The Balkans from within,
Reginald Wyon

The insurgent provinces

Reminiscences. I

THE one and only redeeming feature of railway travelling in European Turkey is the fact that practically all the employes are Europeans. This does much to mitigate the anxiety of a nervous traveller who may feel forlorn amongst the Mussulmans. The stationmaster is probably a genial Swiss, the bluff engine-driver hails from the Styrian mountains, while the conductor who punches your ticket is a light-hearted Italian from the Levant. Furthermore, they are all very communicative, sometimes distressingly so for the aforesaid nervous traveller. The stationmaster will conduct him with much glee to the scene of the last dynamite outrage and dilate on the awful effects of the explosion whilst standing on the shattered rafters of the ruined house. As the train creeps over a spidery viaduct the conductor will tell of the mine providentially discovered just in the nick of time under one of these very arches the day before yesterday; and the engine-driver of a passing train, leaning out of his cab, cheerfully sings out to his brother driver how at kilometre 96 an Albanian regiment is amusing itself at the expense of the adjacent village.

However, these things sound much worse at a distance than when actually experienced. That is always the way with danger. It is the hour before the fight which is the worst, and so it is with the traveller to Macedonia who has


been primed up with the horrors of Turkey in the neighbouring countries. The ignorance displayed by the inhabitants of Sofia or Belgrade is most annoying to the unsophisticated stranger. The writer himself was delayed four days at Belgrade because he was told at the Foreign Office that the passenger service in Macedonia was suspended owing to the railway having been blown up in several places. Other correspondents left their cameras, maps, and other necessaries carefully behind, because they had been primed that all such articles would assuredly be confiscated on the Turkish border. In reality, only certain books and arms of any kind are ruthlessly confiscated; and this reminds me of a certain jovial colleague of Irish descent who took with him, to beguile the weary journey, a book on the downfall of Turkey in Europe, with an appropriate picture on the cover. It very nearly led to his arrest and summary expulsion; but in this case there was certainly something to be said for the Turkish side.

As for me, my entry into Turkey was no more annoying than the ordinary Customs examination on the borders to any European country, though a fellow-passenger fared very differently. I left Belgrade one morning early, armed with a passport vised to Monastir, which I had luckily extracted from the Turkish Minister to Servia, and after a monotonous wait of five hours in that most desolate of towns, Nish, and a still more trying night journey to Ristovac, the Servian frontier, I arrived at Zibeftche at five in the morning. Having passed the Rubicon in the shape of a bridge guarded by a ragged Turkish sentry, I was bundled out on the neat platform - for all the Oriental railway-stations are models of neatness and cleanliness - and an official captured my passport. Here it was that my sole


civilized companion got into trouble. He was an American, full of ideas of independence and freedom, to whom a consul had once, very unadvisedly, said that he should under no circumstances yield up his passport. Accordingly, he refused to do so, flaunting it instead in the face of the still polite Turk, and jeering at me for my weakness. I endeavoured to dissuade him from his resolve, and told him that I had been in Turkey before, when the control was nothing in comparison to what it must be now, while the official fetched the stationmaster. The latter was a Swiss, but he only shrugged his shoulders when the American blatantly told him that he was an American citizen, and as such meant to stand no nonsense.

"You will have to give up your passport all the same; you are in Turkey now," remarked the stationmaster, and seeing me smiling, invited me to a cup of coffee.

"Lest worse things befall," he added to me with a wink; and indeed at that moment two files of soldiers, with fixed bayonets, were approaching, and stolidly surrounded the now rabid American.

We met again in the little Customs-house shed, where I found him raging more than ever, for the examining official had turned out all his belongings on the counter and was ransacking them to his heart's content.

"Not locked up?" I remarked genially, for he was a most objectionable man, while I unstrapped my bags.

"No; I gave 'em the darned thing, after all, but look at the muck this brute is making of my traps," he roared, bursting with indignation as the official captured a packet of tobacco.

"It's Turkish," he yelled to the imperturbable Turk, who at once turned to me, and after a casual glance at my


belongings, passed them with a wave of the hand. He evidently thought the other giaour more interesting, and I left him extorting a fine of several medjidieh for undeclared contraband tobacco.

