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Russian-Ottoman Relations Online, Part 4:
The End of the Empires, 1857-1914


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Hrsg. v. Maurits van den Boogert


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Brill Academic Publishers

Russian-Ottoman Relations 4: The End of the Empires, 1857-1914

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Verlagsinformation :: Publisher's information

During the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, the balance of power between Russia and the Ottoman Empire was constantly monitored in Western Europe, where several powers had designs of their own on some of the Ottoman territories. In Germany and France, in particular, all kinds of accounts, opinions, and plans were published that were influenced by, or aimed to influence, Russian-Ottoman relations. They include publications of relevant government documents, diplomatic reports, travel accounts that provided new details about hitherto relatively unknown regions, and fiercely political (and polemical) tracts and pamphlets designed to rally public support for one power or the other.


In the thirteenth century large swathes of Asia were overrun by the Mongols, but new political entities arose from the ashes. Moscovy became independent of the Golden Horde around 1480, and by building and expanding their central power, the Moscovite princes soon became the dominant rulers in the region. Until the sixteenth century Russian territorial expansion concentrated on the northern borders, where Sweden was the principal opponent. In this period the nobility still held a powerful position, and the Tsar was not yet an autocratic ruler. The Mongol invasion of Anatolia to the south of Russia had only temporarily reversed the position of the Ottomans as the dominant power in Asia Minor. Soon the Turks were expanding their empire into the Balkans in the West, later spreading eastward into the traditional heartlands of Islam. The sultan ruled his empire more or less autocratically, his powers constrained only by the precepts of Islamic law. Initially, Russia and the Ottoman Empire were not direct neighbors, but the two empires soon edged closer to each other.

In 1569 the first Ottoman-Russian war broke out after an army of the Ottoman Sultan Selim III marched on Astrakhan. Although the siege was broken by a Russian relief army and the Ottomans withdrew, the city was partially razed. Two years later Moscow suffered the same fate at the hands of Crimean Tatars, whose Khanate was a vassal of the Ottoman Empire. However, their ambitions to expand northward were frustrated by the Russians at the Battle of Molodi in 1572. Though Ottoman aspirations for expansion to the north were checked at an early stage, Russian designs on territorial gains at the Ottomans' expense only became stronger. Wars and the subsequent redefinition of borders would become a central theme in Russian-Ottoman relations until the twentieth century.

Part 1: The Origins, 1600-1800

By the seventeenth century, the Ottomans had extended their territorial dominance both deep into the Balkans and north of the Black Sea, where the Crimean Khanate acknowledged the Sultan's sovereignty. In this period, Russia became an increasingly important factor in European and Middle Eastern politics. The first Ottoman expedition against Russia took place in 1569. In the centuries that followed, the pace of conflicts and collisions increased dramatically. Between 1677 and 1681, there was Russian-Ottoman rivalry over the Ukraine. Four years later, the Tsar joined the Holy League in its war against the sultan, while in 1689 the Russians attacked the Crimea. Several treaties were concluded between these rival powers, such as the peace of 1700, in the wake of Karlowitz, and that of 1713, following the Ottomans' victory over the army of Tsar Peter I at the Battle of the Pruth two years earlier.

Relations between the Ottoman Empire and Russia were no less conflictual in the eighteenth century: They were at war in 1736-39, 1768-74, and 1787. In the infamous Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca of 1774, the Ottomans were forced to acknowledge the independence of the Crimea (under Russian influence) and of the northern coasts of the Black Sea. It was not until the Treaty of Jassy in 1792 that peaceful relations between the Ottomans and the Russians were restored.

Part 2: Shifts in the Balance of Power, 1800-1853

The issue of the protection of Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire forms a clear link between the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca and the Crimean War, which started in 1854. Ever since the earliest French-Ottoman diplomatic relations in the 16th century, France assumed the role of champion of Catholicism, claiming the right to intervene with the Ottoman government on behalf of both foreign and Ottoman Catholics. At the end of the 18th century Russia began to claim similar rights to protect the Orthodox subjects of the sultan. Contrary to popular belief these claims were not based on treaties, but on interpretations of dubious translations of the original texts.

