Correspondence for the New York Evening Post

Albert Sonnichsen




Among the Turks in Disguise

By Albert Sonnichsen


New York Evening Post (Saturday, June 9, 1906)

Saturday supplement

Page 2


[Special Correspondence of The Evening Post]




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A farewell to Luca and his Bulgar cheta


How the Transformation of a Volunteer Revolutionary Chetnik Was Elected — Lurking Among the Stony Hills Until the Askers Easter Spree Had Ended — The Journey to Monastir



MONASTIR, Macedonia, May 12. — When we came to the Lake of the Two Republics, we had not intended to stay more than ten days, but the bands of the Greek bishop showed so much aggressive activity that Luca deemed it necessary to remain in the neighborhood with some force to hearten the villagers. Time wore on, and we remained nine weeks, often spending nights in nearby villages, where attacks were expected. Then Luca decided to pull out of the marsh. During the day of April 5 we made preparations, rifles were cleaned, moccasins overlooked and mended, and each man put into his knapsack bread and cheese for three days.


For two hours we paddled up the main river until, toward dark, the first boat reached solid ground and its four occupants landed. Before us was the plain of the Slanitza, along the centre of which runs the railroad to Monastir; beyond rose a range of rocky mountains whose snow covered peaks blushed red in the dying twilight. We were fully fifty kilometres from its base, but before morning we must cross the plain and be up among the ridges. All night long we marched on at a smart pace, single file, resting only ten minutes about every two hours. A little past midnight we approached the railroad. Two men went ahead to reconnoitre, for every portion of the line is supposed to be patrolled by askers. We marched across without incident, however.


By dawn we were well up into the forest on the mountain side, and there we camped, foiling up in our cloaks and going to sleep at once, after posting a sentry in a tall tree, overlooking all approaching trails. At about noon I awoke; one by one my comrades were unrolling and sitting up, some opening their knapsacks for bread and cheese. From the limbs of our sentry tree we had a far-reaching view; far to the eastward blinked the white wails of Salonica, with the deep blue streak of sea below. To the southward rose the white, craggy peaks of Olympus.




In the afternoon Luca sent out one of the boys to scout. He returned with a Vlach shepherd from a friendly Rumanian Village, who brought us water, the want of which we were beginning to feel, for no springs or streams were near. After an hour's talk, the Vlach left us, but returned with four friends, who carried a whole sheep, a bag of charcoal over which to roast it — for a wood fire would be seen — and a small cask of wine, also many loaves of bread still hot from the oven.


We had camped on high ground among the rocks, suitable for position. At noon we descended into a wooded ravine, where we built a fire, cooked coffee, and made a meal. Two scouts went out and returned with another shepherd, who proved to be a Bulgarian, from a village not half an hour away from Voden. The shepherd, leaving his boy in charge of the flock below, went on an hour ahead of us. We followed leisurely, for Mesemer was only three hours away. All the trail was downward, through heavy forest. We passed over ground that was historic to Teodor, for just a year ago, when Luca was in Bulgaria for munitions, he had invaded this territory with twenty men and engaged a Greek band. As they were firing, askers appeared, and then began a running fight between revolutionists, patriarchists, and askers. In one place a wounded Greek fell over a precipice. Teodor examined the spot as we passed now, and his delight rose to high pitch as he discovered a patch of cloth among some thorns below, which, he said, must have been torn from the Greek's shirt as he fell. It was, in fact, the torn sleeve of a shirt.


Darkness came, and the full moon rose. We were on what appeared to be the brink of a precipice, far below glimmered the lighted windows of Mesemer. We waited; then came a call and the exchange of passwords agreed upon. The shepherd and a companion appeared. With them as guides we divided into two groups, and, one at a time, crept through an orchard, up a small street, and into a doorway.


Luca, Teodor, Alexander, four chetniks, and I went the same course. Our welcome was cordial, but the people were evidently much frightened, hardly daring to speak above whispers. We had intended to remain all night, and next day, but, knowing that our hosts would have no sleep if we stayed, Luca decided to withdraw. Toward midnight we again crept up to the side of the precipice, and even as we crawled upon the rock platform, we heard the challenge of a sentry in the village, who, perhaps, had heard a rock loosened by our feet. Here we bade our two guides good-bye.




Before going furthee I may add what we learned several days later. How we do not know, but next day the Turks were informed that we had been in the village. This is what happened to our two guides, the shepherd and his companion. A detail of five askers came, to them and told them they must guide to a certain spring out in the forest. They went. An hour later the soldiers returned without the two.


