March 3, 2021, Facebook page Politicano published an article headlined “Forgotten history: the British occupation of Batumi in 1918.” According to the article, Great Britain occupied Batumi based on November 13, 1918 decision and Adjara suffered huge losses caused by British troops. The author of the article accuses the British of taking jewelries and oil from Batumi. The article was first published on Politicano’s website and Facebook page in September 2019. Later in October 2019, Facebook page Stalin also spread an identical text.
Politicano’s article is manipulative and contains unsubstantiated claims. Caucasus was declared as a sphere of British influence based on the Anglo-French agreement from December 23, 1917 and the British Foreign Minister did not make this decision on November 13, 1918; Lt.-Col. Willian Stokes mentioned by Politicano actually was Great Britain’s High Commissioner for Caucasus, Claude Bayfield Stokes, while Politicano’s claims about taking jewelries and oil from Batumi have no evidence.
Did the British Foreign Minister make a decision to occupy Batumi on November 13, 1918?
In fact, Great Britain had not occupied Batumi, while the issue of spheres of influence was determined by the Anglo-French agreement from December 23, 1917. According to the agreement, the Black Sea region and Southern part of former Russian Empire were divided into two “zones of influence.” Bessarabia, Crimea, Ukraine and a disputable coastal area of Russia’s anti-Bolshevik forces fell under the French influence, while the British zone of influence covered the areas settled by Cossacks and entire Caucasus.
As for the Armistice of Mudros, according to Politicano, the treaty actually guaranteed British occupation. In fact, German Empire and its allies (including Ottoman Empire) lost the WWI with the Triple Entente that led to signing the Armistice of Mudros between the parties to the Entente (including Great Britain) and the Ottoman Empire.
7 of the Armistice of Mudros stated that when faced with a situation in which their security might be endangered, the Allies would have the right to occupy any strategic point. According to article 15, British troops should have occupied the Baku-Batumi railway section that implied the implementation of the December 23, 1917 treaty. Upon signing the treaty, the Entente powers started to occupy the territory of Anatolia. The Armistice of Mudros also envisaged the replacement of German troops by British ones, which would take control of the entire South Caucasus. Simultaneously, Turkish troops started withdrawing from Akhaltsikhe and Akhalkalaki districts. The Trans Caucasus republics were not mentioned in the text of the Mudros treaty and their status remained undetermined.
Signing of the Mudros treaty led to the abolition of Brest-Litovsk and Batumi negotiations that theoretically enabled Georgia and Armenia to raise their claims for earlier lost territories. But simultaneously, the recognition of independence of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan was also annulled. Due to the crisis situation in Russia and around it, South Caucasian nations were given a chance to restore their statehood.
What were British interests in South Caucasus?
Great Britain deemed South Caucasus important primarily due to its geographical location. The Caucasus could be used as an obstacle against possible Russian and Turkish expansion in the Near East and India.
The primary goal of British troops in South Caucasus was:
- To occupy the Baku-Batumi railway section;
- To expel the adversary’s troops, diplomatic missions from the region;
- To de-occupy the region.
Georgian historian Beka Kobakhidze said that the Batumi province was the only one in the region that was directly administered by the British, not by a local government. Kobakhidze named the main reasons for that.
- Batumi was the key to the Caucasus, the region’s main gate to the West. “Giving control over it […] to Georgia would have given [Tbilisi] a great advantage, making both Armenia and Azerbaijan “hostages” of Georgia,” Kobakhidze says.
- Since several local political forces contested Batumi, by governing directly, the British were trying to head-off the potential confrontation among pro-Georgian, pro-[white] Russian, and pro-Turkish factions.
- 15% of the oil from Baku oilfields flowed to Batumi through the pipeline. The British never directly controlled those fields, but their Black Sea fleet depended on these supplies.
The fall of Baku in April 1920 and the establishment of Soviet rule almost on all territories created “a corridor” between Russia and Turkey and the Caucasus lost its role as a buffer against Soviet expansion. After Bolsheviks occupied Baku, Batumi also lost its strategic importance. In June 1920, the British government started withdrawing its troops from Batumi.
It is noteworthy that Lt.-Col. Willian Stokes mentioned by Politicano actually was Great Britain’s High Commissioner for Caucasus, Claude Bayfield Stokes.
Did the British take large amounts of jewelries and oil from Adjara?
According to Politicano, the British took large amounts of jewelries and oil from Georgia; the material, however, provides no sources to prove this fact. No such information can be searched in official sources either. Thus, Politicano’s claims lack evidence.
In search of historical occupation
Politicano frequently portrays the practice of Western colonialism in modern context, simultaneously denying Soviet occupation. Moreover, it even rejects Russia’s responsibility for the challenges faced by Georgia as well as the launch of the 2008 war.
At the same time, Politicano uses hashtag “occupation” in respect of Great Britain, thus trying to incite historical traumas. Politicano is constantly trying to induce nostalgia about Soviet Union and spread anti-Western narratives, according to which besides Russia, other countries have also occupied Georgian territories.
See detailed information in Myth Detector’s earlier articles:
Politicano Portrays Europe’s Past as Present, and Soviet Past – as Future
Politicano incites Soviet nostalgy using a manipulative photo showing a 1991 demonstration
Manipulation: Politicano ascribes the electrification of Georgian territory to the Soviet Union
Three Myths about Soviet Union
Faking history: Politicano attributes the construction of Chiatura to the Soviet Union, instead of Akaki Tsereteli
About the source
Facebook page Politicano is a medium with links to Yevgeny Primakov Russian-Georgian Public Center. Among the events organized by Politicano, two public lecturers were held at the Primakov Center in 2015 and 2016.
The Primakov Center was founded by the Gorchakov Fund established by the Russian President’s decree, as well as the Georgian Institute of International Relations.
See detailed information about Politicano here.
Prepared by Ani Kistauri