The Balkans from within,
Reginald Wyon

The insurgent provinces
 

Reminiscences. II
 


THE MAIN STREET, MONASTIR.
 

A PROLONGED stay at a Turkish town in the interioris not a very cheerful affair, particularly at the present juncture. There is always a feeling prevalent that something unpleasant is going to happen, and the European residents betray their anxiety at every turn. Some are taciturn and unfriendly, others the reverse, and these pretend to joke on dangers and massacres.

One of the foreign consuls there called on me recently in Vienna, just before his return after a few weeks' well-deserved leave. He has already occupied his present post for many years, and is hoping for a speedy transfer to a less exciting region. I remember his parting remark as we shook hands: "Only a few more months at Monastir, and I shall be transferred, unless - the change comes too late."

Europe by no means realizes the danger ever present in European Turkey since the farce entitled, "The Reforms for Macedonia" was begun. A Mahometan population is always unsafe, yet we are trampling regardlessly on their most sacred feelings, heaping fresh indignities upon the head of their ruler, utterly ignoring the fact that we are dealing with a race of semi-civilized fanatics.

I had ample opportunities for studying the Turk in Monastir, as I was exceedingly well received at the com-

37

mencement, seeing him at his best. There is no more courteous and affable gentleman than the educated Turk; and it is one of the hardest things imaginable to realize that the suave and smiling man before you is lying, and lying all the time.

By far the cleverest of all the Turks I met was Hilmi Pacha, the Inspector-General of Reforms. His perversion of the truth was simply superb, and we used to say of him that he could make a man believe that Paris was really the capital of England, and prove it by statistics.

As in duty bound, on my arrival in Monastir my first visit was to him. I did not go there to write either for or against the Turks, in fact, if anything, I was slightly prejudiced in their favour, as so many correspondents were at the commencement.

I drove to Hilmi's residence, the sentries "presented arms," and I was almost immediately ushered into his Excellency's presence. He was a slight man, of medium height and most refined appearance. A black beard half covered his face, and he was clad in the conventional frockcoat and, of course, the fez. In his hand he carried invariably a string of beads, as so many Turks do, with which he played incessantly, betraying a nervous and sensitive temperament.

After the inevitable coffee and cigarettes had been served I went straight for the massacre and sack of Krushevo, which was of recent occurrence. Hilmi Pacha is a great talker and a past-master in the art of keeping the conversation in his own hands. Whenever an awkward subject is broached Hilmi seldom allows the other man to say much after the first question, yet it is done so unostentatiously that the questioner often does not realize that he is not

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even getting in a word edgeways. On the contrary, he leaves the subject thankfully, feeling that he has done the Turks a great injustice.

That was very much my own feeling after I had inquired into the Krushevo massacre story, and listened for about an hour to Hilmi's account of the humanity of the Turkish soldier. Irregularities had been committed certainly - Hilmi is never fool enough to deny everything; but in this case a band of thirty Bashibazouks were guilty, in spite of the energy of Bakhtiar Pacha, who, in the vain attempt to drive them off, actually slew two. Afterwards, when the ban of Hilmi's personality was removed, the absurdity of the explanation struck me: thirty Bashibazouks - those dreadful scapegoats of official Turkey - defying a disciplined army of over four thousand men: thirty Bashibazouks, minus two, who burnt two hundred and eighty houses of substance, two hundred and three shops, and killed nearly one hundred people, and stole the four thousand head of cattle, which Hilmi actually admitted had been removed. It was subsequently, over the cattle, that I nailed Hilmi's first falsehood fast, for on that first visit he told me that by his orders they had already been returned, and I had it on unimpeachable authority a few hours later, that this was not so. Next day I returned to the attack, producing my proofs, but Hilmi blandly ignored them, saying the cattle must be there, for he had ordered it.

Poor Hilmi, into what corners was he not sometimes driven by inconsiderate consuls and correspondents, where even his glib tongue could not save him!

I remember a capital story told me by one of the consuls, just after a visit.

Hilmi had received a telegram from one of the Turkish

39

commanders, stating that he had recaptured the town of Klissura, which was said to have been held for the past few weeks by the insurgents. The general described the operations at length, explaining that he had only surrounded the town on three sides, in order to permit the insurgents to escape. The object was to obviate the discovery of any insurgents in the town itself, and thus prevent the irate soldiery from a repetition of the Krushevo horrors.

