Independence of the North Caucasus in German Imperial Archive Documents - I

  • 02/03/2024
This week, in the North Caucasus Historical Memory, we will examine two documents dated May 1918 written by Otto Günther von Wesendonk and General Otto Hermann von Lossow, who played decisive roles in Germany's Caucasus policy in World War I. In the period April - August 1918, which marked a very important turning point in the history of the Caucasus, a team of six people consisting of Rudolf Nadolny, Johann Heinrich Bernstorff, Otto Günther von Wesendonk, Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein, Otto Hermann von Lossow and Friedrich-Werner Graf von der Schulenburg representing the German Empire played decisive roles in the fate of the people of the Caucasus. The bitter consequences of their mistakes are perceivable even today.

Türkçe Tercüme

A message from this six that Wesendonk sent to Berlin on May 13, 1918, was very striking in terms of revealing the perspective of the Georgian-German lobby against the North Caucasian politicians fighting for the unity of the Caucasian peoples;

“[…] From the beginning, the mountain peoples were in contact with the Trans-Caucasian people, who wanted to remain within a federal Russian state. Highlanders have negotiated the unification of all Caucasian peoples. There was a certain interest in the prospects of the Mountain peoples in the Trans-Caucasus, but they do not seem to have been very enthusiastic about the Mountain people. It seems that, at least, the Menshevik movement currently in power in Georgia displays some timidity towards the feudalist approaches of the leaders of the Mountain peoples. At least, relations had progressed so much that some North Caucasian individuals became involved in Trans-Caucasian formations. For example, the Trans-Caucasian delegate here, Alihan Kantemir[ov], is also a member of the Trans-Caucasian state parliament.

[…] Since the North Caucasians claim the entire Kuban and Kuma region, Trans-Caucasian representatives fear that if they unite w,th the North Caucasians, they will have to fight the Cossacks for the fulfillment of territorial demands, which they see as excessiveness of the North Caucasians. For this reason, they prefer to leave the North Caucasians out of the Trans-Caucasus for now, to establish a completely independent state separate from Russia. Representatives of the Trans-Caucasus think that, under the influence of events, this state will be forced to limit itself to the lands that rightfully belong to the Mountain peoples and to exclude from its borders as much as possible the Russian elements, which are an unnecessary and constant source of friction for the Caucasus. Only then may it be time to talk about the unification of the Trans-Caucasus and the North Caucasus.”

Otto Günther von Wesendonk’s report about the attitudes of the Georgian Mensheviks towards a Greater Caucasian Confederation
Otto Günther von Wesendonk
The Menshevik Georgian mentality, which was not courageous enough to unite with the North Caucasus due to the Russian threat in May 1918, showed its cowardice and its insincere attitude towards the ideal of the Greater Caucasus Confederation by sending Grigol Uratadze to Moscow to make a secret deal with the Bolsheviks two years later, on May 7, 1920.  The fact that this is proven today with a document from the German archives is also important in terms of revealing the accomplices of the Menshevik Georgians.

Additionally, the report by the head of the German delegation in Batumi, General von Lossow dated 18 May 1918, was extremely important in terms of understanding the German Empire's initial perspective on the independence of the North Caucasus and the change in their attitude in the following months. This report had also been delivered by Ambassador Bernstorff to Berlin the next day.

“Head of the North Caucasus Delegation Haydar Bammat[ov] told me the following in various speeches and partially written statements:

1) The government in Moscow can ensure recognition of the independence of the Trans-Caucasus, since this region, separated from Russia by the main chain of the Caucasus, is free from Russian influence. However, recognition of the North Caucasus will be difficult since the country, with its open northern border, is a direct neighbor of Russia and is known as a source of oil, mineral treasures, and grain.

I think these explanations are reasonable. I kindly request that a decision be made on this issue as soon as possible and communicated to me. Any concern with constitutional law needs to take a backseat to the fundamental level of violence in the current situation, which necessitates faster development.

