Turkish–Armenian War

Turkish–Armenian war
Part of the Turkish War of Independence, the Aftermath of World War I, and Armenian–Turkish Conflict
Turkish-Armenian War.png
Map of Turkish-Armenian War (1920) and Turkish advance into territory controlled by Armenia
Date 24 September – 2 December 1920[1]

Turkish victory

Armenia forced to cede more than 50% of the territory it controlled before the war and relinquish all claims to the territory it would have gained if the Treaty of Sèvres had been ratified.[2][3][4]
Ankara Government First Republic of Armenia First Republic of Armenia
Commanders and leaders
Kâzım Karabekir
Halit Karsıalan
Rüştü Pasha
Osman Nuri Koptagel
Cavit Erdel
Kâzım Orbay
First Republic of Armenia Drastamat Kanayan
First Republic of Armenia Hamo Ohanjanyan
First Republic of Armenia Ruben Ter-Minasian
First Republic of Armenia Christophor Araratov
First Republic of Armenia 20,000[9]
Casualties and losses
First Republic of Armenia 60,000–98,000[10] or 198,000–250,000[10][11][12] Armenian civilians killed

The Turkish–Armenian war (Armenian: հայ-թուրքական պատերազմ), known in Turkey as the Eastern Front (Turkish: Doğu Cephesi) of the Turkish War of Independence, was a conflict in late 1920 between the First Republic of Armenia and the Turkish National Movement following the collapse of the Treaty of Sèvres. After the provisional government of Ahmet Tevfik Pasha failed to win support for ratification of the treaty, remnants of the Ottoman Army’s XV Corps under the command of Kâzım Karabekir attacked Armenian forces controlling the area surrounding Kars, eventually recapturing all territory previously ceded to the Ottoman Empire by Soviet Russia as part of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

The Turkish military victory was followed by the Soviet Union's occupation and Sovietization of Armenia. The Treaty of Moscow (March 1921) between Soviet Russia and the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and the related Treaty of Kars (October 1921) confirmed the territorial gains made by Karabekir and established the modern TurkishArmenian border.


The dissolution of the Russian Empire in the wake of the February Revolution saw the Armenians of the South Caucasus declaring their independence and formally establishing the First Republic of Armenia.[13] In its two years of existence, the tiny republic, with its capital in Yerevan, was beset with a number of debilitating problems, ranging from fierce territorial disputes with its neighbors and an appalling refugee crisis.[14]

Armenia's most crippling problem was its dispute with its neighbor to the west, the Ottoman Empire. Approximately 1.5 million Armenians had perished during the Armenian genocide. Although the armies of the Ottoman Empire eventually occupied the South Caucasus in the summer of 1918 and stood poised to crush the republic, Armenia resisted until the end of October, when the Ottoman Empire capitulated to the Allied powers. Though the Ottoman Empire was partially occupied by the Allies, and while being invaded by Franco-Armenian forces of the Cilicia Campaign, the Turks did not withdraw their forces to the pre-war Russo-Turkish boundary until February 1919 and maintained many troops mobilized along this frontier.[15]

Bolshevik and Turkish nationalist movements

During the First World War and in the ensuing peace negotiations in Paris, the Allies had vowed to punish the Turks and reward some, if not all, the eastern provinces of the empire to the nascent Armenian republic.[16] But the Allies were more concerned with concluding the peace treaties with Germany and the other European members of the Central Powers. In matters related to the Near East, the principal powers, Great Britain, France, Italy and the United States, had conflicting interests over the spheres of influence they were to assume. While there were crippling internal disputes between the Allies, and the United States was reluctant to accept a mandate over Armenia, disaffected elements in the Ottoman Empire in 1920 began to disavow the decisions made by the Ottoman government in Constantinople, coalesced and formed the Turkish National Movement, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Pasha.[17] The Turkish Nationalists considered any partition of formerly Ottoman lands (and subsequent distribution to non-Turkish authorities) to be unacceptable. Their avowed goal was to "guarantee the safety and unity of the country."[18] The Bolsheviks sympathized with the Turkish Movement due to their mutual opposition to "Western Imperialism," as the Bolsheviks referred to it.[19]

