- The First Balkan War broke out in October 1912 when the Balkan League-comprised of Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro- declared war on the Ottoman Empire. The war of 1912, together with the Second Balkan War, settled the question of who would rule “Ottoman Europe”.
- Within just a month of the start of hostilities, the Ottoman army collapsed. Bulgarian troops pushed the Ottoman army to the Catalca line of defense, which lay just thirty kilometers from the capital Istanbul. Bulgarian forces also besieged the old Ottoman capital of Adrianople (modern-day Edirne; recovered during the Second Balkan War).
- The Serbs advanced into Macedonia and reached Manastir. The Montenegrin army, together with Serb forces, occupied Novi Pazar and Scutari. Greek forces advanced into Thessaly and Salonika, the center of Spanish-speaking Jewry, who had been saved from the Spanish Inquisition by the Ottomans and settled there.
- According to reports of the Union des Association Israelites, great suffering was inflicted upon the Jewish community with the taking of Salonika which was accompanied by plunder, extortion, as well as murder (The Jewish Yearbook, No. 5674, p.193). A Greek policy of “Hellenization” ensued after 1912, causing much hardship for the Sephardic Jewish community of this city (Mark Mazower, Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950, p.285).
- By December 1912, the Ottomans lost all areas to the west of Istanbul.
- The war ended with the signing of the London Treaty. Virtually all possessions of the Empire in the Balkan territories, which had been Ottoman for over five hundred years, were partitioned among the allies. The treaty also recognized an independent Albania within its present day borders.
- Although the League was victorious in the First Balkan War, old differences between the allies soon emerged over the division of territorial acquisitions, which lead to its effective break-up and the start of Second Balkan War. The Ottomans profited to some extent managing to recover Eastern Thrace up till the Maritsa (Meric) river. Nevertheless, the loss was huge: eighty percent of “Ottoman Europe” was lost.
- The Balkan Wars saw a great diminution of the Muslim population caused not only by forced migration, starvation and disease, but also mass massacres (Justin McCarthy, Death and Exile, p.138). It is estimated that a total of 1.5 million Muslims died and were forcibly exiled as a result of the Balkan Wars. The survivors- who had hitherto represented a majority in their Balkan homelands- were settled in Eastern Thrace and Western Anatolia. Millions of Turks today are the descendants of those who found refuge in Turkey.
- According to reports of the Union des Association Israelites, Ottoman Jews also suffered from great brutality during the Wars, “though [they were] not so ruthlessly massacred as the Mohammedans”. The same reports note that the Jews were separated from “an empire under whose tolerant sway they had lived for four centuries.” (The Jewish Yearbook, No. 5674, p.89, 188).
Note: On the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the start of the first Balkan War, TCA supported the publication of an annotated map chronicling the death and forced exile of approximately 1.5 million Muslims (who were mostly Turks) from Ottoman Europe. These victims had hitherto represented a majority in their Balkan homelands. The map, prepared by Justin McCarthy, Professor of History at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, seeks to bring balance to one-sided historical accounts that overlook Ottoman Muslim losses during this period when the Ottoman Empire was on the verge of collapse. The map can be downloaded in pdf format here.