Charalampos Gappas explores the conflicting demographic, military and humanitarian agendas that swirled around a 1919 mission to the Greek communities of the Caucasus organized by Greece.

Charalampos is a PhD student in History at UNC Chapel Hill.

At the end of the Great War, the Greek community in Transcaucasia numbered about 200,000. Of these, 35,000 were based in the Tsalka region, 45,000 in Abkhazia and a similar number in the region of Ajaria and Tbilisi, while 70,000 lived in the governorate of Kars.[1] A further 85,000 had arrived as refugees from the Ottoman Pontos.[2] For many years the story of these Greeks has been sidelined by a focus on the Asia Minor Campaign and the Pontus question. In the course of archival research for my masters thesis, and now my doctoral thesis, I have been struck by the importance Venizelos’ government attached to the Caucasus. As it happens, I also have a family connection to this community. Hence I decided to delve deeper into this history.

Unsurprisingly, the presence of so many Greeks in the region was drew the attention of the Greek government in Athens. In July 1919 it sent a mission to Batum, led by Ioannis Stavridakis and Nikos Kazantzakis (who later became famous as a novelist) and including Colonel Iraklis Polemarchakis, Ioannis Angelakis, Ioannis Konstantarakis and Captain Raphael. [3] Another member was Georgios Zorbas, the hero of Alexis Zorbas’ novel.


Their mission’s primary concern was to secure much-needed supplies to save the aforementioned Greek communities from famine, typhus and the Spanish flu.[4] The future of the Caucasian Greeks also needed deciding. The Greeks, especially those of Kars, were collateral damage in the Russian civil war, foreign invasions, and other regional conflicts among Georgians, Armenians, Russians and Muslims. Understandably many sought the means and documents necessary to emigrate to Greece, either individually or through the National Council of the Pontian Greeks in Batumi.[5] This resettlement was encouraged by the Greek government, who hoped to increase the Greek population in Macedonia and Thrace. As Kazantzakis noted in one of his reports,

It is therefore imperative that immediate provision be made for these Greeks. I think it is also imperative that they should be transferred immediately to Eastern Macedonia- where the [Greek] refugees from Asia Minor and Thrace will have left – and settled on vacant land in order to increase the sparse population there and greatly enhance the agricultural production of Greece.[6]

However, this plan was undermined by disagreements between members of the mission and the government.[7] A further complication was the Metropolitan of Trebizond Chrysanthos and the National Council of Pontus, who wished to keep these people in the Caucasus so that they could be relocated to Pontus, when and if it became an independent state.[8]

As it happened, between 1920 and 1923 most of the Greeks of Transcaucasia emigrated to Greece, but more than a third of them died of exposure to the harsh conditions of the Kars highlands and in the ports of Batum and Salonica.[9] The Greek Mission was also entrusted with collecting and forwarding information to the Greek government, as well as carrying out propaganda. The government had realized that the future of its Asia Minor adventure and the fulfillment of its national aspirations depended on many factors. The Turkish nationalist movement was seeking diplomatic contacts which would enhance its prestige and bring, if not allies, at least positively-inclined neutrals.[10] At the same time, information was being exchanged between the Stavridakis’ Mission and the Greek Military Mission in Constantinople, such as a report of 27 November 1919 by its leader, Colonel Katechakis, to the Ministry of Military Affairs in Athens, where he reported in detail on the activities of Enver Pasha in Azerbaijan in collaboration with Tatars, Sultanists and Kemalists.[11]  Meanwhile the Greek Mission in Batum was tasked with granting Greek citizenship to residents of territories newly-annexed by Greece under the Treaty of Sèvres, such as the Greeks and Armenians of Thrace.[12]

The Stavridakis Mission was thus the Greek government’s main source of information on the region, helping to shape its policy. Typical in this regard are the telegrams the Mission sent in response to an editorial in the pro-Venizelos Eleftheros Typos (Free Press). In the piece Andreas Kavafakis (assassinated by royalists in February 1922) denounced “Russian Muscovite imperialism trying to reconstitute itself over the constellation of states,” and called on the Greek government to support the integrity and independence of Ukraine and Georgia.[13]


