Recovering Macedonia 15 - The Macedonian Revival V
Recovering Macedonia Expiration of the Bucharest Treaty of 1913
Part 15 - The Macedonian Revival V
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[Macedonia will remain occupied as long as the Macedonian people are unrecognized, abused and made to feel like strangers on their own native lands. It is a well known fact that Macedonia was invaded, occupied and illegally partitioned by Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria in 1912-1913 against the wishes of the Macedonian people. The Serbian occupied part, now known as the Republic of Macedonia gained its independence in 1991 and is today a sovereign state while the parts annexed by Greece and Bulgaria remain occupied.]
A turn for the worse for the Macedonian people came in April 1897 with the Goluchowski-Muraviev Agreement drawn up by Tsar Nikolas II of Russia and Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria. In part, the agreement called for Macedonian territory to be divided equally between Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria at some future time.
To take advantage of this, a year later the Bulgarian Exarchate, instructed by the Bulgarian Prime Minister, created a Vrhovist (supremacist) organization and based it in Solun. Known as the "Revolutionary Brotherhood", it in turn began to form its own insurgent groups while all along pretending to be part of IMRO. Its purpose was to carry out terrorist activities and blame them on the real IMRO. The Bulgarian intention was to provoke a fight between IMRO and the Turkish militia with hopes that IMRO would be destroyed and the Turks would be weakened enough for Bulgaria to invade and permanently occupy Macedonia.
Brigand activities were not exclusive to the Bulgarians, the Greeks too through the Patriarchate Church employed brigands to harass and exact terror on villagers. Their aim was to forcefully Hellenize as many Macedonians as possible to show the world that "Greeks" indeed lived in Macedonia.
The Macedonian freedom fighters or Cheti were undermanned and poorly armed. They were fierce fighters and fought gallantly when it came to protecting their villages but were not prepared for an all out full scale war with the Turks.
The Turkish militia at the time had orders to conduct searches to collect weapons but it did not always operate under the best of ethics. Turkish soldiers discovered that they could make a lot more money by being paid not to punish the individual owning the weapon than to actually punish them. It became common practice to accept bribes. People who could afford to pay bribes were excluded from severe punishments. It was less of a punishment to produce a rifle than it was not to have one at all.
On January 31st, 1903 the Turks declared IMRO illegal and sought ways to destroy it. This created a controversy among the IMRO leadership where one group wanted to take immediate action and another felt they were not ready. The controversy gave the Vrhovists a chance to become a wedge between those in IMRO who wanted an immediate uprising and those who believed that an uprising at this point was suicidal. Gotse Delchev did not want an immediate uprising and was hoping to find a better solution. Unfortunately during a second Congress, mostly dominated by Vrhovists, held in Solun in February 1903 a decision was made to start the uprising early. August 2nd, 1903 was picked as the date to commence the rebellion. Delchev and most of IMRO's loyal supporters feeling it was going to be a disaster boycotted the congress.
To weaken the Turks, the Vrhovists staged a number of bombings and terrorist acts. The Solun to Tsari Grad railway was bombed on March 18th, as was the Solun Ottoman bank a month later. This however, did not weaken the Turks as expected but instead brought more Turkish troops into Macedonia and further escalated the violence against innocent civilians. The sudden rise in violence against Ottoman institutions was not well received by European investors and businessmen, who saw Ottoman Macedonia as a safe place to invest. The few lonely voices in London, who were supporting the Macedonian cause, were quickly drowned out by the many voices of discontent calling for the demise of the Macedonian freedom fighters now labeled terrorists.
A general staff was elected with Damjan Gruev as the head and preparations for the uprising began. In due time plans were made to begin organizing the uprising. The Cheti were armed with the few weapons available and began their training. On July 26th, 1903, by a dispatch to the Great Powers via the British vice-consul in Bitola, the General Staff formally announced the uprising. Then on July 28th, 1903 IMRO dispatched mounted couriers to all the sub-districts with the message "let the uprising begin". On the same day the General Staff also informed the Ottoman Director of Railways to warn travelers to choose a safer mode of transportation in order to avoid being hurt.