"Thus, my dear Consul, you see how we are striving to avoid these atrocities," said Hilmi after he received back the telegram.

"Yes," remarked my friend; "but there never were any insurgents in the town at all. They occupied only the adjoining heights."

Hilmi looked very distressed.

"But it is a telegram from General So-and-so (I forget his name), just received."

The Consul, however, remained unbelieving.

Then Hilmi played his trump card.

"I have outside a man, a Christian native of Klissura, who arrived not an hour ago. I will call him in and you can yourself hear his evidence"; and Hilmi touched a bell and ordered the appearance of the man in question.

The man came in.

"Sit down, my son," said the Pacha sweetly. "Bring him coffee and a cigarette."

They were given to the astounded Christian, who had never been treated in this fashion by a Turk in his life.

"Now, my son, give heed to my question. How many insurgents were in the town of Klissura?"

"None, your Excellency," stammered the man.

"Tut, tut, my son. Thou didst not understand. How

40

many insurgents were in the town before it was recaptured by the Turkish troops? Be careful and speak the truth."

"Your Excellency, there was never a single insurgent in Klissura itself. They were all on the hills outside."

"Exactly so," remarked the consul. "The man is speaking the truth."

It was to another consul that Hilmi Pacha actually made the following astounding admission when cornered by an undeniable atrocity freshly committed by the Turkish troops.

"What can you expect?" he said despairingly. "The redifs and ilaves have no discipline and the nizams (regulars) very little."

Turkish officials never or rarely say "No" to a request, at least not directly. I asked Hilmi Pacha for permission to visit the prison and the hospitals on one occasion.

"Certainly," he replied, and launched into a discourse about the prison life, and how he had applied to the Porte for permission to build a new prison.

"Not that the present one is bad, for the prisoners are really quite contented. But for Western ideas "

I did ultimately visit both, in a sense, for I was shown two wards in the hospital where the mild cases were, but was told that the rest of the hospital was not worth inspecting - there were no interesting cases. As a matter of fact, it was overcrowded with sick and wounded soldiers and an assortment of choicely mutilated Bulgarians, as I ascertained afterwards from the only European who went all over it. The prison I entered by guile, and was kept in an antechamber whilst word was sent to Hilmi requiring confirmation of the already given permission. It was refused, but I had by that time made myself very unpopular with the

41

Turks. All the same, I saw enough to assure myself that the permission would never have been given, any more than I was allowed to see over the entire hospital.

It was equally amusing and exasperating when I tried vainly to obtain permission to travel into the country and "prove for myself the falsehood of the Turkish atrocities."

"Oh, certainly I could go. The country is completely pacified and there is no danger."

I stated my intention of starting the next day.

"To-morrow? No; for there is just one small band left, but next week, yes."

Of course a week later other excuses were found, and so on.

This reminds me of a story. A correspondent of a Turcophile paper came to Monastir armed with all manner of Sultanic iradés and special permits, but an honest man nevertheless. He was given a special dragoman, and with a small escort he was allowed to make short excursions into the neighbourhood. He, however, soon realized that he was not seeing anything except what the Turks wanted, until one day a consul gave him a hint to drive at once to a certain place where at the very moment a band had been surrounded and was being wiped out. The Consul furthermore remarked that the dragoman was merely a police spy.

The advice was not acted upon promptly, for the correspondent went first to Hilmi Pacha, who delayed his departure till the following morning.

Still accompanied by the dragoman spy, he drove out to the scene of yesterday's fight. The carriage pulled up at a village, and a party got out; but here the correspondent noticed that the inhabitants avoided him and his companion like the very pest. Then he took to his heels and ran. He was an athletic fellow, and very soon left spy and gen-

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THE KONAK, MONASTIR. (Decorated for the Sultans Birthday.)

darmes behind. On he ran till he came to the scene of yesterday's massacre, for the band had been betrayed and killed to a man. A little study of the corpses was enough; the correspondent returned to Monastir, packed up, and left for Salonica by the next train. He had seen enough.

