Pictures from the Balkans
Fraser, John Foster


Drama, the Centre of the British Sphere of Influence - British Officers Wearing the Fez - An Expedition into the Hills - Spies - Enmity between Greeks and Bulgars - Philippi - Memories of Greeks and Romans - St. Paul's Visit - Kavala - Skittish Turkish Ladies - Where the Tobacco for Egyptian Cigarettes is Grown - A Moslem Monastery - Birthplace of Mahomet Ali

WHERE Macedonia begins or where it ends is indefinite. But travelling from Constantinople to Salonika you halt at the little town of Drama. Drama you know to be in Macedonia because here are stationed the British officers engaged to assist in the reform of the gendarmerie and generally keep an eye on the differences between Turks and Christians.

Drama is the centre of the British sphere of influence - the least important sphere because it is the quietest part of disturbed Macedonia - just as Seres is the centre of the French sphere, Salonika of the Russian, Monastir of the Italian, and Uskup of the Austrian.

I found both Turks and Christians appreciated the British representatives. The Christians appreciated them because England stood for Christianity and they knew England was their friend. The Turks appreciated them because, as the officials told me, the British officers treated them as equals. In the Monastir region there was kindliness toward the Italians. But I was told that at Seres the French


treated the Turks as inferior, at Salonika the Russians tried to bully them, whilst at Uskup the officials realised too well that Austria wanted territory much more than to bring peace to that unhappy region. Germany, as the avowed friend of the Sultan, has no hand in the pacification of the country.

I drove through the narrow, noisy, vine-sheltered streets of Drama, beyond the town, past the barracks, where, in view of disturbances, reserves, called out from the surrounding villages, were squatting on their haunches-quiet, decent fellows. So to a square whitewashed building alliteratively dubbed by its present occupants "Murzsteg Mansion." Colonel Fairholme, the political representative, was at home on leave, but I received greeting from Major Gore-Alney and Captain Smyly. Though appointed by the British Foreign Office, they were in the pay of the Turkish Government. It gave one a little jump to meet British officers, in khaki uniforms and with South African medals on their breasts, wearing the crimson fez. An English soldier with a Turkish fez seems a curious combination.

Murzsteg Mansion is sparsely furnished: a table or two, a few chairs, some camp beds, indiarubber baths, a pile of reports, military accoutrements, a heap of old novels, here and there a photograph, and in the place of honour an autograph portrait of King Edward - a kindly unexpected remembrance from his Majesty to his soldiers far off in little-known Macedonia maintaining the reputation of Britain for justice.

A good work these British officers were doing in


the region round Drama. The Turkish gendarmerie were under their eye. They got offenders dismissed; they secured promotion for those who were worthy. With few attendants they went on trek away in the wild hill lands northward, toward Bulgaria, through bandit-infested districts, enduring hardships, with long riding and miserable accommodation, investigating disturbances between Turks and Bulgarians, or, more often, between rival Christians, exercising by their presence a good effect on the people, putting the authorities in awe, and carefully reporting to the Ambassador at Constantinople the trend of affairs.

For several days I stayed with Major Gore-Alney and Captain Smyly, and had opportunity of seeing their work. It is not work that is sufficiently startling to attract attention in the newspapers, nor to receive mention in Parliament. When people talk about the easy life of the British officer it is well to think of the men at Drama - and there are thousands of such men in other solitary parts of the earth - living alone, doing their duty, with no dinner parties, no drawing-room chat, no theatres, but finding simple relaxation, after hard riding in the scorching sun, by sitting in canvas chairs, smoking their pipes, and watching the moon sail into an almost velvety sky and hang over the plain where are the ruins of Philippi.

With Captain Smyly as cicerone I had the satisfaction of a little expedition into the adjoining hills where trouble had been. As escort we had three gendarmes, one a famous capturer of brigands. He


tracked one notorious character for weeks through the mountains, and never ceased till he had his head in the saddle-bag.

We rode across the red sandy plain, where the vegetation was shrivelled, toward hills bare, fierce, uninviting, except that in dips it was possible for the peasants just to scratch a living.

In the maize fields we saw Bulgar-Macedonian husbands, wives, and children working from dawn till dusk, and never knowing there was anything particularly wrong in the world till the Bulgarian Komitajis came along and compelled them to join the revolutionary movement.

