1856 Feb 1
, İstanbul

Although on the winning side in the Crimean War, the Ottoman Empire continued to decline in power and prestige. The financial strain on the treasury forced the Ottoman government to take a series of foreign loans at such steep interest rates that, despite all the fiscal reforms that followed, pushed it into unpayable debts and economic difficulties. This was further aggravated by the need to accommodate more than 600,000 Muslim Circassians, expelled by the Russians from the Caucasus, to the Black Sea ports of north Anatolia and the Balkan ports of Constanța and Varna, which cost a great deal in money and in civil disorder to the Ottoman authorities.[2]

The Concert of Europe established in 1814 was shaken in 1859 when France and Austria fought over Italy. It came apart completely as a result of the wars of German Unification, when the Kingdom of Prussia, led by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, defeated Austria in 1866 and France in 1870, replacing Austria-Hungary as the dominant power in Central Europe. Bismarck did not wish the breakup of the Ottoman Empire to create rivalries that might lead to war, so he took up the Tsar's earlier suggestion that arrangements be made in case the Ottoman Empire fell apart, creating the Three Emperors' League with Austria and Russia to keep France isolated on the continent.

Russia worked to regain its right to maintain a fleet on the Black Sea and vied with the French in gaining influence in the Balkans by using the new Pan-Slavic idea that all Slavs should be united under Russian leadership. This could be done only by destroying the two empires where most non-Russian Slavs lived, the Habsburg and the Ottoman Empires. The ambitions and the rivalries of the Russians and French in the Balkans surfaced in Serbia, which was experiencing its own national revival and had ambitions that partly conflicted with those of the great powers.[3]

Russia ended the Crimean War with minimal territorial losses, but was forced to destroy its Black Sea Fleet and Sevastopol fortifications. Russian international prestige was damaged, and for many years revenge for the Crimean War became the main goal of Russian foreign policy. This was not easy though – the Paris Peace Treaty included guarantees of Ottoman territorial integrity by Great Britain, France and Austria; only Prussia remained friendly to Russia.

In March 1871, using the crushing French defeat and the support of a grateful Germany, Russia achieved international recognition of its earlier denouncement of Article 11 of the Paris Peace Treaty, thus enabling it to revive the Black Sea Fleet.

"Refugees from Herzegovina". | ©Uroš Predić

Balkan Crisis

1875 Jan 1 - 1874
, Balkans

In 1875, a series of Balkan events brought Europe to the brink of war. The state of Ottoman administration in the Balkans continued to deteriorate throughout the 19th century, with the central government occasionally losing control over whole provinces. Reforms imposed by European powers did little to improve the conditions of the Christian population, while managing to dissatisfy a sizable portion of the Muslim population. Bosnia and Herzegovina suffered at least two waves of rebellion by the local Muslim population, the most recent in 1850.

Austria consolidated after the turmoil of the first half of the century and sought to reinvigorate its centuries long policy of expansion at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. Meanwhile, the nominally autonomous, de facto independent principalities of Serbia and Montenegro also sought to expand into regions inhabited by their compatriots. Nationalist and irredentist sentiments were strong and were encouraged by Russia and her agents. At the same time, a severe drought in Anatolia in 1873 and flooding in 1874 caused famine and widespread discontent in the heart of the Empire. The agricultural shortages precluded the collection of necessary taxes, which forced the Ottoman government to declare bankruptcy in October 1875 and increase taxes on outlying provinces including the Balkans.

Herzegovinians in Ambush, 1875.

Herzegovina Uprising

1875 Jun 19 - 1877
, Bosnia

The Herzegovina uprising was an uprising led by the Christian Serb population against the Ottoman Empire, firstly and predominantly in Herzegovina (hence its name), from where it spread into Bosnia and Raška. It broke out in the summer of 1875, and lasted in some regions up to the beginning of 1878. It was followed by the Bulgarian Uprising of 1876, and coincided with Serbian-Turkish wars (1876–1878), all of those events being part of the Great Eastern Crisis (1875–1878).[4]

The uprising was precipitated by the harsh treatment under the beys and aghas of the Ottoman province (vilayet) of Bosnia—the reforms announced by the Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecid I, involving new rights for Christian subjects, a new basis for army conscription and an end to the much-hated system of tax-farming were either resisted or ignored by the powerful Bosnian landowners. They frequently resorted to more repressive measures against their Christian subjects. The tax burden on Christian peasants constantly increased.

The rebels were aided with weapons and volunteers from the principalities of Montenegro and Serbia, whose governments eventually jointly declared war on the Ottomans on 18 June 1876, leading to the Serbian-Ottoman War (1876–78) and Montenegrin–Ottoman War (1876–78), which in turn led to the Russo-Turkish War (1877–78) and Great Eastern Crisis. A result of the uprisings and wars was the Berlin Congress in 1878, which gave Montenegro and Serbia independence and more territory, while Austro-Hungary occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina for 30 years, although it remained de jure Ottoman territory.

Bulgarian Uprising | ©V. Antonoff

Bulgarian Uprising

1876 Apr 1 - May
, Bulgaria

The revolt of Bosnia and Herzegovina spurred Bucharest-based Bulgarian revolutionaries into action. In 1875, a Bulgarian uprising was hastily prepared to take advantage of Ottoman preoccupation, but it fizzled before it started. In the spring of 1876, another uprising erupted in the south-central Bulgarian lands despite the fact that there were numerous regular Turkish troops in those areas.

