Philippopolis, August 16.
We arrived in Otluk-kui late at night, and had some difficulty in finding a house to put up at, as everybody had gone to bed. Finally, however, we met a man who conducted us to the house where Mr. Baring had stopped only the night before, and here we received a very hearty welcome. The people of the house had, however, very little to offer us in the way of sleeping accommodation, as they had been pillaged, and everything of the slightest value taken, even to the cooking utensils. I have already described what occurred at Otluk-kui, and need only add a few details here that were left out of my previous letter. There were about four hundred houses burnt out of the two thousand in the place, and, from a material point of view, the town suffered less in comparison than the other villages that were, for the most part, completely destroyed. The two churches and the bazaar were burnt, as were the two boys' schools. The girls' school escaped destruction only because it had not been pointed out to the incendiaries.
But the burning of schools and churches, and even of private dwellings, are acts which sink into comparative insignificance, and seem hardly worth mentioning in the presence of the fearful atrocities against humanity that were committed here. The story of the insurrection, in spite of its mournful character, is not without an amusing episode or two. There was a Jew pedler here when the affair broke out, who came to us and gave us an account of what had befallen him. The insurgents, suspecting he might go away from the village and relate what was going on, arrested him in order to prevent any such movement, and they finally decided to ensure his silence and secrecy by forcing him to renounce Judaism. He says they put a Bulgarian cap on his head, and gave him the Christian name of " Ghiorghy," or George. It does not appear that they went so far as to baptise him, however; nor does it seem that they placed much confidence in his conversion, for they kept him in prison in a private house, and would not let him leave the village. This fear was not altogether unfounded, as it turned out; for when the Turks arrived and set him at liberty, he went about the town with the Bashi-Bazouks, and pointed out to them the rich people, and the fine houses where they would find the most booty. Apart from the violence they did his feelings in converting him, and giving him the name of " Ghiorghy," he acknowledges that the people were very kind, and gave him plenty to eat and drink during the week he was in their power. He was quite impartial in his relation of what he saw and heard, not seeming to care a fig which side won, and recounting what occurred in the most indifferent and cynical manner. He was a backslider, too, having gone back to Judaism, and he even expressed his willingness to change his religion again in case he found any advantage in doing so, thereby disclosing a want of principle that was shocking to contemplate.
There was nothing wanting to complete the horror of this affair of Otluk-kui. An old woman came to Mr. Schuyler, prostrating herself on the ground, and walking towards him on her knees, saying, " Oh, forgive me, most noble Sir, I am unworthy to appear before you ; I am a very great sinner, a very great sinner, a very great sinner, a very great sinner, a very great sinner." There is no telling how long she would have gone on repeating this assertion had we not stopped her and compelled her to rise and tell her story. It was simply fiendish in its grotesqueness. She was a withered old woman, past sixty, with shrivelled face and limbs, with grey hair, and all the marks of age that claim respect and veneration. Well, this old woman was violated in the same room with a number of girls. We could not have believed it had we not heard of many other cases just as bad. It would seem that the devil had taken human form in order to mock, scoff, degrade poor humanity, and drag it through the mud and filth. There was displayed here a diabolical kind of impishness or demoniac mockery of everything that man holds venerable and holy that was simply superhuman in its devilry.
It should be remembered that this old woman's was no exceptional case, for there does not appear to be a woman in the place, old or young, who escaped outrage. The most curious, and at the same time the most poignant, circumstance connected with these outrages is that these women and girls all, like this old woman, look upon themselves as very great sinners. The chastity of the Bulgarian women is well known, and it is the sin as well as the dishonour which crushes them, a sin for which they will do life-long penance and then not think themselves forgiven. Not one of these young girls ever expects to find a husband : not one but thinks herself unworthy of marriage. Nor do the young men of the place think differently. They will in future go to villages that have not been visited by Bashi-Bazouks to seek their wives.
The Mudir of the place called on us the next morning after our arrival: the same Mudir who so horribly maltreated the young schoolmistress. He was decidedly the most repulsive and filthy-looking brute I ever set eyes upon. Apparently Mr. Schuyler thought the same, for after the exchange of a few words in which there were no compliments, he retired to his room and left the Mudir to be entertained by the rest of us. But he had not done with him by any means, as we soon discovered, for the interview was prolonged though in a somewhat extraordinary manner.
