The Fortnightly Review, 60. cilt


Who on earth , or what on earth , are the Pomaks ? is the question which will suggest itself to most of those who glance at the head
ing of this article . The Pomaks are Bulgarophone Mahometan
Bulgarians; that is to say , they are Bulgarians who have adopted the creed of Islam , but retain their own language.
With their native speech they have preserved certain usages and customs of their own race, thus affording to the ethnologist an admirable field for speculation as to the extent to which a change
of religion, unaccompanied by other influences, can modify the
ingrained characteristics of a nation . There are Pomaks in many
parts of Bulgaria ; but the Pomak territory par excellence lies in the wildest, remotest region of the Balkan Peninsula , in the heart of Rhodope, a terra incognita to the European traveller , and known
only by report to the neighbouring races ; in ancient days the haunt of the frenzied Bacchantes —
” of thatwild rout that tore the Thracian bard In Rhodope, when woods and rocks had ears To rapture, till the savage clamour drowned Both harp and voice ”
and in later times the inaccessible retreat of fierce fanatical moun taineers, who scorned for centuries the rule of Turk and Christian alike, and bravely resisted every effort to bring them into subjection.
It was only quite recently that a Bulgarian force succeeded in occupy
ing the remoter portion of the Pomak territory assigned seven years
ago by the Convention of Top -Khané to Eastern Roumelia ; and I then determined , notwithstanding the remonstrances of many friends, to
make an excursion into that mysterious region , and see the Pomaks
face to face .
But before I describemy adventures it will be necessary to sketch briefly the history of this interesting people, whose chronicles have never yet been written in the English tongue. After the tide of the Otioman invasion had swept over the Balkan peninsula the sub jected races, as a rule, remained faithful to the Christian religion ,
the principal exceptions being the Albanians, the Bosnian land owners, and that portion of the Bulgarian race now known as the Pomaks. With the latter the process of conversion to the creed of
Islam appears to have been a gradual one, extending over three centuries. Some of the Bulgarian districts which are now entirely Mahometan had still Christian bishops in 1469, and there is a
pilgrims’ book at the monastery of Batchkovo from which can be
ascertained the timewhen the inhabitants of what are now Mahome tan villages in Rhodope ceased to frequent that sanctuary. The mountaineers themselves believe that the conversion of their ances
tors to Islam was accomplished gradually, and that the district of Chepino was the last to embrace the true faith . This event, accord
ing to the tradition generally accepted in Bulgaria , took place about 1656 — 1661, three centuries after the conquest of the country by the Turks, and in the reign of Mohammed IV . Mohammed, who was surnamed “ the Huntsman,” loved to pursue his favourite sport among the rocks and glades of Rhodope, and his frequent presence in this wild region contributed largely, no doubt, to a change in the religious views of its inhabitants.
The Pomaks acquired valuable privileges by their change of faith . They were granted the right of self-government in the fullest sense of the word . Henceforth they lived under the rule of their own beys, whom they elected themselves from among the notables of their villages, and whom the Porte recognised as kaimakams of the district ; they paid no taxes, they contributed no recruits to the Turkish army, they had their own gendarmerie ten men all told , and their own law – courts , administered according to the unwritten code which had been handed down from patriarchal times. In return for all these favours they furnished the Turkish army with volunteer contingents ‘ in time of war, which fought against the Giaour with all the zeal of proselytes, and all the valour and endurance of a sturdy peasant race . Returning to their rocks and forests, these doughty champions of Islam made raids upon their Christian neighbours, whose villages they burned ; they smote the unbelievers hip and thigh with great slaughter, and bore away the booty of the vanquished to their eyrie among the clouds.
The Turkish Government fully appreciated the valuable aid thus rendered to it, and seldom attempted to infringe upon the liberties of the independent but allied state which had thus arisen in the
heart of the Ottoman Empire . The “ Pomak republic” held its own against the emissaries of the Turkish Governors of Nevrokop and Philippopolis no less than against its Christian neighbours. Religion ,
indeed , the most powerful influence which affects the destinies of nations, united the Pomaks with the Turks ; but in blood, language,
and tradition they were separate from the Ottoman race, with which they never manifested any tendency to assimilate . It was an evil day for any Turkish tax- collectors or sapties, who ventured within the Pomak territory, for the highlanders were armed to the teeth ,
and taught the intruders a lesson which they were not likely to
(1) The word Pomak (Bulgarian, Pomák ; pl. Pomátsi) is supposed to mean a
“ helper ” or “ auxiliary,” and to be derived from the Bulgarian pomagam , “ to help .”
