Istanbul preserved its position as one of the prominent centers of diplomacy in Europe in the nineteenth century, and witnessed crucial developments. In this period, Ottoman politics also went through an important transformation. The efforts of the Bâbıâli (the Sublime Porte), which could not achieve its political goals on the battlegrounds, to integrate into European diplomacy, and the view of the European capitals, which began to regard the Ottomans as the only problem in the East, especially after the sharing of Poland in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, played an important role in this transformation. The developments in communication and transportation technology were factors that accelerated this process. Regular navigations starting to Odessa in 1833 and to Marseilles in 1837, and the opening of the first telegram bureau in 1955 enabled Istanbul to get in closer contact with the other European capitals, with which it was already in touch. Nevertheless, as a result of this closer relationship with Europe, any local problems emerging in any part of the Ottoman Empire would turn into an international problem. Now that the problems, and those of the non-Muslims in particular, in any part of the Empire, was not only the concern of Istanbul but also of the ambassadors of the great powers in Istanbul. These problems would turn Istanbul into the diplomatic battleground of England, France, Habsburg, Russia and Prussia, resulting in Istanbul being named Pentharchy (with five heads) in European historiography, after the Congress of Vienna (1815), which reshaped European diplomacy.
The Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878), during which the Ottoman capital experienced one of the most serious threats of occupation, and the changing English policy were the crucial reasons behind surmounting of the Berlin administration in the diplomatic centers in Istanbul in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This process, leading to the influx of German military experts and companies to Istanbul, would end with the defeat of Germany in World War I. This also constituted the starting point of a series of events that bringing out the occupation of the Ottoman capital. Istanbul, administered by the high commissioners assigned by the victorious countries of the war, was transformed into an international city governed by diplomats who were former soldiers.
The Diplomatic Front of Pera
What Pera (Beyoğlu) and its vicinities, where embassies began to be established after the sixteenth century, meant for Istanbul was the same as what Istanbul meant for the Ottoman Empire: the center of diplomacy. The embassy buildings in and around Beyoğlu, which were severely damaged in the Istanbul fire in 1831, were rebuilt in time in accordance with the power of the countries they represented. The Russian Embassy, built by Gaspare Fossati, who also restored the Hagia Sophia between the years 1836- 1843, included a big ballroom as well as a number of reception rooms. As a remarkable detail, these rooms, where Russian embassies gathered information about the Bâbıâli and Europe, were decorated with scenes of St. Petersburg reflecting the European spirit of Russia. Among the rumors, spreading in Europe and the Ottoman capital, was that during the construction of this building, which was intentionally turned into an imperial monument, the tsar also had a summer palace built for himself in Istanbul. The Embassy of Great Britain, built between the years 1844-1851, was also an embassy representing the character of its represented country. The building was the same as the one called “Reform Club”, situated in the south of Pall Mall in London, and was the frequently visited place of the people supporting the 1832 Great Reform Act. Both of the buildings, constructed by Sir Charles Barry, were symbols of the nature of English reformism inside and outside the country. In this context, it is possible to regard the Embassy of Great Britain as a trademark in the Ottoman capital of the international system founded by Lord Palmerston. According to the ambassador Edouard Thouvenel, the Palais de France built in place of the Maison de France between the years 1839-1847 “might not be a building of a high artistic taste” like the embassy buildings of France and Russia, “but with respect to its enormity, abundance and vastness, it was a real imperial palace.” Thus, the embassy buildings of the great powers in Istanbul corresponded to their desires in the East.
Bâbıâli and Yıldız Palace: Centers of Diplomacy
Until Abdülhamid II’s ascension to the throne, the Bâbıâli remained the diplomatic center of the Ottoman Empire. Hariciye Nezareti (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), the burden of which increased with the fact that domestic issues gained an international dimension, was the place where only daily diplomatic problems were dealt with in coordination with the Sadaret (Grand Vizierate). Nevertheless, peculiar to the nineteenth century, the decision boards did not consist of only the Sadaret and Hariciye Nezareti. In this period, Istanbul’s foreign policy was shaped according to the conciliations or conflicts resulting from the formal and informal meeting with the influential embassies, and the decisions made in the European capitals on the relevant problems. The embassies were not only influential in foreign policy, they were also actively engaged in the selection of the people who would conduct the determined foreign policy. The embassies of the great powers, which obviously had a great impact on Istanbul, were also involved in the determination of the ministries of foreign affairs and even the grand viziers. As can be seen in the instances of Reşid Pasha and Ali Pasha who frequently succeeded and preceded one another as grand viziers, and the appointments of the members to the Şûrâ-yı Devlet (Council of the State), this situation had a substantial impact on the Bâbıâli for the preservation of balance and control in the foreign policy between England, France and Russia. The developments occurring during the reign of Abdülhamid II brought about the end of the superiority of the bureaucrats of the Bâbıâli in the field of diplomacy. In the period of Abdülhamid II, when the influence of the embassies increasingly continued, Yıldız Palace became the only institution representing foreign affairs in the Ottoman Empire.
