Once during the occupation of Thessaly I watched a Turkish trooper playing in the outskirts of Larissa with some little Greek children. Ragged, unkempt, unsoldierly, he seemed a typical Asiatic. His complexion was swarthy, his nose curved and his curly beard set at that curious angle which one associates with Assyrian bas-reliefs. He may have come of the same stock which followed Darius when the East made its first assault upon European liberties. But the children saw in him only a kindly playmate. They were completely at their ease with him, fearless and confident as they might have been with some great gentle dog. He too was happy, a mere child of nature, a soldier by compulsion and a conqueror by accident. He lifted a little girl upon his shoulder that she might pluck the blossoms of a hawthorn tree. For a moment one almost forgot the barbaric notes of the military band rehearsing its tuneless hymns of conquest and of triumph in the square hard by. But suddenly across the road there appeared the indignant form of a Greek mother. She stood in the doorway of " the Café of Byron and Independence," and a shrill voice called the little girl by name. " Eleftheria, Eleftheria," it shouted, and the golden head of little "Freedom" slid down from the Turk's shoulder. In the harsh accents of a scolding tongue, with words that were a war-cry at Marathon, the mother explained that patriotic children do not play with barbarians. The Turk slouched disappointed away, and little "Freedom" gazed wistfully after him. The baptism of revolt had set an impassable barrier between them.
The memory of this scene comes back to me when I ask myself whether I have succeeded in writing a fair book about the Macedonian question. My sympathies and my friendships are not all on one side. The Turk in his shabby uniform, responsive only to primitive ideals of loyalty and honour, simple, courageous, dignified, and poor, is often a more attractive and picturesque object than the little huckster in European clothes who has called his cafe after Byron. But it is my weakness that I cannot hear the name of Freedom unmoved, even when it comes from the shrill throat of a Greek mother. All one's aesthetic impulses cry out on behalf of the Mohamedan with his easy, incompetent nature, his indifference to abstractions, his aloofness from the busy ugliness of the modern world. But there come crises in the development of Eastern affairs when one can no longer dally with these romantic preferences. The Macedonian insurrection of 1903 failed in its immediate object, but it created a tension which can only be relieved by the liberation of these miserable provinces. At such a moment it is irrelevant to remember that the Turks have their personal graces and their private virtues. We are concerned with them only as a governing race—a primitive Asiatic people with gaps in their minds and lacuna in their vocabularies. The creed of the rulers is "Islam" (i.e., obedience, resignation). Their subjects baptize their children "Freedom". With all the tolerance in the world we can only say that such an arrangement is hopeless. If it were the subject race which believed in resignation and the victors in freedom, one might expect some measure of happiness. Reverse the position and the results can only be squalor, anarchy, and misery.
My main object is to explain, with what detail is necessary, the nature of Turkish rule as it affects the peasantry of Macedonia. The strife between the Christian races, the rivalry of competing empires, the devastation caused in one form or another by the idea of nationality—all this is interesting, but incomparably less important than the daily sufferings of the villagers who endure in patient obscurity. It matters very little whether a village which was originally neither Greek nor Bulgarian nor Servian is bribed or persuaded or terrorised into joining one of these national parties. But it does matter profoundly that it should be freed from the oppression of its landlord, its tax-farmer, and the local brigand chief.
I have tried, so far as a European can, to judge both Christians and Turks as tolerantly as possible, remembering the divergence which exists between the standards of the Balkans and of Europe. In a land where the peasant ploughs with a rifle on his back, where his rulers govern by virtue of their ability to massacre upon occasion, where Christian Bishops are commonly supposed to organise political murders, life has but a relative value, and assassination no more than a relative guilt. There is little to choose in bloody-mindedness between any of the Balkan races— they are all what centuries of Asiatic rule have made them. I once discussed the Belgrade murders with an " educated " Turk. He was a Pasha occupying one of the chief military commands in European Turkey, and connected by marriage with the Imperial family. He showed his enlightenment by wearing tweeds and discarding his fez at meals, and he talked a smattering of almost every European tongue save English. He was, of course, profoundly shocked by the murder of a King and Queen, and I happened to remark that the crime after all was quite unnecessary. "It would have been so easy," said I, "to arrest them quietly and ferry them over the Danube into exile." "Yes," said he, "it was very stupid. The civilised thing to do would have been to imprison them, and then quietly, when every one had forgotten about them, to give them poison. Yes. It was a barbarous act ! " In a land where the code of the more enlightened rulers is to murder with elegance and some regard for propriety, one must not apply the moral standards of London or Paris to the conduct of their revolted serfs.
The reader will expect some little explanation of the circumstances in which this book was written. It is the fruit of some five journeys to the Near East, including two visits to Macedonia. The latter of these was particularly instructive. I spent five months of the winter of 1903-4 in the province of Monastir after the Bulgarian rising, acting, with Lady Thompson, Miss Durham and my wife, on behalf of the British Relief Fund. My work brought me into constant touch with people of every race. Going about among the devastated villages, examining their resources, assessing their needs, and listening to their complaints, I had opportunities which rarely come to the European traveller for learning something of the realities of their daily life. One of the many languages of Macedonia was already familiar to me, and previous experiences in Crete had initiated me into some of the mysteries of the Turkish system. We had at every turn to reckon with the prejudices of the administration, and learned much of its workings in our effort to carry on the rather delicate business of relieving its victims. Finally, though our object was purely philanthropic, and though we eschewed politics and sought to help men of all races and creeds alike, we did not escape the suspicions and the enmities which thrive in an atmosphere of falsehood and intrigue. To avoid the politics of the country one had first to study them. I have not in this book attempted to give any account of the relief work, but it is none the less necessary to explain that it provided a large part of the experience on which the book is based.
I should like to express here something of the gratitude which I feel to the courtesy and sympathy of the European residents in Macedonia who allowed me to draw upon their experience and information. I could hardly exaggerate my debt towards His Majesty's consuls, Mr. W. L. Graves, Mr. James McGregor, and Mr. R. Fontana, and with them I would mention the Rev. Lewis Bond, the Rev. E. B. Haskell, and Father Lucien Proy, of the American and French Missions. The kindness of some of the representatives of other European Powers, notably M. Steeg, M. Choublier, Herr Muthsam, and M. Toukholka, was the more welcome as to them I was a stranger. It would, I fear, be indiscreet to mention by name the many natives of Macedonia, Moslems as well as Christians, from whom I received both hospitality and assistance.
Portions of two chapters have appeared in the Fortnightly Review and the Manchester Guardian, and I am indebted to their editors for permission to make use of them. It is to the Manchester Guardian's keen and sympathetic interest in the peoples of the Near East, that I owe most of my opportunities of travel in Turkey.
Some of the photographs in this book have been most generously given to me by Mr. Bertram Christian, Mr. Henry W. Nevinson, and Major Salmon.
To my wife, who shared our travels, performed alone at Ochrida the most arduous and painful of the tasks which fell to us in the work of relief, helped me by her clear and tolerant judgment to form my views of the country, and gave me her aid in writing this book, a public acknowledgment of my whole debt of gratitude would be either irreticent or inadequate.
[Back to Index]