The New Student's Reference Work/The Balkans and the Peace of Europe

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The New Student's Reference Work (1914)
The Balkans and the Peace of Europe


Roumania, Bulgaria, Servia, Montenegro, European Turkey and Greece, occupying the southeastern peninsula of Europe, comprise the Balkan States.  On three sides the peninsula is washed by four seas.  The Transylvanian Alps and Danube River form natural boundaries on the north.  East and west the Balkan Mountains traverse the region and send outlying peaks and ranges southward, making three-fourths of the peninsula mountainous.  While few of the granite ridges are over seven thousand feet high, they are rugged and broken, with difficult passes.  Montenegro (Black Mountains) is a knot of bare and jagged peaks, dangerous gorges and wild torrents.  The nature of the country goes far to explain its tragic history and the character of its hardy, liberty-loving people.  In the entire peninsula, in 1900, was a population of only 17,000,000.  Half of these were Turkish Mohammedans.  The other half were of Slavic and Greek origin, of different languages, customs and degrees of progress and independence, but united as Christians of the Greek Catholic Church of Russia.

To understand the Balkan war of 1912–13, which changed every boundary line in the peninsula, and the vital interest of six great European powers in the terms of peace, it is necessary to go back to a time before Columbus.  When the Turks took Constantinople, in 1453, after having occupied Adrianople for a century, the old Roman Empire of the East was abandoned to Moslem hordes.  The Christian peoples of the Balkans were left to defend themselves.  Dividing along racial lines they fought under their native leaders.  Even after they were conquered, they continued to resist Turkish misrule and religious persecution.  For three hundred years Bulgaria, and Servia which then included Montenegro and Northwestern Turkey, stood as a bulwark between the Turk and Western Europe.  Montenegro separated from Servia, and its 250,000 mountaineers maintained their independence.  In 1830 England, France and Russia helped Greece in her struggle for freedom, chiefly because of the sympathy for the ancient glory of Athens.  With Russia’s assistance Roumania became an independent kingdom.

In 1876 the Turks entered upon a series of massacres of Christians in Bulgaria.  Russia, coming to the defense of the Greek Catholics, made war on Turkey, and would have taken Constantinople had she not been stopped by the other powers.  The position of this commanding site on the Bosphorus has, in turn, made the Persians, Gauls, Greeks, Romans and Turks mistress of the Eastern Mediterranean.  Its possession today by any strong government would disturb the balance of power of all Europe.  All questions could have been settled satisfactorily by the treaty of Berlin, in 1878, had Constantinople been given to Turkey and the rest of Moslem territory divided up among the Balkan States.  But by the jealousies and mischievous interference of the powers, Bulgaria and Servia were allowed a smaller measure of liberty and territory than they had won, and Turkey was continued in misrule over many Christian peoples.  Thus a situation was created that menaced the peace of Europe for thirty-five years.  Then, instead of keeping order in Turkey as they had promised to do, it became the policy of the countries in the Triple Alliance to profit by the growing feebleness of the Turkish government.  Austria annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, old Servian provinces on the AdriaticGermany got railroad concessions in Asia Minor, and Italy occupied Tripoli, a Turkish possession in Africa.  When all the resources of Turkey were engaged in a war with Italy and a revolution at home, the Balkan States saw their opportunity to reassert their rights.

As early as February, 1912, Bulgaria, Servia, Montenegro and Greece entered into a secret alliance to drive Turkey out of Europe.  Every detail of the plan was well thought out, and military genius shown in the thorough preparations for war.  On the eighth of October Montenegro declared war on Turkey.  By the seventeenth all four armies were in the field, each with an objective nearest its own boundary.  The Greeks, with fleet and land forces moved on Saloniki and Janina.  The Bulgarians marched toward Adrianople, “jewel of the Orient,” and the old Moslem capital.  The Servians attacked Novi Bazar and protected the rear of the 40,000 Montenegrins who besieged Scutari.  This was the Turkish stronghold perched on the rocks above the old Servian port on the Adriatic.

The allies were warned by the powers that they would not be allowed to keep any conquered territory.  But a series of swift victories paralyzed Turkish resistance and obliged the powers to change their tone.  France proposed to let the Balkan States divide Turkish territory in Europe, leaving to Turkey only Constantinople and a strip of seacoast.  These terms were accepted at the peace conference in London, late in January, but were repudiated by an overthrow of the Turkish government.  War was renewed in February.  Adrianople and Janina fell in March.  Scutari was captured in April.  Montenegro and Servia, however, were robbed of the fruits of this victory.  Austria had demanded that this seaport should become a part of the newly created State of Albania.  Some color of justice was given to this demand by the fact that the Albanians too have struggled for freedom for centuries.  The other powers agreed, in the interests of European peace.  By the terms as finally concluded, Turkey loses 60,000 square miles and has only about 5,000 square miles left in Europe.  Montenegro and Servia submitted to overwhelming force again, as in 1878.  But here is a seed of discontent that may germinate a future war.  Servia is in desperate need of an outlet for her trade, on the Adriatic, and may get it through reunion with Montenegro.  Austria is suspected of an intention to annex Albania; but to this the Balkan countries are not likely to submit.  It was the dream of M. Stambouloff, the late Bismarck of Bulgaria, to unite all the States of the peninsula into a Balkan republic.  Europe has this possibility, of having to admit a seventh power into its councils, to reckon with.

Palace of the sultan, Constantinople
Turkish infantry
Montenegrin artillery and earthworks
Montenegrin general watching battle
King Nicholas of Montenegro
The sultan, Mehmed V.
King Ferdinand of Bulgaria
King Peter of Servia
Late king George of Greece
King Constantine I. of Greece
Uniform of Turkish soldier
Types of Montenegrin reservists
Uniform of the allies
Montenegrin mountain chiefs in procession, preceded by crier
Turkish cavalry on the march
Montenegrins in camp
The crosses on the foreheads of these Bulgarian peasants are supposed to protect them from the Turks
Bulgarian peasants laying food, as a sacrifice, on graves
View of Cetinje, capital of Montenegro, showing how the Balkan people are defended by their mountains