Despite the odds, the brave people of Macedonia heroically rose to the task with valour. They knew well enough that the fight they were about to undertake might not bring them what they desired yet they chose to fight anyway because it was a fight for freedom and freedom after centuries of slavery was valued above life itself. Unfortunately, that did not convince the Great Powers to lend a helping hand.
When the rebellion began, as a precaution, most villages were evacuated. People who left the villages took up residence in secluded places in the mountains. They took whatever they could carry and set up camp in temporary shelters constructed from tree branches and covered with vegetation. Livestock was fenced out of sight in wooded areas and ovens to cook food and bread were constructed underground.
Turkish soldiers had orders to burn down all empty villages, believing them to belong to families of insurgents, and spare the rest. In practice however, that's not how it turned out. Villagers that didn't join the rebellion felt it was unnecessary to evacuate because they posed no threat to the Turks. Unfortunately the Turkish militia did not see it that way. Feeling the rebel sting, angry militiamen turned against all civilians and when they were done with them, they burned their homes down. Neokazi near Lerin was one such village where 60 Macedonian men were captured and placed under arrest. On their way to Lerin the Turks tortured and massacred the men in cold blood. Eyewitnesses reported seeing the Turks lining up the men in rows and firing their newly acquired rifles at them to see how many one bullet could kill.
Three days later it was Armensko's turn. After losing a skirmish to Chakalarov, Haireddin Bimbishi's (the butcher of Smrdesh) troops, defeated, angry and embittered were heading for Lerin when they came across a welcoming committee at Armensko. The priest and villagers went out to greet and welcome the Turks in a peaceful manner but instead became their victims. Bambishi's men turned on the defenseless village; pillaging, burning and satisfying their brutal lust.
As battles raged on throughout western Macedonia, the Cheti put down most of the local Turkish garrisons. They destroyed bridges, railway lines and communications centers, captured most chifliks and briefly liberated regions such as Kichevo, Demir-Hisar, Kostur, Lerin, Klisoura and Neveska. The cities of Kostur and Lerin themselves were not liberated. The most successful and highly celebrated of all battles was the storming of the town of Krushevo. Nikola Karev led the Cheti in the attack and defeated the local Turkish garrison with ease. The Macedonians quickly took over strategic points like the Post Office, Town Hall and local Police Station and declared Krushevo liberated. True to their democratic commitments, the leaders of the liberating force constituted the Krushevo assembly which appointed a committee of sixty members, twenty from each of the community's Macedonian, Vlach and Albanian populations. The committee in turn elected an executive body of six delegates, two from each community, which operated as a provisional government. The government in turn established a financial, judiciary and police force. "At Krushevo, under the rays of temporary liberty, fraternity and equality, national hatreds were dispelled and peace and concord reigned. For eleven whole days Krushevo lived as a little independent state, and although in miniature, clothed with flesh and blood that idea which spurred Macedonians to fight, against tyranny up to the Ilinden rising." (Page 193, Vasil Bogov, Macedonian Revelation, Historical Documents Rock and Shatter Modern Political Ideology)
The "Krushevo Republic", unfortunately, only lasted two weeks but it was a glorious Republic that will forever remind the Macedonian people of their eternal struggle for independence and thirst for freedom. The liberation of Krushevo imprinted on the new Macedonian generations the legacy of a timeless and irreversible march towards self-determination. Here again we see the Macedonian desire for multiculturalism and for a new multiethnic society waiting to resurface. The Republic was constituted on a multiracial basis in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the Macedonian people.