 The regular Ottoman Army and irregular bashi-bazouk units brutally suppressed the rebels, resulting in a public outcry in Europe, with many famous intellectuals condemning the atrocities—labelled the Bulgarian Horrors or Bulgarian atrocities—by the Ottomans and supporting the oppressed Bulgarian population. This outrage was key for the re-establishment of Bulgaria in 1878.[5]

The 1876 uprising involved only part of the Ottoman territories populated predominantly by Bulgarians. The emergence of Bulgarian national sentiments was closely related to the struggle for independent Bulgarian church throughout the 1850s and 1860s and the re-establishment of the independent Bulgarian Exarchate in 1870.

The Wounded Montenegrin painted a few years after the end of the Montenegrin–Ottoman War. | ©Paja Jovanović

Montenegrin–Ottoman War

1876 Jun 18 - 1878 Feb 16
, Vučji Do

A rebellion in nearby Herzegovina sparked a series of rebellions and uprisings against the Ottomans in Europe. Montenegro and Serbia agreed to declare a war on the Ottomans on 18 June 1876. The Montenegrins allied themselves with Herzegovians. One battle that was crucial to Montenegro's victory in the war was the Battle of Vučji Do. In 1877, Montenegrins fought heavy battles along the borders of Herzegovina and Albania. Prince Nicholas took the initiative and counterattacked the Ottoman forces that were coming from the north, south and west. He conquered Nikšić (24 September 1877), Bar (10 January 1878), Ulcinj (20 January 1878), Grmožur (26 January 1878) and Vranjina and Lesendro (30 January 1878).

The war ended when the Ottomans signed a truce with the Montenegrins at Edirne on 13 January 1878. The advancement of Russian forces toward the Ottomans forced the Ottomans to sign a peace treaty on 3 March 1878, recognising the independence of Montenegro, as well as Romania and Serbia, and also increased Montenegro's territory from 4,405 km² to 9,475 km². Montenegro also gained the towns of Nikšić, Kolašin, Spuž, Podgorica, Žabljak, Bar, as well as access to the sea.

King Milan Obrenović goes to war, 1876.

Serbian-Ottoman War

1876 Jun 30 - 1878 Mar 3
, Serbia

On 30 June 1876, Serbia, followed by Montenegro, declared war on the Ottoman Empire. In July and August, the ill-prepared and poorly equipped Serbian army helped by Russian volunteers failed to achieve offensive objectives but did manage to repulse the Ottoman offensive into Serbia. Meanwhile, Russia's Alexander II and Prince Gorchakov met Austria-Hungary's Franz Joseph I and Count Andrássy in the Reichstadt castle in Bohemia. No written agreement was made, but during the discussions, Russia agreed to support Austrian occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Austria-Hungary, in exchange, agreed to support the return of Southern Bessarabia – lost by Russia during the Crimean War – and Russian annexation of the port of Batum on the east coast of the Black Sea. Bulgaria was to become autonomous (independent, according to the Russian records).[11]

As the fighting in Bosnia and Herzegovina continued, Serbia suffered a string of setbacks and asked the European powers to mediate an end to the war. A joint ultimatum by the European powers forced the Porte to give Serbia a one-month truce and start peace negotiations. Turkish peace conditions however were refused by European powers as too harsh. In early October, after the truce expired, the Turkish army resumed its offensive and the Serbian position quickly became desperate. On 31 October, Russia issued an ultimatum requiring the Ottoman Empire to stop the hostilities and sign a new truce with Serbia within 48 hours. This was supported by the partial mobilization of the Russian army (up to 20 divisions). The Sultan accepted the conditions of the ultimatum.

Gladstone in 1879 | ©John Everett Millais

International Reaction to Atrocities in Bulgaria

1876 Jul 1
, England

Word of the bashi-bazouks' atrocities filtered to the outside world by way of the American-run Robert College located in Constantinople. The majority of the students were Bulgarian, and many received news of the events from their families back home. Soon the Western diplomatic community in Constantinople was abuzz with rumours, which eventually found their way into newspapers in the West. In Britain, where Disraeli's government was committed to supporting the Ottomans in the ongoing Balkan crisis, the Liberal opposition newspaper Daily News hired American journalist Januarius A. MacGahan to report on the massacre stories firsthand.

MacGahan toured the stricken regions of the Bulgarian uprising, and his report, splashed across the Daily News's front pages, galvanized British public opinion against Disraeli's pro-Ottoman policy.[6] In September, opposition leader William Gladstone published his Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East[7] calling upon Britain to withdraw its support for Turkey and proposing that Europe demand independence for Bulgaria and Bosnia and Herzegovina.[8] As the details became known across Europe, many dignitaries, including Charles Darwin, Oscar Wilde, Victor Hugo and Giuseppe Garibaldi, publicly condemned the Ottoman abuses in Bulgaria.[9]

The strongest reaction came from Russia. Widespread sympathy for the Bulgarian cause led to a nationwide surge in patriotism on a scale comparable with the one during the Patriotic War of 1812. From autumn 1875, the movement to support the Bulgarian uprising involved all classes of Russian society. This was accompanied by sharp public discussions about Russian goals in this conflict: Slavophiles, including Dostoevsky, saw in the impending war the chance to unite all Orthodox nations under Russia's helm, thus fulfilling what they believed was the historic mission of Russia, while their opponents, westernizers, inspired by Turgenev, denied the importance of religion and believed that Russian goals should not be defense of Orthodoxy but liberation of Bulgaria.[10]

Conference delegates.

