Bulgaria Celebrates 111th Anniversary since Declaration of Independence from Ottoman Empire

Bulgaria Celebrates 111th Anniversary since Declaration of Independence from Ottoman Empire

This political cartoon on the cover of French periodical Le Petit Journal illustrates the Bosnian Crisis of 1908: King Ferdinand (middle) of Bulgaria declares independence and becomes Tsar, Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph (L) annexes Bosnia and Herzegovina, while Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid looks on. Photo: Cplakidas, Wikipedia

Bulgaria celebrates on Saturday, September 22, 2019, the 111th anniversary since its Declaration of Independence from Ottoman Turkey which was proclaimed on September 22, 1908.

The Team of ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com wishes happy Independence Day (September 22) to its Bulgarian and Bulgaria-loving readers from around the world!

Independence Day, September 22, is one of Bulgaria’s official holidays honoring the bold but carefully prepared diplomatic move of 1908 which turned the country into a full-fledged sovereign state.

Bulgaria’s independence was declared 30 years after its National Liberation of March 3, 1878, which established the Principality (Kingdom) of Bulgaria (today’s Northern Bulgaria) as a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire, and 23 years after the National Unification (of the Principality of Bulgaria and the autonomous province of “Eastern Rumelia”, i.e. today’s Southern Bulgaria).

After the Declaration of Independence of September 22, 1908, the Principality (Kingdom) of Bulgaria became the Tsardom of Bulgaria, with the Bulgarian monarch re-assuming the title of Tsar (“Emperor”), i.e. the title of the monarchs from the medieval Bulgarian Empire.

The prehistory of Bulgaria’s Declaration of Independence of 1908 goes a long way back to the Late Middle Ages when the country was last a sovereign political entity. Despite its high culture and Pre-Renaissance or Early Renaissance art, the feudally fragmented medieval Bulgarian Empire fell prey to the Ottoman Turkish invaders who conquered it at the end of the 14th century, ushering into five centuries of what is known in Bulgarian history as the period of Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912).

The Ottoman conquest and five-century rule set Bulgaria’s back centuries in development, destroyed its high medieval culture, annihilated or assimilating an enormous share of the Bulgarian population, and doomed the rest to a slave-like status.

The Bulgarians resisted the Ottoman rule in a number of ways including by staging at least 60 uprisings, revolts, and mutinies of varied scale, by keeping up guerrilla resistance (by the so called hayduti, or haiduks), and by volunteering in the forces of other great and small powers fighting Ottoman Turkey. Their fight for freedom and independence took a better organized form only during the National Revival Period (18th-19th century), and intensified especially in the third quarter of the 19th century.

It culminated into the April Uprising of 1876 which was crushed with savage brutality by the Ottoman troops and irregulars (30,000 Bulgarians were massacred) – just like any other revolt ever staged by the Bulgarians. This time, however, the stories of the Ottoman atrocities caused international outrage thanks to coverage by a US journalist working for the British press, Januarius MacGahan (1844-1878). This led the otherwise competing great European powers of the time to agree on the need of a humanitarian intervention in Bulgaria (the British Empire and Austria-Hungary agreed not to intervene in an assault of the Russian Empire against Ottoman Turkey).

The humanitarian intervention came in the form of the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-1878 which ended on March 3, 1878, with the Peace Treaty of San Stefano, a small town near the Ottoman capital Istanbul (Constantinople), between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, reviving Bulgaria on the political map of Europe and the world.

With Bulgaria’s National Liberation under the San Stefano Treaty, the newly liberated country encompassed most of what are the three historical and geographic regions traditionally inhabited by Bulgarians: Moesia, Thrace, and Macedonia. However, this treaty was not final, and was revised at the Congress of Berlin three months later. The result was the Berlin Treaty which was signed by all European great powers at the time.

Because of the great power rivalry between Britain and Russia, and Austria-Hungary and Russia, the Berlin Congress chaired by the “Iron Chancellor” of Germany Otto von Bismarck balancing the interests of the great powers, resulted in reducing the newly liberated Bulgaria to about a fourth of all Bulgarian-populated regions in the Balkans and a third of the territories granted to it by the San Stefano Treaty, stripping it of territories in the geographic regions of Macedonia, Thrace, the Western Outlands, and Northern Dobrudzha.

Despite its National Liberation, the newly liberated Principality of Bulgaria (ruled by a Knyaz meaning “Prince” or “King”) was a vassal state of the Ottoman Sultan, while another part of Bulgaria was fashioned into the Ottoman autonomous region of Eastern Rumelia.

As a result of Bulgaria’s partitioning under the Berlin Treaty, the entire foreign and defense policy and social life of the Third Bulgarian Tsardom (1878-1944/46) was directed at treaty revision and achieving the unification of all Bulgarian-populated lands in one nation state, leading it to participate in five wars in that period.

