Balkan Wars

“Balkan” is a Turkish word, which means “rough, mountainous territory”, and it was the name given by the Turks to the mountain range that runs across Bulgaria from west to east. The first time the name "Balkan" was used in the West for this mountain range is said to be in late 15th century, and by the end of the 18th century authors started applying the name to the wider area between the Adriatic and the Black Sea. As the Europeans were calling these regions as the “Balkans”, Turks, who had first entered this region in the 5th century A.D. under the leadership of Attila, were referring to it as “Rumelia".

Ottoman Turks had conquered the Balkan Peninsula in the 14th and 15th centuries and added to their possessions there as late as the 16th century. It was in year 1354, when Turkish pioneers, led by Gazi Süleyman Pasha, son of Sultan Orhan, crossed the Dardanelles, and took a Byzantine fortress on the Gallipoli peninsula. By the time of Sultan Murat’s death on the battlefield in 1389, the whole area from the Danube to the Adriatic Sea and the Peloponnese was under Turkish control. Turkish territorial expansion continued until the failed second siege of Vienna in 1683. During these centuries, millions of Turks migrated from Anatolia to the Balkans, where they lived in peaceful co-existence with the Christians.

With the Treaty of Karlowitz signed in 1699, Ottoman rule in the Balkans began to weaken. The pace of change in the Empire was too slow and there was a clear failure to establish political equity for the minority peoples. Furthermore, the French Revolution of 1789 had inflamed nationalistic feelings in the Balkans and the 19th century became a period in which different ethnic groups in every corner of the Empire began to seek to get rid of the Ottoman rule.

The Eastern Question

The background to the Balkan Wars lies in the emergence of nation states on the fringes of the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century. The Balkan Peninsula was a complex tapestry of ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities, many of whom were antagonistic toward Ottoman rule. In late 19th century the “Eastern Question” was a popular term used to describe the possible consequences of the power vacuum that would occur if the Ottoman Empire –the “Sick Man of Europe”- lost its control over the Balkan provinces. There were competing regional aspirations of the Great Powers, all of whom were considering this region as their own “backyard” and these aspirations would lead to diplomatic struggles between the Great Powers for influence in the Ottoman territories. Russia was longing for access to the warm waters of the Mediterranean through the Turkish straits and followed a pan-Slavic policy supporting Bulgaria and Serbia as “protector of the Orthodox Christian Slavic peoples”. Britain wanted to prevent Russia from reaching the warm waters and therefore supported the integrity of the Ottoman Empire. At the same time Britain also supported a limited expansion of Greece as a backup plan in case Ottoman integrity was no longer possible. France wished to strengthen her position in the region and Austria-Hungary wanted the continued existence of the Ottoman Empire, since both empires were multinational entities ruled by a small elite. The collapse of the one would affect the other as well. It should also be noted that for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which had large Serbian and Croatian populations, a stronger Serbia was highly undesirable. Meanwhile Germany’s Drang nach Osten policy aspired to turn the Ottoman Empire into a de-facto colony and therefore Germany supported its integrity.

Painting depicting the Serbian uprising led by Miloš Obrenović (Tesla Memorial Society of New York)

The Great Powers exploited the nationalist feelings in the region in order to destabilize and further weaken the Ottoman rule to their advantage. Their formula was simple. First the Christian minorities in the Balkans were encouraged to revolt and then they themselves would interfere and ask the Ottoman government to realize reforms that would give more rights to those minorities. If the Ottoman government would carry out the requested reforms, then they would first ask for autonomy and then independence; if not, there would be war. Naturally, autonomous or independent states would emerge after these wars.

Other Balkan nationalities were inspired by the success of the Serbians. In 1814, Greek nationalists had formed a secret organisation called the “Philiki Eteria” (Friendly Society) in Odessa. With the support of wealthy Greek exile communities in Europe and USA and covert assistance from Russia, this organisation launched an uprising simultaneously in Wallachia and the Peloponnese in 1821 led by Alexander Ypsilanti, aiming to create an independent Greece with the ultimate purpose of reviving the Byzantine Empire. Soon, the revolt spread to whole Greece, Crete, the Aegean Sea and Cyprus. This uprising and the accompanying violence against the local Muslims caused great anger in Istanbul, where not only the rich Greek merchants lost their wealth and influence, but also Gregory V, the Patriarch of Istanbul was executed in retaliation.

Inconclusive fighting between Greeks and Ottomans continued until 1825, when the Sublime Porte asked for help from the Governor of Egypt, Mehmet Ali Pasha. Although this support was of great value for the Ottoman efforts against the Greek movement, which managed to crush the rebellion in 1825 and recapture Athens in 1827, there was a growing pro-Greek attitude in Europe, which soon formed into a form of military alliance that turned the tide against the Turks. On 20 October 1827, the British, Russian and French fleets attacked and destroyed the Ottoman fleet at the Battle of Navarino. A settlement was determined in 1832 the European powers at a conference in London; where Greece was acknowledged as an independent state. This was the first time history when a European territory of the Ottoman Empire had become an independent state. It also set an example for other ethnic groups in the Balkans and let to the further deterioration of Pax Ottomanica.

In 1839, the Sublime Porte issued a reform decree (Tanzimat Fermanı) that aimed to establish a modern state structure and provide equality between Muslims and the non-Muslim ethnic groups. This decree was followed by another reform package in 1856 (Islahat Fermanı), which brought about even more rights fro the minorities. The Ottoman Empire was on the path of modernisation; however the reforms were also heating up the ethnic struggles.

The Greek Orthodox Church in Istanbul, which traditionally considered itself as superior to all non-Muslim subjects in the Empire, was not happy with the “equality between all groups”. As it tried to protect its influence on these groups, these groups began to work harder to have their own independent churches. Consequently, the Romanian Church was established in 1865 and the Bulgarian Church was established in 1870. They came in addition to the churches already in existence, which were the Armenian Catholic Church opened in 1830 and the Armenian Protestant Church established in 1848.

Revolts followed the opening of churches. After the failed revolutions of 1848 in Moldavia and Wallachia, European intervention led to a union of these two principalities under the name Romania in 1861 and Alexander Cuza was crowned as the Prince of Romania. He was succeeded by Carol in 1866. Pan-Slavic attempts led by Russia were proving to be very successful among the Ottoman subjects of Slavic origin.

Turco-Russian War of 1877-1878

In 1875, a major uprising broke out in Bosnia and Herzegovina, caused by the heavy tax burden imposed by the Ottoman rule. Rebels began to attack and pillage the property of influential Muslim citizens, who had to defend themselves since the Ottoman government was too late to intervene. Soon the uprising spread to Bulgaria. The situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Russian support encouraged the principalities of Serbia and Montenegro's declaration of war against the Ottoman Empire. On July 8, 1875, Russia and Austria-Hungary made the secret Reichstadt Agreement on partitioning of the Balkan Peninsula depending on the outcome of the war. However, it came to nothing, since the Ottoman Army defeated the rebels. In May-June 1876, two divisions led by Abdülkerim Nadir Pasha crushed the Bulgarian rebels. On October 29, 1876, Gazi Osman Pasha’s troops beat the Serbians in the Battle of Alexinats and stooped short from entering Belgrade only through Russian intervention.

