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On the Occasion of the 100. Anniversary of the Soviet Revolution

Historical Solidarity of Soviet and Turkish Revolutions

Dr.  Cüneyt Akalın

100. Anniversary of the  Soviet Revolution  is celebrated through seminars, panels, debates etc.  Soviet revolution deserves it as it is one of the turning points of the modern  times.

Making observations about the relations between the Soviet Russia and the Republic of Turkey  take us to the  common history of  two neighbours. 

The Soviet revolution was realised in 1917, a few years  before the Turkish revolution. The Turkish Revolution sided with the Soviet Revolution and profited greatly from its wind.    During the National Liberation period (1919-1922) and during the   foundation of the Turkish Republic ( 1923 and after)  the cooperation between the leaders of the Turkish National Revolution and the Soviet leadership reached its climax.

This article will deal with the vision of both leaderships towards the revolution in the neighbouring country.

          Pre-Revolution  Years:  The First World War

The Tsarist Russia was a party to the Great War but the Revolution caused its withdrawal from the bloody, imperialistic  War.

In fact, it can be said that the two revolutions started at the same time, with the first bullets of World War I.  The objective of the imperialist powers including the Tsarist Russia was to share the World and especially Asia between them. Turkey was forced to take part in the war because her territorial integrity and independence, even her capital  were  in danger.

The main objective of the Tsarist Russia was to get hold of the control of  the Turkish  capital İstanbul and the Turkish straits. Controlling İstanbul  and  taking Russia to the hot waters were  an old dream and   the main goal  of the Tsars.  The Russian leaders had bargained with the English and French authorities on the issue before entering the  world war. 

The Turkish resistance on the Dardanelles in 1915 was a big blow for the Allied Powers because it obstructed the much needed English and French military aid to Russia. (The Turkish resistance was to help the Russian people’s forces to fight the Tsarist government.)  To encounter this, the English and French authorities signed secret agreements (Sykes-Picot Agreement, May 1916) between them with the consent of Russia to partition the Ottoman Empire (Turkey).

İstanbul and East Anatolia, in other words the motherland of Turks would be placed under the control of Russia. Besides, Turkey would be isolated from the West-Asia.

This meant the fragmentation of the Ottoman Empire .

East Anatolia  was given to the Armenia which would be under  Russian supervision.

Russians had to fight on different fronts (the Baltic, Ukraine, the Caucasus and Galicia) during the  WWI.   Russia suffered heavy losses on the German front; military failure deepened the Russian economic and social crises and accelerated the Revolution process.

The February Revolution in 1917  was a reaction of the Russian people to the Tsarist war policies and the economic crisis deepened by the war. The main slogan of the people “land, bread and peace” reflects the expectations of the suffering Russian people.  This meant the refusal of the imperialistic policies by the  people.

The Russian Revolution came to the rescue of the Turkish State and the people, because the Tsarist armies had already penetrated into East Anatolia and occupied many Turkish provinces.  The Russian Democratic Revolution in February 1917 relieved the Turkish state and the people.

Post-war era  and Russians 

The main political debate within Russia after the February Revolution was to pull out of the war or stay in it. As well known,  Lenin and the Bolsheviks underlined the  imperialistic character  of  the war  and  defended, from the very beginning, that the Russia should pull out.

It should also  be underlined that while the Bolsheviks were arguing for the  withdrawal from the war, opportunist  leftist SR  Kerensky   and liberal  politician   Milyukov were   willing to continue  the war with the slogan: “İstanbul belongs to Russia”.  Foreign Minister   Milyukov said that Russia was willing to continue the war and that the clauses in the Sykes-Picot Agreement were still valid.[1]

Lenin issued declarations in May and  June after the February Revolution   against the imperialistic intentions of the Kerensky Government on İstanbul.[2]

Just after the victory  of the Soviet  Revolution  the Bolsheviks made public the secret agreements that the Tsarist regime signed with the imperialists. This created a big sympathy towards the democratic forces in Russia within the Turkish society as well a within other countries. Secondly, Lenin was willing to have  peace in order to be able to control the country.  The Bolsheviks ordered the Russian army to evacuate East Anatolia even before   ( December, 1917 Erzincan Agreement)  Lenin’s efforts to secure peace  though  Brest-Litovsk negotiations.

Lenin had noticed from the very beginning that the objective of the Tsarist Russia’s was to partition Turkey.  His political moves contributed to the  Turkish  national  cause  and strenghtened  the Turkish national  movement.