Next to Krushevo, Kostur faired second best in the tactical mobilization of the Cheti, under the command of Lazar Pop Trajkov and Vasil Chakalarov. These brigades staged successful raids, liberating Klisura and Neveska, then returned southward and, with the support of over three thousand villagers, attacked Kostur but without success. In the meantime other Cheti attacked and liberated Ohrid, which remained free for almost three months. The Ohrid attack was the most successful in terms of advance planning and administering the establishment of medical aid, underground workshops, secret bakeries and securing foodstuffs. Ohrid later became the center for establishing refugee camps for many displaced persons.
Uprisings outside of western Macedonia were limited to swift guerilla actions consisting mostly of attacks against Ottoman institutions, bombings of railway lines and the occasional skirmish with the Turkish militia. Many Cheti were successful in capturing important Turkish officials. They hoped to construct dialogue for prospective negotiations but, in actuality, met with little success.
Vrhovist involvement, as expected, was minimal during the uprising and brought to light, once again, the true nature of Vrhovism (Macedonia for the Bulgarians). As the Cheti fought gallantly putting down garrison after garrison in the larger towns, many of the smaller villages were left unprotected and open to Bashi-bazouk (armed Muslim civilians) and Turkish militia attacks. Keeping in mind the Neokrazi and Armensko incidents, many of the Cheta chiefs felt compelled to return home to repel such attacks. Due to this and the fact that the numerically superior Turkish militia overpowered the Cheti, in the short term, a large-scale operation against the Turks never materialized. Unfortunately, as time passed so did the opportunity for a decisive strike, as an even larger Turkish force was amassing.
The initial success of the rebellion was a surprise to the Turks especially since Turkish forces were numerically superior. The Cheti demonstrated their abilities in battle and more than matched the numbers with will. Turkey, unfortunately, was determined to put down the rebellion and amassed additional forces, deploying a total of 167,000 infantry, 3,700 cavalry and 440 pieces of artillery (all cannons). Krushevo alone was surrounded by 20,000 Turkish troops with 18 cannons against an encircled force of no more than 1,200 rebels. The battle to retake Krushevo began on August 12th with the Macedonians crying out "Sloboda ili Smirt" (liberty or death) against the onslaught of Turkish cannon fire. Pitu Guli and his men fought gallantly by providing stiff opposition to the Turkish advance but were no match for General Baktiar Pasha's forces. Baktiar was a skilled war veteran who overwhelmed the Cheti by attacking the entire region simultaneously. The region was surrounded by soldiers, encircled by cannon fire and every Macedonian stronghold within was simultaneously attacked, cutting off all reinforcements.
After the mountains lit up with gunfire and smoke filled the skies, no Great Powers came to the rescue. Macedonians were left alone to feel the full brunt of the Ottoman Empire's army and to pay for all of Europe's sins committed against the Turks.
Once Krushevo fell, one by one other IMRO strongholds began to yield, winding down the ten-week-old rebellion. In Krushevo, Baktiar Pasha allowed his troops to kill, pillage and rape for three days. The town was permanently devastated with 117 civilians murdered, 150 women raped and 159 houses burned.
In the Ilinden aftermath, according to Michael Radin, in total 4,694 civilians were murdered, 3,122 women raped, 12,440 houses burned, 201 villages razed, 75,835 people left homeless and about 30,000 people left the country for good, becoming permanent refugees. (Page 105, IMRO and the Macedonian Question) Besides the atrocities committed against the civilian population in Macedonia, the most significant impact of the uprising was the loss of so many great IMRO leaders.
Despite the negative attitudes of the European Governments, there was much press about the Ilinden rebellion. World opinion was generally sympathetic to the Macedonian cause and highly critical of the Ottoman atrocities. Emigrant Macedonians the world over bombarded the Western Press with scathing attacks on the British, French and Austrian governments for supporting Turkey, militarily and financially. Even emigrants as far as the United States staged large rallies in support of the rebellion. In New York alone more than 100,000 gathered to show support. A Chicago newspaper reported that a Macedonian regiment had formed in that city and was preparing to take part in the rebellion.