Constantinople Conference

1876 Dec 23 - 1877 Jan 20
, İstanbul

The 1876–77 Constantinople Conference of the Great Powers (Austria-Hungary, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia) was held in Constantinople[12] from 23 December 1876 until 20 January 1877. Following the beginning of the Herzegovinian Uprising in 1875 and the April Uprising in April 1876, the Great Powers agreed on a project for political reforms in Bosnia and in the Ottoman territories with a majority-Bulgarian population.[13] The Ottoman Empire refused the proposed reforms, leading to the Russo-Turkish War a few months later.

In the subsequent conference's plenary sessions, the Ottoman Empire submitted objections and alternative reform proposals that were rejected by the Great Powers, and attempts to bridge the gap did not succeed.[14] Eventually, on 18 January 1877 Grand Vizier Midhat Pasha announced the definitive refusal of the Ottoman Empire to accept the conference decisions.[15] The rejection by the Ottoman Government of the decisions of the Constantinople Conference triggered the 1877–1878 Russo-Turkish War, depriving at the same time the Ottoman Empire – in contrast to the preceding 1853–1856 Crimean War – of Western support.[15]

Caucasian Theatre

Caucasian Theatre

1877 Apr 1
, Doğubayazıt

The Russian Caucasus Corps was stationed in Georgia and Armenia, composed of approximately 50,000 men and 202 guns under the overall command of Grand Duke Michael Nikolaevich, Governor General of the Caucasus.[29] The Russian force stood opposed by an Ottoman Army of 100,000 men led by General Ahmed Muhtar Pasha. While the Russian army was better prepared for the fighting in the region, it lagged behind technologically in certain areas such as heavy artillery and was outgunned, for example, by the superior long-range Krupp artillery that Germany had supplied to the Ottomans.[30]

Forces under Lieutenant-General Ter-Gukasov, stationed near Yerevan, commenced the first assault into Ottoman territory by capturing the town of Bayazid on 27 April 1877.[31] Capitalizing on Ter-Gukasov's victory there, Russian forces advanced, taking the region of Ardahan on 17 May; Russian units also besieged the city of Kars in the final week of May, although Ottoman reinforcements lifted the siege and drove them back. Bolstered by reinforcements, in November 1877 General Lazarev launched a new attack on Kars, suppressing the southern forts leading to the city and capturing Kars itself on 18 November.[32] On 19 February 1878, the strategic fortress town of Erzurum was taken by the Russians after a lengthy siege. Although they relinquished control of Erzerum to the Ottomans at the end the war, the Russians acquired the regions of Batum, Ardahan, Kars, Olti, and Sarikamish and reconstituted them into the Kars Oblast.[33]

Russian crossing of the Danube, June 1877. | ©Nikolai Dmitriev-Orenburgsky

Opening Manoeuvres

1877 Apr 12
, Romania

On 12 April 1877, Romania gave permission to the Russian troops to pass through its territory to attack the Turks. On 24 April 1877 Russia declared war on the Ottomans, and its troops entered Romania through the newly built Eiffel Bridge near Ungheni, on the Prut river, resulting in Turkish bombardments of Romanian towns on the Danube. On 10 May 1877, the Principality of Romania, which was under formal Turkish rule, declared its independence.[23]

At the beginning of the war, the outcome was far from obvious. The Russians could send a larger army into the Balkans: about 300,000 troops were within reach. The Ottomans had about 200,000 troops on the Balkan peninsula, of which about 100,000 were assigned to fortified garrisons, leaving about 100,000 for the army of operation. The Ottomans had the advantage of being fortified, complete command of the Black Sea, and patrol boats along the Danube river.[24] They also possessed superior arms, including new British and American-made rifles and German-made artillery.

In the event, however, the Ottomans usually resorted to passive defense, leaving the strategic initiative to the Russians, who, after making some mistakes, found a winning strategy for the war. The Ottoman military command in Constantinople made poor assumptions about Russian intentions. They decided that Russians would be too lazy to march along the Danube and cross it away from the delta, and would prefer the short way along the Black Sea coast. This would be ignoring the fact that the coast had the strongest, best supplied and garrisoned Turkish fortresses. There was only one well manned fortress along the inner part of the river Danube, Vidin. It was garrisoned only because the troops, led by Osman Pasha, had just taken part in defeating the Serbs in their recent war against the Ottoman Empire.

The Russian campaign was better planned, but it relied heavily on Turkish passivity. A crucial Russian mistake was sending too few troops initially; an expeditionary force of about 185,000 crossed the Danube in June, slightly fewer than the combined Turkish forces in the Balkans (about 200,000). After setbacks in July (at Pleven and Stara Zagora), the Russian military command realized it did not have the reserves to keep the offensive going and switched to a defensive posture. The Russians did not even have enough forces to blockade Pleven properly until late August, which effectively delayed the whole campaign for about two months.

Russia declares War on the Ottomans

1877 Apr 24
, Russia

On 15 January 1877, Russia and Austria-Hungary signed a written agreement confirming the results of an earlier Reichstadt Agreement in July 1876. This assured Russia of the benevolent neutrality of Austria-Hungary in the impending war. These terms meant that in case of war Russia would do the fighting and Austria would derive most of the advantage. Russia therefore made a final effort for a peaceful settlement. After reaching an agreement with its main Balkan rival and with anti-Ottoman sympathies running high throughout Europe due to the Bulgarian atrocities and the rejection of the Constantinople agreements, Russia finally felt free to declare war.

