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Eastern Question

Eastern Question 

From the Treaty of Paris to the Treaty of Berlin (1856-1878)

  • At the Treaty of Paris, European statesmanship had failed to recognise that the Turkish Empire in Europe was doomed. The Powers, especially England, sought to bolster up what was evidently on the road to destruction, and so their attempts were reduced to a succession of barren expedients. The nineteenth century kteal of nationality had touched the Balkan Peninsula and the Christian nations under Turkish rule became restive under its inspiration. The result was that in spite of the ostensible protection of the European Concert the Ottoman Empire began to break up. The official Eastern policy of Europe had no alternative but to recognise grudgingly a series of accomplished facts. Thus during the period from 1856 to 1878 there followed a series of glaring infraction of the Treaty of Paris, which the powers had to connive at.
  • The first of these was the union of Wallachia and Moldavia into one kingdom, viz., that of Romania. Both these principalities were inhabited by a people who came from the same stock and spoke the same language, and who applied to themselves the single term, Romanians. Animated by the prevailing impulse towards national unity the people wanted a union of the two provinces under one national government. By the Peace of Paris it was declared that the two principalities were to be autonomous but separate. This separation was challenged in 1859 by each electing the same person, Alexander Couza as their Hopsdar or Prince. England, Austria and Turkey opposed this union as it was a breach of the Treaty of Paris, but Napoleon III showed himself sympathetic to the nationalist aspirations of the Romanians. In 1861 the Powers had to recognise the union as an accomplished fact and the nation of Romania came into existence.
  • Secondly, in 1867 Serbia, aided by Austria and England, secured the evacuation of her fortresses by the Turkish garrisons. Serbia thus practically became independent of Turkey. Lastly Russia, as soon as she had recovered from the blow of the Crimean War, began to interfere in the affairs of the Ottoman Empire. Thus in 1865 she encouraged the Cretan rebellion and in 1870 helped the Bulgars to obtain ecclesiastical independence. Next year came a startling infraction of the Peace of Paris. In the midst of the Franco-Prussian War, Russia was encouraged by Bismarck to repudiate the Black Sea clauses of the Treaty of Paris. This she did, and thus recovered the right to re-fortify Sevastopol and maintain a fleet on the Black Sea. England protested, but in vain. Finally, in 1877 Russia decided to make war upon Turkey.

