Unkiar-Skelessi, Treaty of

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On 8 July 1833, representatives of the Russian and Ottoman governments signed a "treaty of defensive alliance" in Unkiar-Skelessi (Hunkar Iskelesi), a suburb of Constantinople. The treaty consisted of two parts, a section of six articles in addition to a secret "separate article." The first section recorded the signatories' pledge of common defense and mutual aid "against all attack," in addition to consultation and cooperation in matters affecting each empire's "tranquility and safety." Unkiar-Skelessi confirmed the terms of the 1829 Treaty of Adrianople, which had concluded the Russo-Turkish conflict arising from the War of Greek Independence. Now, Russian emperor Nicholas I (r. 1825–1855) promised to provide, when requested by the Sublime Porte (the Ottoman government), such forces as necessary to maintain Turkey's independence. For its part, the Ottoman government of Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1808–1839) would pay for provisioning these forces. The empires' representatives agreed that the treaty's terms would last for eight years, at which time they would discuss renewal. The treaty's "separate" and secret article modified the terms of the public document by stating that, to spare the expense of direct aid to Russia when the latter came under attack, the Sublime Porte would instead close the Dardanelles to any foreign warships "under any pretext whatsoever."

Unkiar-Skelessi closed one phase and began another in the history of the "Eastern Question"—that is, the international complications stemming from the Ottoman Empire's chronic weakness. The Greek revolution had inspired the Ottoman governor of Egypt, Mehmet Ali (1769–1849), to mount his own rebellion. In 1831, his French-trained troops invaded Syria under the command of his son Ibrahim Pasha (1789–1848). By the spring of 1833, Ibrahim's armies had seized Syria and were advancing on Constantinople. Unable to turn to Great Britain—where the government was embroiled in debates over the Reform Bill—the sultan reluctantly accepted Russian offers of military support, remarking that a drowning man would even cling to a serpent. In April 1833, 10,000 Russian troops landed on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus Straits. In May, Mahmud II and Mehmet Ali concluded a peace at Kutahia; the sultan ceded Egypt, Syria, Cyprus, and Adana to his vassal's control. Faced with the continuing presence of Russian troops, and amid potential tension created by the arrival in the Straits of French and British naval vessels, Mahmud II accepted the offer of an alliance extended by Nicholas I's emissary Count A. F. Orlov. The day following the treaty's signature, Russian troops received orders to withdraw, as Ibrahim Pasha's armies had returned to their new territories.

The treaty signaled a triumph for Russia's ideological and strategic interests, but provoked contention with Great Britain and France over the fate of the "sick man," as contemporaries called the Ottoman Empire. Nicholas and his advisors believed that they had protected a legitimate ruler against the forces of disorder, in keeping with their conservative view of international relations. Unkiar-Skelessi also assured Russia's ability to intervene in Ottoman affairs, in support of Nicholas I's wish to maintain a weak but unified neighbor on Russia's southern flank. These principles served as the basis of an agreement with Austria, signed at Münchengrätz in September 1833, thus resurrecting a Holy Alliance broken by the events in Greece. Russia's new dominance in Turkey also excited suspicions in London and Paris, especially after the terms of the treaty appeared in the British press in August 1833. British officials, particularly Foreign Secretary John Henry Temple, Lord Palmerston (1784–1865), feared Russia's larger designs, as well as the security of the route to India. French statesmen sought to bolster the position of their protégé Mehmet Ali.

The Eastern Question re-emerged with new urgency in April 1839, when Mahmud II sought revenge from Mehmet Ali by invading Syria. Within months his armies were routed, his fleet defected to Egypt; Mahmud II himself died, leaving the throne to his adolescent son Abdul Mejid (1823–1861). The new crisis led to an Anglo-Russian rapprochement arising from two missions to London by Russian diplomat Ernst Brunnow (Brunnov), who offered to allow the lapse of Unkiar-Skelessi and other concessions. This turn allowed for an international intervention in support of Ottoman integrity and an end to the conflict by late 1840. In July 1841, Unkiar-Skelessi was replaced by a convention on the Straits signed in London by Russia, Britain, France, Prussia, and Austria. The new convention stipulated that in peacetime the sultan would admit no foreign warships into the Straits. It also brought a temporary pause to Anglo-Russian tensions over Ottoman affairs.

See alsoEastern Question; Holy Alliance; Metternich, Clemens von; Münchengrätz, Treaty of; Ottoman Empire; Russo-Turkish War.


Florinsky, Michael T. Russia: A History and an Interpretation. New York, 1953.

Hertslet, Edward, Sir. "Treaty of Unkiar-Skelessi." In Map of Europe by Treaty, vol. 2, 925–928. London, 1875–1891.

Marriott, J. A. R. The Eastern Question: An Historical Study in European Diplomacy. Oxford, U.K., 1917.

Rich, Norman. Great Power Diplomacy, 1814–1914. New York, 1992.

Schroeder, Paul W. The Transformation of European Politics, 1763–1848. Oxford, U.K., 1994.

David M. McDonald

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