Documents Relating to Chapter III
REPORT BY A RUSSIAN OFFICER
(From Le Jeune-Turc, August 26 and 27, 1913)
On August 20 the London Daily Telegraph published an interesting report
on the Bulgarian atrocities in Thrace, and particularly at Adrianople.
This report, of which the text is given below, came from a Russian official and was transmitted to St. Petersburg.
I had occasion to visit Adrianople and its environs in company with ten or more foreign correspondents representing the largest newspapers and telegraphic agencies. The eager readiness with which the Turkish government gave us the necessary permits and afforded us facilities for making our inquiries, prove that the Turks felt sure that we could make no discoveries that would harm them; that on the contrary, publication of the truth could only be to their interest; a most thorough and detailed inquiry proved that in this the Turks were right. I shall say nothing of the atrocious manner in which 15,000 Turkish prisoners and some 5,000 Turkish civilians were treated in the first four days during which they were mewed up like cattle in the island of Sarai, where, in the rain, they perished of cold and hunger, with no food but the bark of trees and the soles of their old shoes. They died in hundreds every day, so that when the time for departure to Bulgaria came, there were but some 10,000 of them left. That is well known.
I shall confine myself to facts not hitherto published. The diplomatic corps and the inhabitants, whether Turkish, Greek or Israelite, are unanimous in the indignation with which they describe the excesses of the Bulgarian occupation.327
In most of the better Mussulman houses the windows and doors were battered in, the furniture taken away; even the houses of the generals were plundered, as for example that of Abouk Pasha, who commanded the Fourth Army Corps.
Not a single valuable carpet was left in any of the mosques, including the celebrated mosque of Sultan Selim.
The library belonging to the latter, a collection in its kind unique, was also very severely handled. Burglary was not confined to the houses of the Turks. Those belonging to Greeks and Israelites suffered in the same way. Train loads of so-called war booty were sent to Sofia. These are concrete facts. Soldiers armed with rifles carried off a quantity of jewels and precious antiques from the house of two Greeks, the brothers Alexandre and Jean Thalassinos. These soldiers also tore rings and bracelets from the hands of the sister of the Thalassinos. A patrol appearing in the house of the merchant Avramidi on the usual pretext of searching for arms, carried off £T70 in a trunk.
Colonel Zlatanov, head of the gendarmerie, put the brothers Athanasius and Chritodoulos Stavridis in prison, and only set them free on payment of forty pounds.
A rich Austrian-Israelite, Rodrigues, left his house in the charge of three Bulgarian officers on his departure for Constantinople; on his return he found his house empty. Everything, even the piano, had disappeared and been sent to Sofia. In the same way the houses of two rich Israelites, Moses Behmoiras and Benaroya, were plundered. Rich property owners, particularly Moslems, were forced by threats of death to consent to fictitious sales or long lease of their holdings. A case of this
kind is that of Ibrahim-bey, a man of large independent means, living in Abdula-Hamam Street. Chopov, the head of police, himself sent three cases of stolen carpets to Sofia, using a Russian subject as his intermediary.
Every morning the dead bodies of numerous Moslems killed in the night, were found. Even now the corpses of Turkish prisoners covered with wounds are pulled out of the public wells. The authorities never troubled about trifles of this kind.
Among the most revolting and best known cases is that of the murder of a captive Turkish officer by a Bulgarian soldier in the middle of the open street on the first day of the Bulgarian occupation. He was an old man, so worn by the privations and fatigue of the siege that he had not the strength to walk. The soldier forced him on by hitting him. with the butt end of his musket. An Israelite, Salomon Behmi, implored the soldier to have pity and let the old man rest. Enraged by this intervention, the soldier killed both men with his bayonet. On the same day eight soldiers plundered the house of three Turkish brothers, clockmakers, and carried off more than 500 watches. One of them, Aziz Ahmed, they killed with their bayonets and went on striking him even after he was dead. The others escaped by flight.
On the third day of the . occupation some twenty Bulgarian soldiers first plundered and then hideously butchered thirteen Turks, three being Mollahs, and Aziz Youssouv, the Muezzin, in the Miri-Miran mosque. I saw the traces of blood there myself and my colleagues photographed them.
An even more revolting story is that of ten Turkish soldiers who are at this moment undergoing treatment in the Egyptian Red Cross hospital.
On evacuating Adrianople, the Bulgarians sent 200 Turkish prisoners, under escort, to Mustapha Pasha; all the sick and wounded who had not sufficient strength to march were killed on the way.
