A case study of the Lori rebellion of the Armenian "fifth column" in 1921, which resulted in the loss of independence for Georgia and its occupation by external forces, offers valuable insights that are relevant to contemporary events

18.05.24 11:43

The failure to learn from historical experience can result in a repetition of past mistakes. The threat of external invasion and loss of independence remains a salient concern for Georgia, as it has been for over a century. Concurrently, those who oppose Georgia's statehood have not ceased to exist. These individuals may be considered a fifth column, comprising largely Armenian nationalists.


Over a century ago, this fifth column, having rebelled in the Lori zone and called upon the Red Army for assistance, ensured that Georgia not only lost its independence but also its historical lands, namely the Lori region. In the present day, the fifth column is similarly attempting to deprive the Georgian state of its independence and to destroy it, as well as to seize its ancestral lands.


We present a unique document where Armenian nationalists who became "Bolsheviks"—the organisers of the Lori mutiny—themselves boastfully write about how, in fact, in the interests of external forces, they organised aggression against Georgia and its occupation under the guise of "establishing Soviet power."


" S.V. Harmandaryan.


This document constitutes a valuable source of information on the Lori Uprising of 1921. 


During the period of domination of counter-revolutionary bourgeois-nationalist parties in Transcaucasia in 1918-1920, as a result of the extreme aggravation of inter-ethnic relations, which led to the war between Armenia and Georgia in December 1918, and in order to satisfy the Western imperialists – the Entente and the USA – the so-called "Neutral Zone of Lori" was established. Following the proclamation of Soviet power in Armenia, the workers of Lori intensified their struggle for the victory of Soviet power in this region. The revolutionary struggle of the Armenian and Russian peasantry of Lori was combined with the intensified revolutionary struggle of the Georgian workers. In his address to the plenum of the Moscow Soviet on 28 February 1921, I. Lenin observed that the uprising in the Caucasus had begun in the neutral zone between Georgia and Armenia, which Georgia had occupied with the permission of the Entente imperialists. At the beginning of February, a significant uprising commenced, rapidly spreading to encompass not only the Armenian population but also the Georgian population.“


The Communist Party was the driving force and guiding light of the workers' struggle for Soviet power. In addition, in accordance with its obligations under proletarian internationalism, the Russian people and its Workers' and Peasants' Red Army provided assistance to the peoples of Transcaucasia in the final victory of Soviet power.


The following document, entitled "On the Uprising in the Neutral Zone between Georgia and Armenia in February 1921," from the Central Party Archive of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism under the CPSU Central Committee, provides evidence of these events. The document is published here for the first time, with minor abbreviations not directly related to the topic. 


To the Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee of the RCP (b)




Report of the responsible organiser and leader of the uprising, I. Laziyan.


The area in question is that of the neutral zone. The neutral zone between Georgia and Armenia was established as a consequence of the Armenian-Georgian War of 1918, during which the British intervened to bring an end to the conflict and to "neutralise" the disputed territories of the two countries. 


Having withstood numerous forms of governance, this region was subsequently occupied by troops loyal to the Menshevik government of Georgia following the Kemalist offensive against Armenia and the subsequent Sovietisation of the latter. However, this occupation also encompassed a portion of the uncontested territory of Armenia. The Mensheviks did not limit themselves to this seizure alone. With the Baku-Tiflis-Erivan railway line in their possession, they attempted to maintain the small Soviet island of Armenia-in-the-South in complete isolation from the Soviet mainland, the North. In order to achieve this objective, the government of Menshevik Georgia obstructed all routes intended for Armenia along this road, impeded communication between Armenia and Soviet Azerbaijan and Russia to a considerable extent, and extended full support to Armenian counter-revolutionaries who were in the capital of Georgia, which during this period became the centre of all Transcaucasian counter-revolution. As a consequence of this, the nascent Soviet Armenia was confronted with a hostile policy from the outset of its existence by the Mensheviks of Georgia.

The preparation of the uprising. It is noteworthy that the population of the Neutral Zone, due to specific circumstances, had long been particularly revolutionary in a Bolshevik spirit. Consequently, at the time when Armrevkom addressed diplomatic notes of protest to the Georgian government about the aforementioned policy of the Mensheviks and the illegal seizure of the zone, the population of the Neutral Zone itself was preparing to put an end to the yoke of the Georgian invaders and proclaim Soviet power by means of a revolutionary uprising. This latter circumstance was duly considered from the outset by the Comrades Ordzhonikidze and Legrand. 