The attack off Măcin 1877. | ©Dimitrie Știubei

Balkan Theatre

1877 May 25
, Măcin

At the start of the war, Russia and Romania destroyed all vessels along the Danube and mined the river, thus ensuring that Russian forces could cross the Danube at any point without resistance from the Ottoman Navy. The Ottoman command did not appreciate the significance of the Russians' actions. In June, a small Russian unit crossed the Danube close to the delta, at Galați, and marched towards Ruschuk (today Ruse). This made the Ottomans even more confident that the big Russian force would come right through the middle of the Ottoman stronghold.

On 25–26 May, a Romanian torpedo boat with a mixed Romanian-Russian crew attacked and sank an Ottoman monitor on the Danube. Under the direct command of Major-General Mikhail Ivanovich Dragomirov, on the night of 27/28 June 1877 (NS) the Russians constructed a pontoon bridge across the Danube at Svishtov. After a short battle in which the Russians suffered 812 killed and wounded,[25] the Russians secured the opposing bank and drove off the Ottoman infantry brigade defending Svishtov. At this point the Russian force was divided into three parts: the Eastern Detachment under the command of Tsarevich Alexander Alexandrovich, the future Tsar Alexander III of Russia, assigned to capture the fortress of Ruschuk and cover the army's eastern flank; the Western Detachment, to capture the fortress of Nikopol, Bulgaria and cover the army's western flank; and the Advance Detachment under Count Joseph Vladimirovich Gourko, which was assigned to quickly move via Veliko Tarnovo and penetrate the Balkan Mountains, the most significant barrier between the Danube and Constantinople.

Responding to the Russian crossing of the Danube, the Ottoman high command in Constantinople ordered Osman Nuri Paşa to advance east from Vidin and occupy the fortress of Nikopol, just west of the Russian crossing. On his way to Nikopol, Osman Pasha learned that the Russians had already captured the fortress and so moved to the crossroads town of Plevna (now known as Pleven), which he occupied with a force of approximately 15,000 on 19 July.[26] The Russians, approximately 9,000 under the command of General Schilder-Schuldner, reached Plevna early in the morning. Thus began the Siege of Plevna.

Battle of Stara Zagora

Battle of Stara Zagora

1877 Jun 22
, Stara Zagora

The 48,000 Turkish army advanced on the town, which was defended only by a small Russian detachment and a unit of Bulgarian volunteers. After a six-hour fight for Stara Zagora, the Russian soldiers and Bulgarian volunteers surrendered to the pressure of the larger enemy army. The town then experienced its greatest tragedy when the Turkish army carried out a massacre against the unarmed civilians. The city was burned down and razed to the ground during three ensuing days of carnage. 14,500 Bulgarians from the town and villages south of the town lost their lives. Another 10,000 young women and girls were sold in the slave markets of the Ottoman Empire. All Christian churches were attacked with artillery and burned.

The Battle of Svistov. | ©Nikolai Dmitriev-Orenburgsky

Battle of Svistov

1877 Jun 26
, Svishtov

The Battle of Svistov was a battle of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878. It was fought between the Ottoman Empire and Imperial Russia on 26 June 1877. It occurred when Russian general Mikhail Ivanovich Dragomirov crossed the Danube River in a fleet of small boats and attacked the Turkish fortress. The next day, Mikhail Skobelev attacked, forcing the Turkish garrison to surrender. In result, the Russian military became ready to attack Nikopol.

Ottoman capitulation at Nikopol. | ©Nikolai Dmitriev-Orenburgsky

Battle of Nikopol

1877 Jul 16
, Nikopol

As the Russian army crossed the Danube River, they approached the fortified city of Nikopol (Nicopolis). The Turkish high command sent Osman Pasha with the troops from Vidin to oppose the Russians' crossing of the Danube. Osman's intentions were to reinforce and defend Nikopol. However, the Russian IX Corps under General Nikolai Kridener reached the city and bombarded the garrison into submission before Osman could arrive. He instead fell back to Plevna. With the Nikopol garrison eliminated, the Russians were free to march on to Plevna.

The defeat of Shipka Peak, Bulgarian War of Independence. | ©Alexey Popov

Battle of Shipka Pass

1877 Jul 17 - 1878 Jan 9
, Shipka

The Battle of Shipka Pass consisted of four battles that were fought between the Russian Empire, aided by Bulgarian volunteers known as opalchentsi, and the Ottoman Empire for control over the vital Shipka Pass during the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878). The deciding moment of the Shipka campaign, and by extent the war, came in August 1877, when a group of 5,000 Bulgarian volunteers and 2,500 Russian troops repulsed an attack against the peak by a nearly 40,000-strong Ottoman army.

The defensive victory at the Shipka Pass had strategic importance for the progress of the war. Had the Ottomans been able to take the pass, they would have been in a position to threaten the supply lines of the Russian and Romanian forces in Northern Bulgaria, and organize an operation to relieve the major fortress at Pleven which was under siege at that time. The war would have then been fought effectively only in northern Bulgaria from that point on, which would have led to a stalemate, which would have created a major advantage for the Ottoman Empire in peace negotiations.

The victory at Shipka Pass ensured the fall of the Pleven fortress on December 10 1877, and set the stage for the invasion of Thrace. It allowed Russian forces under Gourko to crush Suleiman Pasha's army at the Battle of Philippopolis several days later and threaten Constantinople.

