Friday, September 13, 2013

The Events of 1903 in Macedonia 1

The Events of 1903 in Macedonia; as Presented in European Diplomatic Correspondence (1)

Introduced by Basil C. Gounaris

Edited and Annotated by Angelos A. Chotzidis, Basil C. Gounaris, Anna A. Panayotopoulou

IMMA (Thessaloniki), 1993

1. The Exarchate’s attitude to the planned uprising

Peran, January 8th, 1903

[AMAE/NS Turquie-Macedoine, vol.30, ff.23r-25r, No.4].

Monsieur le Ministre,

Dans une depeche adressee le 2 Janvier a Votre Excellence et dont il a communique le duplicata a l'Ambassade notre Consul a Salonique dit que, d'apres ses renseignements, les comites macedoniens auraient resolu de tenter au mois de Mars prochain le soulevement general du pays. Monsieur Steeg, prevoit que, meme si les comitadjis echouaient dans ce plan d'ensemble les troubles locaux , qu' ils reussiraient a causer, compteraient beaucoup plus d'adherents que ceux de l'an dernier et seraient incomparablement plus graves.

Les quelques indices que l'Ambassade a pu recueillir, concordent avec ces previsions de Mr.Steeg. Je puis notamment signaler a Votre Excellence le langage que m'a tenu l'Exarque bulgare quand il est venu me faire visite a l'occasion du jour de l'an. Deja le 4 Novembre, dans ma depeche No.195, j'avais pu indiquer qu'un certain revirement s'etait produit dans les idees de Mr. Joseph; cette foisci, j'ai constate que l'evolution etait complete; aussi bien, lui meme, a pris soin de me le dire... "Jusqu'a maintenant j'avais invariablement soutenu que le seul moyen raisonable et pratique pour aider a la realisation des aspirations bulgares etait la formation de la jeunesse et la propagation de nos sentiments par l'ecole et j'avais toujours condamne, comme insensees, toutes les moindres velleites d'insurrection. Aujourd' hui, je crois que le moment de l'action est venu et que la prudence doit faire place a l'hardiesse. Et l'exarque me laissa assez clairement entendre qu'il appelait de tous ses voeux l'insurrection.

Bien entendu, en public Mr. Joseph tient un tout autre langage et il recommande le calme et la soumission au sultan. J'ai [dans ma depeche no 215 du 29 Novembre] fait incidement allusion a une evengelique qu'il venait d'adresser dans ce sens a son clerge. Mais il est certain maintenant que le mot d'ordre donne en cachette par ce prelat est tout different. Or, en pays d'Orient une inspiration politique venant du chef d'une eglise a sur tous ses coreligionnaires une influence determinante. Si donc d'ici au printemps pour un motif quelconque qui n' existe pas aujourd' hui, une direction opposee ne leur a pas ete donnee par Mr. Joseph, il faut s'attendre a voir tous les tenants de l'Exarchat en Macedoine se lancer unanimement dans l'insurrection.


2. Preparations for the uprising. The role of the Bulgarian commercial agent in Monastir.

Monastir, January 10th, 1903

[HHStA PA XXXVIII/Konsulat Monastir 1903, vol.392, No.1].

Hochgeborener Graf

Am 5. l. Mts. ist in der Leitung der hiesigen, bulgarischen Handels-Agentie ein Wechsel eingetreten.

Der bisherige Agent, Herr P. Mikhailoff, welcher in dieser Eigenschaft seit 2. November 1898 thaetig war, ist abberufen und in den Ruhestand versetzt worden.

Mit seiner Nachfolge -vorderhand als Gerent der Agentie- wurde der fruehere Secretaer der bulgarischen Handels-Vertretung in Salonich, Dr. H. Koluscheff betraut.

Ueber diesen aeusserst schlauen Mann, der unter dem Deckmantel der Humanitaet und politischen Gleichgueltigkeit wohl auch hier die bulgarische Insurections-Bewegung -wenn nicht leiten- so doch nach Moeglichkeit unterstuetzen duerfte, hatte ich, waehrend meiner Gerenz in Salonich des Oeftern zu berichten die Ehre.

Ich gestatte mir, hier auch eine Beobachtung in Erinnerung zu bringen, die Herr General-Consul Hickel anzustellen und anzuberichten Gelegegenheit hatte.

"So oft Herr Koluscheff im Consular-Bezirke Reisen unternommen hatte, wurden, kurz darauf in den von ihm besuchten Ortschaften politische Morde veruebt."

Dass die Thaetigkeit des neuen "Handels" - Agenten nicht zur Beruhigung der hiesigen bulgarophilen Slaven beitragen wird, darf wohl mit ziemlicher Sicherheit vorausgesagt werden.

Die Ernennung Koluscheff's soll, wie ich aus sicherer Quelle erfahre, auf directen Befehl S. H. des Fuersten von Bulgarien erfolgt sein.

Waehrend des verflossenen Herbstes hat Fuerst Ferdinand, Koluscheff des Oeftern zu Sich befohlen und ihn ausgezeichnet.

