Grand Prince Nikolai Nikolaevich Enters Trnovo in 1877 (Nikolai Dmitriyev-Orenburgsky, 1885)
The above is a scene form the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-79. The combined Orthodox armies had advanced through the Balkans and were within striking distance of the Ottoman capital of Constantinople (which is called Tsargrad in Russian). Trnovo is in Bulgaria, and it was on the route of march of the liberating armies. The populace was overjoyed at having the rule of the Muslim oppressor overthrown. This painting is not a propagandistic exaggeration. The joy was genuine, heartfelt, and sincere. Many Westerners were (and are) unaware of the thorough brutality and bloodthirstiness of the Turks (if you are in doubt, ask any Greek or Armenian and you shall get the full story), so, they propped up the “sick man of Europe” (as the declining Ottoman Empire was known). Most of all, the West did not care if the Balkans groaned under the excesses and rapine of the bashi-bazouks. Russia was to be stopped at all costs, and if a few insignificant Balkan peasants fell under the Ottoman boot, well, so be it (sounds eerily like Kosovo… the more things change…).
The Orthodox forces had advanced through Bulgaria after their victories at Plevna and the Shipki Pass. There was pressure on the Ottoman eastern frontier from Russian forces as well. In short, Russia was in a position to impose a peace upon the Porte that would free their Orthodox compatriots from the Muslim yoke. England (“perfidious Albion”, to be sure, in this case) objected because it feared Russian control of the straits (that would give the Black Sea Fleet free access to the Mediterranean). Germany objected because it supported the pretensions of the Hapsburgs in the Balkans. The countries of the West, in essence, formed an anti-Russian alliance. Russia could not face the combined forces of the West alone, so some of the gains of the war were lost at the Conference of Berlin. That is, parts of the Balkans groaned under Muslim oppression until the First Balkan War of 1912. The shortsightedness of the West came back to haunt them in the First World War. Because the Turks controlled the straits, it was impossible for the Russian and Allied forces to come together.
This may have been one of the factors leading to the events of 1917. Because of these events, and the new Soviet government that arose as a result, one of the most shameful episodes in Russian history took place. In the aftermath of the First World War, there was conflict in Anatolia between the Greeks and the Turks. The Greek forces advanced beyond their lines of communication and were defeated at the Battle of Dumlupinar near Ankara. They retreated to the Greek-populated enclave in Ionia centred on Smyrna. Then, Lenin stabbed them in the back. He sent arms to the Turks, which enabled Mustafa Kemal to overrun the Smyrna enclave, and a great massacre of Christians resulted, which included Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Smyrna. The Greek population was killed or driven out.
I am proud to say that we Russians have always stood beside our Greek compatriots. Nevertheless, I am humbled that this one act of perfidy led to such a disaster. I doubt that President Putin would do such, and that is one reason that the West hates him, for he sees himself as the protector of the Orthodox pleroma, and rightly so. When President Putin visited the Holy Mountain in 2005, the fathers met him at the Great Lavra and gave him a rousing welcome. We may follow the fathers of Holy Mount Athos, or we can follow the pied pipers of Western journalism. I prefer the fathers of the Mount, what about you?