Frequent Russian intervention in Balkan affairs was a concern for the European powers, which requested for a conference. The Istanbul Conference opened on December 23, 1876, four months after Sultan Abdülhamid II’s accession to the Ottoman throne as the successor of Sultan Murat V, who had reigned only for 3 months before being deposed due to mental illness. Murat’s predecessor, Sultan Abdülaziz was deposed by his ministers on May 30, 1876 and his death a few days later was attributed to suicide. At Istanbul Conference, which convened 9 times in 29 days, the Great Powers discussed the boundaries of one or more future autonomous Bulgarian provinces within the Ottoman Empire, but the Conference was interrupted by the Turkish foreign minister, who informed the delegates that Ottoman Empire had approved a new Constitution, which guaranteed rights and freedoms of all ethnic minorities.

Painting depicting the Battle of Gedikler in the Turco-Russian War

Despite this fact, there was no consensus among the Great Powers, since Britain and France would not be happy about Russian access to the Turkish straits. Russia remained hostile towards the Ottoman Empire and declared war on April 24, 1877. The Turco-Russian War of 1877-78, which is also known in Turkish as “93 Harbi” (“War of 93” – 1293 being the year in the lunar calendar that corresponds to 1877), was a major disaster for the Ottoman Empire, which had to face a much superior Russian Army at two fronts, Caucasus and Danube. In the Caucasian front, the Ottoman Army led by Ahmet Muhtar Pasha resisted well against the Russians, beat them at Halyaz and Zivin, won the battles of Gedikler (August 25, 1877) and Yahniler (October 4, 1877), but could not prevent the loss of Doğubeyazıt and Ardahan. After the Russian victory at the Battle of Alacadağ on October 15, Ottoman forces began to dissolve. Kars fell in November and Ahmet Muhtar Pasha’s defense line between Kars and Erzurum broke soon afterwards.

Gazi Osman Pasha
Abdülkerim Nadir Pasha
Ahmet Muhtar Pasha

At the Danube front, Turks had three armies under the command of Abdülkerim Nadir Pasha, facing the Russian Army, supported by Romanian, Serbian and Montenegrin units. Hostilities commenced on June 21, 1877 with a major Russian offensive. After capturing Trnova and Nicopolis, Russians proceeded to the Pass of Shipka. The most notable success of the Turkish army in this period was the legendary defense of Pleven, where Turkish troops led by Gazi Osman Pasha resisted the Russian siege for five months, giving up only facing the danger of starvation when enemy forces cut off all supply routes to the fortified city. After the fall of Pleven, Russians advanced into Ottoman territory rapidly, taking Sofia, Stara Zagora, Plovdiv and crossing the River Maritsa. Edirne fell on January 20, 1878 and Russians penetrated into the suburbs of Istanbul.

Having suffered severe losses itself and being under pressure from the British, Russia accepted the truce offered by the Ottoman Empire, but continued to move towards Istanbul. Britain sent a fleet of battleships to deter Russia from entering the city, and Russian troops stopped at San Stefano (current day Yeşilköy) in the suburbs of the Ottoman capital. Eventually, with the Treaty of San Stefano signed on March 3, 1878, the Ottoman Empire recognized the independence of Romania, Serbia, Montenegro and the autonomy of Bulgaria. The Great Powers later forced modifications of this treaty in the Congress of Berlin. Accordingly, 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 (Principality of 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 war resulted in decrease of the Muslim population in Bulgaria between 1876 and 1882. It is estimated that 262,000 died of various reasons and 515,000 were forced to immigrate.

Nevertheless, the Congress of Berlin created severe tensions among the Balkan nations, because it did not follow the principle of nationality when it created the new boundaries. In many places it was not possible to follow it because different nationalities had lived there for centuries side by side. None of the Balkan nations achieved its national unification inside one state, and that unification became the main goal in their foreign policies. That urge resulted in a set of crises and diplomatic attempts aimed to settle the problems arising from Berlin, including the signing of the “League of Three Emperors” convention by Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1881 did not please the Balkan nationalists.

Turkish soldiers in the Turco-Greek War of 1897

To start with, Bulgarians were not satisfied with the arrangements in Berlin. In 1885, Bulgarian bands in East Rumelia attacked the Ottoman Government House in Plovdiv and forced Governor Gavril Pasha to leave the city. They took control of all transportation and communication vehicles and declared the annexation of East Rumelia to the Principality of Bulgaria. The parliament in Sofia ratified the annexation and Prince Alexander was crowned as the Prince of Bulgaria and East Rumelia.

Meanwhile, as the whole Balkans had turned into a powder keg, an uprising broke out in the island of Crete, where the rebels were asking for unification with Greece. European powers intervened and persuaded the Sublime Porte to grant autonomy for Crete. However the Greeks were insisting on unification. The crisis turned into a full-scale war in 1897, in which the Turkish army drew back the Greeks in Thessaly and Epirus and approached Athens. The war ended with another intervention by the Great Powers who also secured favourable armistice terms for the Greek side.

The Macedonian Issue

Sultan Abdülhamid’s policy to deal with these troubles in the Balkans was to exploit the conflicts between the newly independent Balkan states and prevent them from unifying against the Ottoman Empire. There was justification in this policy, because it was a time when there were no common goals among the Balkan states, but instead a great distrust. It was for this that Abdülhamid II managed to slow down the movements in the Balkans. However, the Sublime Porte did not dare to act against the fait accompli of Bulgaria and with an agreement signed in 1886 it approved the annexation with the condition that Rhodopi, a town with Muslim majority, would remain within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire. The idea of a “Greater Bulgaria” required access to the Aegean Sea and the acquisition of Macedonia. However, it was not only Bulgarian who had laid eyes on this Ottoman province. Serbia and Greece were also claiming that this province should belong to them and this collision of interest had already turned Macedonia into a breeding ground for bands and terrorist organisations, mostly Bulgarians who were worrisome to the Serbs and the Greeks

Turkish gendarmerie in Macedonia

Abdülhamid’s attempts to bring reforms to Macedonia in 1902 were futile. In 1903, a Salonica committee bombed the Ottoman Bank branch in the city and suddenly the revolt was in full swing with Macedonian Slavs and Albanians joining the Bulgarians. The revolt went on for three months before being suppressed by the Turkish army.

"The whole of Macedonia was surrounded by raids, arson, kidnappings and ransom money paid from government coffers, train robberies, destruction and bloodshed. People were uneasy, they were always on guard. Villagers of Macedonia from any religion and language, they could not know as they were going to bed, if they would be able to open their eye the next morning. Muslim villages, Muslim farms and event towns were under constant danger of being raided by bands. Macedonia was under the reign of terror and anarchy. Gangs that’s were stronger than the government itself were thinking that it was their time for retaliation… In fact, the Ottoman government was also raiding villages, trying to find out cradles of bands, seizing guns and grenades. Churches, priest lodges, schools and teacher hostels were like gun storages. Those who were caught were given sentences of prison, exile and in some cases even execution. However intervention from the Russian Consul General, his help and intercession would immediately come to rescue. When I was I a child, probably during the uprising of 1905, I can remember members of Greek and Bulgarian bands freed from the prison in Edirne by the Russian Consul General and brought back to their villages amidst cheers and celebrations…" (Turkish historian Şevket Süreyya Aydemir about his childhood in Macedonia)

In 1908, the Young Turk Revolution restored the constitutional order in Turkey, which brought about a representative and multi-ethnic Ottoman parliament (out of 275 deputies, 140 were Turks, 87 were Muslim minorities and 48 were non-Muslims including 23 Greeks, 12 Armenians, 5 Jews, 4 Bulgarians, 3 Serbs and 1 Romanian) as well as greater hopes for reforms and autonomy among the ethnic groups in the Balkans. In October 1908, attempting to benefit from the domestic political fragility of the Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina, which it had occupied since 1878, and Bulgaria declared full independence, which was recognized by the Sublime Porte in 1909. The next year, not only an Albanian insurrection broke out in Kosovo but also Montenegro became an independent kingdom. None of the Balkan nationalities were satisfied what they had gained during the course of these developments and their appetite was ever growing. Serbia was looking to former Serb territories in the south, especially Novi Pazar and Kosovo. Greeks were hoping for unification with Crete and reversing the defeat of 1897. Bulgarians had their eyes on Ottoman Thrace and Macedonia where the majority of population was their compatriots. Events would develop rapidly after 1908 and the Ottoman Empire would be stripped from its remaining territories in the Balkans only in a few years.