Ambassadors and Translators
The diplomats in Istanbul would spend their times after working hours engaged in mutual visits, formal dinner receptions, evening meetings, theatres and concerts. The picnics the representatives organized with their families in the summer resorts in the capital were meetings where politics and Ottoman policy was discussed, they were not at the official level though. The lunch receptions hosted by Lady Stratford or balls hosted by the ambassador of Russia, Nikolai Ignatyev were actually social events where the issue of the East, and in a way, the fate of the Ottoman Empire was discussed. These social activities were directly related to politics; thus, the increasing tension in Europe dramatically decreased relations among the diplomats in Istanbul.
Despite the revolutionary advances in technology in the nineteenth century, when it came to connecting the embassies to the capitals they represented, the embassies in Istanbul were still quite far from their capitals. The fact that these embassies had the freedom to make decisions on political issues to such a large extent, incomparable to the authority of their current colleagues, was a direct result of this spatial remoteness. The embassies, which were mostly decision-making bodies rather than institutions conducting the decisions made in their capitals, played an influential role in the extent of the relation between the two states, the future of the alliances or conditions of the agreements. These ambassadors would even visit the European capitals in person, exchanging ideas with their allies, and build the policies they would follow in Istanbul on these bases. The freedom the embassies had in the decision making process necessitated that they would be informed of the general strategy, forming the basis of the foreign policy of the Bâbıâli. The ambassadors’ information needs was met by local and foreign spies working for the embassies.
The diplomatic traffic between the embassies and the Bâbıâli, other than the informal channels, was mostly conducted via translators. The translation offices in the embassies were generally under the monopoly of the prominent non-Muslim families residing in Istanbul. They were acting as bridges between ambassadors and the Bâbıâli. The embassy translators, regulating the contacts of the ambassadors with the Bâbıâli, who did not know the Ottoman administration and Istanbul well enough to make diplomatic maneuvers, were sometimes as influential as the ambassadors. The members of the families serving as embassy translators would mostly receive their education in the important European capitals. The translators’ families, forming bonds via marriages, would also form bonds of kinship with the foreigners who would be assigned as ambassadors to Istanbul. As a result of such bonds created via marriages, the embassy of the relevant state would almost come under the complete control of these translator families. As an example, the daughter of Bartolomeo Testa, from the Testa family serving as translators for the Habsburg Embassy since the 1740s, was married to Ignaz Lorenz Stürmer who was sent to Istanbul first as a dragoman, then as an ambassador. Bartholomaus and Karl Stürmer who graduated from Orientalische Akademie like as their fathers, came to Istanbul as dragomans in 1796 and 1802 respectively. The fact that Bartholomaus Stürmer, who learned European diplomacy in Vienna, represented the Habsburg Dynasty in Istanbul between the years 1833-1850, reveals the dominance of the Testa family over the Habsburg Embassy. The fact that Antoine Testa, another family member, worked as charge d’affaires of Sweden in Istanbul in the same period (1831-1858) was another indication of the hegemony of the Testa family in Pera.
The translation services in these embassies were not carried out solely by these families. As can be seen in the instances of France and the Habsburgs in particular, the ambassadors that were to be appointed to Istanbul, would firstly learn Turkish and improve the Turkish they theoretically learned in their countries by serving as clerks in embassies in Istanbul. This policy also reveals the importance of the Ottoman Empire. Nevertheless, after the second half of the nineteenth century, these general observations lost their validity. In this period, it would not be possible to claim that these embassies had a good command of Turkish, except for several cases. However, there was actually no need for this, as almost all state elites in the Ottoman capital, including the sultans themselves, could use French, which had become lingua franca in diplomacy.
Another part of the respected non-Muslim families of Istanbul, also known as Phanariots, served as translators for the Bâbıâli as well. These families who also had the post of voivode for of the Wallachia and Moldova under their monopoly, regulated the relations between the Patriarch in Fener and Bâbıâli. The influence of the families of Phanar (Fener), who had a monopoly on the Bâbıâli translation service until the Greek Uprising beginning in 1821, decreased with the establishment of the Chamber of Translation following this uprising. Nevertheless, it was possible to see members of the families of Phanar both in the Chamber of Translation, where a number of grand viziers and foreign ministers were trained, and in the Bâbıâli. For instance, Stavraki Aristarki (1799-1866), whose father was also a translator at the Bâbıâli, served as palace translator in addition to working as an arbitrator conducting the communication between the Bâbıâli and the Patriarch, and as a French tutor during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid I and Sultan Abdülaziz. His son, who had grown up in the fields of diplomacy in Istanbul, Gregory Aristarki was appointed the ambassador of the Ottoman Empire in the USA. As the family of Aristarkis, the Vogorides family was also of importance for Istanbul’s diplomacy. Stefanaki Vogorides, working as a translator at the Bâbıâli, also served as a consultant for English ambassadors such as John Ponsonby and Stratford Canning. This family, endeavoring to preserve the existence and culture of Bulgaria, was among the actors of the Bulgarian Church (Exarchate), established independently from the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch in 1870. The termination of the Phanariot tradition and its influence on the Istanbul diplomacy is generally related to the death of Alexandros Karatodori Pasha, from the Mavrokordato family, starting this tradition, in 1906. Karatodori Pasha, by working as the chief translator of the Bâbıâli, serving as minister of foreign affairs between the years 1878-1879 and representing the Ottoman Empire in the Congress of Berlin in 1878, was one of the crucial diplomats of the period of Abdülhamid II. Nevertheless, it was not his death that ended the Phanariot tradition in Istanbul, but the unavoidable rise of nationalism in the capital of a multinational empire.
