763.72119/9749: Telegram

The Ambassador in Italy ( Johnson ) to the Secretary of State

10. Referring to my telegram number 5, San Remo, and my telegram number 11, San Remo.24 Supreme Council at session Monday afternoon25 approved the draft despatch to President Wilson regarding Armenia presented by Lord Curzon. It was decided that despatch should be signed by Nitti and transmitted through me. Note reads as follows:

“In the note of this date26 which is being addressed to the United States Government in response to the note of the latter, dated March 26th [24],27 a passing reference alone has been made to the subject of Armenia and a statement is added that a separate communication will be made to the United States Government on the subject. The following are the views which it is the desire of the Supreme Council to submit for the consideration of that Government.

At an early stage in the discussions which have been proceeding with regard to the Turkish treaty, first in London and afterwards [in] Paris, an inquiry was addressed by the Allied Conference to the Council of the League of Nations, who were known to be greatly interested in the future of Armenia, as to what might be the degree of assistance that they would be prepared to offer towards the realization of the independence and security of the prospective Armenian State.

It was not contemplated to invite the League of Nations itself to assume a mandate for Armenia for the sufficient reason that [that] body is neither a state nor has the army or the finances to enable it to discharge such a duty. The Council of the League in their reply, while indicating the fullest sympathy with the object of the Allied Powers, themselves pointed out that this could best be assured if either a member of the League or some other power could be found willing to accept the mandate for Armenia.

The Supreme Council in considering this reply were at once reminded of the conviction long entertained by them that the only great power which is qualified alike by its sympathies and its material resources to undertake this task on behalf of humanity is America. It has indeed been rightly described in Mr. Colby’s note as ‘the demand and expectation of the civilized world’. Never had the Supreme Council forgot [ten] that the inclusion of a liberated Armenia among the objects for which the Allied and Associated Powers fought and won the war nowhere received more eloquent expression than in the speeches of President Wilson.

[Page 780]

Accordingly the Supreme Council now address a definite appeal to the United States Government to accept the mandate for Armenia. They do so, not from the smallest desire to evade any obligations which they might be expected to undertake, but because the responsibilities which they are already obliged to bear in connection with the disposition of the former Ottoman Empire will strain their own capacities to the uttermost and because they believe that the appearance on the scene of a power emancipated from the prepossessions of the Old World will inspire a wider confidence and afford a firmer guarantee for stability in the future than would the selection of any European power.

The United States Government might well enquire what is the scope of the obligations which they are invited to accept and this involves the boundaries of the new state. The question is one in which it is in the power of that Government itself to formulate a reply.

In the course of the discussions that have been proceeding there has been no problem more earnestly debated or more difficult of solution than the boundaries best consonant with the interests of the Armenian state. The President of the United States has consistently pleaded the cause of a larger Armenia; considerations with which the President is already familiar have inevitably compelled the partial curtailment of these aspirations; and the prospect of creating an Armenia which should include Cilicia and extend to the Mediterranean has for long been abandoned as impracticable.

There remained the questions what portions of the vilayets of Erzerum, Trebizond, Van and Bitlis, still in the possession of the Turkish authorities, could properly and safely be added to the existing Armenian state of Erivan and what means of access to the sea should be provided in order to ensure to the new Armenia a self sufficing national existence. In other words it remained to be settled what should be the exact boundaries on the west and south which should be inserted in the peace treaty with Turkey. The boundaries of Armenia on the northwest and north and northeast with the adjoining states of Georgia and Azerbaijan it is hoped to settle by a mutual agreement between these Republics. In any case these do not call for mention here.

Upon the above questions there was much to be said upon both sides which need not be quoted in this note. Suffice it to say that an appeal to the decision of an independent and absolutely impartial arbiter was recognized as the best available solution and hence it was decided to include in the appeal to the President of the United States a request to this effect. Whatever may be the answer of the United States Government on the larger subject of the mandate it is earnestly hoped that he will, in the interests both of Armenia and of the peace of the East, accept this honorable obligation. In this expectation it has been agreed:

To make an appeal to President Wilson that the United States of America should accept a mandate for Armenia within the limits set forth in section 5 of the first print of the draft treaty of peace with Turkey;
that whatever may be the answer of the United States Government on the subject of the mandate the President of the [Page 781] United States should be asked to arbitrate on the boundaries of Armenia as set forth in the draft article below;
that an article in regard to Armenia should be inserted in the treaty of peace in the following sense:
Turkey and Armenia and the other High Contracting Parties agree to refer to the arbitration of the President of the United States of America the question of the boundary between Turkey and Armenia in the vilayets of Erzerum, Trebizond, Van and Bitlis and to accept his decision thereupon as well as any stipulation he may prescribe as to access to the sea for the independent state of Armenia.

Pending the arbitration the boundaries of Turkey and Armenia shall remain as at present.

