The Americans residing in the Balkans begin to treat the "Macedonian question" as an important, independent problem of Southeastern Europe, for the first time in the mid- 90ies of the 19th century.The reasons for this are numerous and serious. In October 1893 in Sofia, the foundations of the Inner Macedono - Adrianople Revolutionary Organization/ IMARO/ are laid. In January 1894, the Prime -Minister of Bulgaria, Stefan Stambolov, realizes successfully his third diplomatic initiative for the stabilization of the position of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Macedonia and Adrianople region - the Exarchate. Sultan Abdul Hamid issues fermans proclaiming the departure of two more Bulgarian bishops for Macedonia. Exarch Jossif I begins the publication in Constantinople of a newspaper in literary Bulgarian language - " Novini', which circulates quickly among the Slavonic population of Macedonia.
In May 1894, Stambolov's government falls from power. In Sofia, Prime-Minister becomes the graduate of the Robert College, Dr. Konstantin Stoylov. For the first time in fact, an American graduate was coming to the front of the Balkans politics, a circumstance which undoubtedly activated the interests of the americans, residing in this part of Europe. The more so, that during the first year of Stoylov's administration two extremely important things happen. In the spring of 1895 the Macedonian Bulgarian emigration inside the borders of free Bulgaria lays the foundations of a new legal patriotic organization -- Supreme Macedono - Adrianople Committee /SMAC/, seated in Sofia. In June the same year, the Miletish uprising begins. This shows definitely the appearance of a new hot problem on the Balkans -- the struggle of the remaining enslaved Bulgarian population in Macedonia, for liberty and human rights. This is why the evangelist missionaries decide to look in detail in the theme of Macedonia. The nature of their future activity was going to depend on the direction of the new events. At the same time, the American public had to be informed on the newly arising, big political problem in Southeastern Europe.
On March 19, 1894, "Missionary News" informs its readers that series of "Macedonian issues'" are being prepared for publication. The text writing is assigned to Dr. Edward Haskell, head of the Bulgarian Protestant Mission branch in Bitolya./9/ In the following issues of the newspaper, the idea is realized with the publication of a series of serious articles sent by the missionaries E. Haskell,
G. Beyerd, H.Coll, L.Bond and others. The language picture and the religious situation in Macedonia is depicted in detail. The fact that, the whole information presented in "Missionary News' is given as "News from Bulgaria", shows clearly the character of the conclusions drawn./10/
The interest shown in the ideas of the Protestant pastors as well as the activation of the Macedonian question during the summer of 1895, urge the pastors to write a separate booklet on Macedonia by the end of the same year. It is entitled "Bulgaria and Salonica in Macedonia"./11/ The missionary James Clark is mentioned as author, but in fact the work is prepared with the active help of E.Haskell and L. Bond. In this book, once again, the American missionaries in the Balkans, prove that the majority of the Slavonic population in Macedonia is of Bulgarian national identity; the predominant religious denomination being eastern-orthodox, and Salonica being the natural exit of Macedonia to the world. The book is printed in Constatinople and is distributed in 1896 in USA, as an edition of the American Council of Missions Abroad.
At the same time and due to the same reasons, a decision is taken for the transferal of the seat of the Bulgarian Protestant Church branch working in Macedonia, from Bitolya to Salonica./12/ On the whole, these facts speak very convincingly on their own. Even during their first encounter with the essence of the "Macedonian question", as a separate problem in the Balkans, the American missionaries remain faithful to the historical truth. Although the Great Powers separate forcefully Macedonia from Bulgaria in 1878, according to the American missionaries, in the end of the 19th century, she retains its predominantly Bulgarian ethnic image. The Bulgarians are the main engine force of the arising national-liberation movement and it is from them that future development of forthcoming, important political processes in the region should be expected. Thus, the Americans on the Balkans are fully prepared to meet and closely follow the Macedonia-staged drama in the eve and during the 1903 Ilinden-Preobrazhenie uprising.
