The Eastern Question, 1774-1923: A Study in International Relations

The Eastern Question, 1774-1923: A Study in International Relations

The Eastern Question, 1774-1923: A Study in International Relations

The Eastern Question, 1774-1923: A Study in International Relations

Excerpt

On 21 July 1774, at the village of Kutchuk-Kainardji in Bulgaria, Russian and Turkish representatives signed one of the most famous and important treaties in the history of European diplomacy. By it the Ottoman Empire ceded to Russia the Kuban and Terek areas in the Black Sea steppe which had hitherto, as parts of the vassal Khanate of the Crimea, been under Turkish suzerainty. She also surrendered the port of Azov at the mouth of the Don, together with the fortresses of Kerch and Yenikalé which controlled the straits joining the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea proper. More important, Russia acquired a relatively small area between the lower courses of the rivers Bug and Dnieper, together with the mouth of the latter. She thus gained for the first time a foothold, though as yet a limited one, on the Black Sea. These territorial gains, however, were only a part, and not the most important one, of what Russia achieved by the treaty. She was to have freedom of navigation for her ships on the Black Sea, which had been closed to all non-Turkish vessels since the end of the sixteenth century, and was to be able to send her merchant ships (provided they were of normal size and type) freely through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. She was granted the right to build an Orthodox church in Constantinople and, in a vague and potentially dangerous phrase, to make representations on behalf of it 'and those who serve it'. The Turkish government was, under a secret article of the treaty, to pay a war indemnity of four and a half million roubles. Most important of all, the Khanate of the Crimea, which was overwhelmingly Moslem in population and had been a Turkish vassal for over three centuries, was to become an independent state. (The Sultan was to retain the right of investing its Khans with their office, but this was to be a ceremony with purely religious implications, conveying no suggestion of political control.)

For the Turks these were humiliating and disastrous conditions. The provision for Russian territorial gains, and even for a war indemnity and the new Church at Constantinople, might be stomached. That providing for Russian merchantmen to navigate freely on the Black Sea and in the Straits had more serious implications. It was a blow to Turkish prestige; it was certain to provoke demands for similar concessions from the commercial states of western Europe; it might lead to the growth of a large Russian . . .

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