Category: History

The Soviet-Afghan War

Afghanistan seceded from the Durrani Empire in 1823, and was ruled by the House of Barakzai for the rest of the existence of the monarchy. Although it came under British influence from the 1870s to the 1920s, it remained mostly independent. However, after 150 years, the monarchy came to an end. While the Afghani king was out of the country to receive medical treatment, he was overthrown by his cousin, Mohammed Daoud Khan. Mohammed Daoud Khan changed Afghanistan into a republic, while also becoming the president. Daoud implemented progressive policies and tried to modernize the country.

During his presidency, Daoud improved relations with the United States and other non-Communist nations, to the ire of the Soviet Union and communist sympathizers in Afghanistan. He also suppressed other political ideologies, turning People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (the PDP), a communist party and an ally during his coup, into one his fiercest rival.

Eventually, the PDP had enough. On April 27, 5 years after Daoud’s presidency began, the PDP launched a coup d’état. They stormed the Presidential Palace, killing Daoud and most of his family. His body was later found in a mass grave. The PDP took power and established the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. However, they did not have the support of the people, especially devout Muslims, as they instituted many socially progressive policies. To keep them in line, the government instituted strict punishments for anyone who disobeyed.

It was not long before the populace revolted. Insurgencies rose up across Afghanistan and declared war on new government. These groups were known as the Mujahideen, meaning one who engages in jihad. Every one of these insurgencies were devoutly Islamic. Meanwhile. there were struggles within the government and the PDP among factions different Communist factions.

In 1979, the Soviet Union, noticing the weakened state of the Communist government in Afghanistan, invaded the nation. Initially sending in 30,000 soldiers, they unseated the president and instated their own puppet leader, Babrak Karmal, to head the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.

Now that they had the government of Afghanistan under their control, the Soviet Union now had to deal with the growing problem of the Mujahideen. Since the Soviet invasion, Muslims across the Middle East began flooding in to help the Islamic rebels. On top of that, they were receiving aid, both economic and military, from the Soviet Union’s arch-rival, the United States.

While the Soviet Union occupied the large cities in Afghanistan, the Mujahideen controlled rural areas. The war soon became deadlocked between the two opposing forces. After Soviets failed to quell the rebels with their army, they took to the air, bombing the countryside. These attacks caused almost 4.5 million refugees to flood over the borders to Pakistan and Iran. However, it did not take long until the Mujahideen were able to halt the air raids; using antiaircraft missiles, provided by the United States they were able to shoot down approaching aircrafts before they could attack.

By the mid-1980s, the Soviet Union slowly began withdrawing their soldiers, training native Afghanis to take their place. In 1988, after realizing there was no chance of victory, the Soviet Union signed a treaty agreeing to withdraw their soldiers from Afghanistan. By February of 1989, the withdrawal was complete.

Although the Soviets had withdrawn, the war continued between the Mujahideen and the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. But with the continued growth of the Mujahideen and the Fall of Communism in the early1990s, the Communist government fell, leading to the ultra-conservative Islamic State of Afghanistan.

Asturias and the Battle of Covadonga

In 711, the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate invaded Iberia, quickly overwhelming the Visigothic Kingdom that occupied the region and killing their king. By 718, virtually the whole Iberian Peninsula was under Islamic rule.

However, in the northwest, a region called Asturias revolted against the Umayyads. Elected to lead the new kingdom was Pelayo, a nobleman and the grandson of a Visigothic king. For its first years, the Umayyads neglected to put down the Asturian rebellion, as it wasn’t a danger to them.

By 722, the Umayyads had enough, sending an army commanded by the governors Munuza and Al Qama to quell the revolt. As their forces flooded the Asturian countryside, Pelayo and his much smaller army retreated into the mountains. They eventually came across a valley near the town of Covadonga, that would be easy to hold when attacked.

Once Al Qama army, ~1,400 men strong, confronted Pelayo’s army, with little more than 300 soldiers, he sent a messenger forward demanding the Asturians to surrender. Pelayo refused, starting the battle. Al Qama sent his soldiers charging towards the Asturian army. Unknown to Al Qama, part of Pelayo’s army was hiding in a cave. They jumped out and cut into the Umayyad ranks, massacring their army, including Al Qama. It was a spectacular success for the Asturians. At the end of the battle, over 1100 Umayyad soldiers were dead. More amazing than that is that only a few dozen of Pelayo’s soldiers remained.

