Turks in Monastir (Bitola), 1382-1912

Nation: Turkey

Occupation Force

Dates: 1382 - 1912
Turkey Turks in Monastir (Bitola), 1382-1912 Occupation Force Cover
[1906 John Foster Fraser Book] The Town of Monastir
[1908] CUP Takes Control of Monastir
[1906 John Foster Fraser Book] The Town of Monastir
The town of Monastir, capital of the vilayet of Monastir, lies in Macedonia just about half-way between Bulgarian and Greek territory. North, the majority of the Macedonians are Bulgar; south, the majority are Hellenes. The villages meet, cross, and mix in the Monastir Vilayet. The reason, therefore, we hear so much about disturbances at Monastir is not because the Turks there are more wicked than Turks elsewhere, but because there is a persistent feud between Greek and Bulgarian political religionists.

A winding railway line runs from Salonika to Monastir. There is one train a day, and it crawls leisurely through a picturesque land. All the little stations are pretty. Each has its flower garden, and each station house is trailed with gorgeous creepers. There is plenty of fruit to be bought. Lads sell jars filled with chilled water. There are Turks and Greeks and Bulgarians, all merry, greeting friends, seeing friends away quite a happy country scene. Yet this is the cut-throat part of Europe!

Monastir is an undistinguished, motely sort of town of some 60,000 inhabitants, 14,000 of them Greek, 10,000 of them Bulgarian, four or five thousand Albanian, two or three thousand Jew, and the rest Turk.

There is a sufficient variety in costume, but after a month or two the jostling of differently clad races ceases to attract the eye. Monastir is an ordinary Turkish European town, even to the attempt at a garden where the richer Turks and Bulgars and Greeks come and sit at little tables and drink beer and listen to a string band composed of girls from Vienna.

Everybody is jolly. Murder is so commonplace that it arouses no shudder. In the night there is the little bark of a pistol, a shriek, a clatter of feet. "Hello! somebody killed!" That is all.

But though geniality reigns, you notice things which make you think. Half the population consists of Turkish soldiers. Night and day they are about. On all the neighboring hills you see military encampments. A caravan of mules laden with maize comes in from the country, and each four mules are convoyed by a soldier with a gun ready.

Monastir goes about its business. But it stands on the fringe of a fearful massacre. Bulgarians are in a minority, and are avoided by Greeks and Jews. In the cafes plots are hatched. A man whispers in your ear. Last night two Bulgarians were stabbed to death! Hush! they deserved it. Had not the Bulgarians put poison into the communion wine at the Greek church?

One murder a day is about the average. Sometimes all is quiet for a week. Then half a dozen men are wiped out and the average is maintained. The Greeks have warned the Bulgarian residents in Monastir that for every Patriarchist murdered by the "bands" in the country they will murder two Bulgarians in the town.

The number of Turkish troops in Macedonia is something like 150,000. This means that practically the whole male population in several parts of Turkey has been forced to leave its home and its ordinary work to take part in the concentration in these provinces. Such a state of affairs produces the most terrible misery.

At the village of Moghila, near Monastir, after the destruction of a "band," both Bashi-Bazouks and soldiers proceeded to strip the dead of their outer garments, footgear, and arms, and lacerated the corpses with knives and bayonets. Almost every house in the vicinity was sacked. The Turks carried off whatever suited them, and cut into ribbons the new sheepskin coats and other garments they could not take away. Corn and other foodstuffs were scattered on the ground and burned. Finally about a dozen cottages were set on fire with petroleum.

The village of Smyrdesh was wholly destroyed by the Turks on the pretext that the inhabitants had provided the Komitajis with means of subsistence. Out of a population of 1,200, 140 men, women, and children of the village were killed, and out of 286 houses only twenty or twenty-five were left standing. The booty carried off was large, comprising all kinds of stores and household goods, as well as cattle, horses, and the sacred vessels in the church. A family of seven persons was massacred, and the corpses were piled one atop of another in the fireplace.

In some villages in the Monastir district, the Bulgarian population has seriously contemplated a change of religion as the only means of securing comparative immunity from the Turk's oppression - because the Turk is, for the time being, favorable to the Greeks. On the other hand, a sister of an Orthodox (Greek) priest, a woman of seventy, was tortured by a Bulgarian Komitaji, who cut off pieces from her feet and stuffed them into her mouth until she died. She was suspected of having given information to the authorities of Sarafoff's presence in Smyrdesh.