All the villages are sworn to reek with insurrection on the signal being given. Hidden somewhere in the neighbourhood are arms. The Bulgars had no difficulty in bringing them into the country. They knew that the Turkish soldier turns in at sundown and, being frightened of the dark, is not disposed to be on the move again till daylight. Accordingly the "bands" always moved at night. Now, under the direction of the British officers, patrols are frequently made at night, and revolutionaries are caught red-handed. They get short shrift.

Here is a Bulgarian village; there is a Greek village; over yonder is a mixed village. In the mixed village the Greek priest had made himself more than usually disliked by the Bulgars. He and his two daughters were murdered - nobody knows by whom!

Spies are everywhere. The system of espionage is truly Oriental. News reached Constantinople


that the prisoners in Drama gaol were improperly treated. A distinguished hodja, or learned man, arrived at Drama, and, befitting his position, he was invited to stay with the Governor. He disappeared; a watch was missing; chase was given; he was caught and thrown into prison as a thief and an impostor. That was just where he wanted to go. He was a spy sent from Constantinople.

We passed a well. It had been erected by a good Bulgar, and there was an inscription mentioning the fact. The Greeks in the village smashed it, and when the Bulgar was dying they gathered round the house and howled derisively.

All through Macedonia I never heard a good word for the Greeks. The Turks chaffingly call them "the runners," because of the way they skedaddled before the Sultan's troops in the Turko-Greek War. Yet Greek talk is unusually bloodthirsty. One day, whilst Greeks were fraternising in Drama, someone shot a dog in the streets. The Greeks were terror-stricken, held one another, and then barricaded the door. They thought a Bulgarian "band" had come.

One village we visited was mixed Turk and Bulgarian. The twelve hundred inhabitants were starved creatures and were in considerable dismay when our horses clattered among them. There had been some political murders of Bulgars. Whilst Greeks were blamed it was fairly clear the crimes were the work of fellow Bulgars who were not satisfied with the enthusiasm for revolution, and possibly suspected that tales were being told to the Turks. Whilst Captain Smyly was making investigation the


head-men of the village, Turk and Bulgar, crowded round. We were both rather astonished at finding three or four Bulgar "teachers" who had selected this woebegone village for a holiday place. We knew well enough they were spies for the Bulgarian revolutionaries - and they knew that we knew.

Due south from Drama is the ancient town of Kavala, on the coast. To reach it is a swift four hours' ride. Going there one rides across the Drama plain and through miles of tobacco fields and past all that remains of the city of Philippi.

The only habitation at Philippi is a decrepit mud-floored coffee-house where horses can rest and the traveller light a cigarette. The slithering Turks in the dirty shed knew nothing about the faded glory of the city. The step was a piece of marble with a Roman inscription. Blocks of inscribed marble were scattered about. One side of the stable is part of a gigantic cube of marble, erected, as far as can be deciphered, in honour of the victorious Romans after the battle of Philippi, B.C. 42, when Augustus and Antony defeated the republican forces of Brutus and Cassius. Staples have been driven into the marble so that halters may be attached. I asked the Turks what the pillar meant. They blinked and said it was to the memory of a great Turkish general.

Not much remains of Philippi. The few ruins are the mute witnesses of a little world which lived and prospered on this spot for a period of nigh thirty centuries. The first inhabitants were probably Thracians who mined for gold in the neighbouring


mountains. They built a town to protect themselves from invading tribes who wanted the gold. Eleven centuries before the Christian Era the town was called Datus, or Datum. That town prospered until the fourth century B.C. So great was the fame of the gold mines that the desire of the ancient Athenians was to annex the place. This was often attempted, and finally, in 360 B.c., the Thasians, stirred up by the Athenian Callistrates, seized Datus, and gave it the new name of Krenides. But this appellation and the stay of the Thasians only lasted two years. The original inhabitants made constant attacks to regain their possessions, and forced the Thasians to seek the aid of Philip of Macedon, who had long coveted Datus. He took advantage of this opportunity to capture it. Philip enlarged the town, adorned it with wonderful buildings, and renamed it Philippi after himself. The gold mines were developed by him to such an extent that they yielded him a revenue of a thousand talents.

For an hour I wandered among the ruins. I found the remains of Philip's theatre on a slope of the Acropolis. A few goats were munching the tough grass where, long before Christ came, the people shouted at the sports.

On the plain, noble and solitary, stands a remnant of the Roman domination, maybe the ruins of a temple. But there are no worshippers now. Only a peasant came up and offered me coins he had found in the fields.

