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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Two Sides to Every Story: Crusaders and Infidels by Jennifer Laam

Today I have the wonderful opportunity to welcome Jennifer Laam, author of The Secret Daughter of the Tsar and the just recently released The Tsarina's Legacy, to The Maiden's Court with an awesome contribution to the Two Sides to Every Story series.  Laam, whose novels are set in Russia, brings us today a guest post about two of the great men in the fight for the Crimea.  I hope you will enjoy it - I learned a lot from reading it!

Crusaders and Infidels: Grigory Potemkin, Ghazi Hassan Pasha, and the Rise of the Russian Empire in the Crimea
Grigory Potemkin
Image Credit: Johann Baptist von Lampi the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons {{PD-old-100}}
On the day Catherine the Great seized the Russian throne, a lowly member of the horse guards dared to approach her with an impromptu gift. Twenty-two years old and keenly ambitious, Grigory Potemkin noticed that to complete her dashing soldier’s outfit, his new sovereign needed a sword knot or dragonne. From that moment on, Grigory Potemkin, the product of a provincial family of the minor nobility, would rise both in his career at court and in the affections of his new monarch. 

Years later, Grigory and Catherine would enjoy a short, but torrid, mid-life romance. Even after the affair ended, Grigory Potemkin retained a unique hold on Catherine’s heart and mind. They continued on as friends and Grigory became Catherine’s most influential advisor, forging a powerful personal and political alliance. Over the course of his illustrious career, Grigory was awarded various titles, including Grand Admiral and Prince of Tauride, the ancient name for the Crimea.

Yet it was not personal charisma nor his chemistry with Catherine alone that allowed Grigory to rise. Prince Grigory Potemkin was a decorated hero of the first and second Russo-Turkish Wars, the ongoing conflicts between the Russian and Ottoman Empires which began in the eighteenth century. The first war took place when he was still a young man, affording Grigory a prime opportunity to stand apart from other ambitious courtiers and attain glory. He distinguished himself on the field and used this newfound stature as a means to elevate himself politically and rise in Catherine’s estimation. Russian victories meant strategic access to the Black Sea and domain over the Crimea, where Grigory’s greatest accomplishments occurred: the development of Russia’s formidable Black Sea Fleet and the establishment of towns and burgeoning industries in the region. By the time of the second war, when the Ottoman Empire attempted to regain control of the Black Sea, Grigory Potemkin was both a seasoned statesman and a veteran military leader who commanded forces and won brutally decisive victories against the Ottomans, further securing his hold on power.

To some extent, the Russo-Turkish Wars were viewed by Russians as a Christian crusade. From Grigory Potemkin’s point of view, the expansion of Russian territory to the south and east had a spiritual imperative. Grigory and Catherine were enmeshed in an intriguing if ultimately unsuccessful plot known as “The Greek Project” or “Greek Scheme” to reclaim Constantinople. If the plan had reached fruition, Catherine’s second born grandson, Constantine, would eventually inherit and reign over this part of the Russian empire.

Yet for all of these grand ambitions, Prince Potemkin was hardly a fanatical religious crusader. On the contrary, Grigory Potemkin had a curious, tolerant, and highly respectful attitude toward those of other faiths. He instituted protective measures for the Muslim Tatars of the Crimea who would prove to be strategic allies, made financial donations to mosques, and ensured that prominent Tatars were given titles and the right to own land. Both Catherine and Grigory took appointments with muftis. Eventually, Tatars used the Koran to swear allegiance to the Russian Empress Catherine. Furthermore, as part of negotiations near the close of the second war, Prince Potemkin proposed construction of a mosque in Moscow itself.

The Russo-Turkish Wars granted Grigory Potemkin an esteemed and constant place in Empress Catherine’s court and the chance to engage Muslim people in the life of the Russian Empire. It was a key component of his political strength and historical legacy. For those on the opposite side of the struggle, however the Russo-Turkish Wars had a far different effect.

By the mid-eighteenth century, the Ottomans still ruled a vast empire. In contrast to Russia, however, which had been energized by Peter the Great and his successors, including Catherine, the transnational empire of the Turks showed hints of decline. While still all powerful, sultans were limited by Islamic fundamentalism and their own military-political complex. The second Russo-Turkish War might never have happened were it not for the badgering of European powers hoping to limit the influence and stretch of the rising Russian Empire. Whereas the conflict allowed Potemkin first to rise and then to flourish, ambitious and talented men on the other side of the battle field were destined to be destroyed.
Ghazi Hassan Pasha
By Cobija (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Ghazi Hassan Pasha, sometimes referred to as “Hassan of Algiers” was one such great man. Once enslaved and a one-time pirate of the Barbary Coast, the ambitious and talented “Capitan-Pasha” or Grand Admiral had risen to the top of the Ottoman ranks. By the time of the second Russo-Turkish War, he was also known as “The Crocodile of Sea Battles,” a longstanding warrior for his sultan who had blockaded Acre and suppressed internal revolts against the empire in Egypt. In the first Russo-Turkish War, he saved his own forces from the otherwise disastrous battle of Chesme. The conflict took on a religious cast for the Ottomans as it had for the Russians, and the name “Ghazi” stuck to the admiral as the result of his honorable fighting against the “great infidels,” the Russians. Still, similarly to Grigory Potemkin, Ghazi Hassan Pasha’s personal view of religion was likely nuanced; his own father had been Georgian and reportedly of the Orthodox faith.

