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Memory of February 25, 1921

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Wednesday, February 26
The February-March War of 1921, which was followed by the collapse of the Democratic Republic of Georgia, is one of the most heavy chapters of Georgian History. The preconditions and processes of this war haven’t yet been a subject to the deep scientific analysis they deserve. Frequently, the 1921 February-March war is referred to as the Russia-Georgia war. Soviet Russia did attack Georgia, occupy and annex it, but it was still not only a war with Russia; Moscow activated then-Soviet Armenia and Azerbaijan, and Turkey, another neighbour of Georgia, was also involved when its troops attempted to snatch Batumi.

In the beginning of 1921, Georgia found itself in an intensely difficult geopolitical situation. By then, it was the only independent state in the Caucasus as England and other Western countries weren’t trying to hold ground in Georgia anymore. The positions were now to be dominated by Russia and Turkey who were trying to use each other against the West and share the South Caucasus.

If Soviet Russia had kept its May 7th 1921 treaty promises,Turkey would not have made any claims and Azerbaijan and Armenia, both sovietised by Russia, would have also kept quiet. But recognising Georgia as an independent state was a tactical move by Russia. Moscow would put its troops into operation at the first opportunity. The attack had to be a military one since Russia had no such support in Georgia to cause a putsch instead. In February 1921, Georgia was alone against Russia, who intended to attack with the Red Army.

The difficult geopolitical condition was also aggravated by the fact that the political elite of the time was assessing the political climate of the country incorrectly and it didn’t foresee any grave danger. Such a mindset was partially encouraged by the West- at the end of January 1921, the West recognised Georgia as an independent state. This was considered by the political elites as an eternal guarantee of secure independence. Russia and Turkey were also recognising Georgia’s independence and were officially promising neighbourly relations.

The situation was aggravated not only by misjudging the events but also by mistakes made at the border battle to defend Tbilisi.

Leaving Tbilisi was fateful for the war. Similar to the attack of Spring 1920, Soviet Russia had not declared war with Georgia. If Georgia parried the Red Army’s attack near Tbilisi in 1921, Russia might have backed down once again and blamed it on the sovietized Armenia and Azerbaijan and the event might have been announced as a ‘military conflict.’

Defeating Tbilisi enhanced Russia’s hope for success and broke the spirit of Georgians. Even though the attack was continuing for three more weeks after leaving Tbilisi, nobody was hoping on defeating the Red Army.

The Georgian Army unexpectedly left Tbilisi on the night of February 24-25. Before that, the Tbilisi guards had parried two attacks of the Red Army by February 23. However, Tbilisi was in danger of being surrounded and the Commander-in-Chief of the Georgian Army, General Kvintradze, decided to leave Tbilisi with the army. The question of how correct the decision was or what was the reason for leaving without fighting and giving up on defending the city, cannot be judged at this time.

Tbilisi was left so unexpectedly that the newspapers Georgian Republic, Georgia, and Unity, printed on February 25, 1921, were written with victorious spirit. If Georgia had won the 25 February fight, the newspapers of that day would not have been different from previous days.

Papers printed on February 25 are incredible sources for learning the moods and mindsets of the Georgian population of the time; these newspapers show their assessments, hopes, and reassurances.
(Translated by Mariam Mchedlidze)