That evening they were found out in the forest, their throats slit. On the breast of one was pinned a letter in Greek, stating that these men had been discovered carrying food to the brigand Luca, and as enemies of the true faith had been slain. The letter was signed "Soldiers of the Christ". Beside the dead man was found a bag of bread.


Early in the morning of April 11,  we entered the village of Jervey, unexpected by the villagers. Luca had sent a letter to Tanne of the next reyan, Lerensko, that I would enter his territory so that we waited, either for him or word from him. One evening Tanne's subcheef Naido appeared with a chetnick; they were to accompany me over into their reyan. On the noon of next day I parted from Luca and Teodor and their men, with whom I had been just two months. Luca gave me the Bulgarian chetnik Alexander to accompany me on my travois, for henceforth I should meet few people who spoke pure Bulgarian, and Alexander, having been two years in service, ot course could help me in my troubles with the dialects. Many of the simple-hearted boys wept freely as we two bade them good-by. Then we fled down the mountain, and only turned once in a ravine below to see the cheta on the heights above watching us in our downward path. Before night we had reached the valley below, skirted the mountain, and were over in Lerensko reyan, in the vilayet of Monastir, the centre of the Macedonian revolutionary movement.


The next afternoon we descended into a village where we found a courier awaiting us with a letter from Tanne, who sent word that the Turks were planning a general raid during the Easter holidays, evidently with the hope of trapping some cheta in for the celebrations. For a week we wandered about among those everlasting stones, living on bread and cheese. On the evening of the third day of Easter we did enter a village, intending to spend the night. But part of the garrison, going on a spree, began firing their pieces and entering, the houses, demanding Easter eggs and brandy. During the general fusillade, we again made for the hills.


On the day after the last of the holidays we again entered the village in the valley, and found another courier with a letter from Tanne, saying we might now come on. Alexander and I, bidding Naido and his companion good-bye — for that region was their permanent zone — went on. Two hours brought us into a dark ravine at the bottom of which was a spring. Imitating the call of a certain night-bird, we received an answer. Three men came down from the rocks above; we exchanged passwords, then shook hands with the patrol Tanne had sent out to meet us.


We climbed a steep, and came out on a winding highway. Presently dogs began barking, and we entered a large village. Our friends conducted us to a house where we were to spend the night. The people expected us; a frugal supper was ready. Then, we two, taking off our uniforms, wrapped them info a bundle, and, together with our arms, ammunition, and bombs, hid them in a secure place. Next we put on well-worn peasant clothes, our long hair was cut short by one of the Chetniks, and I was shorn of a two-months' beard. The finishing touch was the clapping on ot old fezes. Later the three chetniks left us to join their chief outside the village, in a shepherds hut, while we rolled comfortably up in rugs and fell asleep. We were no longer comitajis.




In the middle of the next forenoon, I happened to look up the road by which we had entered, just in time to see a band of a dozen mounted men sweep over the brow of a hill in a cloud of dust. Down they flew with a dash, into the village, bringing up before a house some hundred yards away from us. By their uniforms and their short Mannlicher carbines I knew them at once — Tanne and his men. Some villagers took their horses and they came striding down the street toward us, we moving on to meet them. Tanne came forward, the member of the local committee introduced us, and we shook hands. He was a middle-aged man, with long chestnut hair, blue eyes, and a well-trimmed golden beard, a handsome fellow in spite of his rough appearance. We withdrew at once into a garden, or walled orchard, where we seated ourselves on rugs, cross-legged, to talk and drink coffee. He brought us the details of a terrible disaster which had befallen a cheta in a neighboring reyan during the previous week.


The chief voyvoda of the reyan, George Cugaroff, with twenty-four men, had entered the village Paravovo, but later withdrew into the nearby mountains to spend the night, the villagers being very nervous on account of the near presence of patrolling askers. Four Crecomans had observed the passing of the cheta, and followed it at a distance. A cold north wind was blowing, and that they might have a fire to sleep by, the chetniks bivouacked in the bottom of a deep ravine, whence the flame could not be observed.


The four spies noted this, and hurried oft to a nearby garrison to give information. Before morning over a thousand askers had quietly surrounded Cugaroff's camp, taking positions on the ridges on each side the gulch.




