Fall of Constantinople: AD 1453

A month after his twenty-first birthday, in April 1453, Mehmed II applies to Constantinople the stranglehold which has been a tacit threat for nearly a century, ever since the Ottoman capture of Adrianople (Edirne in its Turkish name) in 1362. He initiates a tight blockade of the city by both sea and land.

The inhabitants, as often before, place their faith in their immensely strong city walls. Only on the harbour side are these walls vulnerable, and the harbour (the long creek known as the Golden Horn) is protected by a great chain preventing enemy ships from entering. But the young sultan has an answer to that.

At dawn, one Sunday morning in May, the defenders on the walls are surprised to see Muslim ships in the harbour. During the night they have been dragged on wheeled carriages, on a temporary wooden roadway, over a 200-foot hill. Over the next few days cannon are moved into place, including one 19-ton bombard. At sunset on May 28 the attack begins. Every bell in the city rings the alarm. Santa sophia is full of people praying and singing Kyrie Eleison (Lord, have mercy).

By dawn the Turks are in the city. The last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI, has died in the fighting.

Mehmed, the sultan, goes straight to Santa sophia to hear a proclamation from the pulpit - that there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet. The great church, for many centuries the most magnificent in Christendom, now begins its career as a mosque. And Constantinople gradually acquires a new name; the urban area, widely referred to in everyday Greek as eis tin polin (in the city), becomes Istanbul.

The Ottoman army is allowed Three days of pillage (a depressing convention of medieval warfare), but Mehmed keeps it under tolerable control. He has acquired a capital for his empire. He intends to preserve and improve it.

In an honourable Muslim tradition, he plans a multicultural and tolerant city. The population is much reduced, after decades of fear and uncertainty, so Mehmed brings Greeks from the Aegean (soon another part of his domain) to revive the place. The Greek Orthodox patriarch is left in charge of his flock. And when the Jews in spain are expelled, in 1492, many of them come to Istanbul where it is official policy to welcome them.

Mehmed launches into a busy building programme, founding several mosques and beginning Topkapi Sarayi in 1462 as his own palace. Constantinople, transformed into Istanbul, is set to be a great imperial centre again. It has exchanged one empire for another, Byzantine for Ottoman.

Ottoman expansion: 16th century AD

Throughout the 16th century, from Budapest and Vienna in the west to Tabriz and Isfahan in the east, the political situation depends largely on which of Turkey's neighbours is best resisting the expansionist tendencies of the Ottoman empire.

If the Turks are fighting the Persians, the Balkans may be relatively quiet; if the sultan's janissaries are engaged against the Hungarians and their allies, Persia has a respite. Later a northern neighbour, Russia, becomes another factor in this constant jostling for space.

During the reign of Bayazid II, son of Mehmed ii, the Turkish thrust is mainly to the west. Hercegovina is occupied in 1483 (joining Bosnia, taken by Mehmed twenty years earlier). The Venetians are driven out of Albania in 1501.

During the reign of Bayazid's son, Selim I, the focus shifts to the east where Ismail I, founder of the new Safavid dynasty in Persia, is becoming a threat. After defeating the Persians in 1514, Selim embarks on a bold undertaking. He invades the extensive territories of the Egyptian Mamelukes. By 1517 he has achieved a resounding victory, bringing Syria, Palestine, Arabia and Egypt under Ottoman control.

Selim is followed as sultan, in 1520, by his son Suleiman i. Turkish attention now returns to the west. In 1521 Suleiman captures Belgrade. In 1526 he crushes the Hungarians at Mohacs. In 1529 he even besieges Vienna, albeit unsuccessfully.

In 1534-5 Suleiman turns east to engage in a rapid campaign, dislodging the Persians from much of Mesopotamia and capturing the city of Baghdad. In 1541-3 he is back fighting in the west. He takes the ancient fortress and town of Buda, making it the capital of an Ottoman province in central Hungary which will last for more than a century.

Turkish campaigns later in the 16th century lead to substantial peace treaties on both frontiers. From 1578 Ottoman armies press so far east into Persian territory that they reach the Caspian. In 1590 the Persian shah, Abbas i, cedes Georgia and Azerbaijan to the Turkish sultan.

