Greatest Nations: Turkey - C. F. Horne

The Eighteenth Century and the Wars with Russia

[Illustration] from Greatest Nations - Turkey by C. F. Horne


[Authorities: As before, also Alison, "History of Europe"; Russell, "Russian Wars with Turkey"; Memoirs of Catharine II.]

The treaty of Carlowitz (1699) may fairly be regarded as marking the entrance of Turkey into Europe's diplomatic circle. Hitherto the Ottomans had stood beyond that circle, indifferent, half contemptuous of its intrigues and disputes. They had been foes to all the Christian States, had defied united Europe, and in their warfare had sought no allies except from their own conquered dependencies.

Now this was changed. The statesmen of the Porte no longer made any pretense of being a match for all Christianity combined The inefficiency of their brave but untrained troops was fully realized. The Sultan expressed his gratitude to both England and Holland for having intervened between him and the many enemies that had beleaguered him. Short-sighted theorists even began to reckon on the speedy expulsion of the Turks from Europe. But if not a match for all the peoples of the West, the Osmanli still felt themselves the equal of any single power. They began, therefore, to imitate the others in the game of statecraft, to seek alliances and bargains, to stir up strife and division among opponents.

In this new diplomacy, the Vizier Hausein, last of the greater Kiuprili, had no part. Finding it impossible to make head against the corruption which permeated the entire Empire, he resigned and died (1703).

With him departed Turkey's last chance of regaining her ancient honor abroad and prosperity at home. There was another eruption of the Janizaries, and another Sultan deposed.

Under the new Sultan, Achmet III (1703-1730), the wars of Charles XII against Russia were eagerly encouraged by the Turks. Definite promises of assistance were given him—and not redeemed. When defeated, Charles fled to Turkey and the Sultan became his protector. It was then that the great Russian Czar Peter encountered the most serious failure of his remarkable career. He had consented unwillingly to the peace of Carlowitz. It gave hire Azov but he hoped for more, and he believed Turkey to be well-nigh helpless. Hence the shelter given Charles, his enemy, and a dozen other trifling complaints, were magnified into cause for war and Peter marched against the Turks. He was lured far southward, even as Charles had been. Vain promises of help reached him from the little semi-dependent chiefs of the wild borderland between Russia and Turkey. On the banks of the Pruth River, the Czar found himself with an exhausted and enfeebled army, suddenly surrounded by masses of the Ottoman troops. Capture being inevitable, Peter philosophically negotiated a peace with the Vizier who had so cleverly entrapped him.

Though capable as a soldier, this Vizier, Bultadji, once a wood-cutter's son, proved weak as a diplomat and allowed the Czar to depart upon terms so mild as to excite the ridicule of the Russians and the anger of the Sultan, who dismissed Bultadji from office. Peter was compelled to do little more than promise to return Azov and the surrounding region into Turkish hands. Once in safety again, he evaded the fulfillment of even this slight pledge until the Turks threatened another war. Being just then busily engaged in robbing Sweden, the wily Russian consented to be bound by his agreement and surrendered Azov, sooner than fight two foes at the same time.

Prince Eugene of Savoy


The Turks next turned their attention to the Peloponessus, reconquered it from Venice, and were pressing forward to attack Italy itself, when the Austrian Emperor once more interposed. Ostensibly in aid of Venice, he declared war and sent the celebrated Prince Eugene to win further glory from the Turks. Eugene defeated them at Peterwardein (1716) and again at Belgrade (1717) and thus enforced another peace. By the treaty the Austrian Emperor abandoned the interests of Venice and consented that the Turks should retain the Peloponessus, he receiving in return another large portion of their Danubian territory.

We next find the Turks in actual alliance with the Russians, the two empires agreeing to aid each other in attacking feeble Persia (1723). A little territorial plunder was secured by the despoilers, but there was no real friendship between them, the Russians in truth waiting only till they should feel strong enough to throw themselves again upon their southern neighbor and wipe out the disgrace of Czar Peter's defeat and capitulation.

The time did not seem ripe until 1736, when Constantinople had again passed through the throes of a Janizary revolt and the Turks were suffering severe repulses from the Persians. Then, without a declaration of war, the able Russian general Munnich was sent to attack Azov and ravage the Crimea. He did his work with a thoroughness and cruelty that have kept his name vividly before the world. Azov surrendered; and the slaughter of all classes of helpless non-combatants in the Crimea was widespread and hideous.

Envious of Russia's "glory" and plunder, Austria joined hands with her and began a second war of unprovoked aggression against the Sultan. His envoys, still new to the etiquette of diplomacy, and unwilling to face so many foes at once, urged upon the Austrians the oath of peace sworn to Turkey by the Emperor. When the Austrians tried to evade the responsibility of this oath, the Turkish ambassador called all present to join him in an earnest prayer that the authors of the war might suffer the curses of the war, and that God would distinguish between the guilty and the innocent. The appeal was solemnly offered up by both Mahometans and Christians.

Doubtless it would be going too far to regard this ceremony as the reason for the failure of the Austrians. They had overestimated both the strength of their own arms and, the decay of the Turks. Their victories in the previous generation had been mainly due to the military genius of Prince Eugene. Now their leaders were rash and incompetent. They were repulsed again and again and finally defeated in a decisive battle at Krotzka (1738). Belgrade was besieged by the Turks; and Austria terrified and panic-stricken sought peace on any terms, surrendering not only Belgrade but all her other conquests of Eugene's last war. The Austro-Turkish frontier then became practically what it remained until 1876.

