Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future
H. Brailsford

V. The Bulgarian movement

12. The General Rising of 1903 in Thrace
 

To complete this brief account [1] of the military aspects of the insurrection, it is necessary to refer to the sympathetic revolts which occurred elsewhere. There was nothing approaching a general rising in the Uskub and Salonica Vilayets, but there was an active guerilla movement, particularly in the Struma valley, which attained its end of distracting the attention of the Turks and preventing them from throwing their entire army into the Monastir Vilayet. There were also several attempts upon the railways outside the Monastir Province, but these were hardly frequent or serious enough to be important. The chief effort outside Monastir was made in the Vilayet of Adrianople. Adrianople (Thrace) is one of the least known regions of Turkey. The great part of it is a rich plain inhabited by Bulgarians and Turks, with Greek settlements in the towns and along the coast. But of the Bulgarians of the plain a large proportion are Moslems (Pomacks). It is this greater prominence of the Mohamedan element which, in a political sense, distinguishes Thrace with its great plain, its rich rose-gardens and its tobacco fields from Macedonia and Thrace begins virtually at Drama. The Christian Slavs of Thrace reproduce, I imagine, [2] the condition of the plain dwellers of Macedonia, who are too poor and too utterly crushed beneath the dominion of their Mohamedan neighbours to be capable of the military hardihood required for an open revolt in a country where there are no mountains of refuge. There is, however, a highland region to the north-east, forming a triangular wedge between the frontiers of free Bulgaria and the Black Sea shore, and here the peasantry is by majority Christian, and has been able to preserve its manhood. In this country around the little towns of Malko-Tirnovo and Kirk-kilissé the Committee has long been a power. This region suffered as heavily as Macedonia

1. The curious reader may consult the Memorandum of the Internal Organisation to which I have already referred. Even as adventure the stories which I heard from insurgent officers were seldom very interesting, turning as they did only on continual pursuits and escapes.

2. I have never travelled farther east than Doiran except by railway, and can only write at second hand of the political conditions which prevail in Thrace.


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during the persecution of 1903; its situation had in fact become so intolerable, mainly owing to the unchecked oppressions of the bashi-bazouks, that no less than 20,000 peasants men, women and children abandoned their homes and their crops during the months of May and June, on the eve of the harvest season, finding a refuge in free Bulgaria. In Thrace, indeed, one finds the Turkish system of government in all its native crudity. There are few consuls even in the town of Adrianople, and for some of amazing reason of political selfishness Russia and Austria have always refused to permit any extension of the Macedonian reforms to this derelict and forgotten region. Among these refugees the Committee naturally found the material for bands, and two weeks after the proclamation of the revolt in Monastir the flag, with its device of "Liberty or Death," was unfurled in the Adrianople Vilayet as well (August 18th). The insurrection followed much the same course upon a smaller scale. Roads, bridges, and telegraph-lines were destroyed, isolated garrisons were overpowered, the bashi-bazouks driven into flight or a show of meekness, and for two or three weeks the whole of this highland region was in the hands of the insurgents. They showed little enterprise, however, and no attempt was made to capture the town of Malko-Tirnovo. The Greeks of the coast were thrown into a panic, and imagined that the Bulgarians intended to massacre them. The insurgents numbered, so far as I can ascertain, some 1,200 men, and had only 46 men killed and wounded. A relatively enormous Turkish force was ultimately drafted into the Vilayet (it is said 40,000 men), rather with the object of menacing Bulgaria than of crushing a rebellion so inconsiderable. This movement had no military interest, but for a moment there seemed a bare chance of an exciting complication. On August the 3rd the Russian Consul of Monastir, M. Rostkovsky, an enterprising but violent man, who could never remember that an Albanian Moslem has a fiercer sense of personal honour than a Russian peasant, struck a gendarme who had omitted to salute him, and was murdered on the spot. This was the second fatality within


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four months among the Russian Consular Staff in Macedonia (the first affair being the assassination of M. Sterbina at Mitrovitza), and obviously it could not be passed over lightly. No one thought of demanding the punishment of the ruffians who were responsible for the massacres at Smerdesh and Monastir, but, as a Macedonian once remarked to me, "European blood is dear." Russia called for the dismissal of the Vali, the hanging of the murderer, and the punishment of several other scapegoats. To give more weight to her claims, the Black Sea fleet was put in motion and appeared in Iniada Bay off the Thracian coast, at the moment when the insurrection was at its height. The rebels were naïve enough to imagine that this coincidence had some bearings upon their own sufferings and their own hopes, and somehow failed to understand the sublime mental detachment of a Tsar who was capable at this supreme moment in the history of his kinsmen, the Southern Slavs, of sending his fleet to their shores with no other object than to mark his displeasure at the death of one of his consuls in a private and rather sordid brawl. But so it was. [3] The fleet lay at anchor, watched the flames of burning villages and beacon fires unmoved, and when a wretched gendarme had been hanged in Monastir sailed quietly home. Soon after its departure began the phase of massacre and devastation, but that development had no interest for the masters of the world's navies.

3. The first Secretary of the Russian Embassy came this morning to inform me that the Russian fleet would proceed to Iniada, but that its entry into Turkish waters was only intended to accentuate the gravity with which his Government regard the murder of the Russian Consul, and was not otherwise connected with the situation of affairs in Macedonia" (Blue-Book, Cd. 1875, p. 273).
 

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