vention was eschewed as dangerous. Furthermore, not only was the integrity of the Ottoman Empire at stake, but the loyalty of the Sultan's subjects in other portions of his dominions was dependent upon his refusal to set the Giaours above the faithful. And so manifest were these facts that it was held to be impossible to insert even the thin end of the wedge and introduce the sorely-needed reforms little by little. The problem therefore, fairly stated, amounted to what philosophers would term an antinomy: on the one hand the Christians of the three provinces could not go on living without some measure of social and political reform, and on the other hand Turkey was unable to grant them any real concessions without exposing herself to ruin; while the Powers, owing to mistrust and jealousy among themselves, could not afford to re-open the Near Eastern Question by coercing her. Those were the reasons which impelled me, in an anonymous article on Macedonia, which appeared in this "Review" nearly eight years ago, to write: "Macedonia, like the Slough of Despond, is a 'place that cannot be mended' until Turkish rule there has been brought to a close."1

tred of any and every improvement in the lot of the Christians which every Turk feels and displays has been intensified. Thus there is not a Vali, a Kaimakam, or even a simple Zaptieh from one end of the country to the other who is not resolved to do everything that lies in his power to thwart the efforts of the Porte and the Sultan to introduce anything in the nature of a reform. No Mussulman will entertain the notion of equal rights for the Giaour and the Mohammedan and no one acquainted with the condition of the country can justly blame them. For reforms doled out to the Christians mean increased disabilities imposed upon the Moslems. It is as if one were to distribute to two armies highly improved weapons which only one of the belligerents knew how to wield. Both elements of the population are the victims of crying misrule, and to bestow upon the Christians even the elementary rights demanded for them by the Powers would be to impose upon the Turkish inhabitants the task of baking a double tale of bricks without straw. And this no true believer can be reasonably expected to assent to, much less honestly to work for. Hence the number of enemies to all innovations is so great that they can and will thwart every honest endeavor made by Hilmi Pasha, who is alone and without helpers, to satisfy the demand of the Christians. For it is administrators rather than laws that are needed. It was men not measures that ruined Macedonia as they depopulated Crete and turned districts of Armenia into a wilderness. And it is not merely a few paper reforms-which the Sultan himself has over and over again promised during the past quarter of a centurythat can now give peace and security to a people whose lives and property still remain in the power of those who' are charged with the realization of those reforms.

Now it may safely be affirmed that nothing has taken place since then to render that formidable problem less difficult of solution, while much has happened to make it far more pressing than before. The material plight of the Christians, for instance, is worse than it was-has, in fact, passed the bounds of the endurable-while their fitness for self-government has grown enormously, thanks to the number of schools founded among them by Bulgarians, Serbs, Roumanians and Greeks, and to the political education given to the people by interested agents from the Balkan States. But in a corresponding measure the fear and ha

1 Contemporary Review, September 1895, p. 323.

[blocks in formation]

If then it was found to be chimerical to realize the most moderate reforms in small doses spread over twenty-four years, is it within the domain of things possible to make an almost clean slate and fill it with concessions to the Giaours to be realized in a few weeks or months? That any such hope should have been entertained by statesmen or politicians is incredible, and without such a prospect lasting peace is impossible. The Porte, clearly discerning the real issues, is preparing for war, and it would be hypocrisy to blame her. If Turkey has a right to existand the Powers are very prompt to assert that she has she possesses an equally good right to defend herself against all attempts to imperil her political existence. But there are facts of yet another order which clearly point to the futility of treating national disorders with paper remedies. The people of Macedonia, whose weal the Great Powers profess to have in view, will have none of those make-believe reforms, and for reasons which it may be well to hear before condemning. The one condition which must be insisted upon before the well-meaning measures proposed by Russia and Austria-Hungary can be adopted, is that the Christians in Macedonia should lay aside their hostility to the Turks, forget their grievances for the time being, and stand on their good behavior. And this condition will not, nay cannot, be fulfilled. The reason why is contained in certain facts which I set forth as trustworthy, among hundreds of others which are either grossly exaggerated or wholly fictitious. The Russian ViceConsul in Philippopolis, M. Westman, and the Russian Minister in Sofia, M. Bakhmetieff, and his self-sacrificing American wife, have winnowed the chaff of all these stories from the wheat by personal investigation on the spot, and the details which I am about to give are known to the Russian Gov

ernment and appreciated by the Russian people.

