140 years since the proclamation of independence of Romania

Nicolae_Grigorescu_-_Atacul_de_la_Smardan2017 has a special significance: Romanians celebrate 140 years since Prince Carol I proclaimed the State independence of Romania. The recognition of independence was obtained on the battlefield with the help of the army under the personal command of the prince who became the first King of Romania.

Carol I had been enthroned ruling Prince one May 10th, 1866, and on May 10th, 1881 he was crowned King as a sign of Romania’s new international status.

The independence was the result of diplomatic and military action in a cloudy international context. In 1877, the Ottoman Empire was still considered a Great Power, and according to the Ottoman government, Romania was only a privileged province of the Empire. But the Ottoman Empire faced the uprisings of its Christian subjects. In 1875, a revolt broke out in Herzegovina. In April 1876, a large uprising broke out in Bulgaria. In June 1876, Serbia and Montenegro declared war on the Ottoman Empire. The Turks managed to defeat their opponents militarily, but their brutality outraged the European public opinion. In this context, Russia, which was posing as protector of the Orthodox Christians, threatened to declare war on the Ottoman Empire.

Romania was under the major risk of becoming the main battleground of two great powers. Prince Carol I of Romania asked the Ottoman Empire to recognise the independence of the country, but the Ottomans refused. Instead, Russia proposed Prince Carol I to recognise the independence of Romania in exchange for military cooperation with the Romanian army against the Turks, as well as free pass for the Russian military units to the south of the Danube. After lengthy negotiations, Russia and Romania signed an agreement comprising these desiderata, and stating that Russia guaranteed Romania’s territorial integrity. On the night of 11 to 12 April 1877, the Russian armies crossed the border on the Prut and entered Romania. As such, the Ottoman Empire started bombing the Romanian bank of the Danube and seized several Romanian ships. Consequently, on May 9th, 1877, the Foreign Minister of Romania, Mihail Kogălniceanu, stated in the Parliament in Bucharest that Romania had become independent and the State independence was officially proclaimed on May 10th, 1877 and Romania went to war with the Ottoman Empire.

Initially, the Romanian participation was limited to defending the Danube line, bombing the Turkish bank of the river and the protection provided by the Romanian fleet of warships to the Russian troops along the Danube. 260,000 Russian soldiers with 802 guns and 186,000 Ottoman soldiers with 210 guns were in combat. But the Ottomans had strong fortifications. In the first phase of the war, the Russian offensive was stopped and the victory seemed to belong to the Ottomans. In this context, the commander of the Russian troops, the Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia, asked Prince Carol I of Romania to intervene with the Romanian army. An operational body was mobilised north of the Danube with over 43,000 troops, and another unit consisting of over 11,000 soldiers who had the mission of guarding the borders, and the militias from Oltenia, aiming to defend Romania’s territory. In July, Carol I crossed the Danube leading 43,000 Romanian troops which joined the Russian troops at Plevna, the largest Ottoman fortification complex.

After several failed sieges imposed by the vanity of the Russian generals, the strategic concept of the commander of the allied troops from Plevna, Prince Carol I of Romania, prevailed and became a siege warfare. This approach would pay off at the end of November 1877, when the Ottoman general Osman Pasha, together with the approximately 50,000 troops under his command, who had 70 cannons, surrendered to the Romanian colonel Mihail Cerchez. This victory of Carol I would change the course of the war. The fall of Pleven opened the way to the capital of the Ottoman Empire. With one stone, one third of the Ottomans fighting force was annihilated. After the great victory at Plevna, the Russian troops started the offensive to the south of the Balkan Peninsula, and the Romanian army launched an offensive toward the east, whose aim was Vidin, defended by 17,000 Ottomans troops, who had 84 cannons. On February 12th, 1878, the Romanian army conquered Vidin. The Ottoman Empire asked for peace. But Russia betrayed Romania during the peace negotiations. Despite the promise to respect the territorial integrity, the Russians enforced the disposal of the three counties in Southern Bessarabia, which had been returned to the Romanians in 1856. In exchange, Romania received the two counties in Northern Dobrogea and the Snake Island. Russia received the three counties, huge war reparations and territories in the Caucasus. The Peace Treaties of San Stefano and Berlin in 1878 recognised the independence of Romania, Serbia and Montenegro and the establishment of an autonomous Principality of Bulgaria under Ottoman suzerainty. Symbolically, the steel of an Ottoman cannon captured at Pleven was used to create Romania’s crown, the symbol of sovereignty and national independence.

Claudiu Pădurean

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