The Balkan Peninsula by Frank Fox - HTML preview

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It seems to be difficult to speak without violent prejudice on the subject of the Turk in the Balkans. One school of prejudice insists that

the Turk is the finest gentleman in the world, who has been always the victim and not the oppressor of the Christian peoples by whose side he lives, and whose territories he invaded with the best of

motives and with the minimum of slaughter. The other school of

prejudice credits the Turk with the most abominable cruelty,

treachery, and lust, and will hear no good of him. In England the issue is largely a political one. A great Liberal campaign was once founded on a Turkish massacre of Bulgarians in the Balkans. That

made it a party duty for Liberals to be pro-Bulgarian and anti-Turk, and almost a party duty for Conservatives to find all the


Christian and a few ex-Christian virtues in the Turk. Before attempting

to judge the Turk of to-day, let us see how he stands in the light of history. It was in the fourth century that the first Saracens came to the

Balkan Peninsula as allies of the Greek Empire against the Goths.

They were thus called in by a Christian Power in the first instance. It

was not until the fourteenth century that the Turks made a serious attempt to occupy the Balkan Peninsula. They were helped in their

campaign considerably by the Christian Crusaders, who, incidentally

to their warfare against the Infidel who held the Holy Sepulchre, had

made war on the Greek Empire, capturing Constantinople, and thus

weakening the power of Christian Europe at its threshold. Bulgaria, too, refused help to the Greeks when the Turkish invasion had to be

beaten off. The Turks' coming to the Balkans was thus largely due to

Christian divisions.


Sébah & Joaillier


Built by Justinian I, consecrated 538, converted into a

Mohammedan mosque 1453. It is now thought that the design of

its famous architect, Anthemius of Tralles, was never completed.

The minarets and most of the erections in the foreground are


Without being able at the time to capture Constantinople, the invading

Turks occupied soon a large tract of the Balkan Peninsula. By 1362

they had captured Philippopolis and Eski Zagora, two important

centres of Bulgaria. It was not a violence to their conscience for some

of the Bulgarian men after this to join the Turkish army as

mercenaries. When the sorely-beset Greeks sent the Emperor John

Paleologos to appeal for help to the Bulgarians, he was seized by them and kept as a prisoner.

A united Balkan Peninsula would have kept off the Turks, no doubt.

But a set of small nations without any faculty of permanent cohesion,

and hating and distrusting one another more thoroughly than they did

the Turk, could do nothing. The Balkan nations of the time, though united they would have been really powerful, allowed themselves to

be taken in detail and crushed under the heels of an invader who was

alien in blood and in religion. In 1366 the Bulgarians became the vassals of the Turks, and the Serbians were defeated at Kossovo.

The fall of the Greek Empire and the subjugation of Roumania

followed in due course, and by the seventeenth century the Turks had

penetrated to the very walls of Vienna. At one time it seemed as if all

Europe would fall under the sway of Islam, for, as elsewhere than in

the Balkans, there were Christian States which were treacherous to

their faith. But that happily was averted. For the Balkan Peninsula, however,


there were now to be centuries of oppression and religious

persecution. It will be convenient once again to set forth under three

national headings the chief facts regarding the Turkish conquest of the Balkans.

Bulgaria. —By 1366 weakness in the field and civil dissensions had brought Bulgaria to the humiliation of becoming the vassal of the

Turk. In 1393 the Turks, not content with mere suzerainty, occupied Bulgaria and converted it into a Turkish province. In 1398 the

Hungarians and the Wallachians (Roumanians) made a gallant

attempt to free Bulgaria from the Turkish yoke, but failed. Some of the

Bulgarians joined in with their Turkish conquerors, abandoned the

Christian religion for that of Islam, and were the ancestors of what are

known to-day as the Pomaks. The rest of the people gave a reluctant

obedience to the Turkish conqueror, preserving their Christian faith, their Slav tongue, and their sense of separate nationality. The

Greeks, who had come to some kind of terms with the Turkish

invaders, assisted to bring the Bulgarian people under subjection.

