CHAPTER XIII. IN THE BORDERLAND.
Insurrection and Reprisal - Taken for a British Secret Service Official - The Village of Dolan - The Headman - Sileohlu - Bulgarians and Turks Living Together Amicably - Incessant Coffee-drinking
ALL through the Adrianople vilayet insurrection is simmering, and occasionally bubbling over. The presence of the Russian Fleet in Turkish waters, sent to enforce punishment on the murderers of the Russian Consul at Monastir in 1903, was the opening for insurrection. Bulgarian bands broke out in the Kirk Kilisé district, and burnt five villages and massacred their inhabitants. In two days alone, five Turkish garrisons were defeated, the barracks destroyed, and the soldiers killed. The important village of Vassilikos was destroyed by dynamite.
Then came the Turkish reprisals on the Bulgarians - chiefly innocent folk. They were awful. Peasants ran to the forests. They were burnt out by Bashi-Bazouks; there was not a single old man or woman left among them. About 12,000 refugees were in the frontier villages in dreadful distress. The village of Pepenka in the sanjak of Kirk Kilisé was bombarded and pillaged. Some women who had hidden in a house to escape violation were burned alive in it. Seventy-five girls were carried off. The inhabitants who had taken refuge in the mountains were surrounded and forced to return
to the village, and there they were massacred by the Bashi-Bazouks, who are usually employed by the Turks when there is particularly nasty work to be done. In regard to this outbreak, Lord Lansdowne said that he "had no hesitation in declaring that the ruin and destruction brought about by the Turkish soldiery were immeasurably greater than any which had resulted from the action of the Bulgarian bands." That is true. But the Turks were "punishing" the Bulgarians.
The refugees from the vilayets of Adrianople and Monastir who were at Burghas, the Bulgarian port on the Black Sea, declared: "Although our greatest desire is to return to our own homes, we can only do so on the following conditions: (1) Our repatriation must take place by means of an International Commission; (2) the funds for the rebuilding of our villages, churches, and schools must be deposited at a European credit establishment at the disposal of the aforesaid Commission; the goods of which we have been despoiled must be returned to us; (3) a full amnesty must be granted to everybody; (4) most important of all, for the future our properties, our lives and our honour, must be secured to us by means not of palliative, but of radical reforms, with a Christian Governor-General appointed by the Great Powers, and by means of a permanent international control."
The number of refugees in and around Burghas was 13,000, of whom two-thirds were women; to these must be added at least 3,000 children under ten or twelve years of age. Colonel Massy, who was
sent by the British Government to Burghas to report on the state of the refugees, says: "They have but their clothes - scanty ones - in the world. Most were weeping - their husbands massacred, they said. Many are sick, and all look miserable. In some cases the husbands returned to the Kirk Kilisé district, being told there was not much to fear, as they wished to see if they could make something out of the wreck of their homes; but news came that they were murdered on their return. I asked them if they would return home. They smiled bitterly, and said that they had no homes, and if they returned to Turkey they would be murdered unless under European supervision.... The wretched women looked miserably pulled down, many with babies at the breast, and perhaps little but dry bread to live upon."
One village was despoiled of its finest grazing grounds, its forest and its fields, which were handed over to the Moslem inhabitants of a newly-formed village, the Bulgarian villagers being condemned to bear the exactions of six hundred soldiers who had not been paid for five months. These were the soldiers called upon to restore order and tranquillity in the district. A levy was made on the surrounding Bulgarian villages to provide funds to build barracks.
Ever since then the state of the Bulgarians in the vilayet of Adriarople has been extremely unsatisfactory. In many other villages Christians have been ejected from their homes, and troops installed in their place. These troops, being provided with
neither fuel nor fire, live by plunder, burning the woodwork of the houses, and consuming the cattle, grain and poultry of the Christians. Churches have been converted to secular uses or desecrated and destroyed, while countless cases of rape have occurred. The result is that the Christians, exasperated by fresh persecutions, are ripe for another revolt.
I wanted to go back to Adrianople from Kirk Kilisé by a half-moon route to the north, getting as near the Bulgarian frontier as I could.
Impossible! The Governor of Kirk Kilisé said it was impossible. All his staff swore he spoke the words of wisdom. But why did I want to go near the Bulgarian frontier? That was the question put to me politely and circuitously. Oh, because I did not desire to return by the way I had come, and I wanted to see as much of the country as I could! I saw "Liar!" spring into the eyes of the Turks. Only they were too polite to let the word touch their lips. I was a spy! That was evident. Under the guise of a harmless tourist I had been sent out by the British Government - which was too friendly to Bulgaria and not friendly enough to Turkey - to discover how the revolution was progressing!