A Turkish word, however, would have been more naturally employed in this sense .
forget. It was thought prudent to overlook these acts of vigorous
self-assertion , and so it came to pass that the little community in Rhodope, like San Marino in the Appenines, and Andorre in the
Pyrenees, enjoyed the sweets of self-government unmolested and unhindered ; and, though not recognised by diplomatists, possessed
all the privileges of independent membership in the European
family .
In the beginning of the present century Hassan Aga, of Tomrush ,
by the grace of God and the will of his people, was lord and master of the Pomak realm . His doininion included thirty villages, with a
population of some twenty thousand souls. Hassan Aga governed firmly and, it may be presumed , equitably, for there is no record of
any insurrection or complaint on the part of his subjects during his long reign of seventy years. With salutary severity he condemned evildoers to the gallows, and passed exemplary sentences upon all such as molested women.
In 1860 Hassan Aga died in a ripe old age, and his son, Achmet Aga, of Tomrush , surnamed “ the Old Man,” succeeded him in the
chieftainship . Achmet Aga, wbo is still alive, is the most renowned
of the Pomak kinglets, and for a time all Europe rang with his
exploits. In 1876 the revolt of the Christian rayas in Eastern Roumelia gave the Pomaks an opportunity of showing their zeal for
the cause of Islam ; the Porte invoked the aid of Achmet Aga, and the floodgates were opened to thehatred of centuries. Then followed themost terrible outburst of fanaticism in modern times, the horrors
of Perushtitza, Bratzigovo, and Batak ; the conscience of Europe
was startled, and the Russo- Turkish war followed in the ensuing year.
The Pomaks were little affected by the events of the war ; as the Russians advanced they withdrew to their mountain stronghold ,
which became a place of refuge for Mahometan fugitives for all parts of Bulgaria. Their district lay outside the Russian route to Constantinople , and to this circumstance, as well as to the inaccessible character of the ground, and their own reputation for bravery, they
are indebted for the fact the Russians made no serious attempt to bring them into subjection . Expeditions were despatched , cer
tain villages were occupied , but the Pomak republic was never
Then followed the Berlin Congress, and diplomatists, who perhaps had never heard of the Pomaks, traced a frontier -line on the soundest geographical principles, in accordance with watersheds and river basins. The Pomaks were severed from their co -religionists, the Turks, and handed over to their despised kinsmen and foes, the Bulgarians. It was hardly to be supposed that Achmet, son of
Hassan , would humble himself before the new Christian Governor
General at Philippopolis. The form , indeed, was gone through of
son of
Christian rm , indeed
transferring the Pomaks to the Eastern Roumelian Government.
But the Governor -general, Aleko Pasha, made no attempt to enforce
his authority , and Achmet Aga reigned without a rival among the rocks and forests of Rhodope.
In some little time friendly relationswere established between the
Pomaks and their neighbours, and the picturesque mountaineers might now and then be seen in the streets of Philippopolis with their timber, and tar, and skins of wild animals, which they bartered for cotton and linen goods, household requisites, and the like . Achmet Aga was represented in the Eastern Roumelian capital by a kind of
consul, whose permission it was prudent to secure before venturing into the Pomak territory . No foreigner , so far as I am aware, ever availed himself of the dangerous privilege.
For the space of two years nothing more was heard of the Pomaks.
But events were slowly developing, and in 1885 came the crisis which
was destined to give the death – blow to Pomak independence. The
revolution of Philippopolis, which brought about the union of
Eastern Roumelia with Bulgaria, took place in that year, and was followed by the Convention of Top -Khané, at which it was decided that the Turkish district of Kirjali and the greater part of the Pomak territory in Rhodope should be handed back to the Sultan as
a solatiolum for the loss of a fertile province. The indignation in
Bulgaria was intense , and , indeed , proved one of the causes which led to the fall of Prince Alexander. The Pomaks feared that the
Bulgarians would invade their villages en masse , and Achmet Aga,
in a moment of weakness, or perhaps ofmistaken confidence , allowed
the Ottoman troops to occupy his realm . It was the old story of the horse and the stag ; the Pomak steed obtained a rider, and the bit and bridle were soon forthcoming. The usual train of Turkish
administrators, officials, tax – gatherers and zapties followed in the
wake of the army, and Pomak independence became a thing of the past. A race which had set at naught the forces ofmighty empires had surrendered without a blow .
