Under the enlightened administration of Midhat Pasha (1864-1868) Bulgaria enjoyed comparative prosperity, but that remarkable man is not remembered with gratitude by the people owing to the severity with which he repressed insurrectionary movements. In 1861, 12,000 Crimean Tatars, and in 1864 a still larger number of Circassians from the Caucasus, were settled by the Turkish government on lands taken without compensation from the Bulgarian peasants. The Circassians, a lawless race of mountaineers, proved a veritable scourge to the population in their neighbourhood. In 1875 the insurrection in Bosnia and Herzegovina produced immense excitement throughout the Peninsula. The fanaticism of the Moslems was aroused, and the Bulgarians, fearing a general massacre of Christians, endeavoured to anticipate the blow by organizing a general revolt. The rising, which broke out prematurely at Koprivshtitza and Panagurishté in May 1876, was mainly confined to the sanjak of Philippopolis. Bands of bashi-bazouks were let loose throughout the district by the Turkish authorities, the Pomaks, or Moslem Bulgarians, and the Circassian colonists were called to arms, and a succession of horrors followed to which a parallel can scarcely be found in the history of the middle ages.
The principal scenes of massacre were Panagurishté, Perushtitza, Bratzigovo and Batak; at the last-named town, according to an official British report, 5000 men, women and children were put to the sword by the Pomaks under Achmet Aga, who was decorated by the sultan for this exploit. Altogether some 15,000 persons were massacred in the district of Philippopolis, and fifty-eight villages and five monasteries were destroyed. Isolated risings which took place on the northern side of the Balkans were crushed with similar barbarity. These atrocities, which were first made known by an English journalist and an American consular official, were denounced by Gladstone in a celebrated pamphlet which aroused the indignation of Europe. The great powers remained inactive, but Servia declared war in the following month, and her army was joined by 2000 Bulgarian volunteers. A conference of the representatives of the powers, held at Constantinople towards the end of the year, proposed, among other reforms, the organization of the Bulgarian provinces, including the greater part of Macedonia, in two vilayets under Christian governors, with popular representation.
These recommendations were practically set aside by the Porte, and in April 1877 Russia declared war (see Russo-Turkish Wars, and Plevna). In the campaign which followed the Bulgarian volunteer contingent in the Russian army played an honourable part; it accompanied Gourko's advance over the Balkans, behaved with great bravery at Stara Zagora, where it lost heavily, and rendered valuable services in the defence of Shipka.
The victorious advance of the Russian army to Constantinople was followed by the treaty of San Stefano (3rd March 1878), which realized almost to the full the national aspirations of the Bulgarian race. All the provinces of European Turkey in which the Bulgarian element predominated were now included in an autonomous principality, which extended from the Black Sea to the Albanian mountains, and from the Danube to the Aegean, enclosing Ochrida, the ancient capital of the Shishmans, Dibra and Kastoria, as well as the districts of Vranya and Pirot, and possessing a Mediterranean port at Kavala. The Dobrudja, notwithstanding its Bulgarian population, was not included in the new state, being reserved as compensation to Rumania for the Russian annexation of Bessarabia; Adrianople, Salonica and the Chalcidian peninsula were left to Turkey. The area thus delimited constituted three-fifths of the Balkan Peninsula, with a population of 4,000,000 inhabitants. The great powers, however, anticipating that this extensive territory would become a Russian dependency, intervened; and on the 13th of July of the same year was signed the treaty of Berlin, which in effect divided the "Big Bulgaria" of the treaty of San Stefano into three portions.
The limits of the principality of Bulgaria, as then defined, and the autonomous province of Eastern Rumelia, have been already described; the remaining portion, including almost the whole of Macedonia and part of the vilayet of Adrianople, was left under Turkish administration. No special organization was provided for the districts thus abandoned; it was stipulated that laws similar to the organic law of Crete should be introduced into the various parts of Turkey in Europe, but this engagement was never carried out by the Porte. Vranya, Pirot and Nish were given to Servia, and the transference of the Dobrudja to Rumania was sanctioned. This artificial division of the Bulgarian nation could scarcely be regarded as possessing elements of permanence. It was provided that the prince of Bulgaria should be freely elected by the population, and confirmed by the Sublime Porte with the assent of the powers, and that, before his election, an assembly of Bulgarian notables, convoked at Trnovo, should draw up the organic law of the principality.
The drafting of a constitution for Eastern Rumelia was assigned to a European commission.