by: David Hart
In the course of human events, there exist certain landmarks, historical boundaries which serve to mark ‘the closing of older eras and to determine the outset of new ones. One such significant landmark, among the defensive struggles of the Hellenic nation, is the period of the Macedonian conflict; a conflict, which constitutes one of the greatest achievements of the Hellenic, peoples in the last 100 years.
The great historical events, which govern the course of nations, are not the offspring of the brief, liminal periods of time when they emerge but rather are the result of processes of much larger scope. Therefore, in order to understand the Macedonian crisis in any depth, it must be viewed in Connection with the preceding struggles for survival and freedom as have been faced by the inhabitants both of Macedonia and of the other parts of the Greek world.
Macedonia has existed from the most ancient of times as the spoduliki - pillar of Greek territory-, the shield, the “Bulwark of the Hellenes according to the historian Polybius.
Her history is [axediakuta] interwoven with the history of the rest of Greece; the flesh of her flesh hearing one common soul common aspirations. That Macedonia is indeed Greek territory is confirmed by all of the historians, geographers, philosophers and poets who lived during the classical period. The finds of archaeological digs, the archaeological and historical sites themselves, the monuments, the written testimonial, the folkloric traditions along with many other historical pieces, fit together to demonstrate the unbroken continuity of Greek culture on Macedonian soil.
The chief adversaries were originally, on the one side, the Bulgarians. Who were engaged in an intense effort to take control in Macedonia, and on ‘the other the Greeks who had prepared themselves on a nationwide scale for a contest of massive even religious proportions in order to preserve their national existence and to hold on to their ancestral territory. In this contest however the Greeks had not only to face simultaneously the power of the Ottoman empire and the aspiration of the other Balkan states, but also the great powers of Europe, which were eager to weaken the national will and to manipulate the demographic make-up of the Greek world, in order to further their own interests in the region.
The participation of Macedonia in all Greek national crises, her offerings of blood and sacrifice for the protection of freedom and the preservation of her ethnic identity have been both stunning and unrivalled. Although the actual armed phase of the Macedonian conflict took place between 1904 and 1908. In reality it endured for 40 years, from 1870 to until 1908, passing through 3 principal phases. The first was that of the activity of the foreign propaganda [komitatn] and it went on until 1897.
The second phase was that of the terrorist activity on the part of the Bulgarian propaganda [konitato’ from 1897 until 1904 and finally, the third phase was that of the Macedonian conflict proper the armed standoff between the Greeks and the Bulgarians and the other powers of the Balkan peninsula which lasted until 1908.
During the period surrounding the turn of the century, Turkish conquests extended through Thrace to the shores of the Adriatic. All of the Balkan powers laid claim to this geographical area, the most contested region being that of Macedonia. The rise of nationalist furore in ‘the Balkans along with the increasing expectation of a Turkish collapse only served to exacerbate the rivalry for the distribution of these lands. Thus beam the increase in the violence of the claims.
The Bulgarians, in their resolve to become independent state, succeeded, in 1870 establishing an independent church, which was called the “Bulgarian Exarchate” In 1878 Bulgaria became an independent principality under the sovereignty of the Sultan and wanted to create with the support of the Russians, one great Balkan state. This state was to include Thrace and Macedonia both of which had ever been Greek lands, whose population were predominantly speakers Greek. It was with this intention that in 1902 there were established in Sophia a number different rebel organizations which were given collective name of ‘the “Macedonian revolutionary committee. This committee was to arm gangs of Commitadjis which in turn descended into Macedonia and attempted to burglarize the population.
In the beginning they made use chiefly the propaganda. Shortly thereafter they reasserted to outright terrorism. Villages notables were murdered and in particular the priests and schoolmasters; Schoolhouses were burned and entire Villages destroyed The goal was to eradicate the Greek element from Macedonia. The force of Bulgarian commitadjis active in Macedonia in 1903 amounted to 90 gangs, a force of approximately 2700 men The extreme danger of this situation placed the Greeks before a dilemma: either to continue to accept this terrorism passively, or to react, meeting force with force. And as has always been the case at critical moments in their history, the Greeks rose in union to the occasion. In this uprising, the Greeks were doing no more than what was appropriate to observe the dictates of their ethical heritage. The need for organization and defence immediately became the first order of business for the residents of Macedonia. Notables priests, schoolmasters, doctors, pharmacists merchants and landowners, all worked together to form local ethnic committees in different centres, while the church and the school became the principal rallying points. Suddenly the movement manifested itself both in free Greece and in the Greek communities of Europe with the organization of Panhellenic societies and associations. Along with the organization of small bodies of reactionary forces whose goal it was to awaken both the Greek world and to influence public opinion in Europe.
The principal players in the movement, which sprung originally from the heart of Macedonia, were two men sensitive to the anxiety of the Greeks: the Metropolitan of Castoria, Germanos Karavargelis and the secretary of the Greek consulate in Monaster Ion Dragumis. And while Dragoumis went to work on the organization of the movement by encouraging and setting up committees, Germanos Karavangelis taking advantage of the disputes between rival revolutionary groups, put together the first rebel force composed of local inhabitants, one with Kota in command and the other with Vangeli Nikolaou.
