Saturday, March 01, 2008

Albanian and Serbian activity in Macedonia (1903-1904)

Abstract from the book of Douglas Dakin with the title "Greek Struggle in Macedonia (1897-1913)", pages 170-173, publish in 1966 from IMXA

Although the Internal and Vrchovist Organisations gave the Turks rela­tively little trouble in 1904, in Albania and in the neighbouring regions there was a return to the lawlessness of the previous year. The outlaw Bairam was still active. Murders of Christian gendarmes continued. The new sheep tax aroused great opposition, and in February 1904 a serious disturbance broke out at Jakova. Bairam collected some 5,000 men to defy General Shakir Pasha who had been sent with 19 battalions (including artillery) to reinforce Shemsi Pasha, the local commandant. Fierce fighting took place in the hills at Unico, Bonik and Reka. Other Albanians assembled in the villages between Jakova and Ipek and there was every danger that the Mirdite clans would unite with the rebels of Jakova. But, as in previous year, Shakir acted firmly and by the end of March he had put down the rebellion.

Nevertheless, while the Vali, Shakir Pasha, was absent from Uskub (he did not return until the end of June) a general lawlessness prevailed in his pro­vince. Murders took place almost daily, the majority of the victims being Exarchists and Vlachs. The army at Uskub, which had received no pay for many months, was in a state of unrest. Early in July the officers mutinied and took possession of the telegraph office at Prizrend. Similar action was taken by the troops at Ipek, who demanded, in addition to their arrears of pay, the release of Albanian prisoners in Ipek goal, dismissal of Christian rural police and gen­darmes, exemption from the tax on animals and also a reduction of tithes. Pro­tests against reforms were taken up at Prizrend and there was every danger that the unrest would extend to Jakova where disaffection had continued to smoulder since the spring. Indeed, the situation was on the whole worse than it had been the previous year; and, as previously, the Vali gave way, concluded a 'bessa' or truce with the Albanian chiefs who paid neither sheep tax nor the full amount of tithes. Early in October, Hilmi Pasha, while at Uskub (although he subsequently claimed to have subdued the rebellious tribal leaders) in effect endorsed the concessions of the Vali. In point of fact he had insufficient troops to deal adequately with the situation. Concessions were imperative, for, while he and the Vali were making some show of force against the Alba­nian rebels, the Exarchist bands had been free to molest the villages that lie in a semi-circle among the foothills of the Kara Dagh Mountains. In Decem­ber, however, Lieutenant-General Naser Pasha arrived with reinforcements and he was able to restore order in the area lying in the triangle Kumanovo-Kratovo-Ishtip.

Adding to the confusion that reigned in Northern Macedonia was the ap­pearance in the winter of 1903-4 of Serbian bands or rather of a new kind of Serbian band. Previously Serbians (though often passing under the name of 'Bulgars') had formed units to fight alongside of the Exarchist bands in the name of Macedonian autonomy, but there were many Slavs who felt that they belonged to Serbia and who had no wish to pass under Bulgarian rule by way of Macedonian autonomy. There were also Serbians in the Kingdom who, like the Greeks of the Hellenic Kingdom, saw the need to organise the Serbian interest in Macedonia so as to prevent the villages from passing under Exar­chist control. This movement, like the Greek movement, was ostensibly in­dependent of the Government. Agents, bandsmen and arms were sent to Ma­cedonia. But the new Serbian bands, because of the presence of strong Turkish forces and of Albanian marauders, found it difficult to get a footing. A small Serbian band which crossed the frontier near Yeni-Varosh early in January 1904 was driven back by Turkish pickets; and a somewhat larger unit which crossed a few days later near Rashta was encountered by Turkish forces and obliged to retreat. Later there were several skirmishes between Serbian bands­men and Turks around the villages of Hertnitsa, Dupnista and Propelitsa. Early in March the Turks succeeded in forcing a large Serbian band across the frontier, the survivors being arrested by the Serbian authorities. In May the Turks annihilated almost completely a band of 28 near Kumanovo.

This activity of the Serbian bands so alarmed the Serbian Government, that the Prime Minister, General Grujio, himself went to the Vrania frontier region to make enquiries. (He came to the conclusion that the bandsmen had been induced to cross the frontier by agents who had persuaded them that the Serbian-Bulgarian rapprochement meant that the two countries had de­termined to take common revolutionary action in Macedonia). But the Ser­bian government, even had it wanted to, did not succeed in preventing the flow of bandsmen into Macedonia. Later in the summer several bands crossed the frontier and one of them, led by Mitso Kristic, came into conflict with an Exarchist band under the chief, Sugaroff, first at Topolnitsa and later (1 Octo­ber) at Slatina.

Not only were Serbian bands being sent across the frontier, but bands, acting in the Serbian interest and against the Exarchists, were being formed in the villages of Northern Macedonia. One of these bands was that of Yovan Svetanoff, who, like other local leaders, co-operated closely with the bands which came from Serbia. The result was that by the end of the year the Serbian effort had become a distinct challenge to that of the Exarchists. In Novem­ber a large Serbian unit, said to have been 150 strong, appeared in the Kara Dagh region to the north east of Uskub. It eventually took up a position at Pobazhda and drove away an Exarchist band from Lubantsi to find safety in the Kumanovo district. This band (it was an agglomeration of small bands) began to dominate the region and, like other Serbian bands, intimidated the villages and killed from time to time Exarchist agents.

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