Similarly a campaign in the west, from 1593, results in a peace of 1606 with Habsburg Austria. By this time the Balkans, as far west as a line from Budapest down to the coast at Dubrovnik, are either under Turkish control or are paying annual dues to Istanbul as vassal states.

Such frontiers are never stable for long, and there is much adjustment - often to Turkey's disadvantage - during the next two centuries. But in the early years of the 17th century the Ottoman empire stretches from Buda in the west to the Caspian in the east (with the client states of Walachia and Moldavia bringing the Turkish domain up round the Black Sea as far as the Crimea). From the Caspian the frontier goes south through Mesopotamia, to encompass the whole of Arabia and Egypt.

Beyond Egypt the Ottoman territory extends west along the Barbary coast to Algeria. This is a Muslim empire even larger than that established by the Caliphs.

The great Islands lying off Turkey are also brought into the Ottoman fold. Rhodes is taken early, in 1523, but the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1570 prompts a vigorous Christian response. A joint Spanish and Venetian fleet defeats the Turks decisively at Lepanto in 1571. It proves a hollow victory. Only two years later, in 1573, Venice cedes the island to Turkey. But almost a century passes before the Turks, in 1669, finally evict the Venetians from another great prize, Crete.

Of the island staging posts to the east, so carefully accumulated by Venice, only the Ionian group (including Corfu, Cephalonia and Zante) escapes Turkish encroachment.

The Ottoman empire and Napoleon: AD 1798-1799

During the 18th century Turkish involvement in European affairs is limited mainly to the immediate neighbours. There is a succession of Wars with russia and constant adjustment to the Frontier with austria in the Balkans. But in 1798 the Ottoman empire finds itself unavoidably caught up in Europe's great war of the time, when Napoleon decides to invade Egypt as an indirect method of harming British imperial interests.

The Ottoman governor of Egypt and his unruly Mameluke forces are ill-prepared to cope with such an invasion, though the condition of Napoleon's army does much to level the odds - after being shipped from France and marching south through the desert, from Alexandria to Cairo, in the midsummer heat.

It is a profoundly demoralized invading force which finally confronts the Mameluke army at Giza on July 21. But the French are arranged by Napoleon on the open terrain in solid six-deep divisional squares, and their fire-power slices with devastating effect through the wild charges of the Egyptian cavalry. Victory in the Battle of the Pyramids delivers Cairo to Napoleon.

While emphasizing his respect for Islam, Napoleon sets about organizing Egypt as a French territory with himself as its ruler, assisted by a senate of distinguished Egyptians. All is going according to his plan. His team of scientists can now begin to look about them (in the following year, 1799, a French officer finds the Rosetta stone).

But there is already a major snag. Some ten days after Napoleon's victory, Nelson finally comes across the warships of the French fleet - at anchor in Aboukir Bay, near the western mouth of the Nile. On August 1, in the Battle of the Nile, he destroys them as a fighting force (only two French ships of the line survive).

Napoleon, master of Egypt, is stranded in his new colony. He has no safe way of conveying his army back to France. Moreover he has provoked a new enemy. Turkey, of whose empire Egypt is officially a part, declares war on France in September 1798. In February news comes that a Turkish army is preparing to march south through Syria and Palestine to attack Egypt. Napoleon moves first.

When Napoleon gets back to Cairo in June, after four wasted months in Syria, he characteristically claims to be returning from a triumph. But he has now lost interest in this part of the world. He departs to seize his destiny in Paris, leaving behind a French army which is finally expelled from Egypt in 1801 by a combined Turkish and British force.

With the end of this three-year period of high foreign drama, Egypt returns to its traditional ways. The Mameluke beys confidently resume their local tyrannies. But this time, finally, the sultan and his officials find the resolve to confront their unruly subordinates.

The Syrian campaign: AD 1799

Napoleon's Syrian campaign is the first unmitigated disaster in his career. It is a military failure and it provides another dire example of European brutality in Palestine, in the bleak tradition of the Crusades. Marching north in February 1799, Napoleon is irritated by the resistance put up by ancient garrison towns along the coast. He is delayed first at El Arish, then at Gaza and again at Jaffa.