Lenin was a good friend of Turkey.[3]  

The Soviet Revolution and the “Armenian Question”

The Soviet Revolution not only turned a new page in Turco-Russian relations but also initiated a new era in the Caucasus by handling the old “Armenian question” abused by the imperialist powers.

The “Armenian Question” held a substantial place within the “Eastern Question” because it was a convenient issue to be used by the imperialists as a tool to fraction the Ottoman Empire.

The separatist Armenian forces by the name of “Dachnaks” ( Separatist- Nationalist Armenian Party) used the Tsarist Army as a shield to protect themselves from Turkish offenses. After the collapse of the Tsarist regime, Dashnaks profited from the political vacuum in Caucasus  to form a “White Armenia” with the support of the British Imperialists. However, the Soviet forces did not allow a  “White Armenia” to exist.  Collaborating with the Turkish National Forces, the Red Army stepped in the  Caucasus, in spring 1920, entered Baku in April 1920 and erased the “white” Armenia. Many ultra-nationalist Dashnaks were sent to exile by the Soviet authorities.

One of the early political moves of the new Soviet leadership was  to put aside the Tsarist imperial policy of “a Great Armenia”.

The first step taken by the Soviet Government was to totally reject “the Tsars’ imperialistic Armenian policy”. The declaration signed by Lenin, as the Head of the Council of People’s Commissars and by Stalin as the Commissar on the National Question, on 20th November 1917 (3 December), just a few weeks after the Revolution, addressing  the “Toiling Muslim peoples of Russia and the East said that “[they] are against the seizure of land belonging to another country,” and clearly pointed out that “İstanbul should continue to be under Muslim-Turkish control.” They added that “the agreement about the partition of Turkey and handing it over to Armenia” was torn up.[4]  

The Soviet National Bureau Commissar, Stalin,  in his declaration of 31st December 1917 entitled “Turkish Armenia” unveiled the intrigues of the Western imperialists in “Turkish Armenia”[5] .  Unhesitatingly, the Soviet Government  put into application the  policy they declared. Under the terms of the Brest-Litovsk Agreement, the Soviets accepted to withdraw from East and return to the status quo of 1877-78. They also accepted to hand over the provinces of Kars, Ardahan and Batum to Turkey. The Armenian terror bands were to be disarmed and Russia was to secure the region until the Turkish Army arrived  and took control in the region.

The elimination of the separatist Armenian forces from Anatolia contributed to the national unity and the territorial integrity of Turkey. While the Tsarist Russia tried to weaken the Ottoman Empire, the Soviet Union opted for good neighbourly relations and the independence and territorial integrity of Turkey. This was the beginning of a new era in Caucasus and in West Asia. Dachnak’s new leader and the first  prime minister of  Armenian People’s Republic  Dr   Katchaznouni, in  his report presented to the Party’s national congress held in Bucaresti in 1923   evaluated  the tragic  incidents   of  1915 as the tragic incidents of war and  open-heartedly  declared that they have been the tools in the hands of  foreign powers. [6] 

 Ankara National  Government’s Position Towards the Soviets

One of early political moves of M. Kemal Atatürk after he convened the National Assembly which  reflected   the national will and  laid the foundations of the Turkish Republic on 23rd April, 1920, was to get in touch with the Soviet authorities. As the chairperson of the National Assembly he sent a message to Lenin expressing the desire “to unite [their] military forces with the Bolsheviks against the imperialist governments for the liberation of the whole oppressed world”. He added that  Georgians and Azerbaijanis should be forced to join the Soviet Republics and that Turkey should start a military operation against Armenia.  He also asked for Soviet military and financial aid to Turkey besides forming political relations.[7]

Soviet  military aid given to Turkey covered more than the half  of the arms and munitions  held by the Turkish Army   during the National War.[8] 

Mdivani, the Soviet ambassador to Ankara in the period of the foundation of the Turkish Republic, in his telegram to Stalin and Orjonikidze from Alexandropol (Leninakan) on 3 December 1920 underlined that a hostile move should not be expected from the Turkish Army.”[9] 

In this historical era, the Soviet authorities refused the US  President Wilson’s project  on “Armenia from the Black Sea to the Mediterannean”,  Stalin, the  commissar  of Narkomnats ( head of the National Bureau within  the Soviet Administration)  is his telegram to Orjonikidje on 8 July 1920 said:  “We have to support Turkey and Azerbaijan decisively and in this situation.  I have discussed the issue with Lenin and he did not object” [10]    