Das besondere Wohlgefallen Seiner Hoheit soll unter anderem folgende scherzhafte Bemerkung Koluscheffs hervorgerufen haben:

"Der Sultan moege Ferdinand Bey, den Vali von Bulgarien, rasch auch zum Vali von Macedonien bestellen -dann werde daselbst sofort Frieden herrschen."


3. Patriarchists are intimidated by the committees (central Macedonia). Preparations for the uprising.

Thessaloniki, January 26th, 1903

[F.O.195/2156, ff.76r-80v, No.20].


Two years ago some Greco-Vlachs, i.e. Wallachians who are educated exclusively in Greek schools and embued with Greek ideas, who in some parts speak nothing but Greek, and form, in the Vilayet of Monastir the bulk of the Macedonian Greek population, requested the permission of the Patriarchate to use the Roumanian language in their churches. The Patriarchate refused but the Exarchate acceded to the request, and this false step on the party of the former caused the first split in the Greco-Vlach party by inducing a number of Greco-Vlachs to throw in their lot with the Exarchate.

These new converts were, as is usually the case, more fervent than the Exarchists themselves and bashed by the Committees' bands resorted to intimidation and murder to coarse their compatriots who had remained faithful to the Patriarchate to join them.

One of the first Greco-Vlach villages affected was Oshin in the Caza of Ghevgheli, at the instigation of the Exarchist inhabitants of which two of the most influential Patriarchists were murdered in August last by a Bulgarian band under a certain Giovanni or Yovanoff of Ghevgheli. About three months ago, as I mentioned in my report No. 198 of November 9, 1902, he called at Oshin with his band and that of another leader, Arghiri, turned out at the Greek schoolmasters, appointed Roumanians (non-Bulgarian-speaking) and tried to induce the Orthodox priests to turn Exarchists, but failing in this they insisted on their reading the liturgy in Roumanian. On the priests' pleading ignorance of the language Yovanoff gave them six months to learn it.
Since their other chiefs have joined Yovanoff and Arghiri, viz. Pavlo, who died lately, Athanassi, Karadouka, and Apostoli, but the men under them do not exceed forty, a number which may, however, be increased at any time by recruits from among the natives.

These chiefs have continued the system initiated at Oshin, at Koupa, Houma, Longountza, and Loubnitsa, neighbouring villages of Ghevgheli, where also the Patriarchists are in the majority. In the village of Ghera Kortzi, where they form the minority, one of the most influential among them was murdered in broad day light while working in his field by a Bulgarian band some three weeks ago for refusing to recant. Papa Nicola, Orthodox priest of Livadi, another Greco-Vlach village some five hours distance from Goumendje is being threatened with death for remaining Patriarchist and if he is murdered the whole village will join the Exarchate from fear.

Meanwhile the forty men forming these Bulgarian bands live at the expense and in the houses of the Orthodox (or Roum, as they are officially termed, whether Greeks or Vlachs, in contradiction to the Exarchists), and no longer of the Bulgarian peasants, thus shifting the onus of supposed complicity from the latter to the former, as reported in one of my previous despatches.

The villages in the southwestern district of Ghevgheli, Gorpop, Boemitza, Bogdanza, Bores (or Bogros), Stoyakovo, Matchoukovo etc. are only in part Exarchist but the villages of Yenidje Vardar, Kriva, Barovitza, Tchernareka, Petges, Ramna, Petrovo with Cofalia (or Corfali) in Salonica are entirely Orthodox. None of these are, however, being pressed just now by the bands to join the Exarchate nor to dismiss their Greek schoolmasters but they have been warned to hold themselves ready to take up arms when ordered to do so in a few months. In the meantime they are threatened with death if they should denounce the bands, for whose reception they are ordered to have a house and provisions in constant readiness.

All these details some of which I have already had the honour of reporting, e.g. the payment of the taxes to the Committees agents and not to Government, the submittal of cases to the Committees representatives and not to the local tribunals, the rape of Dimitris' daughter at Moouin for her father's refusal to join the bands and (as I did not know at the time) the exaction from him of twenty five pounds, have only lately come to light. The poor wretches, who suffered, being afraid to even visit Salonica for fear of being suspected of having come to denounce their oppressors and only lately have a few dared to come secretly and, explaining their position, enquire what they can do for themselves or what can can be done for them. They trembled lest the bands should discover what would assuredly cost them their lives.

The Vali himself is at a loss how to relieve the Patriarchists. He told me a fortnight ago that he had summoned the Kaimakams of Ghevgheli and Yenidje Vardar and secretly arranged with them to invest all the villages mentioned above on a given day and in case of need to repeat the operation until successful, and also to send out flying columns. But nothing has been done, nor do I anticipate any very brilland result from such a plan even if carried out properly and thoroughly with the strong force required since many of the Komitajis are villagers against whom it would be difficult to prove anything, while the strangers have secured themselves against denunciation by the terrorism which they have established, and would succeed in slipping through the lines.

