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First Balkan War - 1912-1913

Even before the Italian war had been brought to its official close, another and far more serious war had broken out in the Balkan peninsula. It took the form of an attack on Turkey by the four contiguous Christian states, Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, and Montenegro. The alliance of Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, and Montenegro - Christians, former rayahs of the Ottoman empire, to the end of solving the remaining problems of the peninsula, had often been suggested, but the idea had regularly suffered shipwreck on the fierce competitive nationalism of the youthful states.

The feelings harbored toward each other by the Serbs and Bulgars were amply divulged by the war of 1885, while the desolating, unofficial conflict in Macedonia among Bulgars, Greeks, Serbs, and Albanians, left no doubt as to the jealousy rampant among these four groups. But what no statesmanship in or outside Balkania working over time had been able to accomplish, the mistaken zeal of the Young Turks brought about in a few months. Their purpose, reduced to its simplest terms, was a resuscitated Ottoman empire. But this, the patriotic hope of the Young Turks, was to the Christian communities only recently rescued from Turkish bondage, nothing less than a nightmare filling them with fear and horror.

Instinctively the Christian groups drew together to take common counsel, and no sooner had diplomatic conversations been initiated among them than they reached the not surprising conclusion that their best defensive course would be to take the offensive. However, they agreed patiently to await the favorable hour; but when the hour struck, they proposed of one accord and without the least delay to leap at their foe. Gradually the discussions crystallized in formal treaties.

By March, 1912, a treaty of alliance had been signed between Bulgaria and Serbia; and in the months immediately following, other treaties, drawing Greece and Montenegro into the circle, perfected a fighting union of the four Balkan neighbors. Unfortunately the crucial question of the division of the spoils was left unsolved. In the eyes of all the main purpose of the common drive was the conquest of Macedonia, but instead of agreeing beforehand upon each ally's share in the disputed borderland, as between Bulgaria and Greece a division was not even mentioned, and as between Bulgaria and Serbia a half-hearted arrangement was sketched which, after apportioning certain sections to the contracting parties, left the core of Macedonia as a no man's land to be referred, if necessary, to the arbitrament of the Russian tsar. This fatal evasion of the territorial issue involved in the war made, in case of victory, a struggle among the allies absolutely certain. Did not the governments, one asks in blank astonishment, foresee this peril? Likely enough they did, but no less likely they recognized that complete agreement on the point at issue was impossible and that, should it have been insisted on, the alliance would never have been concluded.

Although no precise time had been set for the attack on Turkey, as the summer of 1912 wore on the allies began to exhibit signs of the warrestiveness. They felt strong in their union, they wished to take advantage of the embarrassment caused at Constantinople by the Italian war, and, last but not least, they resented the Albanian victory, just won, by virtue of which Albania was to be constituted as an autonomous state composed of the four vilayets of Scutari, Janina, Monastir, and Kossovo. Should this Albanian proposal be carried out, each of the four allies would find the door shut on a district which he particularly coveted. Alarmed lest they be too late for the feast, new hurried deliberations among the respective foreign ministers fixed the unleashing of the dogs of war for early autumn. The tiniest of the Balkan states, Montenegro, having agreed to take the lead, on October 8 King Nicholas once more formally challenged the Turk to combat. A few days later the sovereigns of the other three states sent an ultimatum to Constantinople and the war became general.

The Balkan war of 1912 caused great and universal surprise Explanabecause the world was not prepared for the quick and resounding the victory won by the four allies. But the victory was natural victory of enough, being due in the main to the significant moral, economic, tte alliesand military progress made by the Christian states since their liberation. By patient labor they had succeeded in taking over much of the European mentality and institutions, and, thus equipped, they engaged in a struggle with an Asiatic people which had steadily resisted Europeanization or had yielded to it reluctantly and just enough to destroy the effectiveness of its own inherited system. Many bystanders, who falsely prophesied an Ottoman victory, did so on the strength of their belief in the Ottoman rank and file, " the invincible Turkish soldier." In other words they paid their respect to the simple peasant from Anatolia, who, drafted into the service, had never failed to distinguish himself for his frugality, discipline, and bravery.

But the Young Turks, who as dilettants tampered with everything, had tampered also with the army, that last bulwark of the state, and acting on their catchword of Ottomanization, had inserted into the willing Moslem mass the recalcitrant Christian and Jewish elements under their dominion. As might have been foreseen, at the first contact with the enemy these conscripts wavered and ran away, promptly communicating their demoralization to the Moslems with whom they were brigaded. This unsound military situation should be kept in mind in connection with the unexpected cataclysm of the Turkish armies; but while it helps account for the campaign, it does not in the least detract from the military, administrative, and other types of western efficiency displayed by the victorious allies.

The story of the war is soon told. Each ally operated in the section of Ottoman territory most accessible to him, Bulgaria in the Maritsa valley, Serbia in the Morava and upper Vardar valleys, Greece in the lower Vardar valley and in Epirus, and Montenegro in northern Albania. In these circumstances the brunt of the fighting fell of necessity on the Bulgars, whose operations aimed at the heart of the Ottoman power and threatened Constantinople itself. They acquitted themselves with distinction, beating the Turks in severe battles, first at Kirk Kilisse, and afterwards at Lule Burgas. From the field of Lule Burgas the Ottoman army fled in a wild rout which was not stayed till the girdle of fortresses had been reached, known as the Chataldja lines and only some twenty miles distant from the capital. Early in November the Bulgars, in triumphant possession of all Thrace except the fortified city of Adrianople, began the siege of the Chataldja lines in the hope of penetrating to the Golden Horn.