Istanbul: An Area of Diplomatic Conflict
The increasing importance of diplomacy and its symbolic language in relation to the weakening of the military power intensified the influence of the European representatives in Istanbul during the nineteenth century. The diplomatic protocol was the area where this transformation could most vividly be observed. The incidences of official appearance of the ambassadors before the sultan used to be arranged intentionally so as to coincide with other extraordinary meetings at the palace, in order to impress the ambassadors. Yet, with the advent of the nineteenth century, these receptions began to be conducted according to European style. In a period when classical embassy missions were forgotten, when no kapıcıbaşı (chief doorman) were charged to make the ambassadors subjugate before the presence of the sultan, the ambassadors began to be welcomed with great respect. The ambassadors, coming to Istanbul with warships in the nineteenth century and holding their own military power under their administration, began shuttling between their huge embassy buildings, where their countries flags were flying, and their summerhouses in Tarabya. In addition, during these voyages they used huge boats of embassy with the flags of their country when passing in front of the Dolmabahçe Palace, and began watching the ceremonies and meetings, to which they had not even been invited before, from private lodges. The fact that the grand viziers were frequently visiting embassies, the gatherings arranged to make decisions on the fate of Egypt, Serbia or Montenegro in the capital city were not only indicative of the influence of the embassies they acquired, but they also referred to the fact that domestic issues of the empire were now holding an international dimension as well. The capitulations and the embassy courts would result in a condition where the influence of foreign representatives was felt at all layers of society.
It was also possible to observe the ambassadors’ increasing influence on the Bâbıâli in the changes in the relations between the grand viziers, the sultans and the ambassadors in Istanbul. During the eighteenth century, the ambassadors, who could generally appear before the presence of the sultan only when they came to Istanbul and when returning to their countries, would discuss diplomatic matters in the Bâbıâli, Bebek Pavilion or the villas of their addressees, who was the reisülküttab (chancellor) at the time. The fact that the Ottoman Empire adopted decisions related to the ambassadors of the 1815 Congress of Vienna that re-regulated European diplomacy and its diplomatic methods, although it did not directly attended the congress, changed the addressees of the ambassadors in Istanbul. From then on, the ambassadors frequently began to meet with the grand viziers even with the sultan, which was very rare before that time. The rules of protocol that applied in these meetings were all dependent on the balance of powers. The rigidity reflected in the words and the voice tone of the private representative of the Habsburg Empire, Count Leiningen in the meeting with Sultan Abdülmecid was to such a degree that even Kietzl, the ambassador of Istanbul, was perplexed. Nevertheless, the attitude of the Russian plenipotentiary Prince Menshikov, who arrived in the Ottoman capital ten days after the departure of Leiningen on 28 February 1853, was even harsher. The visit of Menshikov, who was the first adjutant of the tsar and minister of foreign affairs, was actually a show of strength done to obtain the transition rights of the straits for Russia, which Russia lost in the London Straits Convention (13 July 1841), and resulted in a great war in which almost all of Europe took part.
In accordance with the empire’s loss of prestige in the international arena, the attitudes of the ambassadors in the capital and of the private representatives who went to visit the sultan got stranger. The visit of the commander-in-chief of the Russian army Grand Duke Nicholas to Sultan Albdülhamid II on 28 February 1878 constitutes a turning point with respect to Istanbul diplomacy. Abdülhamid II did not want to meet with the Grand Duke in the Russian Embassy, who behaved like a victorious army commander preparing to conquer Istanbul after the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878). That the Grand Duke insisted on staying in the embassy, located in the middle of Beyoğlu, and forced the sultan to make a return visit to him in this embassy was an indicator to a great diplomatic crisis, never seen before. The solution found was the allocation of an Ottoman palace for the accommodation of the Russian prince. The Beylerbeyi Palace, where the Gran Duke’s brother Prince Constantin stayed in 1859 and 1872, was immediately allocated for his accommodation; and thus, Abdülhamid II paid a visit back to the brother of Russian tsar not in a Russian domain, but in an Ottoman palace. This crisis, narrated only with respect to the troubles Abdülhamid II experienced, would serve as an example for the forthcoming problems. It would be a common case in Istanbul to come across foreigners without any official duty or title, who would demand to meet with the sultan or ambassadors, and would not hesitate to disrespectfully sit cross-legged in the presence of the sultan. During the period after the First World War diplomatic discourteousness towards the sultan or the Ottoman state would peak in Istanbul.
