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By Carl Savich
Introduction: Origins and Background of the First Balkan War
The First Balkan War began on October 8, 1912 when Montenegro declared war on Ottoman Turkey. Ten days later, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece, the other members of the Balkan League, then followed Montenegro in declaring war against Turkey. The First Balkan War was fought to decide the fate of Macedonia, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey in Europe.
The origins and background of the First Balkan War could be found in the 1878 Congress of Berlin and the events that followed the Treaty of Berlin. One of the major outcomes of the Treaty of Berlin was that the status of Macedonia, the so-called Macedonian Question, remained unresolved; the Great Powers allowed Turkey to retain Macedonia. Following the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, Macedonia was incorporated in Bulgaria under the Treaty of San Stefano, the peace treaty held in a suburb of Constantinople that ended the war. Britain, Austria-Hungary, and Germany feared that an enlarged Bulgarian state would unduly benefit Russia and alter the status quo in Eastern Europe. What was proposed was a new treaty, negotiated at the Congress of Berlin in 1878. Under the Treaty of Berlin, Macedonia was retained by Turkey, resulting in a smaller and truncated Bulgarian state split into two sections. Northern Bulgaria would have autonomy within the Ottoman Empire. Southern Bulgaria, or Eastern Rumelia, would become semi-autonomous. The goal of Britain, Germany, and Austria-Hungary was to prevent the expansion of Russian influence in Eastern Europe. The way to achieve this was by preventing the emergence of an independent and united Bulgaria, Greater Bulgaria. Under the Treaty of Berlin, Bulgaria was divided into an autonomous principality north of the Balkan Mountains and a southern semi-autonomous region of Eastern Rumelia. The Treaty of Constantinople in 1881 forced Turkey to cede Thessaly and the Arta region in Epirus to Greece. The Macedonia territorial issue, however, thus remained unresolved. Both Serbia and Bulgaria sought to annex Macedonia. In 1885, a war between Serbia and Bulgaria was fought when Bulgaria occupied and annexed Eastern Rumelia, or southern Bulgaria, which contained the second largest Bulgarian city of Plovdiv. King Milan saw this move as upsetting the Balkan balance of power so he demanded compensation to Serbia. Serbia declared war on Bulgaria and invaded on November 13, 1885. Serbian forces, however, were routed by the Bulgarian army and were driven back into Serbia. Austria-Hungary subsequently intervened and arranged negotiations to end the conflict. The Treaty of Bucharest in 1886 ended the war and endorsed and ratified the annexation of Eastern Rumelia. Three Macedonian battalions in the Bulgarian army participated in the conflict.
In Macedonia, five major indigenous nationalist movements emerged. A Macedonian national/ethnic/linguistic identification emerged whose slogan was “Macedonia for the Macedonians”. The Macedonians sought a separate ethnic/national/linguistic identity that was distinct from the Serbian and Bulgarian identification. The Macedonian language, culture, and political and national/ethnic identity overlapped with the Bulgarian and Serbian. Moreover, there were Serbian and Bulgarian populations in Macedonia and in many instances the ethnic identifications were not rigidly fixed. Even within a single family, the father could identify as a Serb, while a son could identify as an ethnic Bulgarian, while a daughter could identify as a Greek, and an uncle as a Macedonian. This can be explained to a certain extent on the proselytizing and propaganda movements in Macedonia by Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece. But it can also be explained by the fact that there was an enduring Serbian, Bulgarian, and Greek cultural, religious, and linguistic legacy in Macedonia. There was a large Serbian population in the Kumanovo, Tetovo, and Skopkska Crna Gora region of Skopje. Serbia sought to protect this Serbian population and to maintain a Serbian linguistic, religious, cultural, and national identity in Macedonia. To further this end, Serbian schools, institutions, aid organizations, and even guerrilla groups, were set up in Macedonia. Bulgaria sought to protect the Bulgarian population by likewise setting up competing Bulgarian schools, institutions, religious organizations, and guerrillas or paramilitary forces. A fourth movement emerged after the 1878 League of Prizren in Kosovo, a Greater or Ethnic Albania nationalist movement which sought to unite all Albanian inhabited areas in the Balkans, including western Macedonia, or Illirida, Kosovo-Metohija, or Kosova, the Presevo-Bujanovac-Medvedja area of Southern Serbia, northern Greece, or Chameria, and areas of Montenegro. The League of Prizren initially was sponsored by the Ottoman Turkish regime to co-opt and control the burgeoning Albanian nationalist movement. At first, Albanian “autonomy” or national independence would be achieved within the Ottoman Empire and would be an Islamic movement. Eventually, however, Albanian and Turkish political goals diverged and came into conflict as the Albanian nationalist movement sought a national solution outside of the Ottoman Empire. The Albanian nationalist objective was to create a “Greater Albania” that would include western Macedonia, Kosovo-Metohija, southern Montenegro, southern Serbia, and northern Greece. Such a proposed Greater Albania would supplant the Ottoman sandzak and vilayet political administration of the southern Balkans and destabilize the entire region. It was essentially the Albanian objective to create a Greater Albania that forced the Ottoman Empire to suppress the Albanian insurgencies and rebellions. A fifth nationalist movement emanated from Romania that sought to incorporate the Vlach or Romanian population of Macedonia. The five rival nationalist/ethnic/political movements in Macedonia---Macedonian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Albanian, and Romanian---were antagonistic and conflicted with each other.
The conflict between the Serbian and Bulgarian populations in Macedonia was the most acute. Both Bulgaria and Serbia sent schoolteachers, priests, bishops, and armed guerrilla groups into Macedonia. There was thus a tug of war over Macedonia between Serbia and Bulgaria as both sought territorial expansion in the region.
