What exactly happened in Batumi on May 11, 1918?

  • 10/03/2024
Türkçe Tercüme

When we briefly examine the events of the Caucasian Front of World War I, it becomes easier to understand and interpret what happened in Batumi on May 11, 1918. The two important players of the Central Powers, the German and Ottoman Empires, besides being the strongest allies were actually the biggest rivals for each other on the Eastern front. From the very beginning of the war, both of them had been looking for partners in the Caucasus that would give them an added advantage. While the Germans recruited names such as Prince Machabelli, Kamil Tavdgridze, and the Kereselidze brothers among the Georgians, they also recruited two Ingush named Cemaleddin Albogachi and Hadıshko Arsamakov and a Dargin from Dagestan named Cemaleddin Dalgat to their side in the North Caucasus. Azerbaijan was completely pro-Ottoman against the British-Armenian Alliance. Armenians continued to be Russia's fifth column in the Caucasus. The biggest trump card of the Ottoman Empire was the North Caucasian immigrants, who became Ottoman subjects as the result of the exiles of 1864 and 1877 and had high combat ability. Although the fact that the Ottoman Empire could not gain allies among the Georgians seemed like a disadvantage initially, the fact that the Germans were very disappointed in the legions they planned to establish with the Georgians and lost a lot of money led the Germans to play the North Caucasian card as well.

Leo Kereselidze inspects the troops of the Georgian Legion in Trebizond in 1916
However, all these plans were turned upside down in 1917 when the Tsarist regime collapsed in Russia and the Bolsheviks withdrew Russia from the war. Soviet Russia, which left Germany and the Ottoman Empires alone in the Caucasus with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, stepped aside and began to make plans to grab the bone that would be left in the middle. As a matter of fact, the people of the Caucasus were dreaming of having extensive autonomy within a new constitutional order, a democratic and federative Russia, rather than full independence. But neither Brest-Litovsk was functional nor did the people of the Caucasus find the federal Russia they dreamed of. While the Armenians were greatly disappointed, the Georgians accelerated secret negotiations with the Germans in order not to fall under the yoke of a Muslim imperial power. While one of the groups in Azerbaijan demanded the Ottoman protectorate, another group still dreamed that they could benefit from the gains of the Russian Revolution. Despite the three major congresses held in the North Caucasus, no clear trend could be seen among the Mountaineers but there was a very clear fact: The North Caucasus could not be free without the existence of the Trans-Caucasus, nor could the Trans-Caucasus exist without liberating the North Caucasus.

In April 1918, representatives of the Central Powers and the Trans-Caucasian Seym met in Trabzon to find a solution to their territorial disputes. Unfortunately, the negotiations in Trabzon did not yield any results, as the Georgian and Armenian sides did not accept the terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, declared war on the Ottoman Empire, and bloodshed continued. Meanwhile, the military campaign of the Ottoman Army continued and they advanced into the Caucasus. The Germans were also frustrated with the advance of the Ottoman Army not less than the Georgians and Armenians. Trans-Caucasian representatives wanted to return to Tbilisi and gain time under the pretext of analyzing the situation. Of course, this distraction wouldn’t continue forever. When Batumi was retaken by the Ottoman Forces, Trans-Caucasian Seym decided to continue the negotiations in Batumi. However, their attitude in Batumi wouldn’t change and they continued using distraction tactics again by claiming that they were ready to negotiate the terms of Brest-Litovsk but they had never seen the original text of the treaty which had been signed three months ago.

This week, you will see the meeting minutes of the sole session Batumi talks for the first time on the Historical Memory of the North Caucasus. You may have read many comments and reviews about the content of these interviews in many secondary sources. But you have not read word for word, minute by minute what had been discussed in Batumi City Club on that day in any other sources.

Here are the meeting minutes of the 11 May 1918 Batumi Conference, which did not have any other consecutive session, and the copy of the independence announcement of the North Caucasian delegates who came to this conference with the dream of establishing a Greater Caucasian Confederation, but at the end of the day declared an independent state...

Click on the image to access the original documents in the archive
Meeting Minutes [1]
From the first session of the Batumi Conference.
For Germany
1. Major General Von Lossow, Head of the German Delegation,
Mr. Count von der Schulenburg, German Imperial Konsul,
Mr. von Haas, lieutenant captain,
Mr. von Wesendonk, secretary of the Legation,
Mr. Captain von Boettinger
Mr. Dr. A. Kirmis, internal editorial secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin.For the Ottoman Empire1. His Excellency Halil Bey, Minister of Justice, Delegate of the Ottoman Empire,
2. Moukhtar Bey, Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Public Works,
Nousret Bey, Head of the Office of Legal Advisors of the Sublime Porte,
Orkhan Bey, First Secretary of the Embassy,
Nizameddin Bey, Embassy Secretary,
Major Sadik Bey of the Grand Ottoman Imperial Quarter.