Crucial Guests of Istanbul
Istanbul hosted a number of important members of the dynasties in the nineteenth century when the Europe directed its attention towards the Ottoman Empire. Among them were Prince Napoleon, the crown prince of France; Ferdinand Maximilian, the brother of the emperor of Habsburg; the Duke of Cambridge who was the son of the uncle of the Queen of the Great Britain, who visited Istanbul during the continuation of the Crimean War, and Prince Konstantin, who was the brother of the Russian Tsar Alexander II, who was visited Istanbul after the war. Among these important guests, the visit of Prince Napoleon was of great importance with respect to Istanbul’s diplomacy. This crown prince, staying in Istanbul for more than two months, attempted to deal with issues outside his authority such as controlling embassy correspondence, communicating with the French commanders in the frontiers by taking the advantage of the absence of an ambassador in the French embassy. Rumors that the prince was attempting to establish a small France under his authority in Istanbul reached Paris, and the prince was immediately called back to France by the French emperor.
Along with the Crimean War, World War I was also one of incidences that increased the visits of the allied dynasty members ruling in the Europe to Istanbul. The visits of Kaiser Wilhelm II to Istanbul on October 1898 and September 1917 were doubtlessly a result of the convergence between the German and Ottoman Empires. In both visits to the Ottoman capital, in which the Kaiser acted as if he was the patron of the East, and received great attention from Istanbul’s public, the Ottoman side concentrated on the international image of the empire. A ceremonial pavilion was added to Yıldız Palace for Wilhelm II, who visited the city walls and museums in Istanbul and the Hereke Carpet Factory in his first visit. Furthermore, the protocols and ceremonies, arranged for Wilhelm II’s second visit, constituted one of the examples of the diplomatic peaks that took place in Turkey afterwards. As a matter of fact, to prove that Ottomans were as self-disciplined as the Germans, students lining up along the roads in an orderly manner, wearing the same uniforms, chanting simultaneously and holding Ottoman and German flags accompanied Wilhelm II during his stay in Istanbul. Although it is not possible to precisely determine the outcomes of these image-making attempts conducted by Abdülhamid II and the Committee of Union and Progress, following these visits Germany gained crucial commercial privileges as well as military agreements. Moreover, the lighting of the capital with electricity and the management right of Haydarpaşa Harbor were assigned to German companies. After the Kaiser’s visit, the Ottoman Empire would host another ally, the emperor of Austria- Hungary and his wife on 19 May 1918. This also coincided with the visit of the younger son of the Bulgarian king. Along with these visits, which can be interpreted as a consequence of diplomatic courtesy among the allies, dynasty members ruling over Europe had also paid visits to the Ottoman capital for a number of different reasons. Among these were the visit of the king of the United Kingdom of Norway and Sweden, Oscar II and his son Prince Karl, or the visit of crown prince of Belgium.
The Sultans’ Setting Foot on European Lands
The nineteenth century, when numerous dynasty members across Europe were hosted in Istanbul, was also when the sultans travelled to the allied European countries and began to visit the embassy buildings of the allied countries in Pera, breaking the established traditions of the palace. Sultan Abdülaziz’s trip to Europe, which included visits to Paris, London, Brussels, Berlin and Vienne, in 1867 was as surprising for the Istanbulite as Sultan Abdülmecid’s visit to French and British embassy buildings. As a matter of fact, Sultan Abdülmecid, learning about the victory of the allied armies in Balaklava and Inkerman from the chief translator of the French embassy, Charles Schoefer, during a Friday parade, in late November 1854, would visit Prince Napoleon staying in the French embassy and so break the Ottoman tradition. At the beginning of 1856, Sultan Abdülmecid would once again visit the French Embassy, when it was quite obvious that the allied powers were to gain success against Russia. During the ball held in the French Palace in Istanbul at the beginning of February, to which the sultan attended with the Legion D’honneur medal on his chest, it was obvious that the sultan was very bored of the close interests of the French commanders who asked for retirement salaries or medals from the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Abdülmecid would be the guest of a fancy-dress ball held at the British Embassy. The ambassador of Britain invitation of the religious leaders in Istanbul, along with the sultan, was a result of the efforts of Lord Stratford to preserve his patronage over the non-Muslims. The Ottoman Palace responded to these two balls with a great reception with a hundred and thirty people in the Dolmabahçe Palace on 22 July 1856. The seating order at the banquet table, in which the Grand Vizier Ali Paşa sat on the seat of honor, the English ambassador, Stratford Canning, sat on his right side, and the victorious commander of the French army sat on his left side as well as the fact that the palace band played the national anthems of Mecidiye, England and France respectively, referred to the overwhelming hegemony of London and Paris over Istanbul. In addition, a few months after this reception, Napoleon III sent a medal of Legion D’honneur to Sultan Abdülmecid and Queen Victoria presented him an Order of the Garter was an indicator of the English-French conflict in Istanbul.