In his message to Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolsheviks, dated 26 April 1920, Kemal promised to coordinate his military operations with the Bolsheviks' "fight against imperialist governments" and requested five million lira in gold as well as armaments "as first aid" to his forces.[20] In 1920, the Lenin government supplied the Kemalists with 6,000 rifles, more than five million rifle cartridges, and 17,600 projectiles, as well as 200.6 kg of gold bullion; in the following two years the amount of aid increased.[21] In the negotiations of the Treaty of Moscow (1921), the Bolsheviks demanded that the Turks cede Batum and Nakhichevan; they also asked for more rights in the future status of the Straits.[22] Despite the concessions made by the Turks, the financial and military supplies were slow in coming.[22] Only after the decisive Battle of Sakarya (August–September 1921), the aid started to flow in faster.[22] After much delays, the Armenians received from the Allies in July 1920 about 40,000 uniforms and 25,000 rifles with a great amount of ammunition.[23]

It was not until August 1920 that the Allies drafted the peace settlement of the Near East, in the form of the Treaty of Sèvres. The United States had refused to assume the Armenian mandate in May of that year, but the Allies delegated the US to draw the western boundaries of the republic. The US allotted four of the six eastern provinces to the Ottoman Empire, including an outlet to the Black Sea.[24] The Treaty of Sèvres served to confirm Kemal's suspicions about Allied plans to partition the empire. According to the historian Richard G. Hovannisian, his decision to order the invasion of Armenia was intended to show the Allies that "the treaty would not be accepted and that there would be no peace until the West was ready to offer new terms in keeping with the principles of the Turkish National Pact."[25]

Active stage

Early phases

The territory of the Republic of Armenia in 1920.

According to Turkish and Soviet sources, Turkish plans to take back formerly Ottoman-controlled lands in the east were already in place as early as June 1920.[26] Using Turkish sources, Bilâl Şimşir has identified mid-June as to when exactly the Ankara government began to prepare for a campaign in the east.[27] Hostilities were first began by Kemalist forces.[28] Kâzım Karabekir was assigned command of the newly formed Eastern Front on June 9, 1920[29] and was given the authority of a field army over all civil and military officials in the Eastern Front on June 13 or 14.[30] Skirmishes between Turkish and Armenian forces in the area surrounding Kars were frequent during that summer, although full-scale hostilities did not break out until September. Convinced that the Allies would not come to the defense of Armenia and aware that the ADR's leaders had failed to gain recognition of its independence by Soviet Russia, Kemal gave the order to commanding general Kâzım Karabekir to advance into Armenian-held territory.[31] At 2:30 in the morning of September 13, five battalions from the Turkish XV Army Corps attacked Armenian positions, surprising the thinly spread and unprepared Armenian forces at Oltu and Penek. By dawn, Karabekir's forces had occupied Penek and the Armenians had suffered at least 200 casualties and been forced to retreat east towards Sarıkamış.[32] As neither the Allied powers nor Soviet Russia reacted to Turkish operations, on September 20 Kemal authorized Karabekir to push onwards and take Kars and Kağızman.

By this time, Karabekir's XV Corps had grown to the size of four divisions. At 3:00 in the morning of September 28, the four divisions of the XV Army Corps advanced towards Sarıkamış, creating such panic that Armenian residents had abandoned the town by the time the Turks entered the next day.[33] The armed forces started toward Kars but were delayed by Armenian resistance. In early October, the Armenian government pleaded that the Allies intervene and put a halt to the Turkish advance, to no avail. Most of Britain's available forces in the Near East were concentrated on crushing the tribal uprisings in Iraq, while France and Italy were also fighting the Turkish revolutionaries near Syria and Italian controlled Antalya.[34] Neighboring Georgia declared neutrality during the conflict.

On October 11, Soviet plenipotentiary Boris Legran arrived in Yerevan with a text to negotiate a new Soviet-Armenian agreement.[35] The agreement signed at October 24 secured Soviet support.[35] The most important part of this agreement dealt with Kars, which Armenia agreed to secure.[35] The Turkish national movement was not happy with possible agreement between the Soviets and Armenia. Karabekir was informed by the Government of the Grand National Assembly regarding the Boris Legran agreement and ordered to resolve the Kars issue. The same day the agreement between Armenia and Soviet Russia was signed, Karabekir moved his forces toward Kars.