The Russo-Turkish War (1877-78) | Eastern Question

  • In 1875 the Eastern Question once more entered upon an acute phase. Two things had become clear in the Balkan Peninsula. One was the increasing restlessness of the subject states of Turkey, due to their growing nationalist aspirations and race The spectacle of the Serbs, the Greeks and the Romanians winning their partial or complete freedom inevitably aroused the other non-Turkish inhabitants of the Balkans to attempt a like movement for freedom. This feeling was especially strong among the different Slav peoples of the Balkans, who now began to be conscious of their racial kinship with the Slavs of Russia, Poland and Austrian dominions. This Pan-Slavic feeling was encouraged by Russia whose agents carried on an unceasing propaganda among the Balkan Slavs of the south to stir up racial consciousness and national hostility. Nationalism was thus becoming tinged with racialism. The leadership of the South Slav agitation seemed about to be assumed by Serbia who began to dream of uniting under her rule all the Serbs and their close relations, the Croats, into the kingdom.
  • Besides Pan-Slavism and the growth of national feeling, there was another factor in the Balkans which precipitated the crisis. This was the disappointment of all hopes of Turkish revival and reform. The Sultan had not carried out his promised reforms for his Christian subjects. On the contrary his incompetence and extravagance had imposed upon them a burden which was almost past endurance. As a protest against the rapacity and grinding extortion of his tax-collectors the peasants of Bosnia and Herzegovina rose in revolt in 1875. Their fellow-Serbs of Montenegro and Serbia sympathised with them in their distress and helped them. The movement threatened to be widespread and so to localise the conflict the Powers presented to the Porte what is known as the Andrassy Note (after the Austrian Chancellor Andrassy) protesting against Turkish misgovernment. The Sultan accepted the protest and promised reforms, but the insurgents demanded more substantial guarantees than elusive promises. Meanwhile Bulgaria caught the contagion and so the Powers to prevent a general conflagration issued another note, the Berlin Memorandum, calling upon the Porte to make concessions and threatening armed intervention in default. But as Great Britain refused to be a party to any measure of coercion against Turkey, the Sultan was encouraged to ignore the protest of Europe, As the Bulgarian rising threatened Turkish rule nearer to Constantinople, it was put down with horrible cruelty. The atrocities committed by the Turkish irregulars filled ail Europe with horror. In England Gladstone thundered against the Turks, declaring that they should be cleared out “bag and baggage from the province they have desolated and profaned”. But it was Disraeli, the Jew, and not Gladstone, the ardent Christian, who was then the Prime Minister, and Disraeli’s concern was more for what Russia might do in the Balkans than for the oppressed Christians of Bulgaria. As Disraeli’s attitude made joint action impossible, Russia resolved upon independent action and declared war against Turkey in 1877. She could not ignore the suffering of her coreligionists and fellow-Slavs.
  • The Russian army crossed the Danube and invaded the Turkish territories in Europe and Asia. The chief feature of the campaign was the famous Siege of Plevna which the Turks under Osman Pasha defended with the most gallant heroism such as excited the admiration of the world. The fall of Plevna broke the back of Turkish resistance and the Russians marched towards Constantinople. The Sultan sought peace and agreed to the terms of the Treaty of San Stefano, which Russia forced upon her. This treaty practically decreed the dissolution of the Turkish empire. The Sultan was to recognise the independence of Serbia and Montenegro, with increased territories. Reforms were to be introduced in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Russia was to acquire Batum and Kars in Asia and Bessarabia in Europe. Romania was to be recognised as independent and was to receive Dobruja in compensation for the loss of Bessarabia. But the most striking feature of the treaty was the creation of the “Big Bulgaria” which was to be an autonomous state tributary to Turkey and was to extend from the Danube to the Aegean and from the Black Sea to Albania. The Treaty of San Stefano was a great triumph for Russia. It wiped out the humiliation of the Crimean War and promised her once again the predominance of the Balkans. Especially, she expected to control Bulgaria which was her creation.
  • The extension of Russia influence in the Balkan States was prejudicial to England’s interests and so she demanded a revision of the Treaty of San Stefano by a Congress of European Powers. Austria also cherished ideas of expansion in Balkans and so did not like either the creation of strong Balkan states like Bulgaria or the extension of Russian influence in the Balkan peninsula. Hence she joined hands with England in asking Russia to submit the Eastern Question to the collective decision of the Powers, as the question affected them all. The warlike attitude of England at last compelled Russia to agree to refer the settlement of the Turkish question to a Congress of European Powers.
  • The Congress met in Berlin in 1878 under Bismarck’s presidency. It drew up the Treaty of Berlin by which the following arrangements were made:
  • Montenegro, Serbia and Romania were declared independent of Turkey.
  • The “Big Bulgaria” of the Treaty of San.Stefano was divided into two parts;  Eastern Question
  • one part was made a self-governing principality, subject to the payment of an annual tribute to the Sultan, while the other part (southern part) was constituted as the province of East Roumelia with an independent administration under a Christian governor but under Turkish suzerainty. A considerable portion of the Macedonian territories, which was formerly included in the Big Bulgaria, was again restored to Turkey.
  • Austria was allowed to “occupy” and administer Bosnia and Herzegovina, which nominally remained dependent oh Turkey.
  • Russia received Bessarabia and a number of territories in Asia Minor.
  • England, by a separate treaty with Turkey, secured the control of Cyprus.

