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The Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878 had its origins in a rise in nationalism in the Balkans as well as in the Russianmarker goal of recovering territorial losses it had suffered during the Crimean War, reestablishing itself in the Black Seamarker and following the political movement attempting to free Balkan nations from the Ottoman Empire. As a result of the war, the principalities of Romaniamarker, Serbiamarker and Montenegromarker, each of which had had de facto sovereignty for some time, formally proclaimed independence from the Ottoman Empire. After almost five centuries of Ottoman domination (1396–1878), the Bulgarian state was reestablished as the Principality of Bulgaria, covering the land between the Danube River and the Balkan Mountainsmarker (except Northern Dobrudja which was given to Romania) and the region of Sofiamarker, which became the new state's capital. The Congress of Berlin also allowed Austria-Hungary to occupy Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker and the United Kingdommarker to take over Cyprusmarker, while the Russian Empire annexed Southern Bessarabiamarker and the Karsmarker region.

Conflict pre-history

Treatment of Christians in the Ottoman empire

Article 9 of the Paris Peace Treaty, concluded at the end of the Crimean War, obliged the Ottoman Empire to grant Christians equal rights with Muslims. An edict, Hatt-ı Hümayun, was issued that proclaimed the principle of the equality of Muslims and non-Muslims, and produced some specific reforms to this end. For example, the jizya tax was abolished and non-Muslims were allowed to join the army.

However, some key aspects of Dhimmi status was retained; for example, the testimony of Christians against Muslims was not accepted in courts, which granted Muslims effective immunity for offenses conducted against Christians. Although on a local level, relations between communities were often good, this practice encouraged the worst elements of Muslim society to exploit the situation. The abuses were at their worst in regions with a predominantly Christian population, mainly located in the European part of the empire, where local authorities often openly supported them as a means to keep Christians subjugated.

The financial strain on the treasury caused by the Crimean War forced the Ottoman government to take a series of foreign loans at such steep interest rates that, despite all the fiscal reforms that followed, pushed it into insoluble debts and economic difficulties. This was further aggravated by the need to accommodate more than 600,000 Muslim Circassians, expelled by the Russians from the Caucasus, to the Black Sea ports of north Anatolia and the Balkan ports of Constanţamarker and Varnamarker, which cost a great deal in money and in civil disorder to the Ottoman authorities.

Crisis in Lebanon, 1860

In 1858 the Maronite peasants, stirred by the clergy, revolted against their Maronite feudal overlords and established a peasant republic. In southern Lebanon, where Maronite peasants worked for Druze overlords, Druze peasants sided with their overlords against the Maronites, transforming the conflict into a civil war. Although both sides suffered, about 10,000 Maronites were massacred at the hands of the Druzes.

In Syria, events in Lebanon stirred the Muslim population of Damascusmarker to attack the Christian minority with between 5,000 to over 25,000 of the latter being killed, including the American and Dutch consuls, giving the event an international dimension.

Under the threat of European intervention, Ottoman authorities restored order. Nevertheless French and British intervention followed. Under further European pressure, the Sultan agreed to appoint a Christian governor in Lebanon, whose candidacy was to be submitted by the Sultan and approved by the European powers.

The Revolt in Crete, 1866–1869

The Cretanmarker revolt was the result of two things: the failure of the Ottoman Empire to apply reforms for improving the life of the population and the Cretans' desire for Enosis — union with Greecemarker. The insurgents gained control over the whole island, except for five cities where the Muslims were fortified. The Greek press claimed that Muslims had massacred Greeks and the word was spread throughout Europe. Thousands of Greek volunteers were mobilized and sent to the island.

By early 1869 the insurrection was suppressed, but the Porte offered some concessions, introducing island self-rule and increased Christian rights on the island. The siege of Moni Arkadioumarker monastery, when about 150 Cretan Greek combatants accompanied by about 600 women and children were besieged by about 23,000 mainly Cretan Muslims aided by Turkish troops, became widely known in Europe. After a bloody battle with a large number of casualties on both sides, the Cretan Greeks finally surrendered when their ammunition ran out but were killed upon surrender.

