The Balkans from within,
Reginald Wyon

The insurgent provinces


The plan of last summer's campaign is worthy of a little study, though in its seeming vagueness it may appear to the unobservant as somewhat meaningless.

If we remember, the real insurrection broke out in the vilayet of Monastir, at the beginning of August. It took the Turks completely by surprise, and before they could turn round two or three important towns were in the hands of the insurgents. The local forces proved inadequate; several small garrisons were annihilated, and the result was that thousands of reinforcements were hastily poured into the vilayet; the reserves were mobilized; Anatolian troops hastily re-called, all at immense expense and trouble. Before the month was half over some sixty thousand troops were concentrated in Monastir, to fight two or three thousand insurgents. Towards the end of the month a few handfuls of insurgents made a very small demonstration in the vilayet of Kossovo, which caused the instant mobilization of about fifty battalions of redifs.


Hearing of this overwhelming force, the European press united in predicting the extermination of the bands, and when skirmishes became less and less frequent it was declared that they had been destroyed.

Suddenly, just when affairs looked settled, the insurrection broke out afresh at the other end of European Turkey, and exactly four weeks after the Monastir outbreak the vilayet of Adrianople was ablaze.

Again Turkey found itself entirely unable to cope with the rising, and more redifs had to be mobilized, every available battalion in other parts of the country hastily dispatched, and more Anatolian regiments sent for.

Within two or three weeks Adrianople was full of troops, traffic had been dislocated, and another tremendous expenditure incurred.

Ere this second rising had been "quelled" lo, a third broke out in the Razlog kaza, right on the borders of Bulgaria, again exactly four weeks later and at the most distant available point. This time the Turks were even more hard put to it, for the band lay far away in the mountains, removed from a railway base and in the most difficult country of all.

Again regiments and batteries were dispatched, the railway was disorganized for days, and more money in hard cash expended.

This was just before the winter, and the final outbreak. With great cunning the insurgents chose this last locality, for they had their retreat assured them, and when they had enticed sufficient numbers of Turks into those mountain fastnesses and done as much damage as possible, they quietly retired across the border to comfortable winter quarters, leaving several thousand discontented and il-lclad soldiers to freeze for months in the snow.


Furthermore, by judicious dynamiting they kept many regiments engaged in guarding the entire length of the railways, which they never blew up and never meant to. Add to this, an ever-threatening war-cloud - though again Bulgaria never intended fighting last year - and Turkey had more than her hands full.

The whole campaign was so exquisitely arranged and organized that it ran like clock-work. The Turks never knew what would happen next, thanks to the carefully-worked Sofia press, which continually predicted a rising on an enormous scale in some other part of Macedonia, never intended and of course never begun!

Now the point of it all is that these hundreds of thousands of troops have devastated the country. Where a rising broke out the Turks went through that land like a cloud of locusts, thanks to an utterly incompetent commissariat. They played into the hands of the insurgents, for they massacred the peasants and destroyed the crops and ate up the land. Not only were the crops destroyed, but the sowing was prevented, so that this year (1904) famine will rage over three parts of the country.

In the coming outbreak the most vital problem which stares Turkey in the face is the provisioning of the troops. With her lack of organization this will prove an almost insurmountable difficulty, and by this time her finances must be well nigh crippled. On the other hand, during the winter months the insurgents will have replenished their secret stores in the mountains, for they are well equipped, even with bake ovens, and will be fully prepared to carry on a guerilla war as before.

Last year they were invariably well fed and had plenty of ammunition, all of which had been collected months before


and deposited in certain spots. It will be precisely the same this year, only with the odds considerably more in their favour.

Also I predict the wholesale blowing up of the railway; and, it may be mentioned here, that the destruction of a viaduct, say on the Monastir railway, will cause a delay of from four to six months ere it can be rebuilt. These are, however, matters for the future, and hardly belong to this chapter. I only wish to point out the iron discipline existing amongst these men, the strict adherence to plans and orders, and the rigid way in which they were carried out. How easy it would have been for a determined band to blow up one of these viaducts, or to have precipitated a rising before the appointed time! But no; doubtless the idea was to cripple Turkey financially as much as possible, by forcing her to mobilize every available man and to transport them frequently at great expense, whilst the bands were simultaneously devastating the different districts.

It may, I think, safely be said that seldom or never has an insurrection been more carefully planned, or, as far as we can judge, more successfully carried out.

