Carnegie Endowment for International peace
Report ... to inquire into the causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars
The Origin of the Two Balkan Wars
2. The struggle for autonomy
The part played by Russia in the liberation of Bulgaria is sufficiently well known. It is much less well known that this liberation was preceded in 1878 by a national movement on the spot. Of this we have spoken already in connection with the peaceful struggle carried on by the exarchate against the Phanariot Greeks. It was accompanied by a revolutionary movement whose aim was the independence of Bulgaria. As in Servia and in Greece at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the movement found allies among the semi-brigand, semi-revolutionary mountain chiefs, known as haidouks. The principal leaders, the "apostles" of the movement, however, were revolutionaries of a more modern type, intellectuals whose education had frequently been acquired in foreign schools and universities. The generation of the "apostles" declared against the older methods of conflict, the ecclesiastical methods adopted by the tchobadjis, or nabobs of the Bulgarian colony at Constantinople. The people were with the apostles, and the era of insurrections began, bringing in its train the Turkish atrocities which Gladstone revealed to the civilized world. The Macedonian Bulgarians shared in this movement as well as the Bulgarians of Bulgaria proper. It was quite natural that the close of the Russo-Turkish war should see arising the idea of an "undivided Bulgaria," conceived within the limits of the treaty of San Stefano and including all the populations in Turkey regarded by themselves as Bulgarian. The protestations of Servian nationalism were stifled by the Servians themselves, for they, like Mr. Verkovits, had recognized all the countries enclosed within the boundaries of the Bulgaria of the future, imagined by Count Ignatiev, as traditionally Bulgarian. [It should be added that the ethnographic boundaries of Bulgaria, including therein Macedonia, were, previous to the treaty of San Stefano, indicated in the Minutes of the Conference at Constantinople in 1876. (See the debates of December 11/23.) The treaty of San Stefano as agreed upon between Russia and Turkey was, as is known, modified in essential respects and remade by the Berlin agreement, which divided this ethnographic Bulgaria in three parts: (i) The principality of Bulgaria; (ii) The vassal province of Eastern Roumelia; (iii) The Turkish province of Macedonia.]
The fate of the treaty of San Stefano is familiar. The principality of Bulgaria was dismembered, and Macedonia remained in the hands of the Turks. This was the origin and cause of all subsequent conflicts. "Undivided Bulgaria," tsielo coupna Boulgaria, became in future the goal and the ideal of Bulgarian na-
tional policy. Turkey replied by favoring minorities. An internal conflict followed by the use of means of which the late war has given an appalling example. From this time on there was no more security in Macedonia. Each of the rival nations,-Bulgarian, Greek, Servian, counted its heroes and its victims, its captains and its recruits, in this national guerrilla warfare and the result for each was a long martyrology. By the beginning of 1904 the number of political assassinations in Macedonia had, according to the English Blue Book, reached an average of one hundred per month. The Bulgarians naturally were the strongest, their bands the most numerous, their whole militant organization possessing the most extensive roots in the population of the country. The government of
the Bulgarian principality had presided at the origination of the Macedonian movement in the time of Stefane Stamboulov (about 1895). There was, however, always a divergence between the views of official Bulgaria which sought to e the movement as an instrument in its foreign policy, and those of the revolutionaries proper, most of them young people enamored of independence and filled with a kind of cosmopolitan idealism.
