Treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji - History

On July 21, 1774 the Treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji was signed between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. The treaty ended the conflict between Russia and the Ottomans . Under the terms of the agreement Russia was granted the right to intervene in the affairs of Moldovia. In addition Crimea was declared independent. Russia obtained several ports on the Black Sea andwas named the official protector of the Orthodox Christians living in the Ottoman Empire.

The Establishment of Modern Turkey

The Ottoman Empire, which had been tottering since the Treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji in 1774, was dealt its death blow in World War I. By the Treaty of Sèvres (1920) the victorious Allies reduced the once mighty empire to a small state comprising the northern half of the Anatolian peninsula and the narrow neutralized and Allied-occupied Zone of the Straits. Sultan Muhammad VI accepted the treaty, but Turkish nationalists rallied under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal (from 1934 known as Kemal Atatürk) and organized their forces for resistance.

In Apr., 1920, even before the Treaty of Sèvres was signed, a Turkish national government and national assembly began to function at Ankara. The nationalists defied the authority of the sultan, took the offensive against the Allies in Anatolia, and concluded (1921) a treaty of friendship with the USSR, which restored the Kars and Ardahan regions to Turkey in exchange for Batumi. In the meantime the Greeks, encouraged by the Allies, launched an offensive against the nationalists from their base at Izmir. The Turkish counteroffensive, beginning in Aug., 1922, ended with the complete rout of the Greeks and with the Turkish capture of Izmir (Sept., 1922). On Nov. 1, 1922, the Ankara government declared the sultan deposed, but it allowed his brother, Abd al-Majid, to succeed to the spiritual office of caliph.

Shortly afterward, a conference opened at Lausanne to revise the Treaty of Sèvres. The Treaty of Lausanne (1923) established the present boundaries of Turkey, except for the disputed region of Alexandretta (Iskenderun). Turkey was to exercise full sovereign rights over its entire territory, except the Zone of the Straits, which was to remain demilitarized. Under a separate agreement negotiated at Lausanne in 1923, approximately 1.5 million Greeks living in Turkey were repatriated to Greece, and approximately 800,000 Turks living in Greece and Bulgaria were resettled in Turkey.

That Day

“Name and origin? The man with the strange accent asked my sister. I gripped her hand. I remember thinking, I would never let go again.

“Name and origin?”, he asked again. I looked at my big sister hoping she would reply, but she had not spoken since that day.

“Where is my mother?” I interjected. “We lost her at the harbor.” There were so many people, everyone was screaming. The sky was black… I had never seen the sky black before. I will never forget that day.

“Name and origin?” he asked again.

“Where is she, where is my mama?” I demanded.

“Where are you from, little girl? What is your name?”

“In the crowd … we lost her. They pushed us into the sea.” I was the best swimmer of all my friends, but the water was thick that day. I remember desperately looking for my sister amongst the drowning people when suddenly, a voice called to me through the horror. As the voice drew closer, a small wooden boat emerged from the darkness. It was my sister. She was rowing towards me in a small wooden boat. There was a stranger with her, the stranger in the green hat. He saved us that day.

“Name and origin?” the man persisted.

“Where is our mama?”, I was persistent as well. At that moment, I began to realize how many thousands of people were waiting behind us. They reminded me of the crowd from that day, only this time… they were silent.

“Name and origin?” he tried asking my sister again.

“My name is Zoe!” I exclaimed instead. “My name is Zoe, I am ten years old, and I am from Heliopolis.”

“And your sister? What is her name? Why does she not speak?” he asked.

“Her name is Eleftheria” I told the man, holding back my tears. “They took her voice.”

“Put them with the orphans,” he said to the man standing next to him. As we were being taken away, the man with the strange accent called us back again, “Wait!” he yelled. “Your mother, what was her name?”

“Her name is Elpida” I said. “And we will find her.”

Authorities registered refugees like Zoe that arrived in Greece upon entry. Their names, city of origin, and possessions were recorded. These historical documents still exist today and can be accessed by the public at the Greek National Archives. The next time you are in Greece, if you have an ancestor that escaped those tragic events, take a trip to the National Archives in Athens.

Using a family name and region of origin, archivists will assist you in tracking down your family records and even provide the original documents for examination. Find your family members’ names, take a picture, and publish them next May 19th so that their memory will live on, and nobody will ever forget.

Major Implications of the Treaty

Defeat had come this time not at the hands of the Habsburg Empire, one of the most powerful European rulers, but by a remote and backward country that only two generations before had itself set out on the course of autocratic Europeanizing reform. The treaty would demonstrate that if France and Austria could protect churches of their particular brand of Christianity in Constantinople, Russia could do the same for her own church. In a letter of gratitude to Count Peter Aleksandrovich Rumiantsov, her field marshal and negotiator, Catherine II expressed her thoughts on a treaty the likes of which Russia has never had before." [5]

The treaty forced the Ottomans to allow the passage of Russian ships through the Turkish Straits into the Mediterranean past the sultan's palace in Constantinople, avoiding the lengthy detour previously used. The treaty did allow the Ottoman sultan to maintain certain rights there in his capacity as 'Caliph of Muslims.' In religious affairs only did the Ottomans remain subject to the Ottoman sultan-caliph this was the first internationally acknowledged assertion of the sultan's rights over Muslims outside the frontiers of his empire. The Crimean Tatars retained the privilege of praying publicly for the sultan this privilege was balanced by the privilege newly accorded to the tsar to make representations on behalf of certain of the sultan's Orthodox subjects. [5]

Russia's right to build a church in Constantinople later expanded into Russian claims to protect all Orthodox Christians under Ottoman rule. The Ottomans were to pay a large indemnity to the Russians and address the Russian sovereign as padisah, the title reserved for the Ottoman sultan. The treaty acknowledged a religious role for the Ottoman sultan as caliph over Muslims, whom the treaty briefly made 'independent' before they passed under Russian rule. To the extent that the caliphal title later gained importance beyond Ottoman borders, this treaty stimulated the process. However, Ottoman loss of the Crimea and the end of the Crimean khanate caused Muslims everywhere to question the sultans' legitimacy as defenders of Islam (ghazis). Ottoman statesmen recognized that the European menace was not isolated on distant frontiers but threatened the 'heart of Islam' and the 'entire Muslim community'.