And what became of Achmet Aga ? That was a question which I
often asked , but to which I never obtained an entirely satisfactory answer. It was said that he was still living, old and infirm , a tooth
less and clawless lion , in the valley of Tomrush . There were few
“ Europeans,” few Christian Bulgarians, who cared to penetrate that
rock -bound region ofmystery and fear, which now , as in the days of the Bacchantes, possessed terrors for the dwellers in the plains. My desire for information continued to increase, till at length I learned that a portion of the Pomak land, which had been left to Bulgaria by the Top -Khané Convention , but which had never submitted to its Christian masters, had been invaded by a Bulgarian force and brought into subjection after some desultory fighting. My
mind was made up ; I determined to go at once into the land of
the Pomaks.
It was a beautiful summer afternoon when, in company with M .
Mattheev, the Bulgarian Postmaster -General, who wished to combine
business with pleasure by a visit to the Rhodope district, I arrived at
the little railway -station of Belovo, which lies in the picturesque valley of that name, at a point where the Balkan and Rhodope mountain systems converge before separating to enclose the wide plain of Philippopolis. Here we found Dr. Lovenich, of Tatar Pazarjik ,
who proposed to accompany us, two gendarmes, destined to form our escort , a couple of wiry -looking, bronzed mountaineers, who were to
discharge the duties of agogiats — to use the Greek term — that is to say ,
to follow us on foot and tend our horses ; and finally half a dozen sturdy
little animals, half ponies, half horses, one of which was to act as
“ sumpter horse,” and carry our modest baggage. Wemounted, and
had hardly proceeded on our way when I discovered that my pony,
a muddy -coloured grey, was gifted with a spirit of high emprize and
noble emulation which was altogether belied by his unpretending
exterior . Disdainful of every remonstrance on the part of the insig
nificant biped who bestrode him , he placed himself at once at the
head of the cavalcade, never for a moment brooking the approach
of a rival, and setting the pace to his companions according to his sovereign will and pleasure. Like diminutive Doctor Keate, within whose puny frame there glowed the concentrated pluck of ten batta lions, my shaggy little friend concealed beneath that rugged hide of his an energy which might be reckoned at a thousand horse -power.
Webegan to ascend the romantic valley of the Yadenitza, which sparkled at our feet, half hidden by luxuriant gardens ofmaize and beans and hops; no vines are to be found at this altitude, but along the water ‘s edge immense green gourds lay cooling themselves and turning a yellow -tinted side to the sun. The lofty slopes on either hand are now , alas, clothed only with brushwood, for the noble forests,
which once covered all this region , have disappeared — ” exploited ”
by Baron Hirsch, when making his celebrated railway. In half an
hour’ s timewe came to the spot where, exactly three years ago, two
railway officials,MM . Ländler and Binder , were captured by brigands,
who, I think, must have been woodland spirits in human form ,
determined to avenge the destruction of their ancient home. These denizens of the forest, however, styled themselves “ political agents,” and told their prisoners that before long they would
” remove ” Prince Ferdinand, inasmuch as all true Bulgarians wished to be governed by their brother Slavs, the Russians.
We soon reached the charming little town of Belovo, half
Pomak, half Bulgarian, with its deep- eaved wood- built houses
clustering round the stream , its balconies adorned with creeping plants and flowers, its quaint Turkish bridge, its glittering minaret,
and its “ decent church ” topping the neighbouring hill. Here
we left the valley , and began to ascerd the mountain path on our left. Before long we had left the ravages of Baron Hirsch behind
us, and we entered upon the grand primeval forest which stretches
away to beyond the monastery of Rilo , some fifty miles to the
west. Yet, soon it was evident that here, too, the work of destruc
tion was going on apace . Every now and then we met peasants
coming down the mountain side with oxen laboriously dragging
timber, the lower and heavier portion of the felled tree being supported on a single pair of wheels, while the rest trailed behind,
acting as a drag in places where the descent became precipitous.
The sun was now declining, and the golden rays fell gently on the forest -clad slopes around us, revealing here and there some patch of exquisite verdure amid the gloom of the pine-trees and the spring – like freshness of the beechwood. Far beneath us the little
town lay sleeping amid the shadows, a charming spectacle but for the ruthless desecration of the woodland on either side ; above us the rocky peaks stood robed in flaming carmine or towered in deepest
purple against the western sky ; away to thenorth the spreading plain of Philippopolis lay steeped in a soft blue mist. But the splendour of the sunset vanished rapidly ; and the stars had long been twinkling overhead when at last we reached the summit, famished and fatigued ;
our “ sumpter-horse ” had lagged behind , so we were fain to support
life with a crust of black bread, borrowed from oneof our gendarmes,
and a draught of ice – cold water tempered with a few drops of raki.
