We have now passed the 20-year mark since the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The end of the USSR gave the world fifteen different countries, each based upon one of the Union’s constituent republics (Soviet Socialist Republics, or SSRs, though the largest republic was called the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic which itself implied a federation of smaller republics; the name carries on in a way through modern-day Russia’s official name, the Russian Federation). Most of these republics were not present at the formation of the Soviet Union in 1922; in fact, there were just four republics at the time which united to form the Union (the Ukrainian SSR, the Byelorussian SSR, the Transcaucasian SFSR, and the Russian SFSR). Between 1924 and 1940, various other SSRs were created, each at least nominally representing a different ethnicity within the Soviet Union. Constitutionally, they were all equals (the Ukrainian and Byelorussian SSRs even held seats at the United Nations), but in practice all were centrally controlled, and the Soviet government created and dissolved the republics as deemed necessary (it was only once political restrictions in the country were lifted under Mikhail Gorbachev that the Baltic republics were able to leave the Union in the summer of 1991, soon followed by the others). From 1956 through 1991, the 15 republics most people are familiar with remained basically intact, but there were five SSRs that never made it longer than 16 years of existence.
The Transcaucasian SFSR, 1928. The SSR of Abkhazia is in the northwestern corner on the Black Sea.
As mentioned above, the Transcaucasian SFSR was one of the four founding republics of the Soviet Union. In the wake of the October Revolution, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan had managed to break away from Russia, only to be pulled back in by the Red Army by 1921. Initially three separate republics, the three states were combined into one, the Federative Union of Socialist Soviet Republics of Transcaucasia, in March 1922 with the Georgian capital of Tbilisi serving as the capital of the new republic, and the three states serving as autonomous republics (ASSRs) within it. The republic would join the Soviet Union at its formation in December of 1922, only to be divided amongst new Georgian, Armenian, and Azerbaijani SSRs in 1936 at the end of Stalin’s policy of korenizatsiya (indigenisation) in which dozens of nominally ethnic political units were created across the USSR in an effort to promote harmony amongst the many different ethnic groups of the country (Stalin soon reversed this policy and, in a complete 180-degree turn, was ruthlessly enforcing processes of Russification by 1937).
Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia (1921-1931)
Heavily tied into the Transcaucasian SFSR was the Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia. When Georgia briefly gained its independence in 1918 in the wake of the revolution, Abkhazia was included with it as an autonomous province, but the new government had difficulty effectively controlling the region. When the Georgian Mensheviksw were ousted by the Red Army in 1921, Abkhazia was set aside as a separate SSR under a treaty of special alliance with the Georgian SSR, nominally separate but subordinate in some areas (technically, its status was that of a ‘contractual republic’, something in between an SSR and an ASSR). When the Transcaucasian SFSR was formed, the SSR of Abkhazia was considered both a member of it and of the USSR as a whole. This relationship was downgraded in 1931, when the SSR of Abkhazia was made an ASSR within Georgia as punishment for supposed resistance to collectivisation. The boundaries of the current entity of Abkhazia are congruent with the old ASSR.
Khorezm Soviet Socialist Republic (1923-1925)
The boundaries of the old Khanate of Khiva, the predecessor to the Khorezm SSR, are shown here south of the Aral Sea in this 1903 map. The Emirate of Bukhara lies directly to the southeast.
South of the Aral Sea in what is now western Uzbekistan and north-central Turkmenistan on the southwest shore of the Amu Darya lay the Khanate of Khiva, an Uzbek state that became a Russian protectorate in 1873 after decades of Russian incursion that progressively shrunk the size of the state. After the October Revolution, the Bolshevik/anti-imperialism movement soon spread to Khiva, with the khan finally forced to abdicate in April 1920, removing himself to Afghanistan. The Khorezm People’s Soviet Republic was declared, and it was this entity that acceded to the USSR as the Khorezm SSR in 1923. The SSR didn’t last very long at all; in February 1925 it was divided between the newly-formed Uzbek and Turkmen SSRs and the new Karakalpak Autonomous Oblast, which was later joined to the Uzbek ASSR in 1936.
Bukharan Soviet Socialist Republic (1924-1925)
The locations of the Khorezm and Bukharan SSRs between 1920 and 1925. Note at this time that the surrounding Kirgizistan and Turkistan republics are only at the status of autonomous SSRs (also of note is that ‘Kirgizstan’ on this map is roughly equivalent to modern-day Kazakhstan rather than modern-day Kyrgyzstan. Source: Seb az86556, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SovietCentralAsia1922.svg. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.
Khiva and Bukhara shared rather similar histories under Russian rule. The Bukharan emirate (constituting the bulk of modern Uzbekistan, a fair portion, of Tajikistan and pieces of Turkmenistan) was made a protectorate of Russia in 1868. It, too, saw its monarchy removed in 1920 (in this case, the emir’s hand was forced when the Red Army captured the city of Bukhara itself), but waited an extra year to join the Soviet Union. The Bukharan SSR only lasted from September 1924 to February 1925, at which point the government voted itself out of existence in favour of merging into the new Uzbek SSR.
Karelo-Finnish Soviet Socialist Republic (1940-1956)
A map of the Karelo-Finnish SSR at its foundation in 1940. The portion of the Karelian Isthmus belonging to the republic would be transferred to Leningrad Oblast of the Russian SFSR in 1944 after the Moscow Armistice between Finland, the USSR, and the United Kingdom.
Well after the creations of the other SSRs mentioned here came the creation of the Karelo-Finnish SSR in 1940 as part of the incorporation of territories captured by the Soviet Union during the opening stages of WWII (the three Baltic SSRs and the Moldavian SSR also came about this way). The territories of the short-lived Finnish Democratic Republic puppet state were combined with territories newly won from Finland plus the existing Karelian ASSR to form the new SSR. Unlike the other SSRs that entered the Union during this time, the Karelo-Finnish SSR contained a rather smaller percentage of its titular nationality’s population, for pretty well the entire population of Finnish Karelians (around 415 000 of 420 000) chose to be evacuated to Finland under the terms of the Moscow Peace Treaty which ended the Winter War between Finland and the USSR. Some considered the formation of this particular SSR a preparation for the potential absorption of all of Finland into the Soviet Union, or at the very least political posturing. After Finno-Soviet relations improved in the 1950s, and with only a few thousand Finns left in the SSR, which had been resettled by hundreds of thousands of Russians, the decision was made in 1956 to merge the republic back into the RSFSR.
(n.a.) (1925). Constitution of the Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia. Available at http://abkhazia.narod.ru/constitution1.htm. Accessed 17 January 2012.
Kliot, N. (2007). Resettlement of Refugees in Finland and Cyprus. In A.M. Kacowicz and P. Lutomski, eds., Population Resettlement in International Conflicts: A comparative study, 57-78. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
Taagepera, R. (1999). The Finno-Ugric Republics and the Russian State. New York: Routledge.
Virtala, I. (2004). Finnish War Children in Literature. Tystnaden talar, Web Reports No. 5. Turku: Migrationsinstitutet. Available at http://www.migrationinstitute.fi/art/eng/webreports5_e.htm. Accessed 17 January 2012.