The Bolshevik tendencies among the population of the zone became especially pronounced following the Sovietisation of Armenia. Since that time, the entire zone has been rapidly covered by a dense network of underground organisations of our Party and the Revolutionary Committees. The influence of our comrades over the legal organisations of the peasantry of the zone not only increases, but they (cooperatives, peasant artels, etc.) pass entirely into Communist hands.


The local organisers of the zone, under the guidance of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (b) of Armenia, have been instrumental in facilitating the population's continuous appeals for assistance to the higher party organs and the representatives of the XI Red Army and Soviet power in Armenia. In response to a proposal put forth by Comrades Ordzhonikidze and Legrand, the Central Committee of the Communist Party (b) of Armenia assumed direct leadership of the uprising in the zone. In order to achieve this objective, on 20 December, at the suggestion of T. Legrand, the Central Committee of the Communist Party (b) of Armenia dispatched a contingent of military personnel to the zone, led by the Communist Asratyan (A. Alabyan, A. Stepanyan, etc.). S. Pirumov, S. Bengliyan, and others were also included in the delegation. Three days later, at the insistence of T. Legrand, the Central Committee of the Communist Party (b) of Armenia decided to send me to lead the organisation of the uprising in the Neutral Zone. 


Having received general directives from the Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Armenia and Comrade Legrand, I proceeded to select a group of workers, thereby preparing to fulfil my task.


The headquarters of the insurgents. My initial responsibility was to establish the insurgents' clandestine headquarters. The group consisted of the following individuals: the military leader, former general Osepyan; the chief of staff, Tigran Aniev; and the secretary, who also served as the commandant of the headquarters, T.S. Shorokhov. A number of commanders and mounted troops were attached to the headquarters as staff. I was effectively the "chief" of all these workers. Having initially selected the town of Karaklise as the headquarters' temporary location, I proceeded there with the aforementioned personnel, assuming the guise of a "commission to combat desertion" at the end of December.


The work of the rebel headquarters. By the time the headquarters arrived in Karaklis in the Neutral Zone, the Mensheviks had intensified their repression against the local population. In light of the aforementioned circumstances, our attention was initially focused on the preservation of the existing underground organisations within the zone. Concurrently, it was imperative to purge the Karaklis district of any elements that might impede our clandestine operations. At that time, for reasons that are unclear, there was a consul of the Georgian government in Karaklis accompanied by a number of individuals who gave rise to suspicion. He was removed from his position by some means.


I was instrumental in persuading both the centre and the local party committee to implement changes among the local "power-holders." Furthermore, the so-called railway militia, which had permitted any Menshevik agent to pass for a pack of cigarettes, was abolished. In lieu of this, we established a "commandant's office" at Karaklis station, comprising our own employees and a border guard team. The role of commandant was subsequently filled by Comrade Armenak Sahakyan. Armenak Sahakyan was appointed as the commandant. This resulted in the complete cessation of individuals who were deemed suspicious for travelling from Georgia to Armenia and back. The staff of the commandant's office began to receive more reliable information about the situation in the zone and in Georgia.


j One of the most challenging aspects of the uprising in the zone was the Shagala Bridge, which was mined by the Mensheviks from the very beginning of their seizure of the zone with 24 twenty-pound mines. In the event of an explosion by the Mensheviks, the SSR Armenia would be separated from the Tiflis road junction. Furthermore, this explosion would have the effect of depriving us of the possibility of using the railway line Tiflis-Kars-Erivan-Julfa for an extended period. It is also important to consider the difficulties that would accompany our operations during the Sovietisation of Georgia. The bridge, which had been meticulously mined, was guarded by an exemplary contingent of Menshevik troops. The wires from the mines were connected to a booth situated in close proximity to the bridge. This was manned by sapper officers who were on duty at all times. The highest command of the Menshevik army, as well as the Minister of War himself, arrived in Shagali from Tiflis to assess the security of the bridge. Consequently, the primary focus of the headquarters was on the imperative task of ensuring the rescue of this significant structure, the Shagali Bridge. 