The clause relating to the Orthodox Church opened foreign interference in the empire's relations with its Christian subjects. But the defeat also posed a basic problem in statecraft, and threatened the Ottoman's traditional self-confidence, while Russia and Tsarina Catherine would be praised immensely among the Greek Orthodox of Constantinople. The increase in Russia's influence because of the new church paralleled the increase in territorial, commercial, and diplomatic status accorded to Russia by the treaty. [6] The surrender of Muslims to Christian rule put into question the rationale of a state founded on Muslim conquest of Christians, and of a religious revelation that promised to the true believer prosperity and power on earth as well as salvation hereafter. It made abundantly clear the need for reform to save the state and to reassert the true faith and the only basis of reform could be a Muslim equivalent of Satan casting out Satan.


Mehmed Ali, ostensibly only a vassal of the Ottoman Empire, was seeking to increase his personal power and gain control over Palestine, Syria, and Arabia. In order to justify the assault on his liege, he used the pretext of a personal dispute with the pasha of Acre. [1]

Egyptian advance Edit

In late 1831, he sent his newly reformed army towards Syria, under the command of his son Ibrahim Pasha, resulting in the Egyptian–Ottoman War (1831–1833) against the Ottoman sultan, Mahmud II. Ibrahim's forces quickly captured Gaza and Jerusalem, and successfully laid siege to Acre before marching on to Aleppo and Damascus, “winning successive battles against Mahmud’s new troops, which were not yet a match for so practiced an enemy” by June 18, 1832, Ibrahim had managed to seize control of all of Syria. [2] For a time, the Egyptian army halted while Mehmed Ali attempted to negotiate with the Sultan. However, once it became clear that diplomacy had failed, Ibrahim led his forces into Anatolia itself where he rallied opponents of the Sultan and captured the city of Konya on November 21. [3] Mahmud II dispatched a large army to try to halt the Egyptian advance, but it was crushed in the Battle of Konya on December 21 and “in a single blow [opened] the way for a complete conquest of Anatolia.” [4] Ibrahim continued his advance until he was within striking distance of Istanbul, the Ottoman capital.

Response Edit

Panic spread through the imperial city as the Egyptian army pushed closer to the seat of Ottoman authority. Mahmud II urgently dispatched pleas for assistance to both Britain and France, but was turned down due to domestic concerns as well as the involvement of both nations in managing the state of affairs after the recently ended Belgian Revolution. Lord Kinross argues that this left the Sultan no choice but to call upon his former enemy, Russia, for assistance. [5] According to Bailey, the response from the Tsar was so positive and swift, that Mahmud II hesitated in accepting, believing it might be a trap. [6] Nevertheless, the Sultan was willing to welcome any help he could receive, and accepted the Russian offer. The Tsar immediately dispatched a sizeable force of troops to block the potential Egyptian advance on Istanbul. It is unclear exactly how many troops the Tsar sent Lord Kinross claims it was an army of approximately 18,000 men in total while Bailey suggests it may have been a force more than twice that size of nearly 40,000 troops. [7] [8] Regardless of the exact size of the Russian host, it was formidable enough to cause Ibrahim to decide to begin negotiating with the Sultan rather than risk a battle with the Russians. [9] Thus, the mere presence of Russian troops was enough to halt the Egyptian onslaught.

European reaction Edit

The presence of Russian troops so close to the Ottoman capital also worried Britain and France considerably. Seeing this potential threat forced the two nations into action. Lord Palmerston, the British Foreign Secretary, led the effort and brought strong diplomatic pressure “to bear upon the Sultan to insist on the Russian withdrawal, in return for concessions to Mehmed Ali and an Anglo-French guarantee against his further invasion.” [10] Diplomacy was not the only tool they employed however, as both the British and the French dispatched fleets to the Dardanelles. [11] This action served the dual purpose of coercing the Sultan to accept their demanding proposal, while also threatening the Russians and checking any further military action they might take.

Consequences of the conflict and intervention Edit

The Sultan finally submitted, which led to the Convention of Kütahya in May 1833, which officially granted Mehmed Ali control of Syria, Adana, Tripoli, Crete, and Egypt, though these titles were not guaranteed to be hereditary upon his death. [12] As soon as this peace was established, the Russians began the process of removing their troops from Ottoman territory. It seemed as though things had come to a reasonable end, but soon after the withdrawal of all Russian troops, the British government learned that two days prior to the completion of this evacuation, the Sultan Mahmud II had signed the Treaty of Hünkâr İskelesi with Tsar Nicholas I. [13] This realization alarmed British leaders, as it seemed to indicate that Russia now held an enormous amount of influence over the Ottoman Empire and its affairs.

The quickly negotiated treaty, signed on July 8, 1833, consisted primarily of a defensive alliance between Russia and the Ottoman Empire which was to initially last for eight years, and included pledges to discuss matters of security with one another. [14] This bound the two empires together in a significant way and seemed to give the Russians the opportunity for future military interventions in the Ottoman Empire, effectively making it a protectorate of the Russian state. While this portion of the treaty was itself important, the most significant feature was its secret article.