Want of foresight on the part of the Government has, I fear, allowed matters to go too far for any remedy to be easily discoverable. The late Halil Rifaat Pasha was induced by the dread of an "atrocities outcry", which has after all been raised, to allow the small minority of new-made Exarchists to share the Churches of the Patriarchists, who naturally regarded them as schismatics and to use the Bulgarian Liturgy -or to cause the closure of the Churches for months, thus depriving their original proprietors of the means of fulfilling their religious duties, even on such holidays as Christmas and Easter. The support thus given to the Exarchists was the more regrettable that it encouraged the revolutionary Committees to attain their end by assassinating the priests whom they could not bribe and the notables whom they could not coerce.

I frequently called the successive Valis' attention to this policy as detrimental to the interests of their Government, but in answer they all said that they were acting orders from the Porte which they could not disregard.

The only other band which is known to exist in this Vilayet is that of Alexis of Poroia. The daring which prompted his attempt on the train (as reported in my despatch No. 13 of the 17 inst.) near the station of Poroia proves how far the bands have established themselves or, at least, how inadequate are the means employed by the local authorities hitherto in coping with them.

The sufferings of the Greeks, described above, extend also to those Bulgarians and Vlachs who are Patriarchists and can only be remedied by the extermination of the few now existing bands, which if not destroyed will form the nucleus of larger bands in the spring. Only exceptionally severe and thorough measures can effect this and only the appointment of the most trustworthy officers for the work can prevent an "atrocities outcry".


4. The authorities try to deal with the armed bands in central and N.E. Macedonia.

Thessaloniki, January 31st, 1903

[F.O.195/2156, ff.92v-97r].

...The same European, whom I mentioned above, said: "The disturbances began with the murder at Serbinovo of ten taxcollectors etc. from Kroupnik... where (i.e. Serbinovo) a fight ensued, the most serious in Djouma Bala, during which one hundred Bulgarians and fifty Turks were killed. Though the Bulgarians did their best to rouse the Moslems to outrage they failed... The majority of the peasants returning from their flight to Bulgaria, willingly surrender their arms, the others are beaten until they do."(No. 190 of Nov. 19). Not a word about rapes and not only this, but rapes were said to have been committed at the beginning of December by soldiers in the Caza of Stroumnitza were stoutly denied by Bulgarians, who had come purposely to complain of beating and looting on the part of the troops, and in order to supply this unexpected deficiency the ringleaders had to take up the case of a girl who was carried off by a certain Hassan and of a married woman of doubtful character, who was ravished four months ago by a Bey, who subsequently indemnified her.

...Another statement made by all the deponents in Sofia, viz. that they possessed no arms and that they were obliged to buy rifles at very high prices to surrender to the Turks, is not in accordance with the fact that in Djouma Bala and Menslik alone fifteen hundred were collected. A certain number were given up voluntarily, but the great majority of peasants had to be more or less ill-treated before they dared part with their weapons. For, as the Bulgarians from Stroumnitza declared to me (v. No. 225 of Dec. 28), "the peasants are in a terrible dilemma, for if they do not give up their arms they are excessively beaten, and if they give them up without being beaten they are murdered by the Committees." Everybody, of course, both here and in Bulgaria -the local as well as foreign authorities and the public- knows that very large quantities of arms and ammunition supplied by the Committees were and still are in the possession of the Bulgarian peasants.

With reference to the last paragraph but one in Mr. Elliots' despatch No. 195 of the 23rd ultimo to His Majesty's Secretary of State, Mr. Acting Vice Consul Theodorides reports "Le bruit que les Turcs poussent les habitants de ce district (i.e. Razlog) a emigrer vers le Sud n'a pas de fondement. Au point de l'emigration je dois ajouter que plus de six cent personnes de Razlog munies de passeports reguliers se sont rendues en Bulgarie avant les derniers evenements." This emigration of six hundred natives at that time of year before the Turks began their search for arms proves that they were either warned of, or anticipated, the trouble which the Committees brought on the province. And the following extract from a letter from the best possible source confirms this view: "Razlog is Centralist and kept quiet when the Vurhovists rose in Djoumai district. This angered the Vurhovists and they sent bands over just at the beginning of winter to shed blood and get the Razlog Bulgarians into trouble. The coming of these bands convinced the Turks that Razlog is in the Committees business and they began the search for arms. The district is so remote that the Turks had no thought that what they were doing would reach the outer world and so made no particular effort at self control. My impression of the depositions of the witnesses you examined is that they told the truth as to their personal experiences. But the women may have exaggerated in one or two cases in telling what happened to men. All of them evaded or lied as to who instigated them to come. This arouses the suspicion that their coming here was arranged by the Committee."


5. A former officer in the Bulgarian army is a teacher in Monastir.

Thessaloniki, February 5th, 1903

[F.O. 195/2156, f.131r, No.28].

...On January 26 a letter was seized on a schoolboy called Adjacoff travelling from Resna to Monastir, addressed to Paraskeff Sfetkoff, a former lieutenant in the Bulgarian army and only just come as schoolmaster to Monastir by L. Groourtzeff, director of the Bulgarian school and head of the Committee at Resna, the contents of which proved Sfetkoff to be the chief of the Committee at Monastir. It made several suggestions with reference to the employment of certain people as committee agents, among them the family of Hololtzeff.


To be continued...


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