Closer to home, south Slav Nations such as Slovenia and Vojvodina held public meetings in support of the Macedonian Revolution. Even the European press featured sympathetic headlines when covering the rebellion. "It was a bitter struggle between the tortured slaves fighting en masse, often without weapons, but on spirit alone, for life and liberty; and the sadistic Pasha and his cohorts, murdering and plundering with rabidity." (Giorgio Nurigiani) British official policy, however, was less than sympathetic. According to the Daily News September 14, 1903, Prime Minister Balfour told the House of Commons, "...the balance of criminality lies not with the Turks, but with the rebels." The paper was critical of this attitude and recorded the following editorial: "The balance of criminality is surely here in our own land. Britain had denied Macedonia freedom at Berlin, knowing that (continued) Ottoman rule was synonymous with cruelty and tyranny, and by adopting a laissez-faire attitude at the juncture, Britain is a consenting party to all the ghastly murders and massacres in Macedonia..." (Page 107, Radin, IMRO and the Macedonian Question)
While there was public outcry in the streets regarding the treatment of Macedonians, the British Government cared less about Macedonia's suffering than about Bulgarian threats to their precious Ottoman Empire. Being weakened by the Macedonian rebellion, the thinking in London was that Turkey was now ripe for a Bulgarian invasion. Balfour used the Macedonian rebellion as a pretext to move Britain's Mediterranean Fleet into the Aegean Sea fearing that war between Bulgaria and Turkey was now inevitable.
At about the same time Greek-Turkish relations began to warm up. The souring relationship between Turkey and Bulgaria was seen as a new opportunity by Greece to accelerate her Hellenization activities inside Macedonia. Making her way to Turkey, Greece had to first prop up her cool relationship with Germany. Her first attempt was initiated by inviting German help to re-organize the Greek military. After that Greece began to grant industrial and commercial favours to German businessmen, including the re-organization of the Greek telegraph.
The Turks, on the other hand, were looking for allies. The loss of Ottoman Crete to the Greeks was only a bruise to the Turkish ego, so the Turks were willing to forgive and forget. Losing Macedonia, however, was serious and bolstering its friendship with Greece was one way of staving off Bulgarian advances.
To preserve whatever they could from a failing rebellion, IMRO turned its attention to diplomacy. In September 1903 Pere Toshev, of IMRO, took a trip to Tsari Grad to elicit some guarantees from official representatives of the Great Powers. Toshev's only request was that Macedonia be given a Christian governor. Unfortunately, his request was rejected in favour of the status quo. Later, however, when statistics of Turkish atrocities started pouring in, the Great Power attitude softened a little. In October the Great Powers reconsidered Toshev's request, but instead of appointing a Christian governor each nation agreed to send a small "peace-keeping" force. This did not help the Macedonian position at all. In fact it hindered IMRO from self-defense initiatives even against bandit attacks.
Turkish atrocities committed against the Macedonian villages, in the eyes of the world, created bad publicity for Turkey and for its allies, the Western Powers. As a result, Turkish popularity started to decline and so did Turkey's favour with the Great Powers. Being financially strapped and having her hands tied, Turkey turned to her neighbours for assistance. By declaring Macedonia a "multi-interest zone" and inviting armed propaganda from Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia, to counter IMRO insurgence, Turkey was hoping to turn the tide of the rebellion in her favour. Again Great Power inaction put Macedonia and the Macedonian people in peril.
