Category Archives: History of Turkey

The Emperor Constantine (known as ‘the Great’)

The statue of Constantine before York Minster /

The statue of Constantine before York Minster /

Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus was born around 274 AD. His was a patrician family in Rome and his father was Constantius I who died in the year 306, when our subject was thirty-two years old. He should have succeeded immediately, because the army declared him emperor, but there were, as always, complications; several other patricians rather thought they should rule, among them Licinius. Constantine showed consummate skill in staying alive, at the same time ‘removing’ the competition according to the ancient rules of the game. Continue reading

Russians versus the Japanese (1904) & the Turks (4 times in the 19th century)

Marshal Kutuzov /

Marshal Kutuzov /

The fight between the Japanese and Russia was (and is) significant because it was all about control of both Manchuria and Korea. The Japanese launched an unexpected and unheralded assault on Russian warships anchored in their Manchurian naval base at Port Arthur. Pearl Harbor 37 years later was a sequel (Port Arthur now has another name of course).

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A brief history of Turkey

Turkey is one of those countries where people are proud of being Asian, and at the same time dream of becoming European. Geographically the division exists; the Asian and European parts are separated by the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, and that wretched channel of the Dardanelles that has always caused such trouble and bloodshed.

The smaller, European part is bounded by Bulgaria and Greece. The very much larger Asian sector comprises the whole of Asia Minor, known as Anatolia. The Black Sea is to the north, Georgia, Armenia and Iran to the east, Iraq and Syria on the south, and coasts on both the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas: surrounded by big trouble as you can see. Continue reading

Great War Commanders: General Allenby

Allenby, who appears played by Jack Hawkins in the film Laurence of Arabia / en

Allenby, who appears played by Jack Hawkins in the film Laurence of Arabia / en

Allenby’s chief claim to fame, though he would not have liked my reminding him of it, was that for a time he was Laurence of Arabia’s commanding officer. This was not easy for anyone, and Edward Allenby’s notoriously bad temper was always on a short fuse: as a Field Marshall he was known throughout the ranks as ‘The Bull’ on account of his great size and violent nature. Continue reading

Laurence of Arabia (article revised 2012)

The real Laurence, later he wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom' /

The real Laurence, later he wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ /

Thomas Edward Laurence was born in 1888, the son of Thomas Chapman, a member of a distinguished Anglo-Irish family. Thomas had eloped with his daughter’s governess, and settled in Oxford after adopting the name of Laurence. His son gained a First Class Degree in History at the University, and became an enthusiastic archaeologist wen he undertook to make excavations in Syria and Mesopotamia between 1910 and 1914. He learned desert lore from the many Arab friends he made on these scientific expeditions. Continue reading

What was that Eastern Question?

Turkey was known by the unfriendly sobriquet of ‘The Sick Man of Europe’ during most of the 19th century; the Eastern Question is a collective term for the problems in south-eastern Europe accelerated and exacerbated by the weakness of the Ottoman Turkish Empire; certainly also by animosities of its successors. We shall divide these contentious problems into three principal groups, which tended to overlap, mainly in the 1860s and 70s.

Group A: neighbouring large empires try to benefit themselves at the expense of Turkey:

Russia encroached on the Ottoman Empire through the wars of Catherine the Great (1768 – 74; 1787 – 92), in which she secured the Crimea, and obtained rights in the Danubian Principalities, plus recognition rights for the Orthodox Church in Constantinople (now Istanbul), by treaty in 1774. Russia had fought an indecisive war with Turkey (1806-12) and intervening (or rather interfering) on behalf of Greece in 1828, advancing across the Balkan mountains and imposing the Treaty of Adrianople in 1829. A general desire across Europe to anticipate and if possible avoid the disintegration of the Empire led directly to the Crimean War (q.v.). It must be remembered by students that war in the Crimea meant direct military confrontation between the two great Victorian powers, Britain and Russia, and it might, had it been treated more seriously, have led to a European war. The choice by both sides of commanders who should have been contentedly smoking a pipe by grazing sheep in some meadow, reflecting on past glories ensured only a minor conflagration, though far too many common soldiers died miles from home.

 One of the British commanders had constantly to be reminded that he was fighting the Russians, not the French – as he thought. This might have been because he had fought at Waterloo in 1815.

   Russia increased pressure on Turkey in the 1870s and pushed on to reach the suburbs of Constantinople by 1878, though this action was stopped by the (abortive) Treaty of San Stéfano. Nothing stopped (or stops) Russian expansionism however, and the tendency was revived under Izvolski in the period 1807-10, winning both British and French recognition in the Constantinople Agreements of 1915 – thought these were of course made invalid by the Bolshevik Revolution (q.v.). Austria meanwhile was not uninterested in acquisition of the western Balkans, and achieved success by the occuopation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1878. She annexed the provinces in 1908, ensuring that Austria, not Turkey would be troubled hereafter by national hostility. International diplomacy was then, as it now, shaky when it came to possibly negative future results of what seemed to be a good idea at the time. In this case, hatred of the Austrians in Bosnia-Herzogina (q.v.) helped greatly to cause the First World War.

Group B: Attempts to prevent disintegration of the Ottoman Empire:

Both Austria (Metternich’s work) and Russia tried to preserve the Empire, for reasons of their own, but the principal rôle of protector was usually reserved for Britain, at least until 1897. Britain tried to prevent Russia getting hold of the important naval base at Oczacov even as early as 1792. Except during the Greek War of Independence, Britain opposed Russia throughout the nineteenth century; she helped Turkey militarily in the Crimean War and applied diplomatic pressure in 1878, seeking to prevent Russian domination of the Straits by the Convention of 1841 closing the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus to foreign warships in time of peace. Meanwhile, Britain tried to persuade the Turks to reform their own repressive governmental methods. Turkey did not like this, and during the visit of the Kaiser (Wilhelm II) to Constantinople in 1898, she began seeking aid and from Germany more than Britain. Germany was delighted and provided important railway and commercial concessions, while she got military instructors in return and actually became Germany’s ally in 1914. See Laurence of Arabia and other articles (q.v.) in

Group C: The rise of independent national states:

In what are called the Middle Ages the Turks had conquered all the then nations in the Balkans. But they became a constant headache for the Ottoman Empire, as they have been a headache ever since. The first of these nationalities subjected to foreign rule were the Serbs who revolted in 1804 and then again in 1815 (the year of Waterloo).

Greece then aroused international sympathy in the War of Independence (1821-30) a war in which incidentally the English poet Lord Byron died (of illness), gaining posthumous Greek ascendance to their gallery of Heroes. Rumania received aid from the French after the Crimean War, until their independence was gained in 1878. Three year earlier in 1875 the Bulgarians rose in revolt, eventually securing recognition as an autonomous united principality in 1886. Formal independence followed in October, 1908. The great mass of the Balkan peoples combined against Turkey in the Balkan War of 1812, resulting in a notable enlargement of Serbia and Greece, and the creation of an independent Albania (q.v.). But, and there is always a ‘but’ a bitter rivalry arose between Serbia and Bulgaria, and they fought each other in the Great War.

  The last (or so the politicians thought) phase of the by now traditional Eastern Question came about because Mustapha Kemal (Turkish leader) tried to save at least the nucleus of a Turkish national state after the great defeat in 1918. Perhaps the Eastern Question was finally solved in the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, but many historians doubt it.