Recovering Macedonia 7 - Treaties and Agreements

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Recovering Macedonia Expiration of the Bucharest Treaty of 1913

Part 7 - Treaties and Agreements

April, 2006


As mentioned in an earlier chapter (part 6) the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78 succeeded in undermining Ottoman control and encouraging attempts at self-determination. Yet, even though the Macedonian people had irrefutably demonstrated their own national consciousness and desire for autonomy, the Great Powers twice refused their pleas and eventually restored the Ottoman Turk to power, thus guaranteeing their own economic interests.

During the 1878-79 war, the Russian army penetrated deeply into the European part of the Ottoman Empire and succeeded in seizing Anrianople (Endrene) resulting in an armistice on January 31st, 1878. After the armistice, Russia dictated a peace treaty, termed the San Stefano Peace Treaty, signed on March 3rd, 1878 which freed Bulgaria, most of Macedonia and Thrace and created a "Greater Bulgaria".

Not satisfied with the results of this Russo-Turkish agreement the Western Powers re-convened the Eastern Question at a Berlin congress and a month later on July 13, 1878 the San Stefano agreement was revised as follows:

Independence was granted to Serbia and Montenegro as well as Romania. Bosnia was given to Austria-Hungary and the territory of present day Bulgaria was divided into two administrative districts Bulgaria proper and eastern Rumelia. Eastern Rumelia was given back to the Ottomans. Macedonia, Thrace, Kosovo and Albania were also given back to the Ottomans.

With the exception of clause 23 which required the Turks to provide a small degree of economic autonomy to Macedonia, Macedonians were again committed to Ottoman oppression without guarantees of safety. The conditions of clause 23, unfortunately, were never enforced by the Great Powers or complied with by Turkey.

Even though on the surface it appeared that the Berlin Congress had solved the Balkan problem, underneath it continued to fester and grow.

On January 19th, 1897 William Gladstone, a British Statesman sent a letter addressed to the President of the Byron Society Hawarden Castle, Chester;

Dear Sir,

The hopelessness of the Turkish Government would make me witness with delight its being swept out the countries which it tortures: but without knowledge of resources available to support the revolt. I dare not take the responsibility of encouraging it in any fort or degree.

Next to the Ottoman Government nothing can be more deplorable and blameworthy than jealousies between Greek and Slav, and plans by the States already existing for appropriating other territory.

Why not Macedonia for Macedonians, as well as Bulgaria for Bulgarians and Servia for Servians? And if they are small and weak, let them bind themselves together for defense, so that they may not be devoured by others, either great or small, which would probably be the effect of their quarrelling among themselves.

Your very faithful

W. E. Gladstone

The Times (London), 6th January 1897, p. 12.

Why not a Macedonia for the Macedonians indeed? The Macedonian problem would have been solved and the Balkan Wars and all the suffering and misery would not have taken place had the Great Powers allowed and assisted in the formation of a Macedonian State. Unfortunately that did not happen and the 1903 Macedonian Ilinden uprising was allowed to fail which was a disappointment to the Macedonian people and created new problems that have yet to be solved.

Decisions made during the Berlin Congress encouraged Balkan expansionism and signaled for a more aggressive policy towards Macedonia.

As early as 1867, by their agreement to ally themselves in partitioning Macedonian territories, Greece and Serbia had demonstrated designs upon Macedonia. But Greece and Serbia were not alone. A declaration of Bulgarian policy in 1885 stated: "Our whole future depends on Macedonia; without her the Bulgarian State in the Balkans will be without importance of authority: Salonika must be the main port of this State, the grand window to illuminate the entire building. If Macedonia does not belong to Bulgaria, Bulgaria will never be firmly based."

Greece too had its own designs made evident by the comments of a Greek aristocrat: "Macedonia is the lung of Greece: without it the rest of Greece will be condemned to death. For Greece to become a great power she must expand into Macedonia."

The Serbians too had their ideas about Macedonia which were expressed by this directive: "We Serbia, are ready to enter into any combination if necessary in order to prevent the Macedonian Question being settled in any way that harms our vital interests, without which Serbia cannot survive."

