Carnegie Endowment for International peace
Report ... to inquire into the causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars
The War and the Noncombatant Population
1. The plight of the Macedonian Moslems during the First war
The first of the Balkan campaigns was accepted by European opinion as a War of Liberation. It meant the downfall on one continent of the Turkish Empire; it was easy, as victory succeeded victory, to believe that it meant also the end of all the oppressions of race by race which for five centuries had made the history of the Balkans a record of rebellion, repression, and massacre. On a close view of what happened in Macedonia, as the Balkan armies marched southward, this War of Liberation assumes a more sordid and familiar aspect. It unleashed the accumulated hatreds, the inherited revenges of centuries. It made the oppressed Christians for several months the masters and judges of their Moslem overlords. It gave the opportunity of vengeance to every peasant who cherished a grudge against a harsh landlord or a brutal neighbor. Every Bulgarian village in northern Macedonia had its memory of sufferings and wrongs. For a generation the insurgent organization had been busy, and the normal condition of these villages had been one of intermittent revolt. The inevitable Turkish reprisals had fallen now on one village and now on another. Searches for arms, heatings, tortures, wholesale arrests, and occasional massacres, were the price which these peasants paid for their incessant struggle toward self-government. In all these incidents of repression, the local Moslems had played their part, marching behind the Turkish troops as bashi-bazouks and joining in the work of pillage and slaughter. Their record was not forgotten when the Bulgarian victories brought the chance of revenge. To the hatred of races there was added the resentment of the peasantry against the landlords (beys), who for generations had levied a heavy tribute on their labor and their harvests. The defeat of the Turkish armies meant something more than a political change. It reversed the relations of conqueror and serf; it promised a social revolution.
Only the utmost vigilance exercised by a disciplined army and a resolute police could have checked the natural impulse toward vengeance among the liberated Macedonians. In point of fact, the measures adopted by the Bulgarian government to protect the local Moslem population in northern and central Macedonia were inadequate and belated. The regular army was not numerous, and it marched rapidly southwards toward Salonica, leaving no sufficient garrisons behind it. No attempt had been made to embody the insurgent bands in
regular corps, and they were left free over a broad and populous area to deal with the local Turks as their own instincts dictated. Civil officials arrived to organize a regular administration in some cases a full six weeks after the Turkish authority had disappeared. It is not surprising in these conditions, that the Moslem population endured during the early weeks of the war a period of lawless vengeance and unmeasured suffering. In many districts the Moslem villages were systematically burned by their Christian neighbors. Nor was it only the regions occupied by the Bulgarians which suffered. In the province of Monastir, occupied by the Serbs and Greeks, the agents of the (British) Macedonian Relief Fund calculated that eighty per cent of Moslem villages were burned. Salonica, Monastir, and Uskub were thronged with thousands of homeless and starving Moslem refugees, many of whom emigrated to Asia. The Moslem quarter of the town of Jenidje Vardar was almost totally burned down, in spite of the fact that this town was occupied by the main Greek army. Even in the immediate neighborhood of Salonica, Moslem villages were burned by the Greek troops. (See Appendix A, No. 12.) The Greek population of the Drama district indulged in robbery, murder and violation at the expense of the Moslem inhabitants, until order was restored by an energetic Bulgarian prefect. (See Appendix B, No. 16.)
A curious document (Appendix A, No. 13a) drawn up by the officials of the Moslem community of Pravishta and sealed with its seal, gives a vivid impression of a kind of persecution which we believe to have been normal in the early months of the first war. The district of Pravishta lies along the coast to the west of Kavala and is inhabited by about 20,000 Moslems and about 7,000 Greeks. It was occupied at first by Bulgarian bands under a voyevoda (chief) named Baptchev, and afterwards in part by Bulgarian and in part by Greek troops. Such civil administration as there was in the early stages of the conquest was conducted by the Greek Bishop, whom Baptchev obeyed, though with some measure of independence. This document gives particulars, village by village, of the Moslems who were killed and robbed. The lists are detailed, and give the names not only of the victims but of the assassins. Some of the particulars of the robberies are also given in great detail, and in one village even the color of the stolen cows is stated. Our experience shows that lists of this kind in the Balkans are usually accurate. Exaggeration begins only when peasants attempt to give estimates in round numbers. The number of Moslems killed in each village varied from one to twenty-five, and the damage done by robbery and looting from hundreds to thousands of pounds.