The boundaries of Armenia on the north and east, that is, between Armenia and Georgia, and between Armenia and Azerbaijan shall be laid down by the Supreme Council at the same time as those between Armenia and Turkey, failing a spontaneous agreement on this subject between the three Caucasian states.

Irrespective of the mandate and the frontiers, there remain certain additional considerations to which the Supreme Council feel impelled to call the sympathetic attention of the United States Government. In whatever hands the destinies of Armenia may be placed an interval must inevitably occur after the conclusion of the treaty with Turkey in which the security and even the existence of the new state will be in peril unless it can be assured of extraneous aid. Its immediate needs will be two in number, provision for the military forces required to defend it against external attack and provision for the financial means that will enable it to constitute an orderly administration and to develop its own economic resources. In the last resort both of these necessities may be summed up under the heading of financial operations. The question of military assistance is not thought to be so formidable as might at first sight appear to be the case. The forces at present possessed by the Armenian Republic of Erivan have hitherto been to a large extent diverted if not dissipated in the unfortunate disputes with its neighbors on the north and the east. When these are composed as may be hoped from an arrangement quite recently concluded between the three Caucasian Republics there will be nothing to prevent a reconstituted Armenia from devoting its undivided energies to the vindication and maintenance of such frontiers as may be allotted to it. The question has been anxiously examined of the extent to which the Allied Powers might themselves be able, by the movement of troops, to assure the prompt execution of the territorial clauses of the treaty in the region of Armenia. Arms and ammunition are already being provided, but it would raise false hopes on the part both of the Armenians and of their friends in all parts of the world if it were generally believed that the Allied Powers could themselves spare troops for this purpose. [Page 782] The responsibilities entailed upon them in addition to the heavy obligations in Europe and elsewhere by the occupation or administration of territories that formerly belonged to the Turkish Empire and by the necessity of enforcing the treaty in those parts of Turkey which are more accessible to their arms will render impossible the assumption of military responsibilities additional to the tremendous burdens they have already assumed. Unless, therefore, Armenia can obtain immediate assistance from some other power she shall be forced to rely in the main so far as military defense is concerned upon the forces which she already possesses, augmented by such instructor [s] and munitions as the Allies can supply. Were, however, a volunteer contingent or a volunteer corps to be raised for her defense in America or in any foreign country it would no doubt be welcome and invaluable incentive to her own patriotism, but the offer of trained and technical assistance and material aid on an organized scale by a great civilized state would be exclusively [exceedingly?] opportune and would enable her to employ her own manhood in her own defense in an effective way. It would be of the greatest value to know if the American Government or the American people will be at all disposed to render her this service.

The provision of credits, however, is even more urgent. The Council of the League of Nations have had it in mind we believe to recommend [to] the Assembly of the League to favor a loan to Armenia from all countries who are members of the League. The Supreme Council’ have of course no knowledge of the response that may be returned to such an appeal if it be made, but even assuming a favorable reply an interval must occur before effective aid could be given. In this manner it is uncertain whether the response would be adequate to the need and in any case the appeal cannot, for reasons which are known, be addressed to the United States Government. In these circumstances help might fail to be forthcoming in the very quarter where sympathy for the future Armenian state is most sincere and active, where the burdens entailed by the war are believed to be less prodigious than in any of the other recently belligerent countries, and where the resources of a state and a community at once powerful and wealthy have been least impaired.

It is not for the Supreme Council to suggest to the United States Government by what means, whether by State action or by contributions public or private, the desired financial aid to the Armenian Republic could best be afforded. An American loan of a few millions sterling might be the means of setting Armenia at once upon her feet. On the other hand it is believed that there are many organizations and societies in America that would gladly contribute to so excellent a cause, nor should Armenians themselves be backward [Page 783] in coming forward in the hour of their country’s need. They cannot expect and they do not desire to depend exclusively upon the mercy or charity of others. Wealthy Armenians will, it is felt sure, contribute largely to that resuscitation of their country for which they have waited so patiently and amid sufferings so cruel and prolonged and there may well be a universal emulation in responding to an appeal than which a more deserving can rarely have been addressed to the heart and conscience of mankind. It is not desired to urge upon the United States Government any unreasonable haste in arriving at a decision upon the momentous questions that have been submitted to them but it will be obvious to them that so long as these matters are held in suspense the anxieties of Armenia will be extreme and the pacification of the Eastern world may be seriously and even disastrously postponed. It would accordingly be an immense relief to all the parties concerned if the United States Government were in a position to give as early a reply as may be convenient to all or any of the questions which have been submitted to them nor can the Supreme Council conclude without expressing a most earnest hope that that reply may be affirmative in character. (Signed) Nitti.”

  1. Neither printed.
  2. Apr. 26.
  3. See telegram no. 13, Apr. 27, 1920, from the Ambassador in Italy, p. 753.
  4. See note of Mar. 24 to the French Ambassador, p. 750.