The German Intervention in the Caucasus in 1918

  • 20/05/2024
Türkçe Tercüme

This week we will focus on the intervention of the German Empire in the affairs of the Caucasus in 1918 by focusing on some letters penned by General Prince Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein...

General Prince Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein
These letters were written by a respected, noble, but also incompetent and unsuccessful officer, who was trying to deal a blow to its ally, the Ottoman Empire, rather than fighting against the common enemies, in the last months of World War I.
General von Kress forgot what his absolute goal was in the Caucasus, similar to what he had done in Palestine shortly before he was assigned to the Caucasus. He did everything possible to incite hostility by creating a German–Georgian front against the Ottoman–Mountaineers alliance.  Some contemporary German, Austrian, Turkish, and Georgian historians had previously conducted studies on the materials in the German archives where these letters were located. But none of these historians adequately mentioned these letters and the hypocrisy of the German Empire in the Caucasus in their books though they were very much aware of the existence of such historical proofs. The mistake of those historians was that they performed their research with their nationalist biases. While some deliberately censored these documents, some missed them because they did not have sufficient research opportunities.
Consequently, the result was the same: Evidence was obscured, and history was distorted.  Even General von Kress himself did not include these letters in his memoirs. If he had published these letters in his memoirs, it would have been revealed that he was one of the top responsible for the failures and disasters of the era.
I followed the footprints of these researchers in the German archives and asked myself how the documents related to the North Caucasus in these funds could be that few.  As a part of my ongoing monographic study, I stepped into the German archives and found the truth that was hidden and neglected by these writers. Finally, von Kress achieved his goal... The Georgians, encouraged by the Germans, invaded Abkhazia. When Abkhazians who were the Ottoman subjects landed Sukhum to support the resistance against the Georgian occupation, General von Kress had another opportunity to undermine the Ottoman-German alliance... Especially after the Ottomans liberated Baku and started making their way north, to Dagestan, von Kress had taken panic. All that he had done caused the Bolsheviks to gain more sympathizers both in Abkhazia and the Eastern Caucasus. 
So, here are the letters of General Prince von Kress which reveal his ill feelings primarily towards the Ottomans and the Caucasian Mountaineers.

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General von Kress implied in his report dated June 30th, that the landing of the Sukhum Platoon in Abkhazia was a hostile operation against Germany, which was planned primarily at the initiative of Enver Pasha. While he questioned the reasons for the presence of the Abkhazian soldiers in the Ottoman uniforms in Abkhazia, he did not even think of questioning why the German soldiers were there.  It also seemed that the German general had no idea about the peoples and historical facts of the lands he occupied:[1]

"Especially with regard to the landing of Turkish troops in Sukhum, Vehib Pasha claims that he acted on his own authority because the Abkhaz notables asked him for urgent help against Bolshevism.
I can't justify whether the allegation that he ordered the landing without Enver's permission is based on reality, or whether this is another trap. From my conception of his personality, it seems impossible to me that Vehib could have regarded this as a serious secondary measure in the context of general military operations, as he himself preferred to portray it. Finally, Vehib did not refrain from mentioning General von Lossov's military measures in Georgia. He believes that these measures should be aligned with Turkey's activities in Abkhazia.
I would like to state that I have not been able to find out what the next goal of the operation is. Vehib himself answered our question on this issue and flatly declined to comment.
I learned from the Abkhaz dignitaries who asked Vehib to send troops, that the troops that came out were 200 men and 3 machine guns. A second ship with a very strong crew had to turn back from the shore. According to this source, Turkish troops are tasked with defending Abkhazia against the Bolsheviks.
[...] 90% of Abkhazia is Christian: the weaker aristocratic group leans towards the North Caucasus, while the stronger democratic group enjoys support from Georgians. The democratic group called Georgians to the country for protection from the Bolsheviks, and now there are actually Georgian troops in Abkhazia. The defeat suffered by the Georgian troops gave the individual representatives of the aristocratic group an excuse to ask the Turks for help. The landing was carried out without prior notification to the Georgian government or the Abkhaz National Council."