A conspiratorial buffet was established. In order to achieve this objective, the insurgent headquarters, through its agents, obtained the permission of the commandant of the bridge, Captain Shatilov, to open a buffet. The case was conducted by Comr. Stepanyan, who was assisted by Setrak Kevorkyan. Comr. Stepanyan assumed the role of an Alexandropol refugee shopkeeper in a manner that could be described as artistically. Despite his proficiency in the Georgian and Russian languages, Stepanyan concealed this fact from others. He engaged in clandestine activities at the buffet, including the acquisition of military intelligence from the bridge guards. This intelligence included details about the Menshevik military operations and the location of mines. Furthermore, the Karaklis commandant's office with guards represented a preliminary step in our penetration of the border areas of the zone. In contrast, the buffet in Shagali constituted a further invasion of our organisers into the depths of the zone.


New instances of repression have been observed in the zone. The Mensheviks, perceiving our activities in the zone and unable to discern the rationale behind them, became embittered and intensified their repression of the local population. Those who had fallen into their hands were arrested and exiled, while children and women were gathered en masse and taken outside the villages. There, they were kept for hours in the desperate cold, and the villagers were demanded to hand over arms and "Bolshevik agents". The slaughter of working cattle was employed as a pretext for the killing of livestock, while the beating of the population was a common occurrence during this period. However, the Mensheviks were dissatisfied with the results of these measures and thus strengthened their garrisons and the guarding of roads and paths. For approximately ten days, from the sixth to the sixteenth of January, the principal villages of the zone were completely encircled by the Menshevik army. In the villages of Jalal-ogly, Gergeri, and Vorontsovka, executions were carried out. In addition to Privolnoye, Chibukhly, and Uzunlar, other villages were also affected. Nevertheless, despite these repressive measures, our work continued to develop at a rapid pace.


Intelligence throughout Georgia. In light of the repressive measures that had been implemented and the fact that our party organisations had been suppressed across the entirety of Georgia, as well as the arrest of the staff of the Plenipotentiary Mission of the RSFSR in Georgia, it was deemed necessary to undertake a comprehensive reconnaissance of the entire region. This was in consideration of the reports from Erivan that the liberation of the zone was already connected with the Sovietisation of the entire country of Georgia.


In order to fulfil this objective, I dispatched T. Tevosyan to Tiflis as early as 6 January. He returned to Karaklis on 20 January with a wealth of information. On a number of subsequent occasions, a number of other comrades were sent, and their information was transmitted in a timely manner to Erivan by cipher.


The strengthening of our work in the zone is a key objective. Since 15 January, our efforts in the zone have been particularly concentrated. We swiftly reinstated the majority of our underground organisations in the zone, which had been decimated by the Mensheviks. We also re-armed the disarmed peasants and organised new detachments, both within the zone and beyond it, from fugitives who had managed to escape from the zone during the period of Menshevik repression. On a daily basis, two or three agents undertook a variety of errands within the zone. The "buffet" continued to function with remarkable efficacy. The commandant's office provided us with a wealth of information. A number of our agents were engaged in the railway service and were required to travel extensively throughout Georgia for intelligence purposes. Furthermore, our communication with the zone became exemplary due to the fact that Karaklis' telephone exchange of Russian units was connected by induction with the telephone network of Menshevik troops in the zone.


The organisational structure of our operations within the zone. In the final days of January, the underground organisations in the zone assumed the following form: the entire Neutral Zone was divided into five sections, each of which was in Soviet and party relations. The following individuals were responsible for the aforementioned regions: Vorontsovsky, Dsekhsky, Uzunlar, Jalaloglinsky and Shnokhsky. All village cells within a given precinct were unified into a single uchkom. A similar approach was taken by the underground regional committees. The organisers from the insurgent headquarters presided over the uchkoms and institutive committees of the same precincts. The latter were: in Dsegh-Vanyan and subsequently in Tumanyan, in Uzunlar – Hovhanez Shahkiyants, in Vorontsovka – Korolev, in Dzhalaloglakh – V. Shipulin and in Shnoghakha – V. Shapulin. At the outset, Shipulin was in charge of Shnoghakha, while Comr. was in charge of Shnogh. Karchik, by the time of the uprising, was the Commodore. Arustamov. All of these responsible organisers were ultimately subordinate to Comr. Lisin, the principal organiser from the headquarters. 