Secret Article Edit

This article called for an alternative to Ottoman military support per the terms of the treaty rather than sending troops and arms in support of their Russian allies, the Ottomans would close the Dardanelles to all foreign warships at Russia's command. Below is the full text of the secret article:

“In virtue of one of the clauses of Article I of the Patent Treaty of Defensive Alliance concluded between the Imperial Court of Russia and the Sublime Porte, the two High Contracting Parties, are bound to afford to each other, mutually substantial aid, and the most efficacious assistance, for the safety of their respective dominions. Nevertheless, His Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias, wishing to spare the Sublime Ottoman Porte the expense and inconvenience which might be occasioned to it by affording such substantial aid, will not ask for that aid, if circumstances should place the Sublime Porte under the obligation of furnishing it. The Sublime Porte, in place of aid which it is bound to furnish in case of need according to the principal of reciprocity of the Patent Treaty, shall confine its action in favour of the Imperial Court of Russia to closing the Strait of the Dardanelles, that is to say, to not allowing any foreign vessel of war to enter therein, under any pretext whatsoever.” [15]

Interpretations of the Secret Article Edit

This article was highly controversial and its true meaning is still a matter of debate. There is disagreement over what exactly the terms of the closing of the Dardanelles would be. Some interpret the lack of any specific mention of Russian warships to mean that their ships were not included with those to be barred passage through the Dardanelles. Others point out that this same lack of any specific provision for Russian warships indicates that the treaty did not grant them any special rights. There is also debate over what is meant by the phrase “in case of need.” Some believe this meant only while Russia was at war, while others interpreted it to mean that the Dardanelles would be closed to foreign warships at all times. These speculations began when the British discovered the full scope of the treaty. The secret article was not officially communicated to the British government until January 16, 1834, but they were aware of it several months before that point. [16]

The British interpreted the treaty and its secret clause to have a potentially great impact on their relations with Russia, the Ottoman Empire, and the established balance of power. Hale argues that Lord Palmerston was stung into action “since he mistakenly believed that [the treaty’s] secret clause had given Russian warships free passage through the straits.” [17] Additionally, Palmerston and the rest of the British government saw that “while the immediate advantages of the treaty were slight, the ‘potential advantage to Russia’ was very great, in that ‘in accustoming the Porte to the position of vassal’ Russia had ‘prepared the way for a repetition of the 1833 expedition.’” [18] They feared that this potential for future Russian intervention in the Ottoman Empire would threaten British connections with India and trade in the Near East as a whole, though as Bailey puts it, “The Foreign Secretary’s immediate concern, however, was the problem of the Straits.” [19] This interpretation of the treaty was to shape British foreign policy towards the Ottoman Empire for decades to come.

According to Bailey, the signing of the Treaty of Hünkâr İskelesi was what fully awakened Britain to “the importance of the Ottoman Empire’s geographical, political, and economic position in Europe.” [20] In the short term, the British protested the treaty, claiming that it violated the Anglo-Ottoman Treaty of 1809, which set forth terms that no foreign warship would be allowed to enter the straits. Their formal protest concluded “if the stipulations of that treaty (Unkiar Skelessi) should hereafter lead to the armed interference of Russia in the internal affairs of Turkey, the British government will hold itself at liberty to act upon such an occasion, in any manner which the circumstances of the moment may appear to require.” [21] The French also issued a similar statement regarding their concerns about possible Russian military interference. These two statements were indicative of how seriously the terms of the treaty were taken by the Western powers.

In the longer term, the British became convinced that a different approach was needed, and committed to a policy that “the Ottoman Empire was to be preserved, supported, reformed, and strengthened.” [22] From that point forward, the British, under Palmerston's leadership, took a number of actions to enact this new policy towards the Ottoman Empire. These ranged from increased trade with the Ottomans to a strengthening of the British fleet in the Levant and offers of both military and naval missions to Mahmud II both to aid the Sultan should Mehmed Ali threaten further military action, and “as a gesture to redress Britain’s former neglect.” [23]

While Britain certainly took the most active role, it was not the only European power which took an interest in the Ottoman Empire as a result of this treaty. Not long after the signing of the treaty, Austria and Prussia joined Russia in the Münchengrätz Convention of September 18, 1833, [24] which committed the powers to opposing further expansion by Mehmed Ali and to “maintain[ing] Ottoman integrity.” [25] In July 1840, a broader coalition was formed including Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia, which agreed to protect the Sultan's government against Mehmed Ali this agreement, known as the Convention of London (1840) also required that the Ottomans declare that the straits would be closed to all non-Ottoman warships in peacetime. [26] European support, specifically that of the British, also aided in the ultimate submission of Mehmet Ali in an agreement signed in June 1841, he accepted the limitation of his army in exchange for guarantees of hereditary governorship of Egypt for his family. [27] This marked “the emergence of Britain as a more active player in the Near Eastern power game, and the Ottoman Empire’s main ally for the next 37 years.” [28] Thus, the Treaty of Hünkâr İskelesi had long-lasting effects on the future of the Ottoman Empire, and especially on European outlooks towards that same future.

