People of Macedonia in Ottoman Times, Macedonians - The contested majority

The Contest For Macedonian Identity 1870-1912
Chapter Two: Peoples and Populations

Macedonians - The contested majority
By Nick Anastasovski

BROAD CATEGORIES OF identification were commonplace in the Ottoman Balkans. A popular nineteenth–century term to describe Islamicised Macedonians was ‘Turks’. Adhering to the Ottoman concept of religion equating nationality the Ottomans increased the number of ‘Turks’ in Macedonia (in their own population data) to justify their continued rule. Similarly, labels were also broadly used when it came to the Christian population, and Christian Macedonians were also categorized as being a part of other ethnic groups. The central dispute in Macedonia at the end of the nineteenth century concerned the national identity of the Christian Macedonian ethnic element.

Typically inhabiting countryside villages, they engaged in an agricultural lifestyle. Regarded by the bulk of commentators as constituting the majority of the population, Macedonians were identified by a number of differing labels. Living within a contested territory, Macedonians too came to be a contested people. Greeks, Bulgarians and Serbs labeled Macedonians as Greeks, Bulgarians and Serbs respectively, in accordance with the designs of these three nations to annex Macedonian territory.

An overview of the ethnic structure of Macedonia is presented in this chapter, together with population statistics and ethnographic data as promoted by interested parties from the Balkans and from the wider Europe. Ethnographic maps in particular were a powerful tool used by the Balkan states to convince Western Europe of the presence of their respective populations in Europe, whilst at the same time a politically motivated contest for religious and educational expansion was being waged in Macedonia. In a crucial period during the development of Macedonian identity towards the end of the nineteenth century, that identity was being challenged and disputed simultaneously within countryside villages of the Bitola region and the major capitals of western Europe – for the sake of territorial gain.

While statistical data and publications had their impact on views of Macedonia, ethnographic maps proved to be notably effective as a tool. The Bulgarians in particular, were among the first to make significant inroads into European thinking about the nationality of the Macedonians.

Foreign commentators typically subscribed to the position that Macedonians were Bulgarians. This viewpoint was influenced by the existing Ottoman millet system of identification, which saw the population divided by religious affiliation, and not by ethnicity or language. Earlier in the nineteenth century ‘Rum’ millet was reinterpreted by Greek nationalists to mean ‘Greek’ in a national sense and was also used to refer to members of the Orthodox Christian merchant class regardless of their ‘ethnic origin’ or the language they spoke. (1)

Similarly, the term ‘Bulgarian’ had earlier been broadly used as a collective label in the Ottoman Empire but it too had no political significance, for the term ‘Bulgarian’ meant nothing more than peasant. (2) As competition for Macedonia developed, the Bulgarians themselves encouraged the use of the term Bulgarian in Macedonia. In Ottoman Macedonia, (3) terms like ‘Bulgarian’ and 'Greek' were not used to designate different ethnic or national groups; they were used to designate different socio-cultural categories. (4)

The perception of the Bulgarian character of Macedonians was historically linked to a similar fate shared by the Macedonian and Bulgarian people in a deeply rooted, dual Turkish-Greek oppression. In addition, Russia harboured expansionist designs towards the Balkan Peninsula, and ‘Slavophile’ propaganda was directed at awakening a ‘Slav consciousness’ amongst the Balkan peoples. (5)

Macedonia and Bulgaria were particularly exposed to Russian influence, as Ottoman rule in both lands was firmly established in comparison to Greece and Serbia, which were geographically further from Turkey. (6)

Russian influence on the destiny of both Macedonians and Bulgarians was to create an entanglement of the separate identities of the two people, one that continued to be a matter of contention for nationalist propagandists well into the twentieth century. During the period from the 1820s to the 1860s, it was said of Russian Slavophiles that, ‘misinterpreting the Bulgarian kingdom of the middle ages, and its subjugation of Macedonia, they identify the Macedonian people with the Bulgarian, and as a single people they drive them to liberate themselves from Greek influence’. (7)

