Russia-Turkey Relations - Early
The term Eastern Question applied as a rule to the problems that arose from the presence of the Turks in Europe. This was only the modern and pressing aspect, however, of an ancient and deep-seated conflict between the civilizations of Europe and Asia. Illustrations of former phases of their conflict were Greece and Persia, the conquests of Alexander, the division of the Roman Empire, and the Crusades. In 1453 Constantinople fell, and the Turkish power was soon established up to and beyond the Danube. In the 19th century came the gradual redemption from Turkish rule.
The national desire of the Russians was to drive the Turks from Constantinople - balanced by the force of England's opposition to it. The English historian. E.A.Freeman, asserted that the Turks in Europe have been only a "camp of robbers." There was an apparent hopelessness of solving the question permanently without irreparable loss of either Russian or British national fibre, given the difficulties in the way of either country giving up its case except under compulsion.
The rulers of western nations preferred to see the Sultan at the head of affairs than to have his dominions parceled out among their neighbors. The Sultan occasionally let loose the fierce Kurds on the helpless Armenians. The slaughters of 1805 and 1890 startled and horrified the civilized world. Western nations, while execrating the unspeakable Turk, did nothing to stop further butcheries. Later years witnessed other massacres. Modern Nero that he was, they let him go on massacring populations rather than see Russia in possession of Constantinople. These selfish motives keep "the Sick Man" alive.
That a hold upon the capital of the Sultan was a traditional aspiration of the court of St. Petersburg there could not be the slightest doubt. Destruction of Poland, weakening of Austria, and resurrection of the Byzantine Empire with the Emperor in Moscow crowning himself with the Byzantine crown, were rightly or wrongly, considered by educated Russians to be the fundamental interests of Russian policy.
Everything that could be said on the Eastern question would be a matter of conjecture. All that is known on this point is so vague and incoherent as to preclude all reasonable conclusion. A testament of Peter the Great on the policy Russia was bound to pursue in the East was supposed to exist, but no one had seen this document; and even if it really existed, the suggestions of the clever despot must be utterly impracticable in later years. A more positive fact, though one almost equally remote, is the alliance concluded in 1788 between Catherine II of Russia and Joseph II of Austria, for the conquest and partition of Turkey. Austria was to get the whole of Serbia and Bosnia for her promise to assist the restoration of the Byzantine Empire. But twenty years later, when the Serbians rose like one man and showed what they were capable of, and when war was raging all over Europe, the alliance broke down.
In 1828–29 Russia aided Greek indepedence. In 1827, when Czar Nicholas attacked Turkey, only the friendship of Charles X of France, and intimate family relations to the Court of Berlin, saved him from a formidable European alliance, headed by Austria. In 1853 the same thing came up again. It was impossible for Russia to carry on a war on the Balkan peninsula without the permission of Austria, and that permission she could, under no circumstances, obtain. Russia could reach European Turkey only by one road — through the gate formed hy the south-east angle of the Carpathians and tho mouth of the Danube: the key of that gate was in the hands of Austria.
Once resolved on a war with Turkey, it was necessary, above all, to prepare for a war with Austria. The Eastern question could besolved only at Vienna, not in Turkey. The "sick man " could be expected to die only when the Austro-Huugarian empire was reduced to a Magyar kingdom; Galicia, Poland, and Posen reconstituted into the old kingdom of Poland; and the twenty odd millions of Austrian and Turkish Slavs transformed into a confederation under the leadership of the Russian Emperor.
Since the Treaty of 1841 Turkey had been under the protection of the powers, who "guaranteed its integrity and independence." Great Britain had been drawn into the Crimean War of 1854 by her traditional policy of preserving the Ottoman empire as a barrier against the advance of Russia to the Mediterranean and the consequent danger to the British empire in India. In so far as these objects were concerned, the war was a tragic mistake. The hopes that were built on the capacity of Turkey to reform itself were disappointed; the restrictions imposed upon Russia were repudiated at the first opportunity, during the Franco-German War in 1870; and the results of the Russo-Turkish War of 1876 showed that a far more effective barrier against Russia than the weakened Ottoman empire has been furnished by the young and vigorous national states of the Balkan Peninsula.
None the less, the treaty of Paris (1856), by which the Crimean War was closed, marked an important epoch in the diplomatic history of Europe; and it is impossible to say that the blood spilled in the Crimea was wholly wasted. At the time the main success of the allied powers seemed to be in the thrusting back of Russia from the Danube by the cession of Bessarabia, the extinction of Russian sea-power in the Black Sea, the formal repudiation of the tsar's claim to a special right of interference in Turkey.
By the creation of the Black Sea Navigation Company, and the payment to it of fabulous subsidies since the close of the Crimean war, the Russian Emperor, otherwise little interfering with commercial affairs, had shown a firm intention quietly to regain his power in the South.
Before the war with Russia in 1877, Turkey appeared to be a commercial and financial wreck. The government and almost the whole population were hopelessly in debt It looked as though the day of doom was near at hand. The war brought an additional burden to au overtaxed and impoverished people. That the Sultan was able to save the tottering Empire from collapse and to pift it on a firmer footing with increased strength and prestige, speaks volumes of praise to his ability as a schemer and ruler.
The troops of the Czar intervened a third time, in 1877–78, to aid the revolting Serbians and Bulgarians against the Turkish policy of massacre; but the Peace of San Stefano, which Russia forced upon Turkey, was set aside by the other powers in the Congress of Berlin in favor of one much less favorable to the oppressed Christian peoples. Russia's interest in the Balkans was traceable chiefly to her desire to obtain possession of Constantinople and other parts of the inheritance to be left by the “sick man of Europe,” as the Czar once called the decaying power of Turkey.
For over a century the game of intrigue and war over the “New East” went on, the other powers of Europe interfering at times to aid the subject peoples in their revolts, and at times to block Russia's plans. Then Austria began to dream ambitious dreams of eastward extension— the Drang nach Osten—and these gradually linked up with Germany's far-reaching plan for a Berlin-toBagdad railway and a “Middle-Europe” under Teutonic control, in which the Balkans should be their “corridor” into Asia.
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