An important effect of the Cretan Insurrection, and especially the brutality with which it was suppressed by the Turks, was the growth of public attention in Europe, and in Great Britainmarker in particular, to the issue of the oppressed state of the Christians in the Ottoman Empire.
"Small as the amount of attention is which can be given by the people of England to the affairs of Turkey … enough was transpiring from time to time to produce a vague but a settled and general impression that the Sultans were not fulfilling the “solemn promises” they had made to Europe; that the vices of the Turkish government were ineradicable; and that whenever another crisis might arise affecting the “independence” of the Ottoman Empire, it would be wholly impossible to afford to it again the support we had afforded in the Crimean war."

The crisis came to an end, with the Ottomans more victorious than they had been or would be in almost any other diplomatic confrontation during the century.

Changing balance of power in Europe

The New European Concert

The concert of Europe established in 1856 was shaken in 1859 when France and Austria fought over Italy. It came apart completely as a result of Bismarck's wars to create a united Germany, with Prussia defeating Austria in 1866 and France in 1870, thus establishing itself in place of Austria-Hungary as the dominant power in Central Europe. Britain, worn out by its participation in the Crimean War and diverted by the Irish question and the whole complex of problems created by the Industrial Revolution, chose not to intervene again to restore the European balance. Bismarck did not wish the breakup of the Ottoman Empire to create rivalries that might lead to war. So he took up the Tsar's earlier suggestion that arrangements be made in case the Ottoman Empire fell apart, creating the Three Emperors' League with Austria and Russia to keep France isolated on the continent. France under Napoleon III responded by supporting self-determination movements, particularly if they concerned the three emperors and the Sultan. Thus revolts in Poland against Russia and national aspirations in the Balkans were encouraged by France. Russia worked to regain its right to maintain a fleet on the Black Sea and vied with the French in gaining influence in the Balkans by using the new Pan-Slavic idea that all Slavs should be united under Russian leadership. This could be done only by destroying the two empires where most of the non-Russian Slavs lived, the Habsburg and the Ottoman. The ambitions and the rivalries of the Russians and French in the Balkans surfaced in Serbia, which was experiencing its own national revival and had ambitions that partly conflicted with those of the great powers.

Changing balance of power in Europe

Russia ended the Crimean War with minimal territorial losses, but was forced to destroy its Black Sea Fleet and Sevastopolmarker fortifications. Russian international prestige was damaged, and for many years revenge for the Crimean war became the main goal of Russian foreign policy.

This was not easy however — the Paris Peace Treaty included guarantees of Ottoman territorial integrity by Great Britainmarker, France and Austriamarker; only Prussia remained friendly to Russia.

It was on alliance with Prussia and its chancellor Bismarck that the newly appointed Russian chancellor, Alexander Gorchakov, depended. Russia consistently supported Prussia in her wars with Denmark , Austria marker and France . In March 1871, using the crushing French defeat and the support of a grateful Germanymarker, Russia achieved international recognition of its earlier denouncement of Article XI of the Paris Peace Treaty, thus enabling it to revive the Black Sea Fleet.

Other clauses of the Paris Peace Treaty, however, remained in force, specifically Article 8 with guarantees of Ottoman territorial integrity by Great Britain, France and Austria. This made Russia use extreme caution in its relations with the Ottoman empire and coordinate all its actions with other European powers. A Russian war with Turkey would require at least the tacit support of all other Great Powers, and Russian diplomacy was waiting for a convenient moment.

Situation in the Balkans

The balance of power in Europe directly reflected the situation on the Balkan peninsula. The state of Ottoman administration continued to deteriorate throughout the course of 19th century, with the central government occasionally losing actual control over whole provinces. Reforms imposed by European powers did little to improve the conditions of the Christian population, while managing to dissatisfy a sizable portion of the Muslim population. Bosnia and Herzegovina suffered at least two waves of rebellion by the local Muslim population, the most recent in 1850.

