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"Fix Bayonets!" - Documentary on the 100th anniversary of the Balkan War

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In the fall of 1912 almost all of the Bulgarian army gathered in Thrace. Montenegro had been fighting the Ottoman Empire since September 26th.
At dawn on October 5, passing through the ridge of Strandzha mountain, avoiding main roads, tens of thousands Bulgarian soldiers were headed south. Full of enthusiasm, though fully respecting martial laws, divisions of Bulgarian soldiers crossed the border between Kingdom of Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire to enter Eastern Thrace. This happened for the last time 540 years ago.
At midnight, on October 5th, King Ferdinand issued "Order No. 15 to the army”, written with heightened dramatism to lift the spirits of the soldiers “... We command our brave army to cross the border and oppose in battle the age-old enemy. Officers, sergeants and soldiers, our campaign is sacred and philanthropic!” It was time for the long built national exaltation on the reunion with the people who were still subservient to the Ottoman Empire to explode. There were cries "Happy War!” that could be heard from Adrianople to Burgas and from the Danube to the Aegean Sea. There came a critical point in the history of the Bulgarians. For them started the brightest military attempt for national unity and with it - a brilliant page in their military history.


In the early twentieth century Bulgaria was developing progressively, even compared to Europe. The economy was agrarian and over 90% of the population lived in rural areas, but the Bulgarian farmer fed not only the country but also produced large surpluses for export to Europe. The number of industrial enterprises was growing. Bulgaria had its peak of development. The country was modernizing although some old manners of thinking weren't forgotten. Though Bulgaria was one of the last countries on the Balkans to win its freedom, the country was quickly catching up with its neighbors and even managed to exceed them. It even could be said that Bulgaria started to resemble Central European countries.
The financial system was stable, and the culture was ascending. Education was more affordable and many young Bulgarians were sent to study in most prestigious universities in Western Europe and in Russia. The challenges that stood in front of the young country were many. The creation of well-educated people and businessmen and the establishment of new and stable legal system were just some of them. All changes were made possible mostly because of the high spirit, the growing self-confidence and the belief in the national ideal of the Bulgarian people.
And with all said above, there was an idea that stood highest in every person’s mind and that was the unification of the Bulgarian nation on all of the Bulgarian territory. That was the dream for liberation of all “brothers” who were still subjects of the Ottoman Empire and that dream was passionate.
This vision was acknowledged and by the country's authorities although it wasn’t officially supported even during the Ilinden–Preobrazhenie Uprising. At the same time IMRO (Inside Macedonian Revolutionary Organization) was not hindered and the organization was enjoying broad support. Preparations and armament were ongoing for the inevitable future war.
The war, especially after the rising from 1903, was foreseen as the only possibility and was desired by everyone - from ordinary peasants through clergy and intellectuals to politicians. It is hard to point at another moment in the Bulgarian history when society stood so united behind one and the same ideal.