Ten years before I had visited Tarsus, in Asia Minor, the birthplace of the Apostle Paul. Later,


on the island of Malta, I went to the spot where Paul was wrecked. Now at Philippi I found the ruins of a temple which was the place where the Romans imprisoned Paul. St. Paul visited Philippi three times. I sat on a tumbled piece of masonry and read in the Acts the account of those visits.

Now Philippi as a city is dead. The men who have built a cabin out of its ruins know nothing about it. They huddle and puff at cigarettes and make coffee for the traveller.

I rode toward Kavala. This was the great Via Egnatia running from Dyrrachium to Byzantium. Along this road came Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch under Trajan, on his way to martyrdom in the amphitheatre at Rome.

Clashing were my thoughts as I jogged along. I overtook a dust-smothered, ramshackle old four-wheeler. In it were two Turkish ladies, cloaked and heavily veiled, so that only their lustrous eyes could be seen. They were young and good-looking. And here was a Giaour, not elderly, and on horseback! A Giaour is used to looking upon the faces of women! They pulled aside their veils and with laughter let me see their countenances. It was a challenge: Were Christian ladies as pretty as Moslem ladies?

I laughed as I raised my hat and gave my horse the spur and scampered past. Wicked young Turkish ladies! They would never dare the impropriety of showing their features to a Turk. But a Giaour did not matter. And the fat old blear-eyed Turk on the coach-box saw nothing of the adventure


of his charges. Yes, through the long train of centuries many maidens have laughed on that Philippi road and are now gone into the great limbo of the unknown.

A zigzag rise, the summit of a range, and then quaint Kavala, on a tongue of rock sticking impudently into the rich blue of the AEgean Sea, the island of Thasos not far away, and then in the distance, like a little cloud rising to the heavens, Mount Athos the holy.

The way down the coast-side to the town is crooked. The road is mended with marble; the dust is marble; heaps of marble are on the banks for repairs. The sun touches the marble and makes it glisten like myriads of diamonds.

Kavala, resting on the sea, double walled, held to the mainland, it seems, by a willowy aqueduct, is occupied by Turks. But Kavala has grown, and behind the neck of the peninsula spreads fan-wise a Greek town. The Greek quarter is not distinguished.

To reach the Turkish quarter one goes through a not over-wide stone gateway. Kavala is all climbing rocky stairs and coming down rocky stairs. No vehicle is possible. It is all bends and corners and shady passages and mosques and minarets and peeps of the blue sea and basking sunshine. The colour is Neapolitan. Frowsy and creak-jointed Turks, who ought to be reading the Koran, wrap splash-tinted sashes round their waists, have turbans of white or green, and baggy breeks that are vermilion. The atmosphere is hot and


slothful. It is just the place for a Turk. It makes even an Infidel feel like a Turk.

My hotel was a poor thing to look at. But it was a good place to stay at. It is kept by a stout German dame, called Kathé. Every European who visits Kavala knows Kathé. She is a mother to them all. She cooks - and is the best cook in Macedonia. She knows how you like your food and sees it is served clean.

I was having an omelette when I looked across the room. English voices! Captain Hamilton, a son of Lord Claud Hamilton, dressed as a Turkish officer, engaged in the reform of the gendarmerie, a Belgian officer with an eye on the police, and Mr. Teofani, of cigarette fame.

Cigarettes! The only cigarettes you are supposed to smoke in Turkey are Régie, the Government monopoly. But nobody in Kavala ever smokes Régie cigarettes. Every cigarette in Kavala is contraband and is good. The best tobacco in the world is grown on the plains at the back of Kavala. Egypt, though it sends us cigarettes, does not grow an ounce of tobacco. It imports the best from Kavala. In 1905 about one thousand tons were exported from this little port, and the value was about one million pounds sterling. The Government takes a clear ten per cent. royalty. Only the dust and scrapings go to the making of Régie cigarettes.

A tremendous business is done in smuggling. The humour of the situation is that most of the Kavala officials are steeped to the eyes in smuggling.


Ostensibly they do their best to check it, but manage to secure a considerable profit by failing.

Captain Hamilton is hard on smugglers and officials. There is death for one and dismissal for the other. All round the hills are gendarmerie watch for smugglers. An official got Captain Hamilton to change a post from a place where he was assured no smugglers ever came. He did so. But he caused a watch to be set. A great bale of tobacco seized was addressed to the very official who had got the soldiers removed. The former came from Smyrna eight years ago. His salary was £13 a month. He has now retired, having saved £40,000 out of his salary.

