Diplomatic Sources on Ilinden – a Bulgarian Uprising

NOTAM by the Imperial Ottoman Embassy in Paris to the French Foreign Office

Paris, August 10, 1903
Source: French Foreign Office Archives, AMAE/NS Turquie-Macedoine, vol 35,
p. 230r

The BULGARIANS gathered in large numbers at Kleisoura and its suburbs have occupied the villages of Djivarek in the Kesrie administrative region, have assasinated all the Muslim inhabitants, women and children, and burnt down their houses. They are currently fiercely attacking the remaining villages in the area, were they already captured a big number of inhabitants. Some of these poor people have been burnt alive. The greek and the muslim poulations are terrified after this terrible slaugtering.

In the suburbs of Monastir, BULGARIAN bandits have burnt 8 barns, in 8 different farms, with all the cereals that had been stored there. These violent attacks, during which the muslim villages in the Resna and Persie regions have been attacked, have terrified the Muslims. In the Ochri[da] region the postman from Janina has been encyrcled by the BULGARIAN bandits and a big number of items belonging to Muslims have been burnt by BULGARIAN crooks.


Documents from European diplomats of different countries regarding the BULGARIAN Ilin-Den uprise

Please notice the GREEK toponyms used by the Official Ottoman state (Thessaloniki, Florina, Monastiri- do you see Lerin or Vitolj anywhere?) and the constant use of the term “Bulgarian” for the rebels – evidently the “Macedonian” ethnic identity had not been invented yet…

1. The French vice-consul N.Vernazza reporting to T.Delcasse source: French Foreign Office Archives, AMAE/NS Turquie-Macedoine, vol 35,
p. 193-195, prot.n. 35

Thessaloniki August 6, 1903

News coming from Monastiri and areas between this town and Thessaloniki are always very alarming. Every night the BULGARIAN rebels are trying to destroy (with dynamite) the railway. The government telegraph lines remain cut, and only those of the railroad have been repaired and it is so that the authorities communicate with Monastiri.

According to my information, all BULGARIAN residents, men, women and children, from the villages of Tzerovo, Banitza, Rossen, Zaboritzeni, between Florina and Ekchi-Sou, have found refuge to the mountains. Two farms belonging to an Albanophone Greek and a Muslim have been burnt down in this area. An employee of the bulgarian commercial agency told me yesterday that up to date the BULGARIANgangs have kept a defensive attitude, but since last Sunday they have decided to attack and that the BULGARIANvillagers will help them significantly. I have indeed personally verified that many young BULGARIANS have recently left our town and suburbs to join gangs in the kazas of Gevgeli and Koukoush, on which there is no further conversation after the Postolari events.
My opinion is that the BULGARIANS have decided to make a last venture in Monastiri area, where they are a majority. Passengers arriving from Monastiri confirm that many muslim villages have been partly burnt down and since yesterday morning news about the Krushevo administration building having been blown up is circulating. This town, with 1700 houses, is populated by BULGARIANS Vlachs and a few muslim Albanians.
It is heard that more than 30 persons, in their majority government employees, have been killed during this BULGARIAN uprise, imitating the example of their colleagues in Thessaloniki.


The “comitates” are evidently the Bulgarian comitates created by the
Bulgarian state
and the IMRO to organise the uprise in Macedonia and attach it to Bulgaria, an effort thet summited to the Ilin-Den uprise.
Please notice the the Austrian Consul’s constant use of the term “Bulgarian” for the rebels – evidently the “Macedonian” ethnic identity had not been invented yet… The short report on the atrocities mentioned in the last paragraph are dedicated to our Skopian friends. Many more will follow, from independent sources only.

The Austrian consul August Kral to the head of the (Austrian) Foreign Office Count Agenor von Goluchowski

Monastir, March 11, 1903
Source: Austrian Foreign Office Archives, HHStA PA XXXVIII/Konsulat Monastir
1903, vol 392, prot.no. 22