The researcher Mehmet Perinçek underlines the fact that the resolute support provided to Turkey by the Soviet Government originated from Lenin and Stalin.  The documents sent by the Turkish authorities from Russia prove this point.[11] 

Stalin, in his article published in Pravda in May 1920  clearly expressed the view  that  “the Dashnaks initiated the war against Turks  and they are responsible for the problems that Armenia is facing”.[12]  

The Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East

The Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East gathered with the initiative of the III. International on 1-10 September 1920 is important in two aspects:

  1. The Soviets turned their attention to the East and searched for the support of the peoples of the East. This was a turning point in the concept of “World Revolution”. From then on, the Soviets began tu support the the newly born anti-imperialist regimes such as Turkey, İran, Afghanistan etc.
  2. The Baku Congress was  carefully followed by the Ankara regime. Atatürk sent to the Congress an official delegation to represent Turkey.

The Azerbaijani leader Dr. Neriman Nerimanov who hosted the delegates 

In Baku Congress  played a  very positive role between Turkey and he Soviets.

In other words, the historical  Baku Congress contributed to the progress of the relations between the Turkish  and  Soviet Revolutions.

Baku Congress marked the opening of the Soviet Revolution towards East.

M. Kemal Pacha’s   Vision of the Cooperation with the Soviet Union

The Chairperson of the National Assembly of Turkey, M. Kemal Pacha’s   vision  was as clear as Soviet leaders.  According to him, the puppet governments of Caucasia (White Georgia, White Armenia) were ready to open the doors of West Asia and Asia to imperialists.  Consequently, the decisive move for the world would be realised by the joint military forces of Turkey and the Soviet Russia.  In fact, this foresight was to be realised soon. The cooperation of the Turkish Army  based in Erzurum ( East  Army) with the Red Army demolished the Caucasian Wall, eliminated White forces  and opened the way to the  revolution.

The Red Army put pressure from the north and east and the Turkish Army from the south and the reactionary Caucasus Wall was eliminated. Mustafa Kemal Pacha, in his speech to the National Assembly on 1 August 1920 gave the good news to the Assembly and the members of the Assembly received  the news  with applause.

1921 Moscow Agreement

The “Friendship and Amity” treaty signed on 16 March 1921 in Moscow  is the second treaty signed by the Ankara Government  but first with a big Western country. (Ankara signed  the first treaty with Afghanistan on 1 March 1921). The Turco-Russian Treaty covered many important clauses:

  1. The territory defined by Turkey covered the land declared by the

Turkish Assembly on 28 January 1921. This meant that the Turkish territory the borders of which were drawn by the Turkish National Assembly was accepted and approved by a big state.

  • Nahchivan was given to the control of Azerbaijan.
  • Ankara accepted  the thesis that the straits’ regime would be decided by the

states  coasting the Black Sea.

The Moscow Treaty would  form  the basis of the relations in between Soviet Union and the Ankara Government.[13]

The Soviet Support in the Lausanne Peace  Conference

The Lausanne Peace Conference is the final text which confirms the sovereignty and the independence of Turkey.  The Turkish republic is recognised in the international scene through the Lausanne Treaty.  The Lausanne treaty which is the first treaty to be signed with one of the losers of WW I is  one of the most important peace agreements in the international arena. 

The Lausanne Conference met in November, after the end of the Turkish National Independence War.  The Soviet Government, invited to the Conference on Turkey’s demand, fully supported the Turkish theses. The important point was the control of the Turkish  straits. The Soviet Government supported the thesis that the straights should be under the control of Turkey and they should be closed to all warships belonging to other countries.

The signing of Lausanne Treaty was welcomed by the Soviets.

 The Turkish National Revolution recognised in Lausanne is a brilliant example of the forces fighting against the European imperialists.”[14]

 1925 Friendship and Impartiality Treaty

The Soviet support   continued after the Lausanne Treaty during the early years of the Turkish Republic. The relations between the Republic of Turkey and the Soviet Union progressed continuously.

In 1920’s Turkey and the Soviet Union acted together, supported each other and the solidarity continued. Turkey represented the Soviet Union on the international arena. This was an era of full cooperation.

