The 160-Year Christian History Behind What's Happening in Ukraine
Image: Rumlin / Wikimedia Commons

In recent days, the Crimean peninsula has been at the heart of what some have described as the greatest international crisis of the 21st century. But this is not the first time the region has been so critical to international affairs. Many educated people have at least heard of the great struggle known as the Crimean War (1853-56), although its causes and events remain mysterious to most non-specialists.

If the conflict is remembered today, it resonates through the heroic charitable efforts of Florence Nightingale and the foundation of modern nursing. Actually, that earlier war deserves to be far better known as a pivotal moment in European religious affairs. Without knowing that religious element, moreover—without a sense of its Christian background—we will miss major themes in modern global affairs, in the Middle East and beyond.

Given its date, that religious emphasis may seem wildly anachronistic. This was, after all, a highly modern struggle between the Great Powers of the day: Britain, France, and the Ottoman Empire against Tsarist Russia. The war was fought with highly modern technology, including railroads and telegraphs, not to mention deadly artillery. Some 800,000 died, almost half from disease—at least as many fatalities as in the American Civil War of the next decade.

Yet the war's causes seem to belong to a strictly pre-modern era, and Orlando Figes' excellent recent history calls this The Last Crusade. As in medieval times, the war grew out of the situation of Christians under Muslim rule in the Middle East, and specifically the control of Jerusalem's holy places.

From the 15th century, the dominant Muslim power was the Turkish Ottoman Empire, which ruled over millions ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

May
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
Read These Next
Current IssueOn Immigration, Welcoming the Stranger Is Only One Piece of the Puzzle
On Immigration, Welcoming the Stranger Is Only One Piece of the Puzzle Subscriber Access Only
Why Christians should support reforms that recognize both the dignity of immigrants and the rule of law.
RecommendedThe Real History of the Crusades
The Real History of the CrusadesSubscriber Access Only
A series of holy wars against Islam led by power-mad popes and fought by religious fanatics? Think again.
TrendingForgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable
Forgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable
Amid ISIS attacks, faithful response inspires Egyptian society.
Editor's PickChristians, Think Twice About Eradicating Mosquitoes to Defeat Malaria
Christians, Think Twice About Eradicating Mosquitoes to Defeat Malaria
When disease vectors are also victims.
Christianity Today
The 160-Year Christian History Behind What's Happening in Ukraine
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

March 2014

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.