October 31, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Arthur Bagirov


In 1946, the USSR was close to a war with Turkey

Though Turkey was formally not a satellite of Nazi Germany, the Soviet leadership regarded this country as a potential adversary during the whole period of World War II. The Third Reich and Turkey signed a treaty on friendship and cooperation on June 18, 1941 – four days before the Nazi assault on the USSR. A number of Turkish and international historians suggested that this treaty involved an unofficial accord suggesting that Turkey join the war by the time of a closest approach of the Nazi troops to Transcaucasia and the Caspian. Sergey M. Shtemenko, former Chief of Staff of the Soviet Army, writes in his memoirs that in late 1941-early 1942, nobody could be sure that Turkey does not join the war of the Nazi side: at that time, 26 to 28 Turkish divisions, equipped with mostly German weaponry, were concentrated along the Soviet border. For the occasion of a Turkish assault on Baku from the territory of Iran, a Soviet cavalry corps, reinforced with a rifle division and a tank brigade, was deployed at the border of Iran and Turkey.

Already in June 1941, Turkey agreed to allow German and Italian Navy ships to enter the Black Sea through the Dardanelles and the Bosporus. During the offensive of the Soviet troops in 1944, Turkey similarly allowed the German and Italian ships to retreat to the Mediterranean. Not surprisingly, the USSR denounced the Soviet-Turkish treaty on neutrality and non-aggression, as well as legal acts recognizing the border of USSR and Turkey.

At the Potsdam Conference, Generalissimo Joseph Stalin officially claimed that Turkey should abandon the territories of original Georgia and Armenia, occupied in the period of Soviet Russia's military-political weakness. This practically suggested re-establishing the Russian-Turkish border of August 1914. Besides, the Soviet Union demanded to establish international supervision of the zone of the Bosporus, the Marble Sea and the Dardanelles, and supported Greece's claims for the central and southern Aegean isles (the former Italian colony of The Dodecanese). Turkey, which lost these islands in the 1911-1912 war with Italy, wished to gain them back.

In late 1946, Moscow and Ankara were close to a military conflict. The USSR concentrated around 30 divisions at the Turkish border, establishing Navy bases in Bulgaria and Romania. At the same time, the Soviet Union postponed the pullout of its troops from Northern Iran. In April 1931, on the eve of the 31st anniversary of the genocide of Armenians, Moscow inspired a campaign of support for "justified demands of the Armenian people", anticipating the official recognition of the genocide.

In spring 1947, when units of Kurdish rebels and refugees, led by Mustafa Barzani, crossed the border of Soviet Azerbaijan, the USSR acquired a new lever of pressure upon Turkey. At that time, Stalin tasked the leaderships of Kurdish communities of Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan (respectively to Jafar Bagirov and Usman Yusupov) to "develop a new Kurdish policy". This experience already existed: in the period of 1922-1931, the Lachin district of Azerbaijan (since 1992, a territory controlled by the military forces of Nagorny Karabakh Republic) had a status of a Kurdish autonomous district.

In August 1947, Stalin entrusted training of Kurdish military units in Uzbekistan for tasks in Iran and Turkey to Usman Yusupov. Mustafa Barzani's forces were also redeployed to Uzbekistan, where most of the Kurds, displaced in late 1930s from Transcaucasia, were concentrated. In his turn, Jafar Bagirov was to elaborate a project of re-established Kurdish autonomy. At the same time, Moscow established permanent contacts with Kurdish guerillas in Turkey, as well as with some figures from the foreign-based Dashnaktsutyun, an anti-Bolshevik party of Armenian nationalists which possessed its own underground network in North-Eastern Turkey.

In late 1947, Jafar Bagirov proposed to establish a Kurdish autonomous district not in Lachin but in the Norashen district of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, then-Armenian-dominated territory of southern Azerbaijan. This location was supposed to be more convenient for connections with the Kurds of Turkey and Iran. The autonomy was supposed to be later expanded for the expense of Kurdish-dominated districts of Igdir and Nor Bayazit in Western Armenia, which were supposed to be annexed from Turkey and incorporated into Soviet Armenia.

Since 1946, the Kurdish population was returning from Central Asia to Azerbaijan. In today's Azerbaijan, the Kurdish community comprises at least 150,000, being represented in the political establishment by such influential persons as Rovnag Abdullayev, General Director of Azerbaijan's State Oil Company (SOCAR), Hajibala Abutalybov, Mayor of Baku; Beyler Eyyubov, head of President Ilkham Aliyev's security, Arif Alishanov, chair of Azerbaijan's TV and Radio Corporation, and Abdulbari Gezal, president of Azersun Trade Corporation.

However, these plans were opposed by the United States which deployed its military and reconnaissance facilities on the territory of Turkey, predominantly close to the Soviet border. President Harry Truman refused to fulfill the guarantees provided by F. D. Roosevelt, which allowed the USSR to deploy its military bases in Turkey and Libya. At the same time, Stalin's conflict with Yugoslavian leader Josip Broz Tito weakened Soviet strategy in South-Western Europe, suppressing the initiative of a "new Kurdish policy".

In 1948, the USSR pulled out its military forces from Iran. However, the United States and Britain increased its presence in Turkey. In 1951, Ankara allowed the British and American Navy to enter Turkish ports. Being interested in additional guarantees of military partnership, Turkey insisted on membership in NATO, acquiring a member status in 1952.

After Stalin's death, the "Kurdish project" was completely curtailed. Already in May 1953, the USSR re-recognized the Soviet-Turkish border. In addition, General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev officially apologized of "Stalin's injustice" before Turkey's Ambassador in Moscow. Still, Turkey continued to increase its partnership with the United States and NATO, mounting political tensions up to the Caribbean crisis of 1962 which nearly sparked a third world war.

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