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Re-Opening Of The Eastern Question

Re-Opening Of The Eastern Question


  • As noticed before the Treaty of Berlin disappointed the hopes it had raised and so its terms were honoured more in their breach than in their observation. As a matter of fact the subsequent history of the Balkans is a tale of the successive violations of the Berlin settlement and of the international complications which resulted therefrom. The Balkan nations snapped their fingers at the Treaty. Nor were the Powers very keen upon its observance, while one of them (Austria) openly flouted it. The Powers had their own rival ambitions in the Balkans so that they could not follow any agreed policy in grappling with the Eastern Question, Hence the Balkan region continued to be storm-centre of Europe, and the bufferings of these storms which began to blow from all points of the compass brought European Turkey almost to the point of extinction. After the Treaty of Berlin the Eastern Question began to reveal new developments. First, the freed Balkan nations instead of being content with their freedom, wished to add to their realms those people of their nationality who still remained under Turkish rule. As their claims often overlapped, the Balkan region provided a spectacle of increasing unrest, frequent wars and growing ambitions. Secondly, Turkey was touched by the prevailing national spirit and made a serious attempt at revival. But the movement never had a chance. For the Balkan States and other Powers took advantage of the opportunity provided by the “Young Turk” revolution to aggrandize themselves at the expense of Turkey and to embroil her in international complications. Thirdly, the intrusion of Austria into Balkans brought in new complications. Backed by Germany she began to pursue a course of action which antagonised Serbia and Russia and before long precipitated the Great War of 1914. Lastly, there was a new comer to the Near Eastern politics, viz., Germany. She sought expansion there for reasons both political and economic, Under William II she became the friend of the Sultan in the nineties, training his army, posing as the protector of the Mohammedans throughout the world and planning the Berlin-Baghdad Railway under German auspices. Re-Opening Of The Eastern Question
  • The following are some of the important developments of the Eastern Question after the Treaty of Berlin: –

Union of Eastern Roumelia with Bulgaria

  • Bulgaria was the first state to challenge the Berlin settlement. The separation between Bulgaria and Eastern Roumelia as effected at the Congress of Berlin, was an arbitrary and artificial one as it corresponded to no racial divisions. It was done because the Powers feared that a big Bulgaria, brought into existence by Russia, would be a mere tool in the hands of the latter. But racial kinship is stronger than treaties and the people of Eastern Roumelia affected in 1885 a bloodless revolution and proclaimed their political union with their kinsmen of Bulgaria. The Bulgarian king Prince Alexander of Battenberg responded to their call and declared himself prince of the United Bulgaria. The Sultan protested against this violation of the Treaty of Berlin, the Czar in anger recalled his officers from the Bulgarian army, but the British Government approved of the union which was then accepted as an accomplished fact by the Powers. The only state actively to oppose this union was Serbia who out of jealousy declared the Bulgarian aggrandisement threatened the balance of power in the Balkans and went to war with Bulgaria. In the war that ensued Serbia was badly beaten by the Bulgarians who were, however, stopped in the midst of their victorious career by Austria who forced a treaty on the combatants on the basis of status quo. Re-Opening Of The Eastern Question
  • With regard to the attitude of the Powers towards Bulgaria, a curious inversion of position should be noted. At the Congress of Berlin, England was loudest in denouncing the Big Bulgaria which was the creation of Russia at San Stefano. It was largely owing to her insistence that the division of Bulgaria was effected. Now she condoned the violation of the Treaty of Berlin and approved the union of Bulgaria with Eastern Roumelia, while Russia opposed the union and denounced a Big Bulgaria which she had created at San Stefano. This change of attitude was due to the fact that Bulgaria instead of being the cat’s paw of Russia as anticipated in Berlin, showed herself very independent towards her blustering patron (Russia). England realised that a strong Bulgaria hostile to Russia would be a surer bulwark against Russian aggrandisement than two weak Bulgaria’s, still under the influence of decadent Turkey. Though England displayed a change of attitude she still adhered to the main object of checkmating Russia.  Re-Opening Of The Eastern Question

The Armenian Question

  • The Armenian subjects of the Turks were exposed to periodical outrages throughout the nineteenth century. Armenia was England’s protege and in the Treaty of Berlin, as well as in the Cyprus Convention between Turkey and England, the latter had extracted from the Sultan promises of better treatment of the Armenians. The Porte, however, proved incorrigible. The Turks feared that England like Russia, would set up another independent Bulgaria in Armenia and so were resolved upon exterminating the Armenia. Throughout 1894 and 1895 the massacre of the Armenians continued mid scenes of indescribable horror. In 1896 the scene of carnage was transferred to Constantinople itself where 6000 Armenians were done to death in a single day. There is no doubt that all these massacres were inspired or at least connived at by the Turkish Government. What were the Powers doing whose slogan was collective responsibility in the Eastern Question? Russia would not stir because she did not like to set up another ungrateful Bulgaria in Armenia and because she wanted to have her revenge, on England who had thwarted her in Bulgaria. Disraeli had cared little for the Bulgarian atrocities and so Russia now cared less for the Armenian massacres. Germany was now fishing for Turkey’s friendship and so instead of putting pressure on the Sultan, ostentatiously displayed her good intentions towards him. Austria followed suit. England, left alone, protested and threatened in vain. She realised her mistake in having hitherto supported Turkey and in making herself responsible for the good conduct of the Sultan. Hence Lord Salisbury remarked that in trying to uphold the integrity of the Ottoman Empire, England had hitherto ‘”put her money on the wrong horse”.  Re-Opening Of The Eastern Question

