Uprising Years

Macedonian Struggle – The Early Uprising Years

Most people who have knowledge of modern Greek history can definitely agree that the revolution of 1821 did not end with the birth of the modern Greek Kingdom but rather, at the end of the First World War.

Between the years 1878 and 1908 the Macedonians faced great obstacles. They fought to liberate themselves from the “Sick Man of Europe” as well as the struggle to save Macedonia from the conniving Bulgarian VMRO (IMRO- Internal Macedonian Revolution Organization). Although it had Macedonia in its name its goals (and members) were anything but Macedonian.

The dastardly scheme to destroy the Greek consciousness of the Macedonians and create a new one (as we have in today’s FYROM) was spawned by the Bulgarian exarchist (separatist) church created by the Firman Decree of 1870. This act was a product of the Sultan Abdul Hamid, who at the time, realized that something had to be done with the Macedonians who were constantly revolting in order to reunite with their Greek compatriots.

With the help of the newly established Bulgarian kingdom the exarchists sent into Macedonia their Haidoutis (bands) where they would go from village to village forcing the natives to convert and forget their Greek heritage. At the same time the native Macedonians began to plead with the government in Athens that they were in dire need of aid, but the new Greek government, at that point was able to provide only limited help. The natives did not give up hope though.

By as early as 1870 Macedonian revolutionaries began to counter strike. People such as Kapetan Vasili Zourkas from Nimfeo had begun to organize bands (interesting note that they began to organize these bands nearly a quarter of a century prior to the inception of the IMRO) to combat the Turks and the exarchists. Many other local chiefs followed his example as well.

The Bulgarians at this point wanted to expand their territory into the heart of Hellenic soil. They knew that in order to achieve this goal they would need to expel, convert or even extinguish the Macedonians who had a Greek consciousness. With the exarchist priests they began to import bands strait from Sofia. This struck fear to the natives who now not only needed to defend their homes against the Turks, but the foreign Haidoutis as well.

Ironically, Bulgarian nationalism in the nineteenth century owed a great deal to the Greek revival of 1821. Greek culture had definitely set foot in the Bulgarian nation. The alphabet, the music, the foods, the costumes were but a few influences adopted by the Bulgarian people. Unfortunately, the generosity of the Greek peoples proved to be their own undoing. There never was a question of the Greekness of Macedonia but certain Bulgarian fanatics sought to change this. After the Russian-Turkish war which the Russians won (and nearly took Constantinople) the Turks signed a treaty at a village called San Stefano. This unjust treaty, signed in 1878, marked the beginning of Bulgaria’s expansionist ideas. The plans for “Great Bulgaria” were finally made public. Disregarding history, Bulgaria aimed to annex all of Macedonia even though the majority of the Macedonians despised the idea. Indeed, Greece had the worse of this treaty. Traditional Hellenic boundaries were to be taken by her neighbors.

Taking advantage of their newly established church they were able to take the first steps in denationalizing the Macedonians in order to make them Bulgarian. From there began a notion of a so called Macedonian people separate from the rest of the Greeks.

By declaring them as only Macedonians, Bulgaria knew that it would be easier to claim the whole region since so many of their nationals (although still a minority) now resided there. This was the result of centuries of migrations by the Bulgars into Macedonia. At the same time the Macedonians (Greeks) were powerless to put a stop to this since the whole Balkan region was under Ottoman occupation. The Greeks suffered the worse under the Ottoman Empire. They were forbidden to teach Greek in schools, and had limited religious freedom. Other minorities such as the Bulgars, Albanians, and Jews had much more freedom throughout Macedonia.

After being defeated in the 1897 war, the Kingdom of Greece needed to regroup its efforts. It was quite difficult to help its people in Macedonia. But the need to regroup had to be prompt. The exarchists along with the IMRO had already begun their campaign of terror in Macedonia. The aim of the exarchists was to convince the inhabitants of Macedonia that they belonged to Bulgaria. But the exarchists really had nothing new to offer in neither a religious aspect nor any new conception of salvation from what the Patriarchist church already preached. It was nothing more than a political instrument that Bulgaria hoped to manipulate.

The kingdoms of Greece and Serbia found this separatist movement disturbing. They quickly began negotiating in order to re-establish the union under the Patriarchal Church. Unfortunately, the Serbians at that time wanted control of the major part of Macedonia and this did not please the Greek government. The Greeks rejected this offer and justly so. If they had held to this agreement it would have definitely led to a Bulgaro-Turkish alliance. The Macedonians’ goal of re-uniting with the rest of Greece would have been crushed. The Greek government chose to officially stay out of any conflict (another reason being that the government was on the verge of bankruptcy), but luckily the many volunteers continued its work. Thus, the Macedonians still had hope. Locals began to form bands that would defend against any attacks by the Comitadji.

In 1893, certain Bulgarian intellectuals by the names of Dame Gruev, Hristo Tartarchev and four others formed the most anti-Macedonian terrorist organization known as the IMRO (VMRO). These men swore to secrecy in order to avoid any conflict with the Macedonians (Greeks) and the Turks. Tatarchev (who clearly states in his memoirs that the IMRO’s goal was union with Bulgaria) became the first president of the organization. They copied an old Greek freedom cry, “Liberty or Death” (Eleftheria I Thanatos) and used it as part of their official logo (in their language “Svoboda Ili Smrt”). This logo, which appeared on their seal, had the imagery of a crossed pistol, a dagger and a bomb. Although the organization’s foundations were taking fold a certain naming issue did cause a problem which must be mentioned. This Bulgarian organization kept on taking up new names for the next four years. It went from being the Macedonian Revolutionary Committee to the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization to (unsurprisingly) The Bulgarian-Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Organization (Bulgarsko-Makedonsko-Ordinska revoliutsionna organizatsiia, in 1896) and eventually the Internal Organization. The cause of this constant name changing was for the obvious reason, the lack of a common belief. Some of the members professed that they were all Bulgarians living in Macedonia; others said that their goal was to unite with Bulgaria, and others even spoke of creating a separate Macedonian state with the Bulgarians running it. Two things they did agree on though; getting rid of the Ottoman Empire and more so, the Macedonians who had a Greek conscious. Hellenism to them had to be removed from Macedonia even if it meant using brainwashing and torture techniques.


(Ottoman Period) Census conducted by Hilmi Pasha in 1904
Greek Macedonians
Vilayet of Thessaloniki
Vilayet of Monastiri