The insurrection in Macedonia planned by outsiders and fixed for last autumn proved abortive. The first shot should have been fired in August, but the members of the revolutionary agencies which organized the scheme quarrelled among themselves at the Congress held during that month in Sofia, and then split up into hostile factions. In the committee of one of these sections, General Tsontsheff occupied the foremost position, and he resolved on his own initiative to stir up the Macedonians to rebellion. Now it should be borne in mind that all these committees are composed of so-called outsidders-that is to say, mainly Macedonian refugees in Bulgaria, and that whether their aim be to get the provinces annexed to Bulgaria or Servia, or to demand simple autonomy, they meet with but little sympathy and less active support in Macedonia itself where there is a very intelligent native organization in favor of self-government. Tsontsheff was therefore left largely to his own resources. On the 23rd of September his adjutant, Nikoloff, crossed the frontier, but owing to the Shipka festivities, it was not until the 15th of October that Tsontsheff himself, who had meanwhile escaped from prison, took the field. The scene of action was the valley of the Struma, which a week later was wholly occupied by the Turks, and the insurrection which had hardly even flashed, suddenly fizzled and went out. The natives warned by their own committee had generally held aloof.

But there were people among them who, not content with holding back, resolved to act in the spirit of the admonitions vouchsafed to them by the Great Powers, and ordered the revolutionary bands to quit the country, and when the latter refused, actually drove them off with arms in their hands. By

lieved that with this example before them, the natives of the three provinces will be fired to go and do likewise next Spring? Have the Powers who exhort the Christians to keep the peace and await the coming of the reforms reflected on the fate in store for those who act upon that advice?

Bulgarians and Europeans this attitude might be blamed as unpatriotic or lauded as prudent, but in any and every case the Turks ought to have been delighted with such conduct. That they should punish the active rebels as they did, with a fiendish refinement of cruelty, was perhaps to be expected, but that they could have turned against the men of order who withstood the insurgents seems incredible, and yet it is true.

When the people

At the same time it is only fair to say that the people of Razlog fared a little better than some of their rebellious neighbors. We have the authority of Madame Bakhmetieff—who travelled about in the deep snow with the thermometer at 22 Celsius below freezing point, to bring succor to the fugitives -for saying that two priests of the villages of Oranoff and Padesh were tortured in a manner which suggests the story of St. Lawrence's death. They were not exactly laid on gridirons, but they were hung over a fire and burned with red hot irons. In the Djumaisk District six churches were destroyed, and the church of St. Elias was turned into a stable, while the shrine dedicated to the same saint in Shelesnitza was converted into a water closet. The churches of Padesh, Troskoff and Serbinoff were razed to the ground; the school buildings in the Djumaisk District were used as barracks, and the teachers put in prison or obliged to flee.

Nor is that all. had gone home the Turks came to search for arms. The peasants denied that they possessed any, and then the work of torture began. All who could ran away, and, owing to the height of the mountain passes and the enormous snowdrifts, had to leave their wives and children behind. Before this calamity overtook the place, the district of Razlog had twelve hamlets and 3.665 Bulgarian houses containing about 25,000 inmates. Of these Madame Bakhmetieff, the American wife of the Russian Minister in Sofia, counted 961 fugitives, besides some hundreds who found a refuge in the Peshtshersky district. The entire number of able-bodied men driven away from Razlog alone is about 1,500!"

The horror of the situation is intensified, Madame Bakhmetieff says, by the fact that large numbers of fugitives have been driven back by the Turks into the interior southwards towards Seres, where their horrible sufferings and their miserable end will be hidden from all who might give them help or pity."

In that loyal and well-conducted district there were fourteen churches with twenty-two priests; of the latter eight escaped to Bulgaria, one was killed, one arrested, and the fate of the remainder is unknown. According to the statement of the priest who having made good his escape found an asylum in the Principality, their Churches were defiled and destroyed by the Turks. A considerable number of the remaining peasants are said to have perished on the way over the mountains. Over one-third, therefore, of the male population of the best behaved district of Macedonia has been thus forced to flee the country. Can it be seriously be

Cf. "Novoye Vremya," 25th January, 1903.

[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]

from Madame Bakhmetieff's Memoranda, which they forwarded to their respective Governments. Tsar Nicholas, on learning the facts, at once sent ten thousand roubles for those refugees who had escaped with their lives into Bulgaria, and then, but not before, the Bulgarian Government, theretofore fearful of offending the Great Powers, voted about five thousand pounds to alleviate their sufferings. But the other Governments either remained wholly indifferent or admonished the Macedonians to keep the peace or else be prepared to be left to their fate!