British writer Herbert Vivian visited Macedonia and Serbia in 1903 and reported about the crises regions of Macedonia in the chapter “Rambles in Macedonia” from his book The Servian Tragedy with Some Impressions of Macedonia. Vivian traveled to Skopje and to Tetovo and personally observed events there. Macedonia was a politically unstable region at the beginning of the twentieth century. Vivian described Macedonia as follows:
The French appropriately use the same word, Macedoine, for a holocaust of sodden fruit and for that Turkish province which remains the last cock-pit of Europe. As we have seen, nearly all the Powers, great and small, covet Macedonia, and there seems every probability of serious disturbances being renewed there before long.
Macedonia had a reputation for ethnic turmoil, kidnappings, and murders. Vivian noted: “To judge by the papers, you may only visit Macedonia if you are content to carry your life in your hand.” He described the basis for the turmoil as follows: “If the Albanians could be kept in order and Bulgarian anarchism could be suppressed, there would be no grievances in Macedonia today. The Albanians are turbulent sportsmen, engaging as individuals but intolerable as neighbours. They must be made to understand that no further nonsense will be permitted. The Porte would be quite capable of reducing them to order if they had not a powerful protector at hand.” He saw the Albanian population as the most unstable: “For the Albanians…who are the most turbulent persons in the region.”
Vivian described Skopje in 1903 as follows: “Uskub---dreamy Uskub---the capital of Old Servia and of the vilayet of Kosovo, is a far less busy, practical place, but entirely idyllic.”
By 1895, hundreds of schools were set up in Macedonia advancing Serbian, Greek, and Bulgarian claims in Macedonia organized by such groups as the Bulgarian National Committee, the Greek Association of Hellenistic Letters, and the Serbian Society of Saint Sava. Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria all had irredentist and nationalist claims to Macedonia. All three nations had guerrilla groups in Macedonia as well who fought against each other and against the Ottoman Turkish forces and police.
All three countries sought territorial expansion in Macedonian, basing their claims on ethnicity, history, culture, and geopolitical considerations. Moreover, there was an indigenous Macedonian nationalist movement that sought an autonomous “Macedonia for the Macedonians” within the Ottoman Empire. Albania and Romania had claims on Macedonia as well. Also not to be overlooked is the fact that Macedonia had a large Turkish population as well, who regarded Macedonia as part of Turkey, as Turkey in Europe. In 1912, Macedonia was part of Turkey. If Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece were to address and resolve their rival claims to Macedonia, they first had to confront the Ottoman Empire. This is what led to the First Balkan War as Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece suppressed their mutually antagonistic claims in Macedonia and united in a military alliance against Ottoman Turkey to gain control of Macedonia.
The First Balkan War was essentially fought over Macedonia. Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece focused their political agendas on the territorial expansion into Macedonia. All three nations had conflicting, overlapping, and mutually exclusive claims on Macedonia. In addition, the indigenous Macedonian autonomy movement conflicted with the irredentist agendas of Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece. What all recognized, however, was that Turkey had to be first militarily defeated before any of their goals could be realized. It was this realization that led, first, to the creation of the Balkan League, and, second, resulted in the First Balkan War. It was the need to expel Turkey that united Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and the Macedonian population. Nothing was possible in Macedonia as long as it was part of Ottoman Turkey. They also realized that only if they united could they defeat Turkey militarily. The major antagonists over Macedonia were Serbia and Bulgaria. If they could agree to a political and military alliance, then Greece and Montenegro could be easily induced to join the alliance. But Serbia and Bulgaria remained the essential actors in the First Balkan War.
It was the Serbian-Bulgarian alliance that made military victory possible over Ottoman Turkey. Jacob Schurman in The Balkan Wars, 1912-1913 (1914) explained how ethnicity and geography drew Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece to conflict over Macedonia: “What was the occasion of the war between Turkey and the Balkan States in 1912? The most general answer that can be given to that question is contained in the one word Macedonia. Geographically Macedonia lies between Greece, Servia, and Bulgaria. Ethnographically it is an extension of their races. And if, as Matthew Arnold declared, the primary impulse both of individuals and of nations is the tendency to expansion, Macedonia both in virtue of its location and its population was foreordained to be a magnet to the emancipated Christian nations of the Balkans…. Hence the Macedonian question was the quintessence of the Near Eastern Question.”
Philip Gibbs and Bernard Grant in Adventures of War: With Cross and Crescent (1912), noted that Macedonia was the subject of the conflict: “Macedonia, that vague and troublesome territory which for generations has been the theatre of guerrilla warfare, of vendettas, of massacres and murders between Christians and Turks, was to be the cause of quarrel. The liberation of Macedonia from Turkish rule was the watchword adopted by the rulers of the Balkan States to give righteousness to their cause, and to gain the sympathy of other Christian peoples.” Gibbs and Grant concluded that Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, and Greece had self-interested motives in Macedonia.
In April, 1911, the Greek prime minister, Eleftherios Venizelos, sent a note to Sofia through private channels requesting that Bulgaria and Greece enter an understanding to establish a joint defense of the Christian population in Macedonia. The Bulgarian prime minister, Ivan Gueshov, was at first reluctant but Turkish atrocities and harsh measures in Macedonia and the failure on the part of Turkey to join up the Bulgarian and Turkish railways as agreed upon forced him to change his mind. The Italo-Turkish War also galvanized support for a conflict with Turkey. On March 13, 1912, the Serbian-Bulgarian treaty was signed by Ivan Gueshov and Serbian prime minister Milovan Milovanovic and by King Peter of Serbia and King Ferdinand of Bulgaria. On May 29, 1912, a treaty between Greece and Bulgaria followed. In late September, a treaty between Montenegro and Bulgaria was signed. On October 6, Montenegro and Serbia signed a treaty that established the four states of the Balkan League.
