The Treaty of Moscow was signed between Soviet Russia and Kemalist Turkey on March 16, 1921. The Russian side yielded to most Turkish demands, and signed a document that was utterly damaging to Armenia for the sake of Russian-Turkish “friendship and brotherhood.”
The treaty was the outcome of the second Russian-Turkish conference, held in Moscow from February 26-March 16, 1921, with the participation of two Russian (Georgi Chicherin, the Commissar of Foreign Affairs, and Jelal Korkmasov) and three Turkish representatives (Yusuf Kemal bey, Riza Nur bey, and Ali Fuad pasha). Stalin, the Commissar of Nationalities, lobbied against any claim from Turkey that could put the Russian-Turkish alliance in risk. In a letter to Lenin on February 12, 1921, he had written: “I just learned yesterday that Chicherin really sent a stupid (and provocative) demand to the Turks to clean Van, Mush, and Bitlis (Turkish provinces with enormous Turkish supremacy) to the benefit of Armenians. This Armenian imperialist demand cannot be our demand. Chicherin must be forbidden to send notes to the Turks suggested by nationalist-oriented Armenians.” The Bolsheviks sought to halt further Turkish advance into the region. Weary from the ongoing Russian Civil War, which was winding down, they had no intent of starting a new war.
Not surprisingly, Chicherin refrained from his pro-Armenian position, and declared during the conference that Russia would not insist about passing the border to the west of the Akhurian (Arpachay) and the south of the Arax rivers. This meant that the entire province of Kars and the district of Surmalu (Igdir), which had never belonged to the Ottoman Empire, would go to Turkey. The Turkish delegation additionally claimed for the province of Nakhichevan, which historically had belonged to the Armenian Province and then to the governorate of Yerevan under the rule of the Russian Empire, to be put under Azerbaijani administration.
Thus, the treaty of “friendship and brotherhood” between Soviet Russia and Turkey recognized Turkish control over Artvin, Ardahan, Kars, and Surmalu. The region of Adjara, with the port of Batum, was returned to Soviet Georgia on the condition that it would be granted political autonomy due to its largely Muslim Georgian population. (Adjara became an autonomous republic within Georgia.) Turkey withdrew from Alexandropol (nowadays Gumri) and a new border was established between Turkey and Soviet Armenia, defined by the Arax and Akhurian rivers. According to these new boundaries, Mount Ararat and the ruins of Ani remained within Turkey.
The treaty also stipulated that Nakhichevan would become an autonomous entity under Azerbaijani protectorate. Azerbaijan obliged not to transfer the jurisdiction to a third party, namely, Armenia. Additionally, Turkey later acquired a small strip of territory known as the Arax corridor, which had also been part of the governorate of Yerevan. This corridor was located east of Surmalu, limited by the Arax River to the north and the Lower Karasu River to the south. It was a strategic strip of land that allowed Turkey to share a common border with Nakhichevan and, consequently, Soviet Azerbaijan.
Both signatory parties were internationally unrecognized, and thus were not subject of international law, which made the treaty illegal and invalid. The RSFSR, now under the guise of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was legally recognized for the first time in 1924 by Great Britain. The Great National Assembly of Turkey was a non-governmental organization led by Mustafa Kemal, which did not have any legal grounds to represent the Turkish state in international relations. According to the Ottoman Constitution, only the sultan had the right to engage other states, be it personally or through a representative. The Kemalist movement was actually a rebellion against the legal authorities of the country, and Kemal was a criminal fugitive who had been sentenced to death by a fatwa signed by the Sheikh-ul-Islam, the highest religious authority of the Ottoman Empire, on April 11, 1920, and a court-martial on May 11, 1920.
The section of the Treaty of Moscow related to Armenia was a violation of international law, since treaties can only refer to the signatory parties and do not create any obligation to third parties that are not bound by treaty without the latter’s agreement. At the time of the Treaty, the Soviet regime had been thrown out from Armenia by the popular rebellion of February 1921.
The treaty was reaffirmed in October 1921 with the Treaty of Kars and the borders it established have been maintained ever since. However, this did not mean that Soviet policymakers necessarily accepted the terms of the treaty as permanent. After World War II, when the Soviet Union was at the zenith of its power, its leader Stalin reopened the issue on behalf of Armenia and his native Georgia. Supported by Moscow, both republics began to assert territorial claims against Ankara. According to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin made this move at the insistence of Lavrenti Beria, the deputy premier and a fellow Georgian. Indeed, Ankara sought the support of Washington, which had become suspicious of Soviet intentions with the onset of the Cold War. The issue was eventually dropped by Moscow and by 1952 Turkey joined NATO, precluding any further discussion on border revisions.
The frontiers established by the 1921 treaty remained unaltered and were maintained by the newly-independent states of Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan after the dissolution of the U.S.S.R.
Following the shoot down of a Russian plane over the Syria–Turkey border in November 2015 and the rise of Russo-Turkish tensions, members of the Communist Party of Russia proposed the nullification of the Treaty of Moscow. Initially, the Russian Foreign Ministry considered this action in order to send a political message to Turkey. However, Moscow ultimately decided against it in its effort to de-escalate tensions with Ankara.