Not long after its signing, the terms of the treaty would be progressively weakened by other treaties and agreements. The Convention of London (1840) took the first big step by compelling the Ottomans to keep the straits closed to all non-Ottoman warships in peacetime. This helped assuage the British fear that the Treaty of Hünkâr İskelesi had effectively granted the Russian fleet free passage through the straits and into the Mediterranean. Another step towards nullifying the treaty came in the form of the London Straits Convention the following year. This agreement barred all warships from entering the straits, save those of allies of the Sultan in wartime. While it may seem that this agreement does not change much, it is important to remember that at this point, Britain was one of the Sultan's allies. Thus, this would allow the British fleet to enter the straits in times of war, eliminating the perceived exclusive right of the Russians to do so. By this point, the most important aspect of the treaty had effectively been negated. Russo-Ottoman relations continued to deteriorate in the following decade, and while it is unclear when the Treaty of Hünkâr İskelesi was entirely invalidated, it can be said with certainty that the coming of the Crimean War meant the end of any potential for the continuation of the Russo-Ottoman alliance set out in the treaty.

Historical Events on July 21

    Crete Earthquake followed by tsunami around the Eastern Mediterranean allegedly destroys Alexandria Holy Roman Catholic emperor Louis III captured Emperor Otto II gives earl Leopold I, East Bavaria

Victory in Battle

1403 Battle of Shrewsbury: Army led by the Lancastrian King of England, Henry IV defeats a rebel army led by Henry "Harry Hotspur" Percy of Northumberland thus ending the Percy challenge to the throne. Also the first battle English archers fought each other on English soil.

    Pope Paul III begins inquisition against Protestants (Sactum Officium) The first landing of French troops onto the coast of the Isle of Wight during the French invasion Battle at Jemmingen: Alva's troops beat Dutch rebellion Mechelen surrenders to Duke of Parma First engagement between the English fleet and the Spanish Armada off the Eddystone Rocks Spanish explorer Álvaro de Mendaña is the first European to discover the Marquesas Island in Eastern Polynesia

Event of Interest

1669 John Locke's Constitution of English colony Carolina is approved

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Küçük Kaynarca, Treaty of

Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca — The Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca (also spelled Kuchuk Kainarji ) was signed on July 21, 1774, in Küçük Kaynarca, Dobruja (today Kaynardzha, Silistra Province, Bulgaria) between the Russian Empire (represented by Field Marshal Rumyantsev) and the… … Wikipedia

treaty — /tree tee/, n., pl. treaties. 1. a formal agreement between two or more states in reference to peace, alliance, commerce, or other international relations. 2. the formal document embodying such an international agreement. 3. any agreement or… … Universalium

Treaty of Paris (1856) — For other treaties of Paris, see Treaty of Paris. From Auguste Blanchard s copper plate engraving after Edouard Dubufe s Picture … Wikipedia

Treaty of Constantinople (1832) — Map showing the original territory of the Kingdom of Greece as laid down in the Treaty of 1832 (in dark blue). The Τreaty of Constantinople was the product of the Constantinople Conference which opened in February 1832 with the participation of… … Wikipedia

Treaty of Balta Liman — The Treaties of Balta Liman were both signed in Balta Liman (near Istanbul) with the Ottoman Empire as one of its signatories. Contents 1 1838 2 1849 3 References 4 See also … Wikipedia

Anglo-Ottoman Treaty — Having a favourable balance of trade up until the mid nineteenth century ‘In the years 1820 22, the Ottoman Empire exported goods worth £650,000 to the United Kingdom. By 1836 38, that figure had reached £1,729,000.’ [ Sevket Pamuk (1987) The… … Wikipedia

Jassy, Treaty of — (Jan. 9, 1792) Pact signed at Jassy in Moldavia (modern Iaşi, Rom.), at the conclusion of the Russo Turkish Wars. The treaty confirmed Russian dominance in the Black Sea by advancing the Russian frontier to the Dniester River. It also restored… … Universalium

Ottoman–Venetian maritime treaty (1416) — The Ottoman–Venetian maritime treaty of 1416 was signed between Ottoman Empire and Republic of Venice, ending a short conflict between the two powers and stipulating the rules maritime trade between them. Background After the collapse of the… … Wikipedia

Ottoman Empire — a former Turkish empire that was founded about 1300 by Osman and reached its greatest territorial extent under Suleiman in the 16th century collapsed after World War I. Cap.: Constantinople. Also called Turkish Empire. * * * Former empire… … Universalium

Russo-Turkish Wars — Series of wars fought between Russia and the Ottoman Empire from the 17th to the 19th century. Russia waged the early wars (1676–81, 1686, 1689) in a fruitless attempt to establish a warm water port on the Black Sea. In the war of 1695–96,… … Universalium

The historical fountain from Kainarji joined the Dunav Ultra Travel Guide

The historical fountain built in the Bulgarian village of Kaynardja (Silistra district) entered the Travel Guide *� Dunav Ultra Highlights“. The location gains popularity as part of the history of the continent – after the fifth Russian-Turkish war (1768-1774) the Treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji between Russia and the Ottoman Empire was signed here.

The fountain was built 118 years later at the same place where the contract was signed by the trustee of Empress Catherine the Great, Piotr Rumyantsev, and the trusted face of Abdul Hamid I, the Grand Vizier, Muslimsmed Mehmed Pasha.

Today the place has been turned into a small tourist park, where there is a monument of Empress Catherine the Great, a bust of Count Rumyantsev and a memorial plaque dedicated to the historical events.

* The � Dunav Ultra Highlights” Travel Guide offers the most interesting places along the Dunav Ultra Cycle Route.

Treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji - History

Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture 10: The Great Powers and the "Eastern Question"

Two things happened during the nineteenth century to disturb the internal affairs of the Balkans. The first was the introduction of novel social and economic forces (see Lecture 9). The second was the increasing intervention of outside political forces. As the century advanced these developments merged, as international diplomacy and international commerce became linked in the thinking of Europe's Great Powers.

