Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future
H. Brailsford

I. Characterictics of Turkish rule

1. The Growth of the Turkish Bureaucracy

THAT nothing changes in the East is a commonplace which threatens to become tyrannical. Assuredly there is something in the spirit of the East which is singularly kindly to survivals and anachronisms. The centuries do not follow one another. They coexist. There is no lopping of withered customs, no burial of dead ideas. Nor is it the Turks alone who betray this genial conservatism. The typical Slav village, isolated without teacher or priest in some narrow and lofty glen, leads its own imperturbable life, guided by the piety of traditions which date from pagan times. It hears strange rumours of a railway which has invaded the legendary plain beyond its mountains. But the world of innovation lies outside its experience. Salonica, with its busy streets, its cosmopolitan crowds, its steamships, and its markets, is still a foreign climate, whose strange air the hillmen fear to breathe. But the Turks, who in Europe at least are seldom a village people, are in externals by no means so conservative as they were. They are a race of townsfolk, whose ideal is beginning to be the garish squalor and the restless pleasures of such places as Constantinople and Salonica. Sit beside a group of young officers, who are chatting over their coffee and cigarettes in a frequented resort, and amid the strange gutturals of their Mongolian speech some borrowed words of French, incessantly repeated, are sure to arrest the ear. It will be chemin de fer,


and then perhaps café chantant, but the phrase which seems to strike a keynote is fin de siècle. Nothing is altered, perhaps, in spirit. Yet on the surface Turkey has changed within the brief space of a century, and nothing in Turkey has changed more profoundly than its government. We are accustomed to view the creation of the younger Balkan States purely from the European standpoint as a revival of nationalism, and as the resultant of a long chain of ideal causes in which the French Revolution played a large part. But the wars and rebellions, which founded the modern kingdoms of Greece, Servia, and Roumania, owed their success in great part to local conditions. The first decades of the nineteenth century seemed as though they must bring about the collapse of the Turkish Empire, not at all because of European pressure, nor even because of the spread of revolutionary ideas, but simply from an accentuation of centrifugal tendencies which had been evident for many centuries. It so happened that it was in fact two Christian provinces which won their independence, but more than one great Moslem leader came near to achieving the same success. Over Africa the authority of the Grand Turk was already merely nominal, and this was nothing new. Sir Paul Rycaut tells with some humour how, after a treaty regarding the Algerine pirates had been solemnly negotiated between the Government of Charles II. and the Porte, he was sent to obtain its ratification on the spot. Arrived at Algiers he discovered that the Turkish Governor was a nervous prisoner in his palace, while the administration of the pirate-state was conducted by a turbulent assembly of local corsairs, who waived aside the convention with a superb contempt for the Sultan's suzerainty. When the nineteenth century opened, the administration of European Turkey was in the hands of territorial Pashas, who climbed to authority in the district where their estates and their influence were situated, and asked from Constantinople no more than the formal acknowledgment of a power which was theirs in their own right. Ali of Jannina was the most famous product of this system, but he differed from his neighbours and contemporaries rather by his genius


than by his circumstances. There were other adventurers who also achieved office by local violence and intrigue, and intimidated or bribed the Porte into acknowledging their rights. Sometimes they came of great families who all but inherited their posts. But it was no bar to Ali's advancement that he started life as a brigand and made himself Pasha by forging his commission of investiture. These local magnates exercised all but royal prerogatives, and even made open war and concluded formal peace among themselves. He went further, and became in turn the ally of Napoleon and of Pitt. If his final revolt was crushed after an interminable siege of Jannina, it was not because the Porte had the force to overcome him, but because the local victims of his tyrannies conspired to take an overdue revenge. Not less daring was his contemporary, Passvan Oglou, Pasha of Widin on the Danube. He too was a law to himself, and when the Porte attempted to depose him he quietly gathered a great army and prepared to march upon Constantinople. The menace was enough, and just as the Porte kept its counsel about Ali's forged commission, so it made its peace with Passvan ana his legions. More than a decade later the Pasha of Scutari openly rebelled, and only a colossal act of treachery, in which the chiefs of his conspiracy were massacred at a banquet, availed to check the movement. Egypt at this period became for a time an independent and even hostile state. Turkey, in short, was less an empire than a military confederacy, held together rather by the bond of a common religion than by loyalty to the Sultan or by the rigour of a despotic administration. The loose and incoherent structure seemed on the point of dissolution. The fleet was lost at Navarino; the flower of the army was destroyed in the massacre of the Janissaries, a species of Pretorian Guard, whom the Sultan slaughtered and disbanded because he dreaded their power and doubted their loyalty; the Civil Service was deprived of its most capable element, the Phanariot [1] aristocracy,

