia became a republic on Sept. 15; the time had come for Trans-Caucasia to dispose of its own destinies.

Preparations had already been made in this direction. Unity of purpose existed to some extent among Georgians and Armenians, but less so on the part of the Tartars of Azerbäijän; propaganda, however, was undertaken to bring them into line with their neighbours. Representatives of the three peoples were elected in Aug. and met in Tiflis in Sept. as the “Council of the Trans-Caucasian Peoples.” There, on Sept. 17, they proclaimed the Federal Republic of Trans-Caucasia.

In these events Georgian leaders, chiefly ex-members of the Russian Duma, bore a leading part; the policy followed also had a Georgian origin. Georgia, in fact, as the most advanced, populous and wealthy division of Trans-Caucasia, appeared to dominate the Federal Republic. Jealousy between the states existed from the first, but instead of diminishing it became more and more acute. Each state had its own particular aspirations to pursue; its own special difficulties to surmount; its own susceptibilities to consult; each stood out for its own point of view and seemed unable to understand the outlook of the others. Georgia desired complete independence; Erivan was under reactionary Russian influence and sought to retain some degree of Russian support; Azerbäijän with its Moslem population had leanings towards Turkey and Pan-Islamism. Both Erivan and Azerbäijän were agreed that the Federal Republic masked a Georgian ambition to incorporate them in a Georgian State. Only on one point were all the states in harmony, and that was to resist Bolshevism.

After Lenin and Trotsky had established themselves in power in Russia Nov. 17 1917 the Russian armies in Trans-Caucasia dispersed into an armed rabble, fighting for trains to return home, and left the frontier open to Turkish invasion. The Federal Government now endeavoured to organize a force to hold the Turkish front. The old Georgian army, sent to Russia's western campaigns in 1914, were now returning, but the men had absorbed Bolshevik principles, and refused to fight anywhere except on Georgian territory, nor even then unless their committees approved. Eventually a considerable force of Georgians, Armenians, Russian volunteers and Assyrians were got together and prevented or delayed a Turkish advance for a time.

The Petrograd Government, who had not surrendered hope of retaining the Trans-Caucasian provinces, sent a chief commissary for the Caucasus to Tiflis in Jan. 1918. But he wielded no real power and was soon ejected. He then retired to Baku, and with the help of some 10,000 Armenian revolutionaries established a Bolshevik Government there, supported further by Bolshevik naval forces on the Caspian. This Russo-Armenian combination expelled and massacred the Moslem Tartars of Baku, and thus did much to estrange the Mahommedan population of Trans-Caucasia from any alliance or common action with Georgian or Armenian Christians.

On March 3 1918 Russia and Germany signed the Treaty of Brest Litovsk, which contained provisions affecting Trans-Caucasia. It awarded certain Armenian districts and the Georgian province and part of Batum to Turkey; and Turkish forces immediately advanced to occupy these areas. Batum fell into Turkish hands on April 15; on April 23 the Federal Republic, unable to offer any military resistance, began peace negotiations, and at the same time made a formal declaration of independence. But Georgia, Erivan and Azerbäijän were now alienated from one another beyond hope of agreement. Each had no other purpose than to preserve its own interests. The Azerbäijän representatives had already withdrawn from the Federal Council, and retired to Elizabetopol, where they established a form of government for their own country. On May 26 1918 the Federal Government of Trans-Caucasia was dissolved, and Georgia, Azerbäijän and Erivan became separate republics.

In this isolated situation Georgia accepted German assistance. German troops were already in Odessa and Sevastopol; German delegates came to Batum to negotiate peace between Turkey and Georgia; and Georgia and Germany concluded an agreement under which German financial and military support were to be extended to the Georgian Republic. The Turkish occupation of Batum could not be terminated; but Germany undertook that Georgian rights in the port should be safeguarded, and that Georgian neutrality should not be infringed. German troops were admitted to Georgia, and so long as Germany remained in Trans-Caucasia she executed the terms of her agreement with exactness, even though to the disadvantage of her Turkish ally.

The two armistices—between the Allied Powers and Turkey on Oct. 30 1918 and between the Allied Powers and Germany on Nov. 11—which ended the war changed the whole position in Trans-Caucasia. They provided for the immediate evacuation of this region by Turkish and German troops, and their replacement, for the time being, by Allied troops. In execution of these provisions a British garrison was placed in Batum on Dec. 27, and a British occupation of Trans-Caucasia was carried out to ensure the evacuation by Turks and Germans.

During the British occupation Georgian administration—which proved to be efficient—was left undisturbed except in the matter of railways. These it was found necessary to put under a British Board of Railway Control at Tiflis, owing to their international importance, and to the increasing efforts of the Georgian Government to use them for exerting political pressure.

In Georgia, as in the other Trans-Caucasian republics, disputes upon frontiers and territorial claims became acute as soon as Russian control had ceased. One such dispute with regard to the district of Borchalinsk led to Georgia declaring war on Erivan in Jan. 1919. After long negotiations with the British general commanding in Trans-Caucasia serious hostilities were averted, and a neutral zone established; but the matter showed that unless the whole country were controlled by a dominant power there would be no settlement of such disputes except by warfare between the three republics.