Austria consolidated after the turmoil of the first half of the century and sought to reinvigorate its longstanding policy of expansion at the expense of the Ottoman empire.
The nominally autonomous, de facto independent principalities of Serbia and Montenegro sought the opportunity to expand into regions inhabited by their Serbian compatriots. The situation in Serbia was especially complicated. The principality made expansion to neighboring Serbian inhabited areas, south Serbia, Kosovomarker, and Bosnia its priority. The ruling House of Obrenović enjoyed good connections with Vienna, and was at first reluctant to risk a military adventure against the Ottoman empire. However public opinion was heavily pro war, encouraged by the diplomatic victory of 1862 and the expulsion of Ottoman troops from their last garrisons on the territory of the principality. The presence of Russian agents was also very strong.

Montenegro, ruled by the ambitious Prince Nikola, was in a position to advocate a much more adventurous policy. When an uprising of orthodox Christians erupted in Herzegovina in 1875, Montenegrins promptly intervened to help their fellow tribesmen, declaring war on the Ottoman empire. Soon an uprising in Bulgaria erupted. Compelled by these events and by overwhelming pressure from the public, prince Milan Obrenović declared war on the Ottoman empire in 1876.

Balkan crisis of 1875–1876

From 1873 onward the Ottoman government was faced with a period of drought and famine in Anatoliamarker, leading to widespread misery and discontent. Agricultural shortages became such as to preclude the collection of necessary taxes. This reached the point at which the Imperial Treasury was left without adequate funds for the business of government. The result was a major financial collapse which forced the Ottoman government to declare bankruptcy in October, 1875.

An anti-Ottoman uprising occurred in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the summer of 1875. The main reason for this revolt was the heavy tax burden imposed by the cash-starved Ottoman administration. Both Montenegro and Serbia intervened with armed bands. Despite some relaxation of taxes, the uprising continued well after the end of 1875 and eventually triggered the Bulgarian April uprising of 1876.

The Bulgarians' 1876 "April" uprising

Since autumn of 1875, the Ottoman authorities were aware that a revolt was being considered. They had, therefore, increased their patrols on the Danube and sent more spies and agent provocateurs into Bulgarian areas, where they did considerable damage to the revolutionaries' infrastructure. Most middle-class Bulgarians were not anxious to overthrow the Ottomans by force. The small band of revolutionaries who rose from their ranks were a minority from the start. They sought swift and complete independence through armed rebellion and terrorist methods modeled after the uprising of the Serbs and Greeks, and they looked to Orthodox Russia and Serbia for support. The revolt of Bosnia and Hercegovina spurred the Bucharest-based Bulgarian revolutionaries into action. A Bulgarian uprising was hastily prepared to take advantage of Ottoman preoccupation, but it fizzled before it started. In the spring of 1876 another uprising erupted in the south-central Bulgarian lands. That event was even more haphazardly planned than the previous one. The rebels were ill-armed and disorganized. According to Lord Kinross, "They turned savagely on the Muslim Turks, whom they started to massacre." Dennis Hupchick stated, "The ill-armed and disorganized rebels did little more than publicly rally, sing newly written patriotic songs, and butcher their mostly pacific Muslim neighbors." According to Stanford J. Shaw, "The revolts now spread, leading to the massacre of hundreds of Muslims and the seizure of the main Ottoman forts in the Balkan ports nearby."

The Ottomans, lacking adequate regular troops because of the problems in the northwest, were compelled to use irregular Bashi-bazouks to quell the Bulgarians. (May 11-June 9, 1876) Those irregulars mostly were drawn from Muslim inhabitants of the Bulgarian regions, many of whom were Circassian refugees expelled from the Caucasus or Crimean Tatar refugees expelled during the Crimean War. Both were either expelled by the Russians or had suffered at the rebels' hands. Making little distinction between rebels and passive peasants, bashi-bazouks, true to their reputation, brutally suppressed the revolt, massacring between 4,000 and 15,000 people in the process, 12,000 being the mostly agreed upon number. ("Later Bulgarian nationalists exaggerated the toll to as high as 100,000.") Kinross stated, "Their orgy of slaughter and arson and rape culminated in the mountain village of Batak. Here a thousand Christians found refuge in a church, to which the irregular troops set fire with rags soaked in petrol, burning all to death but a single old woman. In all, so it was reported, five thousand out of the seven thousand villagers of Batak perished at their hands."