At Jaffa the 3000 defenders in the Ottoman garrison are promised by a French officer that their lives will be spared if they submit. But once inside the city, Napoleon orders them all to be executed.

To conserve ammunition, the instruction is given for the condemned to be either bayonetted or drowned. The gruesome scene, reminiscent of Mongol customs but also of Richard i's atrocity at Acre in 1191, is one which even Napoleon's presentational skills later fail to justify. This event is rapidly followed by plague in the French army, and by the famous moment of flamboyant courage when Napoleon, to reassure his men, visits and touches the sick in the plague hospital at Jaffa.

Later in the campaign Napoleon wins several victories against the Turks, but Acre withstands a French siege of two months. By early June the French army is making a bedraggled and desperate retreat south through the Sinai desert.

When Napoleon gets back to Cairo in June, after four wasted months in Syria, he characteristically claims to be returning from a triumph. But he has now lost interest in this part of the world. He departs to seize his destiny in Paris, leaving behind a French army which is finally expelled from Egypt in 1801 by a combined Turkish and British force.

With the end of this three-year period of high foreign drama, Egypt returns to its traditional ways. The Mameluke beys confidently resume their local tyrannies. But this time, finally, the sultan and his officials find the resolve to confront their unruly subordinates.

Naturally Napoleon enters Cairo on June 14 as if returning from a triumph, and in July he recovers his reputation with a brilliant victory over a Turkish army which has landed at Aboukir. But by now he has other matters on his mind.

News, arriving late and unreliably from France, suggests that a crisis is approaching. The political situation in Paris is increasingly unstable, with the Directory distrusted and discredited. And recent events have rekindled the European war, bringing a new alliance of nations back into the field against France. It seems that this may be Napoleon's last chance to make a bid for power.

19th century

Massacres and Mamelukes: AD 1802-1811

On three separate occasions there are cold-blooded attempts by the authorities in Egypt to solve the problem of the Mamelukes. In 1802 a Turkish admiral is instructed to invite Mameluke leaders to a social gathering at Aboukir, for them to be assassinated during the entertainment.

In 1805 a newly appointed governor of Egypt contrives a further but still insufficient massacre. The same governor later completes the task, in 1811, by inviting some 300 Mameluke beys to an event in the Cairo citadel. It is surprising that they accept. Once they are inside, the gates are shut and troops open fire. Only one of the guests survives. Six centuries of Mameluke power in Egypt come to a sudden end.

Mohammed Ali and Ibrahim Pasha: AD 1805-1840

The governor who asserts his control with such ruthless efficiency is Mohammed Ali. His long rule changes the course of Egyptian history and permanently removes a large and prosperous region from Ottoman control.

At first, ably assisted by his eldest son Ibrahim Pasha, Mohammed Ali serves the sultan well. An expedition by Ibrahim in 1816-18 restores Ottoman authority over Arabia, where the Wahhabi sect has recently held sway (in 1821 another of Mohammed Ali's sons subdues the Sudan). In 1824 Ibrahim is sent with a fleet to Greece, to help the sultan suppress the movement for Greek independence. But a disagreement between Mohammed Ali and the sultan gives Ibrahim a more subversive role. In 1832 he marches north from Egypt to invade the Ottoman province of Syria.

Ibrahim Pasha has a whirlwind series of successes against Ottoman armies during 1832. He captures Acre and wins a battle at Homs during May. By July he is through the Taurus mountains and in December he wins another victory at Konya. By the spring of 1833 he appears to be in a position to march on Istanbul. In an agreement signed at Kutahya in May, the sultan secures the retreat of the Egyptian army by ceding to Mohammed Ali the hereditary governorships of Adana (in southeast Anatolia) and Syria.

Ibrahim Pasha becomes governor general of the two provinces. His father now rules a vast swathe of land from the Sudan to the Euphrates.