With this victory and the conquest of Pleven at the end of 1877, the path towards Sofia was opened, and with it the path to victory in the war and a chance for Russia to gain an upper hand in the "Great Game" by establishing a sphere of influence in the Eastern Balkans.

The Capture of the Grivitsa redoubt at Pleven. | ©Nikolai Dmitriev-Orenburgsky

Siege of Plevna

1877 Jul 20 - Dec 10
, Pleven

The siege of Pleven, was fought by the joint army of Russian Empire and Kingdom of Romania against the Ottoman Empire.[27] After the Russian army crossed the Danube at Svishtov, it began advancing towards the centre of modern Bulgaria, with the aim of crossing the Balkan Mountains to Constantinople, avoiding the fortified Turkish fortresses on the Black Sea coast. The Ottoman army led by Osman Pasha, returning from Serbia after a conflict with that country, was massed in the fortified city of Pleven, a city surrounded by numerous redoubts, located at an important road intersection.

After two unsuccessful assaults, in which he lost valuable troops, the commander of the Russian troops on the Balkan front, Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia insisted by telegram the help of his Romanian ally King Carol I. King Carol I crossed the Danube with the Romanian Army and was placed in command of the Russian-Romanian troops. He decided not to make any more assaults, but to besiege the city, cutting off the food and ammunition supply routes.

At the beginning of the siege, the Russian-Romanian army managed to conquer several redoubts around Pleven, keeping in the long run only the Grivița redoubt. The siege, which began in July 1877, did not end until December of the same year, when Osman Pasha tried unsuccessfully to force the siege to break and was wounded. Finally, Osman Pasha received the delegation led by General Mihail Cerchez and accepted the conditions of capitulation offered by him. The Russian–Romanian victory on 10 December 1877 was decisive for the outcome of the war and the Liberation of Bulgaria. Following the battle, the Russian armies were able to advance and forcefully attack the Shipka Pass, succeeding in defeating the Ottoman defense and opening their way to Constantinople.

Battle of Kızıl Tepe

Battle of Kızıl Tepe

1877 Aug 25
, Kızıltepe

The Russians were attempting to besiege Kars. The Ottomans, vastly superior in numbers, successfully lifted the siege.

Battle of Lovcha | ©Nikolai Dmitriev-Orenburgsky

Battle of Lovcha

1877 Sep 1 - Sep 3
, Lovech

In July 1877, shortly after the siege of Plevna began, the garrison's commander, Osman Pasha, received 15 battalions of reinforcements from Sofia. He chose to use these reinforcements to fortify Lovcha, which protected his lines of support running from Orchanie (present-day Botevgrad) to Plevna.

After the failure of the first two attempts to storm the city of Plevna, the Russians brought up significant reinforcements, and the investing army now totaled 100,000. Intent on cutting Osman's communications and supply lines, General Alexander Imeretinsky was sent out with 22,703 Russian troops to seize Lovcha.

On 1 September Generals Alexander Imerentinsky, Mikhail Skobelev, and Vladimir Dobrovolsky reached Lovcha and attacked the city. Fighting continued for the next two days. Osman marched out of Plevna to the relief of Lovcha, but on 3 September, before he could reach Lovcha, it fell to the Russians. Survivors of the battle withdrew into Plevna and were organized into 3 battalions. After the loss of Lovcha, these additional troops brought Osman's force up to 30,000, the largest it would be during the siege. The Russians settled on the strategy of a complete investment of Plevna, and with the loss of its major supply route, the fall of Plevna was inevitable.

Russian cavalry pursues the Turks during the battle. | ©Aleksey Kivshenko

Battle of Aladzha

1877 Oct 2 - Oct 15
, Digor

Russian troops broke through the defenses of the Turkish troops on the Aladzhin heights, which allowed them to seize the initiative and begin the siege of Kars.

Soldiers of Finnish Guard sharpshooter battalion during Battle of Gorni Dubnik.

Battle of Gorni Dubnik

1877 Oct 24
, Gorni Dabnik

The Battle of Gorni Dubnik was a battle in the Russo-Turkish War on 24 October 1877. In an effort to reduce the fortress of Pleven quicker, Russian forces began targeting garrisons along the Ottoman supply and communications route. A significant garrison had been reduced at the Battle of Lovcha in September. General Joseph Vladimirovich Gourko was called up from the Shipka Pass area to deal with more of the garrisons protecting Pleven.

On October 24 Gourko attacked the fortress of Gorni-Dubnik. The Russian attack met heavy resistance but two other Russian columns were able to easily push back the Ottoman lines. The Finnish Guard sharpshooter battalion participated on the battle and stormed the fortress walls. Gourko continued the attacks and the garrison commander Ahmed Hifzi Pasha surrendered. Within the month several more Ottoman garrisons were to fall including Orhanie. By October 24 the Russian army had surrounded Plevna which capitulated December 10.