News of the massacres of Bulgarians filtered into Britain from missionaries, journalists, and diplomatic agents in the Balkans. The British press trumpeted the charge of "Bulgarian Horrors" claiming that thousands of defenceless Christian villagers had been slaughtered by fanatical Muslims. American missionaries estimated that as many as 15,000 Christians had been killed, and the Bulgarians leapt ahead to estimates from 30,000 to 100,000. The Western press did not report the killings of "considerably more than 4,000" Muslims during the rebellion.

International reaction to atrocities in Bulgaria

Word of the bashi-bazouks' atrocities filtered to the outside world by way of American-run Robert College located in Constantinoplemarker. The majority of the students were Bulgarian, and many received news of the events from their families back home. Soon the Western diplomatic community in Constantinoplemarker was abuzz with rumours, which eventually found their way into newspapers in the West. News stories about Ottoman Muslim atrocities against Christians that ignored the sufferings of the Muslims were particularly unwelcome in Britain, where Disraeli's government was committed to supporting the Ottomans in a situation already tense because of the ongoing Balkan crisis. An American journalist from Ohio, Januarius A. MacGahan, who happened to be in London at the time, was hired by the Liberal opposition's newspaper Daily News to report on the massacre stories firsthand.

MacGahan toured the stricken regions of the Bulgarian uprising, accompanied unofficially by Eugene Schuyler, a member of the American legation in Constantinoplemarker, and officially by Walter Baring of the British legation, who was sent along by his superiors to whitewash any unpleasantness that might be uncovered. While the reports of both Americans confirmed the savagery of the Ottoman retribution, MacGahan's report, splashed across the Daily News's front pages, galvanized British public opinion against Disraeli's pro-Ottoman policy. Most public support for the Ottomans melted when in early September the opposition leader, Gladstone published his Bulgarian Horror and the Question of the East calling upon Britain to withdraw its support for Turkey. Hands tied by public pressure, Disraeli was forced to stand aside when Russia (where MacGahan's report had been circulated in translation) declared war on the Ottoman Empire in 1877 with the publicly avowed goal of winning independence for the Bulgarians.

When the details became known in Europe, many dignitaries, including Charles Darwin, Oscar Wilde, Victor Hugo and Giuseppe Garibaldi publicly condemned the Ottoman abuses in Bulgaria. In Britain, William Gladstone denounced the Turkish race as "the one great anti-human specimen of humanity" and proposed that Europe demand "the total withdrawal of the administrative rule of the Turk from Bulgaria, as well as, and even more than, from Herzegovina and from Bosnia."

The strongest reaction came from Russia. Widespread sympathy for the Bulgarian cause led to a nationwide surge in patriotism on a scale comparable with the one during the Patriotic War of 1812. From autumn 1875, the movement to support the Bulgarian uprising involved all classes of Russian society. This was accompanied by sharp public discussions about Russian goals in this conflict: Slavophiles, led by Dostoevsky, saw in the impending war the chance to unite all Orthodox nations under Russia's helm, thus fulfilling what they believed was the historic mission of Russia, while their opponents, westerners, led by Turgenev, denied the importance of religion and believed that Russian goals should not be defense of Orthodoxy but liberation of Bulgaria.

A number of works by Russian painters and writers were dedicated to the Bulgarian uprising:
  • A painting by Konstantin Makovsky, 'The Bulgarian martyresses', depicted a scene of mass rape of Bulgarian women by Bashi-bazouks inside the desecrated Orthodox church.
  • Turgenev in his poem 'Croquet at Windsor' accused Queen Victoria of tolerating Ottoman atrocities in Bulgaria;
  • Polonsky's verse Bulgarian woman depicted the humiliation of a Bulgarian woman whose whole family was killed and who was taken into a harem, only to be further harassed by other concubines.