Hochgeborener Graf, {your Highness the Count}

The Comitate with unspeakable audacity blackmails economically Bulgarians, Greeks, Wallachs, Christians and Muslims. In case of refusal to pay, the Christians are threatened with murder, and the rich, armed and guarded
muslim landowners are threatened with the burning down of their fields. In gathering the money the comitates do not discriminate between the Christians, because, as they assert, their efforts aim to the amendment of
the situation of all Christians of Macedonia. The amount of the money requested depends on individual income, but the Comitate is debatable in some special cases. The amount of the contributions varies between 5 and 100 Turkish pounds, some rare times even more. In the Perlepe region, where the Muslims are a minority, each and every Aga has to pay, the same for most Greeks ( i.e. the Wallachs) from Monastiri and the vlach villages, like
Gopes, Mollovista, Tirnovo, Krushevo etc. The comitates have won over, often with by the means of threats, a number of families in the above NON-BULGARIAN small towns. The comitates need such pied-a-terre in important small towns, that, overmore, being NON-BULGARIAN appear less suspect to the Turks.
The continuing and phenomenal in pressure blackmails, have attenuated to the maximum the anxiety of the NON-BULGARIAN populations, mainly of the Greeks. Fear dominates everywhere. Noone dares to resist. In this state of terror anyone feels the lack of protection to which he is exposed because of the incompetence, the feableness and the corruption of the turkish administration. There is a strong desire for the regularisation of the situation, which is unbearable, and the need for a new, strong government. I have already stated that the population does not want reforms or autonomy, the majority of the Macedonians want nothing more than the fate of Bosnia.
The execution of the punishments is a permanent chapter of the gangs’ activities. One could mention the recent assasination of the Greek priest in Zelenic, the Greek teacher in Strebeno, a Greek supporter in Ajtos ( all three in the Kaza Florina ), the Serbian priest in Vrbjani and of an Albanian landowner in Lenista (in the Kaza Perlepe) who has been decapitated. Especially the Vrbjani crime has been very shocking, as for two years now there has been no BULGARIAN action against the Serbs and therefore the Serbophiles have not been hostile towards the rebel groups. the assasins, now being fugitives, according to the inquiry performed by the Serbian Genaral Consul himself, have been three local villagers, an old friend of the priests’ being one of them, who had to perform the murder as a sort of examination in order to join the comitate.


The British General Consul Sir Alfred Billioti to the British Charge D’Affaires J.B.Whitehead
Source: Foreign Office F.O. 195/2156, p76r-80v, prot.no. 20

Thessaloniki, January 26, 1903


Two years ago some Greco-Vlachs, i.e. Wallachians who are educated exclusively in Greek schools and embued with Greek ideas, who in some parts speak nothing but Greek, and form, in the Vilayet of Monastir the bulk of the Macedonian Greek population, requested the permission of the
Patriarchate to use the Roumanian language in their churches. The Patriarchate refused but the Exarchate acceded to the request, and this false step on the part of the former caused the first split in the Greco-Vlach party by inducing a number of Vlachs to throw in their lot with the Exarchate.

These new converts were, as is usually the case, more fervent than the Exarchists themselves and bashed by the Committees’ bands resorted to intimidation and murder to coarse their compatriots who had remained
faithful to the Patriarchate to join them.

One of the first Greco-Vlach villages affected was Oshin in the Caza of Ghevgheli,at the instigation of the Exarchist inhabitants of which two of the most influential Patriarchists were murdered in August last by a
BULGARIAN band under a certain Giovanni or Yovanoff of Ghevgheli. About three months ago, as I mentioned in my report no 198 of November 9, 1902, he called at Oshin with his band and that of another leader, Argiri, turned out at the Greek schoolmasters, appointed Roumanians (NON-BULGARIAN speaking) and tried to induce the Orthodox priest to turn Exarchists, but failing in this they insisted on their reading the liturgy in Roumanian. On the priests’ pleading ignorance of the language Yovanoff gave them six months to learn it.

Since their other chiefs have joined Yovanoff and Arghiri, viz. Pavlo, who died lately, Athanasi, Karadouka, and Apostoli, but the men under them do not exceed forty, a number which may, however, be increased at any time by recruits from among the natives.

These chiefs have continued the system initiated at Kupa, Oshin, Houma, Longountza, and Loubnitsa, neighbouring villages of Ghevgheli, where also the Patriarchists are in the majority. In the village of Ghera Kortzi, where they form the minority, one of the most influential among them was murdered in broad day light while working in his field by a BULGARIAN band some three weeks ago for refusing to recant. Papa Nikola, Orthodox priest of Livadi, another Greco-Vlach village some five hours distance from Goumendje is being threatened with death for remaining Patriarchist and if he is murdered the whole village will join the Exarchate from fear.