At sunrise they opened fire, and, of course, the cheta made a rush for position only to be met by volleys. So heavy was the fire that the chetniks fell almost in one heap. At last Cugaroff alone remained standing; evidently they wanted to take him alive, but before they could reach him he shot himself through the mouth. I have since learned that the four spies have been killed by the committee. The incident had caused a good deal of depression, not so much because a whole cheta was ambushed which is of common occurrence, especially in the spring, when the askers are active for a month or two — but because usually in such actions the Turks sustain a ten times greater loss, and Cugaroff and his men died without inflicting a single death among their enemies.


As we sat talking on the rugs, I noticed a peasant enter the gate of the orchard and walk up the path toward us. He was well dressed, and Tanne nudged me.


"Notice that man," he said. "When he sits down here beside us you say something to him, in your language."


The young peasant came up, greeted us all, then sat down beside me.


"How's business?" I asked. "Is your health pretty good?"


He took the cigarette from his mouth and surveyed me with keen surprise.


"Well, I be damned," he exclaimed "You talk the pure (?) United States. How long have you been over there? When did you come back? " Then his face lightened up with an idea "You are the American who was with Luca, aren't you?"


We continued our conversation. He had been two years in America, working most of the time in a Pittsburgh factory at $2 a day. Now he had returned with comfortable capital and was one of the best workers Tanne had.


This was Saturday. Monday is market day in the city of Monastir, or Bitola as the natives call it. As it was my intention to enter town, possible only on market day, we had to leave at once, for the city was two days' distant. So after dinner we bade Tanne and his people good-by, and we two, with a courier, set off on the road toward Bitola. In the evening we reached a small village in the plain, where the courier presented my letter from Tanne to the local committee.


We were up early next morning, to make slight changes in bur costumes, to suit the locality, for this was to be our native village. Then we rehearsed our names, the names of our fathers, and various answers to questions that might be asked us. I was Ivancho, son of Mitse; Alexander was Seko, son of Mikolo. About our fezes we wound turbans, as is the custom of villagers going to market. The president of the local committee, a leathery, hard-faced peasant, was to take us in personally. 'Our confidence in him rose when he told us he had once taken Grueff, disguised as a priest.


It was pleasant travelling along the dust-white road, winding in and out, among fields, over streams, and through groves of trees. Everywhere we met people; parties of askers out on forage or patrol, singing and shouting, Mussulman peasants on their way to market in the nearby town of Serin, driving loaded donkeys or small herds of sheep. Christian peasants were few, for the day was Sunday. Veiled women mounted on donkeys passed, always attended by young boys on foot, never in company of men. In the shade of a grove of trees by a spring rested a party of a dozen fierce-looking Albanians, bristling with revolver butts and knife handles, Geghi we knew, by their costumes. We sat erect and respectfully saluted; they would have knocked us out of out saddles had we not. Horse-thieves were they, but they pass as gentlemen in this land of anarchy, until fate puts them in the path of some wandering cheta.


Presently we came to a large bridge; beyond were the houses of the town, a mass of roofs and windows, bristling with a score of minarets. The road, or street, from the bridge inward was lined on both sides with drinking gardens, all crowded with Turkish officers, young cadets, and Christians with families, as we knew by the uncovered faces of their women. The road was thronged with holiday strollers, women and children, and young men, evidently students.


At the bridge was a sentry box, where incomers are usually searched for contraband, but the officer on duty took no notice of us. We had passed the bridge when I noticed a marching column of girls in uniform dress approach. As they passed, a word caught my ear — English. Two women in European dress followed the girls. I guessed at once, and learned later that I was right, that these were the girls from the American Protestant school, out for a walk with their American teachers. But the situation did not allow me to introduce myself to my countrywomen.


We passed on, into the crowded streets. A battery of artillery came rolling by. As it passed, an asker on a caisson lifted an iron rod and made a feint to strike at Alexander. His hand flew around to his hip with an instinctive start, then dropped helplessly. The askers and some of the nearest pedestrians roared with laughter.


Presently we dismounted and led our horses through the jostling crowd, until we reached the gates of a hahn. Here we stalled the horses, then retired to one room. From the lining of a saddle we took our papers.


Again we were out in the streets; then we entered the Greek Church, Grecoman were we. We stood among the crowd, our heads bowed, crossing ourselves frequently as the priests droned their chant. Out of the other door; our three guides were gone, but ahead walked a new guide. In half-an-hour we were housed among friends.


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