The descent was steep , and we were often obliged to dismount and
lead our horses. Again we entered the dense forest, now so dark that we could scarcely see a yard ahead ; but my gallant grey, still
keeping the van, went merrily forward till my hat was suddenly
swept from myhead by a stray telegraph wire – unexpected trace of civilisation — which somehow managed to cross the path at this point. Had that fateful line been a few inches lower this veracious
narrative would never have been written . We continued to ride
through the wood for some hours, till at length the sound of men’s
voices was heard in the darkness. Had a fresh band of brigands come over the frontier ? — that was the question. No, it was only some half-dozen “ notables ” of a neighbouring village who had ridden out to welcome us. There were handshakings, greetings, and
presentations, instead of pistol-shots and the flashing of yataghans;
should have been wearied of the long ride on horseback , and in this we bumped and splashed and jolted for another hour, till at length
long after midnight, we arrived at the Pomak town of Lijené-Banya,
to which we were bound, catching a glimpse of its ruined walls in
the starlight, and entering the main street through an arched gate way, which much resembled the late lamented Temple Bar.
The place of our domicile at Lijené-Banya was a large, clean ,new mansion , well furnished in the Turkish style. Over the principal
entrance was the inscription — ” This is the house of Ali Effendi,
the son of Hussein Aga.” Ali Effendi, our host, is a man of mark in his native town. He is a mufti of high reputation, and con ducts the services in the mosque which adjoins his dwelling. Tall in stature, with hair and beard slightly grey, his bronzed oval coun
tenance , with its high- arched nose and flashing eyes, surmounted by the turban which denotes his rank, he looks the type of a Mussul
man ecclesiastic of high degree, and there is nothing either in his appearance or manner to suggest a trace of his Bulgarian origin . I
was startled to hear him greet us in Bulgarian ; and, indeed , for the next few days I could hardly get over my surprise at hearing Bul garian spoken everywhere, so little do the Pomaks resemble their
Christian cousins. Ali Effendi had built his goodly house as a specu
lation , for a comfortable hostelry is needed by the well -to-do citizens of Tatar-Pazarjik ,who come hither in the summer-time to enjoy the
pure mountain air,and to bathe in the warm ferruginous spring from which the village takes its name.
The cleanliness of Ali Effendi’s mansion was in pleasant contrast
with the usual squalor of a Bulgarian village khan . Cleanliness is
enjoined in the Bible as well as the Koran, but somehow or other the Eastern Christian falls sadly behind his Mahometan neighbour in this respect. Sound and undisturbed was our slumber beneath
Ali Effendi’s speckless coverlets, and in themorningwe rose refreshed ,
and eager to welcome the novel impressions supplied by a Pomak village. Lijené-Banya looked, indeed , a charming little spot in the bright morning sunshine, with its tile – roofed houses nestling among fruit-trees, its little mosque adorned with a graceful minaret, and its
limpid streams of running water coursing at random through the streets. In front of Ali Effendi’s abode was a patch of greensward shaded by lofty trees, beneath which the turbaned fathers of the
village were seated on gorgeous carpets, sipping theirmorning coffee and smoking with calm austere dignity the long-stemmed pipe of
peace. If appearances count for anything there is no perfect tran quillity of mind beyond the pale of Islam . Before the door ran a
clear swift rivulet, tickling the roots of two magnificent willows ;
beneath their shade a bridge- like platform was constructed over the stream , fitted with seats all round , like a family pew , and furnished with a kind of removable trap-door in themidst, which enabled the company to gaze upon the running water – always a delight to the
Pomak as it is to the Turk.
Right opposite was a smithy , where at the presentmoment an ox was being shod by a bronzed, handsome son of Vulcan , wbile some
dozen peasants, who seemed not to be in a hurry about anything in
particular, were standing or sitting around. The animal lay on his back, his four legs being drawn together, and attached to a hori.
zontal beam , which rested on a stout tripod. It was not the spec tacle, however , but the spectators that attracted my attention . Tall ,
athletic, clean-limbed figures, aristocratic features, stamped with the mastery of centuries, eyes that looked at you straight in the face without defiance, indeed, but without fear, and with just a suspicion of supercilious indifference , reminding you that you are but a Giaour
. . . what dignity of pose and gesture, what superb bearing, what splendid nonchalance of mien and manner ! Peasants indeed , but
gentlemen every one of them , who would treat you to their best
with a courtly hospitality , and run a yataghan to your heart if you insulted their womankind, or slighted the creed of the Pro
phet . I have seen many a handsome type of humanity among
the Bulgarian peasants, but nothing so picturesque, so distingué as this. It was only among the younger Pomak men , whose beards
were not yet grown , that I detected a trace of relationship to the Bulgarian race ; the Bulgarian peasants , with the exception of the popes and the elder men, do not wear the beard , whereas the Pomaks
invariably allow it to grow . Young Pomak men who have lately
been married wear a flower, either attached to the turban or inserted behind the left ear ; the Bulgarians of the Tirnovo district do like wise. And what of the Pomak women ? Assuredly they are beau tiful ; they must be beautiful. But I have never seen a Pomak
woman ‘s face ; for the Pomaks are in all things more zealous for
the law than their teachers, the Turks ; and not only do the women
screen their faces with the ferejé,but they turn aside, and sometimes even take to flight, at the approach of an unbeliever.