One hundred or so years later, we are still discussing the Macedonian question which should be obvious by now that it cannot be solved without the participation of the Macedonian people.

The legacy of Berlin subjected Macedonia to three new tyrants who began a violent assimilation program and a long period of brutal oppression to a point of genocide, which has lasted to this day.

The period immediately following the Berlin Congress demonstrated that Balkan chauvinist intent was not merely to occupy and exploit Macedonia as the Ottomans had, but to eradicate the Macedonian culture and replace it with an alien one. By any means possible; be it by the gun, religion or semi-legal means, the Balkan States attempted to strip the native Macedonians of their language, religion, folklore, literature, traditions and consciousness. In other words, rob the Macedonian people of their spirit and then turn them into Greeks, Serbians and Bulgarians.

Feeding their own impatience and greed and fearing backlash from the others, the Balkan States began to develop long and elaborate plans on how to gain as much Macedonian territory as possible without getting embroiled in a conflict. If I may add, none of these States, including Greece, had any historical claims on Macedonian territory at the time. Their aims were purely colonial and imperialistic.

To avoid conflict with each other Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria began to negotiate (with each other) the division of Macedonia by means of non-aggression agreements.

A secret five year treaty was signed between Serbia and Bulgaria on March 30th, 1904 which basically defined each State's spheres of influence in Macedonia with regards to the implementation of the Murzsteg reforms. Then on September 19th, 1911, Serbia and Bulgaria began negotiations on a common attack against the Ottomans with the purpose of partitioning Macedonia. On February 29th, 1912, in their preparation for war to evict the Ottomans out of Macedonia they concluded several agreements including a treaty of friendship and alliance.

A Greek-Bulgarian treaty was signed on May 30th, 1912. Both parties promised not to attack one another and to come to each other's defense should Turkey attack them.

In June 1912 the "Balkan League of Nations" consisting of Greece, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria was formed and shortly afterwards delivered an ultimatum to the Ottoman to "deliver the promised reforms in Macedonia or prepare to be invaded".

There was much intrigue, agreements, counter-agreements and secret deals between the League of Nations but from the outset each was determined to exploit any situation that developed, purely for its own gain. The League of Nations was simply a device for synchronizing a military effort and the simplest way to settle the Turkish question. Attack the Ottomans simultaneously and on multiple fronts while circumstances were favourable and present the European powers with a fait accompli.

On October 18th, 1912 Montenegro declared war on Turkey with the League following suit. Russia, the architect of the Balkan League, was against a war in 1912 and so were France and Britain. A war at this point might throw off the delicate diplomatic balance and escalate into a "world war". Russia feared that the half-millennium old Ottoman Empire might not be as easy a target as the League had estimated. Britain and France feared a backlash from Germany and Austria now that Turkey was warming up to them as a prospective ally. To stop the League's aggressive actions, both Britain and France threatened them with economic sanctions but that was not enough to stop them from continuing with their mission.

By November it was becoming apparent that Turkey was running out of options and on November 12th, 1912 called on the Great Powers to bring about an armistice. To deal with the situation a peace conference was scheduled for December 16th, 1912, to take place in London.

Having some time to adjust to the new situation, the Great Powers for the first time opted from the usual "status quo" recommendations and considered making concessions to the victors.

Austria was not happy with the prospect of a "large Serbia" and Serbian access to the Adriatic Sea so eyeing the Adriatic region as a prospective sphere of influence for itself, Austria recommended and Britain agreed to "creating" Albania, a new State. Another reason why Austria did not want Serbia to have access to the Adriatic Sea was because a Serbian port might become a Russian port.