Mr. Schuyler had with him two interpreters. One was a young Bulgarian from Robert College, who spoke the Turkish language in a very polite and distinguished manner, and whom he always employed when he had anything agreeable to say or any compliments to pass with the Turkish authorities ; the other was a Greek, by the name of Antonio, employed in the legation, who spoke Turkish in a very harsh and emphatic manner, whom he usually called up when he had anything the reverse of agreeable to say. I was considerably amused now to see Antonio come out from Mr. Schuyler's room, and inform the Mudir, in a severe tone of voice, that the Consul Bashi was very much displeased at the state in which he had found the roads in this Mudirlik, and required to know why they were allowed to remain in that condition. The Mudir was considerably taken aback by this question and the way in which it was put, but he replied with some trepidation that he had only been Mudir here for two or three months, and must not be held responsible for the condition of the roads. This answer was carried back by Antonio, who a moment later returned with the information that the Consul Bashi had observed that there was much misery existing among the people here, and he could not hear that the Mudir was trying to do anything to relieve it. To this the Mudir replied that they had brought the misery upon themselves and must endure it. Antonio carried this answer back, and returned with the information that the Consul considered it very wicked on the part of these women and little children to have brought it upon themselves, but that he believed his Majesty the Sultan, in his sublime goodness, thought these people had been sufficiently punished for their wickedness already, and wished the misery of the people to be relieved as rapidly as possible, further expressing his belief that the Sultan would now turn his attention to punishing bad Mudirs, of whom there were a great many. The conversation was carried on in this style by means of Antonio for half an hour, at the end of which time the Mudir was informed that the interview was at an end, and he withdrew, considerably overawed by this method of exchanging compliments. We never saw him again, as we did not return his call.
This is the worst Mudir we have seen or heard of. He is in the habit of getting drunk every night, in company with the zaptiehs, and he maltreats and persecutes the inhabitants in every possible way. I have already related how he sent for two women, whose husbands had been killed, to come to his house the nights that Mr. Baring and Mr. Schuyler were in the place. And this is the kind of man to whom is given almost unlimited power over a town of nearly 1,000 inhabitants, with no hope, as the Governor of Philippopolis told us of a better man being found to replace him. This village of Otluk-kui must have been a charming little place before its partial destruction. It is situated in a pretty little valley which is surrounded on all sides by mountains that seem to isolate it from the outside world. The houses, which are very comfortable and solidly constructed, are generally partly surrounded by gardens and fruit trees, whose luxuriant foliage hangs over the walls, and half-hiding the houses themselves give the place a charming freshness, on which the eye would rest with pleasure were it not for the blackened ruins that greet you on every side, and continually remind you of the horrors that were enacted here. We took horses here to continue our journey to Avrat-Alan, or Kuprishstitza in Bulgarian, situated a few miles to the north, still higher up in the mountains. The horses were brought to us about one o'clock, and we mounted amongst the crowd of people that had gathered around the door, and rode away, actually putting our fingers to our ears to shut out their mournful cries.
The horseback ride to Avrat-Alan proved to be a delightful change from the jerking and jolting of a Turkish carriage over a Turkish road. As we got up in the mountains the air became delightfully cool and fresh, and the woods which covered a great part of these mountains offered with their thick-set foliage a cool and inviting shade nearly the whole distance, under which we lazily loitered, glad to escape from human sound and suffering, find in no hurry to reach our destination. There was many a sparkling little stream that came leaping out from among the bushes and rocks like a laughing child flying into the arms of its mother; many a grassy little glade where our horses would stop and eat the rich green grass in spite of us, because we had not the moral courage necessary to take the food out of their mouths by spurring them on ; and when we finally reached the summit of these mountains—really only the foothills of the Balkans—we looked back, and had such a view over the country below us as is rarely seen. For we had before us all that immense and beautiful plain, the valley of the Maritza, in which is situated Tatar Bazardjik, Philippopolis, and Adrianople, extending miles and miles away to the south, where it was bounded by that spur of the Balkans that sweeps around from the west in a grand and noble curve, and forms the watershed between the Maritza and the AEgean Sea.