Remarks on the Treaty of Berlin | Eastern Question

  • By the Treaty of Paris the Powers had guaranteed the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire. The Treaty of Berlin on the other hand decreed rts dismemberment. Three of the Balkan states—Serbia, Romania and Montenegro—were declared entirely independent of Turkey, while a new state, Bulgaria, was called into existence and was made nominally subject to the Porte. Besides, two of the guarantors of the Turkish integrity, Great Britain and Austria, helped themselves to large portions of the Turkish spoils. The Treaty of Berlin was thus an ironical commentary on the good taith of the Powers who affected so much solicitude for Turkish integrity. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that the diplomats of Berlin revised the Treaty of San Stefano not in the interest of justice and equity but in the interests of Austria and Great Britain. They made a settlement which ignored the interests and sentiments of the Balkan peoples. They simply sought to harmonise the conflicting interests of England, Austria and Russia by a policy of balance and compromise. Thus, as a set off to Russian acquisitions, Austria was allowed to occupy Bosnia and Herzegovina, and England Cyprus. But this arrangement, based as it was upon selfish principles, completely ignored the national sentiments of the Balkan peoples. Thus Romania was offended by the Russian acquisition of Bessarabia, a territory peopled by Romanians and not by Russians. The same disregard of national sentiment was shown when the Slavs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who desired union with their fellow Slavs of Serbia, were handed over to Austrian rule. This alarmed as well as irritated Serbia. The division of the “Big Bulgaria” of the Treaty of San Stefano was a cruel blow to the national aspiration of the Bulgars and was made only to please Austria who feared that a Big Bulgaria, friendly to Russia, might block the path of the future Austrian expansion towards the Aegean Sea. Lastly, the Christians of Macedonia were left in the hands of the Sultan even after the Bulgarian atrocities had shown what kind of treatment they might expect. This arrangement was made in order to bolster up Turkey although her empire had been mutilated beyond revival. It simply prolonged the process and multiplied the pains of extinction, and the Macedonian question was to be a constant source of unrest and friction in the future. A settlement which took little heed of the Balkan peoples and less of Turkey, could not be a satisfactory solution of the Eastern Question. The subsequent history of the Balkan states and of Turkey is no credit to the statesmanship of those who designed the Treaty of Berlin.  Eastern Question
  • Disraeli returned from Berlin claiming to have brought “peace with honour”. For the time being there was peace no doubt, but as to honour, opinions differed. He had, indeed, negated the right of individual intervention claimed by Russia, and compelled her to acknowledge the collective authority of the Powers. A check had been administered to Russia in the interest of England and Austria, and Turkey was allowed to recover a portion of the territory which she had lost at San Stefano. But on closer inspection it will be found that the triumph was only apparent. Russia, though checked, had practically recovered all the losses of the Crimean War. Bessarabia was hers and the Black Sea was no longer closed to her war vessels. Besides, if the shadow of the Russian bear was shortened in the Balkans, it began to lengthen in Central Asia until it touched the mountains guarding the north-west frontier of India. Thus the Russian menace to British interests was transferred from Europe to Asia, and not removed. Thus the treaty had not the intended effects of weakening Russia and strengthening Turkey. Besides, to look upon the treaty as honourable to England as claimed by Disraeli, one must revise one’s idea of honour. An arrangement which took advantage of Turkey’s extremity to tear away from her Cyprus, Bosnia and Herzegovina looked very like robbery, especially when it was made by those who professed the principle of the integrity of the Ottoman Empire.
  • Lastly, the diplomats of Berlin were not farsighted enough to see that the Treaty of Berlin contained within itself seeds of perilous developments in future. In holding back one Power (Russia) from the Balkans they let lose another viz., Austria. Austria was allowed to commit herself to the policy of acquiring territory in the Balkans in direct opposition to Russian and Serbian national feeling. Her occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina embittered her relations with Serbia and Russia and this in the long run gave rise to complications which directly led to the First World War. Again Bismarck although he posed as “honest broker”, was obliged to take sides between Austria and Russia in the crisis. He chose Austria and thereby alienated Russia. As a consequence the latter was thrown into the arms of France. Here was the remote origin of the estrangement between Russia and Germany, which before long divided Europe into two rival camps, the Dual Alliance between Russia and France and Bismarck’s Triple Alliance. Thus the political situation in Europe began to take that shape which produced the Great War of 1914. Lastly, the Macedonian problem led to the Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913. Thus instead of bringing about the pacification of the Balkans, the Treaty of Berlin contributed to increase the unrest and friction among the Balkan peoples, which produced in the future local conflicts and world-wide conflagration.  Eastern Question


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