The Balkans from within,
Reginald Wyon

The insurgent provinces



WHEN I arrived in Adrianople one night about three o'clock, my intention was to stay a day or so in the ancient capital of the Turkish Empire, and then push on to Bulgaria; for I was weary of Turkey and the Turks, and this feeling was fervently reciprocated. My longing to breathe and move about once more without let or hindrance was great.

Next morning, however, I changed my mind, for the following reasons. I called on various consuls, and learnt from them that a drive to Kirk-Kilisse, an important and large town in the interior of the vilayet, was possible. The chief inducement, however, was that near the town lay the ruins of a recently burnt village, and, furthermore, the road ran right through another recently looted. Now, I had never seen such things in Turkey, though I had been sojourning for weeks in the midst of a country undergoing pacification, as understood by the Turks. The smoke of burning villages I had seen, and had spoken with hundreds of the miserable refugees who had crawled into the towns; but as for going a yard outside, that was out of the question.

Here was a chance to see what the Turks had hitherto only too successfully prevented my seeing, and I promptly told the consul under whose protection I stood that I was going. He looked grave and said


"Better call on the Vali first. If he refuses to give you permission, say you are going anyway. For you must have an escort."

"Not much," I answered. "He would only very politely shrug his shoulders, and tell me, of course, he could not stop me by force, and wish me a pleasant journey. The moment I left the room he would issue orders to every stable in the city, forbidding the loan of horses or a carriage to the accursed Englishman."

The Consul smiled, and remarked that I seemed to know the Turks.

"But there is the question of an escort," he went on. "The roads are very unsafe, and, besides, you will get stopped by the first official who finds your pass without a vise to leave this city. The odds are about ten to one against your reaching Kirk-Kilisse."

"I'll take them, Consul," I said, and he, seeing my mind made up, gave me the necessary information and introduction to the leading Christian inhabitants.

There was one thing in my favour. My identity was thinly veiled by the astuteness of a certain official, who for backsheesh misunderstood my name and profession, filling out the "Tescari" (inland passport) in the name of Lyon, and "advocat" instead of "correspondent." My real name and profession were much hated in Turkey; and I am firmly convinced, that in other towns where I was well known, the respective chiefs of police knew what I ate for breakfast every day.

Furthermore, my dragoman (interpreter) was clever, and attached to me. I will call him John, which is not his name, for obvious reasons. He had been with me for some time, and shared my dislike for the Turks from


personal and violent experience. Poor fellow, he was one of those most unhappy mortals, a Macedonian Christian.

When I gave him his orders, which were to hire a carriage, giving particular heed to the driver, to provide food for the ten hours' drive, and, above all, to mention to no one our destination or plans, he pulled a very wry face. He then remarked that one thing comforted him, and that was that we should never get there.

It was still dark next morning when we climbed into a closed carriage, and as the first streaks of dawn shed a grey light over the monotonous plain we were outside the city, and bowling along at a good pace. The driver was a heavy-jowled swarthy Greek, who had been cautiously, but only partially, taken into our confidence.

"Of course there will be no difficulty in getting to Kirk-Kilisse if your passes are in order," he said; " but I wonder greatly that his Excellency the Vali sent no escort."

We responded truthfully that no doubt his Excellency would have done so had we insisted, but we preferred to give as little trouble as possible.

We reached the half-way village without adventure, and here we made a long halt, consuming our provisions with a hearty appetite. A lot of soldiers came in to look at us whilst sitting in the miserable inn, and one was good enough to wish us a pleasant journey. The tax-gatherer also entered into conversation with us, and seemed immensely proud of the fact that he was a Jew. He was a fine stalwart fellow, and utterly unlike his race. After food, he bore us off elsewhere to coffee and cigarettes, telling us meanwhile of a great journey he had once made in Eastern Roumelia, a few hours distant from this spot.

Our adventure began in Jenidze, a large village, and


the last before reaching Kirk-Kilisse. A few weeks previously it had been looted by an Albanian regiment. Here we made another halt, and leaving the carriage outside a han full of soldiers, we started off on foot as nonchalantly as possible, with a camera, on a tour of inspection. A few houses were occupied by miserable-looking women; there were no men about except soldiers, but the majority of houses were empty, with smashed windows and doors. As for the interiors, they were swept bare of every article, and any exceptionally cumbersome piece of furniture had been wantonly hacked to pieces with axes. It was a pitiable sight. A young girl told us, after recovering her speech, which she had lost at being accosted by strangers, where the priest lived. He was not at home, but his womenfolk took us into the house, which had not been looted (the only one as it happened), and bade us wait a few minutes. In a room on the upper floor lay a man evidently grievously hurt, but he would not tell us what had happened. He just groaned and closed his eyes, covering his body hastily with a trembling hand. The priest soon came, a venerable man, with long white beard and hair. He took us into another room - the presence of the sick man stretched on the floor not being exhilarating - and gave us coffee.

John soon made him talk, after duly impressing my nationality upon him, and he gave us the full story of the Albanian raid.

The looters were a regiment being sent back to their homes for particularly atrocious misdeeds during the quelling of the recent revolt. Not that this would have mattered, but the men were mutinous, and constituted a danger to the Turks themselves. When they came upon the village, they promptly broke ranks and spread like



a cloud of locusts over the place, completely gutting it, and violating the women. Five unhappy victims were dying now, said the old priest. The church had been desecrated, and every article of value stolen, even to the chalice and the Mass vestments. Here the priest pointed to his ragged cassock.

"In this I have to celebrate. They even stole my new cassock, and this is all I have to wear. My assistant, a young priest, was struck on the head with a clubbed rifle and nearly killed."

"And the officers," we queried, " did they participate?"

"They stood outside in a group and waited till the men had finished. They -"

At this point a heavy tread was heard on the rickety stairs, and the ancient priest broke off, his face betraying a pitiful anxiety. He sprang tremblingly to his feet as two burly soldiers, with rifles, burst roughly into the tiny room.

"Our lieutenant orders your presence immediately. Follow us," said one in a gruff voice. (I purposely give the conversation direct. Of course it was translated by John at the time.)

John rose obediently, whilst the priest clasped and unclasped his thin hands, glancing fearfully at the rough soldiers.

Not being used to such peremptory commands, and much angered at the abjectness of my fellow-Christians, I remained seated.

A look of fury appeared on the face of one of the soldiers, a bearded man of savage aspect.

"Follow us at once," he shouted; but anger is sometimes contagious, and in my loudest voice I replied that the


officer could come to me. I also remarked that an Englishman was not at the beck and call of every petty Turkish officer. The man had hardly grasped my meaning, when he presented his rifle in a fit of ungovernable rage. What would have happened in another second I know not if the second soldier - evidently of more intelligence, and realizing that I was not the ordinary kind of Christian dog to be shot or beaten without a murmur - had not struck up the threatening rifle. John likewise sat upon me, for I felt much like going for the beggar, rifle or no rifle.

Then the second soldier spoke in a different tone. Those were his orders, he said, and as soldiers they had to carry them out. If we refused, what were they to do? They would only be punished.

There was logic in this, and reluctantly, and with as many insulting and high-flown remarks as I could think of on the spur of the moment, all faithfully and gleefully translated by John, who was getting some of his own back, I rose.

In the yard below there were many women congregated, evidently greatly alarmed, though surprise soon overcame them at seeing my truculent bearing - I was boiling with rage - and indifferent air. Once clear of the house, I quickly arranged my camera, and bidding my guard halt, which they did instinctively, I snapped them.

"Now, my friends, do you know what I have done?" I asked.

They said they thought I had photographed them, and both looked pleased at the compliment.

"Quite right," I replied," and that picture is going to Constantinople to the Sultan, that he may learn how Englishmen are treated by such scoundrels as you."


When they had done grovelling, I inquired if they thought I was going to walk through the village with them, that the people might think I was a common prisoner. At this they promptly made off, while we leisurely returned to the inn. Here we found the officer impatiently awaiting us, sitting cross-legged before the everlasting cup of coffee.

"Your passports," he thundered, without getting up; but John was primed. He knew what to say, and said it whilst I walked a little distance away and stood rudely with my back towards him, ordering the driver to put the horses to. It was a game of bluff, for I knew if I showed my passport, he would either send us back, or keep us here for further instructions. Meanwhile John expressed my views on the "outrage," hinted that I might be some unpleasantly high personage, and that I was going to make it hot for somebody. Then the two soldiers came back and told their tale of the Englishman's rage, who was not afraid of a pointed rifle. A minute later and the officer was on his feet respectfully begging my pardon. His explanation was a perfectly good one, and he was acting fully within his rights, but I did not unbend.

I said "Good," and got into the carriage, giving the signal to start. When we were fairly off to Kirk-Kilisse I congratulated John, who was sweating profusely.

Beyond a refractory horse, and the driver losing his temper and slashing both horses violently, whereby the steeds bolted over a field, missing a deep hole by the eighth of an inch, we had no excitement, till a police officer stopped us on the outskirts of Kirk-Kilisse. He demanded our passports. I refused, telling him to fetch them from the inn. He seemed surprised, but let us go.


Our arrival caused great excitement in the streets. The town is off the beaten track for tourists, and for months had been in a state of semi-siege. It was but a few weeks ago that the insurrection broke out with great violence, and since then the Turkish troops had ravaged the land all round the town. Hence strangers were exceedingly rare.

Scarcely had I installed myself in the fairly decent hotel, and had arranged two or three chairs in the form of a lounge on the balcony, when a police officer arrived. He demanded my presence at the chief of police and my passport.

The latter I gave him, and sent John to represent me.

In ten minutes John and another officer returned with a request that I should come immediately. John was quite excited, recapitulating with great fervour the chief's amazement at our arrival without the necessary permission.

"My worthy John," I replied, "you knew he would be excited. Kindly explain to your uniformed friend that I am tired, but if his chief wants to see me, I shall be only too glad to see him here."

The officer gasped. It was unheard of.

"But your passports are not vised; you ought not to be here at all," he expostulated.

"But we are here," I replied calmly. I was enjoying myself now. "And as for the passports, is this not part of the vilayet of Adrianople?"

The officer admitted the fact.

" Well," I said, lighting another cigarette, "your worthy chief will see that the passports are duly viséd for 'Adrianople.' "

"Yes, we have seen that, but that means the city of Adrianople, not the whole vliayet."



"It is good enough for us," I replied. "Tell him, John, to cease from worrying me."

The officer stood gazing in blank astonishment and then went away.

Another and higher official returned to the attack ere I had finished a most refreshing bottle of beer. Much of the above conversation was repeated, I blandly ignoring the fact that Kirk-Kilisse was not Adrianople, and expressing great sorrow at my ignorance of the necessary formalities in travelling. He begged me to come, for a few moments only, to his chief, but I pointed to my outstretched nether limbs, and complained of fatigue. He, too, gave it up with a gesture of helplessness, and a third and still higher official took up the game. He was invested with power to compromise.

Would I write, and sign a paper, declaring my intentions in coming here, and, furthermore, come to the chief of police in the morning, when my fatigue was overcome?

So I penned a few lines, stating that I was an eccentric Englishman travelling for my pleasure, affixed an illegible signature, and left the question of to-morrow's visit an open one.

Then I went to the French Consular Agent and had dinner, gleaning much interesting information.

Next morning I visited many Greeks, to whom I had introductions. About an hour's walk from the town was once a village named Raklitza. A short while ago it had been burnt, and I wanted to see it.

My new friends shook their heads.

"You are being closely watched, and the Turks will never let you leave the town," they said. "Besides, a


fort overlooks the destroyed village. It is full of soldiers, and the paths are infested with them, all bent on murder and plunder."

"These things we know," we replied, "but how to get there?"

And then we concocted a plan, for they were only too willing that I should see these horrors. A man was found to act as a guide. He was to precede us at a distance of a couple of hundred yards. We must watch him carefully, for under no consideration dare he turn round or show any consciousness of our proximity. Also we must walk quickly, get there and take our photos, for half an hour after our departure an alarm would be given to the Governor, who would send police after us and rescue us if we fell by any chance into the hands of the Turkish soldiers.

Half an hour later, a man passed us without a glance of recognition. He was our guide, and at a discreet distance we followed, keeping his fez just in sight. I shan't forget that walk for some time, and I am certain poor John won't. Nothing happened, it is true, but we were excited, because to an imaginative mind the way was fraught with dangerous possibilities.

I tried to keep up John's spirits by telling him that I would not desert him, but he knew the inside of a Turkish prison from bitter experience.

"I'll get you out in a few hours," I said cheerfully, as we plodded on through the scorching sun, across vast vineyards, the luscious grapes rotting on the stems. "They'll hardly dare run me in too."

But John would not be comforted.

"I have known men killed within five minutes of passing


the prison gates," he answered. "The first thing they do on getting a new prisoner is to beat him with clubbed rifles, and they never look where they are hitting."

We passed distressingly close to the fort, for we could see the figures of the sentries plainly silhouetted against the sky as they paced to and fro on the top of the earthworks.

In about an hour from starting we came in sight of the village, lying in a small depression, and partially surrounded by trees. Some of the outer walls were standing, and at a distance it presented a picture of rural peace. A few hundred yards away frowned the earthworks of the fort. Our guide vanished from our gaze, and we did not see him again till we were ready to start on the return journey.

Inside the village a very different picture was before our eyes: charred heaps of stones, bricks and timber lay scattered around; few walls were standing; still fewer houses remained whole; and the only living things in view were a few starving dogs, that whined pitifully for food. Not a stick had been left in some of the partially standing huts, and near by could be seen the half burnt skeletons of horses and cattle.

There, in the brilliant sunshine, lay the handiwork of the Turk, desolate and infinitely sad, one only of many hundred examples.

Just as we were preparing to go, an old man and woman emerged from one of the remaining houses, the windows of which we had noticed to be closely barred and boarded up. Very slowly the man, leaning heavily on the arm of his equally aged wife, tottered towards us, and at our feet he sank in a helpless heap.


I will not harrow my readers with his account of the horrors of that night when the Turks suddenly descended on the village; it is enough to say that with tears streaming down his furrowed face he told how only the day before soldiers had come again and robbed him of the little they had left him.

"And oh, sir, do not let them beat me again," he sobbed, baring his miserable body. "We have now nothing left, but do not let them beat me."

We drew back, I am afraid with many curses on the Turk, as we saw the ghastly bruises on his skeleton frame.

"Rifle butts?" asked John huskily, for the tears were running down his cheeks.

The old man moaned an acquiescence as he covered up those horrors.

A cough, apparently from our immediate neighbourhood, startled us into a remembrance of where we were, and John hastily packed up my camera, nodding towards the fort. A score of soldiers were moving quickly about on the ramparts, evidently watching us. As we walked briskly away from the village, keeping well under cover wherever possible, we noticed them marching towards us. Luckily, they made for the village, and, as it transpired, after searching for us, they followed us by another path. At any rate, we reached Kirk-Kilisse without meeting a soul, to the intense relief and astonishment of our Greek friends.

No alarm had been given to the Governor, because our departure was noticed almost immediately by those sent to watch us. They had at once guessed our destination, but, like the soldiers, chose the wrong path to follow (there were three paths leading to Raklitza it seems), and were



at their wits' end to keep the news of our successful trip from the knowledge of the authorities.

That afternoon we calmly called on the Governor to ask for the necessary permission to travel farther into the vilayet.

He was a most courteous gentleman, and the fact that he walked into the room accosting me by my right name proved that the telegraph had been busily at work. Of course further travel was out of the question, and the old gentleman laid great stress on his request that we should attempt to go nowhere. He little knew of our morning's walk! He was also visibly delighted to hear that possibly we might return to Adrianople on the morrow. After the usual coffee, we took an affectionate farewell, but, on leaving the Konak, I noticed a heap of old guns and matchlocks in the hall, which gendarmes were sorting and numbering under the guidance of an officer. I recognized in this varied selection of antiquities "rifles captured from insurgents," as they invariably figure in Turkish reports, and the possession of one of these curiosities is ground enough to burn a village. But I innocently approached the officer, asking, through the medium of John, if any were for sale.

"Why?" asked the officer, eyeing me suspiciously.

"Because I am a collector of old weapons," I replied with my blandest air.

With a grunt of suppressed rage the officer turned away.