The Serbian-Bulgarian treaty of March 13, 1913 consisted of two parts, a defensive alliance and a secret annex. In the first part of the agreement, Bulgaria and Serbia agreed to “succor one another with their entire forces in the event of one of them being attacked by one or more States.” The second part of the agreement contained a secret annex that covered the territorial division of Macedonia.
Under the secret annex, Serbia was to receive outright all territory north and west of the Shar Mountains, while Bulgaria was to receive all territory east of the Rhodope Mountains and the Struma River. If no agreement could be reached on organizing the rest of the territory in Macedonia into an autonomous province, then Bulgaria was to receive undisputed possession of all land running from Mt. Golem on the Bulgarian border to Lake Ohrid. The land between this line and the boundary of Serbian-controlled land at the Shar Mountains was deemed a “contested zone”, a demarcation line which the Russian Tsar should determine or delineate as the arbiter.
The Balkan League resulted because of the failure of the Treaty of San Stefano and the Treaty of Berlin to resolve the issue of Macedonia. Serbia and Bulgaria resolved to solve the Macedonia issue on their own. Will Monroe explained the failure of the Treaty of Berlin: “The treaty of Berlin gave Macedonia back to the Turks.” The Turkish administration in Macedonia maintained the status quo and did not initiate reforms: “The reforms promised to the Macedonians by the treaty of Berlin never materialized.” The policy of the Ottoman Turkish administration was one of divide and conquer, divide et impera, according to Monroe. Turkish Sultan Abdul-Hamid sought to prevent the emergence of a Macedonian national identity or consciousness: “Throughout the reign of Abdul-Hamid (1876-1909) the use of the word Macedonia was forbidden.” The Turkish province of Macedonia was divided into three administrative districts or vilayets----Monastir/Bitola, Skopje/Uskub, and Salonika/Thessaloniki.
According to the Report of the International Commission to Inquire into the Causes and Effects of the Balkan Wars, published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C., in 1914, “there were a thousand deaths and, in the final result, 200 villages ruined by Turkish vengeance, 12,000 houses burned, 3,000 women outraged, 4,700 inhabitants slain and 71,000 without a roof.” Russia and Austria devised and supervised reform measures in Macedonia following the devastation of the uprising.
A consequence of the uprising was the Muerzsteg Agreement of September 30, 1903 between Russia and Austria-Hungary which forced Turkey to implement reforms in Macedonia which included the reorganization of the Turkish police under the guidance and supervision of foreign military and police personnel. Turkey reluctantly accepted foreign intervention and interference in Macedonia. Foreign intervention in Macedonia did not resolve the underlying problems.
On July 28, 1908, the Young Turk Movement under Ismail Enver Pasha, Ahmet Cemal Pasha, and Mehmet Talat Pasha seized power in Turkey and formed the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP, Ittihad ve Terakki Jemiyeti). “Ottomanization” and assimilation of the population of Macedonia were the goals: “Sooner or later the complete Ottomanisation of all Turkish subjects must be effected, but it was becoming clear this could never be achieved by persuasion, and recourse must be had to force of arms.” The CUP held a congress in 1910 in Salonika at which it was declared that Turkey is “essentially a Muslim country…All other religious propaganda must be suppressed.” In 1909, 20,000 to 30,000 Armenian Christians were massacred in Cilicia in southern Turkey. Following the annexation of Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1908 by Austria-Hungary in violation of the Treaty of Berlin, Bosnian Muslim and Turkish refugees from Bosnia, mohadjirs, resettled in Macedonia. The Macedonian population opposed the resettlement of Muslims in Macedonia because it represented a policy of “Turkizing” Macedonia, changing the ethnic and religious balance: “The policy of Turkizing Macedonia by means of systematic colonization, carried out by the mohadjirs---emigrants, Moslems from Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
The weakening of the IMRO in 1904 allowed Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania to pour guerrillas into Macedonia. In 1907, there were 110 Bulgarian, 80 Greek, 30 Serbian, and 8 Romanian guerrilla groups operating in Macedonia. There were Albanian rebellions from 1909 to 1912. In August, 1912, 15,000 Albanian guerrillas led by Hasan Prishtina and Ismail Kemal seized Skopje. The Albanian insurgents sought to have the Kosovo and Monastir/Bitola vilayets merged to form an autonomous Albanian area, a Greater Albania.
The Albanian, Bosnian Muslim, and Turkish immigrants to Macedonia were blamed for committing massacres in Macedonia, in Shtip, and Kochani: “In Macedonia, the muhadjirs, in conjunction with the Albanian Moslem immigrants, were responsible for the succession of massacres in 1912, such as those of Ishtip and Kotchana, which helped bring about the Balkan alliance.”
In 1912, approximately 800,000 Muslims lived in Macedonia, or one third of the population. There was a large Turkish population in Macedonia as well as Bosnian Muslims immigrants from Bosnia-Hercegovina, known as mohadjirs/muhadjirs, who had resettled in Macedonia from Bosnia when Austria-Hungary occupied Bosnia in 1878 following the Congress of Berlin and in 1908 when Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia.