At the Paris Peace Conference which opened on Jan. 18 1919 Georgian interests were represented by a delegation. For some time it seemed that the Conference would include Trans-Caucasia within the scope of its settlements; but gradually this good intention disappeared. Various ideas were considered, such as placing the whole area under a mandatory Power; but no Power willing to undertake such an onerous and thankless task could be found. The question of Batum, in particular, received much attention. The international importance of the position was realized, and a scheme embodied in a draft of the Treaty of Sèvres making the port and district a free state under the League of Nations, and giving Erivan and Azerbäijän definite rights in the port and of access by rail. But this apparently reasonable proposal was also abandoned on further consideration. The future of Trans-Caucasia, in fact, was dominated too much by Russia for any practical settlement to be attempted. Nothing would be permanent to which Russia was not a party, and for the time being no definite Russia capable of expressing herself existed. Yet whenever a reconstituted Russia emerged she would hold Trans-Caucasia in the hollow of her hand, and any settlement against her interests would be worse than wasted effort. The Peace Conference confined itself to granting de facto recognition to the three republics; to preventing war between them; and to embodying in the Treaty of Sèvres a provision for the settlement of the frontiers of Erivan, with Georgia and Azerbäijän. Few will hold that wisely it could have done more.

The British occupation of Trans-Caucasia continued until the end of Aug. 1919, and then, with the exception of a small garrison left in Batum, the troops were withdrawn, their mission fulfilled.

During the same year the situation in Georgia was not a little complicated by the intrigues and hostility attending Gen. Denikin's movement against Bolshevik Russia. As early as Jan. 1919 Gen. Denikin, whose headquarters were at Ekaterinodar in Cis-Caucasia, had collected nearly 200,000 men. At first he met with remarkable success. In the early autumn, indeed, it looked as if he might destroy Bolshevik rule. His armies were successful; his navies controlled the Black Sea and the Caspian; he had unlimited supplies. Throughout he viewed with extreme disfavour the independence of the Trans-Caucasian provinces, and did what he could to promote disunion and hostilities between them. He had an understanding of some kind with the Armenians of Erivan whom he encouraged and supported against Georgia, regarding that republic as the chief danger to future Russian supremacy in Trans-Caucasia. He seemed to fear that Georgia, accessible from the sea, might pass under British control and be made the foundation of a united Trans-Caucasian state, rich in oil and minerals and powerful enough, with British support, to maintain its position permanently. Towards Georgia, therefore, his policy became one of almost active hostility. He refused to recognize her flag at sea, fired on her shipping, and attacked her frontier guards. The collapse of Gen. Denikin's operations in the autumn of 1919 was the end of a reactionary movement entirely incompatible with Georgian independence.

But, Denikin out of the way, Bolshevik Russia began to push her designs in Trans-Caucasia. Propaganda and corruption on a lavish scale prepared the ground. It was not until April 1920 that active military measures were taken; but in that month the XI. Soviet Army from Cis-Caucasia moved on Baku, occupied the city without fighting, overthrew the republic of Azerbäijän, and set up a Soviet Republic. Established there, Russian troops advanced along the railway towards Georgia, intending the capture of Tiflis, but were repulsed at the frontier and found it necessary to suspend their operations. Having the Polish campaign on her hands at this time Russia was unable to press her efforts in Trans-Caucasia. She was content to wait. She signed a treaty of peace with Georgia on May 7—a provision of which recognized the district and port of Batum as Georgian territory.

The Supreme Council having abandoned the idea of creating a free state at Batum, no sufficient reason existed for retaining a British garrison there; transfer to Georgia became desirable, and was carried out on July 7 1920. An agreement, however, was made with Georgia by which she granted Erivan and Azerbäijän the same port and railway rights they would have enjoyed had Batum been under the rule of a Free State, and Erivan a special concession for a direct line of railway to the port.

The Batum area was peopled chiefly by Ajarians, a warlike Mahommedan tribe with Turkish sympathies, whose readiness in arms had previously caused Georgia considerable difficulty. These stout hillmen were now won over by giving them a form of autonomy under Georgian sovereignty.

In the summer of 1920 Georgia was able to regard her position with satisfaction and some degree of hopefulness for the future. In two years of independence she had made great national progress. Her territory was untouched by war; her internal affairs were tranquil, her Government and administration effective for her needs; her population was prosperous, and the large proportion opposed to the theories of Bolshevism, notwithstanding propaganda and the presence in Tiflis of a loud-voiced Bolshevik mission, prodigal of gold. Externally, however, her outlook was not so bright. Bolshevik Russia and Nationalist Turkey were in league, pursuing common aims, and, in effect, seeking a common frontier in Trans-Caucasia. Georgia did not stand geographically in the way of Russo-Turkish approach, but she could not fail to be affected by disaster to her Armenian neighbour who did. The difficult question for Georgia was that of support for Erivan in the event of a Russo-Turkish attack. It was complicated further by Turkey not having renounced her claims to Batum.

At the end of Sept. these matters reached a crisis. A Turkish army invaded Erivan; a Bolshevik army threatened Erivan and Georgia along the railway line leading from Baku to Tiflis. In spite of Armenian resistance, which met at first with some success Turkish troops overran Erivan; Bolshevik risings broke out in the capital and other towns, and Erivan became a Soviet Republic nominally allied with Russia. Georgia had hesitated when the danger first became evident; her people had strong instincts against military operations outside their own territory; they could not realize that their best line of defence lay not in Georgia but in Erivan; they felt, too, that resistance would have slight prospect of success. If aggression were directed against their own country they would, they believed, fare better by a policy which avoided desperate resistance than by a policy of resistance to the uttermost. They had faith in the turnings of the wheels of time.

A Bolshevik invasion of Georgia followed immediately; and simultaneously, in the usual Bolshevik way, risings proclaiming Soviet rule occurred in Tiflis and various Georgian towns. No serious resistance was attempted. The Turks reoccupied Batum; Georgia became a Soviet Republic dependent on Russia; and thus, in fact, if not at once in form, Russia had reëstablished herself in Trans-Caucasia by 1921. And she took care that her vital Trans-Caucasian seaport should not remain in Turkish hands. She insisted that it must belong to the Soviet Republic of Georgia; and the Turk gave way. (W. J. C.*)