My first impression of the Turk was decidedly good. It was several days later, after a sojourn in Uesküb, that I met my companion in a Salonica hotel, waiting for a steamer to convey him to Egypt. He was still sore at his outrageous treatment, and breathed threats of consular action. He told me that on his arrival at Salonica on the eve of that fateful morning he had been met by an escort of gendarmerie and haled before the chief of police. His behaviour had so excited the suspicions of the Turks that they had somewhat foolishly held him to be a Bulgarian spy. However, he succeeded in proving his identity and harmlessness, and was dismissed with the customary apologies.

At Zibeftche I was soon brought face to face with the actuality of the revolution. About Ioo yards from the station lay the ruins of a goods-shed. A few days previously, contrary to custom, a heavy packing-case, addressed to a merchant at Uesküb had been unloaded from the train and placed in this shed, pending telegraphic instructions from the addressee. In any case it would have been forwarded next day to Uesküb. Meanwhile, however, at the exact time the original train arrived at Uesküb the case blew up with a terrific report, demolishing the shed and hurling fragments of iron great distances, though without loss of life. The case weighed 45 kilogrammes, so some idea of the force of the explosion may be gathered.

Had the case been forwarded as usual the loss of life would have been terrible, for crowds of people invariably await the arrival of every train. Furthermore, the Maho-





metan element at Uesküb at the time was in a state of rabid fanaticism, meeting daily in the mosques, and the smallest outrage would have been the signal for a general massacre. The Europeans in Turkey had many providential escapes last summer, but this was undoubtedly the greatest.

There is a remarkably true saying to the effect that a good or lucky beginning means a bad ending, and vice versa.

Certainly this was my experience with the Turkish authorities. My entry into Turkey was the sole pleasant experience in this respect. Everywhere else I had to undergo rigid examinations and endless formalities. At Salonica I arrived late one night, and was, as usual, cross-questioned by the station police as to where I had come from - which they very well knew, for they spoke to me by name and told me what paper I was representing - where I was going to, how long I intended staying, and which hotel I would patronize. The latter question was very unnecessary, for an official accompanied me in the cab, rang the hotel bell, and waited outside till I had actually entered. The Turks take no risks in this respect. At Florina, near Monastir, and at Adrianople, I broke bounds, so to speak, and the consternation and helplessness of the authorities was highly amusing. But I have dealt with these episodes elsewhere. To travel anywhere in Turkey itself an extra inland pass or Tescari is necessary, and even if the traveller is going only to the next station it must be vised and stamped and paid for before he may leave the place. The annoyances which arise from this rule are endless, and for a correspondent, who has often to move quickly, and to whom the missing of the daily train means a delay of twenty-four hours, particularly exasperating.

At Serres, whither I once journeyed from Salonica, I was


kept herded with a crowd of evil-smelling peasants in a tiny room over an hour, though my pass was in order, whilst an exhaustive examination was made of my hand-bag. Presumably the idea was to find dynamite concealed in the lining thereof. Still, these things must be borne with; there is no escape, for sentries with fixed bayonets guard every exit, and a ruder man than a Turkish soldier on guard is hard to find. They waste no words, but what they do say is accompanied by such an insulting glance that the average Englishman who receives it fairly boils with helpless rage.

I remember an incident of this kind at Monastir. There was a path I often used to cross the railway to enter the station and avoid a long detour. One day, for some reason or other, a Turkish sentry was posted there. He was squatting on his haunches, and in fact I did not even think he was on guard. He let me get within a few yards of him, when he rapped out that hated "Dur." Thinking he meant merely to insult me, I walked on. Without rising he lifted his rifle and snarled "Dur" once more. My man expostulated; but the only answer was that no one might pass, and he would shoot any one that tried to. Now, a man cannot argue with a pointed rifle a few yards away, so I yelled for the stationmaster, who ultimately came, and I continued my walk with very ruffled feelings. Next day the sentry was removed. But that is always so in Turkey.