The column was then divided into three; the body containing the ten soldiers referred to above, was composed of sixty prisoners. At a given moment the Bulgarians told them that they were free and could go where they would. The wretches were not given time to take a dozen steps before the Bulgarians opened fire on them by their officers' orders. They were all killed with the exception of ten, who were severely wounded and pretended to be dead. For four whole days they lay hidden in the forest, without any food. Among them were Camber Ouglou Camber, Hassan Ouglou Hay, Emis Ouglou Emin, belonging to the first and second battalions of the Kirk Kilisse redifs. [The other names follow.] Almost all of them suffered from gangrene, from which two have already died. The fate of the other two bodies is unknown. The Greek Metropolitan describes how two priests sent out with gendarmes in search of mishandled Greeks, discovered dozens of corpses of captives, riddled with bullets and bayonet wounds, on the banks of the Maritza. Hassiz Effendi, schoolmaster in the village of Koumarii, reports officially that the retreating Bulgarians collected some fifty Moslems in the mosque under pretext of searching them for arms, and massacred them there; further that in the village of Amour, the Bulgarians carried off two Mussulman girls, the eldest being twelve years old. Their fate is unknown.
Hassiz Effendi further notes with satisfaction that in many villages numbers of Moslems were rescued by the Greek women.328
In bringing this martyrology to a close, I should like to mention a fact of incredible atrocity. On the first news of the approach of the Turks—Sunday, July 7—the Bulgarians set fire to the provision depot at the Karagatch station.
Some starving Greeks saved several sacks of meal. On the following Monday the Bulgarians returned, arrested forty-five of these wretches and binding them together in fours, cast them so into the Maritza, while they fired on any who attempted to escape. Only a single individual, Panteleimon, succeeded in effecting an escape by sinking under water and pretending to be dead. Some days later the corpses were drawn up. I will send photographs of the drowned men.
What the women of Adrianople have had to endure is beyond imagination.
Outrages were committed against Greek, Jewish and even Armenian women, despite the Armenians' devotion to the Bulgarian cause. Naturally the worst violence was directed against the Turkish women. Respect was shown neither for rank nor age. Among the women violated there were as many girls of tender years as aged women. Many of these girls are now actually with child. And those who could afford to do so have gone away to hide their shame in remote regions. Many have lost their reason. Most keep silent about their misfortune, for reasons easy to understand.
Stories by Witnesses
Here are some examples: Hamid Nouri, mufti of Adrianople, told me the following story with tears in his eyes: "Some days before the departure of the Bulgarians many persons passed the night under his roof because of the threats they had uttered of destroying the town and exterminating the population. Opposite to him there dwelt the wife of a Turkish Major, held prisoner in Bulgaria, with her two young daughters. An hour after sunset piercing cries were heard coming from this house: 'Take whatever you will but do not touch my daughters. Are there no Moslems to defend our honor?' The mufti sent the Bulgarian soldiers, assigned him by the authorities to protect his many-times pillaged abode, to succor the women. A moment later a soldier came back and told him indignantly that all the Bulgarian soldiers were violating the three women but that he could do nothing for they threatened to kill them with their muskets. For three hours the despairing cries and groans of the women went on. When the soldiers departed the mother and daughters lay senseless. All the persons who had sought asylum with the mufti on this night declare that they are ready to bear witness to the truth of this story."
Another example. On the same day four Bulgarian officers entered the house of a rich Israelite, Salomon ben Bassat. The women and young girls made their escape by clambering over a wall into the neighboring houses: but the children were left on the first story. A female servant, aged eighteen, who came back for them, was violated twice by each of the officers; at last she escaped by saying that they would find the lovely daughter of the owner of the house in the upper story. The officers went up and the girl fled, leaving bloody tracks behind her. She is still in hospital.
The mufti referred to above and all the inhabitants without distinction of religion say that a few days after the entry the Bulgarians closed all the mosques which had previously been dishonored and used as latrines. Bulgarian soldiers relieved themselves publicly from the minarets in order to insult the Moslems. They imitated the Muezzin's call and uttered vulgar indecencies about Mahomet, religion, the Sultan and Choukri Pasha, the former governor of the fortress.
On receiving a complaint from the mufti, General Veltchev, the Bulgarian commander, demanded to have the culprits pointed out. When the mufti showed him, from a window, a Bulgarian soldier in the act of satisfying a natural need from the summit of the minaret, General Veltchev replied sarcastically that "one can not, after all, deprive a poor soldier of inoffensive distractions."
At this stage it may be observed that the unanimous declarations of the consuls, the Metropolitan, the mufti and all those who had opportunity of speaking with General Veltchev, go to show that he was always excessively cruel and brutally arrogant. He said openly—and the remark appears to harmonize with the serious views of his government—that Bulgaria had no need either of Greeks or Moslems, and that they would take advantage of the first opportunity to wipe out the whole Greek and Mussulman population. He expressed the intention of replacing them with 28,000 Armenians from Rodosto and Malgara.
That this was no vain threat was proved by the atrocious treatment to which the Turkish prisoners and male population were subjected during the first days of the Bulgarian occupation. To this day the cannon of the Keyi fort are leveled at the town.