International Politics and Public Opinion in Istanbul
Another reflection of the contact between Istanbul and Europe was that international pressure was increasingly felt in the Ottoman capital every other day. Nevertheless, the Bâbıâli did not only struggle with foreign suppression via diplomatic channels. The newspapers published in foreign languages were also a medium directing the diplomats in the Ottoman capital. The Levant Herald (1858- 1914), which was considered semi-official, with its central office in Asmalımescit, Pera, was one such newspaper. Whereas, the Journal de Constantinople (1846-1866), followed by La Turquie (1866-1895), issued by the Bâbıâli to fight against “fabricated news” about Ottoman Empire in the European press, would publish news in accordance with the Ottoman foreign policy. In other words, these newspapers were defending the Ottoman foreign policy before the European public opinion, frequently, and foreigners living in Istanbul. Nevertheless, this condition of defense would give way to active precautions over time. With the establishment of the Matbuat-ı Hariciye Kalemi (The Office of Foreign Press) on April 1883 by Abdülhamid II, who was deeply concerned about the Empire’s image, the state attempted to take the foreign reporters, working in Istanbul, under control despite the embassies’ protests. In this process, the Ottoman administration would not forget the middle class, beginning to emerge in nineteenth-century Istanbul and efkâr-ı umumiye (public opinion). The empire would use every means available to create the intended public opinion in Istanbul via the Turkish newspapers, focusing increasingly on foreign news, especially on atrocities towards the Muslim population living outside of the Empire, and on the pressure of the great powers over the Bâbıâli. As a matter of fact, the Ottoman administration, under pressure militarily and politically, was in need of support and solidarity more than ever, on international issues in particular.
Defeats on the battleground would affect the decision making process in Istanbul as well. The Ottoman administration had begun to take public opinion into consideration more, and tried to include a greater number of administrators in the process, especially in case of crisis. The general consultancy gathered by Mahmud II at Fatih Mosque on 24 June 1810, during the Russo-Turkish War (1806-1812) when the Ottoman capital experienced the Russian threat for the first time, was the beginning of these meetings. However, the Ottoman administration, increasingly perceiving the pressure of the defeats on the battleground, would begin to be subject to protests against its foreign policy. It should be noted that these protests intensified during the warfare periods, turning the Istanbulite into actors of the politics. As an example, before the beginning of the Crimean War, madrasa students protested against Mustafa Reşid Pasha, and endeavored to follow a peaceful policy by hanging their lecterns on the minaret of Beyazıt Mosque. A petition, signed by the thirty five prominent ‘ulama (religious scholars), which was presented to Meclis-i Vükela (The Council of Ministers), and the riots, spreading to the Süleymaniye Mosque and the Haghia Sophia after Beyazıt Mosque, demonstrated that the Ottoman administration was not able to control public opinion in Istanbul on its own. The reaction of nineteenth century Istanbul public opinion and the emerging middle class was not limited to the Crimean War. The Tersane Konferansı (The Constantinople Conference) held at Bahriye Nezareti (the Ministry of Marine) in 1876 in Istanbul was at the target of the protests of the Istanbulites. It is remarkable that the madrasa students were the main actors of these protests. As a matter of fact, these students would come to the stage once more in 1877 when Istanbul was threatened by the Russian Army. Attempts to divert people from politics in Istanbul with the declaration of the martial law, and the beginning of a strict control over the madrasas were the results of these demonstrations.
The integration of Istanbul into the European diplomacy during the nineteenth century and increasing influence of the ambassadors brought about important changes to not only diplomatic decision making mechanisms but also social life in the capital. A significant number of non-Muslim Ottoman citizens changed their citizenship in order to pay less tax and to gain a place under the umbrella of diplomatic protection. The spread of the French language among Muslim citizens also corresponds to the same period. The number of the people, who would speak in French “dressing as if he/she was the grandson/daughter of Napoleon”, and imitate the European life style with which he/she was not well acquainted, resulting in humiliating situations was not few in Istanbul. Thus, it was possible to frequently come across quite caricaturized depictions of the French life style in Istanbul. Nevertheless, the criticisms of the Istanbul public opinion would be directed not only to these French-likes, but also to the statesman and even to the sultans from time to time.
Düvel-i Muazzama (The Great Powers) and Istanbul: Threats and Agreements
The foreign policy of Istanbul in the nineteenth century was shaped by pressures from the Russian army, the British Royal Army and German military commissions. The warfare between the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg-Romanov Alliance had ended towards the late eighteenth century, and Istanbul began to be regarded as a strategic region to be controlled, rather than as the capital of the Ottoman Empire. That it connected the Mediterranean and the Black Sea made it an important strategic center. Within this context, incidences in which European states would mobilize against one of the great powers that gained superiority in the Ottoman capital, would make more sense.
The Ottoman capital, which was also affected by the Napoleonic Wars going on in Europe, witnessed a show of force by the British Marine Forces to end the war that Russia had declared against the Ottoman Empire. After a few years, the incident in which the Russian Army, under the command of Mikhail Kutuzov, headed towards Edirne by passing through the Danube River, which was Istanbul’s most strategic barrier, was yet another one that unsettled Istanbul’s public opinion. As a matter of fact, when General Kutuzov surrounded the Ottoman army, stated that unless his conditions were accepted, he would invade Istanbul and make Mahmud II sign the agreement in person in the Ottoman capital. Edirne, regarded as the psychological barrier of Istanbul was invaded in the 1828-1829 Turkish-Russo Wars. In the war, when the Russian center of command was moved to Edirne, enemy forces would be seen near Çorlu. With the invasion of Edirne, Istanbul experienced the first refugee flow, which would be repeated in the nineteenth century with a higher number of people. After the ceasefire between the Ottoman Empire and Russia, the fact that the private representative, General von Muffling from Prussia, came to Istanbul as an arbitrator for the peace agreement, was an exemplary incident of the interference on the part of the great powers of Europe, which were not involved in the war, in Ottoman diplomacy.
