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Assassination of Franz Ferdinand

Gavrilo Princip assassinated Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, setting off World War I.  Created by Sal Khan.

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Video transcript

We're now ready to talk about one of the most famous events in all of world history that really was the trigger for World War I, or the Great War, as it was called back then. So just as a little bit of backdrop, in 1908, the Austro-Hungarian Empire formally annexes Bosnia and Herzegovina. It had already been occupying it since the late 1800s, since the Ottomans were being pushed out. But then in 1908, it formally annexes it. And just as a little bit more backdrop, as the Ottomans were being pushed out of the Balkans, it helped rekindle or bring about more hope of unifying the Yugoslavic people, the southern Slavic people. When people talk about Yugoslav, they're literally talking about the southern Slavs. So that literally means southern. So you had these nationalistic hopes. But now in 1908, it was already being occupied. A significant state, that would be part of a potential future Yugoslav, was now formally annexed by the Austro-Hungarians. Now, you also had an independent kingdom of Serbia right here. And you can imagine that this was the home base of the nationalistic movement. If only they could add the other southern Slavic states to this, it could one day turn into a greater Yugoslavia. So in that context, we get to 1914. So let me draw a little line here. So we're getting to 1914. June 28, which is one of the most famous dates in all of history. And you have the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie. They're visiting Sarajevo which is now in annexed Bosnia. And when they are there, there is a ploy. There is a scheme to assassinate them, from a group-- they're called the Young Bosnians. They have ties to the Black Hand, which is this nationalistic group. That has ties, many, many people say-- all these things are all very shady and behind the back, behind the scenes. But it has ties to elements in the kingdom of Serbia. They attempt to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand. And it's actually a fascinating story because the initial assassination attempt is completely, completely botched. There's even one case of a guy, one of the guys who tried to be an assassin when it gets botched, he tries to bite on a cyanide capsule and then jump into a river. The cyanide capsule had gone bad. The river was only 10 inches deep. And so they were able to get their hands on him. And one of the conspirators, Gavrilo Princip-- at this point, once the whole thing was botched, he gives up on the whole assassination attempt. And he's having, literally, a sandwich at a cafe in Sarajevo, thinking about how botched their whole attempt was. And while that was happening, a mistake on the part of those planning Archduke Franz Ferdinand's route as he was traveling within Sarajevo has them driving right near Gavrilo Princip. So he sees, all of a sudden, that they've taken the wrong route, that they're driving right by him again. Remember, his people already knew that there was an assassination attempt on him earlier in the day. So they should have been more careful. Now, Gavrilo Princip gets up, puts his sandwich down, and starts walking over to where he sees Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie's car going. Now, the drivers, once they realized that they had made a mistake, they had taken a less safe route. They tried to back up, which makes things even worse because then the car starts stalling. And Gavrilo Princip literally walks up to the car and is able to shoot Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie. And just to give you a sense of how important this is, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria is the heir. He's the nephew of Franz Josef, who was the ruler of Austria-Hungary. And so he is the heir to the empire. And so he gets assassinated by Gavrilo Princip. So Franz Ferdinand assassinated by Gavrilo Princip. And we have right over here a picture right after Gavrilo Princip-- I believe this is Gavrilo Princip right over here, right after he was arrested. And just to get a little sense of how this was tied to this whole Yugoslavian nationalistic movement. This is what he said once he was arrested. "I am a Yugoslav nationalist, aiming for the unification of all Yugoslavs, and I do not care what form of state, but it must be free of Austria." So this act, this assassination motivated by a nationalistic movement, motivated by a desire to maybe merge Bosnia and Herzegovina with Serbia and maybe eventually Croatia, with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. This assassination, as we'll see in the next video, is the trigger for all of World War I. And the reason why it triggers it is because, well, there's many things you can cite. You could argue that many of the empires in Europe were already militarizing, already had a desire for conflict. But then you also had all of these alliances that essentially allowed the dominoes to fall in all of Europe. And because they had these empires, essentially much of the world to be at war with each other.