March 16, 89 Years Ago: Some background on the current Armenian-Turkish border

Today, more than ever, discussion flies over the Armenian-Turkish border, as well as the need to unblock it.

These days give reason to recall the origin of the border, as it was on March 16, 1921 in Moscow that the Treaty on “Friendship and Brotherhood” between Soviet Russia and Kemalist Turkey was signed, defining the Armenian sector of the Soviet-Turkish border.

At the moment of signing the document, the sides weren’t full entities of international law: Turkey became a member of League of Nations in 1923, Soviet Russia was not recognized at all, and the USSR gained its membership to the League only in 1934.

Hence, the treaty-signing sides were self-proclaimed formations and the treaty signed by them could not be internationally recognized.

Kemalist Turkey received the right banks of Akhuryan and Araks rivers together with Mount Ararat as a gift from Bolshevist Russia.

It was then that the two states held an administrative repartition of Transcaucasian republics.

The territory of Soviet Armenia then included Nagorno Karabakh and Nakhichevan. The next day after “sovietisation” of Armenia Pravda (Truth) newspaper (issue No 273) published a letter by Joseph Stalin, then People’s Commissar of Nationalities, starting with a greeting “Long Live Soviet Armenia!”. The letter specifically touched upon that issue:

“On December 1, Soviet Azerbaijan, of its own free will, gave up the debated provinces and declared the transfer of Zangezur, Nakhichevan, and Nagorno Karabakh to Soviet Armenia.”

The Moscow Treaty was signed only 4 months after recognizing Nagorno Karabakh and Nakhichevan as parts of Soviet Armenia. However, due to Turkey’s insistence that issue was reconsidered by the very same Moscow treaty, and, as a result, two Armenian lands were handed over to Soviet Azerbaijan by Bolsheviks.

So, the two parties of that treaty – Russia and Turkey – made a decision on transferring into possession to a third state – Soviet Azerbaijan – lands that were inseparable parts of a fourth state – Soviet Armenia.

Despite the fact that none of the involved sides was an entity of international law, such a method of solving issues became a precedent: two decades later Bolsheviks and Nazis used that experience when signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, when two parties decided the fate of a third state – Poland, in accordance with their wishes.

Until now, no adequate response has been given to the Moscow Treaty between Kemalist Turkey and Bolshevist Russia on the “modern Armenian-Turkish border”.

USSR leaders spoke against Armenia’s efforts to return its historic lands.

In 1953, Pravda newspaper wrote: “The Soviet Union has no territorial claims against Turkey, as governments of Armenia and Georgia, for the sake of preserving good neighborly relations and for the sake of consolidation of peace and security, thought it possible to give up on their territorial claims against Turkey”.

The issue of borders was no less acute during the tenure of the next Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

In December 1973, according to Soviet-Turkish agreement, authorized representatives of three Transcaucasian countries had to sign a point “on invariability of borders””.

Gurgen Nalbandyan represented Armenia in Turkey. On behalf of Soviet Armenia he refused to sign that provision “on invariability of borders” despite the Soviet leadership’s pressure.

The new phase of development in that issue started last October 10 when Armenian-Turkish protocols on establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries were signed in Zurich, according to which, Yerevan and Ankara confirmed their “bilateral and multilateral obligations to respect principles of equality, sovereignty, territorial integrity and stability of borders”.

It was that point in the protocols that was unacceptable for the majority of both Diaspora Armenians spread around the world and citizens of the Republic of Armenia.

What Turkey was trying to achieve above all was the signing of such a point of great importance: On October 10 of 2009 the Moscow Treaty signed in 1921 finally received “international recognition” if not approval.