Capture of Kars and Alexandropol

Armenian civilians flee Kars after its capture by Turkish forces

On October 24, Karabekir's forces launched a new, massive campaign against Kars.[34] The Armenians abandoned the city, which by October 30 came under full Turkish occupation.[36] Turkish forces continued to advance, and a week after the capture of Kars, they took control of Alexandropol (present-day Gyumri, Armenia.)[1] On November 12, the Turks also captured the strategic village of Aghin, northeast of the ruins of the former Armenian capital of Ani, and planned to move toward Yerevan. On November 13, Georgia broke its neutrality. It had concluded an agreement with Armenia to invade the disputed region of Lori, which was established as a Neutral Zone (the Shulavera Condominium) between the two nations in early 1919.[37]

Treaty of Alexandropol

An article from the New York Times, December 10, 1920

The Turks, headquartered in Alexandropol, presented the Armenians with an ultimatum which they were forced to accept. They followed it with a more radical demand which threatened the existence of Armenia as a viable entity. The Armenians at first rejected this demand, but when Karabekir's forces continued to advance, they had little choice but to capitulate.[34] On November 18, 1920, they concluded a cease-fire agreement.[1] During the invasion the Turkish Army carried out mass atrocities against Armenian civilians in Kars and Alexandropol. These included rapes and massacres where tens of thousands of civilians were executed.[10][11][12]

As the terms of defeat were being negotiated between Karabekir and Armenian Foreign Minister Alexander Khatisyan, Joseph Stalin, on the command of Vladimir Lenin, ordered Grigoriy Ordzhonikidze to enter Armenia from Azerbaijan in order to establish a new pro-Bolshevik government in the country. On November 29, the Soviet Eleventh Army invaded Armenia at Karavansarai (present-day Ijevan).[34]

After the capture of Yerevan and Echmiadzin by Bolshevik forces on 2 December 1920, the Armenian government signed the Treaty of Alexandropol on 3 December 1920, though it no longer existed as a legal entity.[1] The treaty required Armenia to disarm most of its military forces, and cede all Ottoman territory that had been granted to Armenia by the Treaty of Sèvres. The Armenian Parliament never ratified the treaty, as the Soviet invasion took place at the same time and the communists took over the country.


The Soviet-Turkish frontier established in the Treaty of Kars.

In late November 1920, there was a Soviet-backed communist uprising in Armenia. On November 28, 1920, blaming Armenia for the invasions of Şərur (20 November) and Karabakh (21 November), the 11th Red Army under the command of Anatoli Gekker crossed the demarcation line between Armenia and Soviet Azerbaijan. The second Soviet-Armenian war lasted a week. Exhausted by the six years of wars and conflicts, the Armenian army and population were incapable of active resistance.

When the Red Army entered Yerevan on December 4, 1920, the government of Armenian Republic effectively surrendered. On December 5, the Armenian Revolutionary Committee (Revkom, consisting mostly of Armenians from Azerbaijan) also entered the city. Finally, on December 6, the Cheka, Felix Dzerzhinsky's secret police, entered Yerevan. The Soviets took control and Armenia ceased to exist as an independent state.[34] Soon afterward, the bolsheviks declared the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic.


The warfare in Transcaucasia was settled in a friendship treaty between the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (GNAT) (which proclaimed the Turkish Republic in 1923), and Soviet Russia (RSFSR). The "Treaty on Friendship and Brotherhood," called the Treaty of Moscow, was signed on March 16, 1921. The succeeding Treaty of Kars, signed by the representatives of Azerbaijan SSR, Armenian SSR, Georgian SSR, and the GNAT, ceded Adjara to Soviet Georgia in exchange for the Kars territory (today the Turkish provinces of Kars, Iğdır, and Ardahan). Under the treaties, an autonomous Nakhichevan oblast was established under Azerbaijan's protectorate.

See also