2) Large Muslim masses in the North and South Caucasus increasingly want Turkey's annexation. Turkey's rising aura among the uneducated masses is increasing day by day due to the capture of Kars and Batumi, which are shown as a major Turkish transit route and supported by active Turkish propaganda. Muslim intellectuals clearly see the negative effects that Turkish rule and importing Turkish culture will bring to the Muslim regions of the Caucasus. Although these regions have a lower and less developed civilization level than the Georgian and Armenian regions, they are still much higher than Turkey. If they can quickly counter Turkish propaganda with Germany's help, they can stop the pro-Turkish mass psychosis. The North Caucasus government knows that it is helpless alone. Being alone would expose them to renewed Russian advances southward. However, reunification with Russia is out of the question under any circumstances. Therefore, if no help comes from Germany, the North Caucasus will have to hold on to Turkish straws like a drowning man, thinking that Turkish aid, even if very small, will be better than nothing. Unless there is any response or help from the German representative, Muslim leaders cannot break off with the Turks. Turkey takes advantage of this by saying that they are behind the entire Muslim mass, which now wants nothing but their annexation. Once Germany promises aid, Muslim leaders will be able to negotiate with the Turks much more than before, and I propose the following:

A) Let's recognize at least the temporary independence of the North and South Caucasus.

B) The North Caucasian government should issue a memorandum including the independence, recognition, and invitation of German troops against the Bolsheviks and the establishment of an independent state.

C) Let's send to Poti a general with political skills who will lead military operations, gain influence on the railways, and organize the purchase of raw materials first from there and then from Tbilisi in close cooperation with the government of the North and South Caucasus.

D) Let us send German troops to Novgorod and Tuapse, from there and from Tihoretsk they will advance along the railway to Baku and ensure the actual formation of the North Caucasian state. According to local opinion, one or two German divisions would be sufficient for this. The idea that sending training personnel will be enough to create Caucasian troops is wrong. There are many former Russian officers of Caucasian nationality and they always make a good impression. But the destruction of the old Russian army was so far-reaching that to rebuild national military power there must first be a real force factor, and this can only exist with a coherent German military force of sufficient strength. As far as I can detect so far, there are only Georgian and especially Armenian troops here. They consist of former Russian officers and men of real military value. Armenians claim to have 30,000 capable, well-armed, and ammunition-rich troops. They did a very good job in Alexandropol on May 15th. The Turks could pose a threat if there was no hope of a peaceful solution. The people of the North Caucasus were not previously subject to military service. This meant that it was not possible to form a unit from the soldiers of former Russian citizens belonging to those peoples.

3) Continuing from my telegram No. 18, Haydar Bammat[ov] also says that the security of the North Caucasus state is possible only with close relations with Germany. Not in the form of an ordinary alliance, but in the form of a much closer union. I find the unity of the supreme leadership of the Reich, the foreign policy, the currency, the customs zone, and, finally, the unity of the army and navy, as well as national characteristics, achievable for us. Otherwise, we can only obtain a rich economic area with vast oil, mineral, and raw material treasures from overseas. All this can be achieved with a secure connection to Germany via the Black Sea. It is clear that all the difficult issues related to the involvement of the Turkish, Austrian, and Bulgarian sides that arose during the war would be easily resolved by somehow incorporating the Caucasian state into the Imperial Union.

There's a big, rich country up for grabs here, and that opportunity won't come again for centuries. The issue is huge, now is the time to test it. I request that instructions be given as soon as possible. Please keep it a secret, especially from the Turks..."

General Otto Hermann von Lossow’s report about his correspondence with Haydar Bammat and the Independence of the North Caucasus
General Otto Hermann von Lossow
The expressions of General von Lossow regarding the annexation of the North Caucasus to the German Empire must have been expressions purely reflecting the hopes and dreams of the German general. The references to his meetings with Haydar Bammat in these statements do not reflect the truth. Today we have all the diplomatic correspondances that Haydar Bammat had in those days. We can surely affirm that there is neither such statement in the letters of Haydar Bammat that are available in the German archives, nor there is such a statement or even a hint that may evoke it in any of his diplomatic correspondences. The only thing Haydar Bammat reported to the German general was that the North Caucasus was ready to form a strategic partnership with the Central Powers.

So, these two archival findings show us today how the alliances were built in 1918.  Both the Turco-German alliance and the ideal of the Greater Caucasian Confederation were very vulnerable notions as the Germans and Menshevik Georgians never gave up the knives in their hands while they were giving hugs to their partners.

Followers of our website can access the originals of these documents in the German language, in our archive, and have not been published anywhere before, by clicking on the image of the document or the links below.

To be Continued...

Cem Kumuk
Istanbul, 2 March 2024

1. Otto Günther von Wesendonk’s report about the attitudes of the Georgian Mensheviks towards a Greater Caucasian Confederation 

2. General Otto Hermann von Lossow’s report about his correspondences with Haydar Bammat and the independence of the North Caucasus