Alfred Rieber’s book (Stalin and the Struggle for Supremacy in Eurasia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015) on the Eurasia policy of Soviet leader Stalin in recent years is one of the most widely cited books. There is no doubt that this is an interesting book and is yet another superb contribution of author to the historiography of the Russian Soviet Empire. The book has received positive reviews from such well-known historians as Norman Naimark and Ronald Grigor Suny. But some correction are also needed in this book. These corrections are more related to the author’s view of the regions of the South Caucasus and Central Asia. There are also some controversial points in relation to Stalin’s role. The book exaggerates the role of Stalin on a number of issues.
The author attempted to analyze regional processes related to Stalin’s revolutionary activities, which took place in the Caucasus, especially in Baku, by describing the process of self-consciousness of the Muslims of the South Caucasus against the background of turbulent events. However, it is clear that the author is more inclined to present the process in the context of pan-Turkism and pan-Islamism. [Alfred J. Rieber. Stalin and the Struggle for Supremacy in Eurasia, p.18]. In fact, on the eve of the First Russian revolution, through the revolution years and the subsequent periods, the Muslims of the Caucasus gradually shifted from the Islamic community (‘Umma) to Turkic nationalism, which by contrast to the pan-Islamism and pan-Turkism promoted the process of self-awareness on a regional basis.
In his book Professor Rieber also talks of the Armenian Social-Democratic movement of the late 19th century, of its development trends and dynamics. At the same time Armenian terrorism in the South Caucasus overshadowed all the socialist ideas of the Russian Empire. It was closely associated with the flow of Armenian armed migrants from the Ottoman Empire to the South Caucasus and Tiflis. Pursuant to the archive documents Prince Golitsyn, the vicegerent of Caucasus, spoke of demographic changes in the South Caucasus following the advent of Russians in the region earlier in the 19th century. He reported to a meeting of the special committee under His Majesty (Nicola II) in 1900: “When we conquered Transcaucasia, the local Armenian population did not exceed 45,000; now Armenians in the Caucasus are more than 1,500,000.” (Documents of the meeting of special committee created by an order of His Highness. 14 June 1900. Russian State Military History Archive (RSMHA), f. 2000, r.1, v. 6593, p. 14.)
The growth of the Armenian population was caused by Russian migration policy, including the establishment of the Christian belt on their southern borders of the Empire. In fact, a little later, on page 33 Rieber states, “Stalin and Ordzhonikidze favored assigning the region to Armenia against the strong opposition of Narimanov and other Azerbaijani Communists” (Alfred J. Rieber. Stalin and the Struggle for Supremacy in Eurasia, p.33.11), which reflects a direct continuation of the traditional imperial policy. Also, the description of Koba (Stalin) in the midst of the events of the Armenian-Muslim clashes is a part of Armenian migration. The effects of this policy were felt strongly both in Tiflis and Baku. However, the term “Nagorno-Karabakh” the author employs is rather misleading (pp. 28, 33, etc.) as this notion has not been adopted and used by researches before 1920-1921. As it is well known from history, as an administrative unit with its lowlands and mountainous parts, Karabakh was at the time of these events a part of the Yelizavetpol province (Ganja, Azerbaijan).
The Armenian issue in this book is viewed in the context of the Stalin’s policy towards Turkey. At the beginning of his research, Rieber noted that “Relation with the new Turkish Republic, heir to the Ottoman Empire, were exceptional. Diplomatic relations were established on the basis of dividing the Armenian borderland. (Alfred J. Rieber. Stalin and the Struggle for Supremacy in Eurasia, p.2) Of course, it is difficult to agree with the idea of the author on the said issue. For sure, it was not the division of the Armenian lands, but verily the desire to show a unified position against Britain and the Entente as a whole that caused the rapprochement and establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Turkey in 1920-1921. In the next chapter the author, in accordance with the plans of Stalin, wrote of the resettlement of 100,000 Armenian repatriates in Armenia in 1946-1948, and about the intentions, associated with the return of Eastern Anatolia to the Armenians. Referring to the articles by Claire Mouradian, Rieber writes: “Once again the nationalities policy backfired. Faced by a rising tide of Armenian nationalism, Soviet propaganda, evidently under the influence of Beria, shifted its demands for the return of Kars and Ardahan from the Armenian to the Georgian Republic.” (Alfred J. Rieber. Stalin and the Struggle for Supremacy in Eurasia, p.338-339) Based on the archive documents, we argue that the question was not in fact the way Rieber mentioned in his book. Moreover, he repeated the same mistakes that have been made by Mouradian. Including Beria, the Soviet leadership divided the land, to be taken off from Turkey, between Georgia and Armenia in the summer of 1945. The documents stated: “The total area of the lands captured by Turkey was 26,000 sq. km. Armenian lands comprised 20,500 sq. km, i.e. about 80 percent of the territory of the Armenian Republic, while Georgian lands amounted to 5,500 sq. km, i.e. 8 percent of the territory of the Georgian Republic.” (On the Soviet–Turkish relations. 18 August 1945. Archive of Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation ( AFP RF), f. 06, r. 7, fol. 47, v. 762, p. 15). As the study of documents witnesses, not Armenia, but the Soviet Republic of Georgia has remained dissatisfied with the rules separating eastern lands of Turkey by Moscow.