Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Undisclosed Georgian-American Secrets: History Has More to Tell about Moser

Daily Georgian Times, Georgia - Jun 4, 2007

The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 in Russia, and the emergence of the Soviet Union on the ruins of the Russian Empire prompted the United States’ appearance on the geopolitical arena. The US had it has its own agenda for the future of the region, and in 1919, the US State Department developed a strategy of how to deal with the former Russian Empire. The US wanted to see the South Caucasian republics—Ukraine, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Crimea, Karelia, Murmansky—districted as separate territorial units independent of Russia. To carry out this strategy, the US needed a foothold in the territory of the former Russian Empire. It chose the South Caucasus as its plaform.

Aleksi Chokheli, a candidate of sciences of history, has been looking at the geopolitical games of this period. Chokheli says that accepting former colonies of the Turkish (Ottoman) and Russian Empire, and also those of Germany (which was defeated in World War I) under the status of the so-called ‘interim mandates’ was an expression of the “common democratic spirit of the world.”

In South Caucasus, the allies of the World War I offered an interim mandate to Armenia. The mandate was intended to secure the Armenian state. At the time, Georgian authorities were trying to have the US mandate extended to Georgia as well.

The Georgian Times interviewed Chokheli about this period of history.

Q: History shows what a fiasco Europe and the US experienced in their attempts to protect the South Caucasian states from Russian invasion. They were left all alone in the face of Russia. The US even failed to implement its mandate over Armenia.

A: A number of objective reasons can be cited to explain why this happened. But I will now dwell on the role of the US consulate in Georgia, which was spearheading the US policy in the South Caucasus. More specifically, I will talk about its last boss, consul Charles Moser. He witnessed the political turmoil that wracked Georgia in those two years of crisis. I would say that that his performance, and even his personality, shows the moderate course of the US that proved so fatal for South Caucasus, including Georgia.

It is hard to say whether it was due to his political intuition or pragmatic far-sighted policy, but history shows that the US established its own consulate in Batumi even before World War I started, and when the US joined the war, the consulate moved to Tbilisi.

The consulate served as a department of the General Consulate based in Moscow, and after the demise of the Russian Empire, it was subordinated directly to the US State Department. Following the invasion of Georgia by the Tsarist Russian Empire the US consulate officially moved to Constantinople, but in fact it stopped functioning.

Q: Did the US consulate serve as embassy as well, or was it strictly limited to consulate duties?

A: It is rather obvious that when there is no embassy in a country, the consulate assumes embassy status. The activity of the first consul of the US to Georgia W. Smith is evidence of this. He served in Georgia until June of 1919.

At that time, Tbilisi was a cultural and political hub in the South Caucasus. Prime Minister of Armenia Khatisov—who once had even served as Tbilisi Mayor—was based in Tbilisi and running Armenia from Georgia, as his wife did not want to live in “remote” Yerevan.

Smith, who was born into a family of Americans residing somewhere in the South Caucasus (perhaps even in Tbilisi), adapted to his new position perfectly. He was well versed in the ethnic structure of the South Caucasus and knew many political figures personally. Smith was the ideal person to implement US policy in the South Caucasus as the Russian empire was about to crumble.

In 1917, 1918 and in the first half 1919, the Atlantic States and the US had two major issues on the agenda: to prevent Bolshevism from taking over South Caucasus, and bring this region within the spheres of its influence in the aftermath of World War I. These interests even caused a latent diplomatic clash at Paris peace conference. The documents giving evidence to this confrontation is widely covered in American historic editions and the activity of the American consul to Tbilisi W. Smith is granted its due place on these pages.

Reading the correspondence of Smith with high-ranking American officials, one is astonished by his energetic and rather bold proposals to the US Administration. Smith requested millions of dollars to fund the South Caucasus commissariat (a federal government of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1917-1918), tried to create a joint Georgian-Armenian army of 150 000 soldiers, and worked on many other initiatives in order to try and save the region, including Georgia, from the Bolshevik invasion.