Serbo-Turkish War and diplomatic maneuvering

  • On June 30, 1876, Serbiamarker, followed by Montenegromarker, declared war on the Ottoman empire.
  • On July 8 Russia's Alexander II and Prince Gorchakov met Austria-Hungary's Franz Joseph I and Count Andrássy in the Reichstadt castle in Bohemia. No written agreement was made, but during the discussions, Russia agreed to support Austrian occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Austria-Hungary, in exchange, agreed to the return of Southern Bessarabiamarker lost by Russia during the Crimean War, and Russian annexation of the port of Batumimarker on the east coast of the Black Seamarker. Bulgaria was to become autonomous (independent, according to the Russian records).
  • In July-August, the ill-prepared and poorly equipped Serbian army helped by Russian volunteers failed to achieve offensive objectives but did manage to repulse the Ottoman offensive into Serbia, and on August 26, Serbia pleaded European powers to mediate in ending the war. A joint ultimatum by the European powers forced the Porte to give Serbia a one month truce and start peace negotiations. Turkish peace conditions however were refused by European powers as too harsh.
  • In early October, after the truce expired, the Turkish army resumed its offensive and the Serbian position quickly became desperate. As a result, on October 31, 1876 Russia issued an ultimatum requiring Turkey to stop the hostilities and sign a new truce with Serbia within 48 hours. This was supported by the partial mobilization of the Russian army (up to 20 divisions). The Sultan accepted the conditions of the ultimatum.
  • To resolve the crisis, on December 11, 1876, a conference of the Great Powers was opened in Constantinoplemarker (to which the Turks were not invited). A compromise solution was negotiated, granting autonomy to Bulgariamarker, Bosnia and Herzegovina under the joint control of European powers. Turks, however, found a way to discredit the conference by announcing on December 23, the day the conference was closed, that a constitution was adopted that declared equal rights for religious minorities within the empire, based on which Turkey announced its decision to disregard the results of the conference.
  • On January 15, 1877, Russia and Austria-Hungary signed a written agreement confirming the results of an earlier oral agreement made at Reichstadt in July 1876. This assured Russia of the benevolent neutrality of Austria-Hungary in the impending war. These terms meant that in case of war Russia would do the fighting and Austria would derive most of the advantage. Russia therefore made a final effort for a peaceful settlement.
  • On March 31, 1877, Russia persuaded the powers to sign the London Convention, which merely asked Turkey to introduce those reforms which she herself had already proposed. The powers were to watch the operation of the reforms, and if conditions remained unsatisfactory they reserved the right "to declare that such a state of things would be incompatible with their interests and those of Europe in general". But the Turks felt themselves in a strong position and rejected the proposal on the grounds that it violated the Treaty of Paris.

Finally, on April 24, 1877, after nearly two years of futile negotiations, Russia declared war upon Turkey.

Prosecution: the one-eyed and the blind

Russiamarker declared war on the Ottomans on 24 April, 1877. The Prussian king Frederick II sarcastically remarked that a war between the Ottoman Empire and Russia would be "a war between the one-eyed and the blind". This, however, was all too common a problem for contemporaneous warfare, from the Crimean War to the Boer Wars.

On April 12, 1877, Romania gave permission to the Russian troops to pass through its territory to attack the Turks, resulting in Turkish bombardments of Romanian towns on the Danube. On May 10, 1877, the Principality of Romania, which was under formal Turkish rule, declared its independence.

At the beginning of the war, the outcome was far from obvious. The Russians could send into the Balkans a larger army: about 300,000 troops were within reach. The Ottomans had about 200,000 troops on the Balkan peninsula, of which about 100,000 were assigned to fortified garrisons, leaving about 100,000 for the army of operation. The Ottomans had the advantage of being fortified, complete command of the Black Sea, and patrol boats along the Danube river. They also possessed superior arms, including new British and American-made rifles and German-made artillery.
In the event, however, the Ottomans usually resorted to passive defense, leaving the strategic initiative to the Russians who, after making some mistakes, found a winning strategy for the war.

The Ottoman military command in Constantinoplemarker made poor assumptions of Russian intentions. They decided that Russians would be too lazy to march along the Danube and cross it away from the delta, and would prefer the short way along the Black Seamarker coast. This would be ignoring the fact that the coast had the strongest, best supplied and garrisoned Turkish fortresses. There was only one well manned fortress along the inner part of the river Danube, Vidinmarker. It was garrisoned only because the troops, led by Osman Pasha, had just taken part in defeating the Serbs in their recent war against the Ottoman Empire.

