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LOOKING AHEAD
18.06.2008

June 14, 2008 (the date of publication in Russian)

Alexei Baliyev

THE GREAT ARMENIA PLAN

In 1945-48, Stalin was going to annex Armenian lands from Turkey

The postwar period of Soviet foreign policy is not well studied by historians. During the first three years after World War II, Joseph Stalin was ready to maintain neutral, if not friendly relations with the allies. The tasks of postwar reconstruction did not allow the USSR to concentrate on expansion of political influence, and the spread of Communist political rule to the liberated countries of Eastern Europe was actually postponed for several years. In this period, communist parties of other countries also did not receive much support. Several times, Stalin denied financial assistance to Mao Zedong, whose troops were several times defeated by the Kuomintang army in 1947.

However, Stalin was committed in this period to undertake special measures to protect the USSR from the south-western border. These efforts were enforced with public activities which involved not only political but also clerical institutions.

Turkey's wartime alliance with Germany provided political grounds for Russia's return to Constantinople, which was a dream of Russian emperors, including Peter the Great. Not surprisingly, Stalin supported the effort of unification of Orthodox churches of Eastern Europe, with an intention to promote establishing the Moscow Patriarchy as the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchy. Relevant political tasks involved foundation of the International Slavonic Committee in the same period. Another, less known project was focused of the northern territories of Turkey, historically dominated by Armenians until the 1915 massacre.

These plans were supported by the Armenian community that was earlier humiliated with the Soviet-Turkish pact struck in 1920 on the initiative of Lenin. The impact of this special partnership influenced the establishment of borders of Soviet republics in the Transcaucasus, where the Armenia-dominated territories of Artsakh (Karabakh) and Nakhichevan were included into Azerbaijan, though with an autonomous status.

The relations between USSR and Turkey deteriorated after the death of Kemal Ataturk in 1938. The new Turkish leadership even negotiated with the governments of Britain and France on a joint assault on the Soviet Transcaucasus – with a special interest, naturally, to the oil reserves of the Baku area. French General Vaygand, later a top figure in the Vichy administration, claimed that the joint troops would cut up the Soviet territory as a knife cuts a piece of butter. At that time, Paris hoped that a relevant deal with Nazi Germany would prevent Hitler's expansion in Western Europe. The planners of this assault at the USSR from the south-western angle hoped the Soviet-Finnish war last for a longer time, forcing Moscow to fight at two fronts. In 1940, Hitler’s occupation of France and assault on Britain put an end to this plan. Meanwhile, the Turkish leadership was wooing the Nazi, signing an agreement on friendship and partnership with Berlin four days before Hitler's assault on the USSR. This treaty was reportedly supplied with a secret protocol suggesting that as soon as the Nazi occupy Moscow and reach the strategic line, connecting Arkhangelsk with the Volga cities of Gorky, Kuibyshev and Astrakhan, Turkey would declare war to the USSR. In 1942, negotiations between Berlin and Ankara suggested that the Turks would join after the Nazi army occupies Stalingrad on the Volga along with the major cities of North Caucasus, including Tuapse, Sochi, Grozny and Makhachkala.

Aram Pirouzian, head of the government of Soviet Armenia during the war, recalls Stalin's words said at a meeting of the Transcaucasus leaders in July 1941: "Turkey is supplied with Nazi weapons. A number of military bases is deployed at the border. We can expect an assault from this flank in the nearest time. Therefore, we are to reinforce the 45th Army in the Transcaucasus". Mentioning Turkish subversive activities in the Moslem autonomies of Russia, Stalin emphasized that the Turkish leadership is fascinated with the project of Great Turan. At that time, the USSR planned a joint operation with Britain for protecting Iran from the expected Nazi-Turkish aggression.

In the same period, Turkey boosted economic cooperation with Nazi Germany, simultaneously violating agreements, earlier signed with Soviet producers.

Already after the war, Moscow found out from the Nazi documentation that Hitler was planning to carve out quasi-independent states of Northern Caucasus and Crimea, also unifying Moslem-dominated Russian republics of the Volga into an entity named Idel-Ural (Idel is the Tatar name for Volga) under a joint protectorate with Turkey. At the same time, Adjaria, the Moslem-dominated region of Georgia, and Meskheti, the south-western district of Georgia with a part of ethnic Turkish population, were supposed to be conveyed to Turkey.

In 1944, when the outcome of the war was predetermined, Turkey allowed the Nazi submarines to escape via the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. Thus, Stalin had serious grounds for punishing the southern neighbor. A relevant plan, prepared by the Foreign Ministry already by August 1945, suggested that Turkey concede a territory of 20,500 sq. km to Soviet Armenia and 5,500 sq.km to Georgia. These lands were a part of the Russian Empire until the deal between Lenin and Ataturk.

The plan was presented to the US and British allies in Potsdam. In October 1945, Stalin selected Anton Kochinyan for the post of first secretary of the projected Kars district of Armenia, and Miha Tskhakaya for the post of the projected Tao-Klarceti district of Georgia. In a round of secret negotiations with Dashnaktsutyun, the émigré Armenian party, the Soviets proposed assistance to a guerilla war in Turkey. In their turn, Armenian nationalists demanded that Artsakh be then included into Armenia.

In November 1945, the Soviet Politburo authorized entry of foreign Armenians into Soviet Armenia. The relevant decree of the Soviet Government was published on December 2. By 1949, the number of back-settlers reached 60,000. The plans of annexation of a part of Turkey also involved the Kurdish population which was also allowed to return to Transcaucasus from Central Asia.

The described plans also suggested resettlement of the Azeri minority from Armenia to Azerbaijan. On May 3, 1948, Soviet Armenia's Interior Minister reported to Stalin that local Azeri population is reluctant to leave their homes, and that this sentiment is being used by foreign interests.

However, the process of Armenian and Kurdish repatriation was ceased after the foundation of NATO and the declared commitment of Washington and London to assist Ankara in case of a Soviet intervention. At the same time, the renewed strategy of spreading Communist ideas in the Third World, especially in Moslem states, convinced the Soviet leadership to give up of religious and territorial projects inherited from the Russian Empire. In late 1980s, the first nationalist sentiment, developing into warfare and anticipating the collapse of the USSR, started in Artsakh.


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