Capture of Kars. | ©Nikolay Karazin

Battle of Kars

1877 Nov 17
, Kars

The Battle of Kars was a decisive Russian victory and resulted in the Russians capturing the city along with a large portion of the Ottoman forces defending the city. Although the actual battle for the city lasted a single night, fighting for the city began in the summer of that year.[28] The idea of taking the city was considered impossible by some in Russian high command and many soldiers, who thought it would lead to needlessly high Russian casualties without any hopes of success due to the strength of the Ottoman position. Loris Melikov and others among the Russian command, however, devised a plan of attack that saw Russian forces conquer the city after a night of long and hard fighting.[28]

Serbia joins the fight

1877 Dec 1
, Niš

At this point Serbia, having finally secured monetary aid from Russia, declared war on the Ottoman Empire again. This time there were far fewer Russian officers in the Serbian army but this was more than offset by the experience gained from the 1876–77 war. Under nominal command of prince Milan Obrenović (effective command was in hands of general Kosta Protić, the army chief of staff), the Serbian Army went on offensive in what is now eastern south Serbia. A planned offensive into the Ottoman Sanjak of Novi Pazar was called off due to strong diplomatic pressure from Austria-Hungary, which wanted to prevent Serbia and Montenegro from coming into contact, and which had designs to spread Austria-Hungary's influence through the area. The Ottomans, outnumbered unlike two years before, mostly confined themselves to passive defence of fortified positions. By the end of hostilities the Serbs had captured Ak-Palanka (today Bela Palanka), Pirot, Niš and Vranje.

Expulsion of the Albanians

Expulsion of the Albanians

1877 Dec 15 - 1878 Jan 10
, İşkodra

The Expulsion of Albanians 1877–1878 refers to events of forced migration of Albanian populations from areas that became incorporated into the Principality of Serbia and Principality of Montenegro in 1878. These wars, alongside the larger Russo-Ottoman War (1877–78) ended in defeat and substantial territorial losses for the Ottoman Empire which was formalised at the Congress of Berlin. This expulsion was part of the wider persecution of Muslims in the Balkans during the geopolitical and territorial decline of the Ottoman Empire.[16]

On the eve of conflict between Montenegro and the Ottomans (1876–1878), a substantial Albanian population resided in the Sanjak of İşkodra.[17] In the Montenegrin-Ottoman war that ensued, strong resistance in the towns of Podgorica and Spuž toward Montenegrin forces was followed by the expulsion of their Albanian and Slavic Muslim populations who resettled in Shkodër.[18]

On the eve of conflict between Serbia and the Ottomans (1876–1878), a substantial, at times compact and mainly rural Albanian population alongside some urban Turks lived with Serbs within the Sanjak of Niş.[19] Throughout the course of the war, the Albanian population depending on the area reacted differently to incoming Serbian forces by either offering resistance or fleeing toward nearby mountains and Ottoman Kosovo.[20] Although most of these Albanians were expelled by Serbian forces, a small number were allowed to remain in the Jablanica valley where their descendants live today.[21] Serbs from Lab moved to Serbia during and after the first round of hostilities in 1876, while incoming Albanian refugees thereafter 1878 repopulated their villages.[22]

Battle of Sofia | ©Pavel Kovalevsky

Battle of Sofia

1877 Dec 31 - 1878 Jan 4
, Sofia

In early January 1877, the West army group Gurko successfully crossed the Balkan Mountains. Parts of the group was to focus on Yana village. The Orhaniye Ottoman army after the Battle of Tashkessen retired to the Sofia area. Western group Gurko passed to operation Orhaniye to defeat the Ottoman army, according to the plan for final action in the war. 

Part of the forces of the West group Gurko with 20,000 soldiers and 46 cannons commanded by Major General Otto Rauch were directed into Sofia field. They were grouped into two columns: the right column of Lieutenant General Nikolai Velyaminov attacked from the north, and the left column of Major General Otto Rauch from the east. The opponent was Sofia's Ottoman holding force, 15,000 soldiers under Commander Osman Nuri Pasha, who occupied the approaches to the city and fortifications around the city.

The forces of the West group Gurko attacked in total offensive on 22 December / January 3. Column Lieutenant Velyaminov captured Kubratovo and Birimirtsi villages and went to Orlandovtsi village. The column of Major General Rauch captured the bridge at Chardakli farm (today, of the Tsarigradsko Shose over the Iskar river near Vrana Palace) and blocked the retreat route from Sofia towards Plovdiv. The Caucasian Cossack Brigade (commanded by Colonel Ivan Tutolmin) advanced in the direction Dărvenitsa - Boyana. Faced with a real threat of encirclement, Osman Nuri Pasha started a fast retreat in the direction of Pernik - Radomir, abandoning on the road 6000 wounded and sick soldiers. The foreign consuls (Vito Positano and Leander Lege) intervened, preventing an attempt to set fire to Sofia. On 23 December / January 4, 1878 into Sofia entered the first Russian units: Caucasian Cossack brigade and Grodno Hussar Regiment. Large military ammunition depots and supplies were captured. In the cathedral, a service was celebrated in the presence of Lieutenant General Iosif Gurko and Major General Otto Rauch. After the Battle of Sofia the Orhaniye Ottoman army ceased to exist as an organized military force. The Ottomans suffered irreparable human and material losses. This opened for offensive the direction of Sofia - Plovdiv - Edirne. Plovdiv was liberated on January 16 and Edirne was conquered on 20 January.

Battle of Tashkessen

Battle of Tashkessen

1877 Dec 31
, Sarantsi

The army of Shakir Pasha was on retreat from the village of Kamarli towards Sofia. Shakir Pasha's army was threatened by a Russian force from its left flank, under the command of General Iosif Gurko, and another one, said to be 22,000 men strong before Kamarli. Baker Pasha was given orders to hold off the advancing Russian army in order to secure the retreat of Shakir Pasha's remaining troops. Baker Pasha entrenched his forces in the village of Taşkesen (now Sarantsi, Bulgaria). The superior Russian army surrounded the Ottomans, but its troops were scattered over a large territory, could not unite together and were slowed by deep snow, winter storm and difficult mountain terrain, so that only a part of them engaged; having a strong defensive position and with weather in their favour, the Ottomans successfully managed to hold off the advancing Russian forces for ten hours, allowing Shakir Pasha to withdraw, and hastily retreated as soon as the firing died down. At the end of the day the Ottoman forces were facing a Russian force ten times its size and ultimately left their position.