The Greek church and the Greek tongue rather than the Turkish were

sought to be imposed upon the Bulgarians. The


subject people accepted the situation with occasional revolts, but

more tamely than some other Balkan nations. It was not a general

meek acquiescence, though it was—possibly by chance, possibly

because of the fact that a racial relationship existed between

conqueror and conquered—not so fierce in protest as that of the

Serbians. In writing that, I do not follow exactly the Bulgarian modern

view, which represents as much more vivid the sufferings and the

protests of the Bulgarian people, and ignores altogether the racial relationship which existed between Bulgarian and Turk, and enabled

a section of the Bulgarian nation to fall into line with the conqueror and embrace his religion and his habits of life, a relationship which to

this day shows its traces in the Bulgarian national life. But in Balkan

history as written locally, there is usually a certain amount of political

deflection from the facts. A modern Balkan historian, giving what may

be called the official national account of the times of the Turkish domination, says ( Bulgaria of To-day):

Had the rulers been of the same race and religion as the vanquished,

the subjection might have been more tolerable. Ottoman domination

was not, however, a


simple political domination. Ottoman tyranny was social as well as

political. It was keenly and painfully felt in private as well as in public life; in social liberty, manners and morals; in the free development of

national feeling; in short, in the whole scope of human life. According

to our present notions, political domination does not infringe upon personal liberty, which is sacred for the conqueror. This is not the case with Turkish rule. The Bulgarians, like the other Christians of the

Balkan Peninsula, were, both collectively and individually, slaves. The

life, possessions, and honour of private individuals were in constant peril. The bulk of the people, after several generations, calmed down

to passivity and inertia. From time to time the more vigorous element,

the strongest individualities, protested. Some Bulgarian whose sister

had been carried off to the harem of some pasha would take to the mountains and make war on the oppressors. The haidukes and

voivodes, celebrated in the national songs, kept up in mountain

fastnesses that spirit of liberty which later was to serve as a cement

to unite the new Bulgarian nation.

But it is a noteworthy fact that the Osmanlis, being themselves but little civilised, did not attempt to assimilate the Bulgarians in the sense in which civilised nations try to effect the intellectual and ethnic

assimilation of a subject race. Except in isolated cases, where

Bulgarian girls or young men were carried off and forced to adopt Mohammedanism, the government never took any general measures

to impose Mohammedanism or assimilate the Bulgarians to the

Moslems. The Turks prided themselves on keeping apart from the

Bulgarians, and this was fortunate for our nationality. Contented with

their political supremacy and pleased to feel themselves


masters, the Turks did not trouble about the spiritual life of the rayas, except to try to trample out all desires for independence. All these circumstances contributed to allow the Bulgarian people, crushed and

ground down by the Turkish yoke, to concentrate and preserve its

own inner spiritual life. They formed religious communities attached to the churches. These had a certain amount of autonomy, and,

beside seeing after the churches, could keep schools. The national

literature, full of the most poetic melancholy, handed down from

generation to generation and developed by tradition, still tells us of the life of the Bulgarians under the Ottoman yoke. In these popular songs, the memory of the ancient Bulgarian kingdom is mingled with

the sufferings of the present hour. The songs of this period are

remarkable for the oriental character of their times, and this is almost

the sole trace of Moslem influence.

In spite of the vigilance of the Turks, the religious associations served

as centres to keep alive the national feeling.

A conquered people which was allowed to keep up its religious

institutions (with "a certain amount of autonomy"), and later to found national schools ("to keep alive the national feeling"), was not exactly ground to the dust. And truth compels the admission that Bulgaria

under Turkish rule enjoyed a certain amount of material prosperity.

When the Russian liberators of the nineteenth century came to


Bulgaria they found the peasants far more comfortable than were the

Russian peasants of the day. The atrocities in Bulgaria which

shocked Europe in 1875 were not the continuance of a settled policy

of cruelty and rapine. They were the ferocious reprisals chiefly of Turkish Bashi-Bazouks (irregulars) following upon a Bulgarian rising.

The Turks felt that they had been making an honest effort to promote

the interests of the Bulgarian province. They had just satisfied a Bulgarian aspiration by allowing of the formation of an independent Bulgarian church, though this meant giving grave offence to the

Greeks. Probably they felt that they had a real grievance against the

Bulgars. After the Bulgarian atrocities of 1875 there ended the

Turkish domination of the country.

Serbia. —In December 1356 the great Serbian king, Stephen Dushan,

soldier, administrator, and economist, died before the walls of

Constantinople, and the one hope of the Balkan Peninsula making a

stand against the Turks was ended. Shortly after, the Turks had

occupied Adrianople, their first capital in Europe, defeating heavily a

combined Serbian and Greek army. Later the Serbian forces were

again defeated by the great


Turkish sultan Amurath I., and the Serbian king was killed on the battle-field. King Lazar, who succeeded to the Serbian throne, made

some headway against the invaders, but in 1389, at the Battle of

Kossovo, the Serbian Empire came tumbling to ruins. The Turkish

leader, Amurath, was killed in the fight, but his son Bajayet proved another Amurath and pressed home the victory. Serbia became a

vassal state of Turkey.

But there was to be still a period of fierce resistance to the Turk. In 1413 the Turks, dissatisfied with the attitude of the Serbs, entered upon a new invasion of the territory of Serbia. In 1440 Sultan

Amurath II. again overran the country and conquered it definitely,

imposing not merely vassalage but armed occupation on its people.