In another correspondence, General von Kress worte the German Chancellor von Hertling the following by refuting Nesimi Bey's statements:[2]

"I have the honor to inform Your Excellency that what Nesimi Bey told about what happened during the landing of Turkish troops in Sukhum does not correspond in any way to the facts.
In reality, about 200 men were landed south of the city, and another 200 men were unable to disembark due to the open sea and unfavorable wind conditions. The 200 men who landed were attacked, surrounded and forced to turn back by the Abkhazians, who were said to have called for Turkish military assistance at first.
Nesimi's claim that Assad Pasha canceled the expedition has been clearly proven to be untrue in any case. As we learned from Lieutenant Colonel von Feldmann, the head of the General Staff's Operations Department, who is currently here, Vehib Pasha asked for Enver Pasha's consent before the operation began. Not allowed. Later, Vehib Pasha carried out the operation plan without paying attention to the order of the Army Headquarters."

Despite all these protest notes and ultimatums, General von Kress continued to shape Germany's Caucasian policy alone and arbitrarily. He had never hidden prejudices against the Mountaineers in his memoirs. He not only caused irreparable damage to the Ottoman Empire and the Caucasus Mountaineers with his dirty policies but also damaged the interests of the German Empire in the region.[3]  Von Kress was in direct contact with the German Chancellor in the hierarchical line.  As a matter of fact, in the messages he sent from Tbilisi to Berlin on September 9, he made it clear that he would not be accountable to anyone other than the Chancellor himself, and that he even misguided the Chancellor with false information:[4]

"With reference to the reports of July 13 and August 16, after the Turkish troops that landed near Sukhum at the end of June were forced to retreat by the Abkhazians and the Georgian government. As your Excellency knows from my report No. 461 of August 16, a few weeks later received news of another landing of Turkish troops with soldiers dressed in Turkish uniforms, numbering several hundred. According to the statements of Lieutenant Colonel von Feldmann (see also According to the relevant communiqué of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), the first landing was made by Vehib Pasha on his own initiative against the explicit orders of Enver Pasha. Both the Georgian government and I believed that this repeated incident was not caused by regular Turkish troops but by defectors from the Turkish army or former Abkhazians who served in the Turkish army. With this in mind, immediately after receiving the report on August 11, I wrote a letter to Assad Pasha in Batumi, telling him that I sent a German detachment to Sukhum in support of the Georgian occupation with the task of taking all kinds of prisoners under the command of Assad Pasha in case of a clash with the above-mentioned gangs. At the same time, I asked him to specify the place where the detainees would be sent. But today I received the attached reply from Assad Pasha, which once again shows his determination to continue his brother's policy. Based on the clear assurances of Enver and Nassimi, I would not believe that the renewed violation of the most basic principles of international law took place with the consent of the Turkish government or the Supreme Army Command. Assad's excuse that Abkhazia belongs to the Union of Mountain Peoples and that Turkish troops were called up for help by the Abkhaz notables is, of course, not valid in any way. Georgia and Abkhazia live in close relations based on the attached agreement signed between the Georgian government and the Abkhaz National Council on June 11. Abkhazia handed over the management of its foreign policy to Georgia and demanded the deployment of the Georgian occupation force. The funds and loans needed to govern the country are also provided by the Georgian government. In the face of this flawless legal situation, it is not possible for Assad Pasha to give credence to the call made to him by some high-ranking personalities. As long as the fate of Abkhazia is not yet decided, the Turks should recognize the National Council as the sole authority responsible for exercising the authority of the interim government and representing the people. In my opinion, even if there were no Abkhaz-Georgian agreement and the National Council of Abkhazia had been dismissed from the mandate to conduct government affairs in accordance with the law, it would still be a mistake for Assad Pasha to deploy troops. Since Turkey and Georgia live peacefully with each other based on the Batumi Treaty, logically, in the territories that are still in dispute, the military occupation of the state that first sent its troops there to maintain order should be respected, until a final decision is reached on ownership. Deviation from this principle would otherwise also give Georgia the right to deploy troops to territories that Georgia and Azerbaijan claim at the same time and that are currently under Turkish occupation.
I have the honor to ask Your Excellency to make statements to the Turkish Government in accordance with these statements and to draw attention to the dangers that may arise from any conflict between German and Turkish troops. I do not see any benefit in continuing my direct negotiations with Assad Pasha because of his stubborn policy, which he seems to have fully adopted by Vehib Pasha.
Meanwhile, the Turkish gangs, who refused the demand to lay down arms, faced an attack by the Georgians at the request of the National Council of Abkhazia. They suffered casualties, were scattered, and about 150 people were disarmed and taken prisoner."