In the villages all these excesses seem to have been the work of local Greek bands. The most active of these bands was led by a priest and a warlike grocer who was a member of the Bishop's council. The Turks indeed accuse the Bishop of directing all these atrocities. The total number of Moslems killed is 195. Baptchev, in contrast to some other Bulgarian leaders of bands,
appears to have behaved relatively well. His exactions or robberies amounted to about úT6,000, but he killed only in ten cases after the Bishop and his Council had passed sentence, and it is said of him and his men that they did no violence to women, and even rescued two from the Greeks. It is also said that Moslem women fled to escape violation from villages held by Greek troops to villages held by Bulgarian soldiers. While we think it probable that this document is accurate and truthful, it must be remembered that it is an ex parte statement. The Turks imply that the motive for the slaughter was simply a desire to intimidate their community by striking at its heads. But it is likely that the local Greeks had long standing grievances against many of these Turks. Vengeance and cupidity had probably as much to do with these excesses as policy. No villages appear to have been burned in this district, but enough was done to make the local Moslems feel that their lot was unendurable.
The burning of villages and the exodus of the defeated population is a normal and traditional incident of all Balkan wars and insurrections. It is the habit of all these peoples. What they have suffered themselves, they inflict in turn upon others. It could have been avoided only by imperative orders from Athens, Belgrade, and Sofia, and only then if the church and the insurgent organization had seconded the resolve of the governments. A general appeal for humanity was in fact published by the Macedonian insurgent "Internal Organization," but it appears to have produced little effect.
Devastation, unfortunately, was not the worst of the incidents which stained the War of Liberation. More particularly in northeastern Macedonia the victorious population undertook a systematic proscription of the Moslems. The Commission has before it full evidence of one of these campaigns of murder at Strumnitsa. It was probably the worst incident of its kind, but it is typical of much that happened elsewhere on a smaller scale. Our information comes (1) from the surviving Moslem notables of the town, who gave us their evidence personally (see Appendix A, Nos. 1 and 2); (2) from an American gentleman who visited the town shortly afterwards; and (3) from a Bulgarian official. Strumnitsa in the autumn of 1912 was under a mixed control; the garrison was Servian; there was a junior Bulgarian civil official; and Bulgarian insurgents were present in large numbers. A commission was formed under the presidency of the Servian commander, Major Grbits, and with him there sat two junior Servian officers, the Bulgarian sub-prefect Lieutenant Nicholas Voultchev, the leader of the Bulgarian bands, voyevoda Tchekov (or Jekov), and some of the leading inhabitants. The local Moslems of the town were disarmed by a house to house search. Some indiscriminate killing of Moslems took place in the streets, and thereafter an order was issued forbidding any Moslem to leave his house, under pain of death. A local gendarmerie was meanwhile organized, and while the Moslems passively awaited their fate, a gendarme and a Servian soldier went from house to house summoning them one by one before the commis-
sion. As each victim came before the judges, Major Grbits inquired, "Is he good, or is he bad?"There was no discussion and no defense. Each member had his personal enemies, and no one ventured to interfere with his neighbor's resentments. One voice sufficed to condemn. Hardly one in ten of those who were summoned escaped the death sentence. The victims were roughly stripped of their outer clothing and bound in the presence of the commission, while the money found on them was taken by Major Grbits. The condemned Moslems were bound in threes, taken to the slaughter house and there killed, in some cases after torture and mutilation. The fortunate minority received a certificate which permitted them to live, and in many cases there is reason to believe that as much as úT100 was paid for it. The motive behind these atrocities was clearly as much cupidity as race hatred. The victims included not only the citizens of Strumnitsa, but also a large number of fugitives and prisoners from the surrounding villages. Our Turkish witnesses place the total of killed at the improbable figure of 3,000 to 4,000-a guesswork estimate. Our American and Bulgarian informants, who were both in a position to make a careful calculation, placed the total of those killed in this proscription at from seven to eight hundred. It is fair to add that steps were afterwards taken by the Bulgarian courts-martial to prosecute the guilty Bulgarian official, Voultchev, and the Bulgarian chief of bands, Tchekov, and a third person named Manov. All three have been sentenced to fifteen years' hard labor. The Servian government, on the other hand, has inflicted no punishment on Major Grbits, who was the senior officer and the person ultimately responsible for these atrocities.