For the Transcaucasian Federative Republic. 
1. Mr. Akakiy Chkhenkeli, President of the Delegation, Member of the Seym, Minister President, Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Mr. Mehmed Hassan Khadjinsky, Member of the Seym, Minister of Trade and Industry, Delegate.
Mr. Rouben Khatchasnouny, Member of the Seym, Minister of Public Assistance, Delegate,
Mr. Alexandre Khatissoff, Member of the Seym, Minister of Finance, Delegate,
Mr. Nicolas Nicoladzé, Delegate,
Mr. Mehmed Emin Bey Rassul Zade, Member of the Seym, Delegate,
Mr. V.Gozdava-Sokolowski, First Secretary,
Miss. R.Mikeledzé, secretary,
Mr. S. Akhvlédiani, secretary,
Mr. I. Derzibacheff, secretary,
Mr. S.Grouzian Vrazian, secretary,
Mr. S.Kédia, secretary,
Mr. A.Pepinoff, secretary,
As translators:
1. Mr. S. Avaloff, senator, Advisor to the Delegation, for the German language,
2. Mr. Dr.Gambachidzé, Physician of the Delegation, for the French language,
Mr. Captain Matchabéli, Aide-de-camp to the President.
For the North Caucasus and Dagestan
1. Haidar Bey Bammat[ov],
2. Zubeyr Bey Temirkhan[ov]

Click on the image for a larger view

The Session was opened at 4 p.m. in Circle Hall under the chairmanship of His Excellency Halil Bey.

- The President then delivers a speech, the translation of which into French as follows:
“Gentlemen, I take the floor by saluting the star of Liberty and Independence which has just appeared in the beautiful sky of the Caucasus while the ravages of the general war become more terrible, while it takes on a greater extension on the earth. And I hope that the mountains and valleys, the countryside, and the cities of the Caucasus will enjoy a moment sooner the benefits of this blazing star and that the beautiful Caucasus will acquire moment sooner the conditions of happiness which safeguard life and property and ensure human rights. It is with the conviction that our work will firmly establish freedom and independence and the bases which meet the interests of both Parties, I declare the Conference begun and the session open.”

- Haidar Bey Bammat[ov] speaks as follows:
"On behalf of the Indigenous Peoples of the North Caucasus and Dagestan, I welcome the start of the work of the Peace Conference. I am very convinced that through the joint efforts of the peoples of the Caucasus and with the effective assistance of the Central Powers, whose representatives I have the honor to see here, it will be possible for us to create a stable basis for the independent State of the Caucasus. The benevolent attitude of the Four Allied Powers toward the establishment of a Caucasian State will help the Caucasian peoples to realize their aspirations in the fields of politics, economics, and civilization. Wishing the success of the work of the Conference, I have the honor to make the following declaration: “The Union of the Indigenous Peoples of the North Caucasus and Dagestan declared its independence, notified it to Constantinople, to the Sublime Porte, and also to the other allied powers. Communicating the above to the Conference, I have the honor to ask the High Assembly to admit the participation of representatives of the Indigenous Peoples of the North Caucasus and Dagestan in the work of the Conference."

- The President consults the Assembly if there are any objections to be made against the proposal of Haidar Bey Bammat[ov]. Mr. Chkhenkeli declares that he has already had the opportunity to express his consent to the admission of representatives of the indigenous peoples of the North Caucasus and Dagestan to the Conference and confirms his consent once again.

- The German President and Delegate: "I also express their support for this way of seeing"