I just want to mention here that Macedonians were not allowed to attend the London Peace Conference

The London Conference adjourned by officially declaring an end to the First Balkan War. Unfortunately its resolutions left all parties dissatisfied. Serbia was dissatisfied with losing the Albanian territory and appealed to Bulgaria to grant her access to the Aegean Sea via Solun and the Vardar valley, but her appeals fell on deaf ears. Greece also was not happy with Bulgaria's invasion and annexation of Endrene and to balance its share, Greece wanted Serres, Drama and Kavala as compensation. That too fell on deaf ears. Bulgaria, frustrated became bitter with Russia for deserting it during the London Conference negotiations.

Seeing that Bulgaria was not going to budge and the fact that neither Greece nor Serbia on their own could take on Bulgaria, should a conflict arise, Greece and Serbia on April 22nd, 1913 began negotiating an alliance and on May 19th, 1913 concluded a secret pact to attack Bulgaria.

In other words the Greek-Serbian objective was to take territory from Bulgaria west of the Vardar River, divide it and have a common frontier.

After stumbling onto this Greek-Serbian pact, despite Russian attempts to appease it by offering it Solun, Bulgaria remained bitter and in a moment of weakness was lured away by Austria. By going over to Austria, Bulgaria in effect broke off all relations with the Balkan League. Russia, disappointed with the Bulgarian shift in loyalty, made it clear that Bulgaria could no longer expect any help from Russia.

In what was later termed the "Second Balkan War", the Bulgarian army, unprovoked, preferring the element of surprise, attacked its former allies on June 30th, 1913. The bloody fight was short lived as Romania, Montenegro and Turkey joined Greece and Serbia in dealing Bulgaria a catastrophic blow. The promised Austrian support didn't materialize as the risks for Austrian involvement outweighed any benefits. Turkey was able to re-gain some of what was lost to Bulgaria but the greatest beneficiary of all was Greece which received the biggest piece of the Macedonian pie.

The Second Balkan War ended on August 10th, 1913, the darkest day in the history of the Macedonian people, with the conclusion of the Peace Treaty of Bucharest.

With Macedonia dismantled Serbia gained territories from the summit of Patarika, on the old frontier, and followed the watershed between the Vardar and the Struma Rivers to the Greek-Bulgarian boundary, except that the upper valley of the Strumnitza remained in the possession of Bulgaria. The territory thus obtained embraced central Macedonia, including Ohrid, Bitola, Kossovo, Istib, and Kotchana, and the eastern half of the sanjak of Novi-Bazar. By this arrangement Serbia increased its territory from 18,650 to 33,891 square miles and its population by more than 1,500,000.

Greece's gains started from the boundary line separating Greece from Bulgaria from the crest of Mount Belashitcha to the mouth of the Mesta River, on the Aegean Sea. This important territorial concession, which Bulgaria resolutely contested, in compliance with the instructions embraced in the notes which Russia and Austria-Hungary presented to the conference, increased the area of Greece from 25,014 to 41,933 square miles and her population from 2,660,000 to 4,363,000. The territory thus annexed included Epirus, southern Macedonia, Solun, Kavala, and the Aegean littoral as far east as the Mesta River, and restricted the Aegean seaboard of Bulgaria to an inconsiderable extent of 70 miles, extending from the Mesta to the Maritza, and giving access to the Aegean at the inferior port of Dedeagatch. Greece also extended its northwestern frontier to include the great fortress of Janina. In addition, Crete was definitely assigned to Greece and was formally taken over on December 14, 1913.

Bulgaria's share of the spoils, although greatly reduced, was not entirely negligible. Bulgaria's net gains in territory, which embraced a portion of Macedonia, including the town of Strumnitza, western Thrace, and 70 miles of the Aegean littoral, were about 9,663 square miles and her population was increased by 129,490.

To be continued...


Radin, A. Michael. IMRO and the Macedonian Question. Skopje: Kultura, 1993.

Stefou, Chris. History of the Macedonian People from Ancient times to the Present. Toronto: Risto Stefov publications, 2005

Source for the Bucharest Treaty: Anderson, Frank Maloy and Amos Shartle Hershey, Handbook for the Diplomatic History of Europe, Asia, and Africa 1870-1914. Prepared for the National Board for Historical Service. Government Printing Office, Washington, 1918.

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