The result of leaving Bulgarian bands at large with no adequate control was, if possible, still worse in the Kukush (Kilkish) region. Only a few Bulgarian regulars were left to garrison the town during the early weeks of the war, and the only authority which could make itself obeyed was that which the chief of bands, Toma of Istip, exercised with the aid of a commission of local Bulgarian notables. It drew up lists for the whole district, in which each of the Moslem inhabitants was rated at a certain figure, which might be represented as a poll-tax, but was in effect a ransom. To pay this ransom the Turks were often obliged to sell everything they possessed. Later, a band arrived under a certain Donchev, a notoriously cruel guerrilla chief, who acted on his own responsibility and has been disavowed and sentenced to death by the Macedonian revolutionary "internal organization." He is said to have burned 345 Turkish houses in one day in the villages of Raionovo, Planitsa, and Kukurtevo, shut up the men in the mosques and burned them alive or shot them down as they attempted to escape. It is said that Donchev's band massacred women and children; and this statement also is credited by Europeans who have ample local sources of information. An account of these events by Pere Michel, the head of the French Catholic mission at Kukush, has been published. (See Appendix A, No. 6.) It was misused and distorted in some Greek and French newspapers,
as though it referred to the doings of the Bulgarian regular army shortly before the second war. It was undoubtedly a truthful account of the excesses of the Bulgarian bands during the autumn of 1912.
A statement from a local Turk, who was recommended to us as an honest witness by a European resident, will be found in Appendix A (No. 7). Pere Michel's statements, it should be added, were generally corroborated by the Protestant missionaries who worked in the same district. The Bulgarian bands in the Kukush region were left for some weeks unmolested in this work of extortion and extermination. There is ample proof that they slaughtered many hundreds of disarmed and disbanded Turkish soldiers, who had surrendered to the Greeks at Salonica, and were traveling through Kukush on their way to their homes in northern Macedonia.
The responsibility of the regular Bulgarian authorities is more directly indicated in the massacre of Turks which took place in the town of Serres shortly after its capture. Here there was an adequate Bulgarian garrison, and a regular administration. We have before us a full statement from the President of the Turkish community of Serres, which is confirmed by the Austrian vice-consul (a Greek), and other Greek residents. Their evidence is inevitably biased and exaggerated, but it was unfortunately confirmed in its main outlines by a confidential statement made to us by an American gentleman, who was active after the massacre in relieving the distress among the Moslems. The events which preceded the massacre are very obscure. Mysterious shots were fired, and a large number of Turkish soldiers were supposed (we do not know with what truth) to be in hiding in the town. On a charitable reading of the facts it is fair to suppose that the Bulgarian authorities feared a revolt. This may explain but can not excuse the slaughter which followed. The Turkish version of this affair will be found in Appendix A (No. 8). The estimates given by Turks and Greeks, which range from 600 to 5,000 killed, are certainly exaggerated. Our American informant, a cautious and fair-minded man, with a long and intimate experience of Macedonia, believed that the number of killed in the town was, at most two hundred. He insisted, however, that the massacre was deliberate and unprovoked, and that it was accompanied by pillage on a large scale and by the violation of many Turkish women and children. Similar excesses were perpetrated in the villages. The instruments of this atrocity were chiefly Macedonian insurgents (comitadjis), but they acted under the eyes of the Bulgarian military authorities, who had in Serres a regular force sufficient to control them.
These instances should suffice to give some idea of the sufferings of the Moslem population during the early weeks of the occupation. It would unfortunately be easy to multiply them. Details will be found in the Appendices of a minor massacre, much exaggerated in the press, carried out at Dedeagatch by the dregs of the local Christian population (Greeks and Armenians) with
the aid of some Bulgarian privates of the Macedonian legion, who were accidentally left in the town without an officer (Appendix A, Nos. 9 and 10). A Bulgarian eye witness described to us the killing of a large number of local Turks at Uskub by Servians in the early days of the occupation (Appendix A, No. 11).
Incidents also occurred while Bulgarian regiments were on the march which led to savage reprisals. A volunteer of the Macedonian legion (Opolchenie), who was previously known to a member of the Commission as an honorable and truthful man, recounted the following incident as the one example of brutality which had come within his own experience. While marching through Gumurjina, the legion saw the dead bodies of about fifty murdered Bulgarian peasants. The dead body of a woman was hanging from a tree, and another with a young baby lay dead on the ground with their eyes gouged out. The men of the legion retaliated by shooting all the Turkish villagers or disbanded soldiers whom they met next day on their march, and killed in this way probably some fifty men and two or three women. The officers of the legion endeavored afterwards to discover the culprits, but were baffled by the solidarity of the men, who considered this butchery a legitimate reprisal. The Turks with whom we talked were on the whole agreed that the period of extreme brutality was confined to the early weeks of the first war. Many of them praised the justice of the regular Bulgarian administration which was afterwards established. From several of the Bulgarian officials who had to govern turbulent districts (e. g., Istip and Drama) infested by bands with an inadequate military force to back them, we have heard in detail of the steps which they took to regain the confidence of the Moslems. Many of them were successful.
