Bears in the Bosporus

The arrival in 1833 of a Russian fleet signalled Russian control for several years of the Bosporus and of the Turkish Empire, writes Lansing Collins.

Jetting down the Bosporus from the Black Sea, a sharp chill wind was kicking up puffs of spray on February 20th, 1833 when seven huge ships-of-the-line, each flying a blue cross on a white field, dropped anchor off Buyukdere, a small village on the European shore about ten miles above Constantinople. The people in Buyukdere were astounded. Never before, in the four hundred years since the Turks had captured Constantinople, had a foreign naval force been seen in the Bosporus.

Occasionally a frigate or other small warship had been permitted to bring an Ambassador to Constantinople; but no infidel force of such size had ever penetrated these waters. For these big warships were Russian, sent by the ambitious Tsar Nicholas to ‘help’ Sultan Mahmud II defend himself against the rebellious Viceroy of Egypt, Mohammed Ali, whose men, led by his son Ibrahim, were then deep into Anatolia on their way to the capital.

Ibrahim had led them through Palestine and Syria into Anatolia and the Turks had suffered reverses at every encounter, for Ibrahim’s men were French-trained in modern warfare and the Turks were no match for them. On December 21st, 1832 at Kenya, some 150 miles south of Ankara, the last Turkish army had lost all its arms, ammunition, and supplies; even its commander, the Grand Vizier or Prime Minister, had been captured.

Then Nicholas had acted. Alert to the coming Turkish crisis and knowing of French support for Ali and British seeming indifference, he had raced General Muravieff off to Constantinople to see the Sultan, offer him Russian help, and tell him he was proceeding to Alexandria to mediate the Egyptian ‘question’. The Sultan had accepted the offer of help in principle, but had at first tried to dissuade Muravieff from going on to Egypt.

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