This problem, however, has some preliminary moments. On August 21, 1901, a military group of IMARO, lead by Yane Sandanski, Hristo Tchernopeev and Krastiu Assenov, organize the kidnapping of Miss Helena Stone and her Bulgarian aide - Katerina Stefanova- Tsilka. Big ransom is demanded for the two women, in order to provide means for the purchase of arms, needed by the national-liberation organization in Macedonia. The captives are humanely treated by the rebels./13/This action becomes one of the most thundering political events in Europe. In the period November 11, 1901, until January 1, 1904, the "Miss Stone affair" does not come off the pages of the American press. Collection of "ransom money" begins in the USA./14/ The "Macedonian question" takes a definite place in the American public opinion./14/
With the resolution of the crisis, are engaged American diplomats in Constantinople, including the director of Robert College - Dr. Washburn./15/ After the money is received, the revolutionaries free the two missionaries. However, both the two women and the public opinion in USA understand perfectly well, that the incident is not a bandits action, but an important episode in the struggle of the Macedonian Bulgarians for liberty and human rights. This is the reason for the lack of stable negative moods neither by Miss Stone, nor the public in USA. This condition makes possible the completely impassionate and objective position, taken by the American press at the time of the out-break of the big Ilinden uprising on August 2nd, 1903.
In the first publications on the other side of the Ocean, it is pointed out, that the uprising is in that part of the Ottoman Empire, populated most densely, at that time , with Bulgarians. On November 26th, 1903, the journal " Outlook" writes : " Of the whole population of Macedonia, the Greeks represent one tenth, the Turks - one third and the Bulgarians a half, the small remaining part of what is left are Serbs and Albanians."/16/ In its issue of October 3rd, 1903, the same journal correctly explained that, the main reason for the tragedy happening should be sought in the politics of the Great Powers, forcefully separated Macedonia from free Bulgaria during the 1878 Berlin Congress. /17/
The competent historians in USA have long ago established in a scientific way that :" the American diplomats and missionaries, as well as the other foreign representatives in Sofia and Constantinople, /between 1901-1903- author's note/ did not make difference between the Central Committee of IMARO and the Supreme Macedonian Committee in Sofia,nor between the internal and external organizations. For them the organization was one - Bulgarian in its membership"/18/Thus, the newspapers in USA dealing with the course of the Ilinden popular uprising in Macedonia, give in the same place the information on the activities of the military revolutionary groups of IMARO and the forces sent as aide by the Supreme Refugee Committee in Sofia.
All observers in USA are unanimous that the heaviest blow in 1903, on the nationalities living in Macedonia, was suffered by the Bulgarians, with the Bitolya vilaet affected most : "All informations from the Monastir villaet are unanimous in its qualification of the situation as "disastrous", writes on September 8th, 1903 "Detroit Free Press"," It is accepted that between 40000 and 50000 Bulgarians have been massacred by the Turks and that there is not a single Bulgarian village in the villaet that has not been destroyed... The official circles believe, that these figures are lower than in reality. Some are inclined to believe that the number of the murdered exceeds 50000. The Turks, obviously, have decided to wipe out the whole Bulgarian population of the villaet./18/ Absolutely the same states in its note of September 8th, 1903 "New York Times".
