Russo-Ottoman Wars (1787-1878)

Andrew Robarts. Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire. Editor: Gábor Ágoston and Bruce Masters. Facts on File, 2009.

Over the course Ottoman empires fought of a century the Russian and Ottoman empires fought five wars (1787-1792, 1806-1812, 1828-1829, 1854-1856, and 1877-1878) for control over the Black Sea region. (For the 1854-1856 war, see Crimean War.) While ideological factors (such as nationalism and pan-Slavism) played a role in fomenting conflict between the Ottoman and Russian empires in the 19th century, the overarching geostrategic concern that drove Russo-Ottoman conflict during this period was the Russian Empire’s military and economic goal of securing an outlet to the Mediterranean Sea. For Russia, the achievement of this goal required, first, possession of ports on the Black Sea coast and, second, navigational rights through the straits of the Bosporus and the Dardanelles.

Starting in the 1770s with the acquisition of a small foothold on the northern Black Sea littoral, the Russian Empire, by 1878, had occupied a large portion of the Black Sea coast from the delta of the Danube River in the west to the Georgian-Ottoman frontier in the east. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Ottoman Empire was capable of mounting offensive military operations against the Russian Empire. However, by 1878, the Ottoman military generally found itself in a defensive posture and was reduced to countering Russian penetration into Ottoman territory. In the Balkans, Russian war plans generally focused on bridging the Danube River and striking toward Istanbul through Ottoman Rumelia. In eastern Anatolia, Russia’s strategic goals centered on capturing key Ottoman cities in the region—Kars, Erzurum, and Trabzon.

Russo-Ottoman War of 1787-92

On August 19, 1787, the Ottoman Empire declared war on the Russian Empire in an effort to regain territorial and political control over its long-standing vassals, the Crimean Tatars. This war, following the Russo-Ottoman War of 1768-1774, resulted in the Ottoman Empire’s ultimate loss of the Crimean Khanate and the permanent establishment of a Russian political and military presence on the northern shore of the Black Sea.

The declaration of war against the Russian Empire was driven by a pro-war faction within the Ottoman government. Angered by the humiliating terms of the Treaty of Kücük Kaynarca (1774) and the lack of Ottoman response to the Russian annexation of the Crimea in 1783, this pro-war group included the religious establishment (ulema), exiled Crimean Tatar nobles, and Grand Vizier Hoca Yusuf Pasha.

For the Russians, renewed warfare with the Ottoman Empire provided an opportunity to realize long-standing imperial goals in the Black Sea region. In an ideologically driven plan known as the “Greek Project,” Russian Empress Catherine II (Catherine the Great) envisaged the reestablishment of a Byzantine state on Ottoman territory with Constantinople (the ancient name of Istanbul) as its capital. More concretely, the Russian Empire sought to improve its military and political position in the Black Sea region and to fulfill its long-term geostrategic goal of gaining a commercial and naval outlet through the straits of the Bosporus and Dardanelles. The triumphal and highly public procession in 1786 by Catherine II (1762-96) to her new Crimean lands, coupled with the pro-Orthodox Christian activities of Russian consular officials posted in the Danubian principalities of Wal-lachia and Moldavia, vassals of the Ottoman Empire, provoked this pro-war faction in Istanbul. These were the immediate causes of the Ottoman declaration of war in the summer of 1787.

The principal focus of the first armed clashes between the two empires was control over the key Ottoman fortress town of özi, on the mouth of the Dniester River. In the spring of 1788, a combined force of over 100,000 Russian soldiers attacked özi. Following a long siege, the Russians captured this fortress in December 1788, killing 9,500 Ottoman soldiers and taking 4,000 prisoners.

In 1789 the Ottoman army, under the command of Hasan Pasha, advanced north of the Danube River into the Danubian principality of Wallachia. Under the highly effective leadership of Russian General Alexander Suvo-rov, the Russian army beat the Ottoman army in two key battles in the open field at Foschani in July and on the Rimnik (Boza) River in September. Following these two losses, the Ottoman army, hampered by confusion at the command level and subject to heavy desertions, ceased to be an effective fighting force. The 1789 campaign season was one of the most disastrous in Ottoman history.