According to Brailsford, the Cheti fought about 150 battles in total with 746 casualties, which amounted to about 15 % of the total fighting force. In most of these encounters the Cheti were outnumbered by at least 10 Turks to 1 Macedonian. (Page 155, Macedonia its Races and their Future) Before it was all over, the Turks were attacking everywhere, even in secluded areas that once were beyond militia reach. To save themselves, many civilians resorted to camping among the fighters and even following them in wild battles. Their only safety was to be with the Cheti. "...Sometimes the battle raged about the lair where the women and children lay, the men fighting with all their manhood to defend some shallow trench, knowing that behind them cowered wife and child expecting massacre if their courage failed or their bullets missed the mark." (Page 162, Brailsford, Macedonia its Races and their Future)
IMRO leaders, who survived the rebellion, responded decisively to the new crisis by establishing temporary centers where urgently needed food and medical supplies were distributed to the displaced population. While doing that they were also fighting a political battle with the Vrhovists for control of IMRO itself. The Bulgarians had dispatched Komitadjis (assassins) to eliminate the "old guard" but the legendary Yane Sandanski and his Cheta remained active and fought back fearlessly. When word got out that Sandanski was still alive and active, he gained a large following and was able to successfully repel all assassination attempts.
The Ilinden rebellion had no happy ending for Macedonia. The Macedonian people lost their bid for freedom and paid the ultimate price of being again enslaved, in spite of their efforts. The Macedonian rebellion did not succeed because there were too many factors working against it. The Macedonian people showed will and determination and rose to the task in spite of all odds. Compared to the Serbian, Greek and Bulgarian rebellions, the Macedonians were the most determined, well organized and most desperate, but they were not ready. The Serbians, Greeks and Bulgarians had only one enemy, the Turks, but received a lot of help from friends in high places (the Great Powers). In contrast, no one beyond the Macedonians themselves wanted the Macedonians to succeed. The Greeks and especially the Bulgarians went out of their way to create obstacles. The Great Powers, believing that they had nothing to gain, also abstained from helping Macedonia. The Serbian, Greek and Bulgarian struggles for independence prepared the Turks and made them more determined to deal with the Macedonians.
When the conflict was over, the people who returned to their villages were devastated to find their homes destroyed. Added to all their ills, winter was fast approaching and no food or shelter was to be found. To make matters worse, a curfew was placed on travel and those away from home found themselves stranded. Those in need of work were no longer allowed to leave their vilayets. This was the first time in Macedonian history that Macedonians ever considered permanent emigration. Many early Macedonian emigrants to Canada, the USA and Australia were refugees from the Ilinden aftermath.
When reports of the uprising could no longer be contained and filtered out to the foreign media, it became clear that the Turks were not as successful as they had claimed, in keeping peace and maintaining the status quo in Macedonia. The Great Powers, Britain in particular, were disturbed by the atrocities committed by Turkish soldiers. On Britain's insistence the Great Powers recommended European officers take over command of the Turkish gendarmerie. Unfortunately, the European officers were Christians and the Turks refused to take orders from them. The German officers had some success because they had trained the Turks but not enough to make a difference. To prevent the situation from deteriorating further, Britain pushed for high-level reforms which resulted in the appointment of two Turkish inspectors but in the end they did nothing to ease the problems.
As mentioned earlier, determined to eradicate IMRO influence, Turkey turned to her neighbours for help. By declaring Macedonia a "multi-interest-zone" Turkey invited armed propaganda from Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia to counter the insurgents. The failed uprising, loss of so many great IMRO leaders, the Turkish backlash and now the foreign influence was too much for IMRO. The close links with the villages and the ideological differences between isolated IMRO branches widened. Although IMRO continued to live, it lacked direction and was on the verge of an ideological collapse. In time, however, it managed to muster two more congresses. With the advent of Krste Misirkov's book, a new tide of opinion was spreading throughout Macedonia. Misirkov warned against falling under the influence of the chauvinistic elements and recommended taking a more nationalistic approach in order to weed out Vrhovist and conservative elements. At the Prilep Congress held in May 1904, IMRO was re-vitalized and its independence reasserted. The most significant developments to emerge from this Congress were IMRO's ability to shed itself of its conservative elements and to adopt a resolution to decentralize the organization and give more power to the sub-districts. This Congress literally split IMRO into two ideologically polarized halves. While leftist IMRO adopted a defensive strategy, the right wing conservative Vrhovists pursued a policy of renewed confrontation. The two factions continued to masquerade under the same banner and were headed for a showdown. The showdown materialized in November of 1905, at the Rila Monastery near the Macedonian-Bulgarian border and took the form of a General Congress. There was a single item of paramount importance on the agenda, to determine the direction of the Organization.
