90th anniversary of the Aleksandrapol agreement

On December 3 it is the 90th anniversary of the Aleksandrapol agreement. The head of the “Modus Vivendi” Apa Paryan presents articles, where it is shown the agreement was illegal.

By Ara Papyan

The study of history, particularly of the history of international relations, is not an end in itself. In studying history, man tries to learn from the past, so as to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. It seems, then, that we are continually rejecting the lessons of history and directing ourselves with the delusion of perceiving what is desirable instead of what is real. If this were not the case, then we would not have signed the humiliating Armenia-Turkey protocols in Zurich, protocols which provided a temporary sense of relief, but which remained fruitless and barren, thereby rendering themselves exemplars of political onanism.

During these very days ninety years ago, the Armenians and Turks were carrying out negotiations in the ill-fated city of Alexandropol (now Gyumri), perhaps the most difficult negotiations in our brief political history. The negotiations ended with the signing of that most burdensome Treaty of Alexandropol, on the 3rd of December, 1920. I shall relate a comparative analysis of the negotiations process, the legal status of the treaty itself and its contents in a future article. At present, a few words on what lead up to the treaty.

Of course, the signing of the Treaty of Alexandropol was not some isolated incident. It was a consequence, in particular, of the military and political situation in Armenia after the havoc caused by the May, 1920 uprising, the ever-increasing Bolshevik-Kemalist co-operation, as well as the immense gap that had been formed between the authorities of Armenia and the people. As the current state of Armenia mirrors the Armenia of May-November, 1920 in many ways, I thought it helpful to discuss certain key points.

One question has always bothered me, as I am sure, it has others. How did it come to pass that, in almost the absence of an army, the Armenian people managed to defeat or at least provide an adequate defence to the Ottoman forces in open battle in May of 1918, and just two and a half years later, in September-November, 1920, with more weapons, ammunitions and soldiers than in 1918, it suffered ignominious defeat at the hands of the remnants of the very same Ottoman army in the well-bastioned fortress of Kars? When one studies the documents, press and memoirs of the time, one thing becomes clear: the roots of the defeat rested more on morale than on the military or the political.

Yes, costly mistakes were allowed in organising the defence; yes, there were many unfavourable circumstances, even accidental ones. And, what, were there none in May of 1918? Of course there were! But in May of 1918, the Armenian man and soldier was certain that the Ottoman army was advancing towards the southern Caucasus to finish what it had started with the Armenian Genocide. Therefore, there were no alternatives to facing and struggling against the enemy; the willingness to fight was borne by the entire people.

And also, the real reason for the victory of the first battle over Artsakh (Karabakh) was its own characteristic of being national, aimed at liberation and the fact that its essence was shared among the people. But when one casts a glance at the circumstances in September-November, 1920, then it becomes clear that the Armenian soldier had simply given up on fighting, and the Armenian man, on showcasing any resistance. The most revealing testimony to that fact are the Turkish casualties. According to Kazim Karabekir, commander of the eastern front of the Kemalist forces, in the course of three days of battle (from the 31st of October to the 2nd of November, 1920), including the taking of Kars, the Turks lost only nine and had 42 wounded.

This served as a realisation of the Bolshevik calls of “the times have changed”, “these are different Turks”. And upon the withdrawal of “the Turks new and made anew”, the local authorities had to bury 4,386 bodies – 90% of which were women and children – in but three villages of Shirak (Ghaltaghchi, Aghboulagh and Barapol, as they were then called).

This, too, was a manifestation of the policy of brotherhood towards “the new and made anew” Turks. Most unfortunately, it is the same song being sung today, the same old story; only the Bolsheviks getting assistance from abroad have been replaced by numerous grant-gulping organisations and so-called political scientists.

As the Bolsheviks were unsure whether or not it would be possible “to destroy Imperialist Armenia” solely by deluding the Armenians and breaking their spirit of resistance, they combined other steps with that of propaganda. Starting in May-June, 1919, when Semyon Budyonny met with Mustafa Kemal, the Bolsheviks provided immense military and material support to the Kemalists under the sway of the dream of a global revolution. And those relations were particularly deepened with the signing of a secret treaty of co-operation between the Kemalists and Bolsheviks on the 24th of August, 1920.

As a matter of fact, one of the signatories to the treaty on behalf of the Turkish party was that war criminal, former Minister of War for the Ottoman Empire, Enver Pasha, something which testifies to the following: although Kemal and Enver despised one another for years, all Turks found common ground in their efforts against the Armenians.

Immediately following the secret treaty of the 24th of August, 1920, the Bolsheviks transferred over 200 kilogrammes of gold and much arms and ammunition to the Kemalists. The provision of military assistance is a relatively well-known fact, but few are aware that the Bolsheviks supported the Kemalists by directly fighting within their ranks against “Armenian Imperialists”. At the end of August, 1920, the first detachment of Bolsheviks, 7,000 soldiers, arrived in Karin (Erzurum).

Some time later, another detachment of 10,000 arrived in aid of the Kemalists. Whereas the orders of the first detachment were to participate in the military actions against Armenia, the second was to be involved in maintaining the Mesopotamian front, so that the British forces stationed there would not be able to strike at the Kemalists from the rear and come to the assistance of Armenia in that way.