In 1790 Gazi Hasan Pasha replaced Hasan Pasha as commander of the Ottoman army in the Balkans. As a result of losses incurred during the war, the Ottoman army was now composed almost entirely of peasants and raw Anatolian recruits. The largest military encounter of the war occurred in December 1790 around the Ottoman fortress town of Ismail in the Danubian estuary. In one of the bloodiest battles of the 18th century, the Russian assault on Ismail resulted in the death of 26,000 Ottoman soldiers and civilians and the capture of 9,000 Ottoman soldiers. In that same year, the Russian Black Sea fleet forced the Ottoman navy to retreat to its ports in the Bosporus. In so doing, the Ottoman Empire effectively ceded naval control of the Black Sea to the Russians. In August 1791, on the eastern shores of the Black Sea, the Russian Empire gained control of Anapa, thereby defending its protectorate of Georgia and eliminating the Ottoman Empire’s last stronghold in this region.

British and Prussian alarm at this demonstration of Russian military strength motivated these two European powers to support the Ottoman Empire as a bulwark against Russian aggression in the Balkans. In 1791, British diplomatic pressure, coupled with Prussian war preparations against the Russian Empire, brought the Russians to the negotiating table. Following protracted negotiations, the Ottoman and Russian empires signed the Treaty of Jassy on January 9, 1792, ending the Russo-Ottoman War of 1787-92.

Russo-Ottoman War of 1806-12

The conflict between the Russians and the Ottomans that began just 14 years later must be understood within the context of the rise of Napoleonic France. Impressed with the military success of Napoleon, especially at Austerlitz in December 1805, the Ottoman Empire moved to improve its relations with France. Alarmed by developing Ottoman-French relations, the Russian Empire raised an army in southern Ukraine and resolved to occupy the Danubian principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia as a preventive measure against French influence in the Balkans.

The immediate cause of war between the Russian and Ottoman empires in November 1806 was the Ottoman removal of two pro-Russian rulers or hospo-dars in the Danubian principalities and their replacement with hospodars friendly to France. This unilateral action on the part of the Ottomans contravened agreements reached earlier between the Ottoman and Russian empires. On November 24, 1806, two Russian armies (one under General I. I. Michelson and one under General K. I. Meyendorff) moved across the Dneister River and occupied the Danubian principalities. In response, the Ottomans declared war on the Russian Empire. The only effective Ottoman resistance to this initial Russian incursion came from the Danubian notable (see ayan) Alemdar Mustafa Pasha, who, commanding an army of 60,000, repulsed a Russian attack on the key fortress of Ismail on the Danubian estuary.

While the Danubian principalities and the Balkans constituted the principal theater of conflict in the Russo-Ottoman War of 1806-12, Russian and Ottoman forces also engaged in hostilities at sea in the northern Aegean and on land in the southern Caucasus and eastern Anatolia. Under the Ottoman-Russian defensive alliances of 1799 and 1805, the Russian navy had been allowed to sail through the straits of the Bosporus and Dardanelles. In July 1807 the Russian navy defeated the Ottoman navy off the north Aegean island of Lemnos and blockaded ships attempting to enter the trait of the Dardanelles. Additionally, in the spring of 1808, the Russians defeated an Ottoman army of 30,000 commanded by Yusuf Ziya Pasha at Arpa Su in eastern Anatolia

In the spring of 1807, another Ottoman army of 30,000 soldiers crossed the Danube River with the objective of recapturing Bucharest and preventing a link between the Russian army and Serbian rebels. Succeeding in driving a wedge between the Russians and the Serbs, the Ottoman army laid siege to Bucharest in June 1807.

