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Eastern Question


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This was the problem created by the slow collapse of the Ottoman (Turkish) empire. Turkey's weakness became apparent in a series of wars with Russia in the late 18th cent. The British feared that, if the Turkish empire broke up, Russian power would threaten the British empire in India. The Crimean War of 1854–6, in which Britain, France, and Turkey fought Russia, was the result of miscalculations, arising from France and Russia's over‐vigorous championing of the rights of Turkey's catholic and orthodox Christians respectively, and Britain's fears that Russia wished to seize Constantinople (Istanbul). Nationalist feelings in the Balkans grew and the problem flared up again in the 1870s. The Bosnians rose in 1875, followed by the Bulgarians in 1876. Russia declared war on Turkey but the other powers thought the treaty of San Stefano (1877) too favourable to Russia and amended it at the Congress of Berlin (1878). European opinion wavered over the next 30 years between the comparative stability provided by the Ottoman empire and the volatility of the emerging Balkan states. It can be argued that the Eastern Question caused the First World War. Austria angered Serbia by annexing Bosnia in 1908. Russia helped to organize the Balkan League of Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Greece, which went to war with Turkey in 1912. Militarily they were successful but then fought between themselves. The situation was still unstable when the heir to the Austrian throne was assassinated in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, in 1914. The Austrians blamed the Serbs: Russia backed them. War followed within weeks.

Subjects: British History.


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