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History, The Balkan Wars

Greek politics, Balkan Wars, Balkan War, Ioannina, Bulgarians

The lesson of the humiliating defeat of 1897 was not lost on Greek statesman Eleutherios Venizelos, who became prime minister of Greece in 1910. Born in Crete, Venizelos had labored for the islandís union with Greece. He came to dominate Greek politics as the leader of the Liberal Party, which drew support from nationalists of all classes. Venizelos realized that Greece by itself could not challenge the still considerable might of the Ottoman Empire. In addition to building up the economy and modernizing Greeceís armed forces, Venizelos sought to develop alliances with Greeceís neighbors to the north, particularly Serbia, an Orthodox nation with whom Greece traditionally had good relations.

In October 1912, in the First Balkan War, Greece attacked the Ottoman Empire in alliance with Serbia, Bulgaria, and Montenegro. On this occasion the Great Powers did not intervene, and the Ottoman forces, heavily outnumbered, were driven from much of southeastern Europe. In November Greek forces, one step ahead of the Bulgarians who also wanted the city, captured Thessaloniki, the major port of the northern Aegean. The largest segment of the cityís population was neither Greek nor Bulgarian but Jewish, the Spanish-speaking descendants of Jews expelled from Spain in 1492. In February 1913 the Greeks captured Ioannina, the capital of Epirus. In May the ailing Ottoman state ceded almost all of its European possessions, including Crete, and the island formally united with Greece. Bulgaria still desired Macedonia and soon fell out with Greece and Serbia. Greece and Serbia then fought against Bulgaria in the Second Balkan War, which began on June 30, 1913, and ended in defeat for Bulgaria one month later. In the Treaty of Bucharest, signed in August, Bulgaria was forced to acknowledge the annexation by Greece and Serbia of most of Macedonia.

Under Venizelosís leadership, the territory of Greece had increased by some 70 percent, and its population had grown from 2.8 million to 4.8 million. When King George was shot and killed by a deranged assassin in March 1913, he was succeeded by his eldest son, who was crowned Constantine I. Greece appeared poised to achieve many of its expansionist ambitions at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. However, the turmoil of World War I (1914-1918) would soon shatter the political unity that had led to the victories of the Balkan Wars.

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