The areas of the uprising were further divided into several districts, with the responsibility of arming, training detachments and the appointment of a Commissioner. In respect of command, the area was divided into three groups: Lori's, with Comr. Alabyan at the head (deposed during the uprising), Shnogh-Chachkan with Comr. Armenak Sahakyan at the head. Furthermore, in order to prevent the Shaghala bridge from exploding, the military leader of Comr. A. Stepanyan took the initiative to divide the groups into detachments, each with a designated leader. The Doria group was divided into six detachments: the Uzunlar detachment was led by Pirumov, while the Dsegh detachment was led by Comr. Saroyan, Kurinyan, Gerger, Tevosyan, Privolnin, Bengliyan, Vorontsov, and Chibukhli were all assigned to the same detachment. The special detachment formed in Karaklis from the fugitives of the zone and voluntary deserters was given a purely military organisation. This detachment consisted of two battalions of four hundred bayonets each. The first battalion was commanded by Comr. Gusik Petrosyan was in command of the first battalion, while Kafafyan commanded the second. The third battalion was not formed.


The plan for the rebellion was as follows: At a designated time, the entirety of the Neutral Zone was to engage in a coordinated uprising. The leaders of the detachments accompanying the insurgents were to disarm the garrisons of the Menshevik troops. Once this task had been completed, the insurgents concentrated in known areas to counteract the enemy's reserves. It was the duty of Comrade Stepanyan to sever the electric wires of the Shagala bridge and disarm the local garrison.


All preparations had been completed. All enemy forces within the designated area were accounted for, and our own forces were also unified.


The order to commence the insurrection was issued. Following the headquarters' instructions, the uprising was scheduled to commence at 2 a.m. In consideration of the precariousness of the peasant masses and in order to imbue the uprising with a certain degree of brightness, it was decided that the main points of the uprising areas would be equipped with two or three staff members from the headquarters, individuals of a stronger character. A total of 60 such individuals were made available to me, who were then distributed among the various localities and sent to their designated locations in advance. These strikers played a pivotal role in the uprising, leading the peasantry into battle at the moment of the uprising. In order to prevent the destruction of the bridge and to disarm the garrison of the station and the village of Shagali, which consisted of 400 Menshevik soldiers, the 3rd company of the first battalion of the fugitive detachment was forced to cross the snowy mountains from Karaklis to the Shagali bridge on the night of the tenth of February. This was done through the forests. The success of the mission hinged on the discretion with which the company conducted its operations. It is notable that the company was able to complete its tasks successfully. By the time dawn broke on the 11th of February, the company had arrived in the vicinity of Shagali, where it remained in ambush throughout the day. In accordance with the plan devised at the headquarters on the 11th of February, another contingent of the fugitive detachment was dispatched from Karaklis to Chibukhli that night under the command of Comr. Kafafyan and under the leadership of Alabyan. The detachment was compelled to undertake its journey at night, traversing mountainous terrain and off-road routes in the midst of a heavy snowstorm. During this endeavour, 150 lightly clad rebels experienced frostbite to their hands and feet. Despite their challenges, the detachment reached Chibukhli and disarmed the Georgian garrison at the designated time.


The pinnacle of the uprising. At precisely 2 a.m., a rebellion commenced throughout the region. Comrade Stepanyan proceeded to sever the electrical connections to the mines, apprehend the sappers and disarm the 400-man garrison of the Shagali bridge area. This was accomplished with such alacrity that the sapper was unable to activate the explosive device on the bridge.


The situation in the Uzunlar and Dsegh districts proved somewhat more challenging. In the Uzunlar district, the commanding officer Despite the relatively small number of rebels (approximately 30-40), Pirumov made a bold advance towards the Georgian garrison. However, due to the limited number of rebels, he was unable to disarm the entire 300-man garrison simultaneously.


The first two machine guns were confiscated and 40 soldiers were disarmed. The remaining soldiers occupied the church and school and prepared for resistance. A formal siege of the buildings commenced and concluded with the surrender of the Mensheviks.


