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Russo-Turkish War 1877-1878

For a generation after the Crimean War British influence in the Balkans was predominant. Turkey regarded England as the bulwark of her defense against Russian aggression and, therefore, directed her policies to please the English Government. But the dismemberment of the Turkish dominions could not be stayed. Moldavia and Wallachia, both inhabited by Rumanians, desired to be united and to form an independent nation. In 1859 each province elected Colonel Alexander Couza as its Prince; and three years later, both provinces were completely united under one government with Couza as "Prince of Rumania." Couza proved to be a radical reformer. He freed the peasants from feudal dues, confiscated the property of the monasteries, and gave land to thousands of peasants. Naturally, his reforms incurred the hostility of the nobility and clergy, who in 1866 forced him to abdicate. As his successor they chose a member of the Roman Catholic branch of the House of Hohenzollern, who became Charles I, Prince of Rumania.

Turkish misgovernment was bound to bring the Near Eastern Question again to the foreground of European politics. The peasants 0f Herzegovina, unable to endure the heavy taxes and inhuman cruelty of the Turkish officials, rose in rebellion in 1875. The insurrection spread all over the peninsula. In the following year the Bulgarians rose and killed many Turkish officials. In revenge, savage warriors, called Bashi-Bazouks, were sent into Bulgaria, and they fell upon the inhabitants, slaughtering men, women, and children without mercy. These "Bulgarian atrocities" roused all Europe against the Turk. Gladstone came forward as the champion of the Christians and denounced the "unspeakable Turk" in unqualified language. He demanded that England cease to support a Power that was an "affront to the laws of God" and that the Turks be driven out of Europe, "bag and baggage."

In 1876 a new Sultan came to the throne in the person of Abdul Hamid II, who proved to be as cruel and despotic as he was cunning and resourceful. The year of his accession witnessed a general uprising of his Christian subjects which aroused wide sympathy, especially among the Russian people, many of whom volunteered to help their "little Slav brothers." Tsar Alexander II declared that the situation in the Balkans was intolerable and that unless Europe intervened promptly and firmly, Russia would do so herself. The stirring events of 1876, involving rebellion, massacre, war, and an almost melodramatic crisis in the sultanate, greatly flustered jhe chancelleries of Europe. In spite of a general desire to maintain peace, it was clearly recognized that peace was imperilled unless the sultan promptly and sincerely adopted a program of reforms embracing the disaffected areas of Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Bulgaria. It was because of the unwillingness of the Porte to accept such modest suggestions as were contained in the Berlin memorandum that Serbia and Montenegro had declared war. When the struggle went against Serbia, the sultan became even less disposed than before to listen to reason, but the European governments, pushed by the ardent sympathy of their respective publics for the hardused Christians, resolved to make one more effort to open his eyes to the situation.

The western states, and Great Britain in particular, were aware that unless some alleviation of the lot of the Christian subjects of the sultan was secured by diplomatic action, Russia, identified with Orthodoxy and Slavdom and burning to champion them with the sword, would take the field against the obdurate padishah. In a war fought for a purpose of which the opinion of the civilized world approved, Russia would have to be given a free-reign, and might therefore recover the informal protectorate over the Ottoman empire so disastrously lost in the Crimean war. This perilous possibility sufficed to give all the rivals of Russia a strong interest in a peaceful settlement. They were resolved that the sultan should give a pledge to remove the most crying abuses, for only in this way could they placate the excitement of the press and people at home and at the same time block the design of Russia to resume her interrupted march to the Dardanelles.

But the Powers, particularly England, hesitated; whereupon, on 24 April 1877, the Tsar declared war upon Turkey. Since the tsar's armies were obliged to cross Rumania in order to reach the Danube, the Russian government negotiated a treaty with Rumania securing the necessary permission in return for a promise to respect the integrity of the small state. An offer of active military assistance made by Prince Charles was haughtily refused. Thereupon, on having filtered through Rumania, the Russians proceeded to cross the Danube in the systematic pursuit of an offensive which aimed at the Ottoman capital as its ultimate goal. As the Turkish forces, instead of being concentrated to meet the brunt of the Russian attack, were indefensibly scattered over a wide area, the Russian advance proceedied with remarkable speed.