John Hunyad, "the White Knight of Wallachia," came to the rescue of the Serbs, and Amurath II. was driven back. An alliance between

Serbs and Hungarians kept the Turk at bay for a time, and in 1444

Serbia could claim to be free once again. But the respite was a brief

one. In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Turks, and the full tide of their

strengthened and now undivided power was turned upon Serbia. A

siege of Belgrade in 1457 was repulsed, but in 1459 Serbia was

conquered and annexed


to European Turkey. Lack of unity among the Serbs themselves had

contributed greatly to the national doom, but on the whole the Serbs

had put up a gallant fight against the Turks. And even now a section

of them, the Montenegrins, in their mountain fastnesses kept their

liberty, and through all the centuries that were to follow never yielded

to the Crescent.

The condition of the Serbs in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was

very unhappy. They could come to no manner of contentment with

Turkish rule, and sporadic revolts were frequent. At times the

Hungarians from the other side of the Danube came to the aid of the

revolters, but never in such strength as to shake seriously the Turkish

power. Very many of the Serbs left their country in despair and

sought refuge under the Austrian flag. To-day a big Serb element,

under the flag of Austro-Hungaria, is one of the racial difficulties of the Dual Monarchy.

Underwood & Underwood


The Serb exiles carried to their new homes their old sympathies, and

largely because of their efforts Austria in 1788 went to the rescue of

Serbia, and for a brief while the land again was free. But the Turkish

power returned and


Serbia stumbled blindly, painfully through years of reprisals, which culminated in the great massacre of Serbs by Turks in 1804, which, like the Turkish massacre of Bulgarians in 1875, really declared the doom of the Turkish power in the country. Following this massacre

George Petrovic, "Black George," or " Kara George," as the Serbians knew him, raised the standard of revolt among his countrymen. He

was a fierce blood-stained man, this first liberator of the Serbs, a man

on whose head was the blood of his father and his brother. His grim

character was fitted for his grim task. The story of that task will come

better within the scope of a following chapter, which will tell of the liberation of the Balkans from the Turks.

Roumania. —It was not until 1391 that the Turks crossed the Danube

and attacked the kingdoms of Wallachia and Moldavia, and reduced

Wallachia to the position of a tributary state. King Mirtsched made a

gallant fight against the invaders, but the Turks proved too strong.

That was the beginning of a Turkish dominance of Roumania, which

was never so complete as that exercised over Bulgaria and Serbia,

but left the two Roumanian kingdoms


of Wallachia and Moldavia as vassal states. Mutual jealousy between

them prevented effective operations against the Turk, and helped to make their vassalage possible. In the fifteenth century both kingdoms

had great rulers. Wallachia was ruled by Vlad the Impaler, an able but

cruel man, who seems to have earned the infamy of inventing a form

of torture still practised in the Balkans as a matter of religious proselytising, that of sitting the victim on a sharp stake, and leaving him to die slowly as the stake penetrated his body. Moldavia had as

king Stephen the Great, who has no such ghastly reputation of

cruelty. But able princes could effect little with communities

weakened by the luxury of the nobles and the helpless poverty of the

serfs. Still, the Roumanians had intervals of victory. In the sixteenth century Michael the Brave (whose memory is commemorated by a

statue in Bucharest) drove the Turks back as far as Adrianople,

liberating Roumania and Bulgaria. He annexed Moldavia and

Transylvania to Wallachia, and was in a sense the founder of modern

Roumania. But the union thus effected was not enduring and the

Turkish ascendancy grew stronger. The Turkish suzerain forced upon



Roumanian peoples governors of the Greek race, who carried on the

work of oppression and spoliation with an industrious effectiveness

quite beyond the capacity of the Turk, who at his worst is a fitful and

indolent tyrant.

In the last quarter of the seventeenth century the Russian Power

began to take a close interest in Roumania. In 1711 there was a

definite Russian-Roumanian alliance. By this time the Roumanians

were resolutely hostile to the Turkish domination. True, they had

been spared most of the cruelties which were in Servia a customary

and in Bulgaria an occasional concomitant of Turkish rule. But they were deeply injured by the corrupt, the luxurious, the exacting

administration of the Greek rulers forced upon them by the Turkish government. Though they suffered little from massacre they suffered

much from "squeeze." There was not only the greed of the Turk but the greed of the intermediate Greek to be satisfied. From 1711 until the final liberation of Roumania, Roumanian sympathies were

generally with the Russians in the frequent wars waged by them

against Turkey. In 1770 the Russians occupied Roumania and freed

it for a time from the Turk, but in 1774 the


Roumanians went back to the Turkish suzerainty. During the

Napoleonic wars Russia gave Roumania some reason to doubt the

disinterestedness of her friendship by annexing the rich province of Bessarabia, a part of the natural territory of the Roumanian people.

