The civilized world was horrified at the atrocities as they gradually became known, and England particularly was stirred by the speeches and writings of Mr. Gladstone.
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.
Fortunately for Serbia, an event had meanwhile taken place which was to result in her salvation. Bulgaria had not been concerned in the general rising of the Slavs of the Ottoman Empire, having been satisfied with the ecclesiastical privileges obtained in 1870 and the reforms introduced by Midhat Pacha. But a small outbreak at Batak, fomented by outsiders, caused the Government to send bands of Bashi-Bazouks * into the country, all the regular troops being engaged against the rebels elsewhere. During the month of May the Bashi-Bazouks massacred Christians to a number estimated from twelve thousand to twenty-five thousand and committed wanton outrages upon the population. The civilized world was horrified at the atrocities as they gradually became known, and England particularly was stirred by the speeches and writings of Mr. Gladstone.
[* The Bashi-Bazouks were irregulars drafted from the heart of Asia Minor.]
When, therefore, in August, 1876, Serbia appealed to the Powers to mediate with the Turks, and the Powers referred her petition to Great Britain as the Government whose advice the Porte was most likely to take, Disraeli did not dare openly to refuse to act as mediator. In September he proposed an armistice of six weeks, the maintenance of the status quo ante helium in Servia, and a certain amount of administrative independence for Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Bulgaria. But Young Turkey was determined to settle the affairs of the empire without the tutelage of Europe. On August 31st the leaders of the party deposed Amurath V, who was an imbecile, and elevated in his stead Abdul-Hamid II, who, though ignorant and inexperienced, was energetic and full of zeal for the defense of his faith. Instead of answering the proposal of Great Britain, the new Government issued an extraordinary edict of reform, which was to change Turkey into a modern constitutional State. There was to be a responsible ministry, an assembly of two chambers, freedom of speech and of the press, permanent judges, and compulsory education. The Turkish Government, moreover, demanded that the armistice should be extended to six months, and that during that time the revolted provinces, as well as Servia and Montenegro, should receive no aid from without. Its apparent design was to employ the interval in improving its own forces.
The patience of the Czar was now exhausted. Alexander II was himself a lover of peace, but the bureaucrats who surrounded him were strong for war with Turkey, and they were supported by the Russian people, who demanded the protection of their coreligionists in the Ottoman Empire. In the previous July, Alexander had met Francis Joseph at Reichstadt, where, it is generally assumed, he obtained the consent of the latter to Russian intervention in case Turkey should refuse the demands of the Powers, provided that, in the event of Bulgaria’s liberation, Bosnia and Herzegovina should be given to Austria. At all events Austria appeared to take less interest in the war after the interview. The Czar was also sure of the neutrality of Germany, for Bismarck was known to hold the opinion which he afterward avowed, that the Eastern Question was not worth to Germany the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier. On October 15th, Alexander sent General Ignatieff to Constantinople with full powers to agree upon the following terms:
- An armistice of six weeks without reserve;
- autonomy for Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Bulgaria;
- a guarantee of their rights by Europe.
The Turks procrastinated, and at the same time pushed the war in Serbia so vigorously that by October 30th the road to Belgrade was entirely open to them. The moment the news reached Ignatieff he sent in the Russian ultimatum — the acceptance of the armistice in forty-eight hours or war. The Porte, overawed, immediately yielded, and the armistice began November 2d.
The action of the Czar aroused the suspicions of English statesmen, notwithstanding that Alexander had assured Lord Loftus, the British ambassador, that Russia desired no conquest or territorial aggrandizement. Gladstone fell from favor, and Disraeli once more became popular. On November 9th, at the Lord Mayor’s banquet, Disraeli declared that if a war broke out, no country was better prepared for it than England, and that she would not hesitate to undertake it. But Lord Derby, then Minister for Foreign Affairs, who accepted the friendly words of Alexander in good faith, had on November 4th proposed the holding of a conference at Constantinople to consider the Eastern Question; and the proposition was accepted by all the Powers. Lord Salisbury was chosen as the delegate of England, and on his way to the Turkish capital he stopped at Berlin, where he represented to Bismarck that it was advisable to give the Porte more time to carry out its reforms, and that, if it should afterward become necessary to employ coercive measures, they should be undertaken by Europe, and not alone by Russia. Lord Salisbury, however, received little comfort from the German Chancellor. The preliminary sessions of the conference were held on December 11th to 22nd, and were marked by the mutual opposition of the British and Russian representatives. On December 24th the Ottoman Porte was invited to send a delegate to sit at the formal sessions, which were about to be occupied with the conditions agreed upon during the preliminary meetings. These conditions included an increase of territory for Serbia and Montenegro, and autonomy for Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Bulgaria, which were to enjoy the right to have a national militia, and to use the national language in official acts, and were to be occupied by Belgian troops until the accomplishment of reforms under an international commission.
During the discussions the conditions underwent certain modifications favorable to Turkey, and as thus modified they were, on January 15, 1877, formally presented to the Porte. But, on December 23rd preceding, the new Constitution of Turkey had been proclaimed with elaborate ceremonies, and when the Powers presented their conditions the Turkish Government answered that it was impossible to accept them,
- because they were a menace to the independence of the Sultan,
- because they were in violation of the Treaty of Paris,
- and because they were contrary to the new constitution.
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