Plevna, a Turkish stronghold in Bulgaria, was defended by a large army under the able and gallant Turkish general, Osman Pasha. The Russian forces made several attempts to carry it by storm, but were hurled back each time with great loss. Plevna was then besieged by a Russian army of one hundred and twenty thousand men under General Todleben, the hero of Sebastopol. After holding out for five months Osman Pasha surrendered on December 10, 1877.

The war continued, and after the fall of Plevna in December, 1877, the way to Constantinople was open. The passes across the Balkans were now open, and Russian armies poured into Turkey. In January, 1878, they captured Adrianople and prepared to march on Constantinople. Her victorious army was advancing on Constantinople, and it was evident at the end of 1877 that the Turks would not be able to save the city. With this victorious advance of the Russians came great alarm in misguided England, and there was a cry to save Constantinople. This was the outbreak of the " jingo " policy. The atrocities in Bulgaria were forgotten, and all who said that Turkey was not England's ward were ignored. Disraeli fanned these fires to the utmost. Early in 1878 the neutral British Ambassador was recalled from Constantinople and a strong pro-Turk was substituted.- The British fleet was ordered to the Dardanelles and a war credit of 6,000,000 was asked of Parliament.

Austria likewise became suspicious, and prepared to post troops in Transylvania, near the Russian line of communication. On January 8, 1878. the Porte appealed to the powers for mediation. The refusal of Germany to take part in such a mediation made tho British public apprehensive that Russia, supported by Germany, would try to force her own terms on Turkey. On January 15 the British ambassador at Petrograd handed to Prince Gortchakoff an opinion of the British Government that any treaty between Russia and Turkey affecting the treaties of 1856 and 1871 must be a European treaty in order to be valid.

The Sultan sued for peace; and on March 3 the Treaty of San Stefano was signed by Russia and Turkey. According to this treaty the Sultan agreed to recognize the complete independence of Serbia, Montenegro, and Rumania; a new state, "Greater Bulgaria," Treaty of consisting of Bulgaria, Rumelia, and Macedonia, San Stefano was to come into existence. Of all his European territory the Sultan was allowed to keep Constantinople and its vicinity and Albania. Had this treaty been carried out, the Near Eastern Question might have then been solved, as Turkish rule would practically have ceased in Europe. But great objections were raised to this settlement by the Greeks and Serbians, who opposed the creation of a " Greater Bulgaria " because they wanted parts of Macedonia for themselves. Far more serious was the opposition that came from England and Austria. The former did not propose to sit tamely by and see Turkey dismembered to the advantage of Russia, who would, in all likelihood, dominate the new states which her arms had brought into existence. Austria, on her part, was ambitious to get a port on the ^Egean, perhaps Saloniki. which the Treaty of San Stefano, if carried out, would put out of her reach. Tsar Alexander was plainly told that the Balkan situation was a matter for all of Europe to settle, and that war would be declared against Russia unless she submitted the whole matter to the judgment of an international convention.

Russia felt obliged to yield. Representatives of England, Russia, Germany, Austria, France, Italy, and Turkey Congress of met in 1878 at Berlin to settle the Near EastBerlin ern Question. To this Congress of Berlin came the most famous statesmen of the day; Bismarck, who was its President; Disraeli, who scored diplomatic triumphs as England's envoy; and Prince Gortchakov, who came as the champion of Russia. The Treaty of San Stefano was totally disregarded by the Congress, which proceeded to make quite another settlement of the Near Eastern Question.

The main provisions of the Treaty of Berlin were as follows. Montenegro, Serbia, and Rumania were declared entirely independent of Turkey. "Greater Bulgaria" was split into three parts: Bulgaria proper was made an autonomous state with the Sultan as her suzerain; Eastern Rumelia was given "administrative autonomy" under a Christian governor; and Macedonia was allowed to remain a part of Turkey. To Austria-Hungary was given the right to occupy and to administer the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but with the understanding that they were legally to remain a part of Turkey; she also received special commercial and military privileges in the Sanjak, or County, of Novi Bazaar. England was given the right to occupy the island of Cyprus. Russia, who alone had won the victory over Turkey, got almost nothing. She was allowed to exchange with Rumania the Dobrudja district for the strip of Bessarabia on the northern bank of the Danube; she received also Batum, Ardahan, and Kars in the Caucasus. After thus partitioning most of the dominions of the Sultan, the Powers again solemnly guaranteed the "integrity" of Turkey.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:29:29 ZULU