The year 1821 saw the outbreak of the Greek war of independence,

in which Roumania took no part, having as little love for the Greek as

for the Turk. She won one advantage for herself from the war, the right to have her native rulers under Turkish suzerainty. In 1828, as a

result of a Russo-Turkish war, Roumania won almost complete

freedom, conditional only on tribute being continued to be paid to the

Sultan. She found a new master, however, in Russia, and was forced

to keep up a Russian garrison within her borders, nominally as a

protection against Turkey, really as a safeguard against the growth in

her own people of a spirit of national independence. The Crimean

War (1853) freed Roumania from this Russian garrison, and in 1856

the Treaty of Paris declared Roumania to be an independent

principality under Turkish suzerainty.


Underwood & Underwood


Montenegro. —The existence of Montenegro as a separate Balkan state dates back to the Battle of Kossovo. The Montenegrin is a

Serbian Highlander, and whilst the Serbian Empire flourished,

claimed for himself no separate national entity. When, however, the rest of Serbia was subjugated by the Turks, "the Black Mountain"

held out, and there gathered within its little area of rocky hill fastnesses the free remnants of the Serbian race. The story of that little nation is quite the most wonderful in all the world. It transcends Sparta, and makes the fighting record of the Swiss seem tame. At the

height of its power Montenegro had a population of perhaps 8000

males, and little source of riches from mines, from trade, or even from

fertile agricultural land. Yet Montenegro kept the Turks from her own

territory, and was able at times to give valuable help to the rest of Europe in withstanding the invasion of Islam.

The system of government instituted was that of a theocratic

despotism: the head of the nation was its chief bishop, and he had the right to nominate a nephew (not a son—as a bishop of the Greek

Communion he would be celibate) to succeed him. The Montenegrin

dynasty was founded in 1696 by King Danilo I., and has endured to this day, though recently the functions


of the chief priest and king have been separated, and the present monarch is purely a civil ruler.

It is not possible here to give even the barest mention of the leading

facts in the proud history of little Montenegro. In the seventeenth century she was the valued friend of Venice against the Turks; in the

eighteenth century she was aided by Peter the Great of Russia; later

she met without being subdued the warlike power of Napoleon. All

the time, during every century, every year almost, there was constant

warfare with the Turks. One campaign lasted without interruption from

1424 to 1436, and was marked by over sixty battles. The little

population of the patch of rocks in the mountains was worn down by

this incessant fighting, but was recruited by a steady flow of exiles from other parts of the Balkan Peninsula, anxious for freedom and for

revenge on the Turk. Sometimes the tide of battle went sorely against

the mountaineers, and almost all their country was put under the heel

of the Moslem. But always one eyrie was kept for the free eagles, and

from it they swooped down with renewed strength to send the invader

once again across their borders. Repeatedly the Turk levied great

armies for the conquest of Montenegro


(once the Turkish force reached to the number of 80,000).

Repeatedly great European Powers which had proffered help or had

been begged for help failed little Montenegro at a crisis. But never were the stout hearts of the Black Mountain quelled. In 1484, when Zablak had to be evacuated and the whole nation was confined to the

little mountain fortress of Cettinje, Ivan the Black offered to his people

the choice of ending the war and making peace with the Turks. They

rejected the idea, and swore to stand by the freedom of Montenegro

until the last. The oath was never broken. Right down to 1832 a free

Montenegro faced Turkey. In that year the Turks, despairing of an

occupation of the country, suggested that Montenegro should agree

at least to pay tribute. That offer was rejected and yet another war entered upon. A war against Austria followed, in which the desperate

Montenegrins used the type of their printing presses to make bullets

for the soldiers.


Weekly Drill and Inspection of Weapons

That there was lead type to be so used shows that the Montenegrins

had not altogether neglected the arts of peace. In 1493 a printing press had been set up in Cettinje and the first Montenegrin book

printed in the Cyrillic character.


During the next century this printing press was kept busy with the issue of the Gospels and psalters under the rule of the brave Bishop

Babylas. The state of Montenegro at this time aroused the admiration

of the Venetians, and there is extant a book in praise of Montenegro

written in 1614 by a Venetian noble, Mariano Bolizza.

When the time came for the other Balkan States to throw off the

Turkish yoke Montenegro was not reluctant to join in the movement

for liberation, and she was later first in the field in the campaign of 1912.

This very brief record of the leading facts of Balkan history has now brought each of the peoples up to the stage at which the final and successful effort was made with the help of Russia to drive the Turks

out of Balkan territory. The story of that effort will be told in the succeeding chapter.