The Ottoman Porte hastened to solicit the collective mediation of the great Powers.
Continuing The Berlin Congress of 1878,
our selection from The Eastern Question: A Study in Diplomacy by Stephen P.H. Duggan published in 1902. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in six easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in The Berlin Congress of 1878.
The delegates of the Powers then quitted Constantinople on January 20th, and Abdul-Hamid II, as if to show the worthlessness of his constitutional reforms, on February 5th dismissed and disgraced the man who had instigated them — Midhat Pacha. On January 31st Gortschakoff invited the Powers to make known what measures they intended to employ to bring the Porte to reason, and he let it be understood that the Czar was resolved to act alone, if necessary. At the end of February General Ignatieff was sent to the various European capitals to request that, if these Powers would not unite with Russia in requiring the Porte to accept the program which it had rejected, they would permit Russia to proceed alone. The General was well received at all the capitals except London. There Lord Derby insisted upon one more concerted effort to bring Turkey to terms. A conference was opened at London, with representatives of all the great Powers present; and on March 31st they agreed to a protocol, the principal features of which were a demand that the Porte should really put into execution the reforms so often promised, and a statement to the effect that the Powers proposed, through their representatives at Constantinople and their consuls in the various localities, to watch carefully how the reforms were applied. The London protocol was presented to the Sultan on April 3d, and he transmitted it to his make-believe Parliament, by which it was rejected April 9th. The Porte notified the Powers two days later that Turkey was making its own reforms, and as an independent State could not submit to outside interference. April 16th the Czar concluded a convention with Romania for unobstructed passage through her territory; and on the 24th of the month he proclaimed war against Turkey, declaring that he did so without any ambitious designs, and merely for the purpose of succoring the oppressed Christians of the Ottoman Empire. The Porte invoked Article VIII of the Treaty of Paris, which provided that in case of a conflict between Turkey and another State, the great Powers should try their friendly mediation; but the good old days of 1856 were gone. Every Power except England soon declared its neutrality, and England was by no means a unit in supporting the bellicose policy of Disraeli. England also finally declared her neutrality, April 30, 1877, on condition that the Czar should not interfere with Egypt or the Suez Canal, and above all should not occupy Constantinople. Gortschakoff assented to these conditions, with the reservation that the exigencies of war might demand the temporary occupation of the city. Lord Derby replied that in case of such occupation England would consider herself free to take whatever measures of precaution might seem to be necessary.
Immediately after the declaration of war, the Russian troops crossed the Turkish frontier both in Europe and in Asia, but the bad roads and high waters and the poor administration of the military service prevented their reaching the Danube till the end of June. Once across the river they forced the passages of the Balkans, and by the end of July they occupied Hermanli, only two days’ march from Adrianople. In Asia they were equally successful, and in May the fortress of Kars, the key to the Turkish Asiatic dominions, was besieged. These rapid achievements astonished Europe and caused the greatest apprehension at London and Vienna. Disraeli ordered the English fleet to Besika Bay, and Andrassy began the mobilization of the Austrian troops. But the tide of war soon changed. Osman Pacha, the Turkish commander, intrenched himself at Plevna in front of the main body of the Russian army and stopped all further advance; Suleiman Pacha drove the right wing of the Russian army back across the Balkans, and in Asia the Russians were compelled to raise the siege of Kars and beat a general retreat. By the opening of November the Turks apparently were masters of the situation. But the Russians were goaded by these blows into putting forth the greatest exertions. Todleben, the hero of Sebastopol, was sent to supervise the siege of Plevna. Romania, which had concluded on May 14th an offensive and defensive alliance with Russia, hurried forward an army corps which did excellent service, and Servia broke the peace that she had signed on March 1st, and put her armies in motion. The resources of the Turks were overtaxed, and the fortunes of war once more shifted. Kars was taken in Asia; Suleiman Pacha was defeated in Bulgaria, and finally on December 10th, after one of the most heroic defenses known in history, Plevna surrendered to Todleben. The Russians immediately pushed across the Balkans, massed the main army at Adrianople, and established two posts on the Sea of Marmora. Constantinople was at their mercy.
The Ottoman Porte hastened to solicit the collective mediation of the great Powers. But this was unattainable without the concurrence of Germany, and Bismarck would not interfere. On January 3, 1878, the Porte therefore agreed to treat with Russia alone. Meanwhile all the old-time distrust of Russia had revived in England, and the war-party had steadily been gaining ground. Disraeli maintained that the affairs of the Orient could not be settled without the agreement of the signatories of the treaties of 1856 and 1871. The Russians worked to gain time, and prolonged negotiations with the Porte till their troops were at the very gates of Constantinople. On January 30th an armistice and preliminaries of peace were signed at Adrianople. When the Powers inquired as to the terms of the preliminaries, Gortschakoff replied that their basis was the in dependence of Romania and Servia, an increase of territory for Montenegro, autonomy for Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Bulgaria, and the payment of a war indemnity to Russia. It was not improbable that the terms thus vaguely announced would be hardened in the definitive treaty. So at least thought Andrassy and Beaconsfield. *
[* Disraeli had been made Earl of Beaconsfield by Queen Victoria. – jl]
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