Writing from Tbilisi on 23 September 1919 to the Greek Foreign Minister in Pairs, Stavridakis observed that: “The Georgian mission to Athens has returned, bringing with it the article published on the 14th of August in ‘Eleftheros Typos’ under the title ‘Colchis’. It is reprinted in the semi-official Georgian newspaper Borba. The Russian-language newspaper Tiflis responded by publishing an article insulting both Mr Kavafakis and Greece. I draw His Excellency’s attention to the bad impression which actions hostile to Russia, such as Mr. Kavafakis’, have created among the Russians, destroying the positive impression left by the Ukrainian and Crimean campaigns, and having an unwelcome effect on Denikin’s government’s attitude towards the Greeks of southern Russia. Nor does it strengthen Greek-Georgian relations, because it puts us under suspicion as anti-Russian, which obliges us to be very cautious towards Georgians.”[14]

Foreign Minister Politis’ swiftly replied instructing Stavridakis  to “publish an official statement, if it is necessary, stating that responsibility for the articles lies with the writers alone, who do not at all represent the feelings of the Greek people, who are connected to their coreligionists of Russia and Georgia by traditional feelings of friendship”.[15] Stavridakis’ untimely death by pneumonia on New Year’s Eve 1919, while on a train from Yerevan to Tbilisi, robbed the Mission of its leading light, who had waged Greece’s hybrid war on the distant Eastern Front of the Asia Minor Campaign with the delicate handling it required.[16]


[1] Ioannis K. Chasiótis, “The struggle for domination in Transcaucasia and the ‘exodus’ of the Greeks (1917-1921)” [“Ο αγώνας για την κυριαρχία στην Υπερκαυκασία και η ‘’έξοδος’’ των Ελλήνων (1917- 1921)”], in Chasiótis, The Greeks of Russia and the Soviet Union: Resettlements and Deportations, Organization and Ideology [Οι Έλληνες της Ρωσίας και της Σοβιετικής Ένωσης, μετοικεσίες και εκτοπισμοί, οργάνωση και ιδεολογία,](Thessaloniki: University Studio Press, 1997), pp. 259-291. Stylianos V. Mavrogenous, “The Governate of Kars of Antikyakassos, Thessaloniki” [Το κυβερνείον του Καρς του Αντικαυκάσου] (Thessaloniki, Euxinos Lesche Thessalonikes, 1963), pp. 196-200.

[2] Chasiótis, Greeks of Russia, p. 269.

[3] Epoche 23 July 1919.

[4] Christoforos Tsertik, “On the ramparts of Kars” [Στις επάλξεις του Καρς] (Larissa: privately printed, 1985), pp. 131-132.

[5] Kaltsidis Ioannis, “The Hellenism of the Caucasus” [Ο Ελληνισμός του Καυκάσου και οι περιπέτειές του](unpublished memoir, 1963), pp. 117, 119. Personal archive of Professor Konstantinos Fotiadis.

[6] N. Kazantzakis to S. Simos and E. Venizelos, 28 July 1919. Service of Diplomatic and Historical Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Greece (hereafter SDHAMFA) 1919/Α/4, p.n. 6086, 28/08/1919.

[7] General Commander of Macedonia 25 March 1920 and A. Adosides to Ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, Agriculture and Welfare, 5 April 1920. SDHAMFA 1920/Α/, 4δ, p.n. 8233/666.

[8] Bishop Chrysanthos of Trebizond to Greek President, 18 March 1920. SDHAMFA 1920/ Α/4δ, p.n. 11492, 21/03/1920. Mavrogenous, “Kars”, pp. 239, 240

[9] Makedonia, 1 Jan. 1921.

[10] High Commission of Constantinople to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4 May 1921. SDHAMFA 1921/10,5/Α/5/ VI, p.n. 5255.

[11] Colonel Katehakis (Greek Military Mission Constantinople) to Ministry of Military Affairs (Athens) 27 Nov. 1919. SDHAMFA /1919/11,12/A/5/ VI, p.n. 12428.

[12] Consulate of Vatum to the Greek Mission, 19 Oct. 1920. 1920/Γ/4, p.n. 305.

[13] Eleftheros Typos, 29 July 1919.

[14] Stavridakis (Tbilisi) to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 23 Nov. 1919. SDHAMFA 1919/27,9/Α/5 VI, p.n. 9584.

[15] N. Politis (Paris) Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 28 Nov. 1919. SDHAMFA 1919/30,9/Α/5 VI, p.n. 9662.

[16] Eleftheros Pontos, 31 Dec. 1919.