Russia saw it in her interests to encourage a Macedonian-Bulgarian union as it corresponded to her designs towards the Aegean Sea (8) and, sponsored by the Russian Tsar, the Bulgarians set about ‘the Bulgarisation of Macedonia’. (9) Although an alliance was formed under the common struggle against Greek ecclesiastical domination, Bulgarian nationalists assumed a superior position, hijacking the struggle for domination over Macedonia. (10)

In 1903 the Macedonian intellectual Krste Missirkov described relations with the Bulgarians as having been extremely close as the result of the general situation in Turkey:
we were brothers through destiny and our relations were equal towards the government and the Phanariot Order. (11) We were given, in our common fate, the common name of Bulgarians right up to the liberation of Bulgaria, and even after the liberation of Bulgaria this remained a tradition in Macedonia. This was the basis on which the Bulgarians established their pretensions to Macedonia; but the Macedonians had expected to be liberated by the Bulgarians. (12)

The ambiguity of the term Bulgarian went undetected by many commentators during the period of late Ottoman rule. In 1915 the English commentator, Crawfurd Price, wrote, ‘it is easier to call a Macedonian a Bulgar than to prove him one; his nationality is largely ignored’. (13)

When the Bulgarian Exarchate entered Macedonia in 1870 it came as no surprise that a mass movement of Macedonians left the Patriarchate church to join the new Bulgarian church, and Bulgarian schools followed, often replacing Greek schools. Dominated from Sofia, Exarchate religious and education institutions generally adopted a colonial attitude in Macedonia and were met with resentment and conflict from the lower level clergy and school teachers who were typically local Macedonians. Embittered by Bulgarian domination and indicative of growing self-esteem, a Macedonian Movement was formed, spearheaded by school teachers calling for the restoration of the Macedonian Archbishopric of Ohrid church and the establishment (standardization) of a Macedonian literary language. (14)

As early as 1874 a distinctly Macedonian national individuality was apparent, according to one of the leaders of the Bulgarian national revival, Petko Rachev Slaveykov. Sent to Macedonia by the Exarchate, he reported details of his findings and clearly described the national individuality of the Macedonians, in the words, ‘the Macedonians are not Bulgarians’. (15)

In regards to their national aspirations, ‘they persistently strive, regardless of the price, to obtain a separate church of their own’. (16) Slaveykov speaks of an attitude amongst Macedonians that the Macedonian dialect should be declared a literary language. His letters portray Macedonians as possessing a separate ‘national’ consciousness and politically represented by a Movement with defined political aims seeking independent church and national liberation. (17)

At about the same time (1875) Giorgi Pulevski, a Macedonian from Galitchnik, published a Dictionary of Three Languages, in which he made a number of statements that the linguist H.G. Lunt considers ‘cannot possibly reflect a feeling of Bulgarian nationality’. (18) Pulevski's definition of nationality and nation warrants attention:
a nation is called people who are of one kind and who speak the same language and who live and associate with one another and who have the same customs and songs and celebrations – these people are called a nation, and the place in which they live is called the fatherland of that nation. So too the Macedonians are a nation, and this place of theirs is Macedonia. (19)

Expressions of Macedonian national identity were disregarded, or otherwise poorly grasped by many nineteenth-century commentators. Visitors to Macedonia would tour the country in tow of a representative of one or another of the interested rivals and the traveler ‘assimilated the ideas of his guide rather than divined the nationalism of the people’. (20)

Other commentators attested that Macedonians possessed no national consciousness and simply identified as Christians. Although not entirely unusual for a Macedonian villager to refer to himself as a Christian, this could be expressed in an ethnic sense and not a religious one. It was not unique for a Macedonian to identify oneself as Christian; indeed, in Bulgaria prior to statehood, Bulgarians commonly declared themselves ‘Christian’ in answer to the question, ‘What are you?’ The term ‘Christian’ specifically meant ‘Orthodox’ and was understood to be ‘Bulgarian’. The Russian Tsar therefore was understood by Bulgarian peasants to be a ‘Bulgarian Tsar’, not by nationality, but by Orthodox Christianity. (21)