If I had harboured any hopes of penetrating farther into this forsaken land I was rudely disillusioned that evening, as towards sundown we strolled to the higher part of the town. A numerous guard was stationed at the end of the town, and we politely asked the sentry if we might


ascend a little elevation just beyond, in order to obtain a view of the town and surrounding country. A hodja or priest, responded for him, and said, "Of course."

I returned to the guard-house and stood a few minutes watching a detachment of soldiers march by in the customary disorder of the Turkish army, and then turned on my heel to retrace my steps into the town.

"Dur!" was promptly thundered at me by the sentry, which, being interpreted, signifies "halt!" It is a word I had learnt by many previous experiences with Turkish sentries.

"What's that for?" I asked John, who, like me, had stopped dead on that ominous command.

John inquired, receiving a contemptuous glance from the soldier as answer.

"Oh, you be - lots of things," I remarked, and walked on.

" Dur!" and simultaneously I heard the rifle come down to "the ready."

"For God's sake, stand still," implored John, and I turned round to look down the muzzle of a Mauser.

We gazed at each other for some minutes, thinking thoughts, at least I was, and at last they got too many for me.

"John," I said, "ask that bounder with the rifle if he thinks I am going to stand here all night, and by whose orders he is holding me up."

The officer of the guard had said so.

"Well, tell the sentry to go to the officer for further orders, otherwise I'll walk away," I said. "Also you might add that two sentries were hanged recently in Monastir for shooting a consul."


The sentry eyed John up and down in a manner for which I could cheerfully have knocked him down, and then walked into the guard-room. Almost simultaneously the policeman told off to dog us arrived, greatly perturbed. A minute later the sentry reappeared and said, "Git." This laconic remark is not slang, by the way, it means in Arabic " Go."

Taking the lapel of my coat between my finger and thumb I made the Turkish gesture significant of the greatest contempt, and walked home. I admit that it was a foolish thing to do, but I was intensely angry.

Then I sent John to the Governor with the story and many threats, whereupon in due time his adjutant called on me to offer his master's apologies, and to inform me that the officer and sentry had been arrested. But I had transgressed the law, insomuch as I had actually stood still and watched a body of Turkish troops march by, an action forbidden to all Christians in this district. Of course I was not aware of this order, remarked the adjutant sweetly, and it did not apply to such infidels as I.

The evening I spent quietly in the hotel. Here an old gentleman accosted me.

"Sir," he said, "I do not know who you are, neither do I wish to, but it may interest you to know that I am a Greek, a well-to-do farmer, living a few hours distant from here. For ten days I have waited to return to my home, but dare not for fear of the soldiers, hundreds of whom have left their regiments, and waylay travellers, Turk, Greek or Bulgar, to murder and rob them. I can obtain neither an escort nor permission to travel, I may be here for weeks. Pardon the liberty I take in addressing you. Good night."


Next morning I returned to Adrianople, stopping only in Jenidze to visit the church, after sarcastically asking permission to do so from the officer in command. I do not wish to be arrested again, I remarked. He was very profuse in his reiterated apologies (poor man, he was soon afterwards cashiered for not having done his duty), and we went to church. Mass was being celebrated by a priest in ancient cassock, and with his head bound up in a cloth, but the old priest saw us immediately, and leaving his stall, showed us round the church. Everything of value had been taken, ornaments wrenched off, and the noly effigies mutilated.

At five p.m. we reached Adrianople once more, and found, of course, all the Turkish offices closed for the day. Now to leave the city in the early morning certain formalities had to be undergone, viz. the visé for our passports must be obtained, without which we should be stopped at the station. For myself I had but little fear, but in John's case this was very different, and I had no intention of leaving him behind to the tender mercies of the Turks.

So I dispatched John straight to the Vali with a message to the effect that I wished to leave in the early morning but would not do so without him. Johl tells that story very well, and with a keen appreciation of its humour.

The Vali had retired for the day, but on hearing whose servant John was, immediately received him, expressing great relief at our return from Kirk-Kilisse. He furthermore sat down and wrote out an order that both our passports were to be vised that evening at any cost. He also sent our servants to hunt up the necessary officials.

Needless to say, next day we took the dust from off our feet on the Bulgarian frontier.


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