Greco-Turkish War (1897)

  • Greece had high hopes obtaining a rectification of her frontier at the Congress of Berlin. But as nothing was done in that direction the Greeks threatened war with Turkey. The Powers, however, held her in check as they were not inclined to tolerate another Balkan war just then. But in 1881 the Sultan was persuaded by the British Government to cede Thessaly and a portion of Epirus to Greece.
  • The acquisition of the island of Crete next engaged the attention of the Greeks. The island was inhabited mostly by the people of the Greek race, who wanted to throw off Turkish sovereignty and to unite themselves with Greece. Agitation for union grew stronger and insurrections against Turkish rule became chronic in the island. But nothing came of these except empty promises of reform from the Porte. In 1896 the flame of rebellion flared up worse than ever and the revolutionaries in Crete headed by Venizelos, proclaimed their union with Greece. This time Greece yielding to the popular enthusiasm sent an expedition to help the Cretan insurgents. Thereupon, Turkey declared war upon Greece, easily defeated her, and compelled her to abandon the project of annexing Crete and to cede a portion of Thessaly. After long negotiations among Powers it was decided that Crete should be an autonomous state under Turkish suzerainty. The island was placed under an international commission of four Powers with Prince George, a son of the king of Greece, as governor. This arrangement did not satisfy the Cretans who made several attempts at Union with Greece but were held in check by the Powers. It was not until after the Balkan War of 1912 in which Turkey was smitten hip and thigh that they permitted the union of Crete with Greece in 1913.

The Young Turk Movement | Re-Opening Of The Eastern Question

  • The Eastern Question entered upon a new and startling phase in 1908. A reforming parry had grown up in Ottoman Empire, consisting of Turks mostly educated in the West. They wanted to modernize Turkey, to free her from the tutelage of foreign Powers and to pursue a strictly national policy. These Young Turks effected a bloodless revolution and forced the Sultan Abdul Hamid II to grant a constitution. A parliament was summoned and many liberal reforms were promulgated. But Abdul Hamid attempted a counter revolution for which he was deposed and his brother, Mohammad V. was proclaimed Sultan (1909).
  • The prospect of Turkey, rejuvenated and reformed, made the European states uneasy and there followed a series of startling infractions of the Treaty of Berlin, Bulgaria declared its complete independence from Turkey. Austria definitely annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina-provinces which under the Treaty of Berlin she was authorised only to ‘occupy’ and administer. By this step Austria pushed her frontiers several miles nearer the Aegean Sea towards which she had been turning her eyes for a maritime outlet ever since her expulsion from Germany. Russia strongly protested against Austria’s conduct, but as she was weakened by her conflict with Japan, she was not prepared for a fresh war. The Treaty of Berlin was openly flouted, and England, France and Russia had to swallow their humiliation for the sake of peace. But the state most aggrieved by this occurrence was Serbia. Bosnia and Herzegovina were mostly inhabited by the people of the Serbian race and the Serbians had lone entertained the ambition of annexing them. The annexation of these provinces by Austria not only dashed their hopes to the ground but also prevented their expansion to the sea. So the action of Austria made the Serbians highly indignant—a situation auguring ill for the future.
  • Italy had long been looking for expansion to the northern shore of Africa and had marked out Tripoli as her share of the Turkish spoils. She saw her chances threatened by the nationalist revival in Turkey and so suddenly declared war against the Sultan and compelled him to cede Tripoli in 1911.

The Policy of the Young Turks | Re-Opening Of The Eastern Question

  • Though professing constitutional principles the Young Turks disappointed popular expectations. Their policy was one of “Turkification” in other words, they sought to maintain the uncontrolled domination of the Turks over the various people of their composite empire. The subject races were cruelly persecuted. Especially cruel was their treatment of Macedonia and Albania. The result of this senseless policy of persecution was to produce widespread disaffection which soon brought Turkey to the point of extinction.