The revolutionary movement in Macedonia has frequently been represented a product of Bulgarian ambition and the Bulgarian government held directly responsible for it. As a matter of fact, however, the hands of the government re always forced by the Macedonians, who relied on public opinion, violently
excited by the press, and the direct propaganda of the leaders. There certainly was a "Central Committee" at Sofia, whose president was generally someone who enjoyed the confidence of the prince. This committee, however, served chiefly as the representative of the movement in the eyes of the foreigner; in the eyes of the real leaders it was always suspected of too great eagerness to serve the dynastic ambitions of King Ferdinand. It was in Macedonia that the real revolutionary organization, uncompromising and jealous of its independence, was to be found. For the origins of this internal organization we must go back to 1893 when, in the little village of Resna, a small group of young Bulgarian intellectuals founded a secret society with the clearly expressed intention of "preparing the Christian population for armed struggle against the Turkish regime in order to win personal security and guarantees for order and justice in the administration," which may be translated as the political autonomy of Macedonia. The "internal organization" did not aim at the annexation of Macedonia to Bulgaria ; it called all nationalities dwelling in the three vilayets to join its ranks. No confidence was felt in Europe; hope was set on energetic action by the people. To procure arms, distribute them to the young people in the villages, and drill the latter in musketry and military evolutions-such were the first endeavors of the conspirators. All this was not long in coming to the notice of the Turks, who came by accident upon a depot of arms and bombs at Vinitsa. This discovery gave the signal for Turkish acts of repression and atrocities which counted more than two hundred victims. From that time on, there was no further halt in the struggle in Macedonia. The people, far from being discouraged by torture and massacre, became more and more keenly interested in the organization. In a few years the country was ready for the struggle. The whole country had been divided into military districts, each with its captain and militia staff. The central "organization," gathering force "everywhere and nowhere" had all the regular machinery of a revolutionary organization; an "executive police," a postal service and even an espionage service to meet the blows of the enemy and punish "traitors and spies." Throughout this period of full expansion, the people turned voluntarily to the leaders, even in the settlement of their private affairs, instead of going before the Ottoman officials and judges, and gladly paid their contributions to the revolutionary body. Self-confidence grew to such a point that offensive action began to be taken. The agricultural laborers tried striking against their Turkish masters for a rise in wages, to bring them up to the minimum laid down by the leaders of the "organization." They grew bolder in risking open skirmishes with the Turkish troops; and the official report of the "organization" records that as many as 132 conflicts (512 victims) took place in the period 1898-1902. At last European diplomacy stirs. The first scheme of reforms appeared, formulated by Russia and Austria in virtue of their entente of 1897. The Austro-Russian note of February, 1903, formulates demands too modest to be capable of solving the problem. The result was as usual; the Porte hastens to prevent European action
by promising in January to inaugurate reforms. The Macedonian revolutionaries are in despair. A little group of extremists detaches itself from the Committee to attempt violent measures such as might stir Europe; in June bombs were thrown at Salonica. On July 20 (old style) the day of St. Elie (Iline-den) a formal insurrection breaks out: the rayas see that they are strong enough to measure themselves against their old oppressors.
It is the climax of the "internal organization" and that of its fall. The heroism of the rebels breaks itself against the superior force of the regular army. The fighting ratio is one to thirteen, 26,000 to 351,000; there are a thousand deaths and, in the final result, 200 villages ruined by Turkish vengeance, 12,000 houses burned, 3,000 women outraged, 4,700 inhabitants slain and 71,000 without a roof. [We quote throughout from the official report of the "organization."]
The decadence of the "internal organization" begins here, with the usual consequences-demoralization and Jacobinism. Traitors are searched out, and to an increasing extent discovered and executed; funds are extorted and employed on private purposes instead of on the national conflict; forced idleness condemns men to a life of disorder and coarse pleasure. The first period of the struggle is at an end (1897-1904).
Now, however, the whole of Europe begins to interest itself in the affairs of Macedonia.The second period opens; it is marked by attempts to organize European control over the Turkish regime (1905-1907). Macedonian autonomy becomes the distant goal of diplomatic efforts. Gradually an understanding begins to be reached, as questions are taken one by one, and the attempt is made to reform Turkish administration, police, finance and justice in Macedonia.We need not linger over the details of this portion of Balkan history, for it is but too familiar. Generally speaking, it is the repetition, on a larger scale, of what had been going on for half a century. First, unreal concessions, then, as soon as they begin to become onerous, general reform on paper which sweeps away and slurs over all practical details; and finally, the moment of tension once over, and the attention of Europe averted, the old order once again-with the single difference that the concessions agreed upon this time were more important. The loss of a whole province seemed threatened. So the reaction was all the greater. Instead of the Hamidian constitution of 1876, here was a new one, imposed this time on the sovereign by the Young Turk Revolution. Reforms were imposed fin the name of the people]. The Great Powers had nothing more to do in Macedonia. They departed amid the joyous cries of the multitude, while the leaders of the different nationalities, only yesterday on terms of irreconcilable hostility, embraced one another. The last attempt at the reconstruction of the Ottoman State was about to begin; the third and last period of our history (1908-12).