It will be curious to see what part the Albanians will play in the coming renewal of hostilities. Last summer the clansmen of Dibriot swore to go into the mountains and exterminate every band, playing at their own game. Now, I believe the Albanians could do the insurgents a lot of harm, for they are likewise mountaineers, good shots, and of reputed courage. But - and it is an important "but" they didn't do it, and when I mentioned this contingency afterwards to a noted leader of the insurgents, he declared they never would. I begged to differ, but he remained convinced.


One thing however is certain, and that is that the Bulgars have lost their old dread of the Albanians as they have of the Turks, very much, I should suppose, as the Egyptians have ceased to fear the dervishes.

A striking instance of this occurred last September which very much opened the eyes of all who know the Bulgars. In the Kaza of Kastoria there was a famous band led by one Tchakaraloff, an ex-bandit chieftain, and perhaps the most savage of all the insurgent leaders in the field last year. The Turks had played havoc in that Kaza, and no less than twenty-three Bulgar villages were partially or entirely destroyed, with massacres in nearly every instance. This band, however, discovered that the Albanians of Kolonia, a district some distance away across the mountains, had assisted the Turkish troops on many occasions. Tchakaraloff immediately marched his band, only a few hundred strong, across the Pass into the midst of the Albanians, looted and burnt three villages, and carried off some fifty women as hostages for the return of a number of Bulgarian women who had been kidnapped. This most daring feat occurred whilst I was in Salonica, and the result was the sudden exit of nearly all the kavasses of the consulates who were from that district. However, be it stated, Tchakaraloff murdered no one in cold blood, as the Albanians themselves admitted.

The lesson learnt will not be without considerable after-effect.

When I arrived in Bulgaria and saw for the first time the insurgents in the flesh, I was more surprised than ever. A more workmanlike lot of men I have seldom seen - young, bearded, and bronzed. Their uniform is plain even to ugliness, but thoroughly serviceable. No buttons show, and the equipment is of the simplest. Some of the bands, it is



true, are picturesquely attired in national costume, but I gather that these men have joined across the border and will doubtless be re-equipped before they cross again.

It was soon after I had arrived in Sofia that I heard of a band arrested and disarmed by the Bulgarian gendarmerie as they re-entered Bulgaria, and conducted under escort to the capital. Here they were set free and promenaded the town. Many of them wore Turkish trophies, and all were merry, hearty fellows, somewhat inclined to rowdyism at night, it is true, but that is excusable.

The next batch I saw was when on my way to Koestendil, a border town. I had travelled down by train as far as Radomir, and it chanced that the Minister of Justice was on board, in a royal saloon carriage. When he heard that I was on the train he had me introduced, and I travelled most luxuriously in the saloon, drinking coffee and smoking excellent cigarettes in truly Oriental fashion.

At Radomir we took carriages - it is very pleasant travelling in carriages in Bulgaria; four horses are yoked abreast and go at a tremendous pace - and about halfway to Koestendil we met a band of about forty men, disarmed and under escort of two gendarmes. They were resting at a wayside han.

The leader was an enormously fat man, celebrated as a national poet I was given to understand, but how he had managed to keep his corporation after two months' hard campaigning across the border passed my comprehension. Still, there he was, all joviality and health, an indisputable testimony of the insurgents' commissariat arrangements.

We were closely following the Minister's carriage, which stopped in the midst of the band, and his Excelency jumped out and handed the fat leader thirty francs in paper money.


I was amused at the incident, which signified a great deal.

I also stopped for photographic purposes, though I had to wait some time till the delighted band and their guards emerged once more from the han, whither they had promptly disappeared, presumably to drink the Minister's health.

At first he of the corporation refused to be "snapped," but a little persuasion soon brought him up to the camera and to a state of communicativeness.

With his band, he told me, had been a woman, who bore the strain as well, or even better than any of the men. As I afterwards ascertained, this is by no means a rare occurrence, and many women are sworn in as insurgents, fighting shoulder to shoulder with their husbands or brothers. Photographs were shown me fully proving this; besides, I have the testimony of many European eye-witnesses.

My fellow travellers also owe a debt of deep gratitude to the insurgents; for when we were journeying across the Rilo mountains, a band undoubtedly saved our lives.

At the end of that terrible day (see "In the Rilo Mountains") we had a jolly evening in their midst, which reminded me of many similar experiences over log fires in the huts of the Montenegrins and Albanians.

