February 25, 1921 – One of the Most Tragic Pages in Georgia’s History
28 October, 2010
February 25, 1921 – One of the Most Tragic Pages in Georgia’s History

On the 25th of February of 1921, Orjonikidze sent a telegram to the Russian Revolutionary Committee, sitting in Moscow, addressing it personally to Lenin and Stalin and informing them of Georgia’s defeat and its Sovietization : ‘Red flag is waving over Tbilisi! Long live Soviet Georgia!’ Professor Simon Maskharashvili has more.

GJ – The Georgian government made a decision to abandon Tbilisi without fight. Most of the Menshevik government boarded the echelons and, leaving Tbilisi, took with them the entire

national treasure. The capital city was left without any defense. It was the dawn of one of the most tragic days in Georgia’s history - 25th of February of 1921.
SM – Yes, very true! On the other hand, Stalin’s commissar Orjonikidze (also an ethnic Georgian) and one of the commanders of the 11th Russian Army Hecker had already issued an official order to withdraw the Russian Bolshevik troops from Georgia.

GJ – Why had they issued such an order?
SM – By 24-25 February of 1921, the Red Guard had found itself in a catastrophically dire situation on every direction. Had Zhordania not made that absolutely pernicious decision about leaving Tbilisi without fight, Georgia’s fate would have taken a totally different shape. On the 24th of February, the Armenian patriots approached the capital city of Yerevan where they suggested quick and fierce fights, and on the 25th of February, when the Bolshevik Red Guard had entered Tbilisi without any confrontation, the Russians lost control over Yerevan for quite a while. Can you understand what was happening? The Russian Army was getting sieged if the Georgian army had not left Tbilisi. But the cascade of Zhordania’s stupidities is not ending here. For example, instead of continuing fighting in Mtskheta (about 20 kilometers to the West from Tbilisi), as it was decided at the government meeting, the echelon full of the government and high command members stopped in Gori (about 80 kilometers in the same direction). To the commander-in-chief Kvinitadze’s question why they had found themselves in Gori, the answer was ‘Zhordania has overslept it’.

GJ – What? He overslept the stop in Mtskheta?
SM – Yes, he did! And the volunteers – students, schoolboys and other young people – were left totally heedless in Mtskheta. There was nobody to command and lead them. Neither the government nor the high command was there to do the job. Regardless, the Red Guardsmen who had already entered Tbilisi could not even make a step out of town. They remained stuck there   until the 5th of March.

GJ – On the 25th of February of 1921, the delighted and overexcited Orjonikidze sent a telegram to Lenin and Stalin, informing the Kremlin about Georgia’s surrender to Soviet regime: ‘Red flag is hoisted over Tbilisi – Long live the Soviet Georgia’
SM – As it is becoming clear from the materials of the Russian archive that as early as 18-19 February, when Russians were under terrible pressure, Lenin ordered to stop the occupation of Georgia because success of the operation was not even looming on the horizon. Contrary to Lenin’s order, Stalin sent his henchman Orjonikidze the order to continue: ‘You have our consent – capture the city!’ Orjonikidze was at that time in Baku. This was just Stalin’s persistence. Nobody, neither Orjonikidze nor other occupants of Georgia hoped for victory any longer. They could not even imagine Zhordania’s leaving Tbilisi without any confrontation. The occupants had practically lost the war when Zhordania committed a historical crime, having left Tbilisi without giving a battle to the enemy. This was totally unexpected. There couldn’t have been anything more brainless and foolish. Even the enemy could not have wished for anything better than this. The amazed Hecker informed Orjonikidze that they had stepped into Tbilisi without any confrontation. Following this, Orjonikidze immediately sent a telegram to Moscow, congratulating the Kremlin with the victory. Just ten hours prior to this, he was simply sure that the war with Georgia was lost. Zhordania’s indescribable and unprecedented foolishness, or just a treason helped Russians capture Georgia. Had they not entered Tbilisi on February 25th, they would have lost Yerevan and would finally be besieged. At the time of Soviet Russia’s entry into Georgia, negotiations between Lenin and Ata-Turk were on its way. Negotiations were on with Britain too. The Georgian government had no idea that such negotiations were taking place.

GJ – What issues were the subject of negotiations other than economic and trade problems?
SM – The gist of the negotiations was that in case Ata-Turk helped Russia in the war with Georgia (Imagine Russia which wanted Turkey’s help to fight this tiny Georgia!), Russia would cede to Turkey ‘her’ territories at the expense of Georgia and Armenia. Those territories on part of Georgia were our historical Tao-Klarjeti, the Batumi Region and the Qarsi Region. By the way, when Russia entered Armenia in 1921, Turkey was attacking it from another side. They were planning the same kind of attack on Georgia too, but the thing was that on the 19th of February of 1921 (just 6 days prior to the Soviet capture of Georgia) the Russian long-term strategy against Georgia had already been thwarted.

GJ – Could you please comment more specifically?
SM – Certainly! According to the Russian long-range plan, based on analytical investigation and intelligence efforts, Bolsheviks should have captured Tbilisi with a lightning speed not later than February 19, but the operation took them almost one week. There was another direction which the Russians had hoped to be very successful at – the Darial Gorge where there was stationed a rather small Georgian military unit. Incidentally, not a single Russian soldier managed to escape alive from the Gorge. Neither were successful the Russians at crossing the Mamison Pass of the Caucasus Range. They had also failed to get in trough Gagra of Apkhazeti (Abkhazia). By the way, it was the Apkhazs themselves who met the Russians head-on at that moment.

GJ – So Georgia had every chance to defeat the Bolsheviks if not for the weird behavior of Georgia’s Menshevik government . . . Is that what you are trying to assert? 
SM – Yes, Georgia’s chances to win that war against the Soviet Russia was undoubtedly great. A commander of a Russian unit was killed in Sighnaghi of the Kakheti Region. This had completely paralyzed the unit, but there was no way for them to acquire any information about the incident from the local population. Russian occupants had no support on part of the Georgian   people no matter how hard the Bolshevik agitators tried to achieve success.  There was felt a huge amount of hatred against the occupants. The Georgian Bolsheviks themselves were taken by the Georgian people as traitors and natural enemies of Georgia. When Russians understood that there would be no organized military resistance against them, they moved at fast pace and on the 5th of March of 1921 they were already in Surami. Then they headed towards Borjomi, but were not yet certain about the safe advent towards West Georgia.

GJ – Where were Zhordania and his Government at this time?
SM – Zhordania had moved to Kutaisi, the administrative center of West Georgia.



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