A little further on we stopped to lunch in the middle of the forest, by the side of a spring called the " Brigands' Spring." I had observed a while after starting that our party had been augmented by the addition of a young man, riding a very lean horse, which he mounted on a pack-saddle. Upon inquiry, we found that this young man was from Otluk-kui, and was likewise on his way to Avrat-Alan, having joined our party for safety. Antonio, in a long and intimate conversation, drew from him an avowal of the object of his trip, which was no other than to see his sweetheart, who lived at Ayrat-Alan, whom he had not seen for three mouths—that is, since the troubles began. The poor fellow was extremely grateful for the permission to accompany us, and willingly took upon himself the office of guide, as neither of our two Zaptiehs seemed to be very certain of the way. He told us that at this spring only the year before he had been seized by the brigands, and robbed of the little money he had about him, and nearly all the clothing he had on. Going to see one's sweetheart any distance in this country is evidently a risky business. We counted up the shots our party could command in a fight at, six shots to the revolver, and finding it was somewhere in the neighbourhood of a hundred, ate our cold chicken and mutton, slaked our thirst at the Brigands' Spring, smoked our cigarettes, and laughed the brigands to scorn. These brigands, by the way, complain greatly, it seems, of the present condition of the country, which scarcely furnishes them a living. Since the war all traffic is suspended, there are no travellers, and no merchandise passing backwards and forwards, and the result is that these people are deprived of their ordinary means of existence, the bread is taken out of their mouths, and they are gradually falling into a state of indigence pitiful to contemplate. These brigands are all Turks. Let our diplomacy look to it. Towards six o'clock in the evening we arrived at the brow of the mountain overlooking a very deep, narrow valley, or rather a hollow, in the bottom of which lay Avrat-Alan, seemingly almost beneath our feet.
Avrat-Alan was one of the three or four places south of the Balkans in which there was an attempt at insurrection. It may, in fact, be considered the principal offender, for although they made no fortifications here, the young men who took up arms committed the only really inexcusable acts that can be charged against the insurrection. This was the killing of forty Mohammedan gipsies who fell into their hands. These gipsies had been arming secretly, and it was suspected, but only suspected, that they were preparing to join the Bashi-Bazouks when seized, and on this suspicion they were killed. But neither here nor anywhere else were there any women or children killed or violated by the insurgents. This one fact gives the measure of difference between the Bulgarian and the Turk. The killing of armed men who have armed themselves, as you believe, with the intention of killing you, who you know are quite capable of killing you if they get the chance, is a very different sort of thing from the killing of weak, helpless women and innocent little children, whom you have not the slightest reason to fear. The one may be a mistaken or even an unjustifiable act of self-defence, but it is nevertheless self-defence ; the other is an act of pure ferocity, of which not even the wild beast—not even the tiger, is capable. These places—Otluk-kui, Avrat-Alan, and Klissura, with Strelcha and Kurlovo— were the only places in which there was any insurrection south of the Balkans. For the fault of these five villages, seventy innocent villages that had no hand nor part whatever in the rising were pillaged and burnt, and the inhabitants for the most part massacred.
Let us now see what the rebellion was here at its fountain head ; let us see how much vigour it showed here where it was organised and where it took its rise, and we can then form a better idea of its real strength, and the kind of repression that was used to put it down.
Here, in Avrat-Alan, there was even less show of resistance than at Otluk-kui. The elder and more prudent part of the population had not taken part in the rising at all, nor had they encouraged it. It was only the young men, and they had engaged in it contrary to the advice of their elders, who do not appear to have had any confidence in the success of the attempt. When, at the approach of Hafiz Pacha towards Otluk-kui, a great part of the insurgents had gone out to reconnoitre, the rest of the people, fearing the vengeance of the Turks, and hoping by this means to appease them, rose and seized the insurgents who had remained in the village, confined them in the konak, and sent word to Hafiz Pacha, informing him what they had done. I will not go so far as to say that they would really have kept these young men until Hafiz arrived, and have delivered them over to be shot. They would probably have allowed them to escape before the arrival of the Turkish commander, even had their companions not returned and released them. But this fact shows that the majority of the people even here took no part in it, and hoped nothing from it. This is why, at the approach of the troops, the whole thing collapsed like a bubble. No defence was made, and no resistance offered. There was not a single Turk killed in suppressing the revolt south of the Balkans. This one fact alone gives the lie to all the assertions about the dangerous character of the rebellion and the necessity the Turks were under, in the impossibility of bringing up regular troops, of calling out the Mussulman population. This one fact refutes all the assertions of the apologists and defenders of the Turk, and shows how weak and childish an affair the insurrection really was, how cruel, brutal, stupid, senseless, was this organised pillage and destruction of a whole province, this indiscriminate butchery of innocent people, this wholesale slaughter of weak, helpless women and children.
