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

  • 16/03/2024
This week, in the Historical Memory of the North Caucasus, we will continue analyzing Germany's policy of the Caucasus during World War I. 
In this chapter, you will witness the naked truth about the promises made by the highest rank officers such as the Chief of the delegation at the Batumi Conference and the Ambassador in Istanbul.   However, these promises were broken by an incompetent army officer, Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein who was well known for the defeat at the front of Palestine.

The High Rank Officials of the German Empire in the Caucasus.  From Left: 1) Rudolf Nadolny, 2) Johann Heinrich Bernstorff, 3) Otto Günther von Wesendonk, 4) Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein, 5) Otto Hermann von Lossow, 6) Friedrich-Werner Graf von der Schulenburg
(Click on the image for a larger view)
Türkçe Tercüme

The Caucasian policy of the German Empire was under the monopoly of General Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein, who was assigned to the Caucasus in June 1918. General von Kress, who completely and exclusively protected Georgia's interests, seemed to push Germany into the same mistakes they committed at the beginning of the war. He was not a successful commander anyway, and the reason he was appointed to the Caucasus was the defeat he inflicted in Palestine. As soon as he stepped into the Caucasian Front, he started by ruining what his colleagues had done during the Batumi Conference. Among these were the promises to the North Caucasian representatives by General Otto Hermann von Lossov, who headed the German delegation at the Batumi Conference.
The letter of General von Lossow dated 20 May 1918 to Haydar Bammat was a letter prepared in line with the letter sent to the German Embassy in Istanbul and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin on 18 May (See the previous post on the same topic).[1] Moreover, this letter reflected not only von Lossov's individual ideas but also the instructions of the Second Army Deputy Chief of Staff, Marshal Erich Ludendorf.[4] 

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“Referring to my letter of the 17th of this month - No. 125, I have the honor to inform you that I have asked my Government to sound out the Russian Government & Moscow regarding its attitude towards vis-à-vis the aspirations of the countries of the North Caucasus for independence. It appears from several telegrams that the German Government is ready to give its aid and support to the Government of the Republic of the Peoples of the North Caucasus and Dagestan. As for the details, they still form the subject of negotiations; as soon as I have instructions on this I will not fail to inform you.
Regarding the northern border of Cis-Caucasia, the point of view of the Imperial Government is as follows:
The question of Dagestan and the Terek district is clear; there is no doubt that this territory belongs to Cis-Caucasia. On the other hand, the question of the territory of the Kuban is not yet sufficiently clarified. From an ethnographic point of view, the Kuban Cossacks are similar to the population of Ukraine. They live in compact masses in the Kuban district, they are organized and well-armed. Certainly, they will not evacuate their territory or allow it to be annexed, without their consent by a third party. If we wanted to force them to do so, a new serious war would break out in these regions. The German Government could not participate in such an enterprise which would provide Germany with a new and difficult theater of war. The German Government cannot and will not allow such action to be undertaken, without its consent, by a third party.
Finally, the annexation of the Kuban territory by force would constitute an infringement of the Treaty of Brest-Litowsk, an infringement which the German Government cannot accept.
Therefore, the German Government believes that for the moment, the question of the Kuban district must remain open, just as it was done, during the Brest-Litowsk negotiations, regarding the question of the North-Eastern border of Ukraine with Russia. No need to mention that the German Government would consider with the greatest kindness any amicable solution to the Kuban question that would unite the interests of the Kuban district with those of the Cis and Trans-Caucasia.
If you share my point of view, I ask you, Mr. Delegate, to kindly inform me. In this case, I will write, along the lines of what I have just explained to you above, to gentlemen of the heads of the Ottoman and Transcaucasian Delegations and I will invite them to a discussion in which the articles of the peace treaty which concern the North Caucasian Republic will be formulated.
At the same time, I would like to let you know that soon an Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian Delegation will arrive in Batoum to take part in the negotiations. The Presidents of these Delegations have received instructions to act in the most intimate contact with the Head of the German Delegation and to assist him.
I take this opportunity to renew to you, Mr. Delegate, the assurance of my highest consideration.”