A real effort was undoubtedly made to check the lawlessness of the bands and to deal with marauding on the part of the troops. The records of the courts-martial which we have before us, show that it was in January, 1913, that the Bulgarian headquarters became alarmed at the frequency and gravity of the excesses reported from the occupied territories. A circular telegram (see Appendix A, No. 13) sent to commanders and governors in Macedonia and Thrace enjoined them to institute inquiries into all excesses committed against the inhabitants of the occupied territories, and reminded them that the honor of the army was at stake, and that an attitude of indifference on their part toward the crimes of individuals would lead the world to suppose that Bulgarian civilization was not superior to that of the enemy. In two later telegrams the courts-martial were instructed to deal promptly with such charges and to give precedence to such cases over all others, more especially where the complaints came from Turks. The tone of these instructions is all that could be desired. It is disappointing to learn that up to February 15, 1913, the courts-martial in Macedonia had passed sentence on only ten persons for murder, eight for robbery or pillage, and two for rape. A large number of cases was in the stage of inquiry ("instruction"), and these included seventy-eight cases of murder, sixty-nine of pillage, seven of
rape, seven of robbery, disguised as taxation, fourteen of arson, and eighty-one of various kinds of robbery and dishonesty. Of the culprits thirty-seven were Macedonian insurgents, including six chiefs of bands (voyevodas). How many of these cases were completed and how many of the culprits were actually sentenced we do not precisely know, since the archives of the chief Macedonian court-martial were lost at the evacuation of Serres. But we are informed that more than 200 prisoners belonging to the Bulgarian army and to the irregular bands were in Serres gaol under sentence when the town was evacuated. There is reason to believe that they were then released, an unfortunate irregularity which may possibly have been unavoidable. These facts show that an effort was made upon a considerable scale in Macedonia to deal with the excesses committed against the Turkish population. It was somewhat tardy, and manifestly the prompt execution in the early weeks of the war of some of the more notable criminals would have produced a more salutary effect. Public opinion in the Balkans does not condemn excesses committed by Christians against Moslems as severely as neutral onlookers do. That is inevitable, given the historical conditions. But undoubtedly the chiefs of the Bulgarian army did make an attempt to clear its honor, and the attempt was successful in bringing about a great improvement in the conduct of the troops and their irregular allies. It is, moreover, creditable to the Bulgarian government that in order to check the spoliation of the Moslems, an edict was issued which made all transfers of land during the period of the war illegal and invalid.
It remains to mention the practice followed by the Bulgarians, over a wide area, of reconverting the pomaks by force to Christianity. The pomaks are Bulgarians by race and language, who at some period of the Turkish conquest were converted by force to Islam. They speak no Turkish, and retain some traditional memory of their Christian past; but circumstances have usually made them fanatical Mohammedans. They number in the newly conquered territories at least 80,000 persons, and are chiefly concentrated to the north and east of Nevrocop. The Bulgarian Holy Synod conceived the design of converting them en masse, and it was frequently able to reckon on the support of the military and civil authorities, not to mention the insurgent bands. It was not usually necessary to employ actual violence; threats, backed by the manifest power to enforce them, commonly sufficed to induce whole villages to submit to the ceremony of baptism. The policy was carried out systematically, and long before the outbreak of the second war, the pomaks in most districts conformed outwardly to the Bulgarian church, and listened with a show of docility to the ministrations of the priests and nuns sent by the Holy Synod to instruct them in the tenets of Christianity. This aberration, in sharp contrast to the toleration which the Bulgarian Kingdom has usually shown to the Moslems within its frontiers, must rank among the least excusable brutalities of the war. The Holy Synod argued that since force had been used to convert the pomaks to
Islam, force might fairly
be used to reverse the process. The argument is one proof the more that
races whose minds have been molded for centuries by the law of reprisal
and the practice of vengeance, tend to a common level of degradation.
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