Kavala has many poor. I went to the imaret or poor-house, where the needy, the halt, and the blind crawl three mornings a week to receive rice and soup. They cringe in the alleys for hours whilst the odour of food comes wafting to them from the kitchens. They eat gluttonously whilst a priest reads from the Koran, though nobody pays any attention. Eight thousand pounds' weight of rice comes every month from Egypt, a legacy from Mahomet Ali Pasha, who was born at Kavala in 1769. Mahomet Ali was a Napoleon in his way. He would have annihilated the Greeks as a nation at the beginning of the last century had not the European Powers stopped him. He looked to Egypt and the Nile basin as a region where he could become emperor. His invasion of Syria startled Sultan Mahmoud. Russia was willing to help in crushing him, but England and France


appeared on the scene and compelled terms to be arranged. Mahomet Ali became governor of Syria. He plotted; the Sultan tried to smash him, and was smashed himself. Mahomet Ali frightened Europe. So the Powers intervened again. He resigned all claims to Syria, but Turkey was compelled to yield to him and his heirs the pashalik of Egypt. Having given Turkey so much trouble, he now has a hodja to read daily prayer for the peace of his soul, whilst the poor of his native town eat the rice he willed to them.

Sprawling on a rocky eminence is the medrasa, or monastery, where are three hundred men preparing to be Moslem priests. They come poor at the age of fourteen or fifteen, and after a stay of thirty years are allowed to marry. The courtyard is shady with orange trees. The balconies are broad and cool. The thick-walled cells are simple and with little slats of windows looking out upon the bluest of seas.

I was an Infidel, "a dog of a Christian." I had stood for a casual moment at the monastery gate when a white-turbaned priest hastened forward. Would I enter and rest? I was pleased, and he seemed delighted. Other priests came. They showed me their cells; they gave me a cushion by one of their slat windows. They brought sweet-meats and coffee and cigarettes. I could only speak to them through my interpreter. They wanted to talk politics. There is no freedom of the Press in Turkey, and all that is learnt comes through official channels. They knew a revolution was breeding. They knew how great England was. They knew


England was friendly to Turkey. They knew it was England who kept Russia out of Constantinople; but now, why did not England compel Bulgaria to stop her menacing attitude? England was so rich! Why did not England give money to Turkey to buy arms to fight the Bulgarians? Why were the Bulgarians to be allowed to have Macedonia - the Turks recognise Macedonia is ultimately to be lost - when it is Turkish territory? And Russia was behind it all! Did I not think it was Allah who helped the Japanese to defeat the Russians so that Russia might be stayed in its designs on Turkey?

Maybe - possibly - one could not say! But, I added, as the Turks had obtained this land by the sword, might they not lose it by the sword; and was it not possible Allah was angry with Turkey and intended to help the Bulgarians? They shrugged their shoulders.

The city of Kavala is now the training-ground of Mahommedan priests. No Christian church is within its gates. Yet - such are the vagaries of time - when Paul and Silas came and converted the inhabitants to Christianity it was given the name of Christopolis. In the early Middle Ages Christopolis was important as a halting-place on the main road from Constantinople to Rome. It is the eastern key to Macedonia. The name Kavala was probably found for it by the Genoans, who made it a commercial centre. The fine position of the town attracted their attention in the thirteenth century, and they made an alliance with the people


against the Venetians. The Italians called the place Cavallo, from its likeness to a horseshoe. Kavala fell into the hands of the Turks in the fourteenth century. They immediately destroyed it, but Suliman the Magnificent afterwards rebuilt it and got Jews from Hungary to settle there. It was the growth of tobacco which attracted the Greeks who live in the outer town.

All over are evidences of the affection of Mahomet Ali for his birthplace. He rebuilt the fine aqueduct so that the whole of the town, inside the walls, has abundant water, whilst those outside the walls, Christians, are put to enormous expense in obtaining water which has been diverted from their part. Moreover, by his will he left a large sum to be used to lighten the taxes of those who live within the walls. Those outside, as a consequence, pay heavier taxes. This does not increase the friendly feeling between Moslems and Christians.

The export of tobacco is the staple industry. In the warehouses hundreds of girls were engaged sorting the leaves and packing. The season comes quickly. Labour is at a premium. But at other times of the year there is slackness and distress. Just before I was there Kavala had been indulging in the civilised luxury of a strike. The tobacco workers wanted more pay. It was refused, and they declined to go to the factories. Having nothing else to do, they proceeded to riot and smash factory windows. The strike was speedily settled by the authorities throwing the ringleaders into prison and keeping them there.

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