Fortunately, bluff will do much to help a traveller in Turkey. The man who asks permission to do things or see them will find his efforts in vain. It is a golden rule to do what you want first and ask afterwards. The Turks object very strongly to photography though, as far as I know, there is no actual law forbidding it. At Uesküb I was once


"snapping" a regiment of particularly mutinous Albanians entraining at the station. I had secured three or four pictures when the commanding officer noticed me and sent his adjutant to request me to desist. At that moment a particularly good picture struck me, and politely asking the officer to repeat the remark, I snapped the scene.

"You have taken it, after all," exclaimed the officer angrily in French, and repeated the order.

After that I changed my position and got down to the other end of the platform and a long line of empty wagons. Suddenly a mob of soldiers made a dash for the empty trucks, and came sweeping down the platform like an avalanche. Officers were carried along in that seething mob, and amongst others the Commandant himself, struggling violently to extricate himself. It was too good a chance to be lost, and I hastily "took" the mad scene. The rage of the Commandant was too ludicrous for words - he was a big, corpulent man with a very red nose. When he had extricated himself he approached me gesticulating violently, and halting within a few paces he took off his fez and dashed it on the ground. After he had placed a file of soldiers, who solemnly fixed bayonets, immediately in front of me, and where I moved they moved also.

Another amusing instance I remember was at Monastir, where Bakhtiar Pacha's brigades were encamped after their return from massacring and village burning. I went into the camp - they were under canvas - and was snapping merrily away when an officer approached me and asked me if I was taking a photograph.

I replied, "No; but I would like to." At the moment I was not taking photographs. "May I go right amongst the tents and the soldiers?"


"I will ask the Colonel," he said, and left me.

Now I knew what the answer would be, so I used up the few remaining films on suitable objects and waited. The officer returned after a while.

"The Colonel much regrets his inability to grant you the required permission," he said; "but the men are not in their best uniforms, and it would be taking them at a disadvantage."

"Thank you," I replied, and put my camera away, preparatory to retiring.

Another instance occurred at the prison at Monastir. I had succeeded in getting inside, but had to wait a long time for Hilmi Pacha's answer whether I should be allowed to go over the prison or not. There was again no doubt how the answer would run, so I tried to get a few snapshots in the meanwhile. I took a picture of the outer palisades by walking quickly on to the corridor, and very nearly took a second, more interesting, picture of a wild group of men on one side peering through a peephole, and a lot of women handing in clean linen, fruit, and other simple edibles, on the other. These were evidently captured or suspected insurgents. But at this juncture an officer arrived and invited me to coffee. Coming upstairs I had noticed that the stairs overlooked the inside of the aforesaid palisades, which was crowded with prisoners. Accordingly, when the definite refusal arrived I had made my camera ready, and as we passed the inner court I paused a moment and snapped it.

"You must not photograph here," exclaimed the accompanying officer hastily.

"No?" I asked, in a disappointed voice, bringing the camera down.




The officer bowed low.

"I am sorry," he said, "but it is strictly forbidden."

"I am likewise sorry," I replied, and packed up my camera, whilst the worthy officer rubbed his hands in appreciation of my pliability.

He was the same man who naively remarked that the prison was full of insurgents.

"Not the big ones," he said. "They are all safe in Bulgaria again, but only little ones."

There is sometimes a delightful charm in the way Turks make unpleasant admissions. Murders are rarely mentioned as such in Turkish papers, but read somewhat as follows: "We regret to have to state that M. So-and-So has died suddenly. The guilty persons have been imprisoned."

When the King and Queen of Servia were murdered, it was many days before the truth came out in Constantinople. Then people read that the King, Queen, and several Ministers all died on the night of June II, in Belgrade.

But perhaps the funniest remark of all was made to me by the Greek Bishop of Florina who, when asked how he could explain away the massacre of a Greek village by his beloved friends the Turks (Armensko, August, 1903), replied -

"Nothing easier. You see the Turkish soldiers shoot badly and were aiming at the Bulgars in the village. (N.B. It was a purely Greek village as it happened. - The Author.) Alas! they hit the Greeks."

