Batum #1 (1919)

Batum #1 (1919)

Batum #1 (1919)

Batum (Batumskaya — Батумская — in Russian) is now called Batumi (ბათუმი in Georgian) and is currently the second largest city of Georgia, as well as the capital of Adjara, an autonomous republic in southwest Georgia. It’s located on the coast of the Black Sea in a subtropical zone near the foot of the Lower Caucasus Mountains.  The city is an important seaport at the end of an oil line from Baku (situated at the other end of the Caucasus) with industries such as shipbuilding, food processing and light manufacturing.  It is also a popular seaside resort during warm seasons. Batumi was the site of an ancient Greek colony called Bathus, derived from the Greek phrase bathus limen (βαθύς λιμεν) meaning “deep harbor”.

Under Hadrian (117–138 AD), Bathus was converted into a fortified Roman port and later deserted for the fortress of Petra founded in the time of Justinian I (527–565). Garrisoned by the Roman-Byzantine forces, it was formally a possession of the kingdom of Lazica until being occupied briefly by the Arabs, who didn’t hold it. In the ninth century it formed part of the Bagratid monarchy of Tao-Klarjeti and at the close of the tenth century of the unified kingdom of Georgia which succeeded it.

From 1010, Bathus was governed by the eristavi (viceroy) of the king of Georgia. In the late 15th century, after the disintegration of the Georgian kingdom, the region passed to the princes (mtavari) of Guria, a western Georgian principality under the sovereignty of the kings of Imereti. In the fifteenth century, the Ottoman Turks conquered the town and its district but didn’t hold them. They returned to it in force a century later and inflicted a decisive defeat on the Georgian armies at Sokhoista. Batumi was recaptured by the Georgians several times, first in 1564 by prince Rostom Gurieli, who lost it soon afterwards, and again in 1609 by Mamia Gurieli. In 1723, Batumi again became part of the Ottoman Empire. With the Turkish conquest, the Islamisation of the hitherto Christian region began but terminated and to a great degree reversed, after the area was re-annexed to Russian Imperial Georgia after the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78.

Batumi was the last Black Sea port annexed by Russia during the Russian conquest of that area of the Caucasus. In 1878, the city was annexed by the Russian Empire in accordance with the Treaty of San Stefano between Russia and the Ottoman Empire (ratified on March 23) . Occupied by the Russians on August 28, 1878, the town was declared a free port until 1886. It functioned as the center of a special military district until being incorporated in the Government of Kutaisi on June 12, 1883.

The expansion of Batumi began in 1883 with the construction of the Batumi-Tiflis-Baku railway (completed in 1900) and the finishing of the Baku-Batumi pipeline. Henceforth, Batumi became the chief Russian oil port in the Black Sea. The town expanded to an extraordinary extent and the population increased rapidly: from 8,671 inhabitants in 1882 to 12,000 in 1889. By 1902 the population had reached 16,000, with 1,000 working in the refinery for Baron Rothschild’s Caspian and Black Sea oil company.

In the late 1880s and after, more than 7,400 Doukhobor emigrants sailed for Canada from Batumi, after the government agreed to let them emigrate. Quakers and Tolstoyans aided in collecting funds for the relocation of the religious minority, which had come into conflict with the Imperial government over its refusal to serve in the military and other positions. Canada settled them in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

During 1901, Joseph Stalin arrived in Batum to organize strikes and was twice imprisoned in the next two years. On June 1, 1903, with the Okrug of Artvin, it was established as the region (oblast) of Batumi and placed under the direct control of the General Government of Georgia. On March 3, 1918, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk gave the city back to the Ottoman Empire. Unrest during the closing weeks of World War I led to the re-entry of Turkish forces on April 15, 1918. The armistice signed on October 30, 1918 required the Turks to withdraw, and the Allied Forces began to move forces into the area. The British arranged to take over the whole of the Caucasian oil producing area and a British Military governorship for the district was declared December 25, 1918. They stayed until July 6, 1920.

Handed to the Republic of Georgia, Batum was again seized by the Turks for a few days in March 1921. Kemal Atatürk ceded the area to the Bolsheviks of the Soviet Union on the condition that it be granted autonomy, for the sake of the Muslims among Batumi’s mixed population.  By 1921 Batum was part of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, when the province of Adzhar of which it is capital was declared an autonomous republic — the Adjarian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Аджарская Автономная Советская Социалистическая Республика).

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Adjara became part of a newly independent but politically divided Republic of Georgia. It avoided being dragged into the chaos and civil war that afflicted the rest of the country between 1991 and 1993 due largely to the authoritarian rule of its leader Aslan Abashidze. Although he successfully maintained order in Adjara and made it one of the country’s most prosperous regions, he was accused of involvement in organised crime —notably large-scale smuggling to fund his government and enrich himself. The central government in Tbilisi had very little say in what went on in Adjara during the presidency of Eduard Shevardnadze.

This changed following the Rose Revolution of 2003 when Shevardnadze was deposed in favor of the reformist opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili, who pledged to crack down on separatism within Georgia. In the spring of 2004, a major crisis in Adjara erupted as the central government sought to reimpose its authority on the region. It threatened to develop into an armed confrontation. However, Saakashvili’s ultimatums and mass protests against Abashidze’s autocratic rule forced the Adjaran leader to resign in May 2004, following which he went into exile in Russia. After Abashidze’s ousting, a new law was introduced to redefine the terms of Adjara’s autonomy.

In July 2007, the seat of the Georgian Constitutional Court was moved from Tbilisi to Batumi. In November 2007 Russia ended its two century military presence in Georgia by withdrawing from the 12th Military Base (the former 145th Motor Rifle Division) in Batumi. Since mid-2000s Turkey has expanded its influence over Adjara. Turkish influence can be seen in the region’s economy and in the religious life through the region’s Muslim population.