After General von Kress’s arrival, the strategy of the German Empire shifted to undermine Ottoman interests in the Caucasus. The Germans began to use Georgians not only to undermine the Ottoman interests in the region but also to ruin the ideal of the Greater Caucasus Confederation. General von Kress, who provoked the Menshevik and Chauvinist Georgians despite all written agreements and practices, was the most important factor that encouraged the Georgian administration in the occupation of Abkhazia.
Haydar Bammat did not give up putting pressure on the German ambassador in Istanbul. Johann Heinrich Bernstorff, who started to have a better view of the Caucasian issues after the briefings he received from Haydar Bammat, sent a report to Berlin with a critical perspective on the policies of the German Empire:[2]

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“Bammat[off], the leader of the North Caucasians, paid me another long visit and complained that we were preventing transit through Georgia. As a result, the North Caucasians did not receive the weapons, etc., which were ready for them in Batum. We shouldn't believe that the North Caucasians wanted to be annexed by the Turks. On the contrary, they wanted joint German-Turkish help so that Turkish-Mohammedan propaganda could be restricted. Even the local Circassians didn't want annexation. Independence of the entire Caucasus is the goal of all North Caucasians. General von Lossow promised help to Bammat[off]. But this has not happened so far. If the current Bolshevik anarchy continues, there will be general famine in the Caucasus. Otherwise the Caucasians, especially those of the North, would be able to help us in every way. Our policy of exclusively favoring Georgians is wrong because they cannot live alone. So continued Bammat[off]'s complaints, which I similarly hear almost daily from the Armenians.
I always replied that we had to respect the Peace of Brest and that we couldn't send troops everywhere on the same side. These arguments are not very convincing because Caucasians claim that very little help is needed. Furthermore, since there is fighting everywhere in Russia and we ourselves are in Georgia, the Peace of Brest is not being observed.
I'm getting more convinced that the Caucasus Conference will be a mess. If we do not allow the Turks to regulate their borders, they will offer passive resistance and promote anarchy in the Caucasus. But if we approve the border regulations, the Christian Caucasians will become Russian-minded again. Furthermore, general disputes will arise at the conference about the internal borders in the Caucasus region. We will not be able to satisfy any of the states. Under these circumstances, I would like to leave it to Your Excellency's consideration whether we should not hold a conference for the time being and send the delegates home. Instead, perhaps we could reach a purely military agreement with the Turks, whereby we would establish order in Georgia and Armenia, the Turks in Azerbaijan, and the two of us together in the North Caucasus. Baku would then have to be counted as the last part. If we do this, it may be possible to establish peace and order in a few months, which could be followed by a truly practical conference. As things stand now, I fear that we will argue over borders in the Caucasus for months without agreeing and that someone outside the control of the German troops will then observe the decisions of the conference.”

 However, the strong influence of General von Kress on Berlin's decisions neutralized even two important names such as General von Lossow and Ambassador Bernstorff. While Haydar Bammat continued contacting the German ambassador in Istanbul, the German ambassador, on the one hand, was fed up with the inconsistent policies of his government, and on the other hand, was careful not to use expressions that would negatively affect his career, and continued to explain to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the mistakes that they committed in the Caucasian policy. The following statements were included in the encrypted telegram dated August 22 that Ambassador Bernstorff sent to Berlin:[3]

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“I request instructions as to whether Haydar Bey's trip to Berlin is acceptable to Your Excellency. He has asked me again and has assumed that there can no longer be any mention of a trip to Moscow.
Haydar Bey maintains that we promised him help and claims that the North Caucasians would provide auxiliary troops with several hundred thousand men if we gave them weapons, ammunition, and a few officers. He had learned from North Caucasian representatives in Kyiv that we similarly supported the Don Cossacks. I replied that everything seemed highly unlikely to me. However, Haydar did not let himself be dissuaded from wanting to present his point of view in Berlin since he had received binding promises in Batum and since the Georgians and Armenians had been welcomed in Berlin, both of whom were not in a position to give us that much because of their low military capabilities to help, like the North Caucasians.
In particular, Haydar Bey repeated his complaints about the blockage of the Georgian railway, for which he blamed us and not the Georgians. As a result of this blockage, the North Caucasians would not be able to receive the ammunition and weapons that were ready for them in Batum. For the same reason, the Islamic Army suffered from a lack of ammunition and suffered a defeat at Baku. Otherwise, Baku would have been conquered long ago instead of the English still being settled there.”

To be Continued…

Cem Kumuk
Istanbul, 16 March 2024

[1] Haydar Bammat Private Archive, letter of General von Lossow dd. 20 May 1918
[2] Bundesarchiv, Politische Archiv des Auswaertigen Amts, About Haydar Bammat‘s visit to Johann Heinrich Bernstorff. Telegram, 12 July 1918, Sig. RZ 201/11051, L.250-2
[3] Bundesarchiv, Politisches Archiv des Auswaertigen Amts, Encrypted Telegram from Johann Heinrich Bernstorff to the Foreign Ministry No.1354, 22 August 1918, Sig. RZ 201/11056, L.004-5
[4]Bundesarchiv, Politische Archiv des Auswaertigen Amts, Diaries of Otto Günther von Wesendonk, 10 August 1918, Sig. RZ 201/11054, L.214-6