A total of 350 soldiers, four machine guns, and a considerable quantity of ammunition were taken prisoner, along with the commander. In Dsegh, the commander was taken prisoner. Saroyan managed to capture 185 Georgian soldiers, three officers, and four machine guns. Reinforcement was provided from the reserve to reinforce Uzunlar and Dsegh (the headquarters with the reserve arrived at the Shagali bridge during the night).


In the Gerger district, Comrade Kurinian was able to disarm the Georgian units in the villages of Kurtan and Vartablur. Commander. Tevosyants, in conjunction with the Privolnoye rebels, disarmed and captured the entire garrison of the village of Privolnoye, in addition to seizing two machine guns. In the Shnogh district, Comrade On the first day of the conflict, Sahakyan succeeded in capturing the entire garrison and disengaging the Menshevik troops from their reserves.


The uprising commenced somewhat inauspiciously in the village of Vorontsovka. One part of the village was occupied by rebels, while the other was under the control of Georgian soldiers. 


Due to the limited number of rebels, Georgians swiftly suppressed the rebellion and dispatched detachments with artillery to Privolnoye and Jalal-ogly. The rebels of Privolnoye village relocated to Vorontsovka and encountered Georgian troops marching towards Privolnoye on the heights north-east of Vorontsovka. A battle ensued, and from 12 to 13 February, the Privolnoye rebels successfully repelled Georgian units comprising three arms, maintaining their positions throughout the engagement.


One company from the reserve was dispatched to provide assistance to the Privolninians.



By this time, the Soviet troops had entered the Lori steppe, which caused a state of panic among the Georgian forces.


In order to impede the retreat of the Georgian forces from the Lori steppe to Tiflis, a detachment of rebels from Akh-Kerpa was dispatched via Bolnis-Khachi to Ekaterinofeld under the command of Comr. Saroyan.


On the 13th of February, the insurgents' headquarters relocated to Sanain station, where prisoners of the Mensheviks began to arrive from various locations.


Consequently, following a three-day heroic struggle, the entire Neutral Zone was cleared of the 7,000-strong Menshevik occupation army. The rebels captured approximately 3,000 men and numerous officers. Additionally, forty machine guns and two serviceable mountain guns were captured.


In addition, three steam locomotives, several tanks with fuel oil and paraffin, and rolling stock were also taken as trophies. 


The deployment of Russian military units. In the wake of our triumphant advance into the zone, the Mensheviks were marshalling their resources to vanquish the rebels. The headquarters of the rebels requested assistance from the XI Army RAF. They requested immediate assistance for the victorious rebels of the zone and requested that the Georgian government be informed of the decision of the headquarters of the rebels. In the event of reprisals against rebel villages, the rebels requested that all administrative officers of the Menshevik authorities of the zone and the staff of their army, who were held captive by the rebels, be shot. In response to our appeal, the command of the XI Army issued an order for a general attack on Georgia, which commenced on the 17th of February. However, even before this, with the zone being cleared of Menshevik troops, a portion of the insurgents, under the general command of Comr. Pirumov was dispatched to Ekaterinofeld, while another was placed under the command of Comr. Petrosyan proceeded to Shulaveri.


The insurgents proceeded to occupy the village by a rapid assault. Damia proceeded to take prisoners and advance rapidly towards the town of Shulaveri. Furthermore, the battalion of Comr. Petrosyan and the insurgents under the command of Comr. The forces of Pirumov were subsequently deployed to Daget, Hachin, Durnuki and Varjutan. These rebel units, along with other groups, fought with unwavering resolve alongside Soviet troops against Menshevik troops until the complete Sovietisation of Georgia. 


With regard to the nature of the rebellion, it is necessary to consider the following factors: Initially, some of our colleagues expressed concern that the Armenian-Georgian conflict, which had been exacerbated by the policies of the Dashnaks and Mensheviks, might result in the uprising in the zone taking on a distinctly nationalistic character. This factor was duly considered. However, these concerns proved to be unfounded, as the Dashnaks, following their collapse, adopted a conciliatory stance towards Menshevik Georgia. These Armenian nationalists, driven by greed and ambition, having lost their influence in Armenia, were now prepared to concede twenty disputed territories to the Georgian Mensheviks, provided that these concessions would serve as a guarantee of strengthening the alliance of anti-Bolshevik forces in Transcaucasia. This was also due to the fact that following the proclamation of Soviet power in Armenia, Georgia constituted the sole proximate and secure refuge for the Dashnak leaders who had sought asylum there. At that time, the Dashnaks attempted to advance the interests of Menshevik Georgia and to the detriment of Soviet Armenia in every possible way.


