Encyclopedia >> Encyclopedia of Armenian History >> The Declaration of Independence of the First Republic of Armenia


The World War I and situation in Russia in 1917 caused changes not only in the socio- political life of the Russian Empire, but also in Armenia and Transcaucasia. The foundations of once mighty empire weakened: there was an unprecedented growth in the national movements. The Armenian national life grew rapidly. In this regard, the Social-Democratic (Menshevik) G. Gharajyan wrote that the national factor was more powerful in the region than the social one.

In the post-February period, national governmental bodies were established along with the governmental ones. The convention of the Eastern Armenian Conference on a multiparty basis in 1917 was a significant event in the Armenian social and political life. 

The National Assembly and the Armenian National Council (central) were established as the supreme executive body of Eastern Armenia.

After the October Revolution in 1917, certain regions of Russia including Transcaucasia remained beyond the control of the newly established soviet government. Dissolved Special Transcaucasian Committee was replaced by the Transcaucasian Commissariat that was established on November 15, 1917 and became the executive power of the region and from February 10, 1918 the Transcaucasian Assembly (Sejm) became the legislative body. Gradually Transcaucasia became isolated from Russia.

However, from the very first day of existence of the Transcaucasian Commissariat and Sejm the contradictions in aspirations and interests of three main national sectors of the region (Georgian, Armenian, Caucasian Turk or Azeri) became apparent.  It manifested itself more clearly at the beginning of 1918 during the resumption of the military operations in the Caucasian front.

In a few months the Turkish army reoccupied the whole Western Armenia and in spring they started invasion onto Transcaucasia and Eastern Armenia. The Georgians and the Caucasian Turks that constituted the majority of the Transcaucasian Commissariat and Sejm, on Turkey’s demand decided to isolate Transcaucasia from Russia, dissolve and eventually make it independent. Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) which was the third major party in the Transcaucasian government and Sejm in 1918, considered the separation of Transcaucasia from Russia by the principle of self-determination inappropriate, even dangerous in the conditions of the ceasefire violation and the attacks of the Turkish forces along the Caucasian front at the end of January. In this regard, the official "Horizon" newspaper warned in one its February editons that the independence of Transcaucasia was at least a frivolity and unforgivable political step. For example, on February 15, Hovhannes Kajaznuni spoke in the session of Sejm on behalf of the ARF and insisted that Transcaucasia should remain the integral part of Russia.

The National Council, ARF faction of Sejm and other political forces consistently supported the idea of federal relations with Russia unless Turkey from outside and the Georgian and Muslim separatist from inside didn’t put forward the issue of the independence of Transcaucasia from Russia.

The separate Turkish-Transcaucasian negotiations in Trabzon failed. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk singed on March 3, 1918 disappointed the Transcaucasian authorities. According to Z. Avalov, handing Batumi and Kars over to Turkey by the treaty of Brest-Litovsk was an impetus in the separation process of Transcaucasia.

On April 9 (22), 1918 on Turkey’s demand the Transcaucasian Sejm proclaimed the independence of the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic. The Armenians protested at first (because they did not want to be isolated and separated from Russia, first of all, taking into account the threat of Turkish invasion), but later approved the independence of Transcaucasia for not isolating from the neighboring national units. Trying to avoid the isolation, the Armenian deputies of Sejm, especially ARF faction "bitterly approved the independence of the Transcaucasia"; otherwise “the ghost of new massacres” would become more and more tangible.

The Transcaucasian authorities hoped that the declaration of independence would give legal basis for the resumption of peace negotiations with the Turks and for the conclusion of a peace treaty. However, the Turkish-Transcaucasian peace negotiations that were launched on May 11, 1918 in Batumi failed, since the Turks presented more claims than they did in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and the Turkish-Transcaucasian negotiations went into deadlock again. Facing almost no resistance, the Turkish troops moved to the depths of Transcaucasia. The failure of negotiations on the one hand, the continuous attacks of the Turks on the other and inability to protect the region; put the newly established Transcaucasian Republic before a political crisis.

In 1918 there were strong contradictions among the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic, government and parliament (Sejm). There were acute national-territorial disputes, opposite political orientations, inter-party conflicts in the Transcaucasian Federal government bodies which mainly consisted of Georgian, Armenian and Caucasian-Tatars (Azerbaijani). There was no unity between them regarding the issue of war and peace. If the Armenians, partly the Georgians, were trying to stop the advance of Turkish troops, the Azerbaijanis "clearly and openly declared that they will not fight against Turkey." If the Armenians were internally oriented towards Russia, Muslims of Caucasus —to Turkey, the Georgians inclined towards Germany. Because of disagreements and contradictions in national interests Transcaucasia was unable to resist the Turkish invasion.

Dissolution of the Transcaucasian Federation was inevitable because of numerous disputes. "Day by day, - wrote Simone Vratsian - conflicts intensified between the Caucasian peoples: the Georgians secretly, but feverishly were seeking support from the Germans, Azerbaijanis — from Turkey and were pulling them to Baku, which was under the control of the Bolsheviks on those days. The Armenians were left alone and were fighting and spreading death and destruction in the advancing Turkish troops”.

In these circumstances, Georgians began to look for ways out of difficult situation. They were not able to fight against the Turks. This became evident on April 1, 1918 after the fall of Batumi.

There was a deepening of the Georgian-German relations. Georgian political leaders linked the rescue of Georgia with Germany. It was favorable for Germany from the economic and communication perspective, too.  The participant of the Batumi conference, Z.Avalov confirmed that secret negotiations, meetings between the delegation from Germany and President of the National Council of Georgia, Noah Jordania who arrived in Batumi from Tbilisi and Akaki Dzkhenkeli and other Georgian officials staying in Batumi took place on May 21. N.Jordania received guarantees from the representatives of Germany (O. von Lossow, Earl Schulenburg, von Kress) for Georgia's independence and territorial integrity, and the next day, on 22 May, returned Tiflis.