A parallel account was given in 1888 by the Greek Professor Valavanes concerning his native Cappodocian village. Valavanes concluded that:
Hellenism exists almost intact in the Christian community, the Asia Minor Greek “does not even know the name of the tribe to which he belongs”. Asked what he is “he will answer you promptly Christian”. “Very well, others are Christian too, the Armenians, the French, the Russians … ” “I don't know”, he will tell you, “yes, they too (may) believe in Christ, but I am a Christian”. “Aren't you perhaps a Hellene?” “No, I'm not anything (of the sort). I told you I am a Christian, and again I tell you I am a Christian!” he will answer you impatiently. According to Valavanes, this demonstrates the close relationship of the notions of Christianity and ethnicity for these people, and they “love Russia as a bulwark of the faith against the enemy of Christ”. (22)

A popular term of identification indicating separateness from others, and acknowledging an individual or group as being Macedonian, is the term ‘nash’ or ‘nashi’, literally meaning ‘ours’ – or ‘one of ours’. (23) These terms of identification persist even at the beginning of the twenty-first century. (24) Similarly Macedonian Muslims, when referring to other Macedonian Muslims, used the term ‘nash Turchin’ (‘one of us’/ ‘ours – Turk’) instead of simply ‘Turchin’, as was the case when referring to a Muslim Turkish speaker. (25)

Depending upon which particular Balkan church maintained religious jurisdiction over a village, the inhabitants might have used the terms 'Exarchists' (Eksarhisti) or 'Patriarchists' (Patriashisti) when referring to ‘others’, or when intending to use derogatory labels one could refer to ‘others’ as ‘Bugari’ (Bulgarians) or ‘Grci’ (Greeks). These labels were understood as being representative of a religious association and not as a form of ethnic or national identification.

The historian Perry points out that those living along the border regions with Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece respectively sometimes claimed to be Serbs, Bulgarians or Greeks, ‘but for many this was a religious affiliation and not an ethnic identity’. (26) It is not unusual in history to find other Europeans using different labels of identification in place of their own national name. For example, Poles have in the past referred to themselves as Germans, Ukrainians as Russian, and Finns as Swedes. In each instance there are historical reasons for such processes occurring. Although Macedonian separateness existed, it was not clearly visible to outsiders, who evaluated identity based on the concept of the Western European nation state and in an environment of excessive Balkan nationalism which viewed Macedonia as a colonial prize.

Macedonians were unable to assert a uniform identity due to a range of circumstances. Of the utmost importance to gain recognition for a separate nationality in the Ottoman Empire, and to consolidate a single uniform label visible to the outsider was the previous recognition of a separate church. Without a recognized church, national recognition in turn was impossible. (27)

In contrast, Macedonians were subjected to the imperialistic designs of Greek, Bulgarian and Serb religious and educational institutions in Macedonia, which attempted to instill a Greek, Bulgarian and Serb nationality upon them amidst the chaos of a deteriorating economic, social and political environment within the Ottoman State. (28) Unlike their neighbours, late nineteenth-century Macedonians did not have control of their own territory and were therefore unable to engage in a process of nation-building by cultivating a shared national identity. In the free Balkan States, the process of nation-building involved the military, the civil service, the education system, and, most importantly, the establishment of autocephalous national churches. (29)

Typically, Greek, Serb and Bulgarian commentators systematically failed to distinguish a separate Macedonian identity in any form. Quite apart from Western European commentators, travel writers and ethnographers advocating a particular political agenda, even those with the best of intentions could have misconceived the separateness of Macedonian identity. Subsequently only a small group of commentators recognized a distinct Macedonian nationality, whilst others used various synonyms to describe them, the most common being ‘Bulgarian’. Despite differing labels, a general consensus amongst commentators placed Macedonians as the majority element, comprising approximately 1,200,000 people at the beginning of the twentieth century. The lowest estimates were 454,700 by (Greek) C. Nicolaides in 1899 and 512,000 by (Romanian) N. Constantine in 1913. The highest figures were derived from those recognizing Macedonian individuality, such as (German) K. Oestreich in 1905 at 2,000,000 (including 500,000 Macedonian Muslims) and (Russian) G. Georgiev in 1913 at 2,275,000. (30)