Like Grigory Potemkin, Ghazi Hassan Pasha left the battlefields of the first Russo-Turkish War a military hero. After defeat in that first war, Ghazi Hassan Pasha took charge of restructuring the Ottoman Navy. In a manner comparable to what Catherine’s historical precursor, Peter the Great, had undertaken in Russia, he sought to utilize the skills of the western powers to the benefit of his empire. Ghazi Hassan Pasha established new shipyards and schools, employed French engineers and English ship-designers, and hoped to professionalize the service. Though his Golden Horn Shipyard would later evolve into the Turkish Naval Academy, at the time his educational efforts met with limited success. For the most part, officers were still appointed not by virtue of merit or training, but via corrupt systems and political intrigue. This failure to install effective leadership would eventually return to haunt the admiral.

Ghazi Hassan Pasha understood the threat Catherine’s territorial ambitions posed and how severely Russia’s annexation of the Crimea had undermined Ottoman strength. His reforms were thus geared toward preparing Ottoman forces for reengagement with the Russian intruders. However, by the time political and popular opinion, bolstered by the European powers, swung once again, in favor of reengaging the “great infidels,” he advised caution. Ghazi Hassan Pasha felt, sensibly, that the empire first needed to contain internal threats. Furthermore, while Great Britain and Prussia were eager for the chance to weaken Russia, and had offered moral support to the Ottoman Empire, Ghazi Hassan Pasha argued, they had not offered manpower, nor treasure.

Nonetheless, when the decision was made to engage in war to regain the Crimea, Ghazi Hassan Pasha, now well into his eighties, was once again engaged in the thick of the battle. Despite his efforts to reinvigorate his naval forces, he suffered fatal losses, including a failure to protect the waters surrounding the crucial fortress of Ochakov, which was later subject to a prolonged siege and brutal attack by Russian forces commanded by Grigory Potemkin.

While the second round of the Russo-Turkish Wars helped solidify Grigory Potemkin’s hold on power, the elderly Ghazi Hassan Pasha was politically devastated by his humiliating defeats and lost the popular support he once enjoyed in Constantinople. Pushing for peace in his final role as grand vizier to the sultan, he was involved in negotiations with Grigory Potemkin’s agents. However, before a treaty could be finalized, Ghazi Hassan Pasha died in 1790 under suspicious circumstances. He is widely believed to have been poisoned by the sultan’s order, for his failures in battle and because the Ottomans had decided to abandon the peace talks with Russia. Upon news of the great admiral’s death, Catherine even advised Grigory Potemkin to take care lest he be the next victim of one of the sultan’s assassins.

As a novelist, I can only speculate as to the true nature of the relationship between these military rivals. I wonder if Grigory Potemkin had lingering guilt over his direct role in the brutality of the wars and his indirect role in his rival’s death. At the very least, I believe Prince Potemkin would have acknowledged how easily he might have been on the losing side of the conflict and suffered as a result, if not poisoned by his own empress for his shortcomings, then at least banished to a lowly civilian life outside the court. When the prince died in 1791, on a hillside in Bessarabia, he was surrounded by an entourage of religious figures that included muftis. I can’t help but think Prince Potemkin was quite capable of seeing both sides of any story.

Jennifer Laam is the author of The Secret Daughter of the Tsar and The Tsarina’s Legacy, as well as the forthcoming Lady Pushkin, all from St. Martin’s Press. She is represented by Erin Harris at Folio Literary Management. Jennifer earned her undergraduate degree in History and Russian Studies at the University of the Pacific, and her master’s degree in History from Oakland University in Michigan. She has lived in Los Angeles and the suburbs of Detroit, and traveled in Russia and Europe. She currently resides in Northern California, where she spends her time writing, reading, and line dancing.  You can find Jennifer on the following social media sites: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads

Buy The Tsarina's Legacy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

Book Blurb:
Then...Grigory "Grisha" Potemkin has had a successful long association with the powerful Empress Catherine of Russia. But Catherine and Grisha are older now and face new threats, both from powers outside of Russia and from those close to them. Haunted by the horrors of his campaign against the Muslim Turks, Grisha hopes to construct a mosque in the heart of the empire. Unfortunately, Catherine's much younger new lover, the ambitious Platon Zubov, stands in his way. Grisha determines that to preserve Catherine's legacy he must save her from Zubov's dangerous influence and win back her heart.
Now...When she learns she is the lost heiress to the Romanov throne, Veronica Herrera's life turns upside down. Dmitry Potemkin, one of Grisha's descendants, invites Veronica to Russia to accept a ceremonial position as Russia's new tsarina. Seeking purpose, Veronica agrees to act as an advocate to free a Russian artist sentenced to prison for displaying paintings critical of the church and government. Veronica is both celebrated and chastised. As her political role comes under fire, Veronica is forced to decide between the glamorous perks of European royalty and staying true to herself.
In Jennifer Laam's The Tsarina's Legacy, unexpected connections between Grisha and Veronica are revealed as they struggle to make peace with the ghosts of their past and help secure a better future for themselves and the country they both love.

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