For instance, Soviet Armenia requested the unhindered transit of foodstuffs and petroleum products through Tiflis. The Mensheviks, however, sought to further complicate the already challenging circumstances in Armenia.


The Dashnaks, gloating, provided full support to the Mensheviks in this regard. Moreover, the peasantry of the region exhibited Bolshevik tendencies and attempted to establish Soviet authority through an armed uprising. 


It was widely anticipated that the performance of the Lori peasants would result in the Sovietisation of Georgia, either through internal rebellion or the intervention of Red troops from outside. One might inquire whether the Dashnaks were in favour of this performance. The Dashnak press in Georgia disseminated false information and instigated discord against the Bolsheviks and Soviet power, while simultaneously defending the Mensheviks. The Dashnak Conference held in Georgia at that time also espoused a similar perspective. Furthermore, if the Mensheviks were aware of our activities in the region, they would have learned about them primarily from the Dashnaks. Consequently, the existing Armenian-Georgian enmity, at least in the zone, transformed into an antagonism directed against the Mensheviks and the Dashnaks by the workers. The period of friendship between the Dashnaks and the Mensheviks proved to be an invaluable educational experience for the workers of the Transcaucasus, offering insights into the dissolution of nationalist illusions.


Conclusion. In conclusion, the attached documents permit the following observations to be made: The first point to be considered is… The concept of Sovietisation of the zone was unanimously embraced by the population. As a consequence of this consensus, the organisation of the uprising proceeded with remarkable efficacy and minimal expenditure of effort and resources. Point 2. The influence of this movement extended beyond the zone, which greatly facilitated the cause of the Sovietisation of Georgia and the further strengthening of Soviet power in Transcaucasia. Paragraph 3. With regard to the specific activities of both my headquarters and my individual collaborators, I defer to the judgment of the higher organs of our Party, based on the surviving materials and available information.


[Signed] I. Laziyan


[19]21 Central Party Archive of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism at the CPSU Central Committee, f. 64, op. 2, od. xr. 58, fol. 5-18. The original document.“ 


The above document reveals the machinations of the deposed bourgeois nationalist Dashnaks against the nascent Soviet power in Armenia, their anti-Soviet alliance with similar bourgeois nationalist Mensheviks of Georgia, and the violence perpetrated by the Georgian Mensheviks against the workers of Lori. It also documents the revolutionary struggle of the workers against the occupying forces. The document highlights the pivotal role of the party organisations and headquarters in the uprising's preparation, their links with the workers of Georgia, the rebels' courage and resourcefulness, their determination and speed of action, the deeds of numerous uprising heroes, the timely assistance of XI Red Army units, and other significant aspects of the uprising.


The document also demonstrates the pivotal role played by G. K. Ordzhonikidze, Secretary of the Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee of the RCP (b), B. V. Legran, plenipotentiary representative of the RSFSR in Soviet Armenia, and the unwavering leader of the RSFSR, in the Lori uprising. In addition, the document highlights the pivotal role of V. Legrand and the staunch Bolshevik Iosif Laziyan. The document demonstrates the pivotal role of the Communist Party in orchestrating the successful popular uprising in Lori. This is the end of the main content of the document.


The document also provides a biography of one of the organisers of the Lori rebellion, Laziyan Iosif Gerasimovich (1888-1937), who was born in Akhaltsikhe. It is reported that he "on the assignment of the Party brilliantly led the armed uprising in Lori, for which he was the first in Soviet Armenia to be awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Combat." Following the establishment of Soviet power in Georgia, he assumed the role of representative of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Armenia in Tiflis.“   This is the end of the document.


In 1921, Armenian nationalists who had previously espoused Bolshevik ideals betrayed Georgia and became the principal factor contributing to the loss of independence and subsequent occupation.



George Mazniashvili

Read: 433

Write comment

(In their comments, readers should avoid expressing religious, racial and national discrimination, not use offensive and derogatory expressions, as well as appeals that are contrary to the law)

You can enter 512 characters

News feed