There was always an uncanny feeling in Monastir. I never got over it, though in a sense I got used to it. With the exception of the consuls and the few correspondents, everyone wore the fez - Christians as well as Mussulmans. The result was a sea of fezes on the streets, and the number of ragged soldiers always loafing up and down was appalling, though never quite as bad as in Uesküb. One young Christian whom I chaffed for wearing the hated fez promptly showed me the scarcely healed scar of a knife wound, which he had received when wearing the hat of the European. On another occasion a Bulgarian peasant was stabbed on the market in the midst of a great crowd of traders. He was haggling with a Turk, when suddenly the latter struck him a blow on the chest. We none of us realized for a few minutes that the man was dead, stabbed through the heart. As for the murderer, he coolly walked away, though the police were all over the place; and next morning his father was arrested, and this only in consequence of an urgent demand for justice on the part of a consul.

Few people can have any idea of the incessant worry which pertains to a consul's life in Turkey. He is for ever demanding redress for some glaring wrong, and receiving the visits of despairing peasants, who flock to him as their only refuge. From morn till night he is perpetually on the go - that is if he is a conscientious consul, which some of them are not bullying this Turkish official, flattering another, and threatening a third with the wrath of his country; visiting the sick

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and wounded in the hospitals, inspecting the prison, and helping the starving refugees. Besides this, there are the Consular despatches to be coded, and voluminous reports to be written. And added to all this worry is the ever-present threat of murder, often in the form of anonymous letters. I am sadly afraid that many of these brave men will never see their homes again.

In one respect, however, the position of the consuls in Macedonia is unique. They are little kings, to whom the Turkish soldiers on duty must salute or be severely punished. Their kavasses or body guards are most gorgeous and impressive individuals, heavily armed, and invested with the power of a policeman. Sentries stand day and night before their doors. At Uesküb a force of several hundred soldiers were encamped round the consulates, and woe to any stranger who approached after dark.

For courtesy, tact, and capability the palm undoubtedly belongs to the Austro-Hungarian consuls, but the two first virtues are often painfully absent from the Russians. Both Shsterbina and Rostkowski owed their deaths in great measure to their overbearing demeanour, certainly the former. Another Russian consul now at Mitrovitza once thrashed a Turkish gendarme at the Uesküb railway station simply because the man touched the Consul's arm as he stood on the metals to warn him of an approaching train. The injustice of such brutal treatment is obvious when one realizes that the gendarme would have been severely punished had the Consul been run over, and he was simply doing his duty. This is but an example of many such cases.

Briefly, it is only to be wondered at that not more Russian consuls have been murdered.

It was Mandelstamm who, after Rostkowski's murder,

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IN A BULGAR VILLAGE.
REFUGEES.

forced his way into Hilmi Pacha's presence with a loaded revolver in his hand, which he brandished in the Pacha's face.

On being remonstrated with, the Russian Consul declared his life to be in danger as well here as outside.

When Rostkowski's murderers - or murderer, to be more correct: the second man's only crime was that he looked on - were hanged, Mandelstamm insisted on being present, an action requiring no little courage. But to give the Russian his due, he is undoubtedly brave. Then they always wear a Russian uniform, and are as aggressively conspicuous as possible.

But to return to Hilmi Pacha. He has won a great reputation for benevolence and humanity, which is rather undeserved, I think. For a Turk he is a good man, and, without doubt, he would have prevented some of the atrocities had he always the power or the knowledge. On the other hand, he has been guilty of much gratuitous cruelty. One or two instances will be quite sufficient to prove my statement.

It was after the massacre of Krushevo that the French Sisters of Mercy in Monastir applied for permission to journey thither to attend to the totally neglected wounded. During the massacre the doctor had been killed and the apothecary wantonly destroyed.

Hilmi Pacha replied, with true Oriental fatalism, that it was not necessary, because those that were going to die would die anyhow, and those that were going to recover would get well without the Sisters' help.

Another instance was in regard to the kidnapping of Christian children by the Mahometans, a crime which flourishes to such an extent that there are professional

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child-finders, some of whom make quite small fortunes. The Turkish population is slowly but surely decreasing, owing to the appalling immorality of the modern Turk. To keep up the numbers of people very young Christian children are kidnapped, and brought up as Mahometans, as the offspring of their abductors, or buyers, as the case may be. There was one day a particularly glaring case in Monastir, when a soldier sold two children openly, for a medjidieh. A Bulgar bought them, because he recognized in them the children of one of his friends, a survivor from the massacre of Smilevo. The news reached the ears of the consuls and correspondents, and Hilmi Pacha was duly called upon. He afterwards issued orders that no more children were to be brought to Monastir for sale, but sold in outlying districts, "where there were no prying consuls or correspondents."

