I will be defining what the “Eastern Question” is and when it emerged as a concept and historical phenomenon. I will also explain the main aspects of the Eastern Question and go into its periodization as well as the main characteristics of its consecutive sub periods.The Eastern Question can be described as a the strategic and political competition between Great Powers in Europe that occured after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. This diplomatic issue occurred during the 19th and early 20th centuries and as a result, many Great Powers of Europe fought over expanding into old Ottoman territories. This caused great tension between countries surrounding the former Ottoman Empire as they feared that one of the Great Powers might take advantage of the situation to increase their Empire’s authority and territories. The Eastern Question arose in various time periods during the 19th centuries during times of war, conflict and crisis. The main time periods in which the Eastern Question was prominent can be divided into the 1820s Greek Revolution, the Crimean War (1853-1856), the Balkan Crisis (1875-1878), the Bosnian Crisis of 1908 and the Balkan Wars (1912-1913).
The concept of the “Eastern Question” was first created and recognized after the Greek Revolts of 1821. After Napoleon’s defeat in the year of 1815, many people believed that Russia would lead an invasion of the Ottoman Empire. This caused a lot of tension between the Ottomans authority over its territories. One of these tensions was between the Greek territories and the Ottoman Empire. Several European powers believed that Russia would intervene immediately and aid the Greeks in splitting off from the Ottoman Empire and forming an independent Greek State.
However, the Emperor of Russia, Alexander I, chose not to take any action to aid and wished for peaceful collaboration among the Great Powers. Alexander ended up dying in 1825, and his successor Nicholas I decided to intervene and support Greece’s revolt against the Ottoman Empire along with an alliance with Britain and France. Austria decided to stay out of this alliance as they were particularly concerned by the growing influence of the Russian Empire.
The Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II took this intervention as an act prompting war and named Russia as an enemy of Islam. As the war progressed, it became clear that Russia was gaining the upper hand in winning the battle. Russia was faced with the option of completely destroying the Ottoman Empire or leaving it in a weakened state. Nicholas I believed that Russia would be better off if the Ottomans were left in a weakened state. He didn’t want other Great Powers to feel threatened by Russia’s growing influence and feel the urge to go to war with them and also didn’t wish for European powers to ravage a weakened Ottoman Empire in a fight for its remaining territories.
Emperor Nicholas instead decided to enter into the Treaty of Adrianople with the Sultan forcing the Ottoman Empire to become dependent on Russia. Russia gained several benefits from this treaty including gaining territories along the coast of the Black sea, the right for Russian commercial ships to access the Straits, and business expansion rights for Russians in the Ottoman Empire were granted. The next main time period in which the Eastern question arose was during the Crimean war which occurred during the 1850s. This conflict arose because of increasing demands from the Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christian territories in the Ottoman Empire. Because both these sides were making several demands it became extremely hard to satisfy both, and the Ottomans were swayed to fulfill the demands of the Roman Catholics over the Orthodox Christians.
The sworn guardian of the Roman Catholics was France and the guardian of the Orthodox Christians was Russia. When either of the two guardians believed the rights of their subjects wasn’t being properly fulfilled by the Ottoman Empire they would come and try to protect their subjects rights. The Catholic and Orthodox Christians argued about the ownership of the Church of Holy Sepulchre and the Church of Nativity and both made demands regarding these churches to the Sultan. After the Sultan gave into the Catholic side of the argument and the Orthodox Christians were heavily dismayed. Russia came to aid the Orthodox Christians, and Prince Menshikov tried to come up with a treaty with the Sultan that would allow Russia to intervene whenever it believed the Sultan wasn’t adequately protecting the rights of Orthodox Christians. Stratford Canning, who was sent by the British government successfully convinced the Sultan to reject Menshikov proposal and this greatly affected the Ottoman independence.
Emperor Nicholas of Russia quickly took the territories of Wallachia and Moldavia which were principalities which Russia guarded Orthodox Christians. The European powers tried to come up with a peaceful negotiation through a treaty however their attempts failed and this move ultimately led to the Crimean War. Ultimately after several battles between the Ottomans and Russians, Austria played a huge role in scaring the Russia’s stance in the war. They refused to explicitly say that they were neutral towards Russia and also stated that they felt threatened by their presence in the Danubian principalities.
This caused Russian troops to retreat from these principalities; this was the reason for how the war started in the first place. Finally, the Treaty of Paris was agreed upon which allowed equal access by European powers to the Straits and the Black Sea (The Treaty also removed naval warships from the Black Sea as well). This helped to remove the the constant threat on the Ottoman Empire by Russian warships and all Great powers agreed to remain within their territories.The Bosnian crisis of 1908 took place because of a fight for Bosnia between the Austria-Hungary Empire and Serbia (Serbia was backed by Russia). The Austrian Empire sought to expand its territories to include Bosnia, and Serbia didn’t like this move because they believed it was their right to include Bosnia into a “Greater Serbia” due to the presence of a lot of Slavic people in Bosnia.
Russia ended up backing Serbia as “protectors of Slavic people” and Germany supported Austria-Hungary. Germany’s army was far stronger than Russia’s army at the time due to advancing technology and techniques which were being used. The first Balkan war (Great Eastern Crisis) of 1875 was characterized by rebellions by people from Herzegovina, Bosnia and Bulgaria (who were supported by Russia) against a declining Ottoman Empire. Finally it ended when the Ottoman Empire lost and entered into an armistice. The next Balkan wars took place from 1912-1913, after the Balkan countries which were controlled by the Ottoman Empire declared independence from the Ottomans. They decided to form the “Balkan League” and fought against the Empire ultimately emerging victorious.
After they won the Balkan war of 1912 they started to fight amongst each other for division of territories in 1913 from which Serbia emerged the most powerful country among those in the Balkans.