Meanwhile the forty men forming these BULGARIAN bands live at the expense and in the houses of the Orthodox ( or Roum, as they are officially termed, whether Greeks or Vlachs, in contradiction to the Exarchists), and no longer of the BULGARIAN peasants, thus shifting the onus of supposed complicity from the latter to the former, as reported to one of my previous dispatches.

The villages in the southwestern district of Ghevheli, Gorpop, Boemitza, Bogdanza, Bores (or Bogros), Stoyakovo, Matchoukovo etc, are only in part Exarchist, but the villages of Yenidje Vardar, Kriva, Barovitza, Tchernareka, Petges, Ramna, Petrovo with Corfalia (or Corfali) in Salonica are entirely Orthodox. None of these are, however, being pressed just now by the bands to join the Exarchate nor to dismiss their Greek schoolmasters but they have been warned to hold themshelves ready to take up arms when ordered
to do so in a few months. In the meantime they are threatened with death if they should denounce the bands, for whose reception they are ordered to have a house and provisions in constant readiness.

All these details some of which I have already had the honour of reporting, e.g. the payment of the taxes to the Committees agents and not to the Government, the submittal of cases to the Committees representatives and not to the local tribunals, the rape of Dimitris’ daughter at Moouin for her father’s refusal to join the bands and (as I did not know at the time) the exaction from him of twenty five pounds, have only lately come to light. The poor wretches, who suffered, being afraid to visit even Salonica for fear of being suspected of having come to denounce their opressors and only lately have a few dared to come secretly and, explaining their position, enquire what they can do for themselves or what can be done for them. They trembled lest the bands should discover what would assuredly cost them their lives.

The Vali himself is at a loss how to relieve the Patriarchists. He told me a forthnight ago that he had summoned the Kaimakamis of Ghevgheli and Yenidje Vardar and secretly arranged with them to invest all the villages mentioned above on a given day and in case of need to repeat the operation until successful, and also to send out flying columns. But nothing has been done, nor do I anticipate any very brillant result from such a plan even if carried out properly and thoroughly with the strong force required since many of the Komitatjis are villagers against whom it would be difficult to prove anything, while the strangers have secured themselves against
denunciation by the terrorism which they have established, and would succeed in slipping through the lines.

Want of foresight on the part of the Government has, I fear, allowed matters to go too far for any remedy to be easily discoverable. The late Halil Rifat Pasha was induced by the dread of an “atrocities outcry”, which has after
all been raised, to allow the small minority of new-made Exarchists to share the Churches of the Patriarchists, who naturally regarded them as schismatics and to use the Bulgarian Liturgy – or to cause the closure of
the Churches for months, thus depriving their original proprietors of the means of fulfilling their religious duties, even on such holidays as Christmas and Easter. The support thus given to the Exarchists was the more
regrettable that it encouraged the revolutionary Committees to attain their end by assasinating the priests whom they could not bribe and the notables whom they could not coerce.

I frequently called the successive Valis’ attention to this policy as detrimental to the interests of their Government, but in answer they all said that they were acting orders from the Porte which they could not disregard.

The only other band which is known to exist in this Vilayet is that of Alexis of Poroia. The daring which prompted his attempt on the train ( as reported in my dispatch No13 of the 17 inst.) near the station of Poroia proves how far the bands have esthablished themselves or, at least, how inadequate are the means employed by the local authorities hitherto in coping with them.

The sufferings of the Greeks, described above, extend also to those Bulgarians and Vlachs who are Patriarchists and can only be remedied by the extermination of the few now existing bands, which if not destroyed will
form the nucleus of larger bands in the spring. Only exceptionally severe and thorough measures can effect this and only the appointment of the most trustworthy officers for the work can prevent an “atrocities outcry”.


NOTES (not a part of the Document)

1. Yovanis, archi-comitatji in the region of Ghevgheli, murdered by the Turks in September 1903 in the marshes of Amatovo.

2. Argyris, chief of an armed group of Exarchist Vlachs. He acted in the areas of Ghevgheli, Yannitsa and Edessa.

3. Apostol Petkof-Terzief, Voevoda (Ottoman judje) in Ghevgheli and Yannitsa. Born in Axioupolis (Boemitsa) of Kilkis. Died in 1911.

4. Alexis Nikoloff from Kato Poroia. Collaborated with the Bulgarian General Tsontseff in the 1902 uprise in Ano Tzoumagia. Murdered by the Turks in July 1903, following treason by his brother, a fact that affected negatively the evolution of the (Ilin-Den) uprise in the Doirani- Sidirokastro (Demir Hisar) region.

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