The First Balkan War, 1912 | Re-Opening Of The Eastern Question

  • The next crisis in the Balkans arose out of the unsatisfactory state of affairs in Macedonia. The condition of Macedonian Christians under Turkish rule was miserable and the Powers had very often interfered to secure redress of their grievances. The Young Turks saw that this last remnant of the Turkish Empire was gradually passing under foreign control and so they pursued a vigorous policy of Turkification in Macedonia. This attempt to rivet the Ottoman rule more firmly on the Christians intensified their distress, and as a consequence provoked the resentment of their Balkan kinsmen and co-religionists. Hence they wanted to liberate Macedonia from Turkish rule and to divide the territory among themselves. As this would be very difficult under a revived and rejuvenated Turkey they chose the moment when Turkey was still harassed and weakened by her disastrous war with Italy. Four of the Balkan state—Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and Montenegro, forgetting their differences formed a league to take joint action against the Porte. They pressed for the execution of reforms in Macedonia and when Turkey refused to concede their demands, they declared war against her. In their intense nationalism the Young Turks had sown the wind and now they had to reap the whirlwind. The Powers warned the Balkan states declaring that they would not allow any modification of the territorial integrity of Turkey, but in vain. The four allied states launched attacks upon Turkey on four sides and within a short time the Ottoman Empire was reduced to Constantinople. Overwhelmed by disasters on all sides Turkey appealed to the Powers who imposed an armistice and called a peace conference in London. But the peace negotiations failed as there were disputes concerning the cession of certain territories which Turkey was called upon to make. The proposed surrender of Adrianople infuriated the Young Turks who violently overthrow the Turkish Government in Constantinople lest it should agree to it. War broke out again, and again Turkey was defeated. The Serbs and the Bulgars captured Adrianople, and the Montenegrins Scutari. The fall of Scutari almost precipitated a great European war. Austria and Italy would not allow it to be held by Montenegro but wanted it to be included in Albania which they proposed to make an autonomous stale. They also forced Serbia to withdraw from the coveted Adriatic port of Durazzo. Russia in the interest of Pan-Slavism supported the claims of Montenegro and Serbia. War seemed imminent between Austria and Russia but it was averted.
  • The Balkan victories again forced Turkey to come to terms and the war was brought to a close in 1913 by the Treaty of London. By it Turkey lost everything except Constantinople with just enough territory in Thrace to hold it safe. She also ceded Crete to Greece. Another important feature of the treaty was the creation of Albania as an autonomous state. This was done mainly at the demand of Austria who was determined to prevent Serbia from gaining access to the Adriatic. The result was that the Austro-Serbian rivalry was immensely intensified.
  • The Balkan league soon broke up over the division of the spoils. The question of partitioning Macedonia among the victors proved a thorny one. Serbia, pushed back from Albania and cut off from her ambitions in the Adriatic demanded compensation in Macedonia. This was opposed by Bulgaria. Elated with pride the Bulgarians suddenly attacked Serbia. This action roused the other Balkan states, and Greece and Romania made common cause with Serbia against Bulgaria. Turkey joined the allies in the hope of recovering some of the territories recently lost by the Treaty of London. Attacked on all sides Bulgaria was hopelessly beaten and compelled to sue for peace. By the Treaty of Bucharest (1913). Bulgaria was forced to make concessions on all sides. To Serbia and Greece she abandoned considerable sections of Macedonia which she had claimed. Romania received a strip of Bulgarian territory while Turkey recovered Adrianople and part of Thrace. Re-Opening Of The Eastern Question

Results of the Balkan Wars | Re-Opening Of The Eastern Question

  • “Territorially the final results of the two Balkan wars were the practical extinction of the Turkish Empire in Europe and the enlargement of the Christian kingdoms in the Balkan peninsula.” The greatest gainers were Serbia and Greece, while Bulgaria came off worst. Turkey lost four-fifths of her former European territory and was reduced to the south-eastern corner of the peninsula. But the wars cannot be said to have solved the Balkan problems. The second war was a fratricidal one and intensified the national rivalries among the Balkan states. Bulgaria nursed a deep resentment which led her to join the Central Powers in the Great War which broke out next year. “Russia appeared again in the role of protector of the Balkan states, no longer against Turkey, but against Austria.” The victory of Serbia and Greece, and their gain of Macedonia and Salonika blocked the way of Austrian penetration to the Aegean. The phenomenal increase of Serbian power and prestige produced an outburst of Pan-Serb and Yugo-Slav enthusiasm very disquieting to Austria. The Slavs under Austrian rule looked forward to the day when their free kinsmen in Serbia would liberate them from the hated Austrian yoke. Austria was greatly perturbed by widespread Slav movements and looked upon Serbia as the promoter of subversive propaganda among Slav subjects. So she began to look for an opportunity to crush Serbia. Serbia in her turn, was highly exasperated by the persistent efforts of Austria to block her expansion in the Balkans. She sought revenge by intensifying anti-Austrian propaganda and by intriguing with the Slav subjects of Austria. It was this strained relation between Austria and Serbia that before long precipitated the Great War.
  • Note how the result of the Balkan wars produced fierce international rivalries. Turkey and Bulgaria had been weakened, but they were respectively the proteges of Germany and Austria. Serbia, the recent protege of Russia, became the most powerful state in the Balkans. Hence the relation between Russia on the one hand and Germany and Austria on the other became highly strained over Balkan affairs. The situation became so much explosive that before long it burst forth into the catastrophic war of 1914.

World History

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