Institute for South-East European Studies
Conflicts over Dobruja during the Great War
Abstract: A sensitive topic for decades (for ideological reasons), Dobruja is still a challenge for many Romanian and Bulgarian historians. A peripheral and hardly populated region, this territory lying between the Danube and the Black Sea became the major source of dispute between Bucharest and Sofia at the dawn of the last century. After 1878, legal history and statistics were the pillars of the new identity of this former Ottoman territory divided between Romania and Bulgaria, as a result of a decision made by the Great Powers. In order to meet the specific requirements of young national states, Dobruja underwent a colonisation process (whose intensity differed in the two parts of the region). Ethnic diversity caused much concern, particularly in the critical moments that endangered the relations between the two neighbouring countries. The Balkan Wars represented the moment when the Dobruja question officially emerged. Romania’s decision to annex Southern Dobruja would traumatise Bulgarian society, which would look forward to retaliating. This moment occurred earlier than many Romanian politicians expected. The spirit of revenge explains why the fighting on the Dobrujan front was so intense in the autumn of 1916. Dobruja was the first province of the Romanian Kingdom that fell under the Central Powers’ occupation. The documents stored in Romanian archives are too few to make it possible to accurately reconstruct the history of this province during its military occupation by the Central Powers. This is not an easy challenge: Romania, Bulgaria, Russia, Serbia, Germany, Turkey and Austro-Hungary were in some way involved in the events in Dobruja in the autumn of 1916.
Keywords: Dobruja, Bulgaria, Romania, First World War, military occupation, minorities, territorial disputes