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Russian-Turkish Wars: 8-3 in Favor of Moscow

Is Turkey still dreaming of revenge?

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This post first appeared on Russia Insider

Originally appeared at Svobodnaya Pressa. Translated by Svetlana Kyrzhaly and Rhod Mackenzie

Most Westerners are unfamiliar with Russian history, aside from the Battle of Gallipoli, during World War I. This campaign, that was disastrous for Russia and the Allies, was made to look unique in its many film renditions.  The truth is that Russia and Turkey had been enemies: going back to the time of Ivan the Terrible. In all, there were twelve Russian -Turkish wars lasting for a total of fifty-seven years out of 350. Russian won eight, the Turks - three. One war ended with the opposing armies returning to their starting lines.

<figcaption>Painter Vassily Vereshagin: Russian army triumphs victory over Turkey in 1878</figcaption>
Painter Vassily Vereshagin: Russian army triumphs victory over Turkey in 1878

Although Russia has always had political as well as territorial claims on the Ottoman Empire, in most cases it didn’t start the hostilities. Eight wars were begun by the Turks. After Ataturk radically reformed the country in the 1920's, military confrontations with Russia ceased. Have the precepts of "The Father of the Turks" ("Ataturk") now been consigned to oblivion?

1768 - 1774

By starting this war, the Ottoman Empire hoped to expand its holdings in the northern Black Sea region and the Caucasus, as well as to establish a protectorate over the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. During its six year run, Russia, with 125 thousand men, pursued its traditional goal of gaining access to the Black Sea. The Grand Vizier’s forces were estimated at between 300 and 600 thousand, and included Crimean Tatars, but he was forced to capitulate after being routed. Russia won the right to station its fleet in the Black Sea, navigating through the Bosporus and Dardanelles. At the same time, the Crimean Khanate gained independence from Turkey. This provision of the Treaty caused rising chaos in the Khanate, resultinig in the annexation of Crimea to Russia in 1783.

1787 — 1791

In the mid 1780s, the Ottoman Empire initiated plans to regain its losses, mainly the Crimea. Supported by Britain, France and Prussia, it demanded the restoration of the Crimean Khanate and Georgia. When Russia refused, the Turks went to war. That was a disastrous decision, the army poorly prepared for war with a determined enemy, despite its almost three-fold superiority in manpower - 280 thousand Turks versus 100 thousand  Russians. The Turks were quickly driven out of Romania and Bessarabia, suffering a heavy defeat in Moldova,  giving the Turkish Sultan a fatal heart attack.

The peace treaty signed in 1791 gave Russia access to the Northern Black Sea, including the Crimea, in perpetuity. Russia absorbed the land between the Southern Bug and Dniester, Odessa was founded three years later, and the Ottoman Empire had to pay $7 million rubles in damages.

1877 - 1878

This war was started by Russia, as a response to Turkish atrocities in the Balkans, including a massacre that suppressed an anti-Turkish uprising in Bulgaria, killing more than 30 thousand people - mainly women, children, and the elderly. The news provoked a considerable reaction in Europe, however the governments of Britain and France merely expressed "disagreement with the methods".

In April 1877, Russia declared a war on Turkey that lasted nine months, and could be called the Balkan Slavic Spring. The Russian army of 200 thousand was supported by Serbian, Montenegrin and Romanian troops, as well as by Bulgarian, Armenian and Georgian militias.  Its key event was the five-month siege of Plevna, during which there were three unsuccessful attempts to storm the castle. Finally, the 45 thousand Turkish force tried unsuccessfully to break their encirclement and leave the city.

With the capture of his army, Suleiman Pasha was defeated. Russia’s conquests were recorded in the Treaty of Berlin in summer of 1878. They included several areas in today’s Turkey and the return to Russia of the southern part of Bessarabia.  In addition, Bulgaria’s independence was restored, and the territories of Serbia, Montenegro and Romania were enlarged.

These are the salient events in the Russian/Turkish past. Who can tell what tomorrow will bring?

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