The Balkan Wars

Ottoman Perspectives

by Ercan Karakoç (Volume editor) Ali Serdar Mete (Volume editor)
©2024 Edited Collection XXVI, 232 Pages
Series: South-East European History, Volume 6


Described as the "sick man of Europe" by the Great Powers, the Ottoman Empire in the early twentieth century was in terminal decline. The newly independent Balkan states—Greece, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria—each had significant ethnic populations who had remained under Ottoman rule. Under the guidance of Russia, which had its own interests in south-east Europe, they joined forces against the Ottomans, under the name of the Balkan League, in 1912.
In the first phase of the Balkan Wars, Bulgarian, Greek, Montenegrin and Serbian armies fought together against the Ottoman Empire, dealing the Ottomans a heavy defeat in a result that made headlines around the world. In the second phase, the Balkan states fought each other, and Romania also entered the war. In the conflict’s aftermath, new borders failed to satisfy any of the belligerent parties. Interventions by the Great Powers further increased tensions in the region. As the ultimate result, the first bullet that triggered the First World War was fired in Sarajevo in June 1914.
The causes and effects of the Balkan Wars have remained controversial despite the passage of time. In this volume, writers from various Balkan nations and from across various disciplines have come together under the aegis of the Balkan History Association to address little-known and little-studied aspects of the wars. Collectively they analyze a huge range of political, historical, medical, sociological and religious aspects of the conflict. The book, with its ground-breaking content and unique bibliographies, will be an important guide for undergraduate and graduate students studying the political, military and social history of the Balkan Wars and the Balkan nations.
"The Balkan Wars of 1912/13 were a disaster for the Ottoman Empire, a triumph for the Balkan governments, and a tragedy for the population of the belligerent states.This well structured collection brings together contributors from various backgrounds. Together they help to understand overarching issues far beyond the military event, and especially the still underresearched Ottoman perspective."
—Katrin Boeckh, LMU Munich/IOS Regensburg

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Tables
  • List of Figures
  • Introduction
  • Part I The War
  • 1. Diplomacy behind the Curtain: Making the Balkan League
  • 2. Making the Balkan League with(out) the European Powers
  • 3. Turkish Aviation during the Balkan Wars
  • 4. The Occupation of the Aegean Islands by Greece in the First Balkan War According to Turkish Sources
  • Part II The Struggle
  • 5. The Hospitalization of the Ottoman Soldiers during the First Balkan War: The Case of the First Relief Expedition to İstanbul by the German Red Cross
  • 6. The Balkan Wars 1912–13: The Albanian Question
  • Part III The Nations
  • 7. The Population Exchange between Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire after the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913
  • 8. The Issue of Waqf Institutions in the Kingdom of Serbia: The Example of the Münderise Waqf Register of Ottoman Provenance from the Ex-Sanjak of Skopje
  • 9. Young Turk Policy and Albanian Uprisings in Ottoman Macedonia: From Revolution to Balkan War(s) (1908–1912)
  • 10. Albania in the First Balkan War in the Ottoman Turkish Sources
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index

List of Tables

Table 1: Münderise waqf property for rent

Table 2: The differences in incomes for employees in waqf in Skopje District

Table 3: The difference in incomes of employees in waqf in Štip District

Table 4: The difference in incomes of employees in waqf in Veles District

Table 5: The difference in incomes of employees in Kumanovo District

Table 6: The difference in incomes of employees in waqf in Kratovo District

Table 7: The difference in number of employees in waqf in Radovište District

Table 8: The difference in incomes of employees in waqf in Kočane District


Ercan Karakoç and ALİ Serdar Mete

The first steps of Ottoman power in Europe started with raids into the Balkans. These raids also heralded Ottoman domination over the Balkan Peninsula, which lasted for almost six centuries.

Ottoman sovereignty over the Balkans, where they had settled since the middle of the 14th century, became an important source of power in the empire’s transition from principality to imperial state and in all its subsequent political processes. The state originally established in Anatolia developed in Eastern Europe, and for this reason Edirne was chosen as the second capital of the Ottoman Empire. Thanks to the “Millet System,” the Balkan nations lived relatively autonomously during the centuries of Ottoman rule. The Ottoman administration was inclined to make use of local power structures and elites, and it maintained the balance in the Balkans by utilizing regional dynamics. Although revolts occurred from time to time, they were not on a large enough scale to threaten Ottoman domination.