The history of the affair at Avrat-Alan seems to be as follows : Upon the day fixed for the outbreak the insurgents assembled in a body about two hundred strong, marched quietly to the konak, or house of the Mudir, surrounded it, and summoned the Mudir to surrender. There were at the konak at this time, besides the Mudir, five or six Zaptiehs and an officer, all well armed. They barricaded the doors and windows of the konak, and determined to stand a siege. They defended themselves very courageously for twenty-four hours, though it does not appear that up to this time anybody had been killed on either side, notwithstanding the considerable amount of firing. The besieged, perceiving, however, that they would probably be overpowered in the end, determined to make a sortie and endeavour to escape from the place. This resolution they carried out with great courage and spirit, and all succeeded in breaking through the insurgents, who were not looking for this sudden onslaught, and who were altogether taken by surprise. But in the running fight which ensued, the Mudir and one of the Zaptiehs were killed, while the others succeeded in effecting their escape. These were the only Turks who lost their lives here, except the gipsies already spoken of, who were killed afterwards. The insurgents now had complete possession of the village, and had everything their own way for the next few days. It does not appear, however, that they did anything but march through the streets in procession, singing and declaring themselves free and independent. They did not molest any of the Mussulman villages in the neighbourhood; they were quite satisfied with what they had done, and did not seem to perceive that anything more was required of them. They appeared to be quite ignorant of the fact that there were 5,000 regular troops in Philippopolis who would inevitably be down on them in a few days, and they gave themselves over unrestrainedly to the enjoyment of their freedom. These enjoyments seem to consist principally in marching up and down the streets and singing the national Bulgarian airs. Only in one instance did they show themselves alive to the necessities of the situation. The Christians of the neighbouring village of Strelcha, finding that insurrection was such an easy and pleasant thing, likewise determined to rise. But as half the population of this village were Turks, who would probably object to this step, they sent to Otluk-kui and Avrat-Alan for aid. A number of the insurgents accordingly went to their assistance; a fight ensued between them and the Turkish population, during which the whole of the village was burnt. The Christians say it was the Turks who did it. And the Turks say it was the Christians. The probability is, that both parties have had a hand in the burning, and that the Turks burned the Christian quarter and the Christians the Turkish quarter. This is the only case we heard of where the Turks were molested by the Christians, and being a mixed village, once a rising had been determined upon, a fight was of course inevitable. But even here the Turks do not complain that there was a single Turkish woman or child killed or violated. The women and children on both sides ran away into the fields and remained away until the fight was over. But as the Turks finally gained the upper hand, they wreaked a fearful vengeance on their Christian neighbours and tipon their wives and children. I will not dwell upon this fact, however. The Turks of this village had at least a pretext for their acts of cruelty, and I am willing to make all allowance for their exasperation at the sight of their burning homes. It is the one case in which the Turkish population was molested by their Christian neighbours, and although they took a terrible vengeance, it was nevertheless a vengeance, and not like those cold-blooded, unprovoked, inexcusable acts of cruelty and ferocity that were committed everywhere else. After the massacre of Batak, and the unprovoked atrocities at Otluk-kui a mere act of vengeance, however cruel and however unjustifiable, seems to sink into a venial offence. It is the one case in which the Turks had a shadow of a pretext for what they did, and I am willing to allow them all the credit to be derived from it. But the Turks of this village have been repaid their losses by the Turkish authorities ; their houses are being rebuilt for them at the public expense; their