The Georgian-German secret negotiations continued also on May 23-25 which gave its positive results.  General von Lossow, in fact, negotiating with Georgia, gave a guarantee to protect the independence of Georgia and left to Poti from Batumi in the evening of May 25. It was already planned to proclaim the independence of Georgia on May 26. A temporary agreement was drawn up, which, according to the arrangement, was signed on May 28 in Poti between the Prime Minister of already independent Georgia, Noah Ramishvili and General O. Von Lossow. Georgia received independence and guarantee for security under the auspices of Germany. In addition, Georgia recognized the conditions of the Brest Treaty; Germany received the right to use the Georgian railway, ports and other infrastructures, as well as the natural resources.

On the eve of the declaration of the independence of Georgia, on May 25, the speaker of the Social Democratic faction of Sejm, I.Tsereteli informed the leaders of the Muslim faction about the declaration of independence of Georgia. After that, Muslims also began the process of independence, of course, receiving the support of Turkey.

The Armenian delegates participating in Batumi negotiations were in difficult situation. By the decision of the Armenian National Council, they decided to rely on Germany like Georgians. However, O. Von Lossow stated that the Turks refuse to listen to them, and advised the Armenians to send a delegation to Germany. Thus, in the morning of May 26, the declaration of independence of Georgia was already prepared.

The last session of the Transcaucasian Sejm was convened on May 26, 1918 at noon (at 3 pm). The Social-Democratic faction proposed the dissolution of the Sejm and the Transcaucasian Federation. Sejm adopted the following decision by the majority of voices: “Taking into account that there are radical contradictions between the peoples of the Transcaucasian Independent Republic regarding the issue of war and peace, and it became impossible to speak about a single authoritative government acting on behalf of Transcaucasia, the Sejm confirms the dissolution of Transcaucasia and lay down its powers”.

On the same day at 5 pm, in the same hall the National Council of Georgia, headed by N.Jordania, solemnly proclaimed the independent state of Georgia. The session of the Armenian National Council was convened on the same day, in the evening of May 26, during which the independence of Georgia was accepted as a fact, despite the complaints against the Georgian Mensheviks. At the same time, the National Council took over the function of the temporary government for the Armenian regions.

The next day, learning about the dissolution of Sejm and the proclamation of independence of Georgia in the joint session of ARF Tiflis representative assembly and the district committees, the Armenian National Council adopted the following resolution: “Taking into consideration that that after the dissolution of the Transcaucasian Sejm and the proclamation of the independence of Georgia, the Transcaucasian government will also dissolve, the Armenian people will remain at the mercy of fate. Thus, the Representative assembly considers that the Armenian National Council should strengthen its structure and act in the center of the Armenians performing governing functions  with right to impose dictatorship in all spheres of life” It means that the ARF, which previously demanded only autonomy, gradually inclined to the idea of independent statehood.

On May 27, based on the brotherly unconditional support and sponsorship of Turkey in invading Transcaucasia, Muslims National Council declared about the independence of “East-Caucasian Islamic Republics” ECIR, which, by the way, was the first time that the Turks named “Azerbaijan”, whereas the Armenian National Council could do nothing other than be guided to the independence of Armenia. “There was no time for elections, during those fatal days. History has brought us in front of a specific line. We had to have the courage to cross over, if we did not want to be wrecked. We had to become the masters of our homeland; otherwise we were to lose it perhaps irreversibly. If we hesitated, or delayed our statement, Armenia would have remained under the status of “Res Nullius”, which means that it belongs to nobody, or nobody owns it, and as such, it would have become as a portion for the neighbors: Turks, Georgians and Azerbaijanis”, - writes Hovhannes Kajaznuni.

In the evening of May 27, the Armenian delegates returned from Batumi, Hovhannes Kajaznuni and Alexandre Khasisyan, reported thoroughly about the current situation, during the session of the Armenian National Council. They also behold the outcome of the situation in the independence declaration of Armenia. The issue of independence discussed on May 28, during the sessions of the Armenian National Council (day and night). On that day, it had to give an answer to the ultimatum given to the Transcaucasian Federation by the Turks in Batumi on May 26, as the day after that, the deadline of the ultimatum was expiring. After an ardent debate, the Armenian National Council decided to accept the ultimatum of the Turks; to send a new delegation team to Batumi, consisted of A. Khatisyan, H. Kajaznuni and M. Papajanyan, giving them an unlimited authority to negotiate and conclude a peace treaty in the name of the independent Armenia. However, the official declaration of the independence was delayed for some period of time, although the supporters of the independence were forming a majority in the Council.

The following day, on May 29, a joint session was held amongst ARF Eastern and Western bureaus, ARF Central Committee of Tiflis, the ARF preventatives of the Sejm and the Armenian National Council. There, the political situation was examined once again and it was decided to declare Armenia as an independent Republic. At the same time, it was decided to form a government on inter-party basis, and to move the National Council and the newly-formed government to Yerevan, which was to become the capital of the newly-independent Armenia. In the same session, H. Kajaznuni was nominated as a candidate for President (Prime Minister) of the Government. Only after that, on May 30, the Armenian National Council made the decisive move deciding to declare the independence of Armenia. 



Armenians History, volume IV, book I: Contemporary Era (1918-1945), NAS RA Institute of History, 2010. (in Armenian). 

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