Custody over the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was the object of continuous disputes between the Orthodox and Catholic clergy in Palestine. The self-proclaimed diplomatic representatives of the parties, Russia and France were also involved in these conflicts. After both sides had turned to the sultan, he ruled in favor of the Catholics in 1853. The Tsar subsequently attempted to obtain a treaty allowing the Russians to intervene on the Orthodox' behalf whenever they considered it necessary. The sultan rejected the treaty, however, partly because of the objections of the British and French ambassadors in Istanbul. The Tsar subsequently marched his troops into the Ottoman principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, using the sultan's inadequate resolution of the disputes in Palestine as a pretext.

This collection includes discussions of diplomatic treaties like those of Bucharest of 1812 and Adrianople (Edirne) of 1829; the commercial and military issue of access to the Black Sea; eye-witness accounts from war theaters; and plans for, and ideas about, future confrontations. The fact that many different perspectives are represented in this collection makes it extra attractive.

Part 3: The Crimean War 1853-1856

The Crimean War was fought between Russia on one side, and Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire, on the other. The principal battlefield was the Crimean peninsula in the BlackSea, but the ramifications were widespread.

In this collection Russian views are represented by such publications as no. 685 by Anatole Demidov (1812-1870), traveler and patron of the arts; the discussion on the peace by former diplomat Tchihatchef; and the accounts of the Russian veteran, Piotr Andreevich Viazemsky (1792-1878). The opinions of two Turkish officers, Rustem Effendi and Seid Bey, and the views on the Crimean War of the Algerian poet, Muhammad b. Ismail (1820-1870) are also included. On the British side the influential works of the virulently anti-Russian diplomat, David Urquhart (1805-1877), are well-represented, as well as more moderate publications.

Some of these sources were published anonymously at the time, or under pseudonyms. This happened in the case of, amongst others, Pictures from the Battlefields by "the roving Englishman". The author was the British journalist, Eustace Clare Grenville Murray (1824-1881), the illegitimate son of Richard Grenville, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. Other works were published anonymously by William Martin Leake (1777-1860), the famous traveler, antiquarian and topographer, whose sympathies for the Greeks were widely shared among the British.

Part 4: The End of the Empires, 1857-1914

The position of the Ottoman Empire continued to decline during the second half of the nineteenth century. Succumbing to foreign pressure, the sultan had decreed far-reaching reforms in favor of his non-Muslim subjects in 1856. Less than two decades later the Ottoman Empire went bankrupt and had to allow foreign bankers to supervise its finances. The Ottomans found themselves increasingly marginalized in the debate on the Eastern Question of whether the Ottoman Empire should be preserved in some form or divided.

The material in the final part of this IDC series is again highly diverse and multi-faceted. Some works focus on trade, while others portray individual Ottoman or Russian statesmen. Some are personal accounts, whereas others are polemical or propagandistic. The collection is a veritable treasure trove of original sources, personal views, military analyses and national(istic) policy statements, which have never before been published together.

Brill Series: The Eastern Question

Russian Ottoman Relations is part of the Brill Series The Eastern Question. The Brill series The Eastern Question consists of collections of unique primary sources about the diplomatic, military, economic, and cultural relations between Europe and the Middle East ranging from the seventeenth century to the early twentieth century. The sub-series "Travels" offers a wide range of printed Western travelogues about the Ottoman Empire, with individual publications concerning Russian and other European travelers, as well as about Eurasia, the area most affected by the Russian ambitions. The sub-series "Russian-Ottoman Relations" covers the period 1600-1900 in four collections, each of which offers rare printed works in Western languages.

One of these collections is devoted to the Crimean War (1854-1856), a particularly dramatic episode in the history of both Europe and the Middle East. Finally, the sub-series "Russian Intelligence" offers material which has never been published before. The first collection, comprising printed secret files, focuses on the final period of the Eastern Question, while the second, offering unique archival material, covers the entire earlier period. These Brill publications offer new material on the history of the Middle East, Russia, and Europe, which no modern historian can afford to ignore.

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