Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future
H. Brailsford

V. The Bulgarian movement

10. Hilmi Pasha's Measures of Repression. Incidents at Mogilla and Smerdesh.

The measures which Hilmi Pasha adopted to suppress the Macedonian Committee were drastic and wholesale, but none the less ineffective; indeed, they overreached themselves by their excessive severity. If the Turks could have contented themselves with hunting down the bands (a thing they hardly attempted), and arresting the prime movers of the agitation, they might have achieved their end. But when they proposed to banish the ringleaders, Russia stood in the way, whereas they were allowed to carry out their useless and provocative measures against the mass of the population, with the result that the Bulgarians were driven to desperation, and revolted in self-defence. Everywhere, alike in the towns and in the villages, the notables of the Bulgarian communities were thrown into prison — not by twos and threes, but by twenties and thirties. Rich


and poor, merchants from the cities, and lads from the upper classes of the secondary schools, were herded together in the Turkish gaols. The schools were all closed, sometimes by order, sometimes because they had been turned into barracks for the troops, sometimes because the teachers had either been arrested or had fled to escape arrest. The very few Bulgarian doctors and lawyers who manage to exist in Macedonia — one could almost count them on one's fingers, so dangerous is it to be possessed of education — were also imprisoned. Business was at a standstill, and the very Jews in Salonica were crying out because there were no Christian merchants left with whom they might do business. The cities were in a state of siege. Military patrols tramped the streets at all hours, and bivouacked outside the principal buildings. The townsfolk were forbidden to stir abroad after sundown, and if urgent need arose for a doctor, he could be summoned only by bribing a soldier or policeman to fetch him. In the larger villages and the country towns where no consuls or Europeans reside the case was still worse. The entire male Moslem population of military age had been called to the colours, reinforced by the ragged regiments of Asia Minor and the defiant, undisciplined levies of Albania. These troops were quartered in the villages and the smaller towns, and they naturally vented their anger at being called away from their fields upon the Bulgarian inhabitants. The reserves of the third class (Ilaveh, i.e., Landsturm) had the worst reputation. They were all unpaid, and frequently received no rations; indeed, when I was in Monastir the army contractors had been so long unpaid that they refused to supply even bread upon credit. The result was that the troops had no choice but to live upon the peasants. One met them strolling about the streets adorned with all manner of looted garments, sometimes wearing socks which they had stolen from the women, and sometimes carrying sheepskin coats over their shabby uniforms. Their chief occupation was to search for arms, and as a Turk is always too lazy to look for concealed weapons, they took the simpler and shorter course of torturing or beating the villagers — men, women, and


children — in order to force them to reveal the hiding-places of the weapons they were supposed to possess. What all this meant in physical pain, in material loss, and in the dishonour of the women, the imagination can hardly conceive, for scarcely a village went free. I was in one rural centre, Doiran, during the height of the persecution. It is a tiny town on the borders of a lake among purple mountains, the centre of a region so beautiful that one left the fields for its narrow streets, reluctant and afraid, knowing well the human misery that lay concealed behind the white walls and red tiles which glittered in the sunshine. I remember arriving at ten o'clock in the morning to find that the Turkish authorities were still asleep, while the Albanian levies in the town were very much awake, and drunk, with rifles in their hands. Despite the risk from spies (half the place was "Greek" in its politics, though not a word of Greek was ever spoken) the women had no sooner heard that Europeans had come to the town than they began to crowd our inn, filing through in groups, each with its miserable tale to tell. They were all in tears, demoralised as much by what might happen as by what had actually taken place; for rumour was always ready to assert that a massacre had occurred in some neighbouring town, or that this Christian village or the other had been burned to the ground, and Doiran expected that its turn would come next. But the women were mainly concerned for the fate of husbands, sons, brothers, arrested on suspicion and detained without trial. There were sixty political suspects in Doiran gaol, and others had been drafted to Salonica, while a few had been released. These latter had harrowing tales to tell of the cruelties which went on night by night within the gaol. One young lad had been liberated, with lame and shapeless feet, after a merciless bastinado. Others, he said, had fared worse than he, and there were eye-witnesses to testify that some at least of these prisoners had been forced at the bayonet-point to walk up and down the corridor of the prison night after night, in the hope that the madness which comes to a man deprived of sleep would induce


them to reveal some guilty conspirator's secret. Another prisoner had been forced to stand hour after hour with his hands raised above his head. There was no prospect of mercy or redress. The women could only weep and tell their story, and we could only promise to report the facts to one of the consuls. When the matter was at length brought to Hilmi Pasha's notice he telegraphed promptly to the prefect (Caimakam) of Doiran in something like these terms: "It is said that you are torturing your Bulgarian prisoners. Is this true ? If so, a Commission will be sent to investigate your responsibility." Naturally the man replied with a stout denial, and Hilmi Pasha, satisfied that he had done his duty, showed the two telegrams in triumph to the consul.

