PRE-20TH CENTURY HISTORY-War and Diplomacy: The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 and the Treaty of Berlin

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PRE-20TH CENTURY HISTORY War and Diplomacy: The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 and the Treaty of Berlin, ed. by M. Hakan Yavuz with Peter Sluglett. Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press, 2011. 610 pages. $40.

Reviewed by Michael B. Bishku

This book is a collection of 18 articles that came out of a conference held at the University of Utah in April 2010 and is divided into four parts: "European Diplomacy and the Exclusion of the Ottoman 'Other;'" "The Emergence of the Balkan State System;" The Beginning of the End in Eastern Anatolia: The Massacres of the Armenians;" and "Ethno-Religious Cleansing and Population Transfers in the Balkans and the Caucasus." The essays provide different perspectives - diplomatic, geopolitical, social, and cultural - on what the European powers (Great Britain, Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia) regarded as a solution to the so-called Eastern Question concerning the presence of the Ottoman Empire primarily in the Balkans, but also in the Caucasus and Anatolia.

M. Hakan Yavuz states in the first essay that the Russo-Turkish War and the Treaty of Berlin were a "shock" to both Ottoman institutions and society as the Empire not only lost two-fifths of its territory and one-fifth of its population, but also brought about a situation where borders were indefensible; legitimacy was undermined, especially among minority populations; and its financial resources were stretched to the limit. As a result of demographic changes, Sultan Abdülhamid II placed greater emphasis on the Islamic identity of the Empire; also due to financial constraints and in order to enhance security in the East against Russia, he recruited Kurdish tribes into the Hamidiye Regiments, which engaged in violence against Armenians, whose loyalty came to be regarded with suspicion by the Sultan. Yavuz sums up: "[R]eforms in terms of centralization and introduction of equality [that had preceded the War] were detrimental to the Ottoman state as an empire" (p. 50). Indeed, the Treaty of Berlin created a new international system in which "ethnic homogenization and the nation-state became the new founding principles" (p. 28). Feroze A.K. Yasamee examines how Abdülhamid gravitated toward Germany for external security during the 1880s as the Ottoman Empire needed to restrain the imperial designs of Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Great Britain. Sean McMeekin reviews Bismarck's Ottoman policy, which he labels "benevolent contempt." The German Chancellor was guided by Realpolitik as he wanted to prevent the European powers from going to war which he feared would also cause further instability in the Ottoman Empire. Thus, Bismarck made sure that German military and economic involvement in the Empire would not cause offense to Russia or draw it closer to an isolated France. His successors were not so cautious. In a somewhat revisionist piece emphasizing the concept of the "other," Mujeeb R. Khan presents the role of the "Eastern question in generating and shaping many of the structural issues and conflicts of modern Eastern European and Middle Eastern politics" by attempting to connect the events of persecution of Muslims and anti-Semitism during the 19th century (and even before that) with genocide and ethnic cleansing during the 20th century under the Serbs and Nazis against the Bosnian Muslims and Jews, respectively (p. 99). He asserts that Western historians tend to ignore Russian (and Slavic) persecution of Muslims during the 19th century while believing that genocide and ethnic cleansing begins with the Armenian massacres of 1915, and that the West continues to engage in a double standard today by being dismissive of Russian actions against the Chechens.

Essays in the second section deals with the following subjects: Muslim and Orthodox Christian resistance to the Treaty of Berlin - the former in Albania and Thrace and the latter in Macedonia - as that document was more concerned about balancing the interests of the European powers rather than solving national problems in the Balkans; the formation of the Serbian state; British policy regarding the status of Bosnia and Hercegovina; Bosnian nationalist reaction to Austrian control; the formation of the Montenegrin state; and European involvement in the politics of Macedonia. …