NOTES:
  1. The American anthropologist L. Danforth, The Macedonian Conflict, Princeton University Press, 1995, p. 59; The Russian commentator A.V. Amfiteatrov, Zemya na Razdorot, Makedonska Kniga, Skopje, 1990, pp. 51–52 [Original title, Zemya na Razdorot, Moscow, 1903]; The Macedonian historian M. Pandevski, Nacionalnoto Prashanje vo Makedonskoto Osloboditelno Dvizhenje 1893–1903 [The National Question in the Macedonian Liberation Movement 1893–1903], Kultura, Skopje, 1974, p. 49. Throughout European Turkey the name ‘Greek’ was used to denote a Christian of the Eastern church. Two English women, G.M. MacKenzie and I.P. Irby, travelled through Macedonia in the nineteenth century, and wrote The Slavonic Provinces of Turkey in Europe, Alexander Strahan, London, 1866, p. xxiii. According to MacKenzie and Irby, as a result of the treaty of Adrianople the Greek Patriarch was declared head of all Orthodox communities in European Turkey and subsequently all Orthodox Christians were viewed as Greeks (‘The Greek Patriarch is declared head of all Orthodox communities in Turkey. "Be Catholic" says the Mohammedan judge, "or Protestants", or set up a sect of your own, and we will recognize you with pleasure; so long as you call yourselves "orthodox" we must know you only as Greeks’. Ibid p. 31).
  2. L. Danforth, op. cit. p. 59; A.V. Amfiteatrov, op. cit. pp. 51–52; The English historian, D. Dakin, The Greek Struggle in Macedonia 1897–1913, Institute for Balkan Studies, Thessaloniki, 1966, p. 11.
  3. The term ‘Ottoman Macedonia’ refers to Macedonian territory under Ottoman rule.
  4. L. Danforth, op. cit. p. 59
  5. The Italian historian, M. Dogo, Jazikot i Nacionalnosta vo Makedonia, Doizivuvanjata i razmisluvanjata na nevooruzenite proroci 1902–1903, Makedonska Kniga, Skopje, 1990, p. 215 [original title, Lingua e nazionalita in macedonia vicende e pensieri di profeti disarmati 1902–1903, Milano, 1985]. The prominent Serb ethnographer, J. Hadzhivasilevich, Patrijarshisti i Egzarhisti y Skopskoj Eparhiji [Patriarchists and Exarchists in the Skopje eparchy], Belgrade, 1938, p. 24.
  6. H.R. Wilkinson, Maps and Politics, A Review of the Ethnographic Cartograpy of Macedonia, Liverpool, 1951, p. 58. A lecturer in geography at the University of Liverpool, Wilkinson's important work details an impressive collection of conflicting ethnographic maps of Macedonia.
  7. S. Dimevski, Istoria na Makedonskata Pravoslavna Crkva [History of the Macedonian Orthodox Church], Skopje, 1989, p. 319. The historian S. Dimevski may be regarded as the principal authority on the history of the Macedonian Orthodox church. In relation to Russian ‘Slavophile’ doctrine and ‘Bulgarianisation’, also see Balkanicus, The Aspirations of Bulgaria, London, 1915, and M. Dogo, op. cit. pp. 215–216.
  8. The historian S. Pribichevich, Macedonia: Its People and History, 1982, p. 114.
  9. The contemporary commentator, C. Price, The Intervention of Bulgaria - and the Central Macedonian Question, London, 1915, p. 11.
  10. The historian Y. Belchovski, The Historical Roots of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, Skopje, 1987, p. 148; see also, S. Pribitchevich, op. cit. p. 114.
  11. The Phanariots were a form of Greek aristocracy living in the Phanar district of Constantinople where the Greek Patriarch resided. They were made up of merchants, financiers and clergymen and maintained solid connections with the Patriarchate. From the beginning of the eighteenth century they were utilized by the Ottomans as interpreters with Europeans; however; their influence with the Ottomans saw them become powerful and prosperous as they filled prominent civil service positions. Clerical members of the Phanariots exploited the Patriarchate church and sought to expand its influence in the Balkans.
  12. K. P. Missirkov, On Macedonian Matters, Skopje, 1974, p. 115. [English reissue; original title, Za Makedonskite Raboti, Sofia, 1903]. Missirkov was an outstanding figure amongst the Macedonian intellectuals at the end of the nineteenth century. Regarding the close relationship between Macedonians and Bulgarians, Missirkov considered that the interests of the Bulgarians were strengthened ‘by mixing our interests with theirs. We have, so to speak, called ourselves Bulgarians… And, indeed, since we called ourselves Bulgarians we had the right to expect good and not evil for ourselves: we might have expected Bulgaria to give support to all our spiritual needs. Bulgaria is a free State. She has money, culture, Statedmen and diplomats. She should understand her own national interests and ours, and defend them with all her might. But we have seen our hopes bitterly deceived, and instead of meeting with good we have met with evil.’ Ibid. p. 105.