In The Balkan Wars, 1912-1913 (1914), Jacob Schurman recounted alleged Turkish atrocities against the Macedonian population: “In one district alone 100 villages were burned, over 8,000 houses destroyed, and 60,000 peasants left without homes.” Reports of alleged Muslim Turkish atrocities against Christian Macedonians galvanized popular support in the US and Western Europe for the Macedonian population. Invariably, the propaganda or public relations value of the atrocities worked against Ottoman Turkey. Schurman maintained that the Muslim Turks showed “unutterable incapacity to govern their Christian subjects” and for this reason “forfeited their sovereign rights in Europe.” The massacres in Kochani and Berane inflamed Slavs and Christians in the Balkans and galvanized public opinion against the Ottoman Turkish administration. The centralizing and “Ottomanization” policies of the Young Turks thus backfired and resulted in ever greater resistance and tension in Macedonia.
The French premier, Raymond Poincare, saw Russia as the main instigator of the First Balkan War: “[I]t is too late to wipe out the movement which she [Russia] has called forth… she is trying to put on the brakes, but it is she who started the motor.” Russian policy was motivated ostensibly by a goal to create a counterweight against Austria-Hungary in the Balkan Peninsula. But the Balkan states themselves were motivated by a desire to expel Turkey from Macedonia and Thrace.
Leon Trotsky also saw the machinations of the Great Powers in the emergence of the First Balkan War: “The Great Powers---in the first place, Russia and Austria---have always had a direct interest in setting the Balkan people and states against each other and then, when they have weakened one another, subjecting them to their economic and political influence.”
The precursors to the 1912 Serbian-Bulgarian agreement were the Serbian and Bulgarian agreements of 1904 and 1911. The first Bulgarian memorandum was drawn up in 1911 laying out the Bulgarian conditions: “The renewal of the treaty of 1904, mutatis mutandis: instead of reforms we shall ask for autonomy; if that should prove impossible we shall divide Macedonia.” Bulgarian diplomat Dimitar Rizov was the leader of the Macedonians and was one of the first persons to discuss the question with Gueshov. Rizov was born in Bitola/Monastir and later became the Bulgarian ambassador to Italy. In 1912, Bitola, the second largest city in Macedonia situated along the Pelagonia Valley, had a population of 50,000 and was known as “the town of consuls”. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk had attended an academy in Bitola. The city had a large Turkish population and 60 mosques. The main street was known as the “Shirok Sokak” or wide lane. Rizov recalled: “There were several grammar-schools in Bitola: Turkish, Greek, Serbian and Bulgarian. It was all the same to us.” He attended a Serbian grammar-school in Bitola but regarded himself as Macedonian.
Nicholas Hartwig, the Russian Minister in Belgrade “gave most of the credit for the Bulgarian initiative to Rizov, one of the leaders of the Macedonians. King Ferdinand in order to please Austria has always opposed [a treaty with Serbia], and the Bulgarian government out of fear of the revenge of the Macedonian Committee could never reach the decision to make tangible concessions to Serbia in Macedonia. Rizov has now agreed to undertake the responsibility before the Committee and to bring his influence to bear on them.”
Russian diplomacy and foreign policy concentrated on forging a Serbian-Bulgarian alliance. Sergei Sazonov, the Russian foreign minister, instructed Russian ministers Nicholas Hartwig in Belgrade and Anatol Nekliudov in Sofia to encourage Serbia and Bulgaria to establish closer diplomatic relations. The Russian objective was to counter Austro-Hungarian influence in the Balkans. The Serbian-Bulgarian treaty resulted, however, in war with Ottoman Turkey.
The Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (I.M.R.O.) was established in Salonika on October 23, 1893 by Ivan Nikolov, Anton Dimitrov, Hristo Tatarchev, Petar Pop Arsov, Hristo Batandziev, and Damian Gruev with the motto “Macedonia for the Macedonians”. Initially, IMRO was known as the Secret Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (TMORO). Their goal was autonomy for Macedonia. They sought to force the Ottoman regime to implement Article 23 of the Treaty of Berlin which mandated a series of administrative and electoral reforms as well as self-government in Macedonia. Their fear was that Macedonia would join Bulgaria as Eastern Rumelia had done in 1885. Serbs opposed autonomy in the March, 1912 Serbian-Bulgarian alliance treaty but left the final resolution of the issue open-ended and contingent.
In 1903, IMRO launched the Ilinden Uprising, a failed attempt to achieve autonomy for Macedonia. The Muerzsteg Programme reforms resulted, imposed by Russia and Austria-Hungary. IMRO conducted guerrilla warfare in Macedonia since its founding in 1893. Their goal was to pressure Turkey to grant autonomy by guerrilla activity in Macedonia that would force intervention by the Great Powers. Armed groups known as chetas were created which consisted of fifteen to fifty men. These groups were known as chetniks, komitas, and komitadjis (men of the committee), who were commanded by a voivoda. Schools were established to train guerrillas by Georgi Ivanov, under the pseudonym Marko Lerinski, a veteran of the Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1885. Goce Delchev, a member of the central committee of VMRO, was the military inspector. In 1894, the rival Bulgarian Supreme Committee was established by Macedonian expatriates in Sofia which sought to incorporate Macedonia in Bulgaria.
Widespread guerrilla activity in Macedonia continued into the twentieth century. One result was the “Miss Stone Affair”, a kidnapping of a US citizen that created an international crisis. On September 3, 1901, Ellen M. Stone, an American evangelical missionary from Chelsea, Massachusetts, was abducted by Macedonian guerrillas, along with her chaperone, Katarina Stefanova Tsilka, who was pregnant at the time. Tsilka gave birth while held by the guerrillas. They were kidnapped by 20 guerrillas affiliated with the IMRO led by Jane Sandanski and Hristo Chernopeev. The guerrillas requested a ransom of 25,000 Turkish lira or $110,000. They were released in March 1902 after a smaller ransom was paid. They were abducted to gain wider attention for the Macedonian cause, to gain funds to purchase weapons, and to put pressure on the Turkish regime to grant Macedonia autonomy. Tsilka later raised funds for the Macedonian guerrillas in the US.