During the night panic broke out in the Ottoman ranks, after rumours spread that the Russians had made a flanking movement. This caused the Ottomans to flee the village, killing the inhabitants. 

Battle of Plovdiv

Battle of Plovdiv

1878 Jan 14 - Jan 16
, Plovdiv

Following the crushing Russian victory at the last battle of Shipka Pass, Russian commander Gen. Joseph Vladimirovich Gourko began to move southeast towards Constantinople. Blocking the route was the Ottoman fortress at Plovdiv under Suleiman Pasha. On 16 January 1878, a squadron of Russian dragoons led by Captain Alexander Burago stormed the city. Its defenses were strong but superior Russian numbers overwhelmed them and the Ottoman forces retreated almost to Constantinople. At this time foreign powers intervened and Russia agreed to the Treaty of San Stefano.

Intervention by the Great Powers

1878 Jan 31
, San Stefano

Under pressure from the British, Russia accepted the truce offered by the Ottoman Empire on 31 January 1878, but continued to move towards Constantinople. The British sent a fleet of battleships to intimidate Russia from entering the city, and Russian forces stopped at San Stefano. 

The signing of the Treaty of San Stefano.

Treaty of San Stefano

1878 Mar 3
, San Stefano

Eventually Russia entered into a settlement under the Treaty of San Stefano on 3 March, by which the Ottoman Empire would recognize the independence of Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro, and the autonomy of Bulgaria.

Alarmed by the extension of Russian power into the Balkans, the Great Powers later forced modifications of the treaty in the Congress of Berlin. The main change here was that Bulgaria would be split, according to earlier agreements among the Great Powers that precluded the creation of a large new Slavic state: the northern and eastern parts to become principalities as before (Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia), though with different governors; and the Macedonian region, originally part of Bulgaria under San Stefano, would return to direct Ottoman administration.

The 1879 Treaty of Constantinople was a further continuation of negotiations between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. While reaffirming provisions of the Treaty of San Stefano which had not been modified by the Berlin Treaty, it set compensation terms owed by Ottoman Empire to Russia for losses sustained during the war. It contained terms to release prisoners of war and to grant amnesty to Ottoman subjects, as well as providing terms for the inhabitants nationality after the annexations. 


Footnotes for Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878).

  1. Crowe, John Henry Verinder (1911). "Russo-Turkish Wars". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 23 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 931-936 [931, para five]. The War of 1877-78
  2. Finkel, Caroline (2005), The History of the Ottoman Empire, New York: Basic Books, p. 467.
  3. Shaw and Shaw 1977, p. 146.
  4. Ćirković, Sima (2004). The Serbs. Malden: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 9781405142915.
  5. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bulgaria/History" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  6. MacGahan, Januarius A. (1876). Turkish Atrocities in Bulgaria, Letters of the Special Commissioner of the 'Daily News,' J.A. MacGahan, Esq., with An Introduction & Mr. Schuyler's Preliminary Report. London: Bradbury Agnew and Co. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
  7. Gladstone 1876.
  8. Gladstone 1876, p. 64.
  9. "The liberation of Bulgaria", History of Bulgaria, US: Bulgarian embassy, archived from the original on 11 October 2010.
  10. Хевролина, ВМ, Россия и Болгария: "Вопрос Славянский – Русский Вопрос" (in Russian), RU: Lib FL, archived from the original on 28 October 2007.
  11. Potemkin, VP, History of world diplomacy 15th century BC – 1940 AD, RU: Diphis.
  12. Finkel, Caroline, Osman's Dream, (Basic Books, 2005), 57; "Istanbul was only adopted as the city's official name in 1930.".
  13. Correspondence respecting the Conference at Constantinople and the affairs of Turkey: 1876–1877. Parliamentary Papers No 2 (1877). p. 340.
  14. Turkey and the Great Powers. The Constantinople Conference. The Commissioners' Last Proposals to the Porte. An Ultimatum Presented the Great Dignitaries of State to Decide Upon an Answer. New York Times, 16 January 1877.
  15. N. Ivanova. 1876 Constantinople Conference: Positions of the Great Powers on the Bulgarian political question during the Conference. Sofia University, 2007. (in Bulgarian)
  16. Jagodić, Miloš (1998). "The Emigration of Muslims from the New Serbian Regions 1877/1878". Balkanologie, para. 15.
  17. Roberts, Elizabeth (2005). Realm of the Black Mountain: a history of Montenegro. London: Cornell University Press. ISBN 9780801446016, p. 22.
  18. Blumi, Isa (2003). "Contesting the edges of the Ottoman Empire: Rethinking ethnic and sectarian boundaries in the Malësore, 1878–1912". International Journal of Middle East Studies, p. 246.
  19. Jagodić 1998, para. 4, 9.
  20. Jagodić 1998, para. 16–27.
  21. Blumi, Isa (2013). Ottoman refugees, 1878–1939: Migration in a Post-Imperial World. London: A&C Black. ISBN 9781472515384, p. 50.
  22. Jagodić 1998, para. 29.
  23. Chronology of events from 1856 to 1997 period relating to the Romanian monarchy, Ohio: Kent State University, archived from the original on 30 December 2007.
  24. Schem, Alexander Jacob (1878), The War in the East: An illustrated history of the Conflict between Russia and Turkey with a Review of the Eastern Question.
  25. Menning, Bruce (2000), Bayonets before Bullets: The Imperial Russian Army, 1861–1914, Indiana University Press, p. 57.
  26. von Herbert 1895, p. 131.
  27. Crowe, John Henry Verinder (1911). "Plevna" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 21 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 838–840.
  28. D., Allen, W. E. (1953). Caucasian battlefields, a history of the wars on the Turco-Caucasian border, 1828-1921, by W.E.D. Allen and ... Paul Muratoff. University Press.
  29. Menning. Bayonets before Bullets, p. 78.
  30. Allen & Muratoff 1953, pp. 113–114.
  31. "Ռուս-Թուրքական Պատերազմ, 1877–1878", Armenian Soviet Encyclopedia [The Russo-Turkish War, 1877–1878] (in Armenian), vol. 10, Yerevan: Armenian Academy of Sciences, 1984, pp. 93–94.
  32. Walker, Christopher J. (2011). "Kars in the Russo-Turkish Wars of the Nineteenth Century". In Hovannisian, Richard G (ed.). Armenian Kars and Ani. Costa Mesa, California: Mazda Publishers. pp. 217–220.
  33. Melkonyan, Ashot (2011). "The Kars Oblast, 1878–1918". In Hovannisian, Richard G. (ed.). Armenian Kars and Ani. Costa Mesa, California: Mazda Publishers. pp. 223–244.