The Turks bowed to the ground, assured me that everything they could do for me would be done; but - it was impossible. Besides, there were bands of Bulgarian brigands about. They were very wicked people were those Bulgarian brigands. I said I was willing to take my chance. Oh, and only the
previous week they had captured a Greek merchant, and were probably then engaged in gouging his eyes out or slicing his ears! I was still willing to take my chance. The Turks shrugged their shoulders. The effendi should remember that there was no one in Kirk Kilisé who knew the way. I observed that Turkish soldiers had good Turkish tongues, and could ask the way. But there were no roads! Never mind; we would follow mountain tracks. But the horses could never clamber up the passes! Then we should walk and lead the horses.
For a full day the Turkish officials were sweetly polite. They could not be so rude as to say point blank I should not go. My protestations that I was a mere sightseer they did not believe. They knew it was nonsense that I was willing to rough it and run risks of capture by brigands just for the fun of the thing. I could not make a Turk believe that if I argued till doomsday. I did not try. I simply said that I would go, and that the responsibility would rest with me.
The Turks - certain in their own minds I was a British secret service official - could not let me take the responsibility. If anything happened they would be held responsible, ransom would be demanded by the brigands, the British Government would lecture the Porte on the ill-treatment of a British subject, there would be the deuce.
Reluctantly the Governor - who was full of assurances of help - said he would add to the escort I already had from Adrianople. We stretched maps before us, and picked a route. I sent my dragoman
into the town to hire horses. He came back with a glint in his eyes and the news that there was not a single horse to be obtained.
Baffled one way, the Turkish authorities were intent on checking me another. The Governor was full of sympathy. What a pity!
"Oh, no," said I; " I'll walk."
Walk! He sat straight up and looked hard at me. Yes, walk! I told him I rather prided myself on my walking capacities, and though it would be slow it would be a very interesting way of seeing the country.
He succumbed. A representative of the British Government, who told lies in pretending to be an unofficial traveller, could never be allowed to walk while his escort was mounted. He sent for a man who owned horses, and in ten minutes a bargain was made. The man wept. What if he and his horses were captured by the brigands? He funked the Bulgarian revolutionaries.
We travelled over a ragged, grassless land, with dwarfed and knotted oaks everywhere. Dip and rise, dip and rise, the panorama changing and yet always the same.
It was as though some fiery blast had hit the world and burnt all sustenance out of it. We jogged across river beds with never a drop of water to be seen. There was no life save monster tortoises slowly heaving their way along. We got over one broad waterless river, the Koyundara.
We came across peasants wearing the fez, but black in colour. These were Turks of Bulgarian
origin, who spoke bastard Greek - a remnant of Byzantine rule. All the Bulgarians here speak Greek.
Some villages in this region are Bulgarian and Christian; others are Turk and Moslem. The Christian villages were less dirty than the Mahommedan villages.
On through the quivering heat till we were faint to sickness. Thus to the Turkish village of Dolan. The women were shrouded and in black. Even those working in the fields stood sideways as we passed, and held their cloaks to hide their faces, whilst watching us from the corner of their eyes.
We dropped wearily from our horses. The headman of the village, in blue vest, brown pantaloons, Turkey-red cummerbund and dirty white turban, gave me greeting. Would I visit his poor dwelling? It was of unbaked bricks, the floor was of hard earth; there was nothing to squat upon but a rush mat. There was rice and coffee for lunch.
All the men folk of the village gathered round and sat on their haunches and blinked in the sun. There was no pushing at the doorway or gazing in at the window. They wanted to see the foreigner, but there was no vulgarity in their curiosity. When I went out they rose and courteously salaamed. The head-man made a little speech. I shook him by the hand, telling him, through my dragoman, that that was the English way of showing friendship. He was pleased. I offered him a cigarette. He was doubly pleased. I was about to offer cigarettes to the twenty men standing about. My dragoman
stopped me. Let the dignity be with the head-man that I personally had given him a cigarette; he, the dragoman, would hand the cigarettes to those of lesser degree.
