Candan Badem. The Ottoman Crimean War (1853-1856). The Ottoman Empire and Its Heritage series. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010. ISBN 978-90-04-18205-9. Illustrations. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xvi, 436. $229.00 (hardcover).
We tend to forget that the so-called Crimean War was fought on seven fronts, including the Lower Danube, Caucasus, and Crimean Peninsula, along with the Black, Baltic, White, and Pacific seas. There are numerous studies about the Crimean War (1853-1856). However, this conflict which involved the Ottoman Empire, Russia, Britain, France, Austria, Piedmont-Sardinia, and other states is usually presented from the European point of view. Dr Candan Badem, Assistant Professor in History at Tunceli University in Turkey, presents a study that investigates the role of the Ottoman Empire in the conflict and the Crimean War’s impact on the Ottoman state and society.
In this work, Badem depicts the political, military, social, and economic situation in the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Abdülmecid (ruled 1839-1861) on the eve of the Crimean War. The author points out that the Ottoman army and navy “were still not professional in any modern European sense” (p.49). He investigates the origin of the Russo-Ottoman conflict comparing the Ottoman and European viewpoints. As such, he stresses British financial and commercial interests in maintaining Ottoman independence, the Franco-Russian dispute over the Holy Places, and Nicholas I’s foreign policy aimed at achieving Russian goals. The Tsar sent Prince A.S. Menshikov to Istanbul to diplomatically resolve the crisis over the Holy Places in favor of Russia. Menshikov’s high-handed diplomacy failed to achieve a satisfactory outcome. Britain and France then brought up their fleets into Beşika Bay at the entrance of the Dardanelles to deter Russian military action. Tension resulted in Russia invading the Danubian Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia in July 1853. The Sublime Porte immediately protested. British and French diplomats sent the so-called Vienna Note to Istanbul and St Petersburg, seeking to find a compromise, and avoid war. Negotiations over modifications to the Vienna Note broke down and the Russo-Ottoman war began near the mouth of the Danube River in October 1853.
Badem relates the battles and diplomacy of the Crimean War. In November 1853, the Ottoman Rumelian army defeated the Russians at the battle of Oltenitsa. But the event that turned the Russo-Ottoman war into a European one was the naval battle of Sinop in November 1853. The Russian Black Sea fleet attacked and destroyed the Ottoman fleet. The author points out that “the Ottoman navy, although probably the fourth or fifth naval power in the world, was not a match for the Russian Black Sea fleet in terms of training and fire power” (p.110). As a result the European balance of power was disturbed, and the British and French fleets soon entered the Black Sea in December, and their respective governments declared war against Russia in March 1854.
Badem examines the Ottoman war effort on the Danubian, Caucasian, and Crimean fronts. The author discusses the successes and failures of the Ottoman army. The Ottoman army on the Danubian front was better led and trained than the army on the Caucasian front. The French and British forced the Ottomans to play a secondary role in the Crimea. Overall, the Ottoman military effort suffered from corruption, poor leadership, and poorly trained, armed, and provisioned troops. Badem stresses that “more soldiers died of diseases, malnutrition, cold and lack of proper housing than of wounds received in battle” (p.409). The Ottoman generals failed to demonstrate a sufficient understanding of European warfare. In the end, the Ottoman Empire did not gain any significant material gains from the conflict which left it nearly financially bankrupt. Badem stresses that the Empire became part of the European States System in the Peace of Paris (1856), but was more of a European protectorate (p.403). He shows that Britain and France dictated the alliance and the Ottomans had little input. Britain and France fought the war not for the sake of the Sublime Porte but for their own interests to contain Russian expansionism. As such, relations between the Ottoman Empire and its Anglo-French allies were rather shaky.
This is a well-written, valuable study of the Ottoman Empire and the Crimean War. Badem utilizes archival sources in Turkey, Russia, and Great Britain. The book is outlandishly expensive at $229.00, but, fortunately, Brill released a paperback version of the study in 2012 which sells for $49.50 (ISBN 978-90-04-22684-5).
Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota