Pictures from the Balkans
Fraser, John Foster


The Cut-throat Part of Europe - Murder a Commonplace - Massacres by the Turks - Bursts of Ferocity and Bursts of Philanthropy - Outrages by Greek and Bulgarian "Bands" - The Risings of 1903 - Audacity of the Komitajis - Relations between the Bulgarian and Turkish Governments

THE town of Monastir, capital of the vilayet of Monastir, lies in Macedonia just about half-way between Bulgarian and Greek territory. North, the majority of the Macedonians are Bulgar; south, the majority are Hellenes. The villages meet, cross, and mix in the Monastir vilayet. The reason, therefore, we hear so much about disturbances at Monastir is not because the Turks there are more wicked than Turks elsewhere, but because there is a persistent feud between Greek and Bulgarian political religionists.

A winding railway line runs from Salonika to Monastir. There is one train a day, and it crawls leisurely through a picturesque land. All the little stations are pretty. Each has its flower garden, and each station house is trailed with gorgeous creepers. There is plenty of fruit to be bought; lads sell jars filled with chilled water. There are Turks and Greeks and Bulgarians, all merry, greeting friends, seeing friends away - quite a happy country scene. Yet this is the cut-throat part of Europe!


Monastir is an undistinguished, motley sort of town of some 60,000 inhabitants, 14,000 of them Greek, 10,000 of them Bulgarian, four or five thousand Albanian, two or three thousand Jew, and the rest Turk.

There is a sufficient variety in costume - but after a month or two the jostling of differently clad races ceases to attract the eye. Monastir is an ordinary Turkish European town, even to the attempt at a garden where the richer Turks and Bulgars and Greeks come and sit at little tables and drink beer and listen to a string band composed of girls from Vienna.

Everybody is jolly. Murder is so commonplace that it arouses no shudder. In the night there is the little bark of a pistol, a shriek, a clatter of feet. "Hello! somebody killed!" That is all.

But though geniality reigns, you notice things which make you think. Half the population consists of Turkish soldiers. Night and day they are about. On all the neighbouring hills you see military encampments. A caravan of mules laden with maize comes in from the country, and each four mules are convoyed by a soldier with a gun ready.

Monastir goes about its business. But it stands on the fringe of a fearful massacre. Bulgarians are in a minority, and are avoided by Greeks and Jews. In the cafés plots are hatched. A man whispers in your ear. Last night two Bulgarians were stabbed to death! Hush! they deserved it. Had not the Bulgarians put poison into the communion wine at the Greek church?


One murder a day is about the average. Sometimes all is quiet for a week. Then half a dozen men are wiped out and the average is maintained. The Greeks have warned the Bulgarian residents in Monastir that for every Patriarchist murdered by the "bands" in the country they will murder two Bulgarians in the town.

Sarafoff, the insurgent Bulgarian leader, is pressing the peasants so hard for contributions that they are forced to sell their cattle at ten to fifteen shillings a head in order to satisfy him. At Prilip, which I visited, a Moslem youth returning from his farm with his mother was murdered by Bulgarians; his mother was impaled alive and afterwards mutilated in the most barbarous manner.

The number of Turkish troops in Macedonia is something like 150,000. This means that practically the whole male population in several parts of Turkey has been forced to leave its home and its ordinary work to take part in the concentration in these provinces. Such a state of affairs produces the most terrible misery.

At the village of Moghila, near Monastir, after the destruction of a "band," both Bashi-Bazouks and soldiers proceeded to strip the dead of their outer garments, footgear, and arms, and lacerated the corpses with knives and bayonets. Almost every house in the vicinity was sacked. The Turks carried off whatever suited them, and cut into ribbons the new sheepskin coats and other garments they could not take away. Corn and other foodstuffs were scattered on the ground and burned. Finally


about a dozen cottages were set on fire with petroleum.

The village of Smyrdesh was wholly destroyed by the Turks on the pretext that the inhabitants had provided the Komitajis with means of subsistence. Out of a population of 1,200, 140 men, women, and children of the village were killed, and out of 286 houses only twenty or twenty-five were left standing. The booty carried off was large, comprising all kinds of stores and household goods, as well as cattle, horses, and the sacred vessels in the church. A family of seven persons was massacred, and the corpses were piled one atop of another in the fireplace.

In some villages in the Monastir district the Bulgarian population has seriously contemplated a change of religion as the only means of securing comparative immunity from the Turk's oppression - because the Turk is, for the time being, favourable to the Greeks. On the other hand, a sister of an Orthodox (Greek) priest, a woman of seventy, was tortured by a Bulgarian Komitaji, who cut off pieces from her feet and stuffed them into her mouth until she died. She was suspected of having given information to the authorities of Sarafoff's presence in Smyrdesh.

Mr. James McGregor, late British Consul at Monastir, reported that in the rising of 1903 the Turkish troops, consisting of eleven battalions, and accompanied by several hundred Bashi-Bazouks, fought with about 400 insurgents, and were let loose on the village of Smilevo, which they sacked and burned,


leaving only four houses standing out of 500. More than 2,000 of the inhabitants sought refuge in the forests, and of those who remained in the village twenty-one elderly men and sixty or seventy women and children were cut to pieces, and forty young women were carried off to Mussulman villages, where they were kept for a week.

The dreadful autumn of 1903, when the Bulgarian insurrection broke out in Macedonia, has left deep traces. Then the insurgent forces were computed at 32,000 men, armed and drilled. Bridges were blown up and bombs thrown. Krushevo was occupied by insurgents, against whom the Turks and Bashi-Bazouks came in force. After defeating them the troops entered the town, massacred seventy-seven people, burnt and pillaged 570 shops and houses; hundreds of people were ill-treated and beaten and women were violated. Of course, the Turks caught none of the insurgents, who decamped from one side of the town as the Turks entered at the other. The pillage and destruction continued four days. The Bulgarian quarter was spared, owing, it is said, to bribes given to the Turkish soldiers. The rest of the inhabitants, mostly Greco-Vlachs, were ruined, and were naturally incensed at the Bulgarians escaping the general destruction. It was suspected by the Greeks that the Turkish commander was in league with the insurgents, and had of set purpose attacked the Greek inhabitants. The mere investigator cannot say. Things are so cross-grained in Macedonia


Six hundred women and children from villages close to Monastir, who arrived in a deplorable condition, were not allowed by the authorities to enter the town. After the representations of the English Consul, Hilmi Pasha provided them with bread and sent them to a neighbouring village, and finally to their own villages. The local authorities of Kastoria, where the troops made a clean sweep, were ordered to provide timber for the reconstruction of the ruined houses. A mill was built in each village at public expense, assistance was to be given in the harvesting of the crops, all stolen live stock to be restored and paid for, and the taxes for the current year to be remitted. Thus the Turkish authorities alternate between bursts of ferocity and bursts of philanthropy.

The sum distributed by the Porte for the restoration of the destroyed villages - of which so much was made by the Turkish Government - amounted to about fifteen shillings per family. The villagers in many cases refused it, as they were unable to undertake the obligation to rebuild with such utterly inadequate means. Later, Mr. McGregor reported that, in some parts of the Monastir Vilayet at any rate, the Turkish Commission, although slow and face to face with many difficulties, seemed to be honestly endeavouring to carry on its task in the most satisfactory way.

The whole country is a complicated mass of disorder. That the Turks are guilty of savage excess in the "punishments" is true. But it is difficult whilst criticising them to feel much sympathy for


our "brother Christians." In one village near Monastir a Greek "band" fell upon a Bulgarian house in which a wedding was being celebrated, and killed, in the space of twenty minutes or so, thirteen men and women, and wounded five or six others. Turkish officials were only despatched to the spot on the following day, although there was a military post within earshot. A few days later a Bulgarian " band" murdered a number of Patriarchists out of revenge.

Then I heard of the case in which a family of four Greeks, two of them women, were murdered by a Bulgar "band," which compelled another member of the family to take a letter to the Kaimakam (local Governor) statilng he was the author of the four murders. A "band" at Prilip, under the leadership of an amnestied political prisoner, killed a notable of that town, wrenched out his nails, put out his eyes, and finally decapitated him. The same day a rich man of the place was cruelly maltreated, while his old mother was outraged and then hanged.

What is done by the Turkish troops is the result of instructions from Constantinople. But when there is an endeavour to reach a conclusion whether what is done by the Greek and Bulgarian "bands" is with the sympathy, active or passive, of the Governments at Athens and Sofia, one is stepping on very delicate ground. As to Greece, my own opinion is that the " bands" are not only winked at by the Greek Government, but are actually encouraged by the Turkish Government. At present there is no


quarrel between Turkey and Greece, and it is "playing the Turks' game" for the Greek "bands" to kill Bulgarians. As to the Bulgarian Government, it is, officially, anxious to check the incursions of "bands" into Turkish territory. But so strong is public feeling in Bulgaria in support of the revolutionary movement, so ardent to do all that is possible to free the Bulgarian Macedonians from their oppressors, so anxious indeed for Bulgaria to cross swords with Turkey in war, that the position of the Government at Sofia cannot be otherwise than compromising.

It was thought that when Europe intervened to force Turkey on to the path of reform, the Sofia Government would call off the revolutionists. Note what Boris Sarafoff, the insurgent leader, writes: "You ask me whether this was not the moment to abandon our revolutionary activity, now that Europe has taken up the cause of the Macedonians. We reply that we should regard ourselves as traitors to our unhappy country were we to discontinue our revolutionary propaganda before we have convinced ourselves that our cause has appreciably benefited by the intervention of Europe... Europe has repeatedly intervened diplomatically in Turkey.. but each time the result has been not reforms, but a general massacre of the Christians... We demand the reforms which the Treaty of Berlin guaranteed to us. Turkey will not grant them to us without the armed intervention of Europe. It is for this reason that we have taken up arms." The revolutionaries want war.