Balkan States against the Ottoman Empire

Austrian annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908 has been a turning point in history, in the sense that it united the Slavs against Austrian expansionism. This event has not only marked the peak point of the struggle between Slavism and Germanism, but also directed the attention of the newly-independent Balkan states on sharing the remaining Ottoman territories in Europe.

Having their aspirations towards Bosnia and Herzegovina thwarted by the Austrian annexation, the Serbs focused their attention to Kosovo and to the south for expansion and the revival of the Serbian Kingdom of the 14th century. Since the annexation of Bosnia meant that their road to the Adriatic was blocked, the Serbs were now targeting Macedonia for an opening into the Aegean.

Balkan states and the Empire (Mehmed Nail Bey collection)

From this point on, a series of alliances have either brought together the Balkan states or confronted them with each other. Bulgaria, for instance, was enjoying the support of Russia, and had designs on Macedonia. In Greece, a progressive government was appointed under Eleftherios Venizelos and “Megali Idea”, the goal of establishing a Greek state that would encompass all ethnic Greeks and incorporating Ottoman territories with large Greek populations (including those in Anatolia) topped its agenda, together with the issue of Crete. Greek bands were as active in Macedonia as the Bulgarians were. Meanwhile, in August 1910, Montenegro followed Bulgaria's precedent by becoming a kingdom.

There were clear differences of opinion among Balkan states with regard to Macedonia. Bulgaria wanted for the province to become autonomous whereas Serbia and Greece wanted partition. However, when Italy invaded Tripolitania, Balkan states decided that it was time for leaving differences aside and taking action against the ailing Empire. In the spring of 1912, consultations between Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece resulted in a network of military alliances, which became known as the Balkan League. Montenegro joined later.

There were clear differences of opinion among Balkan states with regard to Macedonia. Bulgaria wanted for the province to become autonomous whereas Serbia and Greece wanted partition. However, when Italy invaded Tripolitania, Balkan states decided that it was time for leaving differences aside and taking action against the ailing Empire. In the spring of 1912, consultations between Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece resulted in a network of military alliances, which became known as the Balkan League. Montenegro joined later.

The Great Powers of Europe were favouring a preservation of status quo in the Balkans, because as long as the Ottoman Empire survived, they could preserve their benefits in the region. The second option, if there was no way to keep the Ottoman Empire intact, would be to have the Balkans partitioned among smaller nations rather than facing a large power controlling the entire area. In other words, if the Ottoman Empire were to leave the scene, Britain and France would prefer to see a Balkan alliance under the patronage of Russia rather than the German Empire in the Balkans. They did not want war, but they were not opposing a Balkan alliance against the Ottoman Empire either.

University students at a pro-war demonstration ("Didar-ı Hürriyet", S. Kutlu, 2004)

Meanwhile the Sublime Porte was in deep negligence. Ottoman politicians were so deeply involved in internal struggles and so deceived by the Russians’ and Bulgarians’ false pretensions of peace, that they could not be aware what was really going on in the Balkans. Two months after the alliances were concluded among Balkan States, Grand Vizier Sait Pasha could make the following statements: “Our relations with the Balkan governments are very favourable… As a good statesman, Monsieur Venizelos is working for peace rather than war…. The fact that a visionary person who appreciates our common relations like Monsieur Sazanov occupied the post of the Russian Foreign Minister is a sufficient guarantee for us to be in good terms with Russia." After the Sait Pasha government was replaced by the high-profile “Grand Cabinet” under Gazi Ahmet Muhtar Pasha, the negligence went on even stronger. The new Foreign Minister, Gabriel Norandunkian would assert that “he could ensure the Parliament that the Balkan States are by no means going to attack the Ottoman Empire”.

Certain acts of the Sublime Porte clearly demonstrate the scale of the negligence of Sublime Porte. At a time when it was concluding alliances with other Balkan states, Serbia bought artillery guns from Germany, however Austria-Hungary refused to allow the guns to be transported through its territories. In complete naïveté, the Sait Pasha government agreed for the guns to be brought to Salonica by sea and from there to Serbia on train. Gazi Ahmet Muhtar Pasha later realised what was going on and terminated the permission, however Serbia had by then enough guns to be used against the Ottoman Empire. Furthermore, in August 1912 the government disbanded 120,000 well-trained and experienced troops stationed in the Balkans in a show of peaceful intentions and also sent a contingent of 35 battalions from the Balkans to Yemen to suppress an uprising there.

In summer 1912, as a major uprising was in place in Albania, bands in Macedonia intensified their hostile acts in order to create a pretext for going to war against the Empire. Eventually, a bomb that went off in the town of Kocana in Kosovo pulled the trigger. 28 people died in the explosion, after which the local Turks attacked the Bulgarians for retaliation and killed 21 of them, giving Bulgaria the opportunity to protest against the Ottoman Empire. Another bomb that exploded on the island of Samos caused the same effect in Greece.

Call for volunteers outside a mosque in Istanbul ("With the Conquered Turk", L. James, 1913)

The Great Powers, with the exception of Russia, were not favor in a war that could spread through Europe. France championed the initiative to prevent the war, given the fact that more than half of the Ottoman public debt at that time belonged to French capital and France had much to lose from a war. On October 1, 1912, President Raymond Poincaré, announced that the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire and the status quo in the Balkans should be preserved. He suggested the Sublime Porte to launch a reform package for the Balkans. The government of Gazi Ahmet Muhtar Pasha whole-heartedly accepted this proposal, however the Balkan states continued to mobilize and the eventually Turks decided to do so as well. Ottoman mobilisation began on October 1, 1912, albeit only on a limited scale, in order to avoid provoking the Balkan states and the Europeans.

The War Begins

However, the Balkan states really wanted war. On October 8, Montenegro declared war against the Ottoman Empire reporting that it considered the demonstrations in front of the Montenegrin embassy in Istanbul as a hostile act. Two days later, the Great Powers, including Russia, sent an ultimatum to the four Balkan states and the Ottoman Empire stating that they were against any behavior that would disturb the peace, the Ottoman Empire was to undertake the reforms it has promised, and if there is still a war between the Balkan states and the Ottoman Empire, the Great Powers would not accept changes in the territorial status of the Ottoman Empire.

On October 12, the governments of Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria gave an ultimatum to the Sublime Porte, which included demands they knew that could not be fulfilled. On October 16, the Ottoman Empire declared war on the Balkan states. On October 17, Bulgaria and Serbia declared war on the Ottoman Empire. Two days later, Greece followed suit.