  13. C. Price, op. cit. p. 11.
  14. Initial efforts during this period saw the Macedonians attempting to restore their church through union with the Roman Catholic Church. See S. Dimevski, op. cit. (chapter three).
  15. Petko Rachev Slaveykov letter dated February 1874. See (the letter appears in full) H. Andonov-Poljanski, editor. Documents - on the Struggle of the Macedonian People for Independence and a Nation State, Vol 1, Skopje, 1985, p. 238. Note P.R. Slaveykov sent two letters in February 1874 describing the situation in Macedonia (see op.cit., pp. 237–242).
  16. Ibid p. 238. Furthermore, from Slaveykov’s letter, 'Thoughts at the restoration of the Archbishopric of Ohrid at the moment are most prevalent here, in Salonika, but they are gradually spreading to Northern Macedonia…I intend to meet some of the elders from the local community. I shall try to convince them of the groundlessness of their aspirations for a separate church when they already have one in the form of the Exarchate. Certainly the most difficult question will be that of appointment of Bishops of Macedonian origin'. pp. 239–240.
  17. Ibid p. 241. According to Slaveykov's letter, ‘the Macedonian activists already widely use the expression "the Macedonian Movement" in their language of communication, by which one should understand independent national and church liberation. I must emphasize strongly, Your Excellency, that this is a factor of an important political character – separatism is being spread starting from a religious basis towards a broader national one’.
  18. H.G. Lunt, Some Sociolinguistic Aspects of Macedonian and Bulgarian, University of Michigan, 1984, p. 103.
  19. Ibid, p.103.
  20. C. Price, op. cit. p. 12.
  21. H.G. Lunt, op. cit. p. 104.
  22. Ibid, p. 104.
  23. Although some modern specialists in the field may consider the reading of the term ‘nash/nashi’ as controversial the writer maintains its justified use.
  24. The usage of these common terms was completely overlooked by contemporary commentators. Nash - nashi - nashinec are popular terms used to describe an individual or group of people as Macedonians. It is used in Macedonia, and amongst Macedonian communities in Europe, North America and Australia a century after Ottoman rule. In Australia it is frequently used amongst Australian-born Macedonian second- and third-generation children.
  25. Refer to Chapter Five.
  26. D.M. Perry, The Politics of Terror - The Macedonian Liberation Movements 1893–1903, London, 1988, p. 19.
  27. Balkanicus, op. cit. p. 226.
  28. Macedonian converts to the ruling religion remained outside the Balkan rivalry aimed at Christian Macedonians. Some commentators included them in the overall Muslim figures, occasionally they were incorporated into the estimates of the majority Macedonian group, but most often they were labeled ‘Bulgarian Pomaks’ and rarely did they constitute their own category. Estimates of Macedonian Muslims ranged up to 500,000.
  29. L. Danforth, opt. cit. p. 58.
  30. The highest estimates of the Macedonian population, unsurprisingly, were derived from individual commentators who recognized a separate Macedonian identity.

About the author:
Nick Anastasovski was born in 1965 in Bitola, Macedonia. He arrived with his family in Australia in early 1966 and grew up in the western suburbs of Melbourne. He graduated from La Trobe University with a Bachelor of Arts degree with majors in Sociology and Philosophy. He was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at Victoria University in 2006 for The Contest for Macedonian Identity 1870-1912 (under the title of Contestations over Macedonian Identity 1870-1912). In recognition of Nick's academic performance, he was awarded Outstanding Final Year Research Student in the School of Social Sciences at Victoria University in 2006.



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