The Ottomans were also able to repel a Russian attempt to cross the Danube at Giurgevo, located in present-day Romania across the Bulgarian port city of Ruse. The Ottoman spring offensive of 1807 showed promise but was curtailed by two events, one external and one internal, which had a profound effect on the course and outcome of the war. On July 7, 1807, Napoleon and Czar Alexander I signed the Treaty of Tilsit. This treaty, which delineated Russian and French spheres of interest in the Balkans, made clear to the Sublime Porte that French material and diplomatic support for the Ottoman Empire, including assistance in reclaiming the Crimea, would not be forthcoming. A series of internal political crises in Istanbul from 1806-08 also severely hampered the Ottoman Empire’s military capabilities in the Balkans and the Danubian principalities. On May 29, 1807 a conservative alliance of Janissaries and ulema, threatened by a series of reform measures, including the creation of a European-style army corps (see Nizam-i Cedid), imprisoned Sultan Selim III (r. 1789-1807) and forced him to abdicate the Ottoman throne. The reign of the new Ottoman sultan, Mustafa IV (r. 1807-08), was brief. In a struggle for power in the summer of 1808, Selim III’s nephew ascended to the sultanate as Mahmud II (1808-39). These dynastic struggles, which occupied the attention of the regular Ottoman army and the armies commanded by the provincial notables in the Balkans, forced the Ottoman army to seek a defensive posture against the Russians and retreat behind its fortified Danubian line.

The Russian Empire’s occupation of the Danubian principalities sapped the Russian army’s war-making capabilities in the Balkans and, as a result, the Russians were unable to take advantage of these political crises in the Ottoman capital. Russian military doctrine of the early 19th century compelled armed forces to rely on local inhabitants for supply and provisioning. The severe socioeconomic dislocation caused by the presence of a Russian army of 80,000 in the Danubian principalities resulted in widespread looting in the countryside, out-migration of peasants, and a severe drop-off in agricultural production. Regular outbreaks of the plague also contributed to a reduction in the overall fitness of the Russian army in the Danubian principalities. Throughout the course of the war the Russian army lacked adequate supplies which, coupled with resistance offered by an Ottoman army encamped in Shumla at the base of the Balkan mountain range, left it incapable of a sustained military effort beyond the Danube River. The Russians did succeed, however, in capturing Ismail in September 1809, Ibrail (Braila) in January 1810, and Silistra, on the Ottoman side of the Danube, in August 1810.

Fearing a French invasion of the Russian Empire, Alexander I’s advisers in Saint Petersburg urged the czar to break the stalemate in the Balkans. In 1811 the Russians, seeking a speedy end to their hostilities with the Ottoman Empire, increased their military and diplomatic pressure on the Sublime Porte. Under General M. I. Kutuzov, the Russian army scored a series of military victories along the Danube at Vidin, Slobodzia, and Rusçuk (Ruse). Reducing their territorial demands from retention of the Danubian principalities to a slice of eastern Moldavia (subsequently known as Bessarabia), the Russians signed a peace agreement with the Ottomans, the Treaty of Bucharest, on May 28, 1812. By the time the treaty was ratified, Napoleon’s armies were already deep into Russian territory.

Russo-Ottoman War of 1828-29

The roots of the Russo-Ottoman War of 1828-29 war lay in the emerging national consciousness of the Orthodox Christian populations in the Ottoman Balkans and the imperial ambitions of the new Russian czar, Nicholas I, in the Black Sea region. Following the Greek War of Independence in 1822, Britain, France, and Russia signed the Treaty of London in 1827 calling for the creation of an autonomous Greek state. The Ottomans refused to agree to the formation of an independent Greek state and this, coupled with Russian demands for the restoration of its privileges in the Danubian principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia, resulted in a Russian declaration of war on the Ottoman Empire in April 1828. In declaring war at this time, Nicholas I (1825-55) sought to engage the Ottoman army before the extensive military reforms initiated by Sultan Mahmud II in 1826 could take effect. The Russian declaration of war was welcomed in Istanbul by some members of the political elite who viewed the war as an opportunity to reclaim territory lost to the Russian Empire in the Black Sea region during the preceding 60 years.