"There is no other state in Europe that can have demonstrate the same patience and tolerance as we do. The more reforms we do, the more aggressive and insolent are the Balkan States… Now there is war. Let there be war. We have not asked for the war, nether have we worked to bring about its outbreak. However, we will fight this war with all our strength and patriotism, although history will never place its responsibility on us. If we enter enemy territory, we will behave the same as guests do in the host’s house. If we are defeated, we will face it with dignity. There will be neither bloodsheds nor lies from our side." (Ottoman Foreign Minister Norandunkian)

In fact, the Ottoman Empire was not ready for a war in the Balkans. It was already preoccupied with the Italian trouble in North Africa and the Aegean Sea. The army itself was not in a good shape. A series of attempts had been undertaken with the assistance of German military experts to reform the armed forces, however time was required to get the results. The most important development in this respect was that for the first time in the history of the Empire, non-Muslim male subjects were taken under arms along with the Muslims.

Meanwhile, there was a political turmoil in Istanbul as well. CUP had already left the government as of July 1912 and when the war broke out, the Grand Cabinet of Gazi Ahmet Muhtar Pasha resigned as well. The new government established by Kamil Pasha was anti-CUP, as was its predecessor, however the army was largely under the influence of CUP, which caused serious conflicts between the government and the army.

Nazım Pasha
Abdullah Pasha

As the war began, the Minister of War Nazım Pasha assumed the command of Ottoman army forces on behalf of the Sultan and the armed forces that were going to fight in four different fronts in the Balkans were organised in two major armies: Eastern Army (or the Thrace Army) to face the Bulgarians and the Western Army (or the Macedonia Army) to face the Serbs. The Eastern Army, commanded by Abdullah Pasha, was composed of four army corps and one cavalry division to be deployed to the line between Didymoteicho and Kırk Kilise (current-day Kırklareli). The III Corps positioned at Kırk Kilise was commanded by Mahmut Muhtar Pasha, who had left his position as the Minister of Navy and volunteered for this task, whereas the city of Edirne (formerly Adrianople) was to be defended by Şükrü Pasha and the IV Corps, positioned west to Edirne, was under the command of Abuk Ahmet Pasha.

Mahmut Muhtar Pasha
Ali Rıza Pasha

On the other hand, the Western Army headquartered in Salonica and commanded by Ali Rıza Pasha was composed of three groups, one to fight at the Serbo-Bulgarian border, the other at the Montenegrin front and the third at Epirus and Thessaly fronts. However, as the war broke out, the Ottoman army was far from having completed its mobilisation. The Eastern Army had around 115,000 men instead its normal wartime strength of 478,850, and the Western Army had 188,000 men instead of 418,900. In other words, the Ottoman army was entering the war with a force of around 300,000 facing the combined Balkan forces of around 610,000.

An interesting point to mention is that at this early stage some German officers stationed in Istanbul informed the Ottoman High Command about their desire to join the war. Nazım Pasha was not sympathetic towards this idea, because he did not want to get the Germans involved and nether was the German Foreign Ministry. However, a solution was found and five officers, including Major Otto Stephan Hermann von Lossow and Major Gustav von Hochwächter, were naturalised as Ottoman citizens and joined the Ottoman army.

Postcard celebrating the defender Edirne, Şükrü Pasha

On October 19, Bulgarian forces crossed the Ottoman border towards Edirne. The Bulgarian Second Army commanded by General Nikola Ivanov easily eliminated the weak Ottoman border units and encircled Şükrü Pasha’s forces in Edirne from north and west. Meanwhile the Bulgarian First Army commanded by General Vasil Kutinchev also crossed the border and engaged the Ottoman forces followed by the Third Army of General Radko Dimitriev that began to march towards Kırk Kilise.

Panic at Kırk Kilise

Turkish soldiers maneuvering near Edirne

Abdullah Pasha, commander of the Ottoman Eastern Army, was not in favor of a counter-offensive, however he was left with no option but to attack when he received a cable from the Minister of War Nazım Pasha during the late hours of October 20. The Ottoman offensive began on October 22, towards Bulgarian lines between Edirne and Kırk Kilise. Soon the Turks engaged the Bulgarians in what came to be known as the Battle of Kırk Kilise. After two days of fighting between the Ottoman Eastern Army and the Bulgarian First Army southwest of the town, soldiers of Mahmut Muhtar Pasha’s III Corps began to flee the battlefield in panic, thinking that they were losing the battle, although the situation was still indecisive. There was total chaos in Kırk Kilise. Meanwhile, Bulgarians were waiting for the Turks to attack, however realising that this was not going to happen, they sent scouts to the town. Turkish troops and inhabitants of the city had already left the city, where the only people left were the Christians, who welcomed the Bulgarian occupation. The Battle of Kırk Kilise was a big shock for the Turks and an easy victory for the Bulgarians.

A Turkish army corps halting on the line of retreat (Daily Mirror)

"I believe that the blame lies with those who have pushed the Turkish soldier to the front under these unfavourable circumstances. We should think about the morale of the Anatolian peasants from warm climates, who had to hit the roads of a country they had never seen in hunger and thirst, without knowing for what they were going to war, without knowing how to use the rifle they were handed. They were left on their own, walking falteringly through the mud inside something resembling shoes. After spending the cold night totally wet and without shelter, they are going back to the front with the sunrise… The man thinks about the miserable state of the wounded he had seen the day before. He feels fear and death, deep inside himself. He turns back and other follow him. They flee from the approaching enemy, first confused under the burden of the disaster, then running. This is how the panic that wiped everything away began. It is as if the roads have no end or beginning, it is impossible to move forward, the rivers have flooded, the bridges have collapsed, the villages are burning and the enemy fire is mowing down the lines. This mass flight is terrible. Man has become animal. All the gruesomeness and calamity of the war is here." (Major Gustav von Hochwächter, a German officer fighting in Ottoman uniform,  in his memoirs)

Turkish soldiers marching towards Lüleburgaz ("With the Conquered Turk", L. James, 1913)

Assisted by the Bulgarians’ decision not to chase the retreating Turks, Turkish commanders managed to stop the panicked flight of the troops at Lüleburgaz on October 25. Abdullah Pasha was, however, still hesitant and sent a cable to Mahmut Muhtar Pasha, arguing that it is impossible to fight under these conditions and there a political solution had to be found for the Balkan issue. He wanted to retreat all the way to Çorlu, but Nazım Pasha, who arrived at the front of line on October 26, was again not in disagreement with Abdullah Pasha. Nazım Pasha gave the order to establish a defensive line at Lüleburgaz and took three army corps from Abdullah Pasha and gave them to Abuk Ahmet Pasha’s command.

Meanwhile the Bulgarians had intensified their reconnaissance activities in order to find where the Turkish troops were. On October 25, they easily occupied the town of Babaeski. Advancing towards the Turkish positions on the following days the First and Third Armies launched an offensive against the Turkish defensive line as of October 29. Fighting went on for a couple of days around Lüleburgaz, and initially the Turkish troops that had fled Kırk Kilise were fighting with spirit.

Turkish troops retreating (Popüler Tarih, August 2002)

However, the tide began to turn against the Turks very soon and as three corps wanted to retreat on Abdullah Pasha’s orders, panic began again, which jeopardised Hamdi Pasha’s offensive to the north of Lüleburgaz as well. On 2 November, Nazım Pasha ordered total retreat to Çatalca, 30 kilometres west of the Ottoman capital Istanbul. Tens of thousands of soldiers and Muslim population began continued to flee from the advancing Bulgarians soldiers in cold weather and under heavy rain.