- Halil Bey adds that he will see with satisfaction the participation in the Conference of Delegates from the North Caucasus and Dagestan. He then decided that the Presidency would be exercised in turn, in alphabetical order, that the sessions would take place behind closed doors that no communication would be made to the press before the completion of the work, and that the authentic text of the treaty would be written in French.
The meeting proceeded with verifying the full powers of the Delegates. A technical commission is appointed for this purpose and the session is suspended for a quarter of an hour. It resumed at 5 p.m. and the committee presented the attached report. 
- General von Lossow declares that the Delegates of the North Caucasus and Dagestan must, in order to sign the treaty, produce their full powers, but until then they can be admitted to the work of the Conference.
- The President notes that the Assembly agrees that the representatives of the North Caucasus and Dagestan participate in the Conference on the condition that their full powers will be presented at the time of signing the treaty.
- Haidar Bey Bammat[ov] accepts this decision and thanks the Assembly.
- Mr. Chkhenkeli took the floor, delegating that his full powers do not mention negotiations with the Delegates of the North Caucasus and Dagestan and declared that he would contact his Government, in order to also obtain full powers for this purpose.
- General von Lossow declares that the full powers that the Imperial Government has given him are limited to negotiations with the Transcaucasian Republic, he asks the question if, given the difficulty of communications, a telegraphic authorization would be considered sufficient. No objections were raised.
- Mr. Chkhenkeli delivers the following speech:
As most of those present know, the negotiations between Transcaucasia and the Ottoman Empire began in Trebizond and were suspended. This suspension was due to the receipt by the Transcaucasian Delegation of the following declaration:
Trebizond, April 13, 1918.
Mister President,
The Ottoman Imperial Government has taken note of the declaration of the Transcaucasian Delegation dated March 10 and signed by Mr. Chkhenkeli, Minister of Foreign Affairs and President of the Transcaucasian Delegation. However, to be able to involve its Allies in the negotiations of the friendship treaty, which it is ready to begin, Transcaucasia must first declare its independence.
Etc... etc...
(signed) H. Raouf.
President of the Ottoman Imperial Delegation.
According to the meaning of this note, the Transcaucasian Delegation needed to suspend the negotiations pending the declaration of independence which took place on April 22. Immediately afterwards we notified our independence to other powers and above all to the Ottoman Imperial Government. The Declaration of the Transcaucasian Delegation to which the Declaration of the Ottoman Imperial Delegation of April 13 refers says the following:
Trebizond on April 10, 1918.
To the Ottoman Imperial Delegation, The Transcaucasian Delegation, in response to the letter from the President of the Ottoman Imperial Delegation, dated April 6, has the honor to declare that it endorses the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and that it is ready to continue consecutive talks based on the latter.
President of the Transcaucasian Delegation
Minister of Foreign Affairs (signed) Chkhenkeli
Without entering into the discussion of this question, I have the honor to announce that I made this declaration to propose to the Conference that it take as the basis of our negotiations the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the text of which we are still unaware. We would like to know it well to have a basis for our further work and I ask that it be presented to us."
- The President asks Mr. Chkhenkeli to clarify the following points;
“Does the President of Transcaucasia simply want the official text of the Treaty of Brest-Litowsk or does he intend to discuss the question of principle, whether this text should serve as a basis for the current negotiations?
- Mr. Chkhenkeli explains in these outfits that he wishes to obtain the authentic text of Brest-Litovsk, but that at the same time, he wishes to note that in principle the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk is obligatory article by article for the Transcaucasian Delegation:
"What the President of the Ottoman Delegation takes to be the first question, is considered by me to be the second question and vice versa. The Ottoman Delegation in Trebizond insisted and even set a deadline of 48 hours for the response to the declaration, asking for acceptance of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. It is therefore quite natural to take it as a basis as a whole and we count each article of this treaty as obligatory for us. Regarding the first question about the text, this too is quite understandable. When we accepted the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, we did not know it in full, we only had the text taken from the newspapers. To our regret, the Ottoman Delegation, while insisting on this treaty, did not inform us of its content. I propose not only to submit the text to us but to certify it as conforming to the official text, on which it would be possible for us to base ourselves."
- Halil Bey responds that all the articles of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk are obligatory for the Transcaucasian Delegation, but he recalls that Mr. Chkhenkeli had addressed the same declaration to the Imperial Government during the Trebizond talks, but which was not confirmed by his Government, which withdrew its Delegation.
“The facts which followed,” he said, “are known; the struggle began between the Turkish troops and the Transcaucasian troops and unfortunately blood was shed, therefore the character of our relations has changed. I therefore cannot accept that the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk be taken exclusively as a basis for current negotiations.”
- Mr. Chkhenkeli responds: "Véhib Pasha, begging him to put an end to hostilities, given that it was Russia that waged war on Turkey, but not Transcaucasia, which intended to proclaim its independence in a few days and evacuate Kars and Batum. In response, Vehib Pasha wrote to me that he had suspended hostilities, but that it was essential to evacuate Kars and Batum. Because of this, I do not see the need to modify the principle of our negotiations, especially since we arrived here as the delegate of an independent State wishing to conclude with the four Allied Powers a treaty of friendship and consequently, I cannot accept that the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk can be considered non-binding. For us it is obligatory.
I have already had the honor to state that our declaration of April 10 was signed by me not only as President of the Peace Delegation but also as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Consequently, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was accepted, both by the Delegation and by the Government. If, subsequently, to our great regret, misunderstandings occurred, they cannot be considered as a basis for annulling the Brent Litovsk Treaty. Officially the communication concerning our departure from Trebizond was written in the following terms:
Trebizond, April 11, 1918.
To the Ottoman Imperial delegation,
The Transcaucasian Delegation, due to instructions received from the Government, has the honor to inform the Imperial Delegation that it is obliged to leave today for Tiflis.
(Signed) A. Tchenkély.
President of the Transcaucasian Delegation.
It has also been said by me, President of the Delegation of the Ottoman Empire, that we are only suspending the negotiations to resume them shortly. Three days after we arrived in Tiflis I addressed myself in writing through my plenipotentiary to the Commander-in-Chief of the Ottoman armies.
- Halil Bey Above repeats what he had said previously and notes that the Turkish troops fought not with the Russian army which withdrew after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, but with the Trans-Caucasian troops. He emphasizes once again that the character of relations between the Governments is changed as a result and that he does not consent to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk serving as the exclusive basis for current negotiations.  He adds that in order not to unnecessarily prolong the discussions, he wants to communicate to the Transcaucasian Delegation a draft treaty of peace and friendship that he has prepared. In this way, we will arrive at a result more quickly, especially since the speed of the Negotiations is of great importance for both Parties.
- Mr. Chkhenkeli replied that he entirely shared the President's point of view regarding the speed of the negotiations and agreed to read the draft Ottoman treaty.  He notes that there are therefore grounds for discussion: the Transcaucasian Delegation holding to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and the President of the Ottoman Delegation having formulated a new project. He expresses the reiterated desire that the authentic text of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk be communicated to him.
The draft of the Ottoman peace and friendship treaty is handed over to Mr. President of the Transcaucasian Delegation.
- Halil Bey declares himself ready to communicate to Mr. Chkhenkeli the authentic text of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.
As for the discussion of the Ottoman project, explains that the document contains political, economic, legal, and military provisions. He proposes to form commissions or specialists to deliberate on the technical provisions while important political questions will be discussed in a commission formed by the Heads of Delegations.
- Mr. Chkhenkeli asks the question that all the Presidents of Delegations will take part in this commission.
- Halil Bey replied that according to the precedent established in Brest-Litovsk, questions that only affect small countries are handled only by the Presidents of the respective Delegates.
- Mr. Chkhenkeli declares that he has not yet been able to read the draft Ottoman treaty, and that consequently he reserves his opinion on the mode of discussion recommended by the President.
- General von Lossow: declares that he takes note of the difference in points of view between the Ottoman and Transcaucasian Delegates concerning the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, that he is ready to study the Ottoman project and take part in the discussions, to assert German interests there.
- The President: proposes that the technical commissions begin their work tomorrow and the Presidents of the Delegations get in touch with each other.