The Great Powers and their interests on the Balkans
The Balkans are often called “The Powder Keg of Europe”. However, it is often not mentioned that conflict is sometimes escalated by the Great Powers, not only by Balkan nations. The so called “Eastern Question”, which is actually the fight for dividing up the land acquired from the Ottoman Empire, is a very hot topic in the last decades of the 19th century. It is the arguments between the Great Powers and their decisions in the Berlin Congress that divide political boundaries from the ethnical ones. The future Balkan conflicts in the 20th century can be traced back to those decisions and the Berlin Congress.
In the beginning of the 20th century, Europe lives in its „Belle Époque”, in a time of unprecedented growth. Everyone believed that progress is inevitable and all conflicts had been long forgotten, thanks to the economical and agricultural growth. Politicians and military men, however, realized the possibility of a huge war in Europe, and they prepared for it. Countries in Europe were divided into two political alliances, which would soon begin The Great War. Russia, Great Britain, and France formed the Triple Entente in 1907, while the Triple Alliance concluded of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy, and originated in 1882.
After their inception, both alliances started to fight for power, and the Balkans were turned into a hot spot. A conflict was beginning to arise between the Christian nations such as Bulgaria, and their long-time enemy the Ottoman Empire. The tough situation on the Balkan Peninsula led to interventions by the Great Powers, and of course, them trying to defend their own interests. The two most active empires were the enemies Russia and Austria-Hungary. After the Young Turk Revolution in 1908, they agreed to help each other’s’ cause in the Balkans. Austria-Hungary desired the annexation of Bosnia, while the Russians aimed to control the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. Austria-Hungary was able to achieve its goal, but in order to prevent being blamed by the Great Powers for breaking the Treaty of Berlin, Bulgaria was pushed into breaking the Treaty first. On the 22nd of September, 1908, the Bulgarian principality annexed Eastern Rumelia to form the Kingdom of Bulgaria, thus achieving the national unification Bulgarians have long dreamt for. The next day, Austria- Hungary annexed Bosnia, and Greece annexed the island of Crete on the 24th of September. During those 3 days, several annexations occurred, and the status quo was changed.
Russia did not seem to make its move fast enough, and it seemed like it would not be able to achieve its goals on the Balkans. That is why the Russians declared themselves against the annexation of Bosnia, and started to tighten its relations with Serbia and Montenegro. The Serbians were enemies with the Habsburg Empire at the time. In order to strengthen Russia’s position on the Balkans, Russian diplomats tried to convince the leading Orthodox country Bulgaria, and Russia’s main Balkan ally Serbia, to form an alliance with each other. The efforts of Anatoliy Nekliudov and Nikolay Hartwig, the Russian ambassadors in Bulgaria and Serbia, were incredible.
Even though Russia was formally supporting a Serbian-Bulgarian alliance, St. Petersburg didn’t support Bulgaria’s efforts for a national unification. Russia didn’t want Bulgaria to become the leading factor and most powerful country on the Balkans, which is why the Russians thought that Macedonia, which was largely Bulgarian-populated, should be divided between Serbia and Greece. This decision can also be traced back to the end of the 19th century, when Bulgarian politicians did what was best for their country, ignoring Russia’s opinion on the subject. That is why Tsar Nikolay of Russia didn’t trust Bulgaria enough to show support for the Bulgarian causes.
Austria-Hungary and Germany were on the side of the Ottoman Empire. The Austrians wanted to use the Italian-Turkish war in order to annex new Balkan territories. France and Great Britain were also on the Ottoman’s side, as the Ottomans fought against an enemy country of both empires. All of the, were satisfied with the balance of power in Eastern Europe and in the Middle East, and wanted to keep it that way.
The Italian-Turkish War of 1911-1912 was a conflict between Italy and the Ottoman Empire for North African provinces Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenaica. Italy took charge from the beginning, and thanks to its more developed navy it took not only the three provinces in question, but also the Dodecanese Islands, as well as the Island of Rhodes. This showed Europe how undeveloped the Ottoman Empire was, and Balkan nations saw an opportunity to achieve their dreams of unification. Every Italian win brought hope to the Bulgarians that soon they could crush the Empire which had enslaved them for so long and free all their brothers who were still part of the Ottoman Empire because of the unjust decisions of the Berlin Congress.
However, Bulgarian diplomats realized that they would have hard time succeeding against the Ottomans by themselves. That is why Bulgaria started negotiating with the other Balkan Christian nations, which also had demands towards the Ottomans. These moves by the Balkan nations were highly stimulated by some of the Great Powers, which tried to use the escalating tension on the Balkans in order to achieve their own goals.
On 19th of July, 1912, after an attack by IMRO, in Kocani two Turks and six Bulgarians found their death. The local Turks organized what is known as the “Kocani massacre”, killing 40 Bulgarians. The reaction in Bulgaria was very strong. The Great Powers, specifically Austria-Hungary, used this and tried to convince the Ottoman Empire to make reforms and decentralize Macedonia. Russia also followed the events, preparing its own intervention if needed. The Ottoman Empire was incapable of dealing with the situation in Macedonia and the Great Powers weren’t persistent enough in their asking – every one of them wanted to achieve its own goals, and they didn’t include protection of Christians in the Ottoman Empire. Even though the Great Powers seemed to be at peace with each other, most were preparing and looking towards a war on the Balkans. Russia, which initiated the Balkan League, seemed to have the best position in 1912. The Russians tried to weaken the positions of Germany and Austria-Hungary on the Balkans, as well as strengthen their own.