Upon the declaration of war, a Russian army of 100,000 mobilized rapidly, moving in three columns through the Danubian principalities toward Ottoman Rumelia south of the Danube River. In contrast, the Ottoman military was ill-prepared. The Janissary component of the army had been smashed by Mahmud II in the 1826 Auspicious Incident and the Ottoman navy had been virtually destroyed at the Battle of Navarino in October 1827. The Russian Empire enjoyed naval supremacy on the Black Sea and was able to avoid the supply problems that hampered its previous campaigns in the Balkans by opening up a supply route through the Bulgarian port of Burgas. The Ottoman army that took the field in 1828 under the command of Agha Hüseyin Pasha was a ragtag army composed primarily of Crimean Tatars and other irregular forces.

Meeting little Ottoman resistance, the lead column of the Russian army occupied Bucharest and Craiova, took Ibrail on June 16, and, following battles in Kustenje and Mangalia, occupied Dobruja. The second column of the Russian army crossed the Danube in June and attacked the Ottoman fortress of Silistra on the southern side of the Danube River, while the third column laid siege to a series of Ottoman fortresses along the Danube. On October 11, the Russians captured the important Danubian port city of Vidin. Following the initial Russian onslaught the Ottoman army, toward the end of the 1828 fighting season, fell back on the natural defensive line of the Balkan mountain range, regrouped around Şumla under the command of the able Ottoman commander Hüsrev Pasha, and prepared to defend this key Balkan mountain pass against an expected Russian invasion in 1829.

In 1829 the Russians opened up a second front in the war in the eastern Black Sea region. By the spring of 1829 the Russians, under the command of General Paskievitch, had occupied the Georgian port of Poti and captured Arda-han, Kars, and Bayazid in eastern Anatolia. In July 1829 the Russian army occupied Gümüşhane and the key eastern Anatolian city of Erzurum. These gains were followed by the siege of the important Black Sea port of Trabzon.

At the start of the 1829 campaign season in the Balkans, the Russian army faced an Ottoman army composed of untrained irregulars. Additionally, the Ottoman army suffered from food shortages due to a Russian naval blockade of the trait of the Dardanelles. When the Russian army moved on Şumla the Ottoman army disintegrated, abandoned its artillery on the field, and fled into the Balkan Mountains. Rather than risk encountering the remnants of the Ottoman army in the Şumla Pass, the Russian commander, General Diebitsch, led his army on an arduous nine-day march through the Balkan Mountains and emerged south of the range in August. Encountering little effective resistance, the Russian army moved rapidly on Edirne, the capital of Ottoman Rumelia. Following a three-day siege, the Russians occupied Edirne on August 22 and were now only a few days march from Istanbul. Despite the effective collapse of the Ottoman army, however, the Russian army was not in a position to move in strength on the Ottoman capital. The overextension of its supply lines and the spread of disease had taken a severe toll on the Russian troops. Mahmud II and his advisers, however, were unaware of the diminished state of the Russian army, and after a Russian demonstration in the direction of Istanbul, the Ottoman government, following the advice of French and British diplomats in Istanbul, sued for peace. The Treaty of Edirne, signed on September 14, 1829, concluded the Russian-Ottoman War of 1828-29.

Crimean War 1854-56

In general, the Crimean War followed the broad 19th century pattern of Ottoman-Russian geopolitical and ideological conflict for control over the Black Sea region and influence over Orthodox Slavic populations in the Balkan peninsula. The first phase of the war (1853) unfolded in a now familiar pattern: failed diplomatic negotiations between the Ottomans and the Russians; Russian military offensives into the Danubian principalities and eastern Anatolia; and Ottoman ability to slow the Russian advance coupled with a lack of military strength to seize the initiative. What distinguished the Crimean War from previous Ottoman-Russian conflicts, however, was the rapid internationalization of the war. While the British and French had exerted significant diplomatic pressure in Saint Petersburg and Istanbul during previous periods of Ottoman-Russian hostilities, in the Crimean War British and French troops were directly deployed in 1854 to protect the Ottoman Empire from Russian aggression. In this second phase of the war, the combined land and naval forces of the British and French allowed for forward operations on Russian soil (the Crimean peninsula). Ottoman military contributions in the second phase of the war were generally confined to support and supply operations. In the treaty that ended the war (the Treaty of Paris, signed on March 29, 1856), British and French support resulted in relatively advantageous peace terms for the Ottoman Empire.

