The Shulaveri Committee
21 October, 2010
The Shulaveri Committee

Most of those people who went to Shulaveri were not even the citizens of Georgia. The document promulgated by them was unlawful and their call was also illegitimate. Professor Simon Maskharashvili has more.

GJ – In January of 1921, most of the major European nations - members of the League of Nations - finally recognized the independence of Georgia. Has the fact actually changed anything in the Georgian politics?

SM – This was exactly the period when Russian-Turkish, Russian-British and Russian-Polish

negotiations had entered the intensive phase. Meanwhile, Russia was getting ready much more energetically than before to invade Georgia. On the 10th of February, the Bolsheviks nibbled at the perfidious idea of capturing Georgia by trying to find out how much Georgia was ready for the incipient operation. The Loreh district (which used to be a neutral territory before but currently under Georgia’s control, where there were stationed about 10 thousand People’s Guardsmen) was chosen to position the plain-clothed Russian military personnel as if they were regular workers and representatives of ethnic minorities. As a result, confrontation became unavoidable. There occurred sporadic skirmishes. The resurrection was feigned deliberately. The information reached Tbilisi the next day. The southern front which consisted of only the People’s Guard was disbanded and scattered. Zhordania did not even call for the mobilization of forces.

GJ – Would it be fair to say that Zhordania could not simply understand at that moment how dangerous the situation had become?
SM – No! The mobilization of forces was never called for. On the 15th of February, the former staff of he Russian embassy (the Bolsheviks) moved to Shulaveri of the Lower Kartly region, where they created the Georgian revolutionary Committee and declared it Georgia’s new government. The committee appealed to Russia and to Lenin in particular, with a request to support it in its fight against the Menshevik government. This appeal was equal to actual invitation of the Russian army to the Georgian territory. Certainly, those people who were nestled in Shulaveri were not even the citizens of Georgia. Therefore, all their statements and appeals were simply illegitimate. The scheme was exactly the same which Russia used in Apkhazeti (Abkhazia) in the 1990’s. They called it the ‘passportisation’ which was used later as a pretext to deploy the Russian troops on the Georgian territory for ‘protecting’ the so-called Russian citizens. On the 16th of February, the Russian troops started direct military intervention in Georgia. The entire Russian front was on the assault. The three serious military units – the Ninth Army from the side of Apkhazeti, the 11th Army from Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Terek Unit of the 11th Army from Kazbegi (the Dariali Gorge) and one more unit from the Mamisoni Crossover from the side of the Racha Region were attacking Georgia, trying to capture it as soon as they could.

GJ – All this made four fronts against Georgia . . .
SM – Yes! Exactly at that moment, Lenin’s government made a deal with Kemal Ataturk about attacking Georgia from the side of Turkey. General Kvenetadze was assigned commander-in-chief of the Georgian army but the general military mobilization had not been declared even on the 16th of February. Preempting further events, I will tell you that Tbilisi fell on the 25th of February, which was followed by the fall of Sokhumi on the 4th of March and then Surami on the 5th of March. So in the duration of the entire week (from February 25 to March 5) Russians controlled only Tbilisi. Had the mobilization been declared on the 16th of February, at least 200 thousand people would have taken up arms in Georgia which had only 2.5 million of population. 
At that time, almost every family had a gun in Georgia. There were no automatic rifles then. Incidentally, there were as many people in Georgia as during WW1, when 700 ethnic Georgians were lined up under the Soviet (Russian) flag. In 1921, the Russian army, attacking Georgia on all four directions, counted only 40 thousand soldiers. They could have been more, but they could not manage to widen the front to pull in more troops. Had the mobilization been declared in Georgia, we could have raised at least 60-thousand-srong army if not more. In spite of all those drawbacks, Georgians severely defeated Russia as a result of the February 18-19 battles. The military mobilization was still delayed. On February 21st the Georgian Constitution was adopted. On February 22-23 the Russians refreshed the attack of Georgia. Georgians rebuffed the enemy once again. During one of the confrontations, the Georgian side captured 1500 Russian PRWs  who were marched in the streets of the town.
GJ – These facts are documented in annals, aren’t they?
SM – That’s true. Their disgraced march is shown perfectly well in a documentary and the negative attitude of the population too. Tbilisi was defended by approximately nine thousand people. Most of them were volunteers – cadets, university students and school-boys. On the 23rd of February, the Russians made an attempt to rush towards Avchala (part of Tbilisi). They widened the front line, desiring to besiege Tbilisi, but theirs was not a highly qualified army. They would capture one spot, but lose another one. The climate was not friendly for them either - damp and cold February was in their way to realize their plan. Moreover, if the Georgian army had received the battles in the streets of Tbilisi, Russians would have needed five times as bigger military power. At this moment, Zhordania made a totally unjustifiable and catastrophic decision which was never defied by General Kvenetadze.  
GJ – And what was that?

SM – According to Zhordania, it was much better for the Georgian army and the government to leave Tbilisi and to continue fighting in its suburban areas like Mtskheta. He said this would save them from being besieged. At the same time, the conference on the leadership level noted that the bigger part of the city defenders were patriotically-minded volunteers, the young Tbilissians, and if they left the city they would disband and never be put together again. One more thing: Mtskheta is a small place, and the enemy would feel more comfortable if the battle-field was transferred there. 
GJ – Definitely, because they would find it easier to coordinate their forces . . .
SM – There were certainly other factors too, but according to Zhordania’s decision, all national treasure was loaded in echelons and in the evening of February 24, the government, the army and its high military command left Georgia. In a while after this heartbreaking departure, one of the commanders of the 11th Russian Army Mr. Hecker said to one of the representatives of the Georgian government who had refused to leave the country (by the way, the man was my great grandfather who had known Mr. Hecker very closely since their youth): ‘The order had already been given to the Russian army to retreat, you just had to wait for another two hours’.

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