The Russian Vice-Consul at Philippopolis, M. Westman, crossed over into Macedonia in order to verify the incredible statements of many of the fugitives, and the startling results of his investigations were sent to the Foreign Office in St. Petersburg. Among other interesting facts he there informs his Government that a belt of territory thiry versts broad, running parallel to the frontier, typifies the abomination of desolation: the churches having been defiled and the villages partly burned to the ground, while the inhabitants have fled no one knows whither. In the interior of the country the situation was said to be equally bad, but this statement he had no means of verifying. He beheld quite enough, however, to perceive that the era of reforms is being inaugurated in a very incongruous fashion. On reading some of those experiences of his, one begins to understand how it is that the exhortations and promises of the Great Powers fall upon deaf ears in Macedonia. M. Westman declares that he saw women who had run away to save their honor and their lives, and were huddled together in mountain fastnesses where the snow lay several feet deep; and the wretched creatures were in an almost naked state. Some of them, he adds, had trudged along on foot, filoun"Novoye Vremya," 20th January, 1903.

dering in the snows for twenty consecutive days with no shred of clothing but their chemises. Forty of the women who reached Dubnitsa and were cared for by Madame Bakhmetieff, were about to become mothers. He met tiny, bright-eyed little girls with disfigured faces fitfully crying, fitfully quivering in every limb, with manifest signs of having received a terrible nervous shock. Knowing what he knew of Turkish methods with female children, he shrank from questioning them about the cause of their suffering. Many of the women and children reached Bulgaria in a woeful plight, with lacerated feet, wounded bodies, undermined constitutions. Madame Bakhmetieff had most of those whose lives were in danger taken care of in improvised hospitals. To the others, bread and rough but warm clothing were distributed. Most of these misery-stricken women and men were almost naked, wasted to skeletons, with dull sunken eyes and pinched cheeks. Several were mutilated or disfigured, and the livid welts, the open wounds, the horrible marks of the red-hot pincers with which they had been tortured were witnessed by all." It was especially heart-rending to see mothers covered with scanty rags which could not shield from the bitter cold the helpless babes who were slowly dying at their milkless breasts."

Fancy a set of realistic pictures of scenes like those painted say by Vereshtshaghin, and entitled, "On the eve of the Reforms!" What a curious yet all-sufficient commentary it would form on the ethics of Turkish promises and Christian politics!

Madame Bakhmetieff, who has witnessed those living and dying illustrations to the history of the Reforms, is a strong, healthy, warm-hearted woman. Were it otherwise, she neither could nor would have travelled for a • Ibidem.

succeeded even in driving some of their cattle before them. Worst of all was the lot of the peaceful portion of the population because, taken by surprise, they filed wildly and aimlessly as from a destructive earthquake, a cosmic disturbance, or consuming fire from heaven. Women weeping for their lost children, little girls crying for their slain parents, old folks limping or tottering with lacerated feet and shrivelled bodies, lamenting that they had lived to see all their descendants cut off at one fell stroke, were met with by Madame Bakhmetieff and her helpers. Here and there were children of twelve and thirteen driven forwards by sheer cold and hunger, despite the fear which made them quake at every sound and start at every breath of wind.

whole week in 22 degrees of frost (Celsius), sleeping at night on a bare wooden bench-while the water in the jug and the ink in the bottle were frozen '-solely for the purpose of meeting, saving and comforting those women and children who, more lucky than hundreds of their kin, had succeeded in escaping from their pursuers. Yet this lady tells us that the stories of these living skeletons, the moans of the shivering children, the looks of the dying women seared her soul with grief and haunted her in her slumbers. If ever those stories are published in full, they should be bound together with the volume yet to be written which will record the history of the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The two narratives will supplement and explain each other.

The flight of the Macedonians was the outcome of a general panic, which paralyzing reason, imparted the energy of madness to wild fear. The abortive October rising had but given a pretext to the Turks to wreak the vengeance which for years they had been meditating, and so ghastly were the inhuman forms it now assumed that nameless dread fell upon the people and drove them to the mountains, to the glens, to caves, any whither from torture into death by hunger, or a more merciful end in the snows which lay piled upon the ground to a height of ten feet. Most people fled madly, without money or overclothes, the boys and men had no covering for their heads, many of the women were without aught but their nightgowns. It is certain that numbers escaped from fiendish tortures only to lose their lives on the pathless hills.

Madame Bakhmetieff declares that she thus met numbers of half-naked wretches their names and story are recorded in her notes-whom she cared for in her makeshift hospitals and temporary refuges. On removing the froststiffened rags that still hung round them, the sight of the open wounds caused the hearts of the onlookers to sink within them. Many of these horrible sores and indelible marks were produced by red-hot pincers, or the instrument known as "falaga."' Some episodes of this awful exodus can hardly be reproduced in an age and country wont to eschew the use of the horrible and loathsome, even in the ennobling service of humanity. But some of the less distressing examples of Turkish methods should find a place in any account of Macedonia which can justly lay claim to historical accuracy. One of the women in Dubnitsa, who seemd more dead than alive, was asked by the kindhearted lady why she looked so utterly crushed in spirit, now that the danger had passed and life, at Photographs of groups of these sufferers have been taken and can be produced.

Rarely did whole families manage to keep together, though some examples of this were met with, and several of the rebels in the Valley of the Struma

7 "Novoye Vremya," 20th January, 1903. • Ibidem.

[blocks in formation]
« VorigeDoorgaan »