With the reversal of the operation by Mahmud II against his own governor Mehmed Ali Pasha, that the Egyptian army gained a threatening position against Istanbul and led the European powers to direct their attention towards Istanbul once more. Mahmud II, who could not receive the expected support from France and Britain, would accept Russia’s help. That the conflict between both sides was brought to an end in Kütahya on 5 April 1833, approximately forty days after the arrival of the Russian army to Istanbul, can also be seen as a victory of the Bâbıâli’s maneuver. It was not the first time the Russian army came to Istanbul by peaceful means. After the Ottoman-Russian Alliance signed in 1799, the Ottoman capital hosted some Russian military officers, and even some of them were allowed to visit the Haghia Sophia. In 1833, however, only the RussuanRussian commanding officers were allowed to visit Walled City/Historical Peninsula. The army stayed in Istanbul until 8 July 1833, when the Treaty of Hünkar İskelesi was signed, which contained secret articles allowing Russian navy to pass through the straits freely, and prescribing the closure of the straits in case of any attack against Russia. The committee members, visiting official buildings in Istanbul, were granted medals during their visit to Darphane (the Royal Mint), and a monument, with a Russian and Turkish stanza on it, was erected at the place where the armies encamped. Nevertheless, Ottoman public opinion was not comfortable with the Russian Units, which Mahmud II visited and watched their training twice. The Treaty of Hünkar İskelesi, signed as a natural result of the Russian assistance, was resolved after its 8-year validity, with a crisis again as a result of the Egypt issue, and it became invalid with the Treaty of London in 13 July 1841. With this treaty, the Straits were turned into sea-lanes, subject to international law, and its control was no longer subject to the monopoly of the Ottoman Empire alone. Following this, two attempts by Russia to regain the rights, it acquired with the 1833 treaty, would result in battle in 1853 and 1878.
Ottoman and Russian representatives that came together at the Baltalimanı Pavilion, one of the favorite places of the meetings conducted between the Bâbıâli and representatives in Istanbul, signed an important agreement about the protection of Moldavia and Wallachia from the revolutionary ideas of the 1848 revolutions. With this agreement, Russia could not find the chance to reach its objectives on the issue of Hungarian and Polish refugees, which could be regarded as a preliminary preparation for the Crimean War, and would ignite the issue of Sacred Places and acquire a position posing a threat to Istanbul. It is known that this threat, which activated European diplomacy gatherings once more, ended in the Crimean War.
The peace treaty signed in 1856, after the Crimean War, turned Istanbul into one of the most important diplomatic centers of Europe. Following this, the ambassadors of the great powers would interfere in issues relevant to Moldavia and Wallachia- Montenegro and Serbia and in a way open “Pandora’s box”. They would also stir up the hornet’s nest in the Suez Canal in Egypt. Nevertheless, the incidents taking place in the Balkans were more influential on Istanbul as compared to the ones in Egypt. The great powers, going into action for the non-Muslim population living in the Balkans in 1875, which was of great importance for the European states and Russia, would initiate a conference in Istanbul. That the meetings, beginning in 23 December 1876, were done at the building of the Ministry of Marine in Kasımpaşa led the conference to be called Tersane Conference. Before these gatherings, the Great Powers held a number of secret meetings among themselves. These preliminary meetings were hosted by the Russian embassy, and a new reform program, which would provide the grounds for the discussions in the conference, was prepared. Among the attendants of these meetings were the representatives of Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. That Britain was represented by the secretary of state for India, Lord Salisbury, demonstrates London’s reshaped Istanbul strategy. As a matter of fact, Lord Salisbury, assuming that the Ottoman Empire would eventually lose Istanbul, would think that the Ottoman capital was no longer the strategic barrier for the defense of India. That no representative of the Ottoman state was invited to the meetings held at the Russian embassy, where the future of the Balkans and Istanbul was discussed, was increasing the unrest in the Ottoman capital about the conference which would begin in a few days. Perhaps, this was why the Ottoman state had prepared its own reform plan. The Meşrutiyet (Constitution), a prominent issue in the plan prepared by Bâbıâli, was pronounced to the European representatives by the declaration of the Ottoman ForeingForeign Minister Safvet Pasha just after the commencement speech of the conference. Nevertheless, this declaration actually referred to the fact that the conference would end in vain.