"On the roads, soldiers were fleeing back in total disorder. Infantrymen were collapsing on the mud, due to hunger and exhaustion, never to stand up again. The crying and begging of these desperate people who were drowning in the mud was piercing our ears and hearts... The villages on the road were filled with soldiers. It was such a view that nobody could believe that soldiers, who were fighting successfully for days, ended up in this situation. As it was the case in Kırk Kilise, we were again facing an army that was fleeing without even looking back. But why? This question was too difficult to answer." (Mahmut Muhtar Pasha in his diary)

The situation was no different in other fronts. The Serbs, who had crossed the border on October 19, encountered the Vardar Army, one of the groups under the Ottoman Western Army, three days later. Turkish forces commanded by Halepli Zeki Pasha were gathered around the town of Kumanovo in Macedonia. The VII Corps of Fethi Pasha was on the left, VI Corps of Cavid Pasha was in the center and V Corps of Sait Pasha was on the right. On October 23, Zeki Pasha launched the Turkish offensive and, outnumbering the Serbs, Turkish troops began to inflict serious damage on the Serbs’ First Army commanded by Crown Prince Alexander.

Turkish villagers fleeing the Bulgarian invasion

However, the situation reversed when Serbian artillery guns arrived in the front. Within half a day the Vardar Army lost its momentum and began to retreat. The Ottoman plan for an offensive war had failed and the Vardar Army was forced to abandon much territory and lost a significant number of artillery pieces without the possibility to reinforce because the supply routes from Anatolia were cut. The Vardar Army was also not able to organize the defense on Vardar River and was forced to abandon Skopje, which was occupied by the Serbian army on 26 October 26. After the capture of Kumanovo, the Serbs began to advance towards Monastir (current-day Bitola), to which Zeki Pasha’s forced had retreated. Meanwhile the Montenegrin army captured the town of Tozi and attempted to siege Shkoder.

Greece had two armies on the field. The larger Thessaly Army, commanded by Crown Prince Constantine in the east and the smaller Epirus Army, commanded by General Konstantinos Sapountzakis, in the east. On the Ottoman side, the Salonica region was to be defended by the VIII Corps commanded by Hasan Tahsin Pasha, whereas the defense of Ioannina was under the responsibility of Esat Pasha’s Ioannina Corps.

Salonica Falls

Greeks launched their offensive on October 18 and three days later the Thessaly Army engaged the Ottoman VIII Corps in a major battle around the town of Sarantoporo. After a whole day of fighting, Hasan Tahsin Pasha ordered retreat towards Salonica in order to avoid being encircled. On November 1-2, the Greek army beat the Turks once again, this time at the lake of Giannitsa, and approached further to Salonica.

Greek troops were closing in and Salonica was in great danger. As fighting was going on in Giannitsa, the ex-Sultan in exile, Abdülhamit II, was removed from Salonica back to Istanbul for his safety. Meanwhile, the Greeks supported the Thessaly Army from the sea. Troops were landed on the shores east of Salonica on 5 November and on the same day a Greek destroyer sunk the Ottoman warship Feth-i Bülent, which was anchored at the port of Salonica. The town was not only blockaded, but Greek warships, including Averof, were shelling the Turkish fortifications as well.

Hasan Tahsin Pasha surrendering Salonica

The Governor of Salonica, Nazım Bey, asked Hasan Tahsin Pasha not to fight in the suburbs in order to protect the city and its inhabitants from harm. The Turkish commander was desperate. He had only 25,000 men, encircled by more than 100,000 Greeks and Bulgarians, and he was thinking that surrender would be a better idea than futile bloodshed. An armistice was agreed by between Hasan Tahsin Pasha and Crown Prince Constantine and on November 9, troops of the Thessaly Army occupied the city without facing resistance. One thousand Turkish officers, including Hasan Tahsin himself, and 25,000 men were taken prisoner and 70 artillery guns were confiscated. Two days later, the King of Greece, George I, entered Salonica amidst the cheers of the local Christian population. Meanwhile, the Struma Corps commanded by Ali Nadir Pasha, which was supposed to prevent the Serbian forces from reaching the Aegean shores, had surrendered as well.

Advancing Greek forces were also posing a threat against the Vardar Army, which was fighting the Serbs in the north. The threat was serious since the road to Monastir was left open by the Ottoman VIII Corps that had moved to Salonica. Crown Prince Constantine could advance either towards Monastir or Salonica, but since he preferred Salonica he had to protect his open flank and he did so by deploying the 5th Division of Thessaly Army to Monastir. Facing this threat, the commander of the Ottoman Western army, Ali Rıza Pasha, decided to assign the VI Corps of Cavid Pasha to engage the Greek forces approaching Monastir.

On November 6-7, the VI Corps defeated the Greek 5th Division at Sorovits, midway between Salonica and Monastir. However, while the VI Corps was away, the Vardar Army lost the Battle of Prilepe against the Serbs and Cavid Pasha’s forced were called back to join the Turkish efforts against the Serbs approaching Monastir.

On November 14, the Serbian Third Army commanded by General Bozidar Jankovic encountered the Turkish forces to the north of Monastir. The Battle of Monastir went on for four days. On the last day of the battle, Cavid Pasha’s VI Corps repulsed the Serbs with a successful offensive; the front was broken through in the sector of the VII Corps, because the Serbs took advantage of a gap in the line, caused by an irresponsible reserve regiment that left its position during the night due to heavy rain. On the night of November 18, Zeki Pasha ordered retreat. Resne fell on November 20 and Ohrid the next day. After the Battle of Monastir, which was the last major of the Ottoman Western Army in the region, the five-century-long Ottoman rule of Macedonia was over.

The Balkan territories were lost only within a single month. Although the Ottoman army was undermanned and not in a good shape before the war, nobody had expected such a rapid collapse. A heated debate began in Istanbul about why this happened. Nazım Pasha was criticised for not correctly assessing the real strength of the army, ignoring the previously prepared war plans and adopting an offensive strategy rather than a defensive one. The Foreign Ministry was criticised of not being aware of the Balkan alliances in time, whereas Grand Vizier Gazi Ahmet Muhtar Pasha was criticised of disbanding tens of thousands of troops right before the hostilities began. According to the critics, it was wrong to assign a too large area, which was too close to the border, for the Eastern Army and it was also wrong to deploy the Western Army over a very wide area in a disorderly manner.

Turkish soldiers at a cholera camp near Yeşilköy (The Graphic, November 30, 1912)

These were, of course, not the only problems. There were serious deficiencies with regard to logistics, communication and intelligence. Mahmut Muhtar Pasha later wrote in his memoirs that there was no problem with the Ottoman strategies; the defeat was rather caused by the inadequacy of the organisation of the military establishment, insufficiency of the preparations before the war as well as the social, political and moral decay the Empire was suffering from.

Another reason of the Balkan failure, also voiced by Mahmut Muhtar Pasha himself, is the fact that the confidence between officers and troops could not be re-established in the aftermath of the 31 March incident and the army was politicised. Lower ranking officers were CUP sympathisers, whereas the higher ranking ones and generals were mostly against the CUP. As a result, younger officers were frequently disobeying the orders and going their own way.

Meanwhile, the war was not over. The Balkan territories were gone, but now the capital was under threat. Eight days after the defeat in Lüleburgaz, the Turks were back at the 30 km wide Çatalca line. The troops were starving and thirsty and they were drinking whatever water they could find. In early November, cholera broke out among the troops of the Ottoman III Corps in Çatalca. Only in one single day, November 15, 1912, a total 2,786 men were reported sick and 817 died of cholera. These figures continued to increase over the following days. The sick were sent to Istanbul, together with the wounded and the refugees fleeing from the Bulgarian advance. In only a few days, 50,000 people entered Istanbul, causing the cholera epidemic to spread in the city.