Janizaries in Serbia


The treaty left the Porte free to fight Russia single-handed. So far, Marshal Munnich had been very successful, having won possession of almost all the Turkish territory along the Black Sea and beyond the Danube. It is significant, however, of the high repute in which the Ottoman Empire was still held, that Russia on finding herself alone to face the victorious army which came marching from Belgrade, promptly made terms of peace by which she surrendered all her recent acquisitions in the Crimea. It was agreed by both parties that Azov, the original bone of contention, should be destroyed.

Following upon this vigorous effort of the Turks, their empire way allowed to repose in peace for a generation. The warlike spirit of their race seems largely to have disappeared, and despite several opportunities offered by the increasing weakness of Austria, they were well content to leave matters as they stood abroad, while sloth, treachery and extortion held sway at home. To Russia this period was one of preparation. Twice had she defeated the Turks in battle, and yet lost the reward for which she sought, the possession of an outlet to the Black Sea. Her statesmen were fully convinced that destiny pointed their way to Constantinople, and under their great empress, Catharine II, they deliberately prepared for a renewal of the struggle. Their encroachments roused Sultan Mustapha III (17571773) to sudden, unreasoning anger, and without taking time for preparation, he unexpectedly declared instant war. The wiser counsellors who besought him to wait at least until armies could be gathered, were dismissed from office, and he attempted with his own untried hands the gigantic task of rousing his lethargic people from their torpor (1768).

The sharp-tongued Frederick the Great of Prussia called this war a victory of the one-eyed over the blind. The Turks had certainly fallen far below Western Europe through lack of discipline among their troops, the uselessness of their antiquated weapons, and the ignorance and folly of their leaders. The Russian generals were subtle and well-trained, though still half savages and utterly indifferent to the lives of their common soldiers. Thousands upon thousands of these were allowed to perish on the march and in the camp. Fever and exhaustion preyed upon them because of the lack of the commonest necessities of life.

The Russians, however, were all in readiness for the war, and they swept their opponents out of the Crimea, drove them back from the Danube, and advanced to the Balkans. The Turkish rabble, miscalled an army, was put to flight again and again. Never had the Ottoman troops been so completely disgraced. At the same time a Russian fleet sailed from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, roused a rebellion in Greece, and destroyed the few hastily gathered ships of the Turks at Tchesme, though the success of the Russians was due, not to their own commander, but to the English officers who accompanied him.

As illustrative of the density of the ignorance into which the once enlightened Osmanli had sunk, it appears that they had been warned of the coming of this northern fleet, but scornfully insisted that no passage existed from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, from the ocean of the north to that of the south. When the fleet actually appeared among them, they sent a formal and threatening protest to Venice, assuming that their enemies must somehow have come south through the Adriatic Sea.

So crushing were the Turkish disasters, that the Porte itself begged for peace, the first time this confession of weakness, this downward step had been taken in its career. So exacting however, were the terms insisted upon by the Russians, that the peace negotiations were broken off and the war resumed.

This time the Turks attained better results. Incompetent leaders had been weeded out, and genuine patriotism and the desperation of despair nerved the faltering arms of the remainder. Besides, the Empress Catharine had entered upon the partition of Poland. She needed all her troops to crush resistance there. The "Oriental project" could wait. Hence in 1774 another peace was made, and a new treaty, that of Kanjierdi, was signed, the Russians insisting that it should date from the anniversary of that which Peter the Great had been compelled to accede to at Pruth, sixty-three years before. The triumph, and what they called the moderation of the later peace, would, they felt, outweigh the shame of the other. Azov and a few ether fortresses were surrendered to Russia, and the Khanate of the Crimea was declared a wholly independent kingdom, this being a rather obvious prelude to its annexation by its powerful northern neighbor, though the Empress took the most solemn vows not to undertake any such procedure.

Black George urging revolt


Our story now passes over a long period containing little of importance to record, except the continued decay of Turkey and the steady aggression of Russia, enveloping her prey like a giant octopus. Such an advance must be indeed impressive in the strength displayed by the conqueror. But to our modern age the cruelty of the attack, the falsity to each solemnly proffered pledge, the horrible murder of women and children, the slaughter of thousands upon thousands of helpless men driven into battle merely to gorge their leaders' lust for territory—these horrors infinitely outweigh the "glory" that was gained.

The Crimea was taken possession of by Russia in 1783. In 1787, Catharine entered into an alliance with Austria which deliberately planned a division of the Ottoman Empire similar to that previously begun in Poland. The troops of the allies advanced suddenly, Austria, as in her last previous attack, pretending to peace, until her troops were ready and actually on Turkish ground. Nevertheless they were beaten back, and along the Austrian frontier the Turks for two years held their own, until the turmoils consequent on the French Revolution compelled Austria to seek peace.

Against Russia the Turks were less successful. They were repeatedly defeated and became hopelessly disorganized, so that the mighty Empress fancied she saw Constantinople already in her grasp. England and Prussia interfered. The huge Muscovite power began to terrify them, and from this time forward England, at least, assumed the role which she has since maintained, of Turkey's protector. Catharine moderated her demands. She was given some further provinces along the north coast of the Black Sea and in the Caucasus. Affairs both in Poland and in France compelled the attention of Europe; the great French Revolution had begun; and the annihilation of Turkey was again postponed to a more convenient opportunity.