References for Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878).


  • Allen, William E. D.; Muratoff, Paul (1953). Caucasian Battlefields. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press..
  • Argyll, George Douglas Campbell (1879). The Eastern question from the Treaty of Paris 1836 to the Treaty of Berlin 1878 and to the Second Afghan War. Vol. 2. London: Strahan.
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  • Greene, F. V. (1879). The Russian Army and its Campaigns in Turkey. New York: D.Appleton and Company. Retrieved 19 July 2018 – via Internet Archive.
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  • Hupchick, D. P. (2002). The Balkans: From Constantinople to Communism. Palgrave. ISBN 1-4039-6417-3.
  • The War Correspondence of the "Daily News" 1877 with a Connecting Narrative Forming a Continuous History of the War Between Russia and Turkey to the Fall of Kars Including the Letters of Mr. Archibald Forbes, Mr. J. A. MacGahan and Many Other Special Correspondents in Europe and Asia. London: Macmillan and Co. 1878. Retrieved 26 July 2018 – via Internet Archive.
  • The War Correspondence of the "Daily News" 1877–1878 continued from the Fall of Kars to the Signature of the Preliminaries of Peace. London: Macmillan and Co. 1878. Retrieved 26 July 2018 – via Internet Archive.
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  • Jonassohn, Kurt (1999). Genocide and gross human rights violations: in comparative perspective. ISBN 9781412824453.
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  • Shaw, Stanford J.; Shaw, Ezel Kural (1977). History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. Vol. 2, Reform, Revolution, and Republic: The Rise of Modern Turkey 1808–1975. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521291637.
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Further Reading

  • Acar, Keziban (March 2004). "An examination of Russian Imperialism: Russian Military and intellectual descriptions of the Caucasians during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878". Nationalities Papers. 32 (1): 7–21. doi:10.1080/0090599042000186151. S2CID 153769239.
  • Baleva, Martina. "The Empire Strikes Back. Image Battles and Image Frontlines during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878." Ethnologia Balkanica 16 (2012): 273–294. online[dead link]
  • Dennis, Brad. "Patterns of Conflict and Violence in Eastern Anatolia Leading Up to the Russo-Turkish War and the Treaty of Berlin." War and Diplomacy: The Russo-Turkish War of 1878 (1877): 273–301.
  • Drury, Ian. The Russo-Turkish War 1877 (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012).
  • Glenny, Misha (2012), The Balkans: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers, 1804–2011, New York: Penguin.
  • Isci, Onur. "Russian and Ottoman Newspapers in the War of 1877–1878." Russian History 41.2 (2014): 181–196. online
  • Murray, Nicholas. The Rocky Road to the Great War: The Evolution of Trench Warfare to 1914. Potomac Books Inc. (an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press), 2013.
  • Neuburger, Mary. "The Russo‐Turkish war and the ‘Eastern Jewish question’: Encounters between victims and victors in Ottoman Bulgaria, 1877–8." East European Jewish Affairs 26.2 (1996): 53–66.
  • Stone, James. "Reports from the Theatre of War. Major Viktor von Lignitz and the Russo-Turkish War, 1877–78." Militärgeschichtliche Zeitschrift 71.2 (2012): 287–307. online contains primary sources
  • Todorov, Nikolai. "The Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878 and the Liberation of Bulgaria: An Interpretative Essay." East European Quarterly 14.1 (1980): 9+ online
  • Yavuz, M. Hakan, and Peter Sluglett, eds. War and diplomacy: the Russo-Turkish war of 1877–1878 and the treaty of Berlin (U of Utah Press, 2011)
  • Yildiz, Gültekin. "Russo-Ottoman War, 1877–1878." in Richard C. Hall, ed., War in the Balkans (2014): 256–258