The first important development in the relations between the two countries is the “Friendship and Impartiality Treaty” signed by the Turkish Foreign Minister  Tevfik  Rüştü  Aras and his Soviet counterpart Chicherin in Paris  on 17 December 1925. The treaty which provided the basis for the political and economic relations, initiated a total cooperation between the two countries.    

The importance of the treaty as far as Turkey is concerned is the political Soviet response.  The Kurdish revolt which exploded in the south east of Turkey in 1925  put in jeopardy the stability of Turkey. The border between Turkey and the British mandate Iraq was not drawn yet. The Soviets faced similar difficulties then  in the West.

The 1925 Treaty was an ameliorated form of the treaty signed in 1921 the two countries. The treaty which provided a guarantee against Britain for both counties[15] started an era of  total cooperation.

1927 Trade Agreement

The Soviet Union started to open institutions of commercial representation in Turkey in 1927. The Trade Agreement signed in 1927 resolved some bürocratic problems in trade relations. The status of the Soviet representatives was clarified. The 1927 Trade Agreement was followed by the protocol which extended the Friendship Treaty in 1929.

Turkey was invited to the Disarmament Conference organised by the League of Nations.  On the proposal of the Soviets, the two countries acted together in the Briand-Kellogg Pact and the Litvinov Protocol.

1930’s: Close Cooperation in  Economic Development 

The leading cadres of the Turkish Republic  were trying to consolidate the new regime in 1920’s.  The abolition of  Ottoman monarchy, the abolition of the Khalifate  and the removal of the reactionary politicians were the main elements of the agenda.  The Soviet regime was facing similar problems  then with counter-revolutionaries.

The Great Depression of 1929 caught the two new regimes in searches for  new ways  and created new economic problems which aggravated the social problems.  Doubts existed in Turkish ruling circles about the destructive impacts of capitalism. Attention was turned to planned Soviet economy which obviously felt the impacts of the world economic crisis less, or even none of it. The Turkish- Soviet economic cooperation intensified and Turkey took steps to transform her economy to a planned economy.

Prime Minister  İnönü’s visit to the Soviet Union in 1932 was the first step to establish a state based textile industry.   Plants were established at many points under the supervision of Soviet technicians. The funds received from the Soviet Government were long term loans with very low interest. This is considered the beginning of the mixt-economy  based industrialisation  Prime Minister İnönü accompanied the Soviet leaders to the May 1 Celebrations in Red Square.

Turkey was representing Soviet Union in many  diplomatic occasions because Soviet Union was not recognised  yet by many states 

Turkish authorities convinced the Soviet leaders to take part in the League of Nations. This was important for the Soviets to be more active and influential  in international  arena.

1n 1933 Turkey took another step to adopt  a  moderate planned economy and pass to the “5th Year Plan”  designed   with the support of  Soviet technicians.

A big Soviet delegation headed  by  general Vorochilov participated in the celebrations of  the10th Anniversary of the foundation of the Republic.

 A planned meeting between Atatürk and Stalin on the Black Sea coast in 1934 did not take place. Atatürk’s evaluation of Stalin is worth considering:

“Stalin will be noted by History as one of the most important statesmen of the 20th Century in Europe and in the international arena”  Friendship Treaty signed in 1925 was  reconfirmed in  1935

The Montreux Conference

The problem of the Turkish straits was not completely resolved in the Lausanne treaty. The coastal region of the İstanbul Strait was declared a “non-military” zone. This was obviously against the sovereignty of Turkey.

The problem was solved with the efforts of Turkey and Soviet Union. The Montreux Treaty concluded that the straits should be closed to the warships of all the counties who did not have a coast on the Black Sea. The Montreux Agreement which created a new status quo in the Black Sea was another proof   of the cooperation between  Turkey and the Soviet Union. Litvinov, the Soviet Foreign Minister, said in the closing session of the conference that “this proves that the cooperation of the two newly born states, Turkey and Soviet Union is not a temporary one and will not decline”

Atatürk’s Death and the  World War II

Atatürk was deeply attached to the friendship with the Soviet Union. In his last days before passing away he demanded that his close circle of friends and associates continue the close friendly ties with the Soviets.  

The close cooperation lost strength after Atatürk’s death. After Atatürk’s death, The Turkish politicians opted for Western cooperation. Turkey signed treaties with France and Britain respectively in June and September 1939.  The treaty provided a French and British guarantee against Italian aggression. This also meant a strategic change in Turkish  foreign  policy.