When Munuza heard of Al Qama’s defeat, he assembled an even larger army to fight Pelayo, but once again they were defeated with Munuza dying in battle as well.

The Battle of Covadonga was the first victory by Christian forces against the Umayyads since they invaded Iberia, and it is generally recognized as the start of the Reconquista. Asturias continued to expand the Muslims in Iberia, but the Reconquista would not conclude for another 750 years, in 1492.

The Collapse of Austria-Hungary

The House of Habsburg had been one of the most powerful dynasties in Europe for the past 500 years. Starting in with only a small canton in Switzerland in the 900s, over the centuries the dynasty has held titles such as King of Portugal, Spain, Austria, and even Holy Roman Empire. But by the the early 20th century, the Habsburgs had lost much power throughout Europe, only controlling the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Austria-Hungary controlled large swaths of land in Central and Eastern Europe. However, the empire was declining in power. Their army was less advanced than other European nations, and there was growing nationalism throughout the culturally-diverse Austria-Hungary.

Habsburg domains in 1700

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, tensions were building in Europe. The powers across the continent had created alliances with the goal of keeping each other in check. In the 6 years before World War I, the collective military expenditures of the major European countries increased by 50% as Europe prepared for war. Pressure continued to build, and Europe soon would reach its breaking point.

On June 28, 1914, the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was visiting the city of Sarajevo, the capital of the Austrian region of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Meanwhile, six Yugoslav nationalists were preparing to assassinate the Archduke. As Ferdinand’s motorcade passed through the city, one assassin hurled at grenade toward him, missing although 20 onlookers were injured. More assassins were waiting ahead, but the motorcade sped past them before they could react.

The Archduke, although shaken, continued with the day. He halted his plans to visit the people injured during the explosion at the Sarajevo hospital. After he left, his convoy turned down the wrong street, where Gavrilo Princip, one of the assassins, was coincidentally standing with a pistol in hand. He aimed and fired towards Ferdinand, killing both he and his wife.

The government of Austria tried to use the Archduke’s murder to their advantage. They correctly suspected that Serbian officials were involved in the assassination. On July 23, they sent the Serbian government the July Ultimatum, ten demands that were created to be unacceptable, in an attempt to start a war. Serbia refused to accept the ultimatum, and on July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war. Serbia’s ally, Russia, began to mobilize their army against Austria-Hungary and its ally, the German Empire, who demanded Russia stop. Russia refused, causing Germany to declare war. This long chain reaction eventually led to Russia, France, the United Kingdom, many other European nations, and eventually the United States, known as the Allies, fighting against Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria, known as the Central Powers.

European alliances at the outbreak of World War I

From the beginning of the war, Austria-Hungary was immediately in a bad position. They were unable to sustain themselves agriculturally, and the nations that once provided most of their food, Russia and Romania, were now their enemies. The war had decreased their wheat harvests even further, spreading hunger throughout the nation.

Austria-Hungary at the beginning of World War I

The Austrian military wasn’t faring well either. They had experienced multiple defeats against the Russian army, forcing them to depend on Germany for assistance. Things became even more difficult in 1915 when Italy joined the allies and created a new front on Austria-Hungary’s southern border. The Austro-Hungarian army began to have supply shortages, making it difficult to fight.

In 1918 protests arose across the nation, calling for food and peace. Soon the Austro-Hungarian army and navy began to experience mutinies, lessening their power in the war even further. The nation became more divided as the culturally different regions of the empire saw support nationalist movements significantly rise. The last realm of the Habsburgs was collapsing. By October, all hope was lost for the empire. On the 14th, the Austrian foreign minister, Stephan Burián von Rajecz, asked the allies for a truce based on Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points. On October 16, the Austrian Emperor Karl issued a manifesto that would give the regions of Austria-Hungary more autonomy and their own national council, and allow the Polish regions to join a Polish state.

Four days after von Rajecz sent for a truce, the US Secretary of State Robert Lansing respond by essentially saying that the Allies would not consider a peace deal unless Austria-Hungary recognized the complete independence of the Czechs, Poles, Slovak, and South Slavs. This reply was the demise of the Austrian Empire, as peace would not happen unless the whole empire was dissolved. By the end of October, each of these nationalities declared independence, and the Habsburg monarchy was no more.