Meanwhile the other allies had scored a number of hardly less brilliant successes. Pouring across their border into Old Serbia, the Serbs had encountered the Turkish army at Kumanovo (October 22-25) and won a complete victory. They then occupied Uskub (Skoplje), the capital of their short-lived medieval empire, and penetrated southward into Macedonia as far as Monastir. At the same time their brothers of Montenegro surrounded the great fortress of Scutari on the lake of that name, while the Greeks pushed, on the one hand, into Epirus, where they laid siege to the city of Janina, and, on the other, toward Saloniki, which they successfully entered early in November. More important, however, than the action of the Greeks on land were their achievements at sea.

The inferior Ottoman navy was bottled up in the Dardenelles and practically all the Ottoman islands, with the exception of Cyprus, held by Great Britain, and Rhodes and the Dodekanese, held by Italy, passed without resistance into Greek hands. Confronted by these overwhelming disasters, the panic-stricken Porte applied for mediation to the powers, which, on December 3rd procured a cessation of hostilities. There followed a conference of the belligerents in London for the discussion of the terms of peace. On the day the conference opened the beaten Turks still held in Europe Constantinople with its immediate environs, the three invested fortresses of Adrianople, Janina, and Scutari, and not a foot of land besides!

But already fresh clouds were gathering on the horizon, blown up by two incidents of ominous import. The first has to do with Saloniki. Hardly had the Greeks in early November entered the city, when a detachment of Bulgars made its appearance at the gates. Although it was admitted, the Greeks made it clear to their Slav allies that they were unwelcome guests and that Saloniki was and must remain Greek. If the respective main armies had not still had work to do against the common enemy, war might have broken out then and there, for the issue was not a small one - the ownership of the most important harbor of the Aegean sea.

The second incident was no less disturbing. Blocked from the lower Vardar by Greece and Bulgaria, the Serbs, intoxicated by the completeness of their victory, resolved to push for open water by the only remaining avenue, that is, through Albania. Consequently, toward the end of November, Serb detachments occupied the Albanian coast at Alessio and Durazzo. But the Serbs had hardly launched their daring coup when a vigorous protest made itself heard in two widely separated camps. No sooner did the European powers get wind of the Serb intention to strike for the Adriatic than, at the prompting of Austria and Italy, the two states which claimed the Adriatic as their private domain, interposed a firm veto. If in its despite the Serbs persisted in their course, it was because they hoped that the concert of the powers would not be maintained and that particularly Russia would end by swinging to their side.

At the same time the Albanians protested for themselves against the Serb measure. In wild alarm at the sudden rising to their upland country of the tide of war, they called a meeting at Valona (Avlona) and proclaimed their complete independence from the Ottoman empire. By this belated act they hoped to save themselves from being distributed as spoils of war among the victors.

It was admittedly an immensely complicated situation which faced the London conference. The Albanian question, however, which by the Serb invasion had leaped into sudden prominence, proved no obstacle to agreement. Not only did the powers stand by their original veto against a Serb occupation of the Adriatic coast and by their irresistible might force the Serbs to evacuate the Albanian ports, but they satisfied the wishes of the Albanian nationalists and officially committed themselves to the creation of a free Albania. In a preliminary statement they declared that the Albania of the future was to have a prince selected by the powers, that it was to enjoy, while getting on its feet, the help of an international committee of control, and that it should receive reasonable boundaries to be determined by a special commission of inquiry.

With the Albanian problem removed by this dictum from the realm of discussion, the London deliberations among the plenipotentiaries of the combatants might have made rapid progress if it had not been for the obstinacy of the Ottoman commissioners. Reluctant to give up Adrianople, Scutari, and Janina, on which the four allies, having them in the grip of their armies, naturally insisted, they spun out the negotiations till January, when a coup d'etat at Constantinople drove them from power. The coup d'etat was sprung by Enver Bey, who stood at the head of a Young Turk party of action. Enver's access to power was correctly interpreted as a stiffening of the Ottoman position, the conference broke up, and the war was resumed.

Although Enver was a man of resolute daring, the Ottoman situation was already past help and all further struggle proved futile. On the resumption of hostilities Janina, Adrianople, and Scutari fell into the hands of their respective besiegers, the Greeks, the Bulgars, and the Montenegrins, and in April Enver's government had humbly to apply for a reopening of the peace conference. This time the negotiations proceeded smoothly, and on May 30, 1913, the treaty of London was signed, by virtue of which Turkey was almost, if not quite, ejected from the continent of Europe. Save Constantinople and the narrow strip of land behind a line drawn from Enos on the Aegean to Midia on the Black sea all Ottoman territory was surrendered to the victorious allies. Of course Albania, too, was excluded from the cession, since, though detached from the Ottoman empire, it had already received a charter of independence from the powers.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:26:54 ZULU