The 1877- 1878 Turkish-Russo War was of crucial importance for Istanbul, with respect to its consequences. When the Ottoman Empire lost control of Edirne, there remained no obstacle before the St. Petersburg administration, aspiring to turn the Ottoman capital into the “Çarigrad (City of the Tsar)” of Russia. That Russia gained a position, enabling it to occupy Istanbul on its own, also led Britain to take action. In the political meetings in London, the possible unrest that would occur among the Muslims in India in case of the Russian invasion of the Ottoman capital, where the caliph of the Muslims lived, was being discussed. Nevertheless, the ceasefire agreement, signed via the arbitration of Britain on 31 January 1878 in Edirne, was not enough to stop the Russian army. When Russian units reached Büyükçekmece, where the last remaining defense lines of Istanbul existed, it led the Disraeli administration to take military precautions. Following the edict, dated 8 February, the British fleet, consisting of six battleships under the command of Admiral Hornby, would be seen on the Istanbul waters on 13 February 1878 claiming to protect English citizens and their belongings. This precaution, resulting from the fact that Britain aspired to preserve its interests, actually derived from sound causes. As a matter of fact, the Tsar had ordered his brother the Grand Duke Nicholas, chief commander of the Russian army, to invade Istanbul on 10 February 1878 with the telegram he sent. Though ceasefire negotiations had begun in Edirne with the initiations of the Russian Chancellor and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gorchakov, foreseeing that the fall of Istanbul and the dissemination of the Ottoman Empire would bring about consequences threatening Russia, Russia wanted to hold the favorable position at the negotiation table by moving towards the Ottoman capital as closely as possible. Along with these political considerations, the fact that the Russian army was too far from the fulfillment center also brought about challenging logistic problems for Russia. As stated in the telegram dated 16 February 1878, the Grand Duke Nicholas would see that it would not be as easy as though to conquer the city of Istanbul for the Russian army, having travelled a long distance and got tired.
The Ottoman administration was endeavoring to make an agreement with Russia, having experienced military precautions would be useless in the current situation, and caught between two enemies. Nevertheless, the diplomatic initiatives would result in the acceptance of severe ceasefire conditions for the stalemated Istanbul administration. Within this context, thousands of Russian soldiers had encamped at Yeşilköy (San Stefano) in 24 February 1878, enabling them to control the British fleet, anchored offshores of the Seven Islands, and the Ottoman capital at the same time. The ceasefire signed at Edirne, the existence of the Russian army, which almost reached the capital and the British fleet, anchored off the islands, were increasing the tension in Istanbul’s atmosphere. It was at such a level that the British ambassador, Henry Layard, afraid of possible combat, asked the embassy archive to be transferred to one of the battleships. In the capital, agitated with rumors that Sultan Abdülhamid II would move to Bursa, the state, the army and the Sultan were targeted. The entry of the Russian army into Yeşilköy would also motivate the non-Muslims in Istanbul. Meanwhile, the Grand Duke Nicholas, meeting the Armenian Patriarch Nerses, promised him to get his demands in the agreement signed. The first Meclis-i Mebusan (The Ottoman Parliament), with many opposing voices, would also get its share from this tension and would be abolished. The attitude of the chief translator of the Russian Embassy, coming to Istanbul to determine a place for the negotiations in 11 February 1878 and his insistence in making the meetings in Yeşilköy provides some ideas about the agreement to be signed. The Ottoman diplomats, abstaining from visiting the enemies in person for centuries, were now obliged to make peace negotiations at the Russian quarters encamped in their capital. The meetings held in the mansions of Arakel Bey and Dadyan Artin Pasha would end with an agreement signed at Neriman Manor in Yeşilköy. The Treaty of San Stefona, ending up with the establishment of Great Bulgaria, envisaged that Istanbul was to remain under the administration of the Ottoman Empire. Nevertheless, the departure of the Russian units from Istanbul would also lead to a diplomatic crisis. The Russian commanders, claiming that the Yeşilköy harbor was not appropriate for the loading of heavy artilleries and animals, would demand to leave Istanbul from Büyükdere Harbor. In fact, the Russian military officers, who stayed in Yeşilköy and frequently visited Istanbul, were not subject to any acts of violence. Nevertheless, with the entrance of almost the whole Russian army into Istanbul, Bâbıâli was afraid that the incidences taking place in Paris with the invasion of Paris by Germany, would also occur in the Ottoman capital and the citizens would revolt. As a result of endeavors by the minister of foreign affairs, Safvet Pasha, the Grand Duke abandoned his demand for Büyükdere Harbor. Following this, the Russians left the Ottoman capital after erecting a victory monument embellished with Russian imperial symbols in Yeşilköy.
The refugees who immigrated to Istanbul in high numbers, running away from the massacres of the Russian army and Slav gangs, deepened the hatred towards Russia in Istanbul. The Bâbıâli, desperate in the face of the enormous flow of refugees, was having difficulty in finding accommodation in Istanbul for them. Within this context, international communities would also help the refugees who flooded to Istanbul. The aim of the Milletlerarası Muhacirlere Yardım Komitesi (International Aid Committee for the Refugees), established under the leadership of the ambassador of Austria-Hungary and twelve consuls in Istanbul in 22 January 1878, was to help the new guests of Istanbul.