1. The Phanar is the quarter of Constantinople in which the Greek Patriarch resides. It became the centre of a Greek aristocracy half hierarchical and half mercantile, which lent its services to the Turks.


by the Greek revolution which cast a slur of suspicion and disgrace upon even the most abject and self-seeking Greeks in Turkish pay.

From this universal catastrophe the Turkish Empire emerged strengthened  and transformed, and more completely Ottoman than before. The reorganisation was largely the work of a Vizier of great ability, Reschid Pasha, whose work deserves to be compared with Richelien's. The Porte became a real power throughout the Empire. The territorial Pashas were one by one replaced by the nominees of Constantinople, who had no local roots in the countries which they governed, and were in consequence the obedient servants of the central power. Reschid was not nice in his methods. His Liberalism was a  very superficial thing, and he shrank neither from treachery nor violence to carry out his end. The Turkish yoke lay no lighter on the subject peoples of the Empire for all the order which he infused into the administration. On the contrary, he gave to the system of Ottoman ascendancy a new lease of life, and added many a decade of misery and stagnation to the servile destinies of the Christian peoples. But an advance towards competence and stability his work undoubtedly was. His successors, notably Ali and Fuad Pashas, continued the new departure, and under such weak sovereigns as Abdul Medjid and Abdul Aziz there grew up a relatively strong and capable bureaucracy, controlled by ministers who enjoyed a certain authority and independence. If Turkey learned little from Europe, one invention at least she thoroughly adopted. The telegraph has done more even than gunpowder to perpetuate despotism. When the nineteenth century opened, nothing was easier for an ambitious Pasha who reigned at Jannina or Scutari or Widin than to isolate himself and defy Constantinople. The Porte knew little of the local circumstances. The news of a murder, a rising, a usurpation, could not arrive before the rebel had had time to entrench himself and destroy his enemies. And if news travelled slowly, commands went no faster. The greater Pashas maintained their agents in Constantinople, whose duty it was to bribe and intrigue in


their interests, and these men were kept better informed than the Porte itself. The telegraph changed all this, since it gave the Porte, under a rigid system of censorship, not merely rapid news, but a monopoly of news. The telegraph substituted for the nearly independent Pashas of the older days a race of little officials, destitute of authority and without local influence, whose function it became to sit at one end of the telegraph wire, to transmit incessant reports and receive minute instructions. A new type of functionary has replaced the old territorial governor. They come less from the landed and wealthy classes of the country than from the city-bred population of needy clerks which has grown up in Constantinople. The first step is to obtain a sinecure in one of the Ministries, and promotion from this to an administrative post is a question of waiting and backsheesh. Ability to write is the only necessary qualification to a man who can buy a post, and indeed little else is needed, since the telegraph leaves to even the greater officials so little discretion and initiative. These men are perpetually shifted from one post to another, and since they have neither fixity of tenure nor local influence nor even local possessions, they become typical placemen, indifferent to the fortunes of the territory they rule, and anxious only during their brief period of uncertain power to recoup themselves by bribes and presents for the price which they paid for their posts. Only the more important officials who have their hands in the public purse can expect to receive a salary, and as resignations are rarely accepted, [2] corruption is universal and inevitable. They are aliens and foreigners in the land they govern, more completely isolated from their subjects than even the English in India. An Anglo-Indian at least speaks the language of his district, has as a rule some curiosity about its customs and habits of thought, and feels no active hostility towards its religion. The Turkish official in Mace-