Refugees heading towards Istanbul (Daily Mirror, 1912)

Istanbul was not only suffering from the disease, but there was also fear among the inhabitants due to the Bulgarian advance.

"The people got more anxious due to the news brought to Istanbul by the wounded and refugees. All of the trains arriving from the war zones were filled with the wounded and the refugees escaping from towns and villages occupied by the enemy. The roads between Istanbul and Çatalca were crowded with villagers fleeing with their oxcarts filled with women, children, animals and whatever possessions they could carry. Among these people, there were also fugitive soldiers coming to Istanbul in large numbers... (But) the war was not felt in Pera. Greeks and Armenians were behaving as if the war was not their concern… The daily life in the streets of Pera did not reflect the nearby war either. The only problem was the lack of phaetons due to the government’s seizure of all available horses in the city." (Wilhelm Feldmann, a German journalist stationed in Istanbul)

On November 12, the Sublime Porte asked the Bulgarian government for an armistice, which was rejected. Three days later, the commander-in-chief of the Bulgarian Army, General Mihail Savov came to Çatalca and investigated the front together with General Dimitriev. The Bulgarians were suffering from the same problems like the Turks, however Savov and Dimitriev were still considering an attack because they were so close to Istanbul and they did not want to miss this opportunity of capturing the Ottoman capital consulting with Tsar Ferdinand, General Savov ordered the attack. By that time, Nazım Pasha had dismissed Abdullah Pasha and assumed the command of the Eastern Army himself.

The Bulgarian offensive at Çatalca began during the early hours November 17 with intensive artillery fire. Turkish guns returned fire and at around 9 am that day, the Bulgarian infantry began to march. In the left flank, the I Corps commanded by Ömer Yaver Pasha defended its positions successfully against the Bulgarians, with the help of naval artillery fire from the Turkish warships in the Sea of Marmara and the Bay of Büyük Çekmece, including Barbaros Hayreddin. Bulgarians had no option but to withdraw. In the center, Hamdi Pasha’s II Corps managed to repulse the Bulgarians as well. Meanwhile, there was fierce fighting in the right flank held by the III Corps of Mahmut Muhtar Pasha. Bayonet charges went on the whole day and at the end the Bulgarians had to retreat in this sector too.

Postcard depicting the battle at Çatalca

On the night of November 17-18, the Bulgarian 29th Infantry Regiment captured one of the Turkish positions with a surprise bayonet charge. However, neither the Turks nor the Bulgarians realised what was happening. The weather was foggy and there was poor visibility. In the morning, Mahmut Muhtar Pasha, who rode to this area for inspection, was wounded with a Bulgarian bullet. Turkish troops accompanying Mahmut Muhtar Pasha realised that the position was captured by the enemy and re-captured it before Bulgarian reinforcements arrived.


By November 22, Ottoman forces in Çatalca had completely repulsed the Bulgarians. This was a huge encouragement for the Turks, however both sides were exhausted and nobody wanted to fight anymore. Fearing from a spread of the war into the rest of Europe, Britain and France took the initiative for an armistice, which was eventually signed on December 3, 1912 in Çatalca by Ottoman, Serbian and Bulgarian delegations. Insisting for Ioannina to be evacuated, Greece was unsatisfied with the terms and refused to sign, continuing with its siege of Ioannina and the blockade in the Aegean and the Adriatic Seas.

According to the terms of the armistice, Ottoman units would maintain their positions as of December 3, however they would not be allowed to send relief material to the three cities that were under siege. Moreover, in order to ensure the flow of supplies for the Bulgarian forces at Çatalca, the Ottoman government was to lift the blockade on Bulgarian Black Sea ports and also allow to the Bulgarians to use the railroad passing through Edirne for this purpose.

Turkish cavalry near Lüleburgaz (Daily Mirror, 1912)

Following the armistice, a peace conference convened in London, attended by delegates from the Balkan allies, including Greece who had not signed the previous armistice, as well as the Ottoman Empire. The conference opened on December 16, 1912 and at the same time a Conference of Ambassadors, consisting of Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary, and the London representatives of all the powers, was also in session. The Ottoman delegation was led by the Minister of Public Works Mustafa Reşid Pasha.

The Balkan allies demanded a war indemnity and the cession of all European territories of the Ottoman Empire, with the exception of Albania. Crete and the islands in the Aegean Sea were to be ceded as well. The Ottoman Empire was to be allowed to retain Istanbul, Constantinople, together with a strip of territory extending from Midia on the Black Sea to Rodosto (current-day Tekirdağ) on the Sea of Marmara, as also the peninsula of Gallipoli.

Bulgarian patrol around Edirne

The Sublime Porte was unwilling to give up Edirne, a sacrifice insisted upon by Bulgaria. Ambassadors of the great Powers stated that if the conference failed due to the issue of Edirne, Armenians would be likely to cause unrest in Anatolia and it could also be possible for the Great Powers to send a fleet to Istanbul and for Russia to send troops to Kars.

Meanwhile, as the negotiations were in progress in London, Captain Rauf Bey, commander of the cruiser Hamidiye, took a personal initiative and sailed with his warship to the Aegean in an attempt to weaken the Greek blockade and change the mood in the country. He broke through the blockade and tried to create a diversion that draw the Greek flagship Averof in pursuit and leave the remainder of the Greek fleet weakened. However, Averof did not chase Hamidiye and the plan failed. Hamidiye still managed to score a series of successes, sinking a number of Greek ships and bombarding Greek ports.

In London, the Ottoman delegation brought its own proposal on December 28. Accordingly, Edirne would remain within the Empire. Macedonia was to become a principate under Ottoman patronage, and the city of Salonica would be its capital. The prince would be appointed by the Ottoman sultan from among the candidates suggested by the Balkan states. Albania would have an autonomous status and it would be ruled by an Ottoman crown prince. All the Aegean islands would remain Ottoman and the Crete issue would be discussed separately between the Sublime Porte and the Great Powers.

Deadlock in London

The Ottoman proposal was rejected and negotiations in London soon went into a deadlock because Bulgaria insisted on having Edirne and the islands of Thassos and Samothrace and Greece wanted Imbros (current-day Gökçeada), Tenedos (current-day Bozcaada) and Limnos. The Ottoman delegation argued that Edirne and the four islands other than Thassos were crucial for the defense of Istanbul and the Straits, hence they were indispensable.

Peace conference between Turkey and Balkan states in London (Illustration by Achille Beltrame, La Domenica del Corriere, 29 December 1912)

On January 17, the Great Powers delivered a new proposal to the Ottoman delegation. Accordingly, Edirne was to be yielded all European territories of the Empire beyond a line running from Enos on the Aegean Sea, at the mouth of the Maritza River, to Midia on the Black Sea was to be ceded. Five days later, the Sublime Porte convened an imperial council with the participation of current and former statesmen in order to discuss this proposal. Nobody could see any benefits in continuing with the war and the council agreed that peace should be made on the terms offered by the Great Powers.

The next day, the Ottoman government held a meeting to finalize the reply to be submitted to London. Meanwhile, there was unrest among certain circles, particularly those close to the CUP. As the meeting of the government was progress, on January 23, 1913, a group of CUP sympathisers led by the prominent orator Ömer Naci Bey marched towards Bab-ı Ali (Turkish word for the Sublime Porte) protesting the government for planning to leave Edirne to the enemy. When they arrived there, they met a group of armed officers including Enver Bey, Yakup Cemil, Necip Asım and Sapancalı Hakkı. Together they broke into the hall where the meeting was being held. It was a coup d’etat.