I was unlucky in not meeting any of the great leaders in Bulgaria. General Tzontcheff, the greatest and most chivalrous of them all, was "across the border," though I met him afterwards in Vienna; Yankoff, Boris Sarafoff, and all the rest of them, likewise. They were busy tidying up for the winter, so to speak. I am, however, looking forward keenly to the spring, when I trust to see them at work.

Dr. Tatartcheff, their "business manager," I often talked with in Sofia, and a great improvement he is to the theatrical and bombastic Professor Michaelowski, who has at last



retired. He is a man of few words, but what he says is to the point. I owe him thanks for a letter of introduction to all good Macedonians, which secured me everywhere a warm reception.

Whoever has had to do with these men has liked and admired them, with one notable exception, for their honesty, cheeriness, and courage.

All through the winter they have been steadily working or the spring. Many of the hardiest bands are keeping the ball rolling and are slowly but systematically destroying the Turkish border blockhouses. This keeps a large force of Turks in the field, and is causing these southerners great privations.

As to their plans for the spring I could say much, but it would be obviously unfair to do so. Suffice it to say that we shall be considerably startled, though, as in the best of organizations, there is one weak point, viz., dissension in their midst. This has handicapped them before and may do so again, though I fervently trust that before the spring these differences will have been patched up.

There is one man who is a grave danger to the cause, who has done more to bring it evil repute than any one else, and that man is Boris Sarafoff, the hero of the outside world.

Again I will refrain, in the interests of the cause, from s aying more.

In conclusion I would strive to answer some of the chief arguments used by the enemies of the insurgents. "The Balance of Criminality" theory is, for instance, absolutely absurd, as I have striven to prove all along. That many innocent people suffer untold misery through the activity of the bands is, alas! only too true, and it may be that they are held to be the sacrifice on the Altar of Freedom. But it


is a case of the sacrifice of a few for the benefit of many - a hard-hearted policy, and inevitable in a war of this kind. It was the massacres of 1876 which secured Bulgaria her freedom, and it was the same in Servia in 1804. And we of Western Europe are unhappily responsible, for it is only a horrible massacre that awakens our interest in a miserable and down-trodden race. Without our interest they can achieve nothing.

It has also been stated that the Macedonian peasants themselves do not wish for a change, that they curse the inroads of the bands who persecute them, extort money, and commit I don't know how many more crimes.

As a proof of this it is pointed out that the insurrection is never general. Of course not; it is not meant to be. Had the insurgents arms and ammunition enough, they could put one hundred thousand men in the field tomorrow. Furthermore, if they had the power to do so, they would hesitate to alter the present state of affairs. A band of forty men, or even say two hundred, are far more mobile than an unwieldy force of thousands. Besides, there is the provisioning difficulty, an insurmountable one in the barren mountains. I know as a fact that thousands of peasants were sent back to their villages last summer, as their presence only embarrassed the bands.

But the bands can never be weakened. Should they lose a dozen men they can pick their recruits from a hundred able-bodied men, and therefore to talk of the destruction of a band is ridiculous. The bands too, can always keep themselves well armed, for in every other engagement with the Turks they capture rifles and ammunition.

The other accusations are of distinctly Greek origin.


Money is the sinew of war and must be obtained, but no man is taxed beyond his means, not even a Greek, and the methods employed to obtain the money is as heaven to hell when compared with the Turkish system of annual taxation.

In the case of a war between Bulgaria and Turkey we shall very soon see what the Macedo-Bulgar peasant will do; and it is to this end that they are being armed, or are already. The Turks never find the arms, it is true, in spite of the searches when torture is freely applied. I was in Monastir when a house-to-house search was made in the Bulgarian quarter, and a cordon of troops drawn round it, preventing the ingress and egress of every one for two days. Not even a matchlock was found. I spoke of the matter afterwards to a Bulgarian.

"Of course we are all armed," he said, "as the Turks will find out one day to their cost. But the time is not yet come."

"But how," I objected, "can you do it when you can be searched at any moment?"

"Do you think that our preparations are so clumsily made that a Turk could find a rifle?" he answered scornfully." We have rifles hidden where no one can find them, not even if they pull the house down. Remember," he added impressively, "this work has been going on for years, and when did the Turks find it out? Not till we struck. And torture has never forced us to reveal a word."

These remarks were made, by the way, by a non-combatant, a man who had been beggared by the insurrection and who had suffered imprisonment.

I think it is characteristic enough to answer the aforesaid accusations.


Finally, be it said that the insurgents give printed receipts for every farthing they collect, payable on the accomplishment of their aims.

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