But when all is said and done I must confess to an honest admiration for Hilmi Pacha. He is a born diplomatist and an adept at getting out of warm corers. To sit at his feet, metaphorically speaking, and listen to that easy flow of talk, explaining away difficult problems and awkward subjects with the thinnest imaginable yet, to some, absolutely opaque veil of falsehood is really worthy of experience. Some of the foreign officers then at Monastir to reform the gendarmerie used to tell how they would spend hours with Hilmi Pacha and the subject of reforms would never once be mentioned, yet they had been sent for to discuss the subject. Hilmi Pacha's position was doubly difficult. Not only was he responsible to the Powers for the proper introduction and administration of the reforms, but he was also held responsible by his sovereign lord and master, the Sultan, for their successful non-introduction.

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He has to refer the smallest matter to Yildiz, and may not move a step in the matter before the answer comes. He has not to move much or often. One of his secretaries once admitted to a mutual friend that the Inspector-General of Reforms received an enormous quantity of answering telegrams from Constantinople, but they were all distressingly brief and monotonous, containing but one word" No." Even Hilmi Pacha admitted this handicap to me in conversation.

I am amused now when I look through my notebook and see the headings I jotted down for one of my first interviews with Hilmi. It reads, "Ask permission to visit, respectively, the hospital, prison, some destroyed villages, Krushevo, Armensko," etc. As answer to the first two I read, "Ask again later," but the other answers are blank. Probably I did not understand them at the time, but at any rate they remained blank, and this I quote as a thoroughly characteristic story of an experience with Hilmi Pacha.

He was a great man, too, at obtaining information. One of my colleagues told me the first time he saw Hilmi after spending some weeks in the country that Hilmi recited his every movement with correct date during that time. And we were another time much amused in Monastir when a correspondent of great cunning arrived disguised as an antiquarian and sought to persuade Hilmi into allowing him to visit certain districts in the neighbourhood to look for Roman ruins. Soon after his departure - for he was not successful - I learnt that Hilmi Pacha knew the name of the paper of which he was a sub-editor and of the other paper for which he was at that moment corresponding. Hilmi was also a great hand at sending me gentle hints

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through roundabout but sometimes direct sources. The first was a warning that the Bulgar insurgents meant to murder me on the first opportunity; this failing in its desired effect, I received an indirect message that my work was most displeasing and that "it would not be stood much longer." Still I stayed on, and Hilmi Pacha played his trump card: he ordered my expulsion from Turkey.

I well remember the occasion, for we were quite a large gathering that evening in the garden of the Hotel Belgrade, when the British Vice-Consul arrived with the news. Everybody looked disgusted except myself, and I was already conjuring up visions of armed escorts of gendarmerie taking me to the nearest border, when the Consul said that he had applied for confirmation to the Ambassador.

"If he says you must go, you will have to; but until then I have refused to have you expelled," remarked the Consul. "Hilmi wanted you to leave to-morrow and told me to advise you, in your own interests, to go quietly."

"They will surround you with a guard of fixed bayonets and head the show with a band," murmured a brother correspondent. "Great Scott, what luck!"

For two days I was kept in suspense whilst my telegrams were carefully examined by the Consul at the instigation of the Ambassador, and, finding them correct and truthful, I was permitted to stay. I mention this incident with a special object, viz., as an answer to many who declared that I exaggerated wilfully. There were five more attempts made to expel me, and had I been guilty of untruthfulness nothing could have kept me in Turkey. That is why I always ache to see our consular reports published when Turcophile Englishmen talk of "the balance of crimin-

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THE VALI OF MONASTIR.

ality." It would save much absolutely unnecessary and useless argument.

After this episode - I learnt of the other five attempts on my return to England - Hilmi Pacha left me severely alone, and beyond hearing occasional threats of murder, this time openly from the Turks, I lived in peace in Monastir.

But in conclusion I must add that the Turkish official version of the reason for my expulsion was not because I was writing against the Turks and exposing atrocities, but that I had insulted his Majesty the Sultan.

And in all my telegrams and correspondence, from start to finish, the Sultan's name was never even once mentioned. It was a genuine Turkish dementi.
 

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