Recruitment of volunteers in Istanbul

During the ‘Raid on the Sublime Porte’ several people including the Minister of War, Nazım Pasha were murdered by the putschists and the Grand Vizier Kamil Pasha was forced to resign at gunpoint. Although at that time the raid was shown to the public as a reaction to the government’s plans about Edirne, it was actually a previously planned event organised by the CUP to regain power. Mahmut Şevket Pasha, who had to leave the government only a couple of months ago due to the pressure of the CUP, was assigned as the new Grand Vizier.

As the new government insisted on keeping Edirne –it had no other option because otherwise the coup could not have been justified- Bulgaria announced on February 2 that the armistice was over. However, the situation was now different than what it was three months ago. As negotiations were on the way in London, Turks had strengthened the defensive line at Çatalca and it seemed almost impossible for the Bulgarians to break through. A second front was at Bulair, north of the Gallipoli peninsula, and this front was reinforced as well. At these two fronts, Turks had a total manpower of 200,000 men, against 150,000 Bulgarians. Meanwhile, Bulgarian First and Third Armies were stationed at Çatalca, whereas the Second Army was at Edirne continuing the siege there. A new army, the Fourth under the command of General Stilian Kovachev, was established for the Gallipoli front.

Mahmut Şevket Pasha and the new commander-in-chief of the Ottoman forces, Ahmet İzzet Pasha, began immediately with the preparations for resuming the war. The situation was fragile, because nobody knew for how long Edirne could last. The city was under siege and their supplies were running out. There was a great pressure from the public. People wanted the former capital of the Ottoman Empire to be liberated.

The first operation in this phase of the war was launched in the early hours of February 8, 1913, when the X Corps, commanded by Hurşid Pasha whose chief of staff was Enver Bey, performed an amphibious landing at the shores of İnceburun and Şarköy on the Sea of Marmara. The plan was to encircle the Bulgarian Fourth Army, with the X Corps from the east and with the Dardanelles Combined Corps in Gallipoli, under the command of Fahri Pasha, with Major Fethi Bey as his chief of staff and Major Mustafa Kemal Bey his head of operation, from the south. The warship Mesudiye would provide naval artillery fire support from the sea. The next step would be marching together towards Edirne.

The operation could, however, not executed as planned. The landings began in the morning of February 8 with a delay. The Dardanelles Combined Corps was supposed to begin its offensive simultaneously with the landing, however, since he was not informed about the delay, Fahri Pasha commenced the attack too early. There was no naval fire support, because Hurşid Pasha decided to use Mecidiye for the landings, and Asar-ı Tevfik had hit a rock off Karaburun and sunk. Fahri Pasha’s corps was too weak to face the Bulgarians alone and the landings were not only late, four regiments were landed mistakenly in Şarköy rather than İnceburun, which was closer to the frontline in Bulair. By the next morning, half of the X Corps was ashore, but it was too late. The operation had to be aborted.

Losing Ioannina, Edirne and Shkoder

Vehib Bey negotiating the surrender of Ioannina with Greek General Soutzos (Twitter | Gökhan Karataş @karatasgokhan_)

Meanwhile, having repulsed the troops of Esat Pasha in Epirus, the Greeks had laid siege on the city of Ioannina, which was defended by Colonel Vehib Bey, Esat’s brother. The Epirus Army attempted to take capture the city through a major offensive, but failed to accomplish this and suffered significant losses. It was General Sapountzakis, who paid for this failure; he was replaced by Crown Prince Constantine. Greeks landed fresh troops at Dalmatian shores, however these units were stopped by the Albanian militia. The siege of Ioannina was not as strong as the Bulgarian siege of Edirne. Vehib Bey’s troops were successfully defending the city and there were no shortages of supplies. However, to the surprise of the whole world, Vehib Bey surrendered. Ottoman forces and Albanian militia left the city to Constantine on March 6.

The reason of the decision to surrender was later revealed in a letter from the German ambassador in Athens to Berlin. According to the information he had received, the Sublime Porte was planning to take advantage of the animosity between Bulgarians and Greeks in order to survive the war with minimal losses. Vehib Bey was ordered by the Ottoman government to evacuate the city, in order to gain the sympathy of Greece and have them join forces together against Bulgaria.

On March 17, another offensive was attempted by the Turks at Çatalca, but it yielded no results. Neither side wanted to engage in fighting. Bulgarians were waiting for Edirne to be captured before they force the Çatalca line.

What was feared by the Turks, was to happen soon. A Serbian contingent had arrived in Edirne to support the Bulgarians siege. The units involved were the Serbian Second Army under the command of General Stepa Stepanović and French Creusot artillery dispatched because the Bulgarians lacked heavy artillery. Bulgarian forces were under the overall command of General Nikola Ivanov and the commander of the Bulgarian forces on the eastern sector of the fortress was General Georgi Vazov.

Şükrü Pasha

Hostilities around Edirne had begun on February 3, with the artillery fire opened by the Bulgarian Second Army. Şükrü Pasha heroically defended the city, however the final offensive launched by the combined Bulgarian and Serbian forces on March 24 was simply too strong. Edirne fell on March 26, 1913, after a siege of 155 days, during which the Turks lost 13,000 men killed or wounded and 28,500 taken prisoner, whereas Bulgarians lost 16,000 men and Serbs 1,900 men. The next day, Tsar Ferdinand entered Edirne and returned to Şükrü Pasha his sword, which had been seized by Ivanov the day before. All the Turkish officers, including Şükrü Pasha himself were sent to Sofia and the Turkish prisoners of war were kept in the city for one more month before they were dispatched to prisoner camps in Bulgaria.

Surrendering Edirne

The only city that remained under siege was Shkoder, defended by Colonel Hasan Rıza Bey. He resisted for seven months, but the end was near for Shkoder as well. On January 30, 1913, Hasan Rıza went to see the archbishop of Albanian Catholics. As he was on his way back home in the evening, he was attacked by three assassins and did not manage to survive wounds he received. After his death, the defense of Shkoder was assumed by Esat Toptani Pasha, an Albanian feudal, who had gained favours from Abdülhamid II and was made the commander of the fortified zone in Shkoder by Hasan Rıza Bey, who wanted to get the support of Muslim Albanians.

Meanwhile, on April 4, armistice was signed between Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire. The Great Powers wanted now to solve the problem in Shkoder to and began to pressurise Montenegro to lift its siege. An Allied fleet under the command of the British admiral Burney anchored off the Montenegrin coast to increase the pressure on Montenegro. However, as King Nikola was preparing to lift the siege, something unexpected happened. Esat Toptani surrendered the city to the Montenegrins on April 22 in return for a safe passage for Ottoman troops and the Muslim population. Not only the Sublime Porte, but also the Great Powers were outraged by this act. According to the reports of the German ambassadors in Cetince and the Austrian military attaché in Paris, Russia had encouraged Esat Toptani and King Nikola to shake hands. Nikola had promised Esat Toptani to make him the King of Albania and also arranged for Russian financial assistance. After a series of diplomatic efforts, Shkoder was eventually left to international forces on May 8.

