Treatment of Christians in the Ottoman Empire
Article 9 of the
1856 Paris Peace Treaty, concluded at the end of the
Crimean War, obliged the Ottoman Empire to grant Christians equal rights with Muslims. Before the treaty was signed, the Ottoman government issued an edict, the
Edict of Gülhane, which proclaimed the principle of the equality of Muslims and non-Muslims,
 and produced some specific reforms to this end. For example, the
jizya tax was abolished and non-Muslims were allowed to join the army.
However, some key aspects of
dhimmi status were retained, including that the testimony of Christians against Muslims was not accepted in courts, which granted Muslims effective immunity for offenses conducted against Christians. Although local level relations between communities were often good, this practice encouraged exploitation. Abuses were at their worst in regions with a predominantly Christian population, where local authorities often openly supported abuse as a means to keep Christians subjugated.
Crisis in Lebanon, 1860
In 1858, the
Maronite peasants, stirred by the clergy, revolted against their
Druze feudal overlords and established a peasant republic. In southern
Lebanon, where Maronite peasants worked for Druze overlords, Druze peasants sided with their overlords against the Maronites, transforming the conflict into a
civil war. Although both sides suffered, about 10,000 Maronites were
massacred at the hands of the Druze.
Under the threat of European intervention, Ottoman authorities restored order. Nevertheless,
French and British intervention followed. Under further European pressure, the Sultan agreed to appoint a Christian governor in Lebanon, whose candidacy was to be submitted by the Sultan and approved by the European powers.
On May 27, 1860 a group of Maronites raided a Druze village.Syria. In the end, between 7,000 and 12,000 people of all religions had been killed, and over 300 villages, 500 churches, 40 monasteries, and 30 schools were destroyed. Christian attacks on Muslims in Beirut stirred the Muslim population of
Damascus to attack the Christian minority with between 5,000 and 25,000 of the latter being killed, including the
Dutch consuls, giving the event an international dimension.
Massacres and reprisal massacres followed, not only in the Lebanon but also in
Ottoman foreign minister
Mehmed Fuad Pasha came to Syria and solved the problems by seeking out and executing the culprits, including the governor and other officials. Order was restored, and preparations made to give Lebanon new autonomy to avoid European intervention. Nevertheless, in September 1860 France sent a fleet, and Britain joined to prevent a unilateral intervention that could help increase French influence in the area at Britain's expense.
The revolt in Crete, 1866–1869
Cretan Revolt, which began in 1866, resulted from the failure of the Ottoman Empire to apply reforms for improving the life of the population and the Cretans' desire for
enosis — union with
 The insurgents gained control over the whole island, except for five cities where the Muslims were fortified. The Greek press claimed that Muslims had massacred Greeks and the word was spread throughout Europe. Thousands of Greek volunteers were mobilized and sent to the island.
The siege of
Moni Arkadiou monastery became particularly well known. In November 1866, about 250 Cretan Greek combatants and around 600 women and children were besieged by about 23,000 mainly Cretan Muslims aided by Ottoman troops, and this became widely known in Europe. After a bloody battle with a large number of casualties on both sides, the Cretan Greeks finally surrendered when their ammunition ran out but were killed upon surrender.
By early 1869, the insurrection was suppressed, but
the Porte offered some concessions, introducing island self-rule and increasing Christian rights on the island. Although the Cretan crisis ended better for the Ottomans than almost any other diplomatic confrontation of the century, the insurrection, and especially the brutality with which it was suppressed, led to greater public attention in Europe to the oppression of Christians in the Ottoman Empire.
Small as the amount of attention is which can be given by the people of England to the affairs of Turkey ... enough was transpiring from time to time to produce a vague but a settled and general impression that the Sultans were not fulfilling the "solemn promises" they had made to Europe; that the vices of the Turkish government were ineradicable; and that whenever another crisis might arise affecting the "independence" of the Ottoman Empire, it would be wholly impossible to afford to it again the support we had afforded in the
Changing balance of power in Europe
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Although on the winning side in the
Crimean War, the Ottoman Empire
continued to decline in power and prestige. The financial strain on the treasury forced the Ottoman government to take a series of foreign loans at such steep interest rates that, despite all the fiscal reforms that followed, pushed it into unpayable debts and economic difficulties. This was further aggravated by the need to accommodate more than 600,000 Muslim
Circassians, expelled by the Russians from the Caucasus, to the Black Sea ports of north Anatolia and the Balkan ports of
Varna, which cost a great deal in money and in civil disorder to the Ottoman authorities.
The New European Concert
Concert of Europe established in 1814 was shaken in 1859 when France and Austria
fought over Italy. It came apart completely as a result of the wars of
German Unification, when the
Kingdom of Prussia, led by Chancellor
Otto von Bismarck, defeated Austria in 1866 and France in 1870, replacing Austria-Hungary as the dominant power in Central Europe. Britain, worn out by its participation in the Crimean War and diverted by the
Irish question and the social problems created by the
Industrial Revolution, chose not to intervene again to restore the European balance. Bismarck did not wish the breakup of the Ottoman Empire to create rivalries that might lead to war, so he took up the Tsar's earlier suggestion that arrangements be made in case the Ottoman Empire fell apart, creating the
Three Emperors' League with Austria and Russia to keep France isolated on the continent.
France responded by supporting self-determination movements, particularly if they concerned the three emperors and the Sultan. Thus revolts in Poland against Russia and national aspirations in the Balkans were encouraged by France. Russia worked to regain its right to maintain a fleet on the Black Sea and vied with the French in gaining influence in the Balkans by using the new
Pan-Slavic idea that all Slavs should be united under Russian leadership. This could be done only by destroying the two empires where most non-Russian Slavs lived, the Habsburg and the Ottoman Empires. The ambitions and the rivalries of the Russians and French in the Balkans surfaced in Serbia, which was experiencing its own national revival and had ambitions that partly conflicted with those of the great powers.
Russia after the Crimean War
Russia ended the Crimean War with minimal territorial losses, but was forced to destroy its
Black Sea Fleet and
Sevastopol fortifications. Russian international prestige was damaged, and for many years revenge for the Crimean War became the main goal of Russian foreign policy.
This was not easy however—the
Paris Peace Treaty included guarantees of Ottoman territorial integrity by Great Britain, France and Austria; only Prussia remained friendly to Russia.
It was on alliance with Prussia and its chancellor
Bismarck that the newly appointed Russian chancellor,
Alexander Gorchakov, depended. Russia consistently supported Prussia in her wars with
Austria (1866) and
France (1870). In March 1871, using the crushing French defeat and the support of a grateful Germany, Russia achieved
international recognition of its earlier denouncement of Article 11 of the
Paris Peace Treaty, thus enabling it to revive the
Black Sea Fleet.
Other clauses of the
Paris Peace Treaty, however, remained in force, specifically Article 8 with guarantees of Ottoman territorial integrity by Great Britain, France and Austria. Therefore, Russia was extremely cautious in its relations with the Ottoman Empire, coordinating all its actions with other European powers. A Russian war with Turkey would require at least the tacit support of all other Great Powers and Russian diplomacy was waiting for a convenient moment.