In 1839 the Turkish sultan attempts to recover Syria by military means, in what proves a disastrous failure. Ibrahim Pasha wins another victory at Nizip, this time so convincingly that the Ottoman fleet changes sides and joins the Egyptians. At this point the western powers intervene, fearful as ever of the collapse of the Ottoman empire. At a treaty in London in 1840 it is agreed that Mohammed Ali will restore Syria and Adana to the sultan. In return he is granted the hereditary rule of Egypt, though the province remains within the sultan's empire.

With this concession the separate history of modern Egypt begins. And the sultan in Istanbul is free to turn his attention to the perennial problems on his western flank, in the Balkans.

Balkan adjustments

During the 17th and 18th centuries there are frequent adjustments in the Balkan frontiers between the Turks and the neighbouring Austrian empire to the west.

The extreme point of Turkish expansion is reached with the Siege of vienna in 1683. When Vienna is relieved, the Austrians regain the initiative - and gradually recover the whole of Hungary during the next four decades. Further east, in Serbia, the fluidity of the situation can be seen in the experience of Belgrade. The city is taken by the Austrians for three separate periods (1688-90, 1718-39, 1789-91) before being lost again each time to the Turks.

It is also clear that another great neighbouring power will soon be taking an active interest in the Balkans. Russia's push towards the Black Sea involves the two principalities lying north of the Danube, just outside the Balkans. These are Wallachia and Moldavia, known together as the Danubian principalities.

The principalities, in part or in whole, are occupied by Russian armies on several occasions during the frequent wars between Russia and Turkey in the 18th century. Each time Turkish rule is subsequently restored. But soon, throughout the Balkans, there are signs of a new nationalist demand for independence. It is first seen in Serbia in 1804.

Serbian independence: AD 1804-1878

The immediate cause of the Serb uprising in 1804 is the brutal rule of four janissaries, who in 1801 assassinate the Turkish governor of Belgrade and take power into their own hands. The Serbs find a leader of genius in Karageorge (a nickname meaning 'black George'), who first seizes and beheads the four janissaries. He then wins a succession of battles against regular Turkish armies before capturing Belgrade in December 1806. Serbia has liberated itself without outside help.

For seven years the Serbs run their own affairs. The state council introduces a constitution in 1808, with Karageorge as hereditary leader. Serbian scools are opened, including one which evolves into Belgrade university.

These achievements are possible partly because Turkey is distracted, from 1809, by yet another war with Russia. But peace is made in 1812, leaving Turkey free to focus attention on her own backyard. Three separate armies converge on Serbia. Belgrade is taken in October 1813. The Turkish soldiers are told that during a period of two weeks they may kill any Serb over fifteen years of age and enslave women and children. In a single day, in a hastily organized slave market in Belgrade, some 1800 Serbs are sold.

A second uprising begins in 1814. By 1815 it has a new leader, Milosh Obrenovich, soon to be styled 'supreme prince of the Serbian nation' (Karageorge has fled to exile in Austria).

Milosh, who like Karageorge is the son of a peasant, is more skilful than his predecessor in negotiating with the Turks. He is ruthless in the disposal of his rivals (even arranging for the assassination of Karageorge when he returns to Serbia in 1817). And he is helped by the fact that from 1821 the Turkish sultan is also coping with the Greek war of independence.

The result is that Milosh remains in control until, in 1830, he wins both Turkish and international recognition for an autonomous Serbia. The state is to remain within the Ottoman empire but will enjoy Russian protection.

For most of the next eighty years Serbia is ruled by Milosh's descendants. Serbians increasingly see themselves as leaders of the Yugoslavs ('southern Slavs'), an ambition which greatly alarms Austria - particularly after the revolutionary events of 1848, when the Slavs of Croatia try to win independence from Habsburg control.

The war fought by Serbia against Turkey In 1876-8 extends the national borders and results in full independence, acknowledged in the congress of Berlin. But it also represents a setback in the campaign to lead the southern Slavs, for the same war brings Bosnia-hercegovina under Austrian control.

Greek independence: AD 1821-1832

Early in the 19th century there are several schemes by Greek aristocrats to raise an insurrection for the liberation of Greece. Prominent in these plots are the Ypsilantis family, one of whom - Alexandros Ypsilantis - becomes in 1820 the leader of a group calling itself Philiki Etaireia (Friendly Band).