The Russian campaign was better planned, but it relied heavily on Turkish passivity. A crucial Russian mistake was sending too few troops initially; the Danube was crossed in June by an expeditionary force of about 185,000, which was slightly less than the combined Turkish forces in the Balkans (about 200,000). After setbacks in July (at Pleven and Stara Zagoramarker), the Russian military command realized it did not have the reserves to keep the offensive going and switched to a defensive posture. The Russians did not even have enough forces to blockade Pleven properly until late August, which effectively delayed the whole campaign for about two months.

Course of the war

Fighting near Ivanovo-Chiflik

Russian, Romanian and Turkish troop movements at Pleven.

At the start of the war, Russia and Romania destroyed all vessels along the Danube and mined the river, thus ensuring that Russian forces could cross the Danube at any point without resistance from the Turkish navy. The Turkish command did not appreciate the significance of the Russians' actions. In June, a small Russian unit crossed the Danube close to the delta, at Galaţimarker, and marched towards Ruschuk, now known as Rusemarker. This made the Ottomans even more confident that the big Russian force would come right through the middle of the Ottoman stronghold.

Under the direct command of Major-General Mikhail Ivanovich Dragomirov, on the night of 27/28 June 1877 (New Style - N.S.) the Russians constructed a pontoon bridge across the Danube at Svishtovmarker. After a short battle in which the Russians suffered 812 killed and wounded, the Russian secured the opposing bank and drove off the Ottoman infantry brigade defending Svishtov. At this point the Russian force was divided into three parts: the Eastern Detachment under the command of Tsarevich Alexander Alexandrovich, the future Tsar Alexander III of Russia, assigned to capture the fortress of Ruschuk and cover the army's eastern flank; the Western Detachment, to capture the fortress of Nikopol, Bulgariamarker and cover the army's western flank; and the Advance Detachment under Count Joseph Vladimirovich Gourko, which was assigned to quickly move via Veliko Tarnovomarker and penetrate the Balkan Mountainsmarker, the most significant barrier between the Danube and Constantinoplemarker.

Responding to the successful Russian crossing of the Danube, the Ottoman high command in Constantinoplemarker ordered Osman Nuri Paşa/Pasha to advance west from Vidinmarker occupy the fortress of Nikopol, just west of the Russian crossing. On his way to Nikopol, Osman Pasha learned that the Russians had already captured the fortress and so moved to the crossroads town of Plevna, now known as Plevenmarker, which he occupied with a force of approximately 15,000 on 19 July (N.S.). The Russians, approximately 9,000 under the command of General Schilder-Schuldner, reached Plevna early in the morning. Thus began the Siege of Plevenmarker.

Osman Pasha organized a defense and repelled two Russian attacks with huge casualties on the Russian side. At that point, the sides were almost equal in numbers and the Russian army was very discouraged. Most analysts agree that a counter-attack would have allowed the Turks to gain control of, and destroy, the Russians' bridge . However, Osman Pasha had orders to stay fortified in Pleven, and so he did not leave that fortress.
Gazi Osman Pasha

Turkish capitulation at Nikopol
Russia had no more troops to throw against Plevna, so the Russians besieged it, and subsequently asked the Romanians to provide extra troops. Soon afterwards, Romanian forces crossed the Danube and joined the siege. On August 16, at Gorni-Studen, the armies (West Army group) around Pleven were placed under the command of the Romanian Prince Carol, aided by the Russian general Pavel Dmitrievich Zotov and the Romanian general Alexandru Cernat.

The Russians and the Romanians fought bravely to capture the redoubts around Pleven . The Romanians managed to hold the Grivitsa redoubt, that they've captured, until the very end of the siege. The siege of Plevenmarker (July–December 1877) turned to victory only after Russian and Romanian forces cut off all supply routes to the fortified Turks. With supplies running low, Osman Pasha made an attempt to break the Russian siege in the direction of Opanets. On December 9, the Turks silently emerged, at dead of night, threw bridges over the Vit River and crossed it, attacked on a front and broke through the first line of Russian trenches. Here they fought hand to hand and bayonet to bayonet, with little advantage to either side. Outnumbering the Turks almost 5 to 1, the Russians drove the Turks back across the Vit. Osman Pasha was wounded in the leg by a stray bullet, which killed his horse beneath him. Rumours of his death created panic. Making a brief stand, the Turks eventually found themselves driven back into the city, losing 5,000 men to the Russians' 2,000. The next day, Osman surrendered the city, the garrison, and his sword to the Romanian colonel Mihail Cerchez. He was treated honorably, but his troops perished in the snows by the thousand as they straggled off into captivity. The more seriously wounded were left behind in their camp hospitals, only to be murdered by the Bulgarians.