Q: Smith was recalled in summer 1919, when Charles Moser replaced him. Moser’s memoirs are full of strong impressions about his personal life, but he left almost no official document that would shed light on his diplomatic work – something of more interest to us.

A: That is because he managed to concoct his memoirs to smartly avoid talking about his diplomatic work. As for his correspondence, his letters to the US State Department and other business communications have never been published. Moreover, these were written in a code that other consulates were using.

We can only speculate about why the documents related to Moser’s political activity were not decoded and published. At the Paris peace conference in 1919, the US and England made a deal and divided the South Caucasus into discrete spheres of influence. The UK took over Georgia, while giving Armenia’s mandate to the US. Following the deal, the status of the American consulate in Tbilisi underwent a major change. On July 5 of 1919, the Supreme Council of the allies in Paris appointed American colonel Haskel as the High Commissioner for Armenia, and the US Department delegated the management of the US consulate in Tbilisi to Haskel.

The American colonel settled in Yerevan. Political changes have somewhat bleached the importance of the US consulate and the US consul in Tbilisi. Perhaps Moser’s documents also reflected the Smith-style independent and bold consul policies. This still remains mystery.

The only document that has been unsealed is Moser’s answer to Armenia which was kept in Georgia’s archives. Armenians expected that the US would protect them from Turkey, and applied to the US consul with this request. Replying to the request, Moser wrote: “Although the US recognized the republic of Armenia and helped it as it could, the US administration never assumed an obligation to protect the Armenian people or to provide military support. Therefore, it cannot take responsibility [for dealing with] the current crisis.” The letter shows the restrained position of the US in implementing the mandate of Armenia. On the other hand, the letter suggests that the US consul took a low-key position in his diplomacy work in the South Caucasus.

Q: Moser’s memoirs show that he knew and liked Georgia and Georgians but there was no love lost between him and Georgian authorities. What was the cause of disagreement?

A: Before arriving in Georgia as a professional diplomat Charles Moser—who had experience of diplomatic work in Central and Far East—tried to become familiar with the nation with which he was to live and work for some time. He was not satisfied by reading books and travel guides, and began to obtain information from live sources.

With this purpose to mind, he met with former ambassador of Russia, King Maklakov. “[Maklakov] described Georgians as attractive people, people who loved merry-making,” Moser recalled. “[As people] who reveal big talent whenever they need it, but will never get to business which they do not like.”

“Georgians are a beautiful nation, both women and men (which I would certainly discover myself). They are proud and sensitive. It is easy to offend them but they would never delay their response, even using arms. Georgians wear long swords just for appearance but they become dangerous... I was always to bear in my mind that Georgians love wine, women and song, dance and even quarrel.”

Moser arrived one nice day in January 1920 with these impressions. But soon after his arrival, a misunderstanding dampened his excitement over Georgia. At a presentation given by the consulate, Georgia’s Foreign Minister Yevgeni Gegechkori gave the US consul the cold shoulder. Historians do not know the reason for the cold reception that reversed Moser’s course.

Following that fateful meeting, the new consul reduced his contacts with the Georgian government, and began to support foreigners in their diplomatic disputes with the government of Georgia. Sometimes he would even encourage a hostile attitude towards the government of Georgia from the diplomatic corp.

Distrust of the social-democratic government of Georgia grew dangerous in character. In official documentation Moser used to describe Georgia as a ‘socialist republic,’ which was a gross mischaracterization.

The deeply disappointed consul withdrew into his private life. Moser then married the daughter of Georgian noble Sidamon Eristavi. The only good thing that he did for Georgians was to evacuate Sidamon Eristavi and his relatives when the Bolsheviks lay siege to Georgia.

Nonetheless, we think that Moser’s devotion to private life was not the whole story. He closely followed the dramatic developments in the South Caucasus. Working on his secret heritage may fill the gaps in the history of Georgian-American relations with many interesting and important facts, and who knows? They may even change our present opinion on the activity of the US consul in Tbilisi.

Ramaz Kartvelishvili
2007.06.04 17:03

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home