2. Even military officers are rarely if ever allowed to resign their commissions. They are expected to be soldiers and nothing more, and if they happen to belong to one of the suspected races, notably if they are Albanians, they may beg in vain from year's end to year's end for permission to visit their estates or their native place. They are virtually exiles within the Empire.


donia, unless he happens to be an Albanian, can rarely speak a single language of the country, knows nothing of the life of the peasants, and regards the political and religious movements of the Christians with a dull and uncomprehending irritation. The Asiatic Turk who comes unprepared into the Macedonian chaos rarely grasps even the elements of the question, and he remains to the end far more a foreigner in the land he governs than many a European who has mixed with the people of the country. Even if the Turk is able to converse with the Christian in a language which both understand, frank intercourse is impossible. The Turk desires only to be flattered, and the Christian is usually too wise or too timid to speak the truth. Such conversations are an elaborate game in which one party at least deploys a practised art in concealing his real thought, and the other is often quite without suspicion of the deceit which is practised upon him. To speak the truth to a Turk under any circumstances whatever, even when there is no apparent gain in lying and no evident risk in sincerity, would argue in a native Christian a degree of unconventionality amounting almost to original genius. There are conceptions in the mind of the native Christian which no interpreter's skill will ever translate into Turkish. The system of centralisation as it exists in Macedonia has been cunningly devised in order to prevent the growth of any local opinion and to check the development of racial self-consciousness. The term Macedonia is itself seditious, and there is no administrative area which corresponds either to the modern Macedonia of the Bulgarian insurgents or to the ancient Macedonia of the Greeks. Macedonia lies confounded within three vilayets [3]  (i.e., provinces), which corre-

3. The term " vilayet" may be translated province. Its Governor is termed a Vali, and has the rank of a Pasha (equal to a military General). There are six vilayets in European Turkey—two to the west are Albanian, Jannina (Epirus) and Scutari. Three in the centre are partially Macedonian—Salonica, Monastir, and Uskub. To the east lies Adrianople. Constantinople forms a division apart. A large vilayet is subdivided into two or three sandjaks, the Governor of which is termed a Mutessarif, who also ranks as a Pasha. Next comes the Caza (department), governed by a Caimakam (prefect), who ranks as a Bey, and is equal to a military colonel. The smallest division is the Nahie (district), governed by a Muclir (sub-prefect).


spond to no natural division either racial or geographical. The Bulgarians are strong in all three of the Macedonian vilayets, but in each of them a makeweight is skilfully provided. The Serbs and Albanians are numerous in the northeast (Uskub). The Greeks are well represented in the vilayet of Salonica. Greeks and Albanians balance Bulgarians in the vilayet of Monastir. The result is that no race attains a predominance, and no province acquires a national character. The natural arrangement would have been to place Greeks, Servians, and Albanians in compartments of their own, leaving the Bulgarians to occupy the centre and the east; but that would have been a violation of one of the guiding principles of Turkish statecraft, Divide et Impera. The same plan is even more effectually carried out in the Armenian districts of Asiatic Turkey. It has its counterpart in the system by which any display of vigour on the part of one or other of these races becomes at once the signal for the bestowal of favours upon its rivals. When Greece made war upon Turkey in 1897, the Bulgarians were suddenly permitted to create a number of new bishoprics. When the Bulgarians rose in 1903 the Serbs, the Vlachs, and to a certain extent the Greeks, were overwhelmed with official favours.

