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1912-1945 - Post-Ottoman Macedonia

The 20th Century witnessed a series of struggles wherein Turkey sought to retain possession of Macedonia, while Serbia (later Jugoslavia), Bulgaria, and Greece each tried to seize parts of the disputed ground. Even far-off Rumania had taken an active interest in every effort of her neighhors to divide Macedonia, and the Great Powers of Western Europe more than once interfered.

In 1903 IMRO launched a widespread rebellion that the Turks could not suppress for several months. After that event, the sultan agreed to a Russian and Austrian reform scheme that divided Macedonia into five zones and assigned British, French, Italian, Austrian, and Russian troops to police them. Pro-Bulgarian and pro-Greek groups continued to clash, while the Serbs intensified their efforts in northern Macedonia. In 1908 the Young Turks, a faction of Turkish officers who promised liberation and equality, deposed the sultan. The Europeans withdrew their troops when Serbs and Bulgars established friendly relations with the zealous Turks. But the nationalist Young Turks began imposing centralized rule and cultural restrictions, exacerbating Christian-Muslim friction. Serbia and Bulgaria ended their differences in 1912 by a treaty that defined their respective claims in Macedonia. A month later, Bulgaria and Greece signed a similar agreement.

Macedonia was important because it controlled the main north and south line of communications that served the whole Balkan peninsula. The First Balkan War (1912-1913) resulted in Macedonia's and Albania's "liberation." After the end of Ottoman rule, control of Macedonia became the most inflammatory issue of Balkan politics. Following Ottoman Turkey's defeat by the allied Balkan countries -- Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, and Greece -- during the First Balkan War in autumn 1912, the same allies fought the Second Balkan War over the division of Macedonia.

The Second Balkan War in 1913, ended with the August 1913 Treaty of Bucharest and Macedonia's division: one-tenth to Bulgaria (Pirin Macedonia), one-half to Greece(Aegean Macedonia), and two-fifths to Serbia (Vardar Macedonia). Up to 1913 Bulgaria's efforts were successful; the Turks suffered defeat and Bulgaria secured Eastern Rumelia (Southern Bulgaria), a large part of Macedonia, and some of Thrace. Then came two catastrophes - the Second Balkan War (1913) and the Great War - that wiped out many of Bulgaria's previous gains, leaving her cutoff from the Aegean, and many of her people were ruled by Jugoslavia and Greece.

After a period of guerrilla warfare, terrorism, and savage reprisals ending with Bulgaria's defeat in the Second Balkan War in 1913, an anti-Bulgarian campaign began in the areas of Macedonia left under Serbian and Greek control. Bulgarian schools and churches were closed, and thousands of Macedonians fled to Bulgaria, which then was viewed as a place of refuge. The process was repeated after Bulgaria's World War I occupation of Macedonia ended.

The 1919 Treaty of Versailles sanctioned partitioning Macedonia between The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Bulgaria, and Greece. In the wake of the First World War, Vardar Macedonia (the present day area of the Republic of Macedonia) was incorporated into the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.

The bulk of the Macedonians were more closely akin to the Bulgars than to any other people. Some of them wanted autonomy for Macedonia; others demand union with Bulgaria. Their revolutionary efforts to achieve this union, first directed against Turkey, and more recently against Greece and Jugoslavia, had been actively carried on for some twenty-five years - apparentlywith the full knowledge and at least tacit consent of Bulgaria. The revolutionist irregulars (comitailjis) openly maintained their headquarters at Sofia, the Bulgarian capital.

Under Turkish rule, this movement included many truly patriotic men and had the support of the Macedonian peasants. Most of the patriots had been killed or persuaded to change their ways but the comitadjis who had to change their tactics, to professional cut-throats, were stronger than ever.

In the interwar period, Macedonian terrorist groups, with intermittent Bulgarian support, continued armed resistance against the Yugoslav government. In the year 1924, the comitadjis were responsible for some 20 assassinations, mostly political; their depredations in the countryside antagonized the peasants. The peasants were tired of being "liberated"; they wanted peace and a chance to harvest decent crops. As a result of the changed peasant attitude, the comitadjis had to change their tactics. Instead of conducting raids with large armed bands, they sent out agents singly, or in twos or threes, from Bulgaria, to execute the desired assassinations in Greece and Jugoslavia. The Bulgarian government claimed to be powerless to stop these outrages, but as they served to keep alive the Macedonian issue, its sincerity was open to doubt. The unchecked acts of terrorism committeed by Bulgar-Macedonian comitadjis were an active threat to Balkan peace.

The Yugoslavs refused to recognize a Macedonian nation, but many Macedonians accepted Yugoslav control in the 1930s and 1940s. Bulgarian occupation in 1941, first greeted as liberation, soon proved as offensive as the Yugoslav assimilation program it replaced; the sense of confused allegiance among Macedonians thus continued into the postwar period. Throughout much of the Second World War, Bulgaria and Italy occupied Macedonia. Many citizens joined partisan movements during this time and succeeded in liberating the region in late 1944.

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Page last modified: 20-11-2012 16:22:32 ZULU