Mr. James McGregor, late British Consul at Monastir, reported that in the rising of 1903 the Turkish troops, consisting of eleven battalions, and accompanied by several hundred Bashi-Bazouks, fought with about 400 insurgents, and were let loose on the village of Smilevo, which they sacked and burned, leaving only four houses standing out of 500. More than 2,000 of the inhabitants sought refuge in the forests, and of those who remained in the village twenty-one elderly men and sixty or seventy women and children were cut to pieces, and forty young women were carried off to Mussulman villages, where they were kept for a week.

The dreadful autumn of 1903, when the Bulgarian insurrection broke out in Macedonia, has left deep traces. Then the insurgent forces were computed at 32,000 men, armed and drilled. Bridges were blown up and bombs thrown. Krushevo was occupied by insurgents, against whom the Turks and Bashi-Bazouks came in force. After defeating them the troops entered the town, massacred seventy-seven people, burnt and pillaged 570 shops and houses; hundreds of people were ill-treated and beaten and women were violated. Of course, the Turks caught none of the insurgents, who decamped from one side of the town as the Turks entered at the other. The pillage and destruction continued four days. The Bulgarian quarter was spared, owing, it is said, to bribes given to the Turkish soldiers. The rest of the inhabitants, mostly Greco-Vlachs, were ruined, and were naturally incensed at the Bulgarians escaping the general destruction. It was suspected by the Greeks that the Turkish commander was in league with the insurgents, and had of set purpose attacked the Greek inhabitants. The mere investigator cannot say. Things are so cross-grained in Macedonia.

Six hundred women and children from villages close to Monastir, who arrived in a deplorable condition, were not allowed by the authorities to enter the town. After the representations of the English Consul, Hilmi Pasha provided them with bread and sent them to a neighbouring village, and finally to their own villages. The local authorities of Kastoria, where the troops made a clean sweep, were ordered to provide timber for the reconstruction of the ruined houses. A mill was built in each village at public expense, assistance was to be given in the harvesting of the crops, all stolen live stock to be restored and paid for, and the taxes for the current year to be remitted. Thus the Turkish authorities alternate between bursts of ferocity and bursts of philanthropy.

The sum distributed by the Porte for the restoration of the destroyed villages - of which so much was made by the Turkish Government - amounted to about fifteen shillings per family. The villagers in many cases refused it, as they were unable to undertake the obligation to rebuild with such utterly inadequate means. Later, Mr. McGregor reported that, in some parts of the Monastir Vilayet at any rate, the Turkish Commission, although slow and face to face with many difficulties, seemed to be honestly endeavouring to carry on its task in the most satisfactory way.

Fraser, J. F. (1906). Monastir. In Pictures from Balkans (pp. 205-210). London: Cassell and Company.
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[1908] CUP Takes Control of Monastir
On the night of July 22, 1908, so soon as Osman Pasha had been made a prisoner, the members of the Monastir Centre of the Committee of Union and Progress proceeded to take over the government of the city and to secure the position that had been gained by Niazi's coup. In the first place, the Committee sent a telegram to the Sultan himself (to the Presence of His Sacred Majesty, the Caliph), beseeching him to command the practical application of the Fundamental Law (the Constitution of 1876) in order that the loyalty and devotion of his subjects might remain unimpaired. It threatened that, unless an Irade ordering the opening of the Chamber of Deputies was issued by the following Sunday - July 26, 1908 - events would "occur contrary to your Royal will and pleasure." The telegram concluded with the words, "The civil authorities, the officers of the army, the soldiers, the ulema and sheikhs, the people great and small, of various creeds, within the Vilayet of Monastir, all united to work for one cause by an oath made upon the Unity of God, await your commands."

Another telegram was dispatched to inform the headquarters of the Committee in Salonica that the coup had been made with success, and during that night young officers posted manifestos on the walls in that city calling upon the people to cooperate with the Committee and overthrow the legitimate government.

On the morning of July 23, the citizens of Monastir woke up to find that all signs of the government's authority had vanished, and that the Committee had become the undisputed master of the vilayet.

Knight, E. F. (1909). XIV. In The Awakening of Turkey: a history of the Turkish Revolution (pp. 216-217). London: John Milne.
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