The bureaucracy was at the height of its power a generation ago, when the Liberal Midhat Pasha played the kingmaker, overthrew two Sultans, and imposed a Constitution on the young Abdul Hamid. Midhat's democratic Constitution may or may not have been a sincerely conceived reform, but in this at least he was in earnest - he stood for a responsible ministry; he intended to curb the caprice of the Sultans; and though Turkey might still have remained a despotism under his rule, it would not have been an autocracy subject to the personal will of an irremovable tyrant. Midhat was bundled into exile and done to death in an Arabian prison. The work of the Reschids and the Fuads was further sublimated into the Hamidian system of today. The administration already centralised in Constantinople has been further concentrated in the Palace. The Porte is a powerless survival, and the ministers


nonentities whose business is carried on over their heads by the Sultan and his favourites. The telegraph wires which used to end at the Porte now lead to Yildiz Kiosq, and the rulers of Turkey are no longer such comparatively sane and competent men as the Grand Viziers of the middle decades of the century, but the fanatics, the courtiers, and the spies who have won the confidence of the despot. Turkey has a working Sultan, and his very virtues of industry and minute application, joined as they are to an intelligence utterly uneducated and a temperament which is at the mercy of its fears, have become the bane and the ruin of the elaborate system which rests upon them. The administration is honeycombed with spies who enjoy the ear of Yildiz Palace, and the terror of the reports which these pests have it in their power to make, paralyses still further the energy and the initiative of the provincial officials. On the pretensions and the authority of the Palace, common sense imposes no limits. The very movements of the Turkish armies during the Russo-Turkish War were directed not by the generals on the spot, but by the Imperial amateur and his court at Constantinople. There is always in every Vali's jurisdiction and in every General's staff some subordinate who enjoys the confidence of a Palace favourite, and whose rôle is in effect to spy upon his superior. It soon comes to be known in official circles who this dangerous person is, and he rapidly acquires an authority larger than that of his responsible chief. I have heard it said that there was a junior officer on the staff of Edhem Pasha, the Commander-in-Chief of the army which invaded Thessaly in 1897, whose telegrams to the Palace actually took precedence along the wires over those of the Field-Marshal himself. Sometimes the Palace takes advantage of the jealousies which almost always exist between the civil and military authorities. The colonel in command of the garrison will telegraph direct to the Palace a report upon the equivocal conduct of the civil Caimakam (prefect), accuse him, it may be, of intriguing with the local bishop, denounce him as a patriotic Albanian, or suggest that he is inefficient and remiss. It is only where politics


are concerned, however, that this active espionage has become a system. For, indeed, neither the Palace nor the bureaucracy is interested in anything else. In all that touches the economic affairs of his district, the administration of justice, or the ordinary affairs of police, the provincial official may muddle and mar as he pleases. The welfare of his people is not the absorbing preoccupation of Abdul Hamid. The character of a Turkish functionary is in consequence a matter of rather secondary importance. A good prefect or governor may make his presence felt chiefly by abstaining from active or wanton oppression. He may redress a few individual cases of injustice. He may check the influence of the few local fanatics whose trade is violence and whose dream is massacre. But if a general persecution of one Christian race or another has been decreed, he must obey his instructions like every one else who is bound to the bureaucratic wheel. To do positive good is quite beyond his competence or his means. He has no surplus to spend and no discretion in disposing of such funds as exist. He could not, if he would, restore the roads, alter the methods of fiscal spoliation, or civilise the police and the courts. In every emergency he must follow detailed orders, and in the most urgent crisis his answer to a dilemma can only be delay. He must wait until the telegraph has spoken. [4] One smiles a little when the appointment of honest officials is suggested as a remedy for Turkish misrule. The cutting of the telegraph wires from Constantinople is the only radical cure.

4. I first realised what a power the telegraph is in Turkey after the Candia massacre of 1898, when the Christian quarter of a flourishing town was destroyed by the mob with the complicity of the troops, and a number of the English garrison were shot. I heard afterwards from the Director of the telegraph office in Canea (a Scot), that for three hours, while the fighting and the massacre were in progress, Ismail Bey, the acting-governor of Crete, occupied the telegraph office in Canea and maintained constant touch with Etem Pasha of Candia, and so controlled every detail of the incident.

[Previous] [Next]
[Back to Index]