Batum seems never to have had a Turkish post office during the nineteenth century.  However, a postal agency of Russian Levant (Ropit) was in existence from before 1862 until 1877, stamps of which were used from 1865-1877.  The city used Russian stamps from 1863 to 1864 and again from 1878 until 1918. When Turkish troops entered city in April 1918 there was a shortage of stamps at the post office so letters were handstamped Batumskaya Kontora.

At the time of the declaration of British military governorship on Christmas 1918, the stock of postage stamps had run out. The Batum Town Council was initially given the responsibility of postal services. Some form of mail service was in place by February 1919 with postage paid in cash. Letters are known bearing a framed oblong handstamp inscribed in Russian noting the payment of postage. Not long afterwards, the administration began producing its own stamps using the old Imperial Government Printing Works, having selected a design portraying an aloe tree (Aloe barberae).

This first issue was released on April 6, 1919, including six stamps denominated from 5 kopecks to 5 ruples, printed by lithography on unwatermarked paper and issued imperforate. These were produced in sheets of 198 (18 x 11). The stamp design consists of a central vignette with an aloe tree and shrubbery, a circular panel surrounding the vignette with a lattice design. The name panel is inscribed БАТУМСКАЯ ПОЧТА (Batumskaya Pochta or Batum Post) with a ribbon in folds dropping down from each side of the name panel, a circle on either side below the ribbon which has a central large dot or “eye”, an inner circular line and surrounding markings, two small circles with comma type markings below and lateral to the circular panel. A “Pyramid step” structure is above the value tablets on either side of the vignette. The two value tablets in the lower corners are surrounded by “dots” or “pearls”, the value figure inside the value tablets, and between the two value tablets on a plain colored background, are the КОП (for kopecks) or РУБ (rubles) inscriptions. There is a thin outer frame line surrounding the interior of the stamp, each denomination a different color.

Shortly after this initial set was released, the Batum Town Council supported a general strike organized due to resentment over the British. The British occupation forces took over the post office as a result. Due to heavy inflation, four Russian stamps of the arms type were given handstamped surcharges and available from April 13, 1919 (Scott #7-10).  Later in the year, the British overprinted the aloe tree stamps with BRITISH OCCUPATION. These were released on November 10, 1919, with some different denominations and different colors for those previously released unoverprinted, except for the 5 kopecks value which remained green (Scott #13-20). This set of eight stamps was printed in sheets of 432 (18 x 24).

The British surcharged the remaining Russian stamps in a variety of styles beginning with Scott #20 and 21 on November 27, 1919. The last of these were Scott #51-56, appearing on April 1, 1920. Finally, on June 19, 1920, the BRITISH OCCUPATION overprints were once again added to stamps of the aloe tree design in a set of nine with denominations ranging from 1 to 50 rubles. These were produced in sheets of 308 (22 x 14).

On April 13, 1919, stocks on-hand of Russian postcards were given a 35-kopeck surcharge.  Most of these had imprinted postage but a few that were intended for overseas mail bore copies of two of the Russian Romanov designs of 1909-1913 (4 kopeck carmine — Russia Scott #76 — and 4 kopeck dull red — Scott #91). These received the surcharge as well and are listed as Scott #11-12. Additionally, a set of seven revenue stamps valued from 20 kopecks to 30 rubles was issued in early 1919 and later overprinted BRITISH OCCUPATION. The 20 kopeck revenue stamp was later surcharged 20 rubles.

After the British military left in early July 1920, administration was turned over to Georgia and stamps of the USSR were used, followed by Georgia stamps upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Starting in 1993, stamps bearing the name of Batum began appearing in themed sets aimed at the philatelic market. Rather than the name of the autonomous republic, they bear the name BATUM in Latin characters, БАТУМСКАЯ in Russian and ბათუმი in Georgian. These are generally regarded as fantasies (or more politely “privately issued”).

On March 29, 1999, the Georgian Ministry of Posts and Communications sent notice to the Universal Postal Union declaring that stamps issued in the names of the “so called republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia”, and in addition Batumi, were spurious. Later that same year Ajaria was declared a federal republic and may eventually decide to set up its own postal administration.

All of the stamps of Batum (Scott #1-65) have been heavily counterfeited, with the first appearing in Vienna as early as 1921. I have quite a few of these stamps in my collection, all but one (today’s Scott #1) are forgeries. There are a number of characteristics that can be used to determine whether one’s copies are genuine or counterfeit with those for the kopeck values being easier to categorize.

For Scott #1, there are four basic types as these were printed in a transfer block of four (2 x 2). Common identifying features for all four types of genuine stamps are:

  1. there are six pearls (or dots) over the right-hand value tablet;
  2. the third tree branch, counting from the left, is straight and leans to the left;
  3. there are three vertical lines of shading after the “A” of ПОЧТА in the top banner;
  4. there are three distinct folds in the ribbon dropping down from the top banner on the right side;
  5. the circular object at the bottom of these folds is quite fully shaded and has thick lines; it doesn’t touch the inner circle around the aloe tree to the left.

Pages on NumonesIdentifier.com and the First Issues Collectors Club do a good job at showing what to look for on a genuine (and forged) Scott #1 from Batum. Scans of all of the Aloe Tree issues — forgeries and a few genuine copies certified by Dr. Ray Ceresa, an expert on the Batum stamps appears on the Batum page of Alphabetilately. However, the best online reference I’ve found that details not only the various kopeck values but the harder-to-determine ruble denominations is an article that appeared on the indispensable Big Blue 1840-1940 blog  in November 2012.

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