"The will of the Abkhaz People's Council of June 11", expressed in Kress' letter, was the so-called will of the puppet People's Council elected by the occupation forces through threats, blackmail, and bribery, instead of the original Abkhaz People's Council, which was abolished with the invasion of Abkhazia by the German-backed Menshevik Georgian armed forces under the command of General Mazniashvili.  Thus, this council was not, as von Kress often stated and advocated in his messages, a council that enjoyed the trust and choice of the Abkhaz people and had the power to represent them. A much more striking example of von Kress's interpretation and use of everything to the detriment of the Highlanders was revealed in another message he sent to the Chancellor at the same time:[5]

"Following the telegram I sent, as well as reports No. 301 of July 29 of this year and No. 750 of the 5th of this month, I have the honor to present to Your Excellency the following points on the current situation in the North Caucasus, which has not yet been decided:
There is still an Entente mission in Vladikavkaz, which is carrying out active agitation activities against us. The Terek Cossacks' attacks on the Mountain peoples can no doubt be traced back to British influence. It is clearly understood that the Terek Cossacks were paid, equipped, organized, and in some cases even commanded by the British. Likewise, there is little doubt that General Bicherakhov, who some time ago took control of the cities of Derbent and Petrovsk and was based there to fight the Mountain peoples, was financed by the British and worked with them.
The propaganda of the Entente, so cleverly directed from Vladikavkaz, is extremely dangerous for the consolidation of the Georgian state and the consolidation of our influence in Georgia. Given the bribery of Georgian officers and officials, stopping traffic between Tbilisi and Vladikavkaz is impossible.
I think that putting an end to the activities of the Entente agents is a matter of self-defense. But this can only be possible if we provide concrete evidence to the Mountain peoples that they can count on our help and support. As long as they are not sure of this, it is certain that they will not break the connection with the Entente Powers, especially considering that Britain is again working with large financial resources.
If the struggle against British influence requires the active policy of the Central Powers in the North Caucasus, then on the other hand, the behavior of the Turks forces us to abandon our previous restraints.
As I have had the honor of reporting several times before, the Turks have long been sending to the Mountain Peoples a considerable number of agents, especially the clergy, who carry out pan-Islamic and pan-Turkist propaganda with extraordinary skill. A division command of about 600 officers and non-commissioned officers has been busy organizing the military power of the Chechens and Lezgins for weeks. The work of transporting small quantities of Turkish weapons and ammunition was transferred to the Highlanders. Most of all, many influential personalities were paid by the Turks.
I can reiterate my opinion, which I have expressed many times before, that the Turks have not in any way given up the idea of a complete conquest of the Caucasus.
After our troops reached the right flank of Georgia to prevent the Turks from seizing Georgia by force of arms, Turkish policy is now aimed at strangling Georgia economically with its characteristic determination.
Georgia is currently surrounded by Turkish lands in the south, southeast, and east. Turkish troops were sent to Abkhazia to support the resistance of the Muslim elements among the Abkhaz against Georgia by bringing the Mountaineers fully under Turkish influence. I will report this matter separately to Your Excellency. Now the circle around Georgia is narrowing. Thus, Georgia's land connection to the grain-exporting regions will be closed, and it will be easier for the Turks to provoke the marauding Mountaineers in Georgia and the Tatars living in Georgia in such a way that they will never find peace in Georgia again.
I completely agree with Mr. Jordania that it is a vital issue for Georgia to prevent Georgia from being surrounded by pro-Turkish areas. In my opinion, Mr. Jordania is also right that if we want to prevent this siege, we must not waste any more time. According to reliable reports, Turkish propaganda has recently gained strength, especially among the Ingush on the border of the Georgian military route, and has already spread to the territory of Ossetia. We can fight against this propaganda in the western part of the North Caucasus only by pursuing an active policy ourselves. Abdulkarim Pasha asked me for an interview during his inaugural visit and devoted almost the entire two-hour meeting to discussing the North Caucasus problem. Apparently, his government specifically instructed him to resolve this issue, probably given the impending fall of Baku.