Want of space compels me to record as briefly as possible my impressions of this interesting people. A casual observer might imagine them to be Turks ; but there were certain differences in
the type which would hardly escape the notice of any one familiar with the East. The only parallel instance I know of the change which
a comparatively recent conversion to another faith can effect in the
characteristics of an Oriental race is that of the Greek Mussulmans
in Crete. No one could possibly mistake the Greek Mussulman
for a Christian Greek , though some might mistake him for a Turk .
The apparent similarity between the Pomaks and the Turks might
perhaps be accounted for by a common Turanian ancestry, for it is hard to say to what extent the genuine Bulgarian is really a
Slav. Adopting the language of the Slavs whom he conquered , he
became a Slav ; adopting the religion of his Ottoman conquerors, he
almost becomes a Turk . It may be suggested that intermarriage with the Turks has brought this apparent fusion ; but this is not so ;
the Pomaks are of purer Bulgarian blood than the Bulgariansthem
selves, because their adoption of Mahometanism preserved their
women against the licence of the Ottoman conqueror . A few customs
still existing among them bear witness to the fact that for eight centuries their forefathers were Christians. They still celebrate some Christian holidays ; they will attend the consecration of a
Christian sanctuary ; they will sometimes, I am told , invite the
prayers of a Christian priest in cases of illness. The women lament over the graves of their departed relatives, using the old Christian prayers mutatis mutandis to suit their present creed . At
the feast of Bairam the maidens dance the Bulgarian khoro — unveiled this once, for it is then that the Pomak youths select their brides ;
the young men may not dance, but stand at a becoming distance and take stock of their future partners for life.
During our stay at Lijené-Banya we determined to penetrate into the wild mountain region lately occupied by the Bulgarian troops.
Starting at early morning, we began to ascend the picturesque gorge at the foot of which the village lies, leaving to our left the quaint little mosque-like bathing- houses, where ferruginoushot springs pour into deep marble cisterns. In an hour’s timewe reached a solitary
watch -tower, once inhabited by Turkish saptiés. Beyond this point
no Bulgarian official had ventured to advance for several years. The
scenery now became charming ; the valley widened , and we entered a
beautiful park -like district, with undulating greensward dotted with forest trees. Here we found herds of handsome mountain cattle
and long – horned goats, the like of which I have never seen before.
I succeeded in photographing one of the latter, together with a young Pomak shepherd who held it. I offered the lad a franc, upon which he gazed with mute astonishment ; it was probably the first coin he
had ever seen . Some years ago the Bulgarian officials had endea voured to distrain the cattle for taxes which had never been paid ;
but the shepherds offered armed resistance , and the officials, not
being authorized to fire, desisted .
As we continued to ascend, the verdure disappeared and the moun tain – side became rugged and rocky. At length a turn in the narrow
path brought us in view of a little village, bleak and bare , with
stone-built stone- roofed houses hardly distinguishable from the rocks
around. It was Frolovo, one of the recalcitrant Pomak villages ,
now occupied by the Bulgarian troops. For all that Frolovo was worth , methought, the Bulgarian Government might have left it in its primitive independence. We could see some Bulgarian troopers lying asleep – it was the hour of siesta – before the only edifice which deserved the name of a house ; and to this wemade our way,
being received on arrival by a cavalry officer, Lieutenant Masheff,
and by a Government official who had come to instruct the villagers
in the art of paying taxes. We lunched by a running stream in front of the mansion, and were joined in the meal by one of the village elders, a picturesque, bright-eyed, grisly – bearded moun taineer, whose unaffected dignity and simple charm of manner showed at once that he had never been brought within the
confines of that which we are pleased to call civilisation . He had never been beyond Lijené-Banya, he told us, but had heard
that Tatar- Pazarjik was a very large town ; it was strange indeed,
he said, if the chief city of my country was larger than Tatar Pazarjik. Presently a little bare-legged lad, whom he despatched for the purpose , returned , bringing a hive of fragrant mountain
honey. To offer money for this welcome addition to our repast would have been an outrage on the ideas of hospitality which prevail at Frolovo. So firmly rooted are those ideas that the vil lagers, who now supplied their conquerors with provisions, could only with difficulty be prevailed on to accept remuneration .