At this point Serbiamarker, having finally secured monetary aid from Russia, declared war on the Ottoman Empire again. This time there were far fewer Russian officers in the Serbian army but this was more than offset by the experience gained from the 1876–1877 war. Under nominal command of prince Milan Obrenović (effective command was in hands of general Kosta Protić, the army chief of staff), the Serbian army went on offensive in what is now eastern south Serbia. A planned offensive into the Ottoman Sanjak of Novi Pazar was called off due to strong diplomatic pressure from Austria-Hungary, which wanted to prevent Serbiamarker and Montenegromarker from coming into contact, and which had designs to spread Austria-Hungary's influence through the area. The Ottomans, outnumbered unlike two years before, mostly confined themselves to passive defence of fortified positions. By the end of hostilities the Serbs had liberated Ak-Palanka (today Bela Palankamarker), Pirotmarker, Nišmarker and Vranjemarker.

Taking of the Grivitsa redoubt by the Russians - a few hours later the redoubt was recaptured by the Turks and finally fell to the Romanians on the 30th of August 1877 in what became known as the "Third Battle of Grivitsa"

Russians under Field Marshal Joseph Vladimirovich Gourko succeeded in capturing the passes at the Stara Planinamarker mountain, which were crucial for maneuvering. Next, both sides fought a series of battles for Shipka Pass. Gourko made several attacks on the Passmarker and eventually secured it. Ottoman troops spent much effort to recapture this important route, to use it to reinforce Osman Pasha in Pleven, but failed. Eventually Gourko led a final offensive that crushed the Ottomans around Shipka Pass. The Ottoman offensive against Shipka Pass is considered one of the major mistakes of the war, as other passes were virtually unguarded. At this time a huge number of Turkish troops stayed fortified along the Black Sea coast and engaged in very few operations.

Besides the Romanian Army (which mobilized 130,000 men, losing 10,000 of them to this war), a strong Finnish contingent and more than 12,000 volunteer Bulgarian troops (Opalchenie) from the local Bulgarianmarker population as well as many hajduk detachments fought in the war on the side of the Russians. To express his gratitude to the Finnish battalion, the Tsar elevated the regiment on their return home to the name Old Guard Battalion, which they still hold.

The Caucasian Front

Shipka field
Russian Works
Turkish Works
Stationed in the Caucasus in Georgia and Armenia was a Russian force composed of approximately 75,000 men under the command of Grand Duke Michael Nikolaevich, Governor General of Caucasus. The Russian force stood against a Turkish army of 80,000 men led by General Ahmed Muhtar Pasha. While the Russian army was better prepared for the fighting in the region, it lagged behind technologically in certain areas such as heavy artillery and was bested, for example, by the superior Britishmarker artillery that Muhtar Pasha had in his possession.

Many of the Russian commanders under Michael Nikolaevich were of Armenian descent including generals Beybut Shelkovnikov, Mikhail Loris-Melikov, Ivan Lazarev and Arshak Ter-Ghukasov. It was the forces under Lieutenant-general Ter-Ghukasov, stationed near Yerevanmarker, who began the first assault into Ottoman territory by capturing the town of Bayazidmarker on April 27, 1877. Capitalizing on Ter-Ghukasov's victory in Bayazid, Russian forces advanced further, taking the region of Ardahanmarker on May 17; Russian units also besieged the city of Karsmarker in the final week of May although Turkish reinforcements lifted the siege and repulsed them. War conditions in western Armenia reciprocated against the Armenian population. The Turks encouraged Kurds to attack the Armenians and in Bayazit and Alashkert 30,000 Armenians were killed.

