Georgian-Russian Agreement of May 7th 1920 and the issue of Abkhazia (Part II)
20/04/2010 13:33
Simon Kiladze

"The state border between Russia and Georgia passes from the Black Sea along the river Psou"...

The agreement between Russia and Georgia was signed on May 7th 1920 by Grigol Uratadze, member of the Constituent Council for Georgia and Lev Karakhan, Deputy Peoples' Commissar of Foreign Affair for Russia. It is the most important document in the bilateral relations therefore we will discuss it in details.

The agreement consists of Preamble and the main part (16 articles altogether).

The preamble indicates the main purpose of the agreement – "common aspiration towards peaceful co-existence of peoples of these two countries". It also names authorized persons of the signatory sides.

According to the article I of the main part "Russia unreservedly recognizes the independence and sovereignty of the Georgian State and voluntarily renounces all the sovereign rights which had appertained to Russia with regard to the People and Territory of Georgia ".

According to the article II Russia "undertakes to refrain from any kind of interference in the affairs of Georgia ".

The article III shows the separating line of Russian and Georgian territories. "The state border between Russian and Georgia passes from the Black Sea along the river Psou till the mountain Akhakhch then it passes /goes over to the mentioned mountain Akhakhch and mountain Aganeta and follows the northern borders of the former provinces of the Black Sea, Kutaisi and Tiflis till the eastern border of the Zakatala district". At the same time gorges of the Great Caucasus Range remained neutral until 1922 (neither sides could deploy their troops there). Neutral gorges were Mamison gorge – from Zaramag (Russia) to Oni (Georgia), Dariali gorge – from Balti to Kobi, and all the rest in the radius of five versts. Exact marking of the borders and their marking on maps (delimitation) should have been done by bilateral commission of the sides.

According to the article IV, Russia agreed to recognize as part of Georgia , apart from the above, all parts of former Kutaisi and Tiflis provinces - districts of Batumi, Sukhumi and Zakatala as well as territories that previously were part of former Caucasian viceroyalty that were to be added to Georgia later.

According to the article V, Georgia undertook to disarm and intern all armed units belonging to any organization purported to have constituted a threat to the Soviet government, and to surrender such detachments or groups to Moscow; to disarm and intern crews of anti-Russian ships in its ports while ships should have been transferred to Russia (this referred to ships of the Black Sea Navy of the Russian volunteer (White ) Army of Russia who after the defeat of Denikin in the civil war took shelter in Georgian ports). The same sanctions should have been undertaken with regards to military units of foreign countries that were not part of the Georgian armed forces and were hostile towards Russia. They should have been exiled out of the Georgian territory immediately.

According to the article VI Russia undertook not to allow on its territory anti-Georgian forces or organizations that have claims to some parts of its territory.

According to the article VII, Georgia undertook not to allow all the abovementioned groups on the newly added territories.

The article VIII defined a creation of a mixed commission to oversee fulfillment of the terms stipulated in the Articles V and VI. And work of this commission should have been completed in two months.

The article IX concerned definition of juridical state of Georgians and ethnic Georgians living in Russia – a right of option of Georgian citizenship that would have been determined through special agreement.

In the article X Georgia took obligation to release from prison all those persons who were acting in favour of the Russian Communist Party.

According to the article XI the sides were to respect each others' state flag and coat-of-arms.

By the article XII Russia and Georgia regulated trade and economical issues. The best preferential system was established and custom tax-free status was given to transit goods.

The article XIII stipulated signing of a special trade agreement between the sides.

According to the article XIV normal diplomatic and consular relations were to be established between Georgia and Russia.

By the article XV was provided to regulate various issues of civil and private law and among others issues was that of return of documents necessary for Georgia from central archives of Russia. In addition, there should have been drawn up a separate agreement on this issue by a mixed Georgian-Russian commission. The same commission would be involved in resolving an issue of joint usage of the Baku-Batumi oil pipeline (it should be noted that since April 30th 1920 Azerbaijan was already sovietized and was a satellite Soviet republic of Russia). According to the last article XVI, the agreement did not need any special ratification procedures and came into force immediately on its signing.

A two-article "especially secret annex" was enclose to the Georgian-Russian agreement according to which Georgia pledges itself to recognize the right of free existence and activity of the Communist party … and in particular its right to free meetings and publications, including organs of the press.

Hereby we should mention that Georgian government was forced to include this annex and its classification as "secret" was due to its being unpleasant and uncomfortable issue and a certain fear of the Georgian government that in case of publication of this document it might have caused severe discontent among Georgian opposition parties with anti-Communist attitude.

Another "uncomfortable" moment that was attached to the signing of the agreement of the may 7th was Zakatala district. As we mentioned above, at the moment of the signing of the document there was already a pro-Russian Communist government in Azerbaijan, and it was there after the invasion of Russia, and Zakatala district (Saingilo) was already occupied by the units of the Red Army (to be objective we should say that although Georgian government considered Zakatala district to be its territory but since 1918 it practically could not control it. A reason for this was that they failed to reach agreement with Musavatian authorities of Azerbaijan).