In the 1800s this process was only beginning. Concerns about raw materials and world markets were only spreading slowly from England to the rest of Europe. International diplomacy still operated on the basis of simpler calculations. Wars were still fought about drawing borders and putting kings on thrones, without sophisticated consideration of economic elements or the impact of social change. Diplomacy was conducted from the top down, by social elites with little interest in social change or popular unrest.

If we look at the history of international relations in the Balkans in the nineteenth century, it is hard to set aside our foreknowledge that the train of events will lead to World War I. Ultimately, diplomacy of the old style failed in 1914 when new forces such as nationalism and militarism escaped its control. In Balkan diplomatic history it is easy to find situations in which old-style diplomacy encountered new forces and did a poor job dealing with them. Especially after 1878, rivalries grew: Austria vs. Russia, Austria vs. Serbia, Serbia vs. Bulgaria, until the crisis of 1914.

On the other hand, there were many crises and wars before 1878 that merely led to limited conflicts. It is inaccurate and misleading to analyse them only as rehearsals for World War I. The central issue in Balkan diplomacy at this time was the Eastern Question.

The Eastern Question, to 1878

"The Eastern Question" revolved around one issue: what should happen to the Balkans if and when the Ottoman Empire disappeared as the fundamental political fact in the Southeastern Europe? The Great Powers approached each crisis with the hope of emerging with the maximum advantage. Sometimes this led one or another to support revolutionary change. More often, state interests led them to support the status quo.

The diplomacy of the Eastern Question went forward in disregard, and often ignorance, of the wishes of the Balkan peoples. Because of its traditions and structures, old-style diplomacy was poorly equipped to deal with popular movements like nationalism. The diplomacy of the Eastern Question began in the Early Modern Period, before modern nationalism or representative governments. Diplomats from the Great Powers did not take into account the wishes of their own citizens, so why listen to Balkan peasants?

Treaties: Karlowitz and Kuchuk Kainarji

The issues that created the Eastern Question emerged when the Ottoman high tide in Central Europe began to recede. The failed Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683 was the last important Turkish threat to a European Power. Under the Treaty of Karlowitz of 1699, the Habsburgs (who were allied with Poland, Russia and Venice) took control of Hungary (including Croatia), and Russia got part of the Ukraine. Thereafter, the Ottomans were on the defensive.

  • Russia gained access to the Black Sea coast, so that for the first time Russia physically impinged on the Turkish heartland, including the Balkans.
  • Russian merchant ships got the right to enter the Black Sea, the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, Russian merchants got the right to trade in the Ottoman Empire, and Russia got the right to appoint consular agents inside Turkey.
  • Russia became protector of the Orthodox Christians of Turkey, with special rights in Wallachia and Moldavia.

These clauses set in train a competition among the Great Powers for influence in Turkey because no power was willing to permit Russia (or any other) to dominate the vast Ottoman holdings.

The interests of the Great Powers

Besides Turkey, there were six Great Powers during the late nineteenth century: Russia, Great Britain, France, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Germany. These states followed rather consistent Balkan policies. Some of the Powers expressed an interest in the Balkan population, but in a crisis each followed its own national security and defense needs. When Great Powers made compromises, they did so out of a belief in the tactical value of stability because the outcomes and risks of war were too hard to predict. States also compromised to retain their position as members of the "Concert of Europe," the legal concept under which these large states gave themselves the right to settle matters of war and peace. Policies crafted for such reasons often failed to address the real, local causes of the repeated Balkan crises which took up so much of Europe's attention in these years.


Russia tended to be the most visible disturbing agent and was usually the agent of each new Turkish defeat. Russia began the Early Modern period as the most backward of the Great Powers but also was the state with the greatest potential to tap new resources and grow. In Eastern Europe and the Balkans, a succession of states have opposed Russian interests (or at least perceived Russian interests): the French under Napoleon, then the British Empire, then the Germans and their allies during the two world wars, and most recently the United States. Russia's emergence onto the wider world stage coincides with the emergence of the Eastern Question as a conscious focus of international politics. Under the 1774 Kuchuk Kainarji Treaty, Russia gained access to the north shore of the Black Sea. More important, the same treaty gave Russia important rights to intercede on behalf of the Orthodox millet and to conduct commerce within the Ottoman Empire. Most of Russia's subsequent policies expanded on these two concessions.

One aim of Russian policy was control of local client states. Russian policy toward the Orthodox Christians of the Balkans involved mixed elements of compassion and self-interest. Russians deplored the abuse of Balkan fellow Christians and Slavs (the Pan-Slav movement of the 1800s brought forward similar Russian interests, in a slightly different form). On the other hand, as we saw during Serbia's revolution, St. Petersburg abandoned its Balkan proteges when higher policy required. After autonomous or independent Christian states appeared, Russian policy was complicated by the need to find reliable client states in the region. When a state like Serbia fell under Austrian influence, the Russians would switch their support to a regional rival, such as Bulgaria. Russia had fewer ties to non-Slavic states like Romania: absent Pan-Slav ties, Russian policy often came across as mere domination, especially when Russia annexed territory, such as Bessarabia which was seized in 1878 and in 1940.

A second aim of Russian Balkan policy was retention and expansion of rights of navigation from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean. Russia wanted full rights not only for its merchant trade but also for warships to pass through the Straits, while resisting the rights of other states to send ships (especially warships) into the Black Sea. In general, Russia has had to accept compromises that allow free traffic for all merchant ships and no traffic for warships (except the largely harmless Turkish navies).

