Oped in The Guardian in 1923 on Russian persecutions in Georgia

The Manchester Guardian (predecessor of The Guardian), June 15, 1923

RUSSIA AND GEORGIA

To the Editor of the Manchester Guardian

Sir, — The reply of the Russian Government to Lord Curzon’s Notas is accepted by yourself and others as fairly satisfactory, and there seems a good chance that comparatively friendly relations between Russia and this country will not be resumed, so it appears a good opportunity to bring to the notice of both peoples the condition to which the State of Georgia has been reduced under Soviet rule, and to call upon the Russian Government to reconsider their policy in the territory which they claim to have latterly re-conquered and annexed.

For two reasons I am perhaps better fitted to speak on the subject than most English people, because I am very well acquainted with that beautiful and fertile country lying just south of the Caucasus, and because I was present when the troops and other agents of the late Tsar were stamping down the attempt of the Georgians to recover their ancient freedom in 1906 and 1907. Atrocious as the treatment of a singularly fine and intelligent people at the hands of the Russians then was, everything that I hear from Georgians now proves that their present treatment is more atrocious still.

The Supreme Council, or the Ambassadors who succeeded the Council, may perhaps remember that in January, 1920, they acknowledged Georgia as de facto independent, and in January, 1921, they acknowledged her as de jure independent. The memory may not trouble them, and their decisions made little difference, for in February ,1921. The Russian forces invaded the country and re-conquered it in spite of the vigorous resistance offered by ill-armed and untrained inhabitants. The Russian troops have remained in possession ever since, and the population have been reduced to apparent submission by methods partly political, partly barbarous. The Georgian Parliament has been dissolved. The Georgian Constitution, with its democratic form and universal suffrage, has been abolished. So have the rights of free speech, free press, and free association. So have the law courts, the place of which is taken by “Tchekas,” which arrest try, condemn, and execute in secret: and lately a body called the Caucasian Bureau reigns supreme in Tiflis. This Bureau and the Tchekas arrest, imprison, exile, and execute without trial. Many Georgians are sent to Russian prisons in Murmansk, Jaroslav, and the famine districts on the Volga. The prisons in Tiflis itself have been vastly increased, large public buildings known to me in old days being now transformed into goals, and in these young students are tortured to madness. In one night last February 92 prisoners were executed (they are lined up, face to wall, and shot in the back of the head). Just before the Georgian Day of May 26, 800 were arrested, and when a Georgian is arrested no one knows what comes of him or her. I hear now that another 80 are waiting in Tiflis ready to be sent to Russian prisons, where they will disappear.

All priests are persecuted. The Katholikus of the Georgian Church (which is identical with the Russian or Orthodox in doctrine) was lately arrested in his palace by agents of the Teheka, and is reported to have answered to his persecutors: “My soul to God; my heart, to Georgia; for my body I do not care!” The famous ancient monasteries are converted into clubs, and in these clubs children are trained to act as spies. Russian troops are quartered among the Georgian villages, and the peasants are ground down by requisitions for their maintenance. One of the latest acts of bloodthirsty tyranny was reported by the “Times” special correspondent, who telegraphed from Constantinople on June 1 that among the fifteen officers shot on May 23 were General Prince Constantine Abhazi and two other General Princes of high distinction, one of whom was actually in command of a Russian division. I cannot speak for the other two, but Abhazi was a man of known honour and integrity. He organised a brigade of guns for the allies in Western Galicia during the war, and then a Georgian Legion, which joined the British in Mesopotamia. He was not a party man (the “Times” correspondent is mistaken in calling him president of the National Democratic party), but he was appointed Chief of Stores under the Russian Government in Tiflis till compelled to resign owing to the general corruption and incapacity of his Russian subordinates. Probably it was his honesty that caused his execution.

Bad as the condition of the Georgian people was under the Tsars, who by treaty were pledged to leave them independent, it is now evidently far worse, and if the Russian Government wish to retain such sympathy as they may still possess in this country I think their attention should be called to the abominations of this despotism.—Yours, &c.,

HENRY W. NEVINSON.

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