The serious fighting began in 1904 in the area of Kastoria. The southern Greek paid back a par of the debt which was owing to the Northerners, the Macedonians, a debt dating back approximately 80 years to 1821 when the latter cent down several thousands in order to help their compatriots in the revolution of 1821. After the war of 1894 however, the official Greek government maintained what was essentially a policy of nonintervention in Macedonian affairs for fear that this would provoke a misunderstanding with Turkey. Nevertheless, slowly it assumed an active role. Among the different measures taken was the dispatch of 4 officers into western Macedonia, among whom was Pavlos Melas -in order to study the situation and to suggest suitable further measures. The action of Pavlos Melas in western Macedonia, that is, his ceaseless efforts to invigorate the Greek will to act in the area, not only with arms but also with the establishment of schools, began to counteract Bulgarian propaganda in the region. On the 13th of October 1904, after having been betrayed by one of the comitadjis, Pavlos Melas was Surrounded by a Turkish detachment in the village of Statista and killed despite a heroic struggle. Mela’s death shook the whole nation and incited many officers to lead armed bands into Macedonia. Until the end of 1906, the activities of these Greek bands met with great success. In 1908, after the announcement of Austria and Russia with respect to Balkan territory, the Greeks put an end to hostilities.
The Bulgarians, however, seized the opportunity to launch a surprise attack, burning cities and slaughtering the inhabitants. In response, the Greek bands reorganized themselves and successfully chased out the invaders.
In June of 1908, the Young ‘Turk movement broke out and put an end to the conflict in Macedonia. But in the meantime, the Greek effort had been a complete success: Macedonia had been brought back into the Hellenic nation with the exemption of a small proportion, divided between Skopje and Bulgaria. Thanks to the Macedonian conflict, Greek awareness of Macedonia was saved. Those who fought, with their genuine belief in great ideals, managed to raise themselves into the realm of legend and they sealed their belief with their deaths. And, few though these men were, their decisive action bestowed many great benefits upon their country. Their inspiration and enthusiasm brought the Greeks together creating the much needed sentiments of solidarity and common purpose which manifested themselves brilliantly during the Balkan wars of 1912 – 1913. A historical moment which assured the survival of the Hellenic nation of ‘he North.
Today. However, we bear witness to an unprecedented counterfeiting of historical truth: the government of Skopje is in the process of disinforming public opinion on a worldwide scale as regards Macedonia. Without hesitation does this government bypass all historical and other evidence in order to maintain that the inhabitants of Macedonia were not Greeks; that their leaders never had any awareness of being Greek; and, consequently, that Macedonia should be liberated and cease to be a part of Greece. Unfortunately, this falsehood, clumsy though it may be, does have its supporters on the international scene where realpolitik prevails at the expense of historical truth and the inalienable ethnic rights of human beings.
And yet the Greek people, by maintaining their solidarity in this important issue and by avoiding the errors of the past, are in a position to effectively defend that, which belongs to them. In addition this will be an honorary tribute to the heroes of the fight for Macedonia and to all of the other defenders of our nation.
It is well worth the effort to attempt to develop Greece into an autonomous and powerful player on the international stage.
Despite the huge contribution of the civilians, the Macedonian Struggle will be remembered chiefly as a guerilla war between Greek and Bulgarian armed bands within the Ottoman domains. The target of the Greek bands was to safeguard the national feelings of the villages, restore order, whenever enemy pressure caused desertions, eliminate enemy bands and reduce the activities of all those bandit groups which discovered it easy to shift from the national fight to outlaw activities whenever there was a promise of luting the rural population.
Soon, local bands and civil guards where assisted by fighters, private individuals or soldiers, from the Greek state and Crete. In spite of the two-front fight, against Bulgarians and Turks, the Greek bands managed to reduce gradually the Bulgarian grip and to restore the ethnic balance.
Extremely tough confrontation took place in the marshy lake of Giannitsa, a location of strategic importance for the control of the communication arteries. Protagonists were prominent leaders like Agras, Demestichas and Gonos. Of course, the most important front of the struggle was the western Macedonian highlands, where various bloody confrontations took place for the final supremacy over disputed Slav-speaking villages.
The weakening of the Bulgarian bands is closely linked with their gradual abandonment by the local chieftains, as soon as the Greeks gained control of the situation. In fact, from 1906 onwards, the Ottoman army resumed liquidation enterprises and reduced noticeably both Bulgarian and Greek armed activities. Nevertheless, during the years 1907-08 the Greek bands realized significant territorial gains throughout Macedonia and secured either the permanent connection or the reconnection of several village communities with the Patriarchate. On the other hand Bulgarians reduced their activities to retaliations perpetrated at random, like the murder of the interpreter of the Greek Consulate in Salonika, Theodoros Askitis.