On again, through the panting land. The country was bleached and arid. The heat was heavy and drowsy. We had a local soldier from Kirk Kilisé to show us the way to Dolan. There he turned, and at Dolan we were given another man to take us to Sileohlu. We trotted joggingly and in single file along the feeble track. All the land was desolation.
The afternoon was still young when we reached Sileohlu - a straggling place, half Turkish, half Bulgarian. I had a headache from long riding in the sun and having little to eat. So I called a halt, and lay in the shadow of a quince tree, whilst my dragoman went seeking for a place where the night could be passed.
The leading villagers arrived, some Turkish and some Bulgarian, Christian and Moslem. They were living together in friendly fashion, as I found all through the country they do, unless racial and religious strife is stirred up by Bulgarian political propagandists, which inevitably leads to bungling reprisals on the part of the Turkish authorities. The mayor and a deputation of the local district council were solicitous I should be the guest of the village. I thanked them, but insisted upon being allowed to pay. Then they insisted that at least I would allow them to do their best, so that I might take away pleasant memories.
Here I was, a stranger, suddenly dropping into a place I had never heard of twelve hours before, and the head-man was eager to put aside all personal affairs to be courteous to me. There was marked distinction between the Christians and Moslems, and I could not fail to notice a certain rivalry which should do the most.
The effendi had a headache! The afternoon would be spent in the cool of a wood. We walked to a leafy spot, dark with the shade of many trees. There was a marble tank, about the size of a suburban dining-room, where bubbled pleasant water. Mats were spread; cushions were brought. Melons were tossed into the tank, where they were chilled to iciness. Then we ate slabs of them. A fire was lit beneath the trees, the mayor himself was busy coffee-making; a mild individual, whom I christened the town clerk, sat near and twanged melancholy Turkish airs upon a guitar. Of coffee we drank cups innumerable, and of cigarettes smoked unceasingly.
My heart went out to these kind, simple-hearted rural folk in that unknown corner of Turkey. They never molested or pestered me. Knowing I had a headache they kept at a distance and spoke low. When I announced I was betfer they were unfeignedly glad. The fire was relit, the guitar twanged sprightfully. We drank coffee, and more coffee, and again more coffee.
With this incessant coffee-drinking - twenty or thirty cups a day - how can it be otherwise than that the Turks are lethargic? Through centuries have they drunk inordinate quantities of coffee. Every
little Turk inherits a sluggish liver. When my advice is asked what shall be done to redeem the Turkish nation from its torpor I shall reply: "The first necessary thing is to prohibit the drinking of any more coffee. Get the livers of the Turks into a healthier state before you bother about their brains."
None of my friends had seen anything of the world beyond Adrianople. Some had not travelled as far as that. When I told them about London they sat like attentive children listening to a fairy tale. It had all to be interpreted by my dragoman, but there was no rude laughter at my unknown speech. I told them about the streets, about the motor omnibuses, the express trains, the two-penny tube, the telephone. A wonderful people were the Europeans. And very rich! Anything could be done with money. It was because England was so rich it had all these things! I endeavoured to show it was because of these and such-like things that England was rich. No, they would not have it that way. With riches anything could be done. If Turks were as rich they could do the same.
The largest room of the largest farmhouse in the village was prepared. It was just mud walls and mud floor. The only light was the flicker of a curious little oil lamp. In one corner was placed matting for my sleeping accommodation. A fire was built in the yard, and beneath the glow of a great moon a meal was cooked - a chicken, pilau (a sort of greasy rice), which was delicious, black bread, a bunch of grapes, more coffee, much more coffee, and a flask of white wine.
I sat like a Turk, and ate like a Turk. This was the real thing. Above my head hung long slim rifles and cartridge belts handy in case there was an attack by Bulgarian brigands.
Brigands! I had forgotten all about them. I never saw anything of them. Only I saw the goodness of the Bulgarians and Turks living in this little village. I laid my revolver by my pillow-side, smoked and mused. London! That was a place I must have read of somewhere. I looked at my watch. Eight o'clock! The village was at rest save for the occasional baying of a dog at the moon. I fell asleep and dreamt I was captured by brigands, who cut off my ears, and fed me on nothing but coffee and cigarettes.
The moon was still shining, though hanging low in the heavens, when I was quietly awakened. I shivered with the cold. I went out into the biting air. The soldiers, who had slept in the open, were yawning and slouching to attend to their horses. My good friend the mayor was superintending the making of coffee.
It was two hours before sunrise, when I had ordered I should be awakened,
for we had a long ride to Adrianople.
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