Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878 had its origins in
a rise in nationalism in the Balkans as well as in the Russian goal of
recovering territorial losses it had suffered during the Crimean War, reestablishing itself in the
Sea and following the political movement attempting to
free Balkan nations from the Ottoman
Empire. As a result of the war, the principalities of
Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, each of which had had de facto
sovereignty for some time, formally proclaimed independence from
the Ottoman Empire.
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
Northern Dobrudja which was given to
Romania) and the region of Sofia, which
became the new state's capital. The Congress of Berlin also allowed Austria-Hungary to occupy Bosnia and
Herzegovina and the United Kingdom to take over Cyprus, while the
Russian Empire annexed Southern Bessarabia and the Kars
Treatment of Christians in the Ottoman empire
Article 9 of the Paris Peace
, 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
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 Constanţa and Varna, which cost
a great deal in money and in civil disorder to the Ottoman
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
. Although both sides suffered, about 10,000 Maronites were
massacred at the hands of the Druzes.
events in Lebanon stirred the Muslim population of Damascus 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
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
Cretan 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 Greece.
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 Arkadiou 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.
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 Britain 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
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
. 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'
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
ended the Crimean War with minimal territorial losses, but was
forced to destroy its Black Sea
Fleet and Sevastopol fortifications.
prestige was damaged, and for many years revenge for the Crimean
war became the main goal of Russian foreign policy.
not easy however — the Paris
Peace Treaty included guarantees of Ottoman territorial
integrity by Great Britain, France and
Austria; only Prussia remained
friendly to Russia.
It was on alliance with Prussia and its chancellor Bismarck
that the newly appointed Russian
, depended. Russia consistently supported Prussia in her
wars with Denmark , Austria
. In March 1871, using the crushing French
defeat and the support of a grateful Germany, Russia achieved international recognition of its
earlier denouncement of Article XI of the Paris Peace Treaty, thus enabling it
to revive the Black Sea
Other clauses of the Paris Peace
, 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
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,
Bosnia its priority.
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.
, ruled by the
ambitious Prince Nikola
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
declared war on the Ottoman empire in 1876.
Balkan crisis of 1875–1876
onward the Ottoman government was faced with a period of drought
and famine in Anatolia, leading to widespread misery and
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
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
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
from the Caucasus
or Crimean Tatar
refugees expelled during the
. 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
the bashi-bazouks' atrocities filtered to the outside world by way
of American-run Robert College located in Constantinople.
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
Constantinople 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,
'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
to report on the massacre stories firsthand.
toured the stricken regions of the Bulgarian uprising, accompanied
unofficially by Eugene Schuyler, a member of the American legation
in Constantinople, 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'
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
Bulgarian Horror and the Question of the East
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
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
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,
, led by Turgenev
denied the importance of religion and believed that Russian goals
should not be defense of Orthodoxy but liberation of
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
- 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
June 30, 1876, Serbia, followed by
Montenegro, 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 Bessarabia lost by Russia during the Crimean War, and Russian annexation of the port
of Batumi on the east
coast of the Black
Sea. 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.
resolve the crisis, on December 11, 1876, a conference of the Great
Powers was opened in Constantinople (to which the Turks were not invited).
compromise solution was negotiated, granting autonomy to Bulgaria, 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
Russia declared war on the
Ottomans on 24 April, 1877.
The Prussian king Frederick II
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
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
, which was under formal Turkish rule, declared its
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
river. They also possessed superior
arms, including new British and American-made rifles and
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
Ottoman military command in Constantinople made poor assumptions of Russian intentions.
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
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, Vidin.
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).
setbacks in July (at Pleven and Stara Zagora), the Russian military command realized it did not
have the reserves to keep the offensive going and switched to a
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
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.
a small Russian unit crossed the Danube close to the delta, at
Galaţi, and marched
towards Ruschuk, now known as Ruse.
made the Ottomans even more confident that the big Russian force
would come right through the middle of the Ottoman
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 Svishtov.
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.
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,
Bulgaria and cover the army's western flank; and the Advance
Detachment under Count Joseph Vladimirovich Gourko,
which was assigned to quickly move via Veliko Tarnovo and penetrate the Balkan Mountains, the most significant barrier between the Danube
Responding to the successful Russian
crossing of the Danube, the Ottoman high command in Constantinople ordered Osman Nuri
Paşa/Pasha to advance west from Vidin occupy the
fortress of Nikopol, just west of the Russian crossing.
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 Pleven, which he
occupied with a force of approximately 15,000 on 19 July
The Russians, approximately 9,000 under the command
of General Schilder-Schuldner, reached Plevna early in the morning.
began the Siege of
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
orders to stay fortified in Pleven, and so he did not leave that
Gazi Osman Pasha
Turkish capitulation at Nikopol
Russia had no more troops to throw against Plevna, so the Russians
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
, aided by the Russian general
Pavel Dmitrievich Zotov and the Romanian general Alexandru
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.
Pleven (July–December 1877) turned to victory only after
Russian and Romanian forces cut off all supply routes to the
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
point Serbia, 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
command was in hands of general Kosta
, 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
Serbia and Montenegro from coming into contact, and which had designs to
spread Austria-Hungary's influence through the area.
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 Palanka), Pirot, Niš and Vranje.
under Field Marshal Joseph Vladimirovich Gourko
succeeded in capturing the passes at the Stara Planina mountain, which were crucial for
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"
Next, both sides fought a series of battles for Shipka Pass
. Gourko made several
attacks on the Pass 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.
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 Bulgarian 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
, which they still hold.
The Caucasian Front
Stationed in the Caucasus
was a Russian force composed of
approximately 75,000 men under the command of Grand Duke Michael
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 British artillery that Muhtar Pasha had in his
Many of the Russian commanders under Michael Nikolaevich were of
descent including generals
, Mikhail Loris-Melikov
and Arshak Ter-Ghukasov.
the forces under Lieutenant-general Ter-Ghukasov,
stationed near Yerevan, who began the first assault into Ottoman territory
by capturing the town of Bayazid on April 27, 1877. Capitalizing on
Ter-Ghukasov's victory in Bayazid, Russian forces advanced further,
taking the region of Ardahan on May 17; Russian units also
besieged the city of Kars in the final
week of May although Turkish reinforcements lifted the siege and
War conditions in western Armenia
reciprocated against the
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
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
Intervention by the Great Powers
pressure from the British, Russia accepted the truce offered by
Ottoman Empire on January 31, 1878, but continued to move towards
British sent a fleet of battleships to intimidate Russia from
entering the city, and Russian forces stopped at San Stefano. 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 Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, and the autonomy of Bulgaria.
Alarmed by the extension of Russian power into the Balkans, the
later forced modifications
of the treaty in the Congress of
. 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
), though with
different governors; and the Macedonian region, originally part of
Bulgaria under San Stefano, would return to direct Ottoman
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 Constantinople.
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
war caused a division in the
of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent
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 Switzerland, 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
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
in 1929 and
again in 1949 (the current version).
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
This appears to have led to their national
society in the Movement being initially known as the Red Lion and Sun Society
, using a
of The Lion and
, 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
, by Protocol III
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130 years Liberation of Pleven (Plevna)