The Philiki Etaireia has been founded in 1814 by Greeks living in the Russian port of Odessa on the Black Sea. Like the contemporary Carbonari in Italy, their specific purpose is to rid their homeland of foreign oppressors. But these Greeks operate on a grander scale. They intend to march south through the Balkans with Russian support.

In March 1821 Ypsilantis moves with a small force into Moldavia. His expedition fails when he is defeated by the Turks near Bucharest in June, but the attempt has provoked impromptu uprisings in several parts of Greece, beginning on or around March 25 (now Independence Day). The massacre of several thousand Muslims by Greek insurgents is followed by Turkish reprisals, including the hanging of the Greek patriarch in Constantinople.

These chaotic beginnings are typical of the warfare which follows over the next few years. Neither side can gain a lasting advantage. Turkish armies are baffled by guerrilla tactics in the mountainous regions of Greece.

The Greeks complicate their own task by local bouts of civil war, and from 1824 there is another threat. The Turkish sultan demands support from his viceroy in Egypt, Mohammed Ali, who sends his son Ibrahim Pasha with a fleet and army. During 1824 Ibrahim and the Egyptians subdue much of the Peloponnese. But they too, like the Turks, are unable to suppress entirely the Greek resistance.

Meanwhile the struggle is attracting wider attention. As a fight for liberty, by the distant descendants of Europe's First democrats, this is the most romantic of the independence movements now flaring up around the world. In 1823 Lord Byron arrives.

A large loan is raised for the Greek cause in London in 1823 and the new foreign minister, George Canning, adopts a pro-Greek policy. The eventual result is an alliance between Britain, Russia and France - and the arrival in Greek waters in 1827 of fleets of the three nations.

Their immediate purpose is merely to show a glimpse of the iron fist and to threaten an economic blockade. But in October, more by accident than design, they encounter the Egyptian and Turkish fleets at Navarino. In the resulting battle the Muslims lose sixty ships and some 8000 men, with very light allied casualties. It is the main turning point on the route to Greek independence.

The war drags on for another five years (the Turks hold Athens until 1832), during which time there are intense international negotiations as to the nature of an independent Greece.

It is eventually agreed, in the 1832 treaty of Constantinople, that Greece will include the Peloponnese, the mainland up to a line between Árta and Vólos, and the Cylades (but not the other islands of the Aegean, the Ionian islands or Crete). Turkey relinquishes all sovereignty over this area. The king is to be the 17-year-old prince Otto of Bavaria, who delights everyone on his arrival by wearing Greek national costume and spelling his name Othon.

Sections are as yet missing at this point.

Sections missing

Sections are as yet missing at this point

Crimea and after: AD 1854-1876

The Crimean war does not greatly affect the Ottoman territories in the Balkans (a Russian army reaches but does not cross the Danube), and the years after the war are relatively quiet as the administration in Istanbul attempts to introduce measures of reform - and wins international approval for its efforts.

But by the 1870s misrule within the Balkans leads to mounting unrest, aggravated by tension between the mainly Christian population and their Muslim overlords and by the nationalist hopes of the Pan-slav movement. Discontent breaks into open insurrection in Hercegovina in 1875. This is followed in 1876 by an uprising in Bulgaria.

Bulgarian atrocities: AD 1876-1877

A revolt breaks out in the region of Plovdiv in May 1876. It is suppressed with extreme ferocity, at the hands of the Turkish volunteers known as bashibazouks. Within a short space of time some 15,000 Bulgarians are massacred, with the destruction of more than fifty villages and five monasteries.

These events heighten the anti-Turkish feeling already evident in Hercegovina's revolt. In June Serbia declares war on Turkey. By the end of that month sensational details of Turkish atrocities begin to appear in the European press. They are not reliably authenticated until late August, when they provoke one of the most famous of English political pamphlets.

William Gladstone, by now a retired elder statesman, is in bed with gout when he reads an incontrovertible account of the events in Bulgaria. In three days he pens a passionate attack on Turkey under the title The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East. The pamphlet, demanding in highly colourful terms that the Turks pull out of Bulgaria, proves a sensation. 40,000 copies are sold in the first week of September and 200,000 by the end of the month.