Ernst Helmreich in The Diplomacy of the Balkan Wars, 1912-1913 argued that IMRO helped bring about the First Balkan War: “The Revolutionary Organization contributed substantially to the sequence of events which brought about the Balkan War.” IMRO played a crucial and leading role in the formation of the Balkan League: “In the first place, it was instrumental in bringing about the Balkan League.”
Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan E. Gueshov, using the example of the Italian Risorgimento, sought to resolve the crisis through state action, by Bulgarian intervention: “Deeply convinced that the Macedonian question ought to be taken out of the hands of the Macedonian Revolutionary Committee as Cavour took the question of Italian unity out of the hands of the Italian revolutionists, I hastened to open negotiations.”
It was the policy of the IMRO to force the Bulgarian government to make an agreement with Serbia according to K. Stanishev. Serbia, however, was against autonomy for Macedonia. In the 1912 agreement, Belgrade and Sofia secretly divided the territory of Macedonia without consulting the Macedonians.
Dimitar Rizov was willing to shoulder “the entire responsibility before the Macedonian public opinion for the territorial concessions… made to Serbia.” But he insisted on a clause covering autonomy as he told Milovan Milovanovic, the Serbian foreign minister on October, 1912: “I need hardly tell you that no Bulgarian government will venture, even if it felt so disposed, to conclude with Serbia an understanding which does not provide for Macedonian autonomy.” Serbs and Greeks did not favor autonomy but Gueshov got clauses inserted which vaguely covered the principle of autonomy because the Macedonians demanded it.
The IMRO secondly brought about the First Balkan War by arousing public opinion and bringing pressure on the Bulgarian government to sponsor an “active solution” of the Macedonian problem. Terroristic activity in Macedonia provoked a Turkish response and gained attention to the plight of Macedonians. Protest meetings were organized after such events. The Kotchana bombing in 1912 and the subsequent reprisals by Turkish forces resulted in meetings in Bulgaria calling upon Bulgaria to declare war against Turkey. “The Revolutionary Organization was the backbone of the war party in Bulgaria and did everything in its power to force the opening of hostilities.” There were “many recent Macedonian immigrants” in Bulgaria. Only after the signing of the decree of mobilization on October 30, 1912 did a meeting between the Bulgarian government and the IMRO take place. Macedonians volunteered to fight in the First Balkan War as part of the Bulgarian armed forces. Macedonian volunteers were organized in the Macedonian Legion.
For the Macedonian population, the First Balkan War was fought to obtain autonomy for Macedonia, even though both Serbia and Bulgaria sought to advance their own national agendas in Macedonia at the expense of the Macedonian population. The Macedonian population too understood that before they could resolve the issue of autonomy, the Ottoman Turkish forces would have to be defeated militarily. Pursuant to this goal, the Macedonians volunteered to fight on the side of the Balkan League states against Turkey. Macedonians formed two divisions in the Macedonia-Thracian Volunteer Corps, known as the Macedonian Legion.
IMRO had requested money, supplies, and offered volunteers to the Bulgarian government. Colonels Protoguerov and Durvingov, Bulgarian officers born in Macedonia, were given funds and arms to organize small groups. New bands were formed joining 35 bands already operating in Macedonia, hindering Turkish troop concentrations and mobilization and spying for the Bulgarian forces: “In fact, a whole volunteer corps, a veritable legion, was formed.” There were 30,000 Macedonians incorporated directly into the Bulgarian army. The Macedonian Legion, or also known as the Macedonian-Thracian Volunteer Corps, was formed, made up of 14,670 men divided in 12 battalions. It operated in the Rhodope Mountains and the western Thrace region and was to maintain contact with the Serbian forces in Macedonia. The Macedonian Legion was to operate with the 7th Rila Infantry Division and the Second Thracian Infantry Division.
Three Bulgarian armies invaded Thrace on October 18, 1912. The engagements between Turkey and Bulgaria during the First Balkan War involved the most men and resources/materiel and were the most intense. In other words, the major battles of the First Balkan War were between Bulgaria and Turkey. The Bulgarian Second Army surrounded Adrianople which had a Turkish garrison of 45,000 troops. The First and Third Armies captured Kirk Kilissa on October 24. The Battle of Lule Burgas was the largest military engagement of the First Balkan War. For four days the Bulgarian forces launched an attack to outflank the left wing of the Turkish forces. On October 31, Abdullah Pasha, the commander of the Eastern Army, ordered a retreat to the Chatalja lines, the outer defenses of Constantinople.
Macedonian revolutionaries such as Misel Gerdzhikov and Georgy Petrov were active participants in the First Balkan War. Correspondent Leon Trotsky wrote for the Kiev newspaper, Kievskaya Mysl, No. 293 for October 22, 1912, noting the participation of Macedonian revolutionaries in the First Balkan War: “The war has absorbed the Macedonian revolutionary into itself. It has dispatched the ‘anarchist’ Gerdzhikov to cut telegraph lines, and entrusted the old plotter Georgy Petrov with running the supply services of the Macedonian Legion.” Trotsky interviewed Khristo Matov who stated that “the massacres at Stip and Kocani, which were, indeed, what gave the final push to starting the present war.”
The Serbs and Greeks did not have a counterpart to the Macedonian Legion. The Serbian Narodna Odbrana (Serbian National Defense) did, however, have branches in Macedonia.