In the two months before the war, the Great Powers were highly involved in the Balkans' affairs trying to achieve their own goals through diplomacy. It was obvious that Russia, France and England understood how serious the situation was and that a war was inevitable, so they tried to synchronize their actions for the times when the war would come to life. Unlike the Entente, Germany and Austria-Hungary did not believe that Balkan countries would ever attack the Ottoman Empire. This shows how short-sighted were they about the situation on the Balkans, as they didn’t understand how serious the threat really was. The patience of Bulgarians, Serbs, and Greeks toward the Ottomans was running very low. Despite the impossibility of keeping peace in the Balkans, Austria-Hungary, Germany and England to some extent, tried to initiate changes in the Ottoman Empire to prevent the war. This however couldn’t stop the Balkan countries, including Bulgaria, who were highly determined to take everything they believed was theirs.
The Entente had an idea for the Balkan League that consisted of them being used in the future not only against the Ottoman Empire, but Austria-Hungary as well. The Triple Alliance attracted the Ottoman Empire and Romania on its side. Even though England and France supported Russia’s wish to create a Balkan League, both Western countries weren’t excited at the possibility of war in 1912, because they felt that might be the start of a big war, for which they didn’t feel prepared.
Few days before war outbreak, Austria-Hungary and Germany accepted the inevitable and did their best to prevent the conflict from spreading into a European one. Austria-Hungary sent more troops to the Balkan Peninsula. Italy tried to use the situation and on October 5, 1912, the Italian-Turkish War is ended. Coincidentally, Bulgaria declared war on the Ottoman Empire on the same date. The Italians used the situation to sign a favorable peace treaty with the Ottomans.
Before the Balkan War started, Russia and Austria-Hungary were chosen from the Great Powers to make a proclamation to the Balkan countries stating that every action that could lead to breaking the peace will be condemn.
Also, the Great Powers offered their help to the Sultan in order to create necessary reforms in European parts of the Ottoman Empire and declare that if a war is to outbreak, no territory would change hands. On 19th of September, two days after Bulgaria mobilized its troops, Russian Foreign Relations Minister Sergey Sazonov declared a war on the Balkans untimely, and spoke of Russia’s disapproval of such actions. He also tried to impose to the Bulgarian government the thought not to expect considerable help from Greece and Serbia. Bulgaria expressed its gratitude to the Great Powers for their concerns, but demanded particular reforms in the parts of the Ottoman Empire filled with Bulgarian population. This was the common wish that was send as a note to the Sultan on 30th of September from Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro. The note was rejected showing once more the Ottoman Empire’s lack of desire in making any improvements for the Christian population upon which it ruled.
Germany accepted the news for the inevitable war calmly, and was became chief supplier of ammunitions, guns, and war machinery for the Ottoman Empire. German war instructors were part of the Ottoman army, which was huge insurance for Germany in achieving the desired end of the war.
As we said before, The Great Powers were divided and chasing their own goals. All of them took part in the war preparations as all of them were responsible in some way for not preventing it.
Politically, the war is led and prepared by the Balkan League – a system of treaties between Eastern Orthodox nations on the Balkan Peninsula, mainly Serbia and Bulgaria. After the Serbian-Bulgarian War of 1885, relations between the two countries had warmed up considerably, as trade and customs unions were formed, and delegacies were exchanged. Tsar Ferdinand of Bulgaria met with Tsar Petar of Serbia, and arranged a war alliance between the two countries. Though negotiations were tough, they were approved and supported by the Russian diplomacy. After the outbreak of the Italian-Turkish War, Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Evstatiev Geshov returned quickly from his Vichy vacation and immediately went to Belgrade in order to offer an alliance, thinking that the right moment has come. Soon, the treaty was signed. It was mostly anti-Ottoman and anti-Austrian. If Austria-Hungary was to attack Serbia, Bulgaria promised to help with 200,000 troops. If the Ottoman Empire was to attack either country, the other country had to help with their entire army. If the two countries were to decide to attack the Empire first, they had to tell Russia first and after Russia’s approval, they could start the attack with the required force - Bulgaria with at least 200,000 troops, Serbia with at least 150,000. The future territories to be gained were divided as follows: Serbia recognized Bulgaria’s right to annex all Ottoman territories in Eastern Thrace, Aegean Thrace and Eastern Macedonia. Bulgaria recognized Serbia’s right to annex all territories to the north and west of Shar Mountain – mainly Kosovo and the Novopazar Sandjak. Between Shar Mountain and the Struma River, there is a buffer zone, which remained undivided yet, and according to the Treaty, it could either be autonomous, but if that affects both countries’ interests, they were to split it up. The division would take place diagonally from Kriva Palanka to the Ohrid Lake. Anything southwest of the line (also called “Undisputed Zone”) was for Bulgaria, while the fate of the “Disputed Zone” was left in the hands of the Russian Emperor. While effects took place in this territory, there would be a condominium.
After a few months, a Bulgaria signed another secret treaty, this time with Greece. It was also targeted against the Ottoman Empire, and English diplomacy helped the two countries to sort out their differences. In the future war, Bulgaria was supposed to have 300,000 troops, while Greece - to help with 120,000. There was nothing mentioned about what will happen with the territories that are gained from the war! Both countries had their claims for Southern Macedonia, but were confident that they would be in better shape at the end of the war, and would be able to divide it up based on who occupied which region.
The last part of creating the Balkan League was an agreement by mouth between Bulgaria and Montenegro, as well as later ones between Serbia and Montenegro, and Montenegro and Greece for unified military actions. The treaties, especially the one with Greece, were done very poorly. Their same existence was a giant geopolitical mistake for Bulgaria- the only guarantees against breaking the treaties were the treaties themselves. Bulgaria’s back in Macedonia was left open, while Bulgaria has to carry most of the attacks on the enemy. If Serbia and Greece were to decide to unite against Bulgaria, the Bulgarians would have nothing to keep them safe on the West if Bulgaria was taken up in a war in the East, and vice versa. Everything relied on Greece and Serbia’s good intentions.

For full text: http://1912.nauka.bg/en/history.html

Edited: Iva Georgieva

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