In the areas where the Ottoman Empire ruled, internal turmoil began to emerge in the 19th century that would shake the administration. Since the Balkans were also open to European and Russian intervention, the tensions that rose in this region shook the very foundations of the Empire. As this turmoil and unrest started to take the form of organized national movements in the Balkan Peninsula, the first people to succeed in their struggle for independence were the Greeks. Sovereign Greece became the pioneer of the subsequent ruptures in this region, and after Greek independence the Ottoman Europe was quickly dragged into the turmoil.

Instability in the Balkans was also a determining factor in Ottoman foreign policy. While the increasing Russian threat to the Empire began to press more in the Balkans with Pan-Slavic policies, Austria-Hungary was another powerful actor that played an active role in the power struggle in the region. As Ottoman power was damaged by rebellions and wars, the Balkans were turning into an even more chaotic region. The Ottoman-Russian War of 1877–1878 and the Treaty of Berlin accelerated the intensification of the chaos in the Balkan Peninsula and spurred the independence struggle against the Ottomans. Almost every development after the Berlin Treaty, which weakened the Ottoman Empire’s position considerably, dealt a blow to the Ottoman authority in the Balkans. For Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro, which had gained their independence, the Balkans were the site of a power struggle in which Greece also participated. From time to time, the parties fought each other and from time to time allied against the Ottoman Empire. As in the case of the Macedonian Question, the international community was also involved in issues and matters that actually concerned the Ottoman Empire.

As independent states it did not take long for the Balkan nations to establish their political and military systems as they could count on the support of the international community to achieve their national goals. The army was the most significant institution in the relations of these states with their neighbors. Every Balkan state had to establish an army and navy and modernize them in accordance with the requirements of the era. The path that the Ottomans had followed in military modernization was also followed by these states. In fact, before both its allies and the Ottomans the Serbian government began to build a modern army equipped with the newest technology. For example, the Serbian order for Mauser rifles preceded the Ottoman order by about five years. Thanks to this, war materiel, which was a significant product of Western industry, found an active market in the Balkans. Along with the purchase of modern weapons and equipment, administrative and logistical improvements gradually turned into war preparations. The Greek, Serbian, and Bulgarian armies, which learned modern war techniques and methods under the supervision of foreign experts, became the locomotive of the Balkan League that was established by the four Balkan states. Although the Ottoman government tried to reduce tensions in the region through diplomatic channels, this proved futile. Tensions in the Balkans were so much on edge at the turn of the 20th century that even the breeze of freedom brought by the Young Turks could not lessen them.

While German manufacturers such as Mauser and Krupp were the first choice for arms purchases, almost the entire German war industry found a foothold in the Ottoman market. A neutral observer looking at the situation just before the war would have come to the conclusion that Ottoman defeat by the Balkan League was out of the question. As a matter of fact, and even though they were not parties to the war, the Great Powers declared that the status quo would be maintained and that no boundary changes would be permitted in the Balkans, regardless of the outcome. The defeat of the Ottoman Empire caused great surprise among the belligerents and in international public opinion. This unexpected defeat was the start of a process that would have serious military, political. and social consequences not only for the Ottomans but also for the Balkan nations.

The war broke out on October 8, 1912, two days after the Tripoli War between the Ottomans and Italians ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ouchy when Montenegro declared war on the Ottoman Empire. The arrival of enemy armies in front of Edirne about three weeks after the start of the war was a striking indicator of the magnitude of defeat suffered by Ottoman forces. From a military point of view, the mistakes that occurred during the war can be chalked up to problems of mobilization, military command, supply, and moral superiority. While the enemy armies were ready for war two weeks after completing their war preparations and declaring mobilization, even after 45 days the preparations could not be completed in the Ottoman army. In addition, the demobilization of experienced soldiers due to ignoring the possibility of war aggravated the situation and slowed the adaptation of new recruits. Since the reserves and guard forces were subject to insufficient and superficial preparations and training, these soldiers were taken to the front before they could even complete their close-order drills, let alone prepare for war. The chances of success were further diminished when mistakes in deployment and command compounded faults arising from the mobilization. While there was no coordination between the principal units such as the army, corps, divisions, and regiments, even coordination between battalions and smaller units was insufficient. Unit commanders were acting independently of their superiors and their subordinate troops and were unable to follow the larger strategic picture of the war. This lack of coordination at the command level was shown to be the most serious factor in turning defeat into a fiasco. According to sources from the period, the inability to establish a uniform officer committee was the main criticism leveled at the high command. While this statement emphasized differences in education, experience, and opinion among officers, political rivalries within the army were also implicated. The Ottoman army paid a heavy price for officers’ inability to coordinate and act together during the wars, which is perhaps the most significant factor in ensuring the successful operation of the army. Lack of communication and political rivalries among the officers also directly affected the soldiers. When poorly managed units collapsed quickly in the face of enemy attack, these defeats turned in a short time into desertions. Considering that officers started to desert before their troops, the officer class deserved the heavy criticism directed at them.