The Macedonian Legion fought at Malko Trnovo and at Kirjali. It was accused of committing atrocities during the war. There were Armenian troops in the Macedonian Legion who sought revenge for Turkish and Kurdish Muslim massacres against Christian Armenians.
Leon Trotsky described the Macedonian Legion at the outbreak of the First Balkan War: “At the start of the war the weather was splendid and hopes were high, the streets were still filled with marching units of reservists, Macedonians, and volunteers, with martial music, singing and thunderous shouts of ‘Hurrah!’…The last vestiges of the army reserve went off to the front, together with the Macedonian Legion and its Armenian unit; there passed through on their way to Adrianople the divisions sent by Serbia---volunteers without floral decorations, wearing caps with red tops… In the streets we saw fewer and fewer correspondents and more and more wounded men discharged from the hospitals.”
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace published a Report of the International Commission to Inquire into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars in 1914 that contained eyewitness accounts and interviews from the conflict. Lieutenant R. Wadham Fisher was an English Volunteer in with the Fifth Battalion of the Macedonian Legion. Lieutenant Fisher explained the circumstances of an alleged massacre which occurred at Dede-Agatch: “A sharp fight took place outside the town between the legion and the army of Javer Pacha, wherever the Turkish villages showed the white flag, our troops were forbidden to march through them. Our men had been much inflamed by reports of outrages committed by Turks on Bulgarians near Gumurjina. We entered Dede-Agatch under fire towards 9 p.m. after marching and fighting all day. Javer Pacha insisted on withdrawing into the town and we were obliged to pursue him. Bullets were still whistling through the streets, but the local Greeks came out to show us where the Turkish soldiers were posted. The Greeks feared a massacre and regarded our coming as their salvation. I saw something of the search for arms; no one was harmed. At 11 p.m. we received an order to withdraw from the town, and to march to a village twenty-five kilometers away. Some 150 men were left in the town, either because the order did not reach them or because they were too exhausted to obey it. No officer was among them, and they were organized by a private soldier, Stefan Boichev, a contractor of Widin. The Greek bishop afterwards stated that Stefan Boichev had done good service in reestablishing order. On November 19 the lower class Greeks and the soldiers began to pillage the town together. A certain number of the local Turks were undoubtedly killed. These excesses must be explained by the absence of any officers.”
The Carnegie Report described the role of the Macedonian Legion in the death of the Turkish Commissioner as follows: “The notorious incident of the killing of Riza-bey, the Imperial Turkish Commissioner of the Junction railway line, is to be explained by the fact that as he was being taken under arrest to the school he attempted to snatch a rifle from a Macedonian volunteer, and was killed by the volunteers on the spot.”
The Carnegie Report quoted the account of a member of the Macedonian Legion who explained the attack against Dedeagatch as a reprisal: “Incidents also occurred while Bulgarian regiments were on the march which led to savage reprisals. A volunteer of the Macedonian legion (Opolchenie), who was previously known to a member of the Commission as an honorable and truthful man, recounted the following incident as the one example of brutality which had come within his own experience. While marching through Gumurjina, the legion saw the dead bodies of about fifty murdered Bulgarian peasants. The dead body of a woman was hanging from a tree, and mother with a young baby lay dead on the ground with their eyes gouged out. The men of the legion retaliated by shooting all the Turkish villagers or disbanded soldiers whom they met next day on their march, and killed in this way probably some fifty men and two or three women. The officers of the legion endeavored afterwards to discover the culprits, but were baffled by the solidarity of the men, who considered this butchery a legitimate reprisal. The Turks with whom we talked were on the whole agreed that the period of extreme brutality was confined to the early weeks of the first war. Many of them praised the justice of the regular Bulgarian administration which was afterwards established. From several of the Bulgarian officials who had to govern turbulent districts (e.g., Istip and Drama) infested by bands with an inadequate military force to back them, we have heard in detail of the steps which they took to regain the confidence of the Moslems. Many of them were successful.”
The Bulgarian army sought to punish crimes committed against Muslim civilians in Macedonia. Up to February 3, 1913, courts-martial in Macedonia had passed sentence on 10 persons for murder, 8 for robbery and pillage, and 2 for rape. Of the those accused of crimes, 37 were Macedonian insurgents, including 6 chiefs of bands (“voyevodas”). Cases which were in the stage of inquiry or investigation (“instruction”) were as follows: 78 cases of murder, 69 cases of pillage, 7 of rape, 7 of robbery (in the guise of taxation), 14 of arson, and 81 cases of forms of robbery.
The Carnegie Endowment for Peace Report referred to the Dedeagatch massacre as “a minor massacre” which had been “much exaggerated in the press”. The Report stated that the massacre carried out at Dedeagatch was committed by Greeks and Armenians “with the aid of some Bulgarian privates of the Macedonian legion, who were accidentally left in the town without an officer.” Macedonian insurgents (comitadjis) were also reported to be engaged in activity in the region.
There were two major fronts or theaters of military operations in the First Balkan War, Macedonia and Thrace. The largest army was engaged in Thrace and consisted of Bulgarian forces. Macedonia was attacked by Serbian forces based in Nis while Greece invaded from the south. Greek forces attacked into Southern Macedonia while Serbian forces advanced through “Old Servia” into northern and central Macedonia. After over 500 years of Turkish occupation, Serbia recovered Kosovo-Metohija: “In their great victory over the Turkish forces at Kumanovo they avenged the defeat of their ancestors at Kossovo five hundred years before.” Serbian forces continued to advance south, defeating the Ottoman Turks at Prilep and Monastir.