Russo-Ottoman War of 1877-78

The Treaty of Paris, which concluded the Crimean War (1854-56), had severely reduced the Russian Empire’s influence, militarily and diplomatically, in the Black Sea region. After the introduction of sweeping domestic reforms in the 1860s, the Russian Empire, in the early 1870s, once again turned its attention to affairs in the Ottoman Balkans and the southern Caucasus. Influenced by a pan-Slavic ideology that, in its diplomatic and military worldview, envisioned Russian dominion over Orthodox populations in the Ottoman Balkans, the goals of Russian foreign policy in the early 1870s were focused on the reclamation of Russia’s previously strong position in the Black Sea region. One of the prime architects of this pan-Slavic foreign policy was Count Nikolai Ignatiev, the Russian ambassador in Istanbul.

Against this background, the events that sparked another round of warfare between the Russian and Ottoman empires were uprisings in the mid-1870s in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bulgaria. While these uprisings are generally studied within the context of the rise of 19th-century European nationalism in the Ottoman Balkans, more mundane issues also animated the Ottoman Empire’s Orthodox subjects in the Balkans. In the mid-1870s droughts, famine, and floods in Anatolia forced the Ottoman government to shift the weight of the empire’s tax burden onto the empire’s Balkan subjects. Increasingly onerous taxes, coupled with measures employed to raise revenues, promoted instability and provoked armed rebellion in the Balkans.

Events in Bulgaria in April 1876 internationalized these domestic Ottoman disturbances. Taking advantage of the rising discontent among the Bulgarian population of the Ottoman Empire the leaders of the Bulgarian national movement called for a mass uprising against Ottoman rule. While the uprising itself did not garner widespread support, in the ensuing intercommunal strife, Bulgarian rebels killed 1,000 Muslim Ottomans, including women and children. With most of their regular and professional forces involved in counter-insurgency operations in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Ottoman government relied on irregular troops (basibozuks) and armed, ill-disciplined Circassian refugees to suppress the uprising in Bulgaria. The violent suppression of the April uprising resulted in the death of an estimated 10,000-12,000 Bulgarians, including women and children, at a time when political instability in Istanbul deflected central government attention away from affairs in the Balkans. In May 1876 Sultan Abdülaziz (r. 1861-76) was deposed; his successor, the mentally unstable Murad V (r. 1876), was replaced by Sultan Abdülhamid II (r. 1876-1909) three months later, in August 1876. The Sublime Porte was thus unprepared to cope with the public reaction in Great Britain and Russia to the violent suppression of the April uprising in Bulgaria (reported in the foreign press as the “Bulgarian atrocities”). Reports of these atrocities in British newspapers shocked and horrified the British public and resulted in a shift in British public opinion against the Ottoman Empire. This shift in public opinion tempered Britain’s traditionally pro-Ottoman foreign policy. In Russia, the Bulgarian atrocities, resonating widely among the educated segment of Russian society, provoked calls for war against the Ottoman Empire and the liberation of the Ottoman Empire’s Orthodox populations in the Balkans.

In an effort to defuse the growing crisis in the Balkans, European representatives assembled for diplomatic talks in Istanbul in December 1876. Pre-empting discussions focused on the socioeconomic condition of the Ottoman Empire’s Christian populations, Sultan Abdül-hamid II, during the course of the conference, issued a constitution. The first of its kind in Ottoman history, the 1876 constitution called for the full equality of all Ottoman subjects regardless of religion. From the Ottoman perspective, the 1876 constitution satisfied demands made to the Sublime Porte concerning its Orthodox Christian subjects in the Balkans. Therefore, all further demands made at the conference in reference to this population were rejected by the Ottomans.