Disruptions in mobilization, command, and rear service caused the Ottoman army to lose its morale and motivation. The soldiers, who could not be satisfied with national and moral resources, were also deprived of direction by the command echelon, and the enemy gained moral superiority in a short time. Since the Balkan League armies were superior to the Ottoman army in many respects, they achieved success in a short time. The most important factor in their success was the coordination and regular service behind the front, which was not present in the Ottoman army. While the Ottoman army could not achieve internal unity, the four separate armies of the allies deployed and acted as if they were one army. While the Bulgarian army, which formed the main force, advanced rapidly and decisively toward İstanbul, the other armies continued the war on their own fronts. While the Montenegrins, who used their geographical advantages in the best way, occupied the Ottoman forces in the steep mountain passes, Serbia sent a force to support the Bulgarian siege of Edirne, even when it fought along its own front. In addition to fighting successfully on land, the Greek Navy also achieved significant successes at sea.

The moral superiority, unity of command, discipline, and good management of rear-guard support, all of which were lacking in the Ottoman army, brought the Balkan League victory. The consequences of the heavy defeat of the Ottoman army were also disastrous. The First Balkan War ended with the Treaty of London, signed on May 30, 1913, in which the Ottoman Empire lost 167,312 square meters of land. After the First Balkan War, the Allies, along with Romania, began to quarrel among themselves. Taking advantage of this conflict, known as the Second Balkan War, the Ottoman government at least succeeded in retaking Edirne. Although Edirne was recaptured, the sociopolitical effects of the Ottoman defeat overshadowed the military outcome by creating severe trauma due to the fact that few expected the war would bring such dire consequences.

The Balkan Wars, which put an end to the Turkish presence in the Balkan Peninsula, also called Ottoman Europe, were not enough to end the tension in this region. In the period following this war, which many consider a rehearsal for World War I, political tensions in the region increased continuously. Great Power competition was added to ongoing disagreements between the parties involved in the Balkan Wars. While Austria-Hungary and Italy intervened directly in the Balkans, Russia continued to influence events indirectly. As is well known, the spark that set off World War I was ignited in the Balkans, the intersection point of conflicting interests. Although the wars ended, tensions remained in the Balkan lands. In these generous lands of Europe, ethnic, political, and religious tensions remain palpable.

Despite being Ottoman-centered, this edited volume is the product of studies that evaluate the Balkan Wars from different perspectives. This work by academics from the Balkan nations, who came together under the umbrella of the Balkan History Association, is divided into three main sections: The War, The Struggle, and The Nations. This organization is not intended to divide the work into disparate sections so much as it seeks to gather closely related articles under the same heading. The reader will see that the book includes important issues such as nationalism, differences in belief, war technology, diplomacy, and border conflicts, all of which contributed to the outbreak of the Balkan Wars and to postwar political tensions.

Over the past century plus, many studies have been published examining the Ottoman defeat in the Balkan Wars and its effects. In the years following the war, works written by Ottoman officers drew special attention in many important works that were published by people from different nationalities, mostly academicians. The literature on the Ottoman defeat and its consequences in the Balkan Wars can be organized into two main categories: (1) Studies published in the Ottoman period/era; (2) Studies published in the recent period.

