The two Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 sealed the fate of the declining Ottoman Empire. The decline that had begun at the end of the 16th century with the battle of Lepanto and had continued with the Turks’ defeat at the gates of Vienna by the Christian armies commanded by Prince Eugene of Savoy. The background to events was the war between the Sublime Porte and Russia, centuries-old enemies. This war ended in 1878 with the advance of the Tsarist troops into the Caucasus and the Balkans. The Treaty of Berlin, which ended the hostilities, also marked a geopolitical cataclysm, similar, though on a smaller scale, to the one that overwhelmed Europe when the USSR collapsed in 1991. From the remains of Ottoman Empire‘s former Balkan territories new states arose: Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, and Romania, all firmly under Russian influence. All that remained in Turkish hands of the Balkans was Macedonia, Northern Greece around Salonika, and the southern part of the Serbian territory.
The Balkans had experienced further upheaval in 1908, when Austria-Hungary, concerned by Serbian expansionism, had annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in a
political and military move, the outcome of which was to further reinforce Serbia’s dependence on Russia. It was therefore a much weakened Turkey that Italy attacked in 1911, her battleships having sailed through the Dardanelles, penetrated the Bosporus, and conquered the Dodecanese Islands. This last affront had repercussions on Turkey’s domestic politics. It forced the “Young Turks” party–which had only just come to power, headed by Enver Pasha, and in whose ranks Mustafa Kemal, the future “Ataturk,” was already emerging–to adopt highly nationalistic positions.
The First Balkan War
The change in the political climate effected by the Turkish government alarmed Russia, which feared possible Turkish revenge for the defeat of 1878. Through the diplomatic maneuverings of Hartwig, the Russian representative, in Belgrade, an alliance was brokered between Serbia and Bulgaria in order to oust Turkey once and for all from the Balkans and undermine its primacy in the Bosphorus. The alliance was extended to include Montenegro and Greece, and on October 8, 1912, while still at war with Italy, Sultan Mehmet V received a declaration of war from the four Balkan nations. The cam¬paign was swift and disastrous for the Turkish army. While the Greeks besieged Salonika and forced Hassan Pasha into defeat, the Serbs, commanded by Prince Alexander, faced Zekki Pasha north of Monastir. Three days of fighting followed, ending in a Turkish defeat with 17,000 dead and wounded and 10,000 prisoners. But the most outstanding victories were achieved by the Bulgarians, who overcame the Turkish troops on the Vadar River at Kirk-Kilisse and Luleburgaz. The Treaty of London, signed on May 30, 1913, ended the war. Turkey lost Salonika, Uskub, Janina, Shkoder, and Adrianople and had to give up definitively all hope of holding territory in the Balkans.
The Second Balkan War
The conclusion of the first Balkan War had left all par¬ties discontented. Serbia, which wanted an outlet to the Adriatic, had been unable to obtain one because of
the fierce opposition of Austria and Italy. Greece protested Italy’s annexation of the Dodecanese. Bulgaria, above all, having sustained the greater part of the military action, felt it had lost out to Serbia in the division of the territories decided in the course of the Conference of Lou¬don, and sought help and support from Vienna, which had long been hostile to Belgrade.
Thus, while the settlement was still being discussed and argued about in London, barely a month after the conclusion of the previous conflict, Bulgaria attacked Serbia. Romania, Greece, Montenegro, and Turkey immediately sided with Serbia and declared war on Bulgaria, which found itself completely isolated.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire, on the other hand, on whose support the powers in Sofia were counting, was careful not to intervene. The Bulgarians were defeated and forced to sign the humiliating Treaty of Bucharest (August 10, 1913). Southern Dobruja and Silistra were handed over to Romania; Macedonia was almost totally annexed to Serbia; Turkey regained Adrianople; Crete and Salonika were definitively assigned to Greece; finally, Albania’s independence and its three main cities, Shkoder, Durres, and Vlore were recognized, and Prince William of Wied became its first king.
Not even the second Balkan War managed to resolve the discord in the region. A discontented Serbia continued to represent a threat, mainly to the neighboring Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the spark that was to set off World War I arose from this friction.