As Your Excellency knows, at that time a state was established in the North Caucasus under the leadership of Chermoy[ev], Kotse[v], and Bammat[ov]. This republic no longer exists today. Although the named gentlemen still claim to be representatives of the Republic of the North Caucasus, in fact they have been out of the country for months and do not have any government authority. Given the confusing circumstances, to the extent that there can be talk of governing, the power is in the hands of the national councils of the individual nations. However, there is no central authority, at least for now. Such a central authority can be revived if it is supported by us, but the differences between the Mountain peoples are so great that I can no longer believe that in the foreseeable future, there will be a North Caucasian government capable of exercising de facto power all over the North Caucasus. Under these conditions, at least for the time being, there will be nothing left but to work together with the national councils of the individual nations and to try primarily to strengthen and organize the nations within themselves. Their merger with a federation may be postponed.
Abdulkarim Pasha and I therefore agreed to propose to our governments the division of the North Caucasus into two spheres of influence. It is assumed that the purely Muslim region east of the Georgian military route, bordering on the Turkish province of Azerbaijan, will become a Turkish sphere of influence, while the peoples, some of whom are Christians and live exclusively on the territory of Georgia, living in the direction of the Black Sea to the west of the Georgian military route, will be under German influence. We consider such a division to be necessary and desirable because cooperation between Germans and Turks in the same region would lead to permanent friction and difficulties.
One of the points on which we disagree is the Georgian military route and the question of whether Vladikavkaz should fall under the influence of Germany or Turkey. Abdülkerim Pasha thought that Vladikavkaz was located on the territory of the Ingush and therefore should fall into the Turkish sphere of influence, while Vladikavkaz, which, in my opinion, was the starting point of the military road to Georgia, should be under German influence, or at least both powers should have equal rights there. Probably the most appropriate would be to agree with Turkey that the Georgian military route would remain completely under German influence, and that after the fall of Baku, Turkey would establish its own stage in its zone of influence through Derbent and Petrovsk.
On the one hand, given our poor connections, and on the other hand, the situation requires a quick decision, since it always takes an extremely long time for a decision from Your Excellency to reach here in response to my requests. I believe that I can obtain Your Excellency's consent to act under the above-mentioned agreements until other orders arrive. First of all, the only thing that matters is to stop the Turkish propaganda among Ossetians and Kabardians by helping these peoples with our advice, money, weapons, ammunition, and trainers, as the Turks have been doing for a long time in the eastern parts of the North Caucasus. Subject to your Excellency's approval, I will immediately initiate these measures, however limited. I ask Your Excellency to grant me an allowance of one million rubles, first of all, for propaganda in the North Caucasus, and to obtain permission for the delivery to me of arms and ammunition (see weeping report No. 4, 750), which, according to Mr. Kotse[v], is approved by the German High Command responsible for the Republic of the North Caucasus, primarily to equip the peoples in our sphere of influence. I also ask that a limited number of officers and non-commissioned officers from the formations under our command be allowed to be sent to Ossetia as instructors. I believe that this measure will not affect our political relations with the Cossacks of the Volunteer Army and the Soviet government.
Abdulkarim Pasha asked me to obtain the approval of the Georgian government to allow the Turkish troops (some battalions and batteries) to be taken to Vladikavkaz via the Georgian military road, which was closed. I refused because I had to get first the approval of my government for such an important measure. In my opinion, we must prevent the Turks from bringing us back to a fait accompli.
Apart from the fact that I am not yet convinced of the necessity of such a measure, I do not rule out the possibility that the participation of nearby Turkish troops in the battles between the Mountaineers and the Terek Cossacks will lead to disturbances with the Kuban Cossacks and the appearance of volunteers.
The weakest point in my proposed solution to the North Caucasus problem is that the Grozny oil fields will initially fall under the influence of Turkey. But if we don't want to put ourselves in danger of having a serious problem with Turkey again, we have no other way out. Now, thanks to the troops at my disposal, we can easily take Vladikavkaz and Grozny. However, I am afraid that this will be seen by the Turks as an extremely hostile act. If the requirements of the war nevertheless result in us occupying Vladikavkaz and Grozny with German troops to secure the oil products necessary for our war, then, in my opinion, to reassure them that this is not a permanent seizure of Russian territory, to reassure them that they will receive part of the oil products, and, above all, to assure us the possibility of transporting oil products to Novorossiysk, the Turkish government in advance,  I recommend contacting the Soviet government and Alekseyev.
Because of the advance of strong Turkish troops from Baku to the North Caucasus, I shall be especially grateful to Your Excellency if he would inform me by telegram of his urgent preliminary decision on my application."