Even the Turks have thought war the only solution. After the risings of 1903 in the Monastir and Adrianople Vilayets, Mr. Fontana, the British Vice-Consul at Uskup, wrote: "The common theme of conversation in Turkish cafés and meeting places among both officers and civilians is the unbearable state of things as at present existing; and a sentiment of concentrated ill-will towards Christians in general is gradually making itself felt... Officers and men are sick and tired of their present weary incertitude.. and they say that war, at whatever cost, would be infinitely preferable to the existing deadlock. Officers and upper-class civilians inscribed as Ilavé make no secret of their determination, in case of war with Bulgaria, to burn, on the march to the frontier, every Bulgarian village they pass.. and to destroy every town and hamlet as far as Sofia."

During the insurrection the Porte were constantly accusing the Bulgarian Government of fomenting and encouraging the rebellion, in spite of their reiterated and categorical repudiation of having done so. There can be no doubt that Bulgaria and Turkey were within an ace of war. Troops were massed by both nations on the frontier, the Turkish being a very large force. As far as can be ascertained, the Bulgarian Government was quite sincere in its denial of having given encouragement to the insurgents, and certainly took far greater precautions on that side of the frontier than the Turks did on theirs to prevent "bands" or contraband of war being smuggled across. After


repeated representations the Porte at length consented to withdraw their forces on condition that Bulgaria disbanded the reservists who had been called out, in the proportion of one Bulgarian regiment to two Turkish regiments.

After the repression of the Macedonian insurrection Sarafoff went to Sofia, where he received an enthusiastic reception from an immense crowd. It might have been thought that the Bulgarian Government would have found means to prevent this demonstration, even if only for the sake of appearances. The Government refused to take any action against the other insurgent leaders who took refuge in Bulgaria, on the ground that they had committed no offence in that country, and, therefore, unless the Ottoman Commissioner lodged a formal complaint which would be heard in a court of law, and must be supported by evidence - which, of course, could not be produced - it had no grounds for proceeding against them.

The audacity of the Komitaji is illustrated by the fact that a revolutionary theatrical troupe arrived at Philippopolis, and gave out that the performances were to represent revolutionary scenes in Macedonia and the Adrianople district, and that the proceeds were to be devoted to "an even yet more active struggle against our persecutor and eneniy, the Sultan." The performances were not interfered with by the police, as the Prefect thought it inadvisable to prohibit them lest the revolutionaries of the troupe should spend their time in more violent pursuits, to the detriment of public order!


Friction has existed between the Turkish and Bulgarian Governments. General Petroff has said on behalf of the Bulgarian Government that "so far as Bulgaria was concerned there was complete calm; but he could not guarantee how long this would last if the Ottoman Government continued its present policy of provocation. The vexatious treatment of Bulgarian merchandise in Turkey, the refusal of visas to Bulgarian passports, the system of persecution in districts like Seres, where no outbreak had occurred, and the support afforded to the Patriarchists in their attempts to force the Exarchists to join their Church, were part and parcel of a policy undertaken for the purpose of pushing matters to a crisis."

During 1905 the official relationship between the Porte and Sofia became diplomatically "correct." In 1904 an Agreement had been signed between Bulgaria and Turkey, the conditions of which paved the way for a distinct improvement in the relations between the suzerain and vassal States. Sir George Buchanan, the British Agent at Sofia, who is decidedly friendly to Bulgaria, says: "The Agreement, it is generally recognised, has raised the prestige of the Government both at home and abroad, and has placed Bulgaria in a more advantageous position than that of any other Balkan State with regard to the Macedonian question... The journals of the National and Tsankovist parties speak, on the contrary, of the Agreement as a shameful surrender, from which neither the Bulgarians nor the Macedonians will reap any benefit. It is, they assert, contrary to the national


aspirations, and imposes on the Principality obligations which it can never fulfil [re the punishment and deterral of revolutionary bands], and which will consequently be a fruitful source of future conflicts with Turkey." Sir Nicholas O'Conor, British Ambassador at Constantinople, says: "Several hundred prisoners have been released in the Adrianople vilayet... As to the wisdom of releasing at the same moment so many persons connected with the revolutionary movements, doubts may well be entertained, especially after the experiences of February, 1903; but, at all events, the Turkish Government has fearlessly accepted the only condition that rendered an agreement with Bulgaria possible at this moment." Higher Turkish officials in Monastir professed great satisfaction with the conclusion of the Convention, but it only intensified the chronic discontent prevalent among the Mussulman masses.

Bulgaria, while insisting she has performed her part of the bargain, is grumbling about the procedure of the Porte. General Petroff says the reforms are still non-existent, and all, therefore, Bulgaria can do is, by maintaining a correct attitude and by faithfully fulfilling her obligations under the Turco-Bulgarian Agreement, to deprive the Porte of every pretext for shifting the responsibility for the non-execution of the reforms from its own shoulders to those of the Bulgarian Government.

It has been stated by the Turkish authorities that Sarafoff caused a large quantity of fezzes to be introduced, viá Sofia, into European Turkey, to-


gether with costumes resembling Turkish uniforms, made in Bulgaria, in the hope that thereby the crimes of the Bulgarian "bands" would be attributed to Turkish soldiers, and also with the view of deceiving Turkish troops when the "bands" were pursued by them.

All of which goes to prove that discontent in the Balkans, though diplomatically cloaked over, is liable to burst forth again at any moment.

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