Lieutenant Masheff gave us an interesting account of the little campaign . As the Bulgarian troops advanced up the valley the men of the village, armed with old flintlocks, yataghans, scythes,
hay-rakes, and other implements of warfare and husbandry, came forth in order of battle, while the women and children fled to the
remote recesses of the mountains. But it soon was evident that the
Bulgarian force was too formidable to be resisted with success, and the highland warriors betook themselves to the society of their wives and families. For the space of at least three days Frolovo was as still and silent as lovely Auburn . Then the peasants in small ex ploring parties began to come down from the mountain -tops, and
finding to their surprise that the soldiers had not plundered or burnt
the village, they took courage and gradually reoccupied their homes.
Meanwhile the main body of the troops advanced to the remote Borovinski district, close to the elevated ridge on which the Turkish frontier lies. Here they met with a determined resistance from the mountaineers, who, posting themselves behind rocks and other cover,
kept up a brisk fire till they were driven over the frontier. Several casualties occurred , and the leader of the Pomakswas shot dead. The soldiers entered the hamlet of Borovinski Kolibi, to which they set fire ; no living being was found there save a fowl or two and a bed
ridden old woman, who was discovered in a hut, of which the roof
was already in flames. Bulgarian atrocities ? Yes ; but has &
British regiment never burnt a village?
I was anxious to see the field of battle ; so we mounted, and riding for two hours through a desolate yet beautiful region , which is covered with snow for the greater part of the year, we came at length to the lofty frontier-ridge. Before us rose the mountains of Macedonia, receding in waves of blue to the distant horizon ; to our
right was a Bulgarian camp, with huts constructed of fir -branches ; to our left the blackened ruins of what was once a picturesque hamlet.
We spoke to a band of half a dozen peasants, who were cutting a
little field of barley close by. They had taken part in the battle ;
their humble penates had been destroyed , and they had filed across the frontier ; but now they had returned to gather their harvest
before the long winter began. They spoke to us cheerfully , and willingly held our horses as we dismounted — who would have
started on our homeward journey, and our five hours’ ride to Lijené-Banya was accomplished for the most part by the light of
the stars.
I must only sketch briefly one or two other scenes of my pil
grimage. It was a chilly evening when , fatigued by a long day’ s
ride over the mountains, we descended into the valley of Batak, the scene of the famous massacre some fifteen years ago. The last
gleam of sunset was lingering in the west ; beneath us a damp
cold mist hung over the ruins of the hapless village ; around us
the purple hills, those mute witnesses of an appalling crime,
looked down in gloomy majesty upon the Valley of the Shadow of
Death . Arriving at the village, we passed along the main street,
which seemed to form the bed of a mountain torrent ; new houses had risen among the ruins, but here there was nothing picturesque,
no trace of the old -world charm which characterises a Bulgarian
village. Weentered the mud- floored khan , where some twenty of
the inhabitants were assembled. What a contrast was here to the
lordly race of highlanders among whom we had been sojourning !
Pale, dejected, dispirited, half stunned, it would seem , by the blow
which had fallen upon them , the Christians of Batak bore the mark of ages of servitude ; and they and their descendants will bear it for many a day, for the stamp impressed by centuries of subjection is not easily effaced . It is sometimes hard to realise in Bulgaria
that the servant has become master and the master servant.
Next day we visited the church and the schoolhouse, the principal scenes of the tragedy, as well as the hospital built by Lady Strang ford, and now used as a church. It was strange to see an English inscription , two union jacks, and a coronet painted on the plaster over the door of the hospital. But the church ,which formed the last refuge of the unhappy villagers, was the principal object of interest.
It was on the 7th May, 1876 , that Achmet Aga and his warriors
appeared before Batak . He summoned the inhabitants to give up their arms, but, mistrusting him , they refused to do so, and defended themselves for two days, until it became evident that the Pomaks were getting the best of the fight. Then came a parley ; Achmet Aga swore a solemn oath that if the villagers would deliver up their arms not a hair of their heads should be touched . They did so,
and next came a demand for all the money in the place. This, of
course, was given up. Then the Pomaks entered the village, and
put all the inhabitants to the sword without distinction of age or
sex. The houses were burned , and nothing was left of Batak save a pile of smouldering ashes and corpses. When all was still, and
the work was done, Achmet and his mountaineers returned to their
We were accompanied to the church by the kmet, or mayor, a
well- spoken, good-looking man of about thirty – five years of age. It is a low , strongly – built structure, which might have been defended
successfully by a few resolute, well-armed men posted at the narrow windows. Butthe occupants on that terrible day were mainly women ,
and the men who were there had given up their arms. We passed through a little churchyard surrounded by a high wall, and stooping
low beneath the arch of the narrow doorway we entered the temple
of Death . At first it was impossible to see anything in the darkness ;
then gradually the bare white walls became visible – whitewashed by
the Turkish officials, in order to remove the bloodstains and the
traces of burning. The same officials, with praiseworthy energy,
took up the stone floor , in order to make things presentable for the
European gentlemen who came to investigate the crime. Every
trace of the woodwork had disappeared, for the Pomaks set fire to
the interior before the wretched occupants had all been slaughtered.