There is a good deal of topsy-turveydom in Turkey. The nodding of the head to signify "no" and a shake of the head "yes" is very hard to learn. Likewise the starting of the clock at sunrise is distracting, for naturally the time changes by a few minutes everyday. Also their months


run differently, and according to the Turkish calendar a man's birthday falls on a different day in our calendar every year.

The coinage is likewise distracting where the Turkish pound varies in value in each town. Nominally worth 100 piastres, I have got as much as 108 piastres in change in one town and less than 100 in another.

But oddest of all is the rigorous examination which the traveller undergoes in leaving Turkey. Most countries content themselves with a more or less careful search of a traveller's baggage on entering the country, but what he takes out of the country - unless he be a notorious thiefis a matter of utter indifference. Not so in Turkey. When I arrived at the station nearest Adrianople one morning at five o'clock, en route for Bulgaria, I saw my baggage piled up in a corer and, leaving them in John's care, I went into the refreshment bar.

Hardly had I seated myself when John came in and asked me for my keys.

"What for?" I asked.

"Your baggage must be examined before you may take the train," said John.

"But what rot; didn't you say that I was leaving the country?" I shouted at the unfortunate John, who explained that he had spoken of his master's probable annoyance, but the Turks were indifferent.

Out we went into the dark dank hall, where Turks had my baggage upon a trestle board and were eyeing it hungrily.

Expostulations helped me not one whit, and soon my bags were open and being overhauled in a fashion never before experienced by me. In vain I stamped up and down in helpless fury at this meaningless outrage, only increased


when they captured sundry photographs (particularly one of myself taken in Monastir with my Albanian kavass) and a handful of revolver cartridges loose in my bag.

"Was your master an insurgent too?" asked a Turk of John, pointing to my photograph.

"No," I roared, "an English correspondent, and the other chap is an Albanian. Can't you see that by the dress?"

"Well, we must keep these things," remarked an old bearded Turk, who had been obviously enjoying my anger. He lost much, though, by not understanding English.

He was walking away with them when I stopped him and asked him for a written receipt.

"We shall give you nothing of the kind," he said, and disappeared.

I looked at my watch. In ten minutes the train would be here and I should want more than that to pack. Then an idea struck me, and I sat down and lit a cigarette, telling John not to pack.

Very soon the police officer told off to see me safely off the premises went up to John and asked why we did not pack up, and said that we should miss the train.

"We are going to miss it," I said coolly.

Now this man knew the anxiety of the Porte to get me out of the country and had witnessed the local Vali's cooperation on the preceding night. It would never do for me to miss the train.

"Why, Effendi?" he asked.

"Because," I said very slowly, "I am not going to be robbed in a barefaced manner, and will wait even a week for my things."

The officer's face dropped, and he disappeared. In less


than a minute he returned with the confiscated articles and placed them in my bag. Then he begged me to hurry up and pack.

"No," I said firmly." You did it, and if you want me to go to-day you will have to re-pack."

In five minutes my bags were packed and strapped, considerably neater than before. I climbed into the train with a lightened heart, only to be considerably upset at a conversation I had with a German engineer of the Oriental railway. He had learnt of my experience at Adrianople station, but replied that it was nothing.

"Wait till you get to Mustapha Pacha," he said. "There you will be examined as you never have been before, and the confiscation of every photographic film and map is a certainty."

Then it struck me that I had insurgents' hand-made maps, copies of their reports, and a lot of photographs of Turkish military operations.

"You will be run in then if they are found on you. Take 'em out of your bag, anyway. It is a marvel they were not found at Adrianople."

With great trouble we unpacked again, and we sorted out incriminating papers, stuffing them into my pockets till I resembled Falstaff.

"If they find all those things on you," remarked the engineer genially, as we drew up at Mustapha Pacha, "it'll take your Ambassador a month to get you out of prison."

And as we walked towards the Customs House he told me how a lady was recently bodily searched, though travelling with her husband.

"Will you just open your bags? It will be quite suffi-


cient," remarked a rubicund Turk inside. "Thanks; you may pass on."

"That's luck," remarked the German outside. "The strict brute is not there to-day. Pleasant journey."

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