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Harmanli massacre refers to the battle between Russian and Turkish forces and the ensuing mass death of Muslim civilians near Harmanli in early 1878,[1] during the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878).

Harmanli Massacre
Part of the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878)
Turkish refugees sumla1877 wiki.jpg
Turkish refugees fleeing from Tarnovo towards Shumen
Date16–17 January 1878
Result Massacre of Muslim population
Russia Russian Empire Ottoman Empire Ottoman Refugees
Commanders and leaders
Russia Mikhail Skobelev
Russia 10,000 Ottoman Empire 30,000 armed

After Suleiman Pasha's defeat at Plovdiv, his scattered troops retreated through the Rhodope Mountains and down the Maritsa valley, accompanied by large and chaotic groups of Turkish refugees. The column of refugees numbered approximately 150,000[1] or 200,000,[2] people, consisting of an immense caravan with over 20,000 wagons,[2] were retreating from Plovdiv. After the Russian success at the Battle of Sheynovo, the South Russian Detachment proceeded to Adrianople and encountered this column in the vicinity of Harmanli.

On 16–17 January 1878, a reconnaissance Russian squadron east of Harmanli encountered a large column of Turkish refugees, about 30,000 of them - armed, accompanied by scattered Ottoman army detachments. The front of the column consisted of regular Ottoman army detachments.[3]

On 17 January a Russian squadron entered Harmanli and let through the town's railroad station a train in which Ottoman generals travelled to peace talks with the Russian chief commander Nikolay Nikolayevich. Shortly after the train left Harmanli, Turks from the column set the railway bridge on the Maritsa river on fire and used carts from the column to block the road bridge. Russian forces cleared the road bridge and proceeded further on the road to Cisr-i Mustafapaşa (now Svilengrad). After the incident, the Russian field commander expressed his astonishment of the Turks' actions in a telegram to the commanding officer - General Mikhail Skobelev, given the central Ottoman authorities' efforts to conclude a truce (which was ultimately done on 19 January). On 19 January a Russian regiment received orders to clear the surroundings of Harmanli of the armed refugees and the remaining Ottoman forces in order to free up the road to Adrianople. Based on the Russian version of the events, upon approaching the column, the Russian forces were shot at by Turks hiding behind carts. During the Turks' flight, some of them encountered and burnt down the Christian village Devraliy. Based on the Turkish version of the events, the column was attacked by Russian troops. The column broke up and dispersed, the able-bodied portion of the caravan fled toward the mountains, the old, the sick and the very young who were left behind perished in the freezing weather.[2] The old men who remaining in the carts were massacred by the Russians. A group of Muslims were overtaken at Sarambey (present day Septemvri) by Russian troops who seized all of their possessions and carried off the young women.[1] The greater part of the caravan was also plundered by the Bulgarians of neighbouring villages, massacring the remaining refugees who were not strong enough to flee into the mountains.[2]

After the column's dispersing, the Russian commander General Mikhail Skobelev arrived at the scene, accompanied by Western military correspondents. The French journalist Dick de Lonlay described the aftermath of the battle. General Skobelev ordered a small Russian detachment to collect the remaining supplies and surviving refugees (including children) and bring them back to Harmanli. Children were handed to Harmanli's mayor who took care of their feeding. The ameliorative measures taken by the Russians were recorded in Skobelev's telegram to the commander of the Russian 30th Infantry Division.[4] Surviving refugees who arrived in Harmanli were allowed to receive their children and property back and go to Adrianople.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c The Congress of Berlin and after, William Norton Medlicott, page 157
  2. ^ a b c d The Russian Army and Its Campaigns in Turkey in 1877-1878, F. V. Greene, page 360
  3. ^ "A collection of Materials on the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 on the Balkans, 74th edition, Actions on the Southern Front 1–19 January 1878 (Advance to Adrianople and Constantinople), 1911"
  4. ^ | „A collection of Materials on the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 on the Balkans, 74th edition, Actions on the Southern Front 1–19 January 1878 (Advance to Adrianople and Constantinople), 1911"