Defeated at the Rila Congress, the Right wing Vrhovists took up permanent residence in Sofia and continued to wage a terrorist war on the IMRO leadership. Both Nikola Karev, in 1905, and Dame Gruev, in 1906, were indirectly eliminated by terrorist acts of the Vrhovists.
Bulgarian interference in Macedonia not only damaged the revolutionary movement but also put fear in the civilian population, ripening conditions for Balkan intervention. Greece and later Serbia were quick to take advantage of a weak IMRO and a frightened population. With the assistance of the Turkish military they were able to step up armed propaganda campaigns inside Macedonia. The aim was to kill two birds with one stone. By being the eyes and ears of the Turks, the Greek clergy spied on the Macedonians and disclosed information to Turkish authorities. The Turkish military in turn, stepped up activities to eradicate the remnants of the Cheti and their leaders. At the same time, in the midst of terror, the same Greek spies who were spying on them were also offering Macedonians Hellenism as a way to salvation. "No one can deny that the Greeks owed much to the Turks. Indeed the victory of the Turks in 1903 was the salvation of Hellenism in Macedonia. From the outset the Greek clergy and notables devised means of passing information to the Turks. The Turkish authorities on their side welcomed this support." (Pages 118-119, Dakin, The Greek Struggle in Macedonia 1897-1913)
The most notorious of the Greek clergy was the Metropolitan of Kostur, Archbishop Germanos Karavangelis. Karavangelis was sent to Macedonia by the Patriarch Constantine V who favoured the Athenian (the most nationalist) style of Hellenism and selected Karavangelis as the right man to do the job. Dakin portrays Karavangelis as a charismatic and capable figure of a man that is a credit to the human race. (Pages 119-127, The Greek Struggle in Macedonia 1897-1913) That, however, is far from the truth. Karavangelis was a ruthless killer and a disgrace to the Christian religion. Karavangelis was personally responsible for the assassination of hundreds of Macedonian patriots including priests, notables, teachers and IMRO leaders. He was also personally responsible for Hellenizing hundreds of Macedonian villages, by force and by sheer terror. If you wish to know more about Karavangelis' terrorist actions in Macedonia read his biography (the original version) "Arheio Makedonikou Agona, Pinelopis Delta, Apomnimoneymata, Germanou Karavaggeli, Georgiou Dikonymou Makri, Panagioti Papatzanetea".
Karavangelis' first priority after accepting the post as Metropolitan of Kostur was to raise an army. He couldn't import one, the Great Powers were watching, so he resorted to purchasing one. The most pliable and feeble-minded man who would sell his soul for gold was the self styled brigand Kote of Rula ("the darling of Athens"). Kote sold out his own people for Greek gold. From being the most revered Cheta leader, Kote became the most hated man in Macedonia. When Karavangelis decided who was to die, Kote became the executioner. In addition to regular pay for murder, Kote and his band of no-goods received additional rewards of gold coins for turning in desired body parts from their victims. While Kote was doing the murdering in the Macedonian villages, Karavangelis, in person with Turkish escorts, was Hellenizing. Nothing and no one could stand in his way. Those who Karavangelis couldn't buy or bribe he had killed. "By containing and fragmenting the Internal Organization in Western Macedonia, Kota (Kote) and Karavangelis not only caused the projected rising to be continually postponed but they also caused it to be undertaken prematurely; and eventually they both contributed towards its defeat and failure. True, most of the recorded action (the arrests, searches and attacks on villages and bands) were carried out by the Turks, but the Turks nearly always acted on information supplied by Karavangelis or his agents. It was Karavangelis again who prevailed upon the Turks to attack Smardeshi (Smurdersh) on 9/22 May 1903." (Page 132, Dakin, The Greek Struggle in Macedonia 1897-1913)
