Blog The National Struggle against the Turkish Conqueror until 1830

The National Struggle against the Turkish Conqueror until 1830

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The relative religious freedom accorded by the Turks and their toler­ance of Greek economic and social promotion were not enough to blunt the Greeks hatred for their conquerors. The Turks encountered Greek culture in Macedonia conquered it and tried to uproot it. To achieve their aim, they adopted very harsh ruling methods that made the living conditions of Greek subjects unbearable.

Most of the land in the fertile plains and valleys belonged to large pri­vate estates (ciftliks) of Moslems. Those Christian villagers who worked on these estates were serfs. In return for the right to cultivate a few acres, they surrendered a significant part of their production to the Muslim estate owner. Usually, the estate owner employed armed bands and doubled as the Ottoman state tax collector. He collected the state s share of the production, a right granted him —for a fee— by the sultan s treasury. Often, the same estate owner dictated the decisions of the local Muslim religious courts. In that case the pressure to his tenants became completely uncontrollable.

The craftsmen, professionals and merchants enjoyed better living con­ditions. However, they were.....
also obliged, like all big city dwellers, to endure the arbitrariness of state officials and the burden of rash and excessive taxa­tion. Turkish administration did not function smoothly and oppressed exces­sively the conquered populations.

The salaries of the valis (administrators) of the vilayets (general administrative regions), of the mutesarifs of the sanjaks (prefectures) and of the kaymakams of the kazas (counties) and all the other civil servants, the Army and Gendarmerie personnel were paid out of local taxes. As a rule, these officials also took bribes to perform their duties. Justice was partial and the courts used different criteria for Moslems and subjugated. As a result, the latter avoided getting in disputes with the former, certain as they were that they would not be granted a fair hearing. But even in cases of disputes between them, differences were settled in favor of those with the means to bribe the judges.

Beyond arbitrary conduct, the tyrannical and unjust Ottoman state proceeded with the abduction of male children, violent islamization and insults against the strict moral standards of the Christian subjects. All these acts heavily oppressed Macedonian Greeks and led them to active resistance. Thus, after thousands of Turkish settlers were moved to the fertile Macedon­ian plains, there was a huge movement of local populations toward the mountainous and rugged areas of the region. They settled these inaccessible regions and founded free communities which the Ottoman authorities could not easily reach. In order not to be harassed, they paid regularly the money for commuting their military obligations and the taxes according to their pro­fessions. They avoided, however, the arbitrary acts of the Ottoman adminis­tration because the dreaded Turkish gendarmes rarely bothered to visit.

Concurrently with the exodus by the Macedonian Greeks to the moun­tain areas, there was a resurgence of the phenomenon of klephts (literally, brigands; actually, irregular armed bands who frequently resorted to brig­andage), under exactly the same conditions of its occurrence as in the rest of Greece. Later on, armatoles appeared (literally, men-at-arms; organized corps of ex-klephts at the service of the authorities, deployed against the klephts). The Turkish archives of Berrhoea and Thessalonica confirm the existence of klephts and armatoles in Macedonia from the beginning of the seventeenth century.
The successive and continuous mountain ranges of western and cen­tral Macedonia served, throughout the Turkish rule, as hideouts for both klephts and armatoles because of their terrain, which is ideal for guerrilla war­fare. In 1682-83, there is a sudden upsurge in klepht activity in the kazas of Ohrid, Monastir, Skopje, Kustendil, Prilep (Perlepe), Fiorina, Kastoria, Biglishte, Chroupista (Argos Orestikon), Anaselitsa (Neapolis), Servia, Berrhoea, Naousa, Yenitsa (Giannitsa), Edessa and Ostrovo (Arnissa). The bands coordinated their action and forced the Ottoman administration to take forceful repression measures. In 1691, the inhabitants of the villages of Melia, Skotina and Karya in the Pierian mountains, revolted. In 1705, the inhabi­tants of Naousa, led by the armatole Zeses Karademos, took up arms against the abduction-recruitment of male children (deushirme) and fought a fierce battle with the recruiters at the defile of the Arapitsa river, where Karademos fell heroically.
In order to cope with this serious situation and suppress the revolts the Ottoman administration hired armed bands of Islamized Albanians and used them against the klephts and the armatoles. Thus, from 1700 onwards Albanians started entering Macedonia in large numbers, with many unfortu­nate consequences for the Christian population. Those Turk-Albanians (Tourkalvanoi, as Christians called the Albanians who had been converted to Islam) distinguished themselves in murders, looting, rape, robbery, illegal taxation for their own enrichment, expropriation and other tyrannical acts. This action reached a climax in the era of Ali, pasha of Ioannina (1744-1822). Through mass deportations, the Turk-Albanians succeeded in establishing themselves as joint rulers with the Turks in many Macedonian regions. Many villages became real estates of Turkish Albanian beys.

Far from limiting their actions, the Greek guerrilla bands actually intensified it. The plunder by the Turk-Albanians exasperated the subjugat­ed populations and more people joined the klephts. During the Russo-Turkish War of 1710-1714, the activity of the klephts increased in the kazas of Edessa and Yenitsa (Giannitsa). In 1717, Greek armatoles attacked the religious court of Naousa and, in 1742, Greek pirates attacked the Kassandra penin­sula. These rebellious acts continued throughout the eighteenth century and peaked during the Orlov Revolt (an insurrection instigated by the Russians during the Russo-Turkish War of 1768—1770). During this episode, an envoy of Catherine II of Russia, Georgios Papazoles from Siatista, incited the arma­toles of Macedonia into rebellion.

In 1807, during yet another Russo-Turkish war, Macedonian pirates helped the Russian admiral Shenyavin to occupy the island of Tenedos. The armatole leader of the area of Olympus mountain, Nikotsaras, landed in the gulf of Orphano and moved up to Zichna, where he fought a fierce battle with the Turks. It must be noted that the uprising of Naousa, during that period, led to the city s siege by Ali Pasha s Turk-Albanian hordes. Its brave inhabi­tants, under the leadership of armatole Vasileios Romphe s, resisted for four and a half months and finally attempted a heroic exodus, comparable to that of Mesolongi that took place almost twenty years later.

This struggle against the Turkish occupation suggests that, in the early 19th century, the Macedonians did not differ at all from the other subjugated Greeks. Macedonia was Greece as it possessed the characteristics common to all the regions of the country. The fact that some Macedonians spoke a Slavic idiom was a result of the historical circumstances of their area and it could not be an excuse for them not to be considered Greek.

Gatsos, the armatole of Edessa, Chatzechrestos, the leader of the Greek cavalry during the great Greek War of Independence of 1821—1829 and many other klephts and armatoles of the Macedonian mountains who formed the famous Macedonian Phalanx during the Greek Revolution, were Slavo-phones. They were also genuine Greeks who, together with their Slavophone compatriots never considered themselves anything but Greek.

The myth of the Slavic Macedonian nation had not yet been fabricat­ed in the beginning of the 19th century. The Bulgarian state did not exist and Russian Panslavism had not been set in motion.

1-Douglas Dakin, The Greek Struggle in Macedonia, IMXA, 1966
2-GES/DIS, The Struggle of Macedonia, 1979
3-Konstantinos Vakalopoulos, History of Macedonia, 2001
4-Loring Danforth, The Macedonian Conflict
5-History of the Greek Nation, 16 volumes, Ekdotiki Athinon, Academy of Athens Awarded
6-4000 years of Macedonian history, Ekdotiki Athinon, Academy of Athens Awarded