Other measures of repression even more disastrous were lightly undertaken. The gaols would not hold all the Bulgarians of Macedonia, and so the order went forth that every man of peasant origin in the towns must return to his native village and stay there. For fear of outrage or disturbance, the thousands of Macedonian Bulgarians who repair year by year to Constantinople to earn a little competence were ruthlessly expelled, and driven back to their homes. The migratory masons and carpenters who inhabit such villages as Smilovo and Smerdesh in winter, and spend the summer wandering about in quest of work, were also interned in their homes during the only season when their work was possible. Of all the means which could have been devised to provoke a rebellion this was the most efficacious, for all these thousands of able-bodied men, the most energetic and intelligent section of the population, were deprived of subsistence and occupation, and left in idleness and anger to concert their revenge. Finally, thanks mainly to the brutality of the soldiery, who also had a grievance, since they were haled from their lands just as the season of harvest was approaching, the normal insecurity of the roads became so intolerable that even the peasants rarely cared to quit their villages. Murders, sometimes with a motive, sometimes at the prompting of mere wanton brutality, were everywhere of daily occurrence, and


the murder-books, grim catalogues which are kept in every bishopric and consulate — the only original literature which Macedonia produces — had their blank pages rapidly filled. For this violence the Turks were only partly to blame. Encouraged by the obvious intention of the authorities to bring the Bulgarians under the harrow, the Greeks betook themselves with redoubled zeal to the work of espionage, and they paid the price in blood. Moreover, it was the policy of the Committee to reply to violence with violence. The Turks of Monastir punished the Christians of the town by an attempted massacre as a reply to what had happened in Salonica, and the Bulgarians in the villages round Monastir exacted retribution by murdering local Moslems. The result of this competition in bloodshed and injustice was a nightmare of terror in which the whole normal life of Macedonia stood petrified and fear-bound. Within the space of ten days in the month of May I visited three market-towns on market-day — Monastir, Doiran, and Kuprili — to find the market-place deserted and silent. The merchants were in prison, and the peasants dared not quit their homes; indeed, where their fields lay at any distance from the hamlet even tillage was suspended. The plague would have wrought less havoc than this legal and regular persecution, which Hilmi Pasha directed in the intervals of reforming Macedonia.

Meanwhile the bands, constantly recruited from the vast army of outlaws and suspects, were not idle, though as yet they did not willingly assume the aggressive. Wherever the troops came up with them a bloody stain was left upon the countryside, and it was rather the peasants than the insurgents who suffered. I came upon the village of Mogilla (about eight miles from Monastir) one afternoon, just as the troops were leaving it after one of these affairs. They straggled along, a disorganised herd, without officers and carrying the trifling spoils which they had been able to glean in the miserable hamlet which lay smoking behind them. A little band of outlaws under a gallant young leader named Svetkoff, once a teacher of music in the Monastir High School, had been trapped in some isolated mud cabins


just outside the village. The police were searching for hidden arms, and when they came to these houses they were received with a volley. Troops were hurried up with cannon, and a regular siege was laid to these flimsy huts. Through an afternoon and a night the Bulgarians held out, firing whenever a foe showed himself above the mud walls which enclosed their little fortress. In the intervals of fighting, so the Turks told us, they danced a grim step to the tune of some ballad of revolt, shouting all the while their defiance of the slaves who besieged them, their contempt for the Sultan, and their readiness to die free men. They could have had no doubt about their fate, for the wall left no way of escape, and the Turks behind it were firing comfortably through loop-holes. The end came before dawn, when a shot from the mountain guns set the poor fortress of the outlaws ablaze. At the same time the Turks set on fire seventeen houses of the village to serve them as lamps for their marksmanship — one thinks of Nero's Christian torches. One by one, as they dashed out, the survivors of the little band were shot down within the enclosure. When I arrived the ground was still blood-stained. The mud walls still smouldered and glowed; a stork looked vainly for her accustomed roof from a perch on a crumbling gable, and the air was charged with the stench of burning flesh. In the churchyard the last scene of the tragedy was going forward. The villagers were burying the contents of two great carts — corpses heaped in a mass of charred and dishonoured flesh. There were eleven dead insurgents, their bodies stripped and mutilated by their savage and unchivalrous enemies, four innocent peasants of the village and two young women shot while the search for arms went forward. Among the weeping crowd of village mothers and widows stood two little girls, who had been wantonly wounded. The priest of the place, a frail old man, lay speechless and paralysed on a heap of straw at the point of death, and the peasants were carrying the dead rebels to their last trenches, without service or prayer. It was a scene of misery and moral squalor. The homeless families wept for their burned