"After the Ilinden rising of August 1903, it was Karavangelis who, escorted by 600 Turkish soldiers, visited the villages, celebrating mass, speaking to the villagers and calling upon them to surrender arms. The result was that even such strongholds as Aposkepos (Aposkep), Zagoritsani (Zagoricheni) and Gabresi (Gabresh), which only a few months before had declared themselves Exarchist, now returned to the Patriarchist fold. Without the support of the Turks, it is doubtful whether Karavangelis's work would have been successful. It is equally doubtful, however, whether but for the activities of the Patriarchist counter-movement, the Turkish authorities could have dealt such a decisive blow to the Internal Organization (IMRO)." (Page 135, Dakin, The Greek Struggle in Macedonia 1897-1913)
The ultimate disgrace for Karavangelis came after the massacre of the village Zagoricheni. Refusing to bend to Hellenism, Zagoricheni, on direct orders from Karavangelis, was massacred to the last person the Greeks could lay their hands on, including the unborn children inside the wombs of pregnant women. Witnesses reported finding bodies of pregnant women with their abdomens cut open. The survivors who escaped the atrocity refused to bury the dead bodies of their neighbours. For days the dead were guarded until the European consuls in Bitola came to witness the atrocities for themselves. Here is what Brailsford had to say. "The chef d'oevre of this Hellenic campaign was achieved at Zagoricheni, a large Bulgarian village (author's note: Macedonian village, there were no Bulgarian villages inside Macedonia) near Klissoura, which, like Mokreni, took a leading part in the uprising of 1903, and like Mokreni was burned by the Turks. A Greek band, which is said to have numbered over two hundred men under three Greek officers in uniform, surprised it by night (April 6-7, 1905) by using bugle calls which led the villagers to suppose that Turkish regulars were manoeuvering in the neighbourhood. They burned ten houses, and twenty-eight of the temporary homes erected amid the ruins of the last conflagration. They wounded seven persons and killed no less than sixty, among them seven women, twenty-two persons over sixty years of age, and five children under fifteen. There was a good deal of evidence to show that the local Turkish authorities were privy to this massacre, and some circumstances seemed to include the Archbishop of Castoria (Kostur). It is quite clear that no conflict or provocation preceded what was simply a deliberate massacre, and the only reason for choosing Zagoricheni was that it was an eager and patriotic Bulgarian center, and that it disobeyed the summons of the Greek Archbishop to return to the Patriarch fold." (Pages 216-217, Macedonia its Races and their Future) After the massacre when it was discovered that Karavangelis was implicated, to escape punishment, the cowardly Archbishop of Kostur fled to Sveta Gora (Holy Mountain) where he spent two years in hiding before fleeing to Austria. Today, there is a statue of Karavangelis in Kostur to commemorate his great contributions to Hellenism.
Macedonians were well acquainted with the murderous activities of the Bulgarian Vrhovists whose new waves of terrorist bands began to penetrate the eastern borders of Macedonia in March of 1904. Fortunately, Yane Sandanski's forces were still in control of the Pirin district and more often than not, successfully repealed Bulgarian advances. In the west bands of young Turks, who deserted the army during the Ilinden rebellion, joined Albanian gangs, looting and killing indiscriminately. From the north Serbian bands began to penetrate Macedonian territory. By mid 1905, there were eleven bands numbering almost 100 men pillaging, murdering, razing entire villages and wreaking their own special brand of terror. The most violent campaign was waged by the Greek terrorists who penetrated the south-central regions of Macedonia. By 1905 the Greeks imported a contingent of Cretans, a thousand-strong, and reinforced it with Turkish deserters who roamed unhindered razing and slaughtering entire villages. By 1906 eight bands numbering over 400 men were operating in the Solun district alone and another twelve bands of 600 men around Bitola.