The Unification of the Principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Roumelia achieved on September 6, 1885, was hailed as a major but nonetheless still partial step towards this goal. September 6, Unification Day, is another national holiday in today’s Bulgaria called Unification Day. In fact, Bulgaria just celebrated the 130th anniversary since the Unification of 1885.

The international situation led the Ottoman Empire to accept the unification of the Principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia, and to abstain from a military response, with Russia opposing the Bulgaria‘s Unification, and Great Britain backing it.

The Russians were not the only ones unhappy about Bulgaria’s Unification, however. Encouraged by Austria-Hungary, Serbia attacked Bulgaria in November 1885 but was swiftly and soundly defeated by the enthusiastic Bulgarian forces. The Great Powers recognized the unified Bulgaria with a Bulgarian-Ottoman treaty in 1886, after the country’s victory in the Serbian-Bulgarian War of 1885 made the Unification of Northern and Southern Bulgaria as a fait accompli.

After the Unification of 1885, Bulgaria’s efforts were directed at securing its unification with the rest of the Bulgarian-populated regions which had been part of Bulgaria’s historical territory in the Middle Ages, mostly in the regions of Macedonia and the rest of Thrace, still Ottoman provinces until 1912.

Thus, Bulgaria backed the Bulgarian revolutionary organization VMORO (Internal Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Organization) and its staging of the Ilinden-Preobrazhenia Uprising of 1903.

After the failure of the Uprising and several other Bulgarian revolts in then European Turkey, the Bulgarian leadership became convinced that the only way to help its compatriots still living under Ottoman Yoke was to wage a victorious war against Ottoman Turkey. Before that, however, Bulgaria needed to become a full-fledged sovereign state since it was still a tributary state of the Ottoman Empire.

Tsar Ferdinand and members of the Bulgarian government during the declaration of Bulgaria’s Independence from Ottoman Turkey in Veliko Tarnovo, September 22, 1908. Photo: Царски елит, Wikipedia

The Monument of Bulgaria’s Declaration of Independence of September 22, 1908, located in downtown Sofia. Photo: Mark Ahsmann, Wikipedia

Thus, the Bulgarian Cabinet and ruler sought out an opportunity to make a formal declaration of independence. The case presented itself in 1908 when one of the European Great Powers broke the Berlin Treaty, Austria-Hungary, violated the Berlin Treaty. Under it, Austria-Hungary was granted the rule of Bosnia and Herzegovina, an Ottoman province, for a period of 30 years. When the period expired, Austria-Hungary sought to make its annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina permanent.

The Bulgarian Declaration of Independence was in fact coordinated with the actions of the Emperor and government in Vienna. Austria-Hungary announced the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina the following day, ushering into the Bosnian Crisis (or Annexation Crisis) of 1908-1909 which stirred diplomatic tensions among the Great Powers, a preview of the July Sarajevo Crisis of 1914 leading to the breakout of World War I.

Under international diplomatic pressure, Ottoman Turkey reacted to Bulgaria‘s declaration of independence only with diplomatic protests, without military action.

Bulgaria’s Independence was solemnly declared by Knyaz / Tsar Ferdinand and Prime Minister Alexander Malinov with an independence manifesto in Veliko Tarnovo, the last capital of the medieval Bulgarian Empire, in the historic Holy Forty Martyrs Church, a symbolic connection to the medieval Bulgarian Tsars.

Until then, the newly liberated Bulgaria had been a Principality (i.e. a Kingdom), with its monarch bearing the title of Knyaz (“Prince” or “King”), and still a tributary (vassal) state to the Ottoman Empire. With the Declaration of Independence of 1908, Bulgaria restored its medieval titles of Tsardom (technically meaning “an empire”) and “Tsar” (“Emperor”). These changes were reflected in the constitutional amendments of 1911.

Thus, the period in Bulgarian history before the Soviet occupation and Soviet-orchestrated coup of September 9, 1944, and the establishment of the communist regime is known as the Third Bulgarian Tsardom (1878-1944/46), a successor to the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018) and the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396).

After achieving its independence in 1908, Bulgaria continued its efforts to unite all Bulgarian-populated territories, and took part in the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, World War I (1915-1918) and World War II (1941-1945).

While it was vastly victorious in military terms, especially if its size and recent history at the time are accounted for, because of major diplomatic blunders of the leadership of the Bulgarian Tsardom, including of Tsar Ferdinand I (r. 1887-1918), it ended up losing for good most of these historically Bulgarian and Bulgarian-populated regions.

Independence Day has been celebrated as an official public holiday since a decision of the Bulgarian Parliament from September 10, 1998.


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