The Assembly decides to form a commission composed of the First Secretaries of each Delegation to draw up the minutes of the session.
The meeting paused at 6:35 p.m.

German and Georgian representatives had known that there were clashes in Vladikavkaz between the national forces and the Bolsheviks and that members of the North Caucasian parliament were dispersed to different places. While on the one hand, the Germans and Georgians pretended as if they had no objection to the North Caucasian delegation participating in the conference, on the other hand, they were trying to prevent the North Caucasian delegation from participating in the conference and signing the outcome document by citing the requirement for a certificate of authorization. However, the trap they set did not work.  Due to the deadlock in discussions, the Conference came to an end after the first session.  The North Caucasian Delegation understood that no chance would be given to a greater Caucasian Confederation and they decided to hand over the independence declaration to the participating parties and announced it to the whole world.  The next day, the German Embassy in Istanbul transmitted the independence declaration of the North Caucasus to Berlin through a radio telegram.

Radio message from Constantinople on May 12, 1918.

The undersigned Plenipotentiary Delegates of the Government of the Federation of the Caucasus Mountain Peoples have the honor to bring the following to the attention of all Governments: The peoples of the Caucasus legally elected a National Assembly, which gathered in May and September 1917 and decided to establish the Federation of the Caucasus -Mountain Peoples. It transferred executive power to the current government, which counts the undersigned among its members. In view of the anarchy prevailing in Russia, the government of the Federation of Caucasus Mountain Peoples has made use of the right recognized by the Petersburg government itself for all peoples of the former Empire to freely determine their own political fate and has adopted the following resolutions:

1. The League of Caucasus Mountain Peoples decides to separate from Russia and establish an independent state.
2. The territory of the new state will have as a border: in the north the same geographical borders that had the areas and provinces of Daghestan, Terek, Stavropol, and Kuban, as well as the Black Sea State in the former Russian Empire, in the west the Black Sea, in the east the Caspian Sea and to the south a border, the details of which will be determined in agreement with the Government of Transcaucasia.
3. The authorized undersigned is instructed to bring this decision to the attention of all governments and, by the fact of this announcement, to proclaim the establishment of the independent state of the Federation of Caucasus Mountain Peoples.

Consequently, the undersigned declare that from this day the independent state of the Caucasus considers itself to be legally constituted.

Abdul Medjid Chermoy[ev], Haidar Bammat[ov].

Cem Kumuk
Istanbul, 10 March 2024

[1] Click to access the document originals in the archive