In the meantime, Haydar Bammat delivered another categorical protest to the German diplomat, Count Waldburg at the German Embassy in Istanbul on 12 September.[6]

“In September 1917 the National Council of Abkhazia saw the national unity of the Abkhasian people with those of the North Caucasus who from the beginning of the Revolution had joined the Union of United Mountaineers of the North Caucasus and Dagestan. Under the historical traditions of the Abkhaz and the desire clearly expressed by the people to merge their historical destinies with those of the peoples of the North Caucasus, related to them, decided to become part of the Union as mentioned above. In the second assembly of the mountain peoples of the North Caucasus and Dagestan, which took place in Vladikavkaz, on September 20-30, 1917, a special delegation of the National Council of Abkhazia took steps to have Abkhazia become part of the Union as a member with equal rights. Basing itself on the rights of the peoples of the former empire of the tsars to chart their own destinies, a right established by the Revolution and subsequently confirmed in Brest-Litovsk by the Russian Government, the assembly of the peoples of the Caucasus of North and Dagestan, with a feeling of natural satisfaction, accepts into the bosom of its family a new brother, Abkhazia: in connection with this fact and given the accession of the Zakatala district to the Union, this It was called from that day: “Union of Unified Caucasian Mountaineers”. The accession of Abkhazia to the Union of United Caucasian Mountaineers was ratified by a general assembly of the Abkhaz people which took place in Sukhum on November 8, 1917.
This general assembly declared, among other things, that the aim of the National Council of Abkhazia was…
Art. 4. The Abkhasian people enter the Union of United Mountain Peoples of the North Caucasus and find themselves in the need to maintain the closest links with their northern brothers and their Executive Committee. The National Council of Abkhazia will be the body that will unite the two peoples and will take the necessary measures for the Application of the laws and resolutions taken by the Central Committee of the Union of Mountaineers to the political life of the Abkhasian people.
Mr. Ashhatsava was delegated by Abkhazia to the members of the Mountain Government and despite the will so clearly expressed by the Abkhasian people, neighboring Georgia, driven by annexationist motives, continued to propagandize against the Union of Mountaineers of the North Caucasus trying to tear Abkhazia and to unite it with Georgia.
However, all the means of corruption and seduction employed by the Georgians could not prevent Abkhazia from uniting with the Caucasian Mountaineers. Then, taking advantage of the temporary difficulties in which the Union of Caucasian Mountaineers found itself in the fight with its enemies from the North, the Georgian Government which had been formed again, allowed itself to bring its armies to the territory of Abkhazia, and despite the protests of My Government addressed at the time of its Minister-President of Georgia on June 1 of the current year sub. No. 53 and despite the stubborn counter-action demonstrated by the Abkhaz population, the Georgian Government is pursuing a policy of violence and oppression in Abkhazia. From the attached documents Your Excellency will realize that the most sacred rights of the Abkhaz people are being trampled underfoot in the most cruel way by the Georgian Government.
The Abkhaz National Council which protested against the disturbances of the military groups and Georgian emissaries was dispersed. Some Abkhaz villages were pillaged and annihilated. Several true patriots of Abkhazia who had not wanted to bow under the Georgian yoke were brutally killed.
Such actions on the part of the Georgian Government can only provoke the feelings of legitimate indignation of my Government which, to this day, has constantly demonstrated towards all its neighbors in the Caucasus, in particular towards the Georgians with whom the peoples of the Caucasus of the North are linked by similarity of race and sympathies of a long past, of a desire tending not only not to allow political complications in any form, but also to establish closer and closer ties, including federative links.
My Government, full of infinite regret, notes that among the Georgian armies operating in Abkhazia, there are also detachments belonging to the regular German army.
Taking into consideration the sentiments of good disposition, which on many occasions the Imperial German Government has been kind enough to express to the peoples of the North Caucasus and in favor of the political goals which these seek, My Government cannot allow itself to assume that in The program of German policy may include armed support of the imperialist aspirations of Georgia, directed against the North Caucasian Republic, and participation in the cruelties and violence caused by the Georgian armies against the Abkhaz People.
Considering the participation of the German armies in the operations against Abkhazia, only as an error of the local German command, deceived by the Georgian government, I protest most categorically on behalf of My Government, against the actions of Georgia in Abkhazia, this being part of the Republic of the Union of Mountain Peoples. To avoid serious complications that could arise from the above-mentioned policies of the Georgian government, My Government considers it essential the immediate withdrawal of military forces from the Abkhazian territory and the temporary occupation of this country by a mixed detachment of the Quadruple Alliance, until further clarification of the issue through diplomatic channels and corresponding to the views and feelings of the Abkhasian people.
I am personally firmly convinced that this present proposal, dictated by considerations of high justice and confirming the entire loyalty of the conduct of my Government towards the Georgian Republic, will find the required appreciation and will accordingly provoke the feelings of the Imperial German Government.”

