|Part of the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I|
Top: destruction in the city of Erzurum. Left upper: Russian forces. Left lower: wounded Muslim refugees. Right upper: Ottoman forces. Right lower: Armenian refugees
| Russia (1914–17)
United Kingdom (1918) Armenia (1918)
Central Caspian Dictatorship (1918)
Baku Commune (1918)
Russian SFSR (1918)
| Ottoman Empire|
|Commanders and leaders|
| Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich
Friedrich von Kressenstein
| Enver Pasha|
|•Russian Caucasus Army
|•3rd Army |
|: 160,000 (1914), 702,000 (September 1916), 1,000,000 men total
The Caucasus Campaign comprised armed conflicts between the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire, later including Azerbaijan, Armenia, the Central Caspian Dictatorship and the British Empire as part of the Middle Eastern theatre during World War I. The Caucasus Campaign extended from the Caucasus to the Eastern Asia Minor region, reaching as far as Trabzon, Bitlis, Muş and Van. The land warfare was accompanied by the Russian navy in the Black Sea Region of the Ottoman Empire.
On 23 February 1917, the Russian advance was halted following the Russian Revolution, and later the disintegrated Russian Caucasus Army was replaced by the forces of the newly established Armenian state, comprised from the previous Armenian volunteer units and irregular units. During 1918 the region also saw the establishment of the Central Caspian Dictatorship, the Republic of Mountainous Armenia and an Allied force named Dunsterforce which was composed of elite troops drawn from the Mesopotamian and Western Fronts. The Ottoman Empire and German Empire had a hot conflict at Batumi with the arrival of the German Caucasus Expedition whose prime aim was to secure oil supplies.
On 3 March 1918, the campaign was terminated between the Ottoman Empire and Russia with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and on 4 June 1918, the Ottoman Empire signed the Treaty of Batum with Armenia. However, the armed conflicts continued as Ottoman Empire was still engaged with the Central Caspian Dictatorship, Republic of Mountainous Armenia and Dunsterforce of the British Empire until the Armistice of Mudros was signed on 30 October 1918.
Background[edit | edit source]
The main objective of the Ottoman Empire was the recovery of its territories in the Caucasus. These regions were captured by Russians after the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-78. The strategic goals of the Caucasus Campaign for Ottoman Forces was to retake Artvin, Ardahan, Kars, and the port of Batum. A success in this region would mean a diversion of Russian forces to this front from the Polish and Galician fronts. A Caucasus Campaign would have a distracting effect on Russian forces. The plan found sympathy with German advisory. Germany supplied the missing resources and the Ottoman 3rd Army's manpower was used to achieve the desired distraction. War Minister Enver Pasha hoped a success would facilitate opening the route to Tbilisi and beyond with a revolt of Caucasian Muslims. The Ottoman – or rather German – strategic goal was to cut off Russian access to the hydrocarbon resources around the Caspian Sea.
Russia viewed the Caucasus front as secondary to the Eastern Front. The Eastern Front had the most Russian manpower and resources. Russia had taken the fortress of Kars from the Turks during the Russo-Turkish War in 1877 and feared a campaign into the Caucasus aimed at retaking Kars and the port of Batum. In March 1915, when the Russian foreign minister Sergey Sazonov in a meeting with British ambassador George Buchanan and French Ambassador Maurice Paléologue stated that a lasting postwar settlement demanded full Russian possession of the capital city of the Ottoman Empire, the straits of Bosphorus and Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, southern Thrace up to the Enos-Midia line as well as parts of the Black Sea coast of Anatolia between the Bosphorus, the Sakarya River and an undetermined point near the Bay of Izmit. The Russian Tsarist regime planned to replace the Muslim population of Northern Anatolia and Istanbul with more reliable Cossack settlers.
Armenian national liberation movement sought to establish First Republic of Armenia. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation achieved this goal with the establishment of the internationally recognized First Republic of Armenia in May 1918. Also as early as 1915, the Occupation of Turkish Armenia and later Republic of Mountainous Armenia were Armenian controlled entities, while Centrocaspian Dictatorship was established with Armenian participation. None of these entities were long lasting.