Its opening was of very happy augury. Proclaimed to the strains of the Marseillaise, the young Turkish revolution promised to solve all difficulties
and pacify all hatreds by substituting justice for arbitrary rule, and freedom for despots. First and foremost it proclaimed complete equality as between the diverse nationalities inhabiting Turkey, in reliance on their Ottoman patriotism, their attachment to the vatan, to their fatherland one and indivisible. The partisans of Macedonian autonomy take up once more their hopes of reaching their end without alarming the susceptibilities of the dominant race. The revolutionaries and comitadjis of yesterday lay down their arms and go down from their mountains to the big towns; neither arms nor secret relations with the neighboring Balkan governments are any longer needed. Bulgarian Macedonians above all dream that they can now become good Ottoman patriots, while still faithful to their national ambitions.
It is a dream of but a moment's duration. The Young Turkish revolution proves itself from the very first narrow and nationalist. Far from satisfying the tendencies of re-awakening nationalism, it sets itself a task to which the absolutism of the Sultan had never ventured; to reconstruct the Turkey of the Caliphate and transform it into a modern state, beginning by the complete abolition of the rights and privileges of the different ethnic groups. These rights and privileges, confirmed by firmans and guaranteed by European diplomacy, were the sole means by which the Christian nationalities could safeguard their language, their beliefs, their ancient civilizations. These barriers once down, they felt themselves threatened by Ottoman assimilation in a way that had never been threatened before in the course of the ages since the capture of Constantinople by Mahomet II. This assimilation, this "Ottomanization," was the avowed aim of the victor, the committee of "Union and Progress."
Worse still: the assimilation of heterogeneous populations could only be effected slowly, however violent might be the measures threatening the future existence of the separate nationalities. The men of the Committee had not even confidence in the action of time. They wished to destroy their enemies forthwith, while they were still in power. Since national rivalries in Macedonia offered an ever-ready pretext for the intervention of the Powers, they decided to make an end of the question with all possible celerity. They were sure-and frequently stated their assurance in the Chamber-that the ancien regime was to blame for the powerlessness it had shown in Macedonia. They, on the other hand, with their new methods, would have made an end of it in a few months, or at most a few years.
Nevertheless it was the old methods that were employed. A beginning was made in 1909 by violating the article of the constitution which proclaimed the liberty of associations. The various ethnic groups, and especially the Bulgarians, had taken advantage of this article to found national clubs in Macedonia. As the pre-1908 revolutionary organizations had been dissolved by their heads, in their capacity of loyal Ottoman citizens, they had been replaced by clubs which had served as the nucleus of an open national organization. Their objective was now
electoral instead of armed conflict; and while secretly arming there was nevertheless a readiness to trust the Ottoman Parliament, to leave it to time to accomplish the task of regeneration and actual realization of constitutional principles. The Bulgarian revolutionaries had even concluded a formal agreement with the revolutionaries of the Committee of Union and Progress, according to which the return home of th2 insurgents was regarded as conditional only, and the internal organization only to be disbanded on condition that the constitution was really put in force.
The Committee once in power saw the danger of these national political organizations and entered on a systematic conflict with its allies of yesterday. From the spring of 1909 onwards, the partisans of the Committee caused the assassination one after another of all those who had been at the head of revolutionary bands or committees under the previous regime. In the autumn of 1909 the final blow was aimed at the open organizations. (The Union of Bulgarian constitutional clubs included at that moment sixty-seven branches in Macedonia.) In November, the Chamber passed an Association law which forbade "any organization based upon national denomination." An end was thus successfully put to the legal existence of the clubs, but not to the clubs themselves. Revolutionary activity began again from the moment when open legal conflict became impossible.