I may mention here a characteristic incident in which the Greek Metropolitan of Adrianople played a part, by way of giving a clearer picture of this Bulgarian general, who appears unfortunately to have been a pupil at our military academy. On June 25, His Eminence Polycarp went to the government to ask to be permitted to put up for the night Athanasius, Bishop of Kavala, who had been brought hither, with twenty notables belonging to the town, under escort, all of them having been kept standing throughout the whole day in the court in the midst of every kind of prisoner. Veltchev brutally told Monsignor Polycarp that he was going to hang and shoot all the Greek notables of Adrianople, beginning with the Metropolitan, because instead of remaining quiet they showed themselves hostile to the Bulgarians. On the Metropolitan's attempting to justify himself, Veltchev cried out savagely in Turkish: "Sous!" (Be silent!) The savage reproof of the general lasted for an hour, during which the orthodox prelate stood. Veltchev addressed him as "thou" throughout and continually threatened him and all the Greeks with death. Finally
losing patience, the Metropolitan could bear no more. "Massacre," he cried, using the familiar form. "Don't be afraid, I shall massacre" replied the brave general, "but I shall not, naturally, ask your permission to do so."330
It is necessary for an understanding of the general's mind to remember that the Bulgarians, from the Commander-in-Chief down to the last soldier, never ceased repeating "Adrianople has been taken by our arms at the cost of the blood and lives of thousands of Bulgarians. Therefore the place and even the lives of the inhabitants belong to us; we have the right to do whatever we please." This threatening attitude of the Bulgarians distressed the population and caused the consuls great anxiety. They telegraphed to Sofia, where energetic representations were made by the legations.
According to instructions received, Mr. Machkov, the Russian consul, and Mr. Cuinet, the French consul, presented themselves before Mr. Veltchev on the following day, and warned him, in the names of their respective governments, that the Bulgarian troops must not touch the Greek or Turkish inhabitants.
"With what right do you interfere in our discords?" Veltchev rudely replied, losing his small measure of self-control. "Are the Greeks and Turks subject to your jurisdiction?"
"No," replied Mr. Cuinet, "they are not subject to our jurisdiction; they are still Turkish subjects." Mr. Machkov remarked coldly that in making his communication he was acting under orders from his government; any further discussion seemed to him useless.
The consuls at once departed, leaving the high and mighty Bulgarian commander in a state of complete consternation. The consuls do not admit that the conversation was exactly as I have reported; but I have good authority for what I say.
That the Russian consulate, which is at this time markedly Bulgarophil and whose very raison d'etre lay in its protection of the Christians and particularly of the Bulgarians, should have been treated by the Bulgarian authorities with such unconcealed and arrogant hostility, is a fact which I could not pass by in silence. The Bulgarian military authorities in their public utterances treated Russia with contempt, saying that Bulgaria owed Russia no gratitude because her object in freeing it had not been the liberation of the Bulgarian peoples, but the creation of new Russian provinces, which Europe would not allow. On every occasion, whether propitious or no, the Bulgarians declared that they would absolutely ignore our consulate.
The Russian consulate had the greatest difficulty in saving from Bulgarian excesses the families of the old Mussulman cavasses (armed porters) who had devotedly served the Bulgarian cause for nearly thirty years. The grateful recognition of the people towards the Russian consulate grew in proportion to the inflexible hostility of the Bulgarians to it; they knew that they owed the salvation of their lives and property to Russian intervention. The Moslems recall with pathetic gratitude that during the Russian occupations their religious feelings were respected, the soldiers called the old Turkish women "mother," and the young girls "sister," and shared their food with the poor. Even the Servian soldiery left pleasant memories behind them. While the Bulgarians broke down the doors to enter the houses, rudely demanded the best rooms and good food such as the owner was often in no position to give; ill-treated men and women and carried off carpets, clothing and furniture, the Servian officers politely asked leave to spend the night in some corner, made no noise, gave thanks and a tip to the servant when they went away, and begged their hosts to visit them should they ever pass through Servia. Truly a striking contrast.
The Return of the Turks
What precedes explains why the Turkish troops were received with open arms by the whole population on their return to Adrianople. People remembered that during the siege, Choukri Pasha, the commander in Adrianople, and Ismail Pasha, governor of the fortress, displayed a fatherly solicitude for all without distinction. The Turks fully justified the enthusiasm of their reception by their extraordinary moderation. From the time of their arrival perfect order reigned in the city; there was not a single case of aggression. Some excesses were committed by the Kurdish irregular cavalry in a village in the environs, but all those concerned were arrested, court-martialed and shot.
At Mustapha Pasha some soldiers who tried to set fire to a house were killed on the spot by an officer. Contrary to Bulgarian precedent the Turkish authorities declared that they would tolerate no disorder. In view of what has been said it need cause no astonishment to find the Turkish, Greek and Jewish population ready to depart if they heard that Europe insisted on the cession of Adrianople to the Bulgars. The Greek Metropolitan and the mufti appeal through me to Russian public opinion to secure that should the Bulgarians return, a month of delay may be accorded in which the inhabitants of Thrace may peaceably effect their expatriation.
Such without more words, is the terrible result of my eight days' inquiry.
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