A third aim of Russian policy, arising from the first two, has been outright physical possession of Istanbul and the Dardanelles. Annexation of that region would guarantee passage of the Straits, and make Balkan client states unnecessary. However, that step implied complete partition of the Turkish Balkans and was never acceptable to the other Powers. This idea came up in talks with Napoleon in 1807, and was later revived during World War I. Limited partitions were a staple of Balkan discussions, especially with Austria, but never came to any concrete result. No other Power would concede such a great prize to the Russians. With the years of the Cold War behind us, and the spectacle of the collapse of the Soviet Union, it seems doubtful that Russia could have absorbed half the Balkans successfully. At the time, however, the difficulty of ruling in the absence of local consent was never strongly considered.

Rather than go into the details of Russian policy in Serbia, Greece and the other Balkan states, here we can only point to themes. The greatest check to Russian expansion took place after the Crimean War. By the Treaty of Paris of 1856, Russia lost much that she had gained. All warships were barred from the Black Sea, and it was opened to merchant ships of all states: by these actions, Russian lost her special status. All the Great Powers and not just Russia became the guarantors of the Balkan Christian states like Serbia and Romania: again, Russia lost a former special right. Above all, losing the war cast Russia in the role of an outcast state. Russian policy after 1856 aimed at overturning the toughest clauses of the Paris Treaty, and restoring Russia's status as a full member of the Concert.

[Clicking here will display a portion of a map of Europe showing the Balkans in 1856 in another browser window, while leaving this lecture text in the original browser window.]

Great Britain

During the period 1815 to 1878 (and in fact up to 1907, when Russia and England allied against Germany) Great Britain was Russia's most consistent rival for Balkan influence. British interests led to intermittent support for Ottoman rule. Britain intervened against the Turks in the Greek revolution in the 1820s because of Philhellenism and to block Russian influence, but went to war against Russia in 1853 on Turkey's behalf, again to block Russian power. British Balkan interests derived from interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. Given Britain's position as the most industrialized European state in the early 1800s, economic interest played a large role, as distinct from simple geo-political interest. Britain needed to secure the shipping lanes to India. Those trade routes passed through areas like Suez that were nominally Turkish. The Turks themselves were too weak to act as a threat, so British policy opposed France, then Russia and eventually Germany, when those states seemed most likely to get too much influence over a weak Turkey.

Britain also had humanitarian interests in the Balkans: with the most developed system of representative government in Europe and the most influential popular press, London cabinets were under pressure when Ottoman misrule led to uprisings, atrocities and repression. Britain's strategic and humanitarian interests in the Ottoman parts of the Balkans tended to be in conflict. In 1876, William Gladstone (a past and future Prime Minister) wrote a pamphlet called "The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East" condemning the massacres that the Turks carried out while suppressing the latest Balkan revolt. After that year, no British cabinet could provide unlimited support for the sultan. In 1853, Britain had gone to war rather than see Russian influence grow in the Balkans, but when the Russians invaded and defeated Turkey in 1877-78, Britain stood by. British leaders instead adopted a new policy to protect the sea lanes to India. In 1878 Britain took control of the island of Cyprus, and in 1883 occupied Egypt and the Suez Canal. With those outposts under control, Britain's need to intervene on the Balkan mainland waned, although Britain did keep an eye on Greece and Russia's privileges at the Straits.

Britain also had important trading interests within the Ottoman Empire itself and later in the successor states. Short term profits, political or economic, had to be balanced against long term interests. Investors in railroads and state bonds preferred to take as much profit as they could, as soon as they could this tendency often pulled resources out of Turkey that might have contributed to stability and long term profit. In general, British capitalists tried to take as much profit out of Turkey as possible, without fatally weakening the country and killing the golden goose.


France, like Britain, had both political and economic Balkan interests. During the Napoleonic wars, France was a major threat to Ottoman rule. Napoleon himself invaded Egypt in 1798. After defeat in 1815, France lost military and political clout: restoring French influence in the Concert of Europe became a goal for its own sake (as it had been for Russia after 1856) and this inclined French policy toward cooperation with other states.

French economic interests tended to outweigh political interests during the 1800s. France had commercial rights in Turkey dating back to the Capitulation Treaties of the 1600s. Marseilles, France's busiest port, relied heavily on trade with the Ottoman-ruled Eastern Mediterranean.

In the 1820s, France joined Britain and Russia to intervene on behalf of the Greek insurgents, partly to protect commercial interests, partly out of Philhellenic sympathy for the Greeks, partly to prevent a Russo-British condominium in the area, and partly to regain a role on the world stage after the defeat of 1815. By treaty, France was also the protector of Catholics in Turkey: French intervention in the quarrels between Orthodox and Catholic monks in Jerusalem was one excuse for the Crimean War.

Under Napoleon III, France also followed a policy of support for nationalists and this meant support for rebels against the Ottomans. There was a special feeling of affinity in the case of Romania. Many Romanian leaders had a French education and cultural ties. The Romance roots of their language made Romania seem like an outpost of Latin culture in a sea of Slavs.

French investors also played a role in Balkan policy. During the crisis and war of 1875-78, the Turkish state went bankrupt. French bondholders were the biggest potential losers in case of a default so the French state pursued conservative fiscal policies in Turkey. When the Ottoman Public Debt Administration was created to monitor Turkish state finances, French directors played a major role: their policy begrudged every Turkish pound diverted away from debt repayment. Like British investors, French investors forced their government to balance competing interests. The OPDA directors followed a fine line, permitting Turkey enough financial resources to survive while squeezing out the maximum return on Turkish bonds (although money for reforms was treated more favorably than money for the military budget). All in all, France pursued a moderate course because the French had so many interests, sometimes conflicting with each other.


At one time Austria had been the main threat to Ottoman rule, but after 1699 there were few actual territorial transfers to the Habsburgs. Russia replaced Austria as the real threat to Ottoman survival. However, Austria retained a major interest in the Ottoman Empire. The Balkans were adjacent to Hungary: Vienna had no desire to see a weak Ottoman neighbor replaced by a potentially strong Russia, or by pliant Russian clients in Serbia or Bulgaria.