In its issue of September 17th, 1903, " Independent" adds : " It is clear that a mass massacre has been permitted in the region of Monastir. Around thirty six thousand Bulgarians, living in the region, have been massacred by the Turks and every Bulgarian village has been destroyed to the ground."/19/ The correspondent of " Independent", having visited personally the Bitolya's villaet after the defeat of the uprising adds: "Lately, even a Greek ,who hates the Bulgarians, told me that he could not sleep at night thinking of some things having happened in the region of Monastir."/20/
The press in USA pays a lot of attention to the difficult fate of the refugees, forced to leave their homes after the defeat of the uprising. All American editions in 1903 and 1904 are unanimous that the main refugee wave from Macedonia in the autumn of 1903, has headed for Bulgaria and not for Serbia or Greece. This fact speaks, for it self, what was the national identity of the rebels, as they preferred the savior route to the East and not North or South!? On October 22nd, 1903
" Independent " announces that " In Bulgaria there are around 22000 refugees from Macedonia"/21/
In its correspondence from September 8th, 1903 ," New York Times " depicts the drama of the refugees: " The miserable Bulgarian refugees, arriving every day in Monastir, tell almost incredible stories on the Turks' atrocities," announces the correspondent of the newspaper on the spot ." Sixty families from Smilevo, which had been totally destroyed, passed through recently. The refugees saw a man and a woman to sit among the ruins of their house when a Turkish soldier cut the head of the man and threw it in the feet of the woman. Many Bulgarian prisoners had been brought to Monastir. Most of them were unarmed peasants, not connected with the uprising. Twenty Bulgarians were brought with heavy chains on their hands and feet./22/
The wide resonance of the 1903 Ilinden uprising among the public of the USA, makes possible for the first time in this country in 1903-1904, the creation of a special public committee, whose aim is to organize action for support of the suffering Bulgarian population in Macedonia. In September 1903 in New York are laid the foundations of the " Bulgaro - American Macedonian Committee "/ known also as the " Double Committee"/. For its chairman is elected the Yale graduate- Konstantin Stefanov, brother of the kidnapped together with Miss Stone in 1901 - Katerina Tsilka.Albert Soniksen, a popular American journalist and traveler is elected as Secretary and Ivan Radulov, special envoy of IMARO and IMAC for informing America on the events in Macedonia, is chosen for treasurer./23/ From American side as members of the committee enter: S. Low- former mayor of New York and close friend of J. House, with whom he is in constant correspondence ; H. Potter - historian of the ancient world and well informed specialist on the Balkan problems; the clergyman Edward Andrews, known in USA for his publications on the Slavonic languages; I. Willer -- traveler and member of the American Geographical Society as well as many others./24/
The first thing that impresses in the case is the name of the committee -- Bulgarian-American Macedonian Committee. This formulation leaves no doubt that, the people participating in this charity initiative, have clearly in mind that they have come together to help the distressed Bulgarians in Macedonia, and not some other population. Besides, the enormous activity of the committee, during its short period of existence, should be particularly pointed out.At first, an appeal to the public opinion in USA is written entitled " A Cry from Macedonia".The document is signed by 29 eminent senators, politicians and public figures and is published in one of the most influential newspapers in USA. The appeal calls upon the influential statesmen in Washington and the American society to provide political and moral support to the fight for the liberation of Macedonia Bulgarians/25/
Again upon the initiative of the "Bulgarian -American Macedonian Committee", in October 1903 at the Washington-held Pan- American Bishops Conference, the topic of fighting Macedonia is included in the Program and is discussed by its delegates./26/ The participating, more than 100, high clergymen state their support for the suffering Bulgarian population. The meeting calls for collection and dispatch of financial funds. It is proposed, that the American Protestant missionaries in Macedonia form a special auxiliary committee in the region, in order to distribute the foods and money received.
On this basis, in November 1903, the American missionaries in Macedonia establish the so-called "American Committee in Macedonia". It coordinates the receival and distribution of the aids for the victimized Bulgarian population. Until December 1903, the Bulgarians in Macedonia receive 10000 pounds of flour and " more than 500 big woolen carpets", used as covers by the refugee's families. With funds from the American missionaries, several small workshops are created in which the Macedonian Bulgarians make warm winter clothes for the victims. With the debiting of the financial funds in USA and their transferal to the " American Committee in Macedonia" is engaged the "Kidder Peabody &Co " bank in Boston. /26/ One of the most fervent agitators in the financial fund- raising action for the Macedonian Bulgarians is Miss Elena Stone./27/
In February 1904, upon the initiative of the "Bulgarian American Macedonian Committee in New York, once again many outstanding Americans are engaged in the defence of fighting Bulgarian population in Macedonia. A new collective appeal on the Macedonian problem is prepared, demanding the USA, as the most impartial power in the Balkan region, to undertake diplomatic initiative and " together with the other Christian nations in Europe" to insist on the fulfillment of the 1878 Berlin Treaty clauses for reforms in Macedonia. The document is signed by 37 influential politicians and citizens among whom are: Charles and Arthur Perkins- members of the House of Representatives; Timothy Dwight - influential editor with branches of its company in America, England and Australia; George Fisher and Andew Phillips - professors in the University of Yale; the Governor of Connecticut and many others./28/ This background makes possible an audience to be given to the active member of the "Bulgarian - American Macedonian Committee" Dr. Shoumkov in the White House. In Washington, he meets and talks personally with the President of the USA - Theodore Roosevelt and State Secretary G. Hay. He informs them in detail on the situation of the Bulgarian population in Macedonia. The leaders of the American state give their agreement to plead in front of the government of England on the problem and to provide support to the English diplomacy in Constantinople, for the implementation of the provisions of the 1878 Berlin Peace treaty./29/ At the same time ," Christian herald" informs, that more than 30000 American citizens have addressed the edition with the demand: the American government to insist immediately in front of the Great Powers to guarantee the realization of the reforms in Macedonia , provisioned by them./30/ The public engagement of influential circles in USA with the fate of the Macedonian Bulgarians, according to a contemporary witness, gives rise in Europe to" the rumors that it is Americans that are guilty for the Armenian and Macedonian uprisings - as our missionaries, accepted as representatives of the American government, sympathize with the movement for liberty and independence and give moral support and encouragement to the revolutionaries"./31/
This is an exaggerated statement. None of the Americans residing in the Balkans in 1903 has been personally involved with IMARO. It is indisputable fact, however, that the support provided by influential politicians, public figures and the press to the fighting for liberation Bulgarians in Macedonia, is accepted and evaluated, for the first time in Europe, as America's real engagement and open support for the cause of the Bulgarians in Macedonia - the main participant in the Ilinden uprising. There is no document from that time, which to show that the American president and the influential politicians of the country have defended the ideals of some separate "Macedonian nation", simply because no such nation existed in 1903 in Macedonia.
United States' s interests in the most aggravated political problems on the Balkans, in the beginning of the 20-th century, does not decline during the whole first decade of the century. After the victorious war with Spain for the island of Cuba, the United States have the self-esteem of a real great power, pretending to the formal acknowledgment of the old great powers, for a status of great power with right of decisive vote on the world problems.
In order to gain substantial positions, through which to influence directly the behavior of the governments of St.Petersburg, Paris, London, Berlin and Vienna, the Americans start looking for "an entrance to Europe". The Balkans and the aggravated Macedonian problem promise to create multiple conditions for this. Thus, the interest of USA towards the pulsating political processes in Macedonia does not diminish, even after the defeat of the Ilinden uprising.
In 1906, the history of the Bulgarian-american relations registers a unique fact : After staying for two years in Sofia in order to meet in person the leaders of IMARO, the American traveler and journalist, deeply engaged with the Macedonian question- Albert Soniksen receives permission from IMARO to enter illegally the region. He is to write a book on the conditions of the fight for liberty. On February 28th, 1906, Soniksen enters illegally Macedonia and as member of the military revolutionary groups, lead by Luka Ivanov and Apostol Voyvoda, roams the region until November 9th. After his return, Soniksen publishes one of the best memoir books written by a participant in the liberative struggles of the Macedonian Bulgarians and certainly the best one, written on this topic by a foreigner.
Everywhere throughout its pages, when describing his personal encounters with the Slavonic population in Macedonia, Soniksen writes that he has personally verified, that it is of Bulgarian nationality. With one exception, it is only Macedonian Bulgarians that feed, clothe and lead through unknown paths the noble American humanist, obviously risking his life only to gather first hand impressions of the conditions of Bulgarian liberation struggle and to tell the world the truth about it./32/ It should not be forgotten that the book is written very far from Macedonia -in USA. In 1906-1907 the government in Sofia can by no means influence him, as the Bulgarian legation is established in Washington in November 1914. Thus, if Albert Soniksen had had any doubts, about whom he was writing the book, he would have said it. Remaining faithful to the American historical tradition, this eminent American humanist discusses objectively and impartially the theme of the fate of the Bulgarians in Macedonia., leaving us some of the most beautiful pages on this topic in English.
[Back to Index]