hovels, and the bereaved peasants for their dead relatives with the piercing animal grief of the East. But at the time I fancied they had few thoughts to spare for the insurgents who had fallen in their cause. The scene seemed to teach how little life is worth in the Balkans. It is neither reverenced nor valued, and if a bullet ends it — why, then, it only ends a long series of miseries and oppressions, cuts short a few years of fruitless toil and petty sufferings that have not even the halo of heroism to redeem them. Six months later I heard this same fight recounted in a popular ballad, and realised that poor Svetkoff, whose handsome form I had seen tossed like so much rubbish into the pit, had become an immortal name, inscribed in the calendar of freedom. The Bulgarians hide their sentiment and conceal. their deeper emotions, while they jostle sacred things with common spades. The sequel was easy to guess. Here were seventeen homeless families, which included nigh thirty able-bodied men. Their only hope now was to join a roving band. It was safer on the whole to be in the mountains with a rifle on one's back than to cringe in a village outwardly loyal. It was not difficult to imagine how these men from Mogilla would fight. They carried with them the picture of murdered wives and wounded daughters, of smoking homesteads and the charred bodies of comrades. They would neither spare themselves nor pity others, their dim minds ruled by no better law than vengeance. And that also is part of their misery. Outrage begets outrage, and each race demoralises its foes.

In the same week of May an incident on a much more horrible scale occurred at Smerdesh, a big village of over 2,000 inhabitants which lies on the main road from Castoria to Florina. It is a gloomy and forbidding place, built of stone upon a gaunt hillside in a narrow valley where the sun shines for no more than three hours in a day. There is little tillage and but scanty pasture around it, but the peasants none the less are wealthy and enterprising, itinerant masons for the most part, who ply their trade all over the Levant, and invest some part of their savings in substantial and roomy houses. It had a great church with carved


pillars, of which it was inordinately proud, and a large school. It is the native place of Tchakalároff, the cruel but competent general of the Southern insurgents, and among the village families his relatives form a sort of aristocracy. The Turks had long feared and suspected Smerdesh. Tchakalároff often visited it, and few Turks ever ventured to approach it. There had been a skirmish near is during April, and a punitive expedition which started out to subdue the place had marched back without daring to enter it. Nothing further occurred for some five weeks, and then suddenly a large force of regulars under one Haireddin Bimbashi (major), accompanied by a swarm of bashi-bazouks [1], came marching up the road from Castoria, towards sundown on the evening of May the 21st. [2] This man is a semi-civilised person of handsome presence and polished manners, who studied in Paris, and had been professor of French in the Military Academy of Monastir. He also it was who commanded the troops ar Armenskoo, where the worst excesses of the insurrectionary period were perpetrated. It was long a puzzle to me why Smerdesh, which had given no overt provocation, whatever Tchakalároff may have done, should have been signalled out for a horrible punishment. The explanation was, I am told, that Haireddin Bimbashi had arranged with the bashi-bazouks that by way of payment for the license he allowed them, he should receive a substantial proportion of the proceeds of the sale of the loot. Once again it turns out that greed lies at the root of Turkish oppression. It was, I think, the worst case of its kind in Macedonia. For there was no fight, no resistance, no parley, no summons to surrender.

The people of Smerdesh, seeing the Turkish force

1. The world bashi-bazouk means simply “civilian”, and in this context denotes a Moslem villager who took up his rifle to assist the troops.

2. I obtained full details of this affairs during two nights passed in Smerdesh in the winter. On the first occasion a Turkish officer was with me, but the men told their tale fearlessly in his presence. On the second occasion I was alone, and they talked with entire freedom. I also heard some curious details from certain Turks who disapproved of Haireddin Bimbashi`s performances. Him also I had the misfortune to meet socially.