And so, under these circumstances – deserted by allies Britain and France, betrayed by ally Russia, internally weakened and militarily brought to her knees – the delegation of the Republic of Armenia arrived at Alexandropol (Gyumri) on the 24th of November, 1920, in order to commence negotiations with the so-called new, self-declared revolutionary Turkey.


The exact day and time of the signing of the Treaty of Alexandropol is of extreme significance, as it depends directly on the full powers of the Armenian delegation at Alexandropol, and accordingly with the legal status of the treaty.

Because any act, including the signing of international documents, which is carried out by a representative of a state while being beyond his authority or time-frame is considered to be an ultra vires act and, as such, it does not create any legal obligations for the state in question, and so the simple historical fact of the date of signing of the Treaty of Alexandropol has been rendered a fact with legal bearing in this case.

That is to say, the big question here is the following: did the Armenian delegation possess the relevant authority when the Treaty of Alexandropol was signed, or not? I must strongly emphasise that a negative answer would be only one reason for the invalidity of this treaty. The Treaty of Alexandropol is invalid for a number of other reasons, including not being ratified or enforced, as well as the fact of the sovereign of the Turkish state, Sultan Mehmed VI, not having bestowed, for his part, the corresponding authority on the Kemalists.

It is necessary to emphasise as well that, until the 1st of November, 1922, no one – neither the international community, nor even the Kemalists – doubted the de jure sovereignty of the sultan, his constitutional authority and his legal supremacy.

The change in regime in Armenia in 1920 is a documented turn of events, and consequently its date and time is an unquestionable fact. The change in regime in the Republic of Armenia took place with the signing of a pertinent agreement between the authorities of the Republic of Armenia and Boris Legran, representative of the RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic).

That agreement was signed on the 2nd of December, 1920, in the morning, and was enforced the same day, at 6 pm.

As the issue of the change in regime is once and for all clear, it remains to be discovered when the Treaty of Alexandropol was signed, whether before the change in regime, or after.

Most often, and traditionally, the date of the signing of the Treaty of Alexandropol is given as the 2nd of December, 1920. This date is incorrect, since the facts bear witness otherwise. I believe that this mistake has been widespread as, although the treaty was signed on the 3rd of December, a previous date of “2 December, 1920” (or rather, by the Turkish calendar, “2 Aral?k 1336”) remained on the document.

Let us take a look at what the direct and indirect participants of the signing of the Treaty of Alexandropol have to say. The head of the delegation of the Republic of Armenia, Alexander Khatisian, notes the following in his memoirs: “The fourth and final session of the peace conference took place at eight o'clock in the evening. … At two o'clock at night (past midnight, into the 3rd of December), the treaty was signed by the two delegations”.

The head of the Turkish nationalists and future president of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal, said the following in his famous speech of 1927 when speaking of the Treaty of Alexandropol: “Peace negotiations began on the 26th November and ended on the 2nd December; during that night the treaty was signed at Gumru”.

There are many sources and studies which correctly indicate the date of the signing of the Treaty of Alexandropol as the 3rd of December, 1920. I shall not burden the reader with too many citations in this article. I shall only quote perhaps the most informed man of the time, Horace Rumbold, minister plenipotentiary of Great Britain at Constantinople, who mentioned in an intelligence briefing of the 16th of December, 1920 to foreign minister George Curzon, “Peace between the Turks and Armenians was actually signed at Alexandropol on the 3rd December”.

In sum, the following conclusion can be drawn. The Treaty of Alexandropol is invalid on a number of bases, one of which being the absence of the relevant authority of the delegations. When the Treaty of Alexandropol was signed, on the 3rd of December, 1920, neither delegation possessed the authority to represent their countries. The Armenian delegation was already no longer sent on behalf of the country's leadership, and the Turkish (Kemalist) delegation was not representing the country's leadership.


I shall not ask Comrade Tovmasyan how many died daily of hunger during those blessed years of communist, namely during the Holodomor, as I have not myself studied that issue and could not argue about it as a specialist. I can refer to one question in particular, which I have investigated in accordance with my specialisation and by public demand for many years, which is, the size of the territory of the Republic of Armenia.

One can speak of the size of the territory of any country if at least general delineations have been carried out on all the borders of that country. The Treaty of Alexandropol defines only the Armenia-Turkey border (Article 2; I am putting aside the question of the legal status of that treaty for the moment). Naturally, the treaty does not take up the remaining three frontiers of the Republic of Armenia, with Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Naturally, as two countries cannot decide on the borders with a third country in the absence of the third country. Of course, only the Bolsheviks could allow themselves to do such a thing, as they did with the Treaty of Moscow (of the 16th of March, 1921).

Whereas, out of the above three, there were no disputes on the Armenia-Iran border, there were disputes of immense magnitude, by our scale, on the Armenia-Georgia and Armenia-Azerbaijan frontiers.

What is more, the Treaty of Alexandropol did not clarify the final status of even Nakhichevan. That was to be decided later, with a referendum (Article 2), as opposed to the Treaty of Kars (of the 13th of October, 1921), by which the communists panegyrised by Comrade Tovmasyan handed it over with nothing in return to Azerbaijani rule.

And also, whereas the Treaty of Alexandropol had provisions on the possibility of a referendum on the final status of even the Kars region (Article 3), the Treaty of Kars between the communists and the Kemalists did not take even that into consideration.

I would like to end by quoting a book the communists don't like, the Bible: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3, New International Version).

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