The Crimean War was preceded by the concern of Russian rulers for the status of their Christian Orthodox religion and for the Orthodox living where Turkey's sultan ruled. And there was a desire by the Russians for a warm water port for their ships to move into the Black Sea and the Mediterranean – essential for the development of Russian trade and navel power.
Peter the Great (who reigned until 1725) wanted the Turks to guarantee Orthodox rights at the Holy Sepulchre Jerusalem, where Jesus is believed to have been crucified, and he demanded access for all Russians to the holy lands.
Catherine the Great (whose reign began in 1762) achieved more of what Peter had wanted. In the war of 1768-74 she sent Russia's Baltic fleet into the Mediterranean and defeated the Turkish fleet, resulting in the treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji. With that treaty the Turks agreed to grant Russia permission to build an Orthodox church in their imperial capital, Constantinople (Istanbul), which the Russians expanded to mean a right for Russia's rulers to represent Orthodox Christians still ruled by the Turks. Also concerning the peninsula jutting into the Black Sea, the Crimea, between the Russians and Turks, the Turks agreed to recognize the Crimea's Khan and his territory as independent.
In 1783, Catherine took advantage of her military superiority in the region to annex the entire Crimean peninsula. The Turks felt humiliated at having lost to the Christians what they thought of as Muslim territory. Some at the court of the Ottoman ruler argued that the Russians would use the Crimea as a military base against Constantinople.
Russian authorities attempted to persuade Crimea's notables (beys and mirzas) to serve Catherine's government, offering to convert them to Christianity and elevate them to noble status. But the notables continued with allegiance to the Ottoman sultan (and caliph), to the annoyance of the Russians.
The Tatar problem for the Russians abated during the next war with Turkey, in 1787-92, when the Turks attempted to regain their losses suffered in the previous war. Tatar peasants fled to the Ottoman Empire away from the Russians, afraid of reprisals. Tatars left also as the Russians seized the lands, and they ran from Russia's punitive taxation, Russia's policy of forced labor and from the intimidations of Cossack squads. By 1800, nearly one-third of a Tatar population of around 100,000 had entered the Ottoman Empire, with another 10,000 Tatars leaving during the war between Russia and Turkey in 1806-12 – part of the Napoleonic wars. (Josef Stalin uprooted and exiled the remaining Crimean Tatars to Siberia and Kazakhstan in 1944.)
Replacing the Tatars were Russian settlers and their fellow Orthodox Christians from Turkish-ruled territories: Greeks, Armenians and Bulgarians. The Russians viewed the Crimea as holy Christian territory. According to legend, in the Crimea the Grand Prince of Kiev, Vladimir had conquered the the Greek town of Chersonesus and there he had been baptized, bringing Christianity to the Russians. It was a place of pilgrimage for those Russians who wanted to connect with the cradle of Slavic Christianity.
The British meanwhile had been fighting a rebellion by some of the colonists in the New World, and they had been fighting the French, led by Napoleon, in an alliance with the Russians.
Copyright © 2009-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.