The British worked with Russian revolutionary troops to prevent Enver Pasha's goal of establishing an independent Transcaucasia. The Anglo-Persian Oil Company was in the proposed path of Ottoman ambitions, which owned the exclusive rights to work petroleum deposits throughout the Persian Empire except in the provinces of Azerbaijan, Ghilan, Mazendaran, Asdrabad and Khorasan. In 1914, before the war, the British government had contracted with the company for the supply of oil-fuel for the navy.
Operations[edit | edit source]
Prelude[edit | edit source]
During July 1914, there were negotiations between the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) and Armenian intelligentsia at the Armenian congress at Erzurum. The public conclusion of this congress was "Ostensibly conducted to peaceful advance Armenian demands by legitimate means". The CUP regarded the congress as the seedbed in establishing the decisions of insurrection. Historian Erikson concluded that after this meeting the CUP was convinced on strong Armenian – Russian links with detailed plans aimed at the detachment of the region from the Ottoman Empire.
1914[edit | edit source]
On 1 November, the Bergmann Offensive, Russians crossed the frontier first. They planned to capture Doğubeyazıt and Köprüköy. The official Russian declaration of war to Ottoman Empire came on 1 November. The established force for this goal was 25 infantry battalions, 37 cavalry units and 120 artillery guns. It had two wings. On the right wing, the Russian I Corps crossed the border and moved from Sarıkamış toward the direction of Köprüköy. They reached Köprüköy on 4 November. On the left wing, the Russian IV Corps moved from Yerevan to Pasinler Plains. The commander of 3rd Army, Hasan Izzet was not in favor of an offensive action in the harsh winter conditions. His plan was to remain in defense and launch a counterattack at the right time. This was overridden by the War Minister Enver Pasha. On 7 November, the 3rd Army commenced its offensive with the participation of the XI Corps and all cavalry units. This force was supported by Kurdish Tribal Regiment. The cavalry failed to execute the encircling and the Kurdish Tribal Regiment proved to be unreliable. Russians gained territory after the withdrawal of the 18th and the 30th Divisions. Ottoman forces managed to maintain their positions at Köprüköy. By 12 November the IX Corps with Ahmet Fevzi Pasha reinforce the XI Corps on the left flank. The 3rd Army began to push the Russians back with the support of the cavalry. The 3rd Infantry Regiment managed to invade Köprüköy after the Azap Offensive between November 17 to 20. By the end of November, the front had stabilized with the Russians clinging to a salient 25 kilometers into Ottoman Empire along the Erzurum-Sarıkamış axis. The Russian success was along the southern shoulders of the offensive where Armenian volunteers were effective and took Karaköse and Doğubeyazıt. Doğubeyazıt was the northern neighbor of Van Province. Ottoman casualties were high: 9000 killed, 3000 taken prisoner and 2800 deserters.
During December, Nicholas II of Russia visited the Caucasus Campaign. The head of the Armenian Church along the president of the Armenian National Council of Tiflis in Tiflis Alexander Khatisyan received the excellence:
From all countries Armenians are hurrying to enter the ranks of the glorious Russian Army, with their blood to serve the victory of the Russian Army... Let the Russian flag wave freely over the Dardanelles and the Bosporus, Let your will the peoples [Armenian] remaining under the Turkish yoke receive freedom. Let the Armenian people of Turkey who have suffered for the faith of Christ received resurrection for a new free life...—Nicholas II of Russia
On 15 December 1914, at the Battle of Ardahan the city Ardanuch was captured. It was an operation commanded by German Lt. Col. Stange. The mission of Stange Bey Detachment was to conduct highly visible operations to distract and pin Russian units. Stange Bey's initial mission was to operate in the Chorok region. The unit was materially assisted by the rebellious Adjars of the country, who seized the road. Later Enver modified the original plan toward supporting the Battle of Sarikamish. It was ordered to cut the Russian support link to Sarikamish-Kars line. On 1 January this unit was in Ardahan.
On 22 December at the Battle of Sarikamish 3rd Army received the order to advance towards Kars. In the face of the 3rd Army's advance Governor Vorontsov planned to pull the Russian Caucasus Army back to Kars. Yudenich ignored Vorontsov's wishes to withdraw. He stayed to defend Sarikamis. Enver Pasha assumed the personal command of the 3rd Army and ordered it into battle against the Russian troops.