In October 1877, the Turkish army launched a massive counteroffensive against Russian forces near Ajaria. By July 19 Muhtar Pasha's forces were holding the mountainous heights around Ajaria. In the following months, the Russian forces under General Lazarev attempted to recover the region but failed to do so at each turn. His forces were able to stave off another Turkish offensive in October and then advance to take the region on October 15. Turkish casualties in the battle for Ajaria amounted to 5-6,000 dead or injured while over 8,500 became prisoners of war; the number of Russian dead was close to 15,500. In February 1878 the Russians took Erzerum without resistance.


Intervention by the Great Powers

Under pressure from the British, Russia accepted the truce offered by Ottoman Empire on January 31, 1878, but continued to move towards Constantinoplemarker.

The British sent a fleet of battleships to intimidate Russia from entering the city, and Russian forces stopped at San Stefanomarker. Eventually Russia entered into a settlement under the Treaty of San Stefano on March 3, by which the Ottoman Empire would recognize the independence of Romaniamarker, Serbiamarker, Montenegromarker, and the autonomy of Bulgariamarker.

Alarmed by the extension of Russian power into the Balkans, the Great Powers later forced modifications of the treaty in the Congress of Berlin. The main change here was that Bulgaria would be split, according to earlier agreements among the Great Powers that precluded the creation of a large new Slavic state: the northern and eastern parts to become principalities as before (Principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia), though with different governors; and the Macedonian region, originally part of Bulgaria under San Stefano, would return to direct Ottoman administration.

Effects on Romania


Effects on Bulgaria's Muslim population

"Few of the cities and only a small part of the countryside in Bulgaria were scenes of protracted battle, so civilian losses due to battle were relatively few." Following the San Stefano treaty, the Russians set up their own governmental system in the new Bulgaria. Russians soldiers, Cossacks as well as Bulgarian volunteers and villagers inflicted massacres and atrocities on Bulgaria's Muslim population. 260,000 to 262,000 Muslims, almost entirely Turkish, perished and over half a million refugees fled with the retreating Ottoman forces. By the end of the war, about 515,000 surviving Muslims, almost all Turkish in ethnicicty, were expelled from Bulgaria into other areas of the Ottoman Empire, never to return.

During the conflict a number of Muslim buildings and cultural centres were destroyed. A large library of old Turkish books was destroyed when a mosque in Turnovo was burned in 1877. Most mosques in Sofia perished, seven of them destroyed in one night in December 1878 when a thunderstorm masked the noise of the explosions arranged by Russian military engineers."

Effects on Bulgaria's Jewish population

The traditional Russian anti-Semitism produced violent waves of Judophobia. When the appeared before a city, the Russian forces declared the Jews as a hostile element and subjected them to persecution. Many Jewish communities in their entirety were forced to flee with the retreating Turks as their protectors. The Bulletins de l'Alliance Israelite Universelle reported that thousands of Bulgarian Jews found refuge at the Ottoman capital of Constantinoplemarker.

Lasting impact

International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement

war caused a division in the emblems of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movementmarker which continues to this very day. Both Russia and the Ottoman Empire had signed the First Geneva Convention (1864), which made the Red Cross, a color reversal of the flag of neutral Switzerlandmarker, the sole emblem of protection for military medical personnel and facilities. However, during this war the cross instead reminded the Ottomans of the Crusades; so they elected to replace the cross with the Red Crescent instead. This ultimately became the symbol of the Movement's national societies in most Muslim countries, and was ratified as an emblem of protection by later Geneva Conventions in 1929 and again in 1949 (the current version).

Iranmarker, which neighbors both countries, considered them to be rivals, and probably considered the Red Crescent in particular to be an Ottoman symbol; except for the Red Crescent being centered and without a star, it is a color reversal of the Ottoman flag (and the modern Turkish flag). This appears to have led to their national society in the Movement being initially known as the Red Lion and Sun Society, using a red version of The Lion and Sun, a traditional Iranian symbol. After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Iran switched to the Red Crescent, but the Geneva Conventions continue to recognize the Red Lion and Sun as an emblem of protection.

The impact of this division later led to the Magen David Adom controversy, which was resolved partly through the addition of yet another emblem of protection, the Red Crystal, by Protocol III.

See also


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Further reading

Video links

130 years Liberation of Pleven (Plevna)

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