Bulgaria mustered 350,000 troops for the First Balkan War; Serbia had 230,000 troops; Greece had 110,000 troops; and Montenegro had 35,600 troops. According to Herbert Gibbons, Serbia and Greece could put 150,000 troops each into the field “to keep in check the Turkish army in Macedonia, and to prevent Albanian reinforcements from reaching the Turkish army in Thrace.”
The First Balkan War was portrayed as one between Christianity and Islam, as a conflict to achieve autonomy for a subjugated and repressed nationality. Czar Ferdinand of Bulgaria issued a proclamation to his troops: “In this struggle of the Cross against the Crescent, of liberty against tyranny, we shall have the sympathy of all those who love justice and progress.”
There were two fronts in the war, Thrace and Macedonia. The Turks had 115,000 men in Thrace and 175,000 troops in Macedonia. Ottoman troops were deployed in the 1st Thracian or Eastern Army led by Abdullah Pasha and the 2nd Macedonian or Western Army led by Ali Risa Pasha. The nizams were the actives while the redifs were the reserves. The Turks had the following military advantages. The Turks held the center of the region of conflict. There was a transportation network that gave the Turkish forces good interior lines of communication. There were rail lines from Salonika/Thessaloniki to Bitola/Monastir along the Axios-Vardar valley. A military road connected Bitola/Monastir, Prilep, Veles, and Shtip. A rapid concentration of forces was thus possible. In Thrace, the Turks faced 200,000 Bulgarian troops, who were later reinforced. In Macedonia, the Turks faced 273,000 Balkan League troops. The Greek Navy controlled the Aegean Sea, however, thus depriving the Ottoman forces of reinforcements and re-supply by sea.
The Turkish troops also suffered from low morale because Turkey was the “sick man of Europe” then, moribund militarily and politically and culturally. The only advantage the Turks had was numbers, a larger population base. But the Balkan League negated this advantage in numbers. Because the Turkish forces lacked overwhelming numbers, the outcome of the First Balkan War was never seriously in doubt. The Ottoman Turkish army could not prevail over an even-strength army. The Balkan League thus neutralized the one advantage the Ottoman Turkish army possessed, overwhelming numbers. The Balkan League states even advanced to the outskirts of Constantinople and were poised to take the city before the Great Powers intervened.
General Mikhail Savov was the chief of the Bulgarian general staff. Bulgarians had the 1st Army under General Vasil Kutinchev which was made up of 79,370 men. The 2nd Army was under the command of General Nikola Ivanov and consisted of 122,748 men. The 3rd Army was commanded by general Radko Dimitriev and was made up of 94,884 men. There were 48,523 men in the west facing Macedonia while an additional 33,180 men were in the Rhodopes Mountains. There were 16,000 irregulars of the Macedonian Thracian Volunteers in the Rhodopes. There were a total of 599,878 men in the Bulgarian forces.
The Serbian forces were led by Crown Prince Alexander Karadjordjevic, who commanded the 1st Serbian Army, made up of 132,000 men in the Morava Valley. The 2nd Army was commanded by General Stepa Stepanovic and consisted of 74,000 men, made up of the Serbian Timok Division and the Bulgarian 7th Rila Division. The 3rd Army was commanded by Bozidar Jankovic and consisted of 76,000 men based in Toplica and Medvedje. The Ibar Army was commanded by General Mikhail Zivkovic and consisted of 25,000 men. The Javor Brigade was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Milovoje Andjelkovic and was made up of 12,000 men. The Chief of the Staff was General Radomir Putnik. The Serbs anticipated that the Turks would concentrate their forces in central Macedonia, the Vardar Valley, Morava. The Serb plan was to occupy central Macedonia and also to secure the region.
The plan of attack was that the 2nd Army was to advance into eastern Macedonia from Bulgaria and cut off escaping Turkish troops in the Vardar Valley and prevent re-enforcements from reaching Macedonia. The 3rd Army would advance south into Kosovo and move to attack the Ottoman left flank in central Macedonia. Three armies were to meet in Ovche Polje east of Skopje.
The Turks concentrated their largest force, the Vardar Army, made up of 65,000 troops, in northern Macedonia. The Turks used Albanian irregulars to defend this area. General Colmar von der Goltz was an adviser to the Turkish army from Germany. In 1911, von der Goltz had been made a Field Marshal after further service in the Ottoman Turkish army.
On October 8, 1912, invoking a border dispute, Montenegro declared war on Turkey. Ten days later, Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria followed suit, arguing for war on the basis of Turkey’s violation of the 1878 Treaty of Berlin provision by failing to implement reforms in Macedonia as stipulated.
The Battle of Kumanovo was the decisive battle in Macedonia. This battle decided the outcome of the war in Macedonia.
In the western or Macedonian theater of the war, the Ottoman forces faced the Serbian army in the north, the Greek army in the south, and the Montenegrin army in the northwest. The Serbian military strategy consisted of attacking the Turkish forces in the Skopje-Stip-Veles triangle and destroying them in a double envelopment launched south of Nis. Three Serbian infantry armies were deployed to the Macedonian border. Crown Prince Alexander’s First Army was deployed to the upper Morava Valley area near Vranje. The First Army was to attack the Turkish forces at Ovche Polje. The Second Army under General Bozidar Jankovic was to advance to Pristina and then move along the Mitrovica-Skopje railroad line to envelop the left flank of the Turkish forces. The Second Army, made up of one Serbian and one Bulgarian division, was to attack from the base at Kustendil, attacking the Turkish right flank. The three armies were to meet at Ovche Polje east of Skopje where they would defeat the main Turkish army, the Western Army of Macedonia. General Mikhail Zivkovic, commander of the Army of the Ibar, was to attack Novi Pazar along with the Javor Brigade. The total strength of Zivkovic’s forces was 37,000 troops and 44 guns.