The Christian populations had good reasons for revolting against the new Turkish regime. Articles 11 and 16 of the revised constitution infringed the rights and privileges of the religious communities and national schools. The Ottoman State claimed to extend the limits of its action under the pretext of "protecting the exercise of all forms of worship" and "watching over all public schools." The principles might appear modern but in practice they were but new means for arriving at the same end-the "Ottomanization" of the Empire. This policy aimed at both Greeks and Bulgarians. For the Greeks, the violent enemies of the Young Turkish Movement from its beginning, it was the economic boycott declared by the Committee against all the Greeks of the Empire in retaliation for the attempts of the Cretans to reunite themselves with the mother country. It was forbidden for months that the good Ottomans should frequent shops or cafes kept by Greeks. Greek ships stopped coming into Ottoman ports, unable to find any laborers to handle their cargo.
Even more dangerous was the policy of Turkizing Macedonia by means of systematic colonization, carried out by the mohadjirs-emigrants, Moslems from Bosnia and Herzegovina. This measure caused discontent with the new regime to penetrate down to the agricultural classes. They were almost universally Bulgarian tenant farmers who had cultivated the tchifliks (farms) of the Turkish beys from time immemorial. In the course of the last few years they had begun to buy back the lands of their overlords, mainly with the money many of them brought home from America. All this was now at an end. Not only had the purchase of their holdings become impossible; the Turks began turning the ten-
ants out of their farms. The government bought up all the land for sale to establish mohadjirs (Moslem refugees from Bosnia) upon it.
This was the final stroke. The leaders of the disarmed bands could now return to their mountains where they rejoined old companions in arms. The "internal organization" again took up the direction of the revolutionary movement. On October 31, 1911, it "declared publicly that it assumed responsibility for all the attacks on and encounters with the Turkish army by the insurgents in this and the previous year, and for all other revolutionary manifestations." The Young Turkish Government had not waited for this declaration to gain cognizance of revolutionary activity and take action upon it. So early as November, 1909, it had replied by an iniquitous "band" law, making the regular authorities of the villages, all the families where any member disappeared from his home, the whole population of any village harboring a comitadji, responsible for all the deeds and words of the voluntary, irregular associations. In the summer of 1910 a systematic perquisition was instituted in Macedonia with the object of discovering arms hidden in the villagers' houses. The vexations, the tortures to which peaceful populations were thus subjected can not possibly be enumerated here. In November, 1910, Mr. Pavlov, Bulgarian deputy, laid the facts before the Ottoman Parliament. He had counted as many as 1,853 persons individually subjected to assault and ill treatment in the three Macedonian vilayets, leaving out of account the cases of persons executed en masse, arrested and assaulted, among whom were dozens killed or mutilated. Adding them in, Mr. Pavlov, brought his total up to 4,913. To this number were still to be added 4,060 who had taken refuge in Bulgaria or fled among the mountains to escape from the Turkish authorities.
The year 1910 was decisive in the sense of affording definite proof that the regime established in 1908 was not tolerable. The regime had its chance of justifying itself in the eyes of Europe and strengthening its position in relation to its own subjects and to the neighboring Balkan States; it let the chance go. From that time the fate of Turkey in Europe was decided, beyond appeal.
This was also the end
of the attempts at autonomy in Macedonia. To realize this autonomy two
principal conditions were required: the indivisibility of Turkey and a
sincere desire on the part of the Turkish government to introduce radical
reforms based on decentralization. No idea was less acceptable to the "Committee
of Union and Progress" than this of decentralization, since it was the
watchword of the rival political organization. Thenceforward any hope of
improving the condition of the Christian populations within the limits
of the status quo became illusory. Those limits had to be transcended.
Autonomy was no longer possible. Dismemberment and partition had to be
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