There was nothing in the way of furniture, except a kind of wooden stand, on which a number of skulls, some sixty or seventy in all ,
were ranged in rows, and some boxes containing charred bones.
Many of the skulls had been perforated by bullets, others had evi dently been slashed by yataghans,most of them from behind . On some of them lay small bouquets of faded flowers ; on one, that of a
young girl – almost cloven asunder by a sword- cut – lay a tress of
dark brown hair. The kmet, at that time a lad of twenty , was one of the few who escaped from the church . I shall never forget the
story which he told us, as he stood with us in this dark charnel
house , with a lighted candle in his band .
“ When we heard that the Pomaks were coming,” he said, “ my father, who was one of the two popes of the village, told me to take
my wife and the other women of the family to the church, where the
women were assembling. I never saw my father again — he was tortured by the Pomaks, and his eyes were torn out while he was alive. The other pope was treated in the same way. About a
thousand of us were crowded in the church , and the door wasmade
fast. When the Pomaks began firing through the windows my wife was struck in the shoulder by a bullet. Asthe bullets were entering the church from all sides, I endeavoured to make my way to the door, which had been forced by the Pomaks, and through which someof those in the church were endeavouring to escape,most
of them being shot down by the Pomaks as soon as they came out.
When near the door I fainted and fell among the corpses. When
I regained consciousness I found myself lying under several dead bodies, which were so thickly piled above methat I could scarcely
breathe. I freed myself with difficulty , and went out of the church .
The Pomaks had gone, but I was immediately arrested by a Turkish official. One of my sisters, who was in the church , disappeared, and
I believe she is now living as a slave somewhere over the frontier.
Many of the younger women disappeared in this way. After the
attack on the church had continued for some time, those who were
inside were told that they might come out in safety , as they had
been pardoned . Achmet Aga stood by the door, and as the men
came out one by one he gave orders that they should be executed .
They were taken down to the river -bank , where the Pomaks stood
ready with drawn swords, and were beheaded there. The bodies
were thrown into a pit close by.”
Wewentout of the church into the pleasant sunshine, and de scended to the margin of the clear, swift stream near at hand. Its
banks were once covered by busy timber -mills, which were burnt with everything else in Batak. On the grassy slope we could discern the traces of the pit, since filled up, into which the bodies of the
victims were thrown. Close by was the large new school-house ,
raised on the site of the former building, in which more than a hun
dred women and children were burned alive. Five thousand human
beings perished on that fatal day. The bodies lay piled in the streets and in the churchyard , and choked the mill-dams in the little stream .
Many of them were eaten by dogs, for the few survivors were so
crushed by the misfortune that they never attempted to bury the dead .
Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum . Religion , religion alone,
was the cause of all these horrors. For let it not be supposed that the massacre of Batak was the deed of alien conquerors, of strangers,
of invaders, like the Israelites in Canaan, or like the Turks them selves in Europe five hundred years ago . No, the crime was com mitted by neighbours upon neighbours, by kinsmen upon kinsmen ;
by men of the sameblood and language as their victims, descended ,
like them , from ancestors who had resisted the Ottoman invader , by
Bulgarians upon Bulgarians. And in what respect did the mur
derer differ from the murdered ? In the tenure of a dogma, in
divergence of opinion as to the mode of reaching Paradise . . . . The massacre of Batak was the crowning tragedy of 1876 . The Turkish Government acquiesced in what had been done, and Achmet,
defender of the faith , received the Order of the Méjidié. Well meaning but ill-informed persons in England imagined , and imagine still, that the horrors of Batak were perpetrated by the Turks. They were perpetrated by Bulgarians upon Bulgarians.
TOL. LIV . . s. N
Two days after leaving Batak I found myself approaching Tom rush , the home of Achmet Aga, and once the capital of his realm .