Bulgarian army in the courtyard of Selimiye Mosque in Edirne (

Meanwhile, another question was raised by Romania, who hoped to gain Silistria and a more advantageous military frontier for her Dobrudja region. Bulgaria refused these suggestions as to compensation for neutrality. War almost resulted, but was averted by a conference in Petrograd on May 7, which gave Romania Silistria without fortifications.

The Balkan War ended with the Treaty of London signed at St. James Palace on May 30, 1913. Accordingly; (1) Ottoman Empire ceded to the Balkan allies her European territories beyond a line drawn from Enos near the mouth of the Maritza River on the Aegean Sea to Midia on the Black Sea; (2) The status and boundaries of Albania were to be fixed by the Great Powers; (3) Ottoman Empire ceded Crete to the Balkan allies in whose favor all rights of sovereignty were renounced; (4) The decision upon the fate of the islands in the Aegean Sea (with the exception of Crete) and the status of Mount Athos were left to the Great Powers.

Inter-Balkan Conflict

During the Balkan War, Serbia, Montenegro, Greece and Bulgaria succeeded in conquering the European territories of the Ottoman Empire, which was left with only Çatalca and the Gallipoli peninsula. However the Balkan states were not satisfied. There was no preliminary agreement made with regard to the post-war partition of the former Ottoman territories and the London Conference had simply recognized the status quo. The biggest disappointment was experienced in Sofia. Bulgaria felt that its territorial rewards from the war, particularly in Macedonia, were insufficient and laid claim to the city of Salonica. Meanwhile, neither Greece nor Serbia were ready to give up their claims on Macedonia, whereas Romania, which had not taken part in the war, was looking for an opportunity to capitalize on the disagreements between Balkan states and gain advantages in Dobrudja.

Turkish postcard: "Do Not Forget Edirne!"

Realising that the situation was again escalating in the Balkans, Russian Tsar Nikola II attempted to intervene, however it was too late. Bulgarians wanted to acquire all of Bulgarian Macedonia, which would mean a Bulgarian domination of the Balkans, while Serbians and Greeks hoped to take larger portions of Macedonia and prevent Bulgarian hegemony. On June 30, 1913, Bulgarian Tsar Ferdinand ordered his troops to attack Serbian and Greek positions. The Second Balkan War had begun.

The Bulgarian strategy was to defeat the Serbs and Greeks as soon as possible, before Russia or Turkey intervened, and then to move north, towards Romania. However, this did not happen as fast as they wanted. Tsar Ferdinand dismissed General Savov and replaced him with General Dimitriev as the new commander-in-chief. There was now a political turmoil in Sofia. The government did not want war, but the Tsar did. The army did not know what to do, because they were receiving conflicting orders. To make it worse for Bulgarians, Romania declared war on Bulgaria on July 10. Having to fight in three different fronts, the Bulgarian army was split and within only three weeks it was a complete disaster for them.

Liberation of Edirne

Meanwhile, this conflict among the victors of the first war was a great opportunity for the Ottoman Empire to recover at least some of the lost territories. Grand Vizier Mahmut Şevket Pasha was assassinated on June 11 and succeeded by the conservative Sait Halim Pasha, who had a Unionist line. The CUP was now totally in power in Istanbul and they needed a military victory to crown their rise. On July 6, the Sublime Porte decided for the army to march towards the Enos-Midia line, which was crossed on July 12 by an army of around 200,000 troops.

Turkish troops entering Edirne on July 22, 1913

On July 22, the Ottoman army entered Edirne without firing a single shot. The first contingent to enter the city was commanded by Enver Bey, who famously said: “We are here and we will stay here.” The liberation of Edirne was a great morale boost, not only for the Ottoman army, but also for the entire country. Meanwhile, the Great Powers immediately protested the liberation of Edirne on the grounds that it was against the provisions of the London Treaty. However, the mood was so high in Istanbul, that neither these protests nor Russian threats to send a fleet to Istanbul and to invade Eastern Anatolia did have any effect. Meanwhile, Romanian troops had occupied Southern Dobrudja and they were marching through Northern Bulgaria with the objective of threatening Sofia.

After a series of diplomatic attempts between the Great Powers and the Balkan states, the Second Balkan War ended with the Treaty of Bucharest signed on August 12, 1913. Romania profited most in proportion to her losses and received from Bulgaria the entire Southern Dobrudja region, s well as Silistria and Turtucaia south of the Danube. Bulgaria had failed to gain Macedonia and with only a small outlet to the Aegean around the minor port of Dedeağaç (modern-day Alexandroupoli), it had to abandon its project of Balkan hegemony. Greece kept Salonica and was also assigned the port of Kavala and the territory eastward.

An interesting outcome of the Second Balkan War was the establishment of the Provisional Government of Western Thrace on August 31, 1913. The state was created by a Turkish and Pomak (Muslim Bulgarian) rebellion led by Kuşçubaşı Eşref Bey against withdrawing occupying Bulgarian forces in that area. This short-lived republic was founded with Gümülcine (modern-day Komotini) as its capital and it had established its own state bureaucracy and army. However, with the Treaty of Istanbul, the republic was dissolved and its territory was left to Bulgaria.

The Ottoman Empire signed three peace treaties with the Balkan states. The first was the Treaty of Istanbul signed with Bulgaria on September 29, 1913, according to which the Enos-Midia line was preserved, but was made to curve northward from the Black Sea and westward across the River Maritza in such a way that the Ottoman Empire obtained not only Edirne, but also Kırk Kilise and Didymoteicho. The Treaty of Istanbul also gave the Muslim population remaining inside the borders of Bulgaria the right to immigrate to Ottoman territories within four years, whereas those who choose to stay would be provided with freedom of worship. This treaty was followed by the Treaty of Athens signed on November 14, 1913, which left Ioannina, Crete and Salonica to Greece, but left the question of the Aegean islands unsolved. Another treaty was signed with Serbia in Istanbul on March 13, 1914. Since the Ottoman Empire had no shared frontier with Serbia, this treaty only arranged the status of the Muslim population in Serbia.

Turkish woman guarding the wreckage of her home in Silivri (Daily Mirror, 1912)

During the Balkan Wars, the Ottoman army suffered around 250,000 casualties, including those killed in action, wounded and lost. Having lost 83 percent of its European territories, which were of great economic significance, and 69 percent of its population living in European territories, the Ottoman Empire was no more "European." On the other hand, Bulgaria enlarged its territories by 29 percent, Greece by 68 percent, Montenegro by 62 percent and Romania by 5 percent.

The biggest loser of the Balkan Wars was the civilian population. They were forced to migrate, they had to flee the invading armies and bands, they lost their lives and property. The methods employed by Russia in the Turco-Russian War of 1878 to cleanse the Balkan Peninsula from its Muslim population, was this time used by Bulgarian, Serbian and Greek bands. While regular armies were fighting each other at the front, the Muslim population was killed or forced to leave their homes in towns and villages.

It was not the only the Muslim population that suffered. During the Second Balkan Wars the belligerents inflicted the same cruelty on each other’s Christian peoples. It was Istanbul, which received the highest number of refugees during the first war, and in the second war it was Bulgaria.

The main reason behind the behavior towards the civilians was the “ideology of exclusionary nationalism” that dominated Balkans in the early 20th century. After the war, the same ideology influenced the Ottoman Empire as well. CUP leaders blamed the non-Muslim population for the defeat in the Balkans and the ideology of Ottomanism was replaced by Turkism, championed, among others, by Enver Bey. As the war was sliding into a major catastrophe, the leaders of the Ottoman Empire had set their new target as defending the region between Edirne and Aleppo, roughly corresponding to modern-day Turkey.