Russo-Rumelian Straits Condominium
The Russo-Rumelian Straits Condominium, established in 1938, was a condominium territory around the Dardanelles Strait, jointly administered by Russia and its sister republic, Rumelia. It was established in the aftermath of Ottoman defeat during the Great War. This arrangement came to an an end in 1984, after territorial reorganizations in Rumelia. The former condominium was absorbed into Rumelia as autonomous territories, although Russia retained control over several exclusive military bases.
Although the concept of equal and joint control was fundamental to this arrangement, Russia held a predominant position both politically and militarily in practice. This influence was attributed to the presence of pro-Russian Turkish collaborators and politicians, both within Rumelia and the condominium territory itself.
Constantinople in the Great War
Constantinople, historically the capital of the Ottoman Empire, played a pivotal role in the events of the Great War. As the Ottomans aligned with the Tripartite Coalition, they found themselves at war with the Russians in 1935. Despite making notable territorial gains during the initial two years of the war, the Ottoman forces faced a decisive reversal, ultimately leading to the Russian occupation of the city in April 1938.
During occupation, the Russian government actively supported the migration of Christians and Russians into the newly occupied territory surrounding the straits. This occupation, particularly in its immediate aftermath, was marked by elements of brutality and an increase in the Russian population within the territory. This allowed Russian nationalist factions to reign free and take various measures such as converting Hagia Sophia into a church and promoting a distinct 'classical idea' of the city.
As months passed and negotiations between the Ottoman Empire and Russia commenced, the influx of Russian settlers eventually slowed. However, these demographic shifts had played a significant role in shaping the fate of Constantinople and the Dardanelles Strait.
After its defeat, the Ottoman Empire underwent significant territorial changes. As part of the peace settlement, the Balkan territories of the Ottoman Empire saw the establishment of Rumelia, a national republic intended for the Turkish population. However, a distinct arrangement was made for Constantinople and the Dardanelles Strait, placing these strategic regions under the joint governance of Russia and Rumelia in a condominium.
Demilitarized zones were established along the borders of the condominium territory. These zones served as buffer areas intended to promote stability and prevent any military escalation between the Rumelian and Ottoman governments.
The treaty also outlined the temporary nature of this arrangement and assured its eventual return to Rumelia. However, the agreement did not stipulate a fixed termination date, a deliberate omission on the part of the Russians.
During the condominium government, governance was vested in an equal assembly of representatives hailing from both Rumelia and Russia. At the lower levels of administrative structures, Rumelian Turks formed the plurality. However, in practice, the practical dynamics of the condominium rule leaned significantly toward Russian predominance.
Russian and Turkish (specifically Rumelian Turkish, based on the Edirne dialect) were made co-official languages, and education policies integrated both languages into the curricula. Media outlets and publications were bilingual, utilizing the Cyrillic script for both languages.
As the 1950s and 1960s unfolded, mounting dissatisfaction with the lopsided power dynamics in the condominium territory fueled numerous protests and demands for a renegotiation of the terms, with an ultimate return to Rumelia. These appeals were persistently rejected by the Russian authorities, and the established status quo persisted throughout this period.
During the 1970s, Russia underwent a historical political transformation with advent of democratization. The success of Russia's first free elections rekindled discussions about the possibility of negotiating the return of the territory to Rumelia. Sergey Gromov, the newly democratically-elected chairman of Russia, took a receptive stance towards Rumelian appeals, recognizing it as an opportunity to legitimize his nascent leadership and cultivate popularity among the Rumelians and securing their support.
A council was convened to formulate the terms for a territorial reorganization, culminating in the signing of a Treaty in Constantinople in 1979. The treaty delineated the absorption of certain sections of the condominium into Rumelia proper, while simultaneously establishing two autonomous territories as part of Rumelia: Constantinople and Dardanellia. Russia was also to keep several portions of territory intended for exclusive military use. However, its immediate implementation was hindered by the Russians' involvement in the Alyeskan War of Independence.
In 1984, the treaty was ultimately enacted. The handover ceremony was held in conjunction with the commemoration of Rumelia's 46th founding anniversary.
At the time of the dissolution of the condominium, Constantinople had a diverse population totaling 6.5 million residents, comprising various ethnic and cultural groups:
- Turks: 3 million (43%)
- Russians/Ruthenians: 1.9 million (27%)
- Greeks: 850,000 (12%)
- Armenians: 500,000 (7%)
- Jews: 150,000 (2%)
- Others: 100,000 (9%)