As soon as Baku found out about the signing of the Georgian-Russian agreement Communists there, with instigation of some members of the Caucasus bureau of the Russian Communist Party, protested resolution of issue of belonging of Zakatala district in favour of Georgia and informed Moscow about their categorically negative attitude towards this matter. Accordingly, with request of representatives of Peoples' Commissariat of Foreign Affairs of Russia the Georgian delegation was forced to renew negotiations due to emergence of "new circumstances". On May 12th a new agreement was added in the framework of the May 7th agreement which was about the status of Zakatala district. According to terms of this new document belonging of Zakatala district to Georgia was practically annulled and it was declared a disputed area. Therefore the issue of Saingilo should have been resolved with Azerbaijan through a mixed commission (with equal number of members from both sides) headed by Russian representative. Additional agreement of May 12th was considered an integral part of the agreement of May 7th.

Herewith we should say that this additional agreement was not, of course, beneficial for Georgia. At equal numbers of members of the mixed commission a representative of Soviet Russia (head of the commission) would have taken side of Soviet Azerbaijan, of course, and the issue, with majority of votes, would have been decided against Georgian interests. But it would be just to note that the commission did not gather at all and therefore the issue of juridical belonging of Zakatala district remained open (while in reality it was controlled by Baku). In the end, Saingilo was given to Azerbaijan after societization of Georgia (this is a separate story).

We already mentioned above that members of the Georgian legislative body were informed about signing of the agreement by Foreign Minister Evgeny Gegechkori on May 11th. At that time members of the Constituent Council were not yet familiar with the full text of the agreement and its annexes therefore general discussion of articles of the agreement and expressing of their opinions passed without much aggravation. According to the resolution that was approved unilaterally "having heard the statement of the Foreign Minister on signing of the truce agreement between Russia and the Georgian Democratic Republic the Constituent Council approves the government policy, expresses its pleasure with regards to establishment of good-neighbourly relations Between Russia and Georgia and is convinced that the government will continue to take relevant measures to defend independence of the republic and its borders".

Later when Grigol Uratadze brought the full text of the document from Moscow and it was translated into Georgian and published in the press (June 8th 1920) that was when a commotion and criticism towards the government mainly for the opposition started. The opposition parties, especially National Democratic Party and the Essers, were stressing issues of the belonging of Zakatala district and the Caucasian gorges being declared as neutral zones and thus underlining terms were harmful for Georgia that were stipulated in the agreement.

As to "secret additional agreement" on Communist activities and legalization of their publishing bodies had a negative effect on development and strengthening of the Democratic Republic of Georgia. And although full text of the agreement was not published in the press situation became clear even without this when repressions against the Bolsheviks were seized and they started an unrestrained anti-government propaganda. Kommunist newspaper became a mouthpiece for the opponents of the government.

Later and based on the May 7th agreement the following documents were signed: the Russian-Georgian trade agreement (November 14th 1920), the Russian-Georgian agreement on transfer of ships (December 2nd 1920), agreement on right of option of citizens (December 9th 1920).

Notwithstanding several negative moments, the Georgian-Russian agreement was of the greatest importance for Georgia as juridical recognition of the democratic republic of Georgian by its former metropolis – Russia had very positive effect on the international arena. Ultimately on January 24th 1921 Georgian was juridically recognized by western European countries. This document represents the first framework agreement which concretely demonstrates a fact of recognition of Georgian independence by a foreign country. And it also clearly registers both territorial integrity of Georgia and its state borders.
It is an interesting fact that as the May 7th agreement does not specify validity period of the agreement it is an indefinite-term agreement and it until today has not been juridically annulled with any juridical act on the part of either Georgia or Russia. So it formally still remains valid especially in terms of issues of recognition of territorial integrity and its borders. It is notable that direction and description of the Georgian-Russian borders that are demonstrated in the agreement remains unchanged till today. The border of Georgia and the Russian Federation corresponds with the line (direction) that is registered in the first clause of the third article of the agreement of May 7th. Another important point is that this agreement remained valid even after sovietization of Georgia. In the period when Georgia was a part of the Transcaucasian Federation and later of the Soviet Union Georgian Bolsheviks established border and customs checkpoints according to the border that was determined in the third article of the May 7thagreement. The border remained mainly the same after 1922 (only under a status of administrative border of the soviet republic) when Georgia became a part of the Soviet Union. And, in the end when becoming a member of the UN and other international organizations the borders stipulated in the May 7th 1920 agreement remained as the state border of Georgia (with Russia). On July 1st 1992 the Russian Federation recognized Georgia as an independent state in these very borders.

And now it is time to discuss as to how tendentious and biased are articles by Russian political scientists and experts when discussing this agreement of May 7th 1920 between Georgia and Russia. Such articles became especially frequent after the Russian aggression against Georgia in August 2008. These publications are doubting legality of these agreements and a fact of Abkhazia being an integral part of Georgia in 1920.

(To be continued)

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