Italian Colonies In Africa

One of the nations to colonize the continent of Africa during the Scramble for Africa was Italy. There were three Italian colonies in Africa, each of which had an interesting past.

Italy’s colonial story began with Somaliland, modern day Somalia. In the late 1870s and 1880s, expeditions of Somaliliand were organized by influential figures in Italy. By 1888, Italy signed a treaty with the Sultanate of Hobyo, making it an Italian protectorate. The Majerteen Sultanate, the main rival of the the Sultanate of Hobyo, did the same a year later. In these treaties, Italy agreed not to interfere with the sultanates’ governments, in exchange for some economic concessions.

 

The Hobyo and Majerteen Sultanates

At the same time, Italy was colonizing Eritrea, a strip of land separating Ethiopia from the Red Sea. In the late 1800s, Eritrea was controlled by Egypt, but after a war with the Ethiopian Kingdom, the region was in chaos. Italy first settled the area in 1882, and began annexing more and more land as time went on. In the confusion and fracturing of Ethiopia following the Ethiopian emperor’s death in 1889, Italy formally established the colony of Eritrea. Later that year, Italy signed a treaty with King Menelek of the Ethiopian Kingdom of Shewa, in which he stated he would acknowledge Italy’s control over the region in exchange for access to arms and economic aid. King Menelek was successful in uniting Ethiopia, and Eritirea was firmly under Italian control.

 

Eritrea

Italy’s final colony was Libya, in Africa’s north. Italy had claims in Libya since the end of the Russo-Turkish War and the Congress of Berlin, in which European powers decided the future of the Balkans and how it would be divided, along with other parts of the dissolving Ottoman Empire. During the congress, there were thoughts of giving control of the Libyan city of Tripoli to Italy, although this never happened. Fast-forward three decades to 1911, and much of the press in Italy begins a campaign to invade Libya, which they describe as plentiful in natural resources and barely defended. Italy was initially split on the idea of an invasion, but in the end of September, the Italian government declared war. After a year of fighting and thousands of deaths on both sides, Italy was victorious and annexed Libya.

Italian attack against the Ottoman Empire

The Trail of Tears

It wasn’t called the Trail of Tears for no reason.

Since the founding of the United States, there were some who wanted to remove Native Americans living in the Southeast and resettle them across the Mississippi River. After their removal, there would be more land for white Americans to cultivate crops, such as cotton and tobacco.

Throughout the early 1800s, support for this idea began to grow. In the presidential election of 1828, Andrew Jackson, a strong advocate for the removal, was elected president. In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act and the president signed it days later.

The Indian Removal Act would force the Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and Seminole tribes, called the Five Civilized Tribes because of their adoption of Western cultural aspects, to move west of the Mississippi, to “Indian Territory” in modern day Oklahoma. Although the act stated that all treaties with the Native American tribes must be fair, and they must not be intimidated into signing them. But Jackson overlooked this aspect of the Indian Removal Act, threatening some tribes with invasions.

The Choctaw were the first to leave in 1830, having to walk hundreds of miles, some even in chains along the way. As many as 4,000 died of disease.

The Creek tribe was forcibly relocated by the end of 1837. Out of the 15,000 who make the journey, 3,500 died on the way.

Members of the Chickasaw tribe emigrated or were forcibly moved between 1837–1847, making it the last tribe to be completely moved from their homeland. On the way between 200–800 of the 4,000 tribe members taking the journey passed away.

In 1838, only 2,000 of the 22,000 Cherokee living in the South had emigrated to the Indian territory. This caused the new president, Martin Van Buren to send in soldiers to accelerate the speed of their removal. Once the army arrived, the Cherokee were forced into stockades, while they watched their homes being looted. They then walked upwards of 1,000 miles, with disease killing many. By the time they reached Oklahoma, over 5,000 Cherokee were dead.

Map of the locations of tribes before the Indian Removal Act and the routes they took to reach Oklahoma.

The Seminole tribe on the other hand, was unwilling to give up without a fight. They refused to leave, commencing the Second Seminole War. The Seminole were greatly outnumbered, but were able to hold back the Americans and win battles using surprise attacks. But eventually they succumbed to defeat. Most of the Seminole population was killed by battle and disease, and more were killed while being relocated to the Indian territory.

In all, almost 61,000 Native Americans were relocated to the Indian territories. Ravaged by disease, cruel soldiers, and little food, as much as 25% of them, or 15,000, died along the way.