Today in History: July 24-27

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Hello out there! In case you hadn’t noticed, Foreign Exchanges is taking a bit of a break and will return to regular programming on August 4. In the meantime, I’ll be sending out a couple of these anniversary posts so this place doesn’t go completely dark. And you can also check out the Discontents newsletter, the first issue of which just went out this afternoon compiled by yours truly. Please give it a look, there are some great writers and podcasters involved whose work you may not have seen before. And thanks for reading!

July 24, 1534: French explorer Jacques Cartier erects a cross, bearing the message “Long Live the King of France” (or “Vive le Roi de France,” probably) on the shore of what is now known as Gaspé Bay, in Quebec. Cartier thereby claimed the region (the “region” was later defined as all of modern Canada and a bunch of what is now the midwestern United States) for France, marking that country’s big foray into American colonialism.

July 24, 1910: The Albanian Revolt of 1910 ends in failure with the Ottoman capture of the city of Shkodër. The Albanian defeat presaged their victory in a second revolt in 1912, which briefly established Albania’s autonomy within the Ottoman Empire until the 1912-1913 First Balkan War secured Albanian independence altogether.

July 24, 1923: The Treaty of Lausanne formally ends the Turkish War of Independence and establishes the borders of the Republic of Turkey. The treaty superseded the World War I Treaty of Sèvres, which partitioned Anatolia and was so punitive that it motivated the remnants of the Ottoman/Turkish military to resist.

July 25, 1139: An army under the future Afonso I, then Count Afonso of Portugal, defeats the Almoravids at the Battle of Ourique. Details of this battle are extremely sketchy, but it was apparently such a glorious victory that in its aftermath Afonso declared Portugal’s independence from the Kingdom of León and thereby gave himself a promotion from count to king. Later legends had Afonso being visited on the eve of the battle by, variously, Saint James the Great (whose tomb is held to lie in Santiago de Compostela), Saint George, or even Jesus himself, guaranteeing victory despite the fact that Afonso’s army was badly outnumbered.

July 25, 1799: The Battle of Abukir

July 26, 657 (give or take): The Battle of Siffin

July 26, 1847: A constitutional convention in the Commonwealth of Liberian adopts a declaration of independence and constitution establishing the Republic of Liberia as an sovereign nation. Annually commemorated as Liberian Independence Day.

July 26, 1945: Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, and Chiang Kai-shek issue the Potsdam Declaration, laying out the terms under which they expected Japan to surrender lest it face “prompt and utter destruction.” The Japanese government’s decision to either reject or at best refuse to comment on the proposal (there’s some disagreement about how to translate their response) contributed to the US decision to use atomic bombs to destroy the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, though we should not minimize the US desire to show off its new toys as a motivating factor. After those bombings the Japanese government accepted Potsdam’s terms.

Truman and Churchill at Potsdam (US National Archives and Records Administration)

July 27, 1299: If we go by Edward Gibbon, Osman I leads a ragtag band of raiders into the region around the Byzantine city of Nicomedia, marking the beginning of his career as a warlord and thus the foundation of the Ottoman Empire. Nobody really goes by Gibbon for much anymore, nor does anybody really think the Ottoman Empire was founded in a single relatively unremarkable moment. But if you feel compelled to put a single date on the empire’s origin for some reason, this one is among your options.

July 27, 1794: Challenged by Maximilien Robespierre to arrest all those he deemed “traitors” to the revolution, which could have included pretty much any or all of them (he didn’t specify), France’s National Convention decides it would just be easier to arrest Robespierre instead. In what is now known as the “Thermidorian Reaction” since it took place in the month of Thermidor on the revolutionary calendar, Robespierre and dozens of his associates were rounded up by a faction within the National Convention called—wait for it—the Thermidorians. A group of 22, including Robespierre himself, were executed the following day. The Thermidorians established a new constitution the following year that dissolved the Convention and established the five-member Directory as the main organ of the revolutionary government.

July 27, 1942: The monthlong World War II campaign known as the First Battle of El Alamein ends in a tactical stalemate but a strategic victory for the Allies. Axis commander Erwin Rommel’s plan for a lighting sweep across Egypt from Alexandria to the Suez Canal was halted before it could even reach Alexandria, though the Allies were unable to drive Rommel out of western Egypt. This set the stage for the Second Battle of El Alamein in late October, a decisive Allied victory that forced Rommel back into Libya and began the endgame of the North African phase of the war.

July 27, 1953: The Korean Armistice Agreement, signed by the United Nations Command, the North Korean People’s Army, and the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army at Panmunjom, halts fighting in the Korean War. The agreement set terms for a ceasefire, a prisoner exchange, and the fixing of what was supposed to be a temporary border and demilitarized zone between the two Koreas, with subsequent peace talks meant to finalize the details surrounding the end of the war. So, about that—those subsequent talks, at the 1954 Geneva Conference, failed, and the temporary armistice has remained the last word on the Korean War since its signing.