Tchakalaroff, commander of the southern insurgent corps, taken during the occupation of Klissoura, 1903


approach, and having no means of defence — for there was no insurgent band either in or near the village on that day [3] — sent a deputation to make their submission and to ask for considerate treatment. The deputation was met half-way by a volley of musketry, and returned to report its failure. The guns were then brought up, the village surrounded and subjected, during the night, to a heavy cannonade. A few houses were set on fire in this way. Two hours after dawn the troops and the bashi-bazouks rushed in, and set to work to pillage and burn methodically with the aid of petroleum. The troops were withdrawn before noon, and the bashi-bazouks left in possession for two whole days. One hundred and sixty-six houses were reduced to ashes, and nothing but a solid beam, a comfortable hearthstone, or a stone which gives a name and a date remains to commemorate what once were homes. The great church is a mere roofless shell, and the school a heap of rubbish. The majority of the inhabitants contrived somehow to escape in the darkness, before the investing cordon was completely formed — it is said also that they had subterranean shelters. About one hundred and thirty who remained were massacred; over fifty were wounded, and many women and girls are said to have been outraged. One heard pitiable stories of villagers who hid themselves to escape the soldiers, only to perish in the flames. One old priest pretended to be dead, and some ruffian flung a great stone upon him. Another priest bought his life from one marauder only to be caught empty-handed and murdered by the next. Most of the wounds were inflicted at close quarters with steel, and one heard tales which sounded authentic about bed-ridden women too weak to flee who expired under the lust of the soldiers. About sixty houses escaped the conflagration, naked and stripped, and in them the once prosperous village, proud of its wealth, its industry, and its education, found shelter through the following winter. It had no

3. I am not absolutely sure of this. Some accounts say that about twenty insurgents were present, who may have fired. But this the villagers stoutly and unanimously denied. At all events even if a few shots were fired, there was no prolonged or general resistance.


capital with which to rebuild, and no leisure or opportunity to work. For it was still a mark for the hostility of Greeks and Turks, and through the greater part of the year the Greek Bishop of Castoria, who had been appointed a sort of trustee for the village after the catastrophe, refused to grant passports to the Exarchist inhabitants who sought permission to go abroad in search of work. They had arranged a little chapel in a shed, to take the place of their ruined church. On the walls they had hung little water-colour sketches of Christ and the Madonna to serve instead of the valuable eikons they had lost. On a day when I visited the place a column of troops had just left the village, and the marks of their bayonets were visible upon the poor little pictures of this improvised shrine.

Shortly after these incidents at Mogilla and Smerdesh the Insurgent Convention met and deliberated on their position. They were not prepared for a general rising. They had neither money nor arms nor ammunition enough. But they could not afford to submit to a repression so overwhelming and so brutal without striking some blow in return. To have lain idle under such provocation would have meant the collapse of the propaganda, and the loss of all the fruits of their ten years of steady work. They had indeed given the first provocation, if they are to be held responsible for the acts of the desperate youths who blew up the bank at Salonica. But the Turks were no longer punishing. Their aim was to crush the Bulgarian race in Macedonia. The schools, the churches, and the commerce of the Bulgarians as well as their political organisation were in peril. Europe was indifferent, and unless they were prepared to succumb, they had no choice but to save themselves. They decided to proclaim a general rising after the harvest. It was, under all the circumstances, a war of self-defence. For a brief period the guerilla bands were inactive, and on the night of the and of August, 1903, the supreme moment arrived. But even in this desperate situation the Bulgarians showed their habitual prudence. They knew that they might fail. They knew that further efforts might be necessary. They knew also that the


districts which revolted would be so utterly devastated that they would be incapable of further revolt for many years to come. It was accordingly decided that only the province of Monastir should be called upon to rise, and even there certain districts were exempted (notably Perlepe and Morihovo). Several motives dictated the choice of Monastir. The country is mountainous and suitable for guerilla warfare. The peasants are resolute and well organised. Since Monastir does not adjoin the Bulgarian frontier, it would be obvious to Europe that the movement was a genuine Macedonian revolt, and not a mere invasion organised in the Principality. Finally, a revolt under the direction of the Committee in this southern province claimed by the Greeks would serve to advertise the fact that the rural population is not Hellenic but Bulgarian.

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