The report, which von Kress sent to the embassy in Constantinople on 28 September and Ambassador Bernstorff to Berlin on 1 October, contained statements that clearly revealed the true intentions of the Germans:[7]

"General von Kress's telegram No. 121, dated September 28:
1. Since the fighting in Vladikavkaz, a purely defensive German unit Kasab[...]. It is deployed on the territory of Georgia in the vicinity. The contingent is supposed to remain there to ensure the security of the Georgian military route and supervise traffic between Vladikavkaz and Tbilisi.
German spies are active among the Ingush. We have not yet given weapons, ammunition, and money to the Mountaineers. So far, I have rejected numerous requests for help from the Mountaineers.
Telegraph number three was broken. If relevant, please repeat.
4. I still have not received any news about whether the British mission really left Vladikavkaz. There was talk that they would leave for the Terek Cossacks in Mozdok on the sixth of this month.
5. The numerous complaints of German settlers and protected persons about the ill-treatment they received in Vladikavkaz prompted me to send a representative to Vladikavkaz some time ago to protect German interests. The Bolsheviks did not allow entry to Vladikavkaz.
6. Part of the oil wells in Grozny are burning.
7. I received indications that in the near future, the Mountainers will expel the Bolsheviks from Vladikavkaz and Grozny on their own. The Bolsheviks are weak and have no ammunition.

To prevent Grozny from falling completely under Turkish influence and the Turks from monopolizing oil production, it may be necessary - in Russia's interests - to send troops to Vladikavkaz and Grozny, in agreement with the Mountaineers and the Turks, to restore order within the agreement after the Bolsheviks were expelled. If we don't do this, there is no doubt that the Turks will seize Grozny on their own, despite all the commitments they have made, and we will again face a fait accompli."

Cem Kumuk
Istanbul, 20 May 2024

[1] Bundesarchiv, Politisches Archiv des Auswaertigen Amts, Report of General Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein, 30 June 1918, Sig. RZ 201/11051, L.131-2
[2] ibid, Report from Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein to Chancellor von Hertling, 18 July 1918, Sig. RZ 201/11053, L.427
[3] Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein, Meine Mission im Kaukasus, Tbilisi, 2001, p.33,54-5
[4] Bundesarchiv, Politisches Archiv des Auswaertigen Amts, Letter from General Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein to Royal Chancellor von Hertling, 9 September 1918, pp. RZ_201_11059_243-5
[5] ibid, Letter from General Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein to Royal Chancellor von Hertling, 9 September 1918, pp. RZ_201_11059_294-300
[6] ibid, Protest note of Haidar Bammate to Count Waldburg, 12 September 1918, Sig. RZ 201/011059, L.179-82
[7] ibid, Report of General von Kress in cipher telegram 1625 sent by Ambassador Bernstorff to Berlin, 1 October 1918, Sig. RZ 201/11060, L.196-7