I. Characterictics of Turkish rule
6. Neglect of the Rural Districts
There is in Turkish administration a singular but quite intelligible contrast between the country and the larger cities. The cities are emphatically over-governed. The administration pries into every detail of the daily life of the people. The streets swarm with spies, and it is as difficult to avoid them as it is to escape stumbling over
the dogs. In Constantinople the system reaches its climax of absurdity, and the whole population seems to live by spying on itself. Even the Embassies are not exempt from this omnipresent parasitic life. I have heard a lady, who spent some weeks as a guest in the house of the Chancellor of a certain Embassy which is in high favour at Yildiz, describe how, on the evening of a dinner-party, two Turkish officers made their appearance unannounced and uninvited, sat down, without a word of explanation, to dinner, and listened, as well as their linguistic gifts allowed them, to the lightest word of general conversation. If a friendly European diplomatist can be victimised in this fashion, it may be imagined what is the lot of a prominent Christian dignitary or a too popular Turkish notable. The cabinet noir examines all correspondence, and to such a pitch is the dread of conspiracy carried that the post-office will accept no letters in Constantinople for delivery within the city itself. The precaution is characteristic of Turkish stupidity, for the last agency of which a conspirator would avail himself for the transmission of compromising correspondence is the Turkish post.
The country, on the other hand, is exempt from any systematic government. It is inhabited in Macedonia mainly by Bulgarians, and the Turk does not see why he should trouble himself to provide them with the machinery of order and security. Macedonia is a land of villages. Hardly anywhere outside Albania proper does one find little hamlets or scattered houses. To build an isolated cottage or a lonely farm-house would imply too much trust in one's fellow-men. Nothing would be easier than to police Macedonia by establishing one or two resident gendarmes of good character in all the larger villages. But that is a precaution which the Turks have never adopted. They leave the villages to their own devices, and, if trouble threatens, suddenly quarter troops upon them, not to protect, but to terrorise them. In Europe it is the remote and lonely situation which is thought unsafe. In Turkey the zone of danger lies rather along the frequented high-road. A village set on a hill, or hidden in some inaccessible glen,
enjoys a relative immunity from outrage. A village by the wayside is the prey of every passing brigand in or out of uniform. We found when we arrived in Macedonia last autumn, at the close of the insurrection, that the peasants from the remoter villages had all come back to the site of their ruined homes. But the villages situated along the high-roads were abandoned to desolation, and neither threats nor persuasion would induce their inhabitants to return. In two cases they even determined to use the opportunity to rebuild elsewhere, upon some lonelier hillside, where the visits of travelling Turks would be less frequent. I confess that at first I rather inclined to the view of the unsympathetic, who conjectured that the peasants were deliberately making the most of their misfortunes, and were obeying orders from the revolutionary committee in refusing to return. Further knowledge convinced me that they did not exaggerate the danger of roadside life. Riding one day upon the high-road from the busy little garrison town of Klissoura to the railway at Sorovitch, at mid-day and within sight of the town, I came upon a brigand seated on a boulder which he had placed in the middle of the road, smoking his cigarette, with his rifle across his knees, and calmly levying tribute from all the passers-by. Near the same spot lay the burned and deserted village of Mokreni. Its peasants, more daring than the rest, had actually begun to rebuild it. They had cut and dressed the necessary timber, working in Mokreni by day and sleeping in Klissoura at night. As soon as the beams were ready the bashi-bazouks of a neighbouring Moslem village swooped down at night and carried off the labour of several weeks. After that experience the people of Mokreni remained in Klissoura, admiring the superior wisdom of those who had made no attempt to return. There could after all be no more sweeping condemnation of a Government than this - that safety is possible only beyond the reach of its arm.
The remoter villages do in the main lead their own life in their own way - provided there is no Moslem settlement in their immediate neighbourhood. Then indeed it is always
risky to stir far afield to cut wood or to tend sheep, save in Albanian districts, where distant errands are usually confided to the women, for a certain chivalry forms one of the many redeeming features in the Albanian character. But there are regions of Macedonia where one may ride for two or three days without seeing a uniform, or hearing a word of Turkish, or encountering a loyal pair of eyes. In such regions a Turkish visitation is a rare and terrible occurrence. The Government makes its presence felt only when its agents descend to collect the taxes, when a "flying" column saunters out to hunt an elusive rebel band, or a police expedition arrives to punish some flagrant act of defiance. Such occasions are infrequent, but they are apt to be memorable. In one of several well-defined ways the village may have challenged Turkish ascendancy. Perhaps it has resented the violence of a tax-collector; possibly it has harboured an armed party of insurgents whom it could not have resisted if it would; or, again, it may have caught and perhaps killed a neighbouring civilian Turk who had assaulted some girl of the place. In such cases vengeance is slow, capricious, but sure. At the least all the men who can be caught will be mercilessly beaten, at the worst the village will be burned and some of its inhabitants massacred. The "guilty" peasants have almost certainly fled long before the Turks arrive. But their relatives and neighbours must suffer in their place. A village is always held collectively responsible for the acts of its inhabitants, and the priest, teacher, and headmen are the chief sufferers. There is no system of police in Macedonia. There are only punitive expeditions.
But in the intervals between these catastrophes the countryside leads its own life of plodding industry — varied by conspiracy. In visiting the villages after the insurrection one realised how little the presence of the Turks in some distant garrison centre pervades and permeates their daily life. I more than once surprised a village where the young men were standing about in groups wearing their insurgent uniforms. Tchakalaroff and several other Bulgarian chiefs were still prowling
about with the picked men of their autumn's levies. The Greeks, too,
had a couple of bands on a war footing, and neither faction seemed to be
seriously incommoded by the Turks. Within certain limits, and subject to
occasional but terrible reprisals, any armed force, brigand or insurgent,
Christian or Moslem, may do as it pleases in the Macedonian interior. The
Turks are not so much a government as a capricious and unintelligent, power
of nature. Macedonia, during the winter of 1903-4, was not so much a conquered
province as a desert swept by a human hurricane. It is in these conditions
that the Bulgarian insurgent movement has grown up, a constructive organisation
opposed to a negative and destroying force — a government within an anarchy.
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