Along with the intrusions of armed bands in Macedonia there reappeared the foreign schools and propaganda institutions directed by the Greek and Bulgarian churches. The terrorist bands instilled fear in the Macedonian population and the churches were quick to take on the role of protector, setting the stage for the partitioning of Macedonia.
It was well known that there were no Greek, Bulgarian, or Serbian ethnicities living in Macedonia but that didn't stop the new Balkan States from inventing them. The wheels of the protagonists were turning when they attempted to kill two birds with one stone by cleverly substituting "ethnicity" for "church affiliation". By the end of the 19th century the Christian Millet of Ottoman Macedonia was already divided into two millets (the Greek Patriarchist Millet and the Bulgarian Exarchist Millet). First, since there was no Macedonian Millet there was no "governing body" to represent a Macedonian religious denomination. Second, since all Christians in Macedonia already belonged to one millet or another, it was easy to make "ethnic" claims on behalf of "church affiliation". In modern terms, all Macedonians belonging to the Patriarchist fold were considered to be ethnic Greek. Similarly, all those Macedonians belonging to the Exarchist fold were considered to be ethnic Bulgarians. By introducing Serbian churches and schools, Serbia later used similar tactics to claim the existence of a Serbian ethnicity inside Macedonia.
All Macedonians belonging to the Patriarchist church were given Greek or "Hellenized" names. Similarly, all Macedonians belonging to the Exarchist church were given Bulgarian names. In many instances brothers, born of the same parents, were given different last names because they happened to go to different churches. Their choice of church had nothing to do with loyalty to one faction or the other, but rather with the church's location relative to their homes. Each brother attended the church nearest to his house as he had always done. The sad part was that now with every spoonful of religion came a dose of venomous propaganda. Brother was pitted against brother, one fighting for "Hellenism" and the other for "Bulgarism". At the beginning of the Ilinden rebellion most Macedonian villages belonged to the Exarchate Church. With increased Greek activities through Karavangelis and others like him, the tide was turning. The Greek success was mainly due to the Turkish-Greek alliance and the Turkish militia's assistance. The Macedonian people were frightened to a point of agreeing to anything to escape further punishment.
The alliance, which gave the Greeks the upper hand, did not go unnoticed by the Bulgarians. British fears of a Turkish-Bulgarian war were alleviated when Bulgaria on April 8th, 1904 signed a peace agreement with Turkey. Bulgaria promised to reduce subversive actions in Macedonia in exchange for Turkish promises to implement the Murzsteg Reform Program and to extend it to the Endrene (Dardanelles) region. Russia was not too happy about the agreement, especially since Bulgaria herself was beginning to make moves towards Endrene. Being of strategic importance, Russia was hoping to eventually annex Endrene for itself.
The prospect of declining Bulgarian intrusions inside Macedonia was welcome news for Karavangelis. The Greeks could now import fighters from Crete, to fight the Macedonian Cheti, side by side with their Turkish allies without Bulgarian interference. Unfortunately, while the Bulgarians reduced their military intrusions, they stepped up Exarchist activities creating stiff competition for the Greeks. The clergy on both sides were going after the same flock as both sides appointed themselves protectors and guardians of the people. In the eyes of the world they became ambassadors of the Christian flock in Macedonia. This competition to attract parishioners created friction between the opposing factions. Friction turned to violence in villages where both groups existed and fought for control over the village church. The Turks were indifferent to the squabbling due to its religious nature and remained neutral in church disputes. When fights erupted, the Turks padlocked the church so neither group could use it. As competition for control of the village churches intensified so did brigand warfare. Local squabbling never went unnoticed and both Patriarchists and Exarchists sent their hatchet men to eliminate the so-called "troublemakers". Many priests, teachers, notables and community leaders lost their lives in this way.
To be continued...
Stefou, Chris. History of the Macedonian People from Ancient times to the Present. Toronto: Risto Stefov Publications, 2005
You can contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org