The Battle of Kumanovo resulted when Zekki Pasha, the commander of the Army of the Vardar, moved out of his defensive and fortified positions in Ovche Polje and redeployed his forces north in Kumanovo. Zekki Pasha planned to defeat the Serbian First Army in a direct, head-on engagement and to thereby prevent its joining up with the Second and First Armies. Once the First Army was destroyed, he would attack the Second and Third Armies in turn. He would then launch an attack on Sofia forcing the Bulgarian forces to withdraw troops from Thrace to meet the offensive.
Zekki’s move north forced the Serbian forces to engage before they had assembled all their units. The two-day battle of Kumanovo began on October 23 when units of the First Army engaged Zekki’s forces. There was intense fighting but the engagement was indecisive because the Serbian forces were not fully assembled for the attack. When all the Serbian units arrived, the Turkish Army of the Vardar was unable to withstand the offensive. On the afternoon of October 24, Serbian troops broke through the Turkish left wing and it collapsed and disintegrated. Newly arriving Serbian units then threatened to breakthrough the center of the Turkish front. The First Army was able to breakthrough the Turkish Vardar Army without any reinforcements from the Second or Third Armies. Once the Serbian troops broke through, the Turkish front collapsed and the engagement turned into a rout. Zekki retreated rapidly to his base in Skopje. The Turkish right wing, which consisted of Djavid Pasha’s army corps, preserved its cohesion and allowed for an orderly withdrawal to Shtip. The battle of Kumanovo decided the outcome of the war in Macedonia. The battle was a military disaster for the Ottoman Turkish forces. The Serbian forces, however, did not pursue the retreating Turkish forces which would have led to their total defeat. Instead, the Serbs called a halt to the offensive and occupied the abandoned Turkish fortifications. The Serbian army regrouped its forces before the next advance. The Turkish forces were able to retreat and regroup in southern Macedonia and to engage in a final battle in Bitola/Monastir, one of the two greatest Turkish fortresses in the western Balkans along with Yannina.
On October 22, the Serbian Army of the Ibar crossed into the district of Novi Pazar/Bazar or Sandzak, joining up with Montenegrin forces at Plevje on October 24. The Third Army advanced into Kosovo-Metohija where it defeated the Turkish forces and irregular Albanian detachments. By October 31, the Third Army was able to take Prizren, while the Army of the Ibar took Djakovo. The Montenegrin forces occupied Pec. The Serbian goal was to establish a port or outlet to the Adriatic. Jankovic commanded two columns of the Third Army which advanced across northern Albania. Jankovic had a force of 8,700 troops in the Second Drina Division and 7,000 troops in the First Sumadija Division. The Second Drina Division advanced from Djakovica and took Alessio on November 19. The First Sumadija Division advanced from Prizren and took Durazzo on November 9. To prevent Serbia from establishing an outlet to the Adriatic, the Great Powers rushed to recognize Albania as an independent state, although Albania had never been a nation.
The Greeks advanced north, besieging Jannina and occupied Salonika/Saloniki after its surrender on November 8 by Hassan Taxim Pasha. The Serbs swept over the whole upper valley of the Vardar, the Sandzak of Novibazar and the northern part of Albania while Montenegro besieged Scutari. The Bulgarian forces drove the main Turkish army out of Thrace to within miles of Constantinople and besieged Adrianople.
On December 3, 1912, an armistice resulted as the Turks asked the Great Powers for mediation. There was a coup d’etat in Constantinople. The peace negotiations subsequently collapsed, however, in February, 1913. The fighting continued. On March 26, Bulgarian forces, helped by Serbian contingents, took Adrianople. On March 6, the Greek forces took Yannina defended by Essad Pasha. On April 22, Montenegrin troops took Scutari. A new armistice was subsequently agreed to. The Treaty of London was signed on May 30, 1913. Under the Treaty, Crete and all territory west of Enez-Midye was to go to the allied states of the Balkan League. Following the First Balkan War, after over 500 years of Turkish Muslim occupation, the Ottoman Turkish forces were expelled from Kosovo-Metohija, Macedonia, the Sandzak of Novi Pazar, Yannina, Salonika, and Thrace. What followed, however, was a dispute over Macedonia by Serbia and Bulgaria that resulted in the Second Balkan War. The status of Macedonia thus remained unresolved.
The First Balkan War would not resolve the Macedonian issue. What would result would be an exacerbation and intensification of the dispute over Macedonia. Serbia and Bulgaria could not reach agreement over the status of Macedonia and the territorial settlement. The Macedonians sought to obtain autonomy but their goals were thwarted and unfulfilled. What resulted was the Second Balkan War that resulted in an alliance of Serbia, Greece, and Romania against Bulgaria. Macedonia became annexed or incorporated into Serbia, becoming known as Southern Serbia, Juzna Srbija. Thus, the First Balkan War did expel Ottoman Turkey from Macedonia but this did not result in the resolution of the Macedonian issue. Macedonia would continue to be unstable and the subject of armed conflict in World War I, the inter-war period, and World War II.
Balkanization had left the Balkan states disunited, fragmented, isolated,
and weak. This disunity allowed for their occupation, exploitation, and
domination by outside, foreign powers, especially by the so-called Great
Powers. The First Balkan War showed that through unity the Balkan states
could act to determine their own political agendas. But the First Balkan
War also showed how tenuous and fragile any Balkan unity is. Rivalries
and competing claims to Macedonia quickly shattered and destroyed the short-lived
unity of the Balkan League, leading to the Second Balkan War in 1913. The
First Balkan War thus did not resolve the issue of Macedonia, but only
exacerbated the problem.
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