The convergence between Istanbul and Berlin was also one of the diplomatic incidences leaving its mark on the period of Abdülhamid II. Nevertheless, this amity, lasting until the end of World War I, was not enough for the safety of Istanbul, which was not possible to militarily defend with the newly evolved international condition following the Turkish-Russo War in 1877-1878 (the 93 War). As an example, despite the existence of German military officers at positions of regimental and company command, during the Balkan War, Edirne was lost once more and the Bulgarian army came even to the fronts of Çatalca on 15 November 1912. Though the combats lasted until 19 November and ended with the failure for Bulgaria, the battle sounds, heard in Istanbul, caused great panic in the capital. These combats, activating the great powers once again, ended up with the arrival of a multinational fleet to the Ottoman capital, with the permission of the Ottoman state to protect embassies and other foreign institutions, and the debarking of European soldiers on the Ottoman land. With the dissolution of ceasefire negotiations conducted near Çatalca fortifications, the combats restarted and the last defense line of Istanbul was passed through and the Bulgarian army encroached into Baba Nakkaş village in Çatalca. With the heroic defense of the students of the Ottoman Military Academy as a last resort at the place, today called Gaziler Hill, the Bulgarian army was repulsed on 30 March. That the Bulgarian army was not able to enter Istanbul despite all its efforts was also related to the strategic position of the Ottoman capital. As in the case of the Russian army during the war of 1877-1878, the Bulgarian army had also come a long way to Istanbul and they were away from their lines of supplies. Now Istanbul seemed to be defending itself defending itself with its unique location.
From Occupation to Liberation: Istanbul Diplomacy during the Armistice Period
The defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the World War I constituted a turning point in the history of Istanbul. The aircrafts of the enemy forces, which began to be seen in the Istanbul skies on 23 July 1918, following the dissolution of the Thessaloniki frontier, were not only bombing the city with heavy air attacks but also dropping leaf-leatsleaflets to win people over to their side. As a matter of fact, the Allied States did not intend to invade Istanbul with an attack by land in the second half of the nineteenth century, as they had taken lessons from the experiences of Russian and Bulgarian armies. During the ceasefire negotiations conducted at Mudros Harbor with the Allied powers to end the war, the French general Franchet d’Esperay entered into the city with a triumphal procession with the aim of showing off, and settled in the French Embassy. This was actually the first signal of the conflicts that would occur among the Allied forces on the matter of the invasion plans for Istanbul and the future of the city. Within this intention, despite all the assurances granted to the Ottoman administration, a fleet consisting of 22 British, 17 Italian, 12 French and 4 Greek battleships entered through the Istanbul Harbor on 13 November 1918. Meanwhile, the Ottoman administration, struggling to make a peace agreement with better conditions, was dispersing among the allied forces. Mustafa Kemal Pasha being sent to Anatolia to repress uprisings in the Black Sea region in 1919, was the most important incidence of the period with respect to its consequences. Under the protest telegrams sent to the embassies in Istanbul and the foreign ministries of the occupant countries following the official invasion of the already occupied Ottoman capital in 16 March 1920, there was the signature of Mustafa Kemal with the title of Heyet-i Temsiliye Reisi (Head of the Representative Committee). Ankara, which appeared for the first time as a rival power against the Istanbul administration in the field of diplomacy, would be included in the process as an active diplomatic actor following the closure of the Meclis-i Mebusan (Ottoman Parliament). As a matter of fact, the Ottoman administration, losing its authority over the empire with the Treaty of Sevres in 10 August 1920, was now governed by the high commissioners. The High Commissioners, who had been called the kings of Istanbul, and granted with such broad authorities that would cause envy among the ambassadors, had turned all domestic issues of the Ottoman state into a matter of international relations. The domestic security of the city was provided by international police committees, the court cases were conducted via judges appointed by Allied powers, and the foreign organizations and the institutions in the city were protected by the occupant powers. Despite the fact that, in the meetings of Higher Allied Commission held in Paris in February 1920, an important decision on the impossibility of making Istanbul an international free zone was made, the Ottoman capital was turned into a city, totally under the control of the allied powers.
Along with the pressure of the Allied Powers, Istanbul was also at the center of the complex relations between the dynasty and movements taking place in Anatolia. Sultan Mehmed VI Vahdettin, living his life at the target of the Allied forces, would get close to Anatolia during the periods when Tevfik Pasha was at the sadaret, and would alienate from the Damad Ferit Pasha government. The foreign policy of the Sultan would also follow a similar path. Imitating his father and brother, Sultan Mehmed VI Vahdettin would have close bonds with France and Britain, and try to gain time by leaving the issues to time. The aim of the sultan was to survive in any case, and he was struggling to protect Istanbul.
Following the great victory, the high commissioner of Thrace, Refet Pasha (Bele) entered Istanbul with only 126 gendarmerie soldiers in 19 October 1922. The visits he paid to the tomb of Mehmed II, the first conqueror of the city, just after entering the city, was a symbolic statement of the victory won against the occupant powers. With the departure of Sultan Mehmed VI Vahdettin from Istanbul on 17 November 1922, following the abolition of the sultanate in 1-2 November 1922, the occupant powers were to face the Ankara government in the political arena. The occupant powers were insistent on not leaving Istanbul to conduct the peace negotiations in Lausanne with a more advantageous position. Nevertheless, a month after the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, the allied forces would have to leave Istanbul, on 24 July 1923 and Turkish soldiers would enter Istanbul with a frenzied welcome by the Muslim citizens on 6 October 1923. After the termination of the occupation, with the adoption of a law making Ankara the capital city in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey on 13 October 1923, Istanbul also lost its particular feature as the imperial capital. Despite sustaining its importance with respect to international relations in the Republican period as well, Istanbul would now host consulates rather than embassies.
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