Plans to diminish or partition Ottoman Turkey revolved around the independence of ethnic minorities: because Austria too was an empire of nationalities, any precedent set in Turkey was a potential threat to Habsburg power. For that reason, although Austrian (and later Austro-Hungarian) Balkan interests resembled those of Russia, Habsburg diplomats came to very different conclusions about plans to partition or annex Balkan territory. Austria especially saw the Western Balkans as an economic resource and a potential market. Control of the coast was the key to allowing Austria's foreign trade to pass through the Adriatic Sea, and the empire could ill afford to let that region fall under the control of a hostile Great Power or a growing Balkan nation.

Partition of Turkey and annexation of the Western Balkans was not taken seriously as an option by Austria, however, no matter how often it was suggested by Russian or German diplomats. The ruling German Austrians (with their Hungarian partners after 1867) had no ethnic or religious ties to the Slavs of the region. Austria's economic wealth was concentrated in advanced regions like northern Italy and Bohemia. Until the war with Bismarck's Prussia in 1866, Vienna hoped to advance through economic and political leadership in some kind of German federation. There was little advantage in annexing backward, Slavic Balkan provinces.

After the defeat of 1866 made it clear that Germany, not Austria, would be the leader of Central Europe, southeastern Europe remained as Vienna's only available arena for the exercise of power. At the same time, the 1867 Ausgleich with the Magyars made the annexation of Slavic areas less attractive. The Magyars made up barely 50% of the population in Hungary and had no desire to end up as a minority by annexing more Slavic or Romanian lands. The Austrian Germans were already experiencing complaints from the Slavic Czechs. Neither of the two ruling ethnic groups wanted to annex any Balkan districts. For strategic reasons, Austria-Hungary occupied and administered Bosnia-Hercegovina after 1878, but thirty years passed before the province was legally annexed.

The Habsburg dynasty, rulers of a multi-national empire, also wished to avoid setting an unfortunate precedent by dismantling another multi-national empire, Turkey. Because Austria was too weak to absorb the Balkans, she preferred to sustain a weak Ottoman Empire. This accounts for Vienna's anti-Russian position during the Crimean War, and her alliance with Germany later. In fact, Austria proved to be too weak to prevent the creation of successor states, even though the existence of Serbia and Romania raised serious questions about the future of Habsburg-ruled Serbian and Romanian minorities.

Given the existence of Serbia and Romania, Vienna tried to smother questions of irredentism by controlling the two new states through political alliances and economic treaties. Romania feared Russian occupation, and so governments in Bucharest generally accepted alliances with Austria. Serbia had fewer enemies, and so less incentive to bend to Austrian wishes. The Obrenovic dynasty often accepted Austrian backing in order to hold off its domestic political rivals the Karageorgevic dynasty therefore became the rallying point for anti-Austrian forces. After 1878, and especially after 1903, Serbia and Austria found themselves on a collision course that ended in the war of 1914.


Until 1859, there was no unified Italy. After successful wars against Austria in 1859 and 1866, the Kingdom of Piedmont united the peninsula and sought a position as a new Great Power. While Italy became a member of the Concert of Europe, the kingdom lagged behind the other Powers in terms of economic and military might. What influence Italy could exercise came at the expense of the nearby Ottoman Empire, which was even weaker.

Italy regarded the Western Balkans, especially Albania, as her natural zone of influence, and Italian leaders watched for opportunities to take the area away from the Turks. Italy competed with Austria for influence there: this rivalry was sharpened by Italian dreams of taking the whole Dalmatian sea-coast away from Austria on the grounds that an Italian minority lived there. These Balkan ambitions made Italy a rival not only of Turkey but also of Serbia, Montenegro and Greece. Those states hoped to seize the same areas on the Adriatic that were the objects of Italian ambitions.

Generally, Italy followed a policy of opportunism. Italy was too weak to seize any of the Balkans up to 1878, but in 1911 and 1912 took the Dodecanese Islands and Tripoli (the present Libya) from the Ottomans.


Germany, like Italy, was a newcomer to Great Power status. The Kingdom of Prussia had been important, but it was only after the unification by Bismarck between 1862 and 1870 that Germany gained real power and real responsibilities.

Thanks to military and economic might, Germany had more influence than Italy but no direct interests in the Balkans. Bismarck remarked that the region was "not worth the bones of a Pomeranian grenadier." For the new German Empire, the Balkans were mostly of interest as an economic outlet and as a complication in Germany's long-running effort to dominate the continent by forging strong alliances against her rivals (first against France, later Britain and ultimately Russia). After defeating Austria in 1866, Bismarck was able to make Austria-Hungary the cornerstone of his alliance system because no unsettled issues remained between the two states. To retain Habsburg loyalty, however, Germany had to support Austrian needs in Balkan affairs.

After 1878, it became clear that Germany could no longer reconcile Russian and Austrian wishes in the Balkans. By 1890 Germany and Austria were strongly allied while tsarist Russia had been driven into an unlikely partnership with republican France. After this time, German Balkan policy was a mixture (not always smoothly blended) of support for Austria, and economic and military investment in Turkey, investment that soon made Germany a rival not only of Russia but also of Britain. The Great Power alignments of the period 1890-1914 established a European pattern which dominated two world wars.

Germany had no stake in the progress of any of the small successor states: for that reason Germany was free to support the sultan (and later the Young Turk regime) against them. German officers trained Turkish troops and German money built Turkish railways: in both cases Berlin expected an eventual payoff, whether political or economic.