Turkey stayed impartial during the Second World War and avoided any provocation against the Soviet Union during the war.  But this only meant a transition period.

The Turkish leadership opted for the West Camp during the  Cold  War years. In spite of the new alliances, both sides were respectful of the interests of each other.

Turco – Russian  warm relations  interrupted  during Col War years improved after the disintegration of the  Soviet Union. [16] This is another story.

Conclusion:

To conclude, I have to say that  Turkish Revolution and  Soviet Revolution were born about the same years. They supported each other, created  an important

solidarity  climate   and cooperated in different areas.

They can even be called twin brothers.

Vladimir Lenin and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk  led this cooperation. Atatürk (and Lenin)  remained  faithful  to the cooperation  until their  last days.

Though  put aside after Atatürk,  the  remnants  of  the  cooperation  of Turkey and  Russia  never disappeared  in the memory of the  Turkish nation  and  the two countries   revived  their ties after the collapse of Soviet Union.  Nowadays, they both  contribute to the development of a new world called  Eurasia. 

We should underline that he cooperation in between  Turkey and Russia in the revolution years  can be considered as the first steps of the Eurasian Project. 

Dr.  Cüneyt Akalın Political Scientist


[1] René Albrecht Carrié, A Diplomatic History of Europe since the Congress of Vienna,

   Methuen&Co.Ltd, London, s. 348

[2]  Lenin, Mayıs 1917, Collected Works, V. 24;

[3]  Lenin, Verdict About War, Collected Works, v. 24

[4]  Bildirinin tam metni için  Bkz. D. Perinçek, age s.139;  Ayrıca  Yusuf  Hikmet Bayur, Türk

   İnkılap Tarihi,  c. III, kısım 4.         

[5]   D. Perinçek, age, s.119.

[6]   Hovnannes Katchaznouni,  Dachtagtzoution Has Nothing  to do Anymore, Kaynak Yayınları, 2005

[7]   Atatürk’ün Bütün Eserleri, c.8, s.114.

[8]    Orhan Koloğlu, Türk Çağdaşlaşması

[9] “Mdivani’nin  Stalin ve Orjonikidze’ye Gümrü’den yolladığı 3 Aralık 1920 tarihli telgraf”,  Sosyo-

   Politik Tarih, Rusya Devlet Arşivi, aktaran Mehmet Perinçek,  Sovyet Arşivleri Türkiye’nin

   Tezlerini Doğruluyor, Ermeni Araştırmaları 1.Türkiye Kongresi bildirileri, ASAM Yayını, Ankara

   2003, cilt 1 s.  133.

[10] Stalin’in Orjonikidze’ye gönderdiği 8 Temmuz 1920 tarihli telgraf. SSCB Ekim Devrimi Merkez

    Devlet Arşivi, M.Perinçek, agm,  s. 134.

[11]   Ali Fuat Cebesoy, Moskova Hatıraları,  Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı Yayınları, Ankara 1982, s. 

     184 vd.  Aynı tespiti Atatürk döneminin Dışışleri bakanı Tevfik Rüstü Aras (Yön Dergisi, 30

     Ekim 1964, sayı 83, s. 5) Yusuf Kemal  Tengirşek (Yön Dergisi, 4 Aralık 1964 s. 88,  s. 7) ve 

     dış politika uzmanlarından Prof. Ahmet Şükrü Esmer (A.Ş.Esmer, Yeni Türkiye,   İstanbul 1959, s.

     70) de yapmaktadır.

[12]  J.V. Stalin, “Yaşasın Sovyet Ermenistan’ı”,  Eserler,  İnter Yayınları,  İstanbul 1990,  c. 4 s. 362

      vb, aktaran M. Perinçek,  agm, s. 137.

[13]   Baskın Oran (ed) Türk Dış Politikası I, s. 175.

[14]  Kurtuluş Savaşı ve Lozan Konferansı Belgeleri, Türkiye-1, Kaynak Yayınları,  s. 200

[15] İsmail Soysal, /www.academia.edu/8998660/İSMAİL_SOYSAL_Türkiyenin_Siyasal_Andlaşmaları_1._Cilt_1920-1945

[16]  Litvinov, Komintern Belgelerinde Kemalist Cumhuriyet,  TR-2, Kaynak Yayınları, İstanbul 1999, s. 58

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