In early 1878, the Russian Empire, believing that all avenues for a peaceful and diplomatic resolution to the Balkan crisis had been exhausted, initiated preparations for another round of war against the Ottoman Empire. These efforts included the negotiation of Austrian neutrality and the extraction of a Romanian guarantee for the safe passage of Russian troops through Romanian territory. Throughout the course of the ensuing Russo-Ottoman war, the French and Prussians would remain neutral. While British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli argued for British intervention on the side of the Ottomans, anti-Ottoman sentiment prevailed in the British Parliament. It was only toward the end of the war, with Russian troops threatening Istanbul, that the British threw their support behind the Ottomans.

On April 24, 1877 the Russian army, operating out of its recently established headquarters in Kishniev, Bessara-bia, crossed the Pruth River into Romania and declared war on the Ottoman Empire. The military course of the war was very much a reprise of the Russo-Ottoman War of 1828-29. Expecting an easy victory, Russian war planning focused on sending the bulk of the Russian army across the central Balkan Mountains and, upon capturing Sofia, moving down the well-supplied Maritsa River valley to Edirne. In late June 1877 the Russian army bridged the Danube at Sistova. An advanced detachment, under the command of General Gurko, took Turnovo on July 7 and, despite heavy Ottoman resistance, secured the strategic Shipka Pass over the Balkan Mountains on July 19. The main Russian army, now joined by Bulgarian and Romanian fighters, moved south from the Danube toward the Shipka Pass. To remove a potential threat to Russian supply lines, the main Russian army attacked the Ottoman fortress town of Pleven, but here the Russian advance bogged down. Multiple Russian attacks on the fortress were repulsed by Ottoman troops under the capable command of Osman Pasha. The resistance at Pleven forced the Russian high command to alter its military plan and undertake a lengthy siege of the fortress. The siege of Pleven would last for five months and at its height involved 120,000 troops (84,000 Russian, 36,000 Ottoman).

In April 1877 the Russian army moved across the Ottoman-Russian border in eastern Anatolia. In May the Russians captured Ardahan and in June they took Baya-zid. In November 1877, following a five-month siege, the key Ottoman city of Kars fell to the Russians, and in late January 1878 the Russians occupied Erzurum. The deterioration of Ottoman authority in eastern Anatolia resulted in a significant outbreak of intercommunal violence. As a result, during and after the fighting, 60,000-70,000 Muslim refugees left Russian territory in the southern Caucasus and resettled in the Ottoman Empire. Conversely, 25,000 Ottoman Armenians sought refuge in Russian territory.

In late November, 1877, Pleven fell to the Russians. Following up on this victory, the Russian army crossed the Balkan Mountains and took Sofia on January 4, 1878. Moving down the Maritsa River valley, the Russians captured Plovdiv on January 17 and Edirne on January 20. The Russian army was now in a position to seriously threaten Istanbul and a forward move by the Russians from Edirne toward the Ottoman capital provoked a British response in the form of a strong naval demonstration on the Sea of Marmara. Although exhausted, racked by disease, and as low on supplies as they had been in 1829, the Russian army, it was thought, might be in a position to challenge for Istanbul. The British presence around the Ottoman capital convinced the Russians instead to seek an armistice with the Ottomans. Conducted at the Russian encampment in San Stefano (Yeşilköy) and led by Count Ignatiev, the Russian-Ottoman armistice talks resulted in a bilateral treaty. Signed on March 3, 1878, this treaty, known as the Treaty of San Stefano, officially ended the Russo-Ottoman War of 1877-78. The provisions of the treaty, however, were later amended during the Congress of Berlin in 1878.

The terms imposed on the Ottoman Empire in the Treaty of San Stefano were harsh. The treaty called for the creation of an autonomous Greater Bulgaria under the protection of the Russian Empire. As it was envisioned, this Greater Bulgaria was to have stretched east-west from the Vardar and Morava river valleys in Macedonia and southern Serbia to the Black Sea coast and north-south from the Danube to the Aegean coast (except for Salonika). Bosnia-Herzegovina was granted autonomy. Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro were recognized as independent states and their borders were drawn to maximize Ottoman territorial losses. Bessarabia was returned to Russia. In eastern Anatolia, the Russian Empire took direct possession of Kars, Ardahan, Batumi, and Dogubayazit.