With European public opinion inflamed against them, the Turks allow a conference to be held in Istanbul on the Balkan issue. But they make no concessions. In March 1877 the Turkish parliament even declares there is no further need for the traditional Russian protection of Christians in the Ottoman empire.

War to the brink at San Stefano: AD 1877-1878

In April 1877 Russia declares war on Turkey, with Romania coming in on Russia's side. At first the Turks are able to resist the Russian advance through Bulgaria, holding them in an engagement at Pleven in July. But by December the Russians have taken Edirne and are in a position to threaten Istanbul itself.

This success drastically alters the international situation, reviving the fears of the western powers at the prospect of Russia benefiting from the collapse of Turkey. Public opinion in London in particular, orchestrated by the prime minister Disraeli, now swings violently against Russia.

The anti-Russian sentiment of 1878 is the original example of British jingoism. Music-hall crowds bellow out each night the song of the moment - promising what will happen, by jingo, if the British have to fight. 'We've got the ships', the lyrics of the song proclaim. Disraeli sends six of them, the latest ironclads, through the Straits.

When the British fleet drops anchor within sight of Istanbul, in February 1878, the Russian army is at the village of San Stefano just six miles west of the city. Rather than risk war with Britain, the Russians refrain from attacking Istanbul. Instead, they make a treaty at San Stefano with the Turks - along lines already tentatively agreed at Edirne in January.

San Stefano and the Congress of Berlin: AD 1878

The treaty of San Stefano gives Russia and the Pan-slav movement almost everything that could have been hoped for. Serbia and Romania are now to be fully independent, having previously been merely autonomous regions within the Ottoman empire. Even more significant, Bulgaria is to become a vast principality bordered by the Danube in the north, the Black Sea in the east and the Aegean in the south.

This area comprises more than half the Balkan peninsula and includes a population of some four million. It is also certain to be under the direct influence of Russia. The western powers, confronted with these major changes in the Balkans, convene a congress to consider them.

The congress is held in Berlin. The other powers insist upon the reduction of this 'greater Bulgaria', limiting the new principality (which is to be autonomous but under the sovereignty of the Turkish sultan) to the region between the Danube and the Balkan mountains. The area south of the mountains, but not reaching the Aegean, is to be the new Turkish province of Eastern Rumelia.

The congress accepts that Serbia and Romania become independent and that Bosnia-hercegovina is now to be administered by Austria-Hungary. Russia wins some territory from Turkey on the eastern coast of the Black Sea. Britain is granted control of Cyprus. The Ottoman empire continues, on all sides, to shrink.

The Macedonian question: AD 1893-1912

By the 1890s nationalist demands have removed Turkish control from more than half the Ottoman empire in the Balkans. Greece and Serbia are independent, Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia are autonomous, Bosnia and hercegovina are administered by Austria-Hungary.

This leaves the Turks with just a long strip of European territory stretching west from Istanbul to the Adriatic. It consists essentially of two areas, Macedonia and Albania. Here, as elsewhere, there are strong nationalist pressures. In Macedonia, in particular, they have the almost insoluble complexity which characterizes Balkan affairs.

In 1893 a secret revolutionary organization is founded in Salonika. Calling itself VMRO (Vatreshna Makedonska Revolutsionna Organizatsia, Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization), it states its policy in the slogan 'Macedonia for the Macedonians'.

Would that it were so simple. The proposed revolution against Turkey is to be a Christian one, so the Muslim Macedonians (Turkish settlers and converts) can be discounted, as can the thriving Jewish communities (settled here with Turkish encouragement after the expulsion from Spain in 1492). But even the Christians themselves in Macedonia are variously Greek, Serbian and Bulgarian in origin.

These three states are concerned not so much that Macedonia shall belong to the Macedonians as that parts of it shall belong to them. By 1900 each is sending secret guerrilla contingents into Macedonia to ensure that the VMRO inclines to their particular brand of national insurrection. The rival terrorists (the andartai from Greece, the chetnitsi from Serbia and the komitaji from Bulgaria) become a familiar part of the developing chaos in the Balkans.

