Thirty Days’ War showed military might of the empire as Greeks were forced to surrender despite support from European powers.
The year was 1897. The sun was finally starting to set on the mighty Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II was trying to douse the fires of rebellion breaking out in different regions.
He was no Suleyman the Magnificent but Abdulhamid II was no less a braveheart either. His moment of glory was coming, one that would be written in golden letters in Turkish history and told-and re-told for generations to come. He was to lead the Ottomans to one of their finest military victories—the triumph over the invading Greeks in 1897, the short and swift Thirty Days’ War.
On May 20 1897, the Ottoman military declared a ceasefire after crushing the Greek invasion. Four months later, on September 20, Greece signed a peace treaty, ceding some border areas. It was also forced to pay a heavy amount as war reparations.
A century and seventy-five years later, the war remains a reminder of the military might that had made the Ottoman Empire one of the greatest the world has ever seen.
Prelude to war
The Greeks, who lived materially and morally comforted under the tolerant administration of the Ottoman Empire, started to revolt over time, mostly as a result of provocations by forces inimical to the empire. The support to the rebellion by the great European powers was one the biggest factors in its growth in a short time. The Ottoman Empire had accepted the establishment of an independent Greek State in 1830 due to intense pressures from the European states.
But since its establishment, Greece pursued a policy of expansion against the Ottoman Empire. This created friction between the two, pushing the two sides to the brink of war from time to time.
Pampered by the European states, Greece started making moves to annex the Turkish lands with Greek majority—especially Crete and Peloponnese in the Balkans, as well as the Aegean islands—from the Ottoman Empire and add them to their territory.
As a result of these activities, there were major revolts on the islands of Peloponnese and Crete, which left the Ottoman Empire in a difficult situation and brought it face to face with European states from time to time.
By the 1890s, Ottoman-Greek relations had reached a new low over the Crete issue. Crete was taken under the protection of the European powers, and the island was declared to be added to Greece.
The Ottoman Empire protested this vigorously. But knowing fully well that such verbal protests are unlikely to be heard, the Sultan also made his move to expel the Greeks from the island. Considering the delicate situation in the island of Crete, Greece decided to intensify its activities in Thessaly, knowing that a war on the island would be dangerous for it.
After Greece increased its military build-up on the borders of Thessaly, the Ottoman Empire also started military preparations, fortified its positions and took all necessary measures to foil a Greek attack.
In April 1897, Greeks troops crossed the Ottoman border. The Ottoman Empire also declared war on Greece, explaining the reasons for its decision through an official statement.
The Ottoman Empire was determined to win this war and regain its lost reputation. Acting under the command of Edhem Pasha, the Ottoman forces stormed through the Greek formations at several places. On many fronts—such as Catalca, Yenisehir, Domeke and Yanya—the Greek army was defeated, and towns and villages passed into the hands of the Ottoman forces one by one.
Some of the places were surrendered without a war. Upon the unexpected defeats and retreats of the Greek forces in such a short time, the European states, which could not stand any longer against Greece’s desire to meditate for peace, came into action.
The European states did not leave Greece alone, they pressured the Ottoman Empire for a ceasefire and peace, and the negotiations for an agreement began. After long and contentious negotiations, a treaty was signed on December 4, 1897. Under the treaty, Greece would pay 100 thousand liras for compensation and 4 million liras to the Ottoman Empire for its losses during the war.
Thessaly, which had been captured by Ottoman forces, would be returned to Greece on the condition of some minor border changes. The Ottoman Empire would also evacuate from Thessaly after Greece began to pay its war compensation. Despite its great military success, the Ottoman Empire could not come out of the agreement with the same victory.
The Ottoman Empire had to leave Thessaly to Greece, which it had previously lost through diplomatic means and this time regained at the expense of blood and life.
The agreement could not find a solution to the Aegean issue, especially in Crete. The festering problems between Greece and Türkiye did not reach a definitive solution. Especially, the Aegean Sea and the island issue still retains its currency till today.