Thursday 19 August 2010

A War over Keys??

We all know that there are many examples in History where war has started over, what seem to be, rather silly reasons. For the A Level course I am teaching, The Experience of Warfare 1855-1929; I have been researching the Crimean War (1855-1856), and I must say the short term causes of the war seem to be, to me, borderline ridiculous.
Crimea at the time was part of the Ottoman Empire-the Ottoman Empire had control of the ports that led out to the Mediterranean Sea-favourable for trade. This is something that Russia lacked and was envious of-Tsar Nicholas I even alluded to wanting to carve up the Turkish empire, calling it the 'sick man of Europe'. The Tsar saw the Ottoman Empire as weak and could see huge benefits in taking a large proportion of it.
According to historian Christopher Hibbert the Prime Minister, Lord Aberdeen, and the Foreign Secretary, Lord Clarendon did not want war with Russia.  But the more powerful Lord Palmerston, Home Secretary and Russophobe, saw Russia's imperialism as a threat to the British Empire, in particular to India. He saw that the areas around the Med needed to remain in friendly hands, that of the Turks, in order to maintain the route the British took to India and continue lucrative trade.
A quarrel in the Holy Land provided a reason for tensions to escalate not only between Turkey and Britain with Russia, but also with France and Russia.  The monks of the Roman Catholic Church, supported by France, and the monks of the Orthodox Church, supported by Russia, were arguing over rights and privileges concerning the Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  In 1852 the Turks, being the imperial rulers of the Holy Lands, decided that the Roman Catholic monks should have the keys to these important churches-aligning themselves with France.

In 1853 the Tsar sent Prince Menshikov (left) to maintain the privileges of the Orthodox Christians and to insist on Russia's rights to protect the Ottoman Empire's Orthodox Christian subjects.Arguments over the holy places came to a head when the Roman Catholic monks placed their own silver star over the manger in the Church of the Nativity. The Orthodox monks tried to prevent the Catholic monks from doing this and in the struggle some were killed. The Russians thought that the Turkish authorities had connived in the murder of the monks-within days a Russian army was marching towards the Danube in order to protect the Holy Places from Islam.  
The Russians demanded that Turkish troops withdraw from Christian Montenegro, where they were suppressing a revolt-this demand was rejected.  To 'encourage' Turkish cooperation, the Russian government announced that unless Turkey did what they wanted, Russian troops would occupy Moldavia and Wallachia-countries under joint protectorate of Turkey and Russia as they bordered the boundaries of both the Russian and Turkish empires.
Behind the scenes the British ambassador in Turkey, Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, had been encouraging the Sultan to reject the Russian demands. Learning of the Russian threats, Britain and France decided to intervene. On June 15th 1853, a combined British and French fleet was sent to the Dardanelles to show solidarity with Turkey.
A draft compromise, drawn up by Austria, was rejected by the Sultan-perhaps he was buoyed up by the support of Britain and France? In July the Tsar ordered Russian troops into Moldavia and Wallachia. It was still hoped by many that war would not come. But, on 5th October 1853, hoping Britain and France would support Turkey rather than see the Ottoman Empire collapse, the Sultan declared war on Russia.
Weeks later thousands would be slaughtered as the result of strategic mishaps-young men cut down in their prime.  All over keys??
Let me know what you think...