Wewere now on Turkish soil ; we had passed the previous night
in a mud- floored hut on the summit of a mountain at the frontier,
guarded by Bulgarian gendarmes and Turkish soldiers; we had dined on a mess of barley , cooked in butter, and served up in a huge
bowl, into which , together with our entertainers, we thrust wooden spoons ; we had chatted for an hour with a Turkish soldier, a youth from Jaffa , who told us that he had already spent three years in this
lonely spot, away from his sunny home and without tidings of bis parents. We had started at five in the morning, and after a ride through lovely scenery , had paused at a Turkish camp, whither the commandant at Tomrush had thoughtfully sent a roasted sheep for
our sustenance . And now we were approaching the capital of Achmet Aga, escorted by a lieutenant of cavalry and a dozen troopers, thankful for such efficient protection , but feeling very much like prisoners. Tomrush is a picturesque village, with grey stone roofed houses clustering on the side of a steep ravine ; but its beauty has been marred by the wholesale destruction of the surround ing forest. On the outskirts we met with a detachment of some
hundred soldiers, who immediately faced right about and preceded us
into the village , which we entered with an imposing cavalcade. This was also a compliment on the part of the commandant. That officer,
resplendent in full dress uniform , received us at the door of his house, and welcomed us with dignified hospitality. But where was
There was some excitement manifest at Tomrush, and as much curiosity as is compatible with the dignity of the faithful. A crowd assembled in the street, and gazed at the Bulgarian escort, which had been sent up from Philippopolis. A few years ago a Bulgarian gendarme’s life would not have been worth five minute’s purchase in the streets of Tomrush. Among the onlookers were two young men who stood in the doorway of a house right opposite to that of the commandant. These were the nephews of Achmet Aga , the sons of his brother Adil, and the house was the home of the Pomak chief, once the palace of an independent monarch. It wasa fair sized mansion – as houses go at Tomrush — with mud- coated walls,
facing the street, and a roomy courtyard . I despatched a messenger to solicit an audience of the ex -king of the mountains. The Intro ducer of Ambassadors, in other words, the Aga’s confidential agent,
brought an answer in person. The Aga, he told us, had left Tom rush that very morning to collect the taxes — which he now farms from the Turkish Government – in several neighbouring villages,and wonld not return for several days. It was a cruel disappointment.
Few strangers, indeed , have found their way to Tomrush –son cuiris homini contingit adire ; and now that we had climbed to the eagle’s
nest the eagle was not there. Perhaps the Aga’s absence was not
altogether unintentional, for he must have known that we were
coming. My companions were Bulgarians, and many Bulgarians
have old scores to settle with the hero of Batak .
Achmet Aga, we were told , has transferred to his brother Adil
such authority as remained to him after the Turkish cccupation .
Having reigned without a suzerain for a quarter of a century, he
scorns to play the part of a mediatised prince. He now occupies himself with the management of his estates, and farms the taxes which once were collected in his own name. He has reached an
honoured old age, and he will probably die a tranquil death at Tom rush . “ He ought to be hanged ,” exclaims the typical Englishman .
Why ? No man should be hanged because he is a fanatic ; rather hang those who have taught him . Achmet Aga, in slaughtering five thousand unbelievers, acted according to his lights ; he vindi cated the truth and the might of. Islam ; his crime was not greater than Joshua’s in many a Canaanite city , than Jehu’s at Samaria, than Elijah’s by the brook Kishon. The Hebrew patriarchs did not
deserve to be hanged ; neither does Achmet Aga. Let him go down to the grave in peace .
We left Tomrush in the afternoon , and , descending through a
rugged ravine, which was more than once successfully held by the
Pomaks against Russian expeditions, we reached Dermendere, on Bulgarian soil, a little before midnight. Dermendere, now called Ferdinandovo, is quite a civilized town, the summer resort of the wealthy merchants of Philippopolis. Our Pomak guide entered the
streets laughing and singing ; he had escorted us through long fatiguing journeys beneath an August sun ; he had walked while we rode ; he had supported life on black bread and water, and he now
contentedly accepted the very small remuneration for which he had stipulated , while we willingly added a little extra baksheesh .
It was with regret that I took leave of the Pomaks. I have never
passed a more fascinating time than in visiting this unknown, unique,
and singularly interesting people in their mountain home. Any one who wishes to see what religion can do should go and study the Pomaks. It has uprooted their ancient traditions, it has obliterated their national history, it has severed the ties of blood and language,
it has taught them to regard their brothers as aliens and a foreign conqueror as their friend . Such of them as remain under Christian rule bear the yoke in silence, and wait their opportunity ; the Bul
garian Government is doing its best to make them contented , but with no great success. The Pomaks are biding their time; and
whenever the tide of war rolls over the Balkan peninsula Europe will hear of them again .


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