The three Balkan states also have designs on Albania, now at the western extremity of European Turkey. Serbia, in particular, hopes for a slice of Albanian territory to give access to the Adriatic.

The sense of incipient crisis is heightened in 1908 with the revolution of the North africa in Istanbul. Austria-Hungary chooses this moment to annexe Bosnia-Hercegovina. At the same time Ferdinand declares the independence of his Bulgarian principality and of Eastern Rumelia, proclaiming himself Ferdinand I as ruler of a united Bulgarian kingdom.

An extra chance seems to be offered to the Balkan states when Italy goes to war against Turkey in Albania in September 1911. The conflict lasts until October 1912. During that time, with Turkey distracted, plots are hatched in the Balkans for the division of Turkish land in Europe. Early in 1912 secret agreements are made between Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece as to future boundaries.

20th century

The first Balkan War: AD 1912-1913

The Balkan upheavals of 1912 begin in Albania. A national uprising against the Turks is so successful that an Albanian army presses far enough east to occupy the Macedonian city of Skopje. This success stirs the Balkan states to action, for an independent Albania is not part of their plans. In October 1912 Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria go to war against Turkey.

The allies rapidly make inroads into Macedonia and Albania. In the east the Bulgarians push the Turks back to their defensive lines at Catalca, only sixty miles from Istanbul. In the west the Greeks move into southern Albania and the Serbians reach the Adriatic, capturing the port of Durrës on November 28.

On the same day at Vlorë, another port fifty miles to the south, the Albanians declare their independence and set up their first national government. But the issue is now taken into international hands.

Austria-Hungary, in particular, is determined not to have a strengthened Serbia on her southern border. A conference of ambassadors of the relevant powers (Italy, Austria-Hungary, Russia, the Ottoman empire) convenes in London in December to discuss the issue. It is agreed that the independence of Albania should be recognized, but there is much dispute as to the exact boundaries. Russian pressure on behalf of the Serbs results eventually in one glaring anomaly. The province of Kosovo, containing some 800,000 Albanian inhabitants, is severed from Albania and allotted to Serbia.

It is agreed also in London (in a second conference in May 1913) that the western border of European Turkey will run from Enos on the Aegean to Midye on the Black Sea. It is left to the three Balkan states to divide between themselves the whole of the rest of Turkish Europe up to the Albanian border - an area consisting of western Thrace and Macedonia.

Since Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece have made mutual agreements on this issue before the outbreak of war, this might be assumed to be easy. But this is the Balkans. Negotiations are immediately undertaken to alter the agreed terms until, in June 1913, the king of Bulgaria decides upon military intervention.

This History is as yet incomplete.

The second Balkan War: AD 1913

As in any war, troops are not exactly where expected when hostilities in the Balkans come to an end in April 1913. In particular many areas of Macedonia earmarked for Bulgaria are occupied by Greek and Serbian troops who show little inclination to relinquish them. This situation, and the hope of a quick victory to redress matters, prompts the Bulgarian king Ferdinand I to order his army to march into these disputed areas on 28 June 1913.

The result is disaster for Bulgaria. The invading army fails to achieve an immediate advantage against Serbs or Greeks in Macedonia. On July 11 the Rumanians invade Bulgaria from the north. On the next day the Turks march into the new Bulgarian territory in Thrace.

By July 18 the Bulgarians have agreed to a conference in Bucharest to settle the issue, though it is another two weeks before the Greeks, Serbs and Rumanians accept an armistice. The terms agreed at Bucharest are inevitably to Bulgaria's disadvantage. Romania is ceded valuable territory in the Dobruja, bordering the Black Sea. Turkey recovers part of Thrace. Greece and Serbia acquire the largest and richest parts of Macedonia. The only worthwhile Bulgarian accession is a short strip of the Aegean coast.

These events leave deep-seated enmities in the Balkans. But they are about to be submerged in a wider conflict - the First World War.

This History is as yet incomplete.

This History is as yet incomplete.
Arrow Arrow
Page 1 of 3
Arrow Arrow