Studies published in the Ottoman period focused on the conclusion of the Balkan War as a defeat, and the reasons for defeat rather than its consequences. The fact that these studies, carried out by officers who had been personally involved in the war or by staff who evaluated war reports, and include the determination of the last period of the empire as well its military values, is what makes these works of great importance. Some were also used as textbooks in the military schools. Written by soldiers, their focus was the event, unit, or person and its part in the defeat. From this point of view, field battles, defensive battles, the situation of big units, and the people and decisions that led to defeat at the command level were among the subjects examined in particular. It is known that these officers, some of whom also held important positions in the Republican period, emphasized the lessons learned from the Ottoman defeat and tried to apply these lessons in the new era. Fevzi [Çakmak] served as the Chief of the General Staff of the Republic of Turkey for many years. Marshal Fevzi’s book, Garbî Rumeli’nin Suret-i Ziyaı ve Balkan Harbinde Garb Cephesi,1 is a detailed source examining the loss in the Balkan War and its causes. Books by Ali Fethi [Okyar]2 and Ali İhsan [Sabis],3 among the important names of the administrative staff who transferred from the Ottoman Empire to the Republic, also examine the results of the war and its causes in terms of politics and military. It is possible to list other significant sources that stand out and where the impact of the Balkan War on the next generation of Ottoman officers can be found: Ömer Zeki, Balkan Harbi ve Şark Ordusunun Hezimeti (İstanbul: Matbaa-i Hayriye, 1914/1332); Selanikli Bahri, Esbâb-ı Felâketimizin Orduya İsâbet Eden Hisse-i Mes’uliyetinden: Balkan Harbinde Garb Ordusu (İstanbul: Yeni Turan Matbaası, 1331); Sadık Ulvi, Tahsin Paşa Ordusu ve Selanik’in Teslimi (Dersaadet: Sancakciyan Matbaası, 1331); Mahmud Muhtar Paşa, Üçüncü Kolordunun ve İkinci Şark Ordusunun Muharebâtı (Dersaadet: Kanaat Matbaası, 1331); Şükrü Ali ve Şerafeddin, Balkan Harbi Tarih-i Harb Meseleleri (İstanbul: Erkân-ı Harbîye Mektebi Matbaası, 1926), and Ahmed Cevad, Kırmızı Siyah Kitap, 1328 Fecayi’i (İstanbul: Matbaa-i Hayriye, 1329).

Ottoman officers’ and intellectuals’ research on the Balkan War and the different reasons for these results also serve as a source for the studies carried out in today’s Turkey. When the work done in Turkey is added to the work done in the Balkans and around the world, it is understood that this war is still an important academic research area. While the publications of researchers/academics from countries that participated in the Balkan War make it easier to understand the war from different perspectives, researchers from many different disciplines around the world continue to work on different aspects of the subject. Recently, quite detailed studies have been published that examine the situation of both the Ottoman and Balkan nations in the war and evaluate the war’s military, political, social, and cultural consequences in the light of these studies.


XXVI, 232
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2024 (January)
Balkan Wars Ottoman Empire Balkan League Balkan History War History Aviation Aegean Islands Ottoman Waqfs Hospitalization Albanian Question THE BALKAN WARS OTTOMAN PERSPECTIVES Ercan KARAKOÇ Diplomacy
New York, Berlin, Bruxelles, Chennai, Lausanne, Oxford, 2024. XXVI, 232 pp., 21 b/w ill., 8 b/w tables.

Biographical notes

Ercan Karakoç (Volume editor) Ali Serdar Mete (Volume editor)

Ercan Karakoç is Professor of Modern Turkish History at Yildiz Technical University. He graduated from the History Department of Bogazici (Bosphorus) University. He completed his Master’s in National Security Strategy at Gebze Institute of Technology, then Gebze Technical University. He received his Ph.D. in History from Marmara University. He won a highly coveted and contested Fulbright Scholar in Residence Scholarship and taught at Chatham University concurrently sitting on numerous expert panels discussing the affairs of Middle East in Pittsburgh. He works mainly on the later history Ottoman Empire and the history of modern Turkey. He is a member of the Balkan History Association. Ali Serdar Mete completed his master studies at Yeditepe University. He received his Ph.D. in History from Yildiz Technical University. He works mainly on Ottoman-Turkish military history, including the modernization of military organization and education, modern military tactics, and modern firearms.


Title: The Balkan Wars