The terms of the Treaty of San Stefano elicited a swift reaction from Great Britain and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Pre-war negotiations with the Russians had led the Austrians to believe that they would receive Bosnia-Herzegovina in return for their neutrality. The British were worried that the creation of a Greater Bulgaria as a Russian protectorate would result in the construction of a Russian navy in the north Aegean (most likely at the port of Kavalla). This could disrupt the balance of naval power in the eastern Mediterranean. Couching their protests in diplomatic terms, the British and Austrians argued that diplomatic protocol, in so far as the Treaty of San Stefano fundamentally altered the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1856), required further consultations with the European powers over the terms of the Russo-Ottoman armistice. In these demands, the British and Austrians were supported by the powerful and influential German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Able to defeat the Ottomans militarily, but unable to challenge Britain, Austria, and Germany diplomatically, the Russians agreed to participate in these consultations.

From June 13 to July 13, 1878, representatives of the major European powers convened in Berlin to renegotiate the Treaty of San Stefano. Despite working against the interests of the Russian Empire, the revised treaty, known as the Treaty of Berlin, severely reduced the Ottoman Empire’s territorial possessions in the Balkans. The principal changes in the Treaty of Berlin concerned Bulgaria and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The idea of a Greater Bulgaria was dismissed and in its place Bulgaria was partitioned three ways. Northern Bulgaria—from the Balkan Mountains to the Danube River—was declared an autonomous principality. Central Bulgaria (Eastern Rumelia)—from the Balkan Mountains to the Rhodope Mountains—was given limited autonomy within the political framework of the Ottoman Empire. The southern parts of Rumelia—south of the Rhodope Mountains—remained an integral part of the Ottoman Empire. The autonomous Bulgarian principality (called “Berlin” Bulgaria) represented only 37.5 percent of the territory of Greater Bulgaria (“San Stefano” Bulgaria). Bosnia-Herzegovina was placed under the protection of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The independence of Serbia, Romania, and Montenegro was recognized. Serbia was given possession of the Morava River valley (around Pirot and Vranya) in what had been part of Greater Bulgaria. Dobruja, around the Danubian estuary, was attached to independent Romania.

The territorial and political realignment of the Balkans that resulted from the Russo-Ottoman War of 1877-78 formed the basis for future irredentist claims on the part of newly independent Balkan states. Few of the newly constituted Balkan nation-states were wholly satisfied with postwar territorial arrangements and maintained designs, along ethnic-national lines, on territories outside their internationally recognized borders. Conflicts resulting from this irredentism would destabilize the Balkan Peninsula in the first and second decades of the 20th century.

In the Treaty of Berlin, the Russian Empire was given Southern Bessarabia and retained Batumi, Arda-han, and Kars. Additionally, Russia was awarded a large war indemnity. According to the Treaty of Berlin, the Ottomans were required to pay the Russians more than 800 million French francs ($340 million in current U.S. dollars) in war damages. Russian claims on Ottoman revenue in the ensuing years hampered Ottoman investments and reduced Ottoman economic prosperity. For the Ottomans, the Treaty of Berlin resulted in the loss of 8 percent of the empire’s most productive territory and the loss of 20 percent of the empire’s total population (or 4.5 million subjects). Additionally, the war and the territorial alterations imposed at the Treaty of Berlin resulted in an in-migration of an estimated 500,000-600,000 Muslim refugees from the Ottoman Empire’s former Balkan possessions. The loss of the Orthodox Christian populations in the Balkans, coupled with the influx of Muslim refugees from the Balkans and the Russian Empire, significantly altered the demographics of the Ottoman Empire. By the early 1880s, Muslim subjects accounted for roughly 75 percent of the Ottoman Empire’s population.