The Ottomans

The Ottoman Empire was the weakest of the Great Powers. As an ally of Britain and France when the 1856 Treaty of Paris ended the Crimean War, the Turks gained a legal status that was beyond their real powers. Ottoman Balkan policy was simple: to prevent the loss of additional territory in the Balkans. In many instances, the sultan had to be satisfied with nominal control: the lands of the disobedient ayans like Ali Pasha of Jannina or the purely legal vassalage of Serbia and Romania come to mind as examples.

The Ottoman regime mistrusted all the other Powers, in part because those states were made up of infidels and in part from practical experience. However, Russia was clearly Turkey's greatest enemy because tsarist policies implied or required dismantling the empire. To ward off Russian threats, Turkey engaged in close cooperation with other states but was always wary of falling too much under the influence of any one Power. From the time of the Greek War of Independence up to the 1870s, Britain most often acted as Turkey's guardian. After 1878, Germany largely replaced Britain as an economic and military sponsor. Turkish relations with the Balkan successor states were uniformly bad, because their interests and plans involved expansion at Turkish expense.

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The diplomatic system

The diplomacy of the Eastern Question was managed from the top down, by actors who defied or ignored popular wishes and the implications of social change. As a result, Great Power diplomacy in the Balkans often failed because it did not take into account important forces operating from the bottom up. This was not merely because of personalities and class prejudice. The physical restraints on communication and the structures of the diplomatic establishment contributed to the shortcomings of the system. Who the diplomats were, and how they carried out their business, played a great role in Balkan politics.

Historians of World War I and 1914 have blamed the war on secret treaties, militarism, emotional nationalism and economic jealousy. The structure and technique of diplomacy played a major role in promoting these dangerous developments and insulating statesmen from healthier alternatives. The same factors were at work in Balkan diplomacy.

Until the 1830s, diplomacy was carried out by powerful individual ambassadors acting on behalf of their monarchs in virtual isolation. Prior to use of the telegraph, communication was slow and uncertain: in 1816 it took two weeks for a message to make the trip from Vienna to St. Petersburg (1200 miles, roughly the distance from Philadelphia to Minneapolis) and two more weeks for a reply. Because ambassadors could not expect rapid instructions, they enjoyed tremendous freedom: they reported what they wished, or acted on personal beliefs and interests, or did nothing. Russia's ambassadors to Turkey were notorious up to the 1870s for their rashness and unpredictability: those of the Western Powers may have been more subtle, but could be equally independent.

Kings and states granted such latitude only to men who were likely to think as the ruling class thought, therefore most diplomats were drawn from the nobility. Diplomatic life was an extension of aristocratic life. At the 1815 Congress of Vienna, important business took place informally at banquets and balls. Family connections mattered. The new kings of Greece and Romania were minor members of the German royalty: this increased the stature of the Balkan states, and also placed them under the control of reliable figures. Social skills mattered more than professionalism: in the 1820s, British ambassador Stratford Canning sometimes wrote his reports in rhyme for his own amusement. Precise protocols and customs allowed representatives to express subtle nuances of official policy. Diplomats were expected to share a common language (French). Such men neither spoke for, nor understood, common people and their interests.

After 1830, central governments began to use technology to control their representatives abroad and gather better information. In 1830 Metternich set up a "pony express" that cut the travel time for messages to go from Vienna to Paris (roughly the distance from Philadelphia to Chicago, about 800 miles) to 60 hours. An 1838 semaphor telegraph could carry news from Berlin to St. Petersburg in about 25 hours. By the 1850s, the electric telegraph opened the door for instantaneous transmission of messages, but it still took decades to extend the necessary cables into remote capitals. By 1900, diplomats could exchange multiple secret telegrams in code with their home offices during a single day if a crisis required it.

These changes curtailed the independence of ambassadors, but social status and the cost of living abroad ensured that nobles still filled the ranks of Europe's foreign services, even in the role of clerks. While modernizing, foreign ministries also adopted a culture of bureacracy, which placed a value on hierarchy and conformity. Foreign ministries tended to be isolated (physically and procedurally), aloof, arrogant, secretive and arbitrary. In an age of growing mass culture and politics, foreign services remained insulated from society. Architectural plans for the new French Foreign Ministry in 1844 required that it be built at a "distance from the public thoroughfare." Safe from public scrutiny, diplomats worked short hours and made few concessions to efficiency. French ministerial departments competed at catering daily teas but resisted time-saving inventions like the typewriter (rejected until 1900), the telephone (1910), the light bulb (1911) and the automobile (1916). Diplomats saw little need to learn foreign languages (except French) or even to collect accurate maps.

Apologists for the "old diplomacy" point to its positive features: negotiations were calm, precision was prized, and dangerous surprises were kept to a minimum. However, these very strengths of the "old diplomacy" made it especially ill-suited for dealing with crises in the Balkans. Balkan diplomats had to deal with mass movements, secret activities, and revolutionary leaders who lacked official status or aristocratic values or both. Traditional assumptions and Western European solutions proved themselves irrelevant for the Balkans. The "advanced" Powers expected small states to obey orders, but the new Balkan governments often refused. Even if they agreed, the state apparatus was often too weak to overcome popular nationalism and secret conspirators.


Economic and social change, international rivalry and unsolved problems combined to unsettle the Balkans. Neither local states nor Great Powers could control the situation. The result was a succession of Balkan crises, some of which had serious consequences for Europe as a whole.

This lecture is a portion of a larger Web site, Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History (The Balkans in the Age of Nationalism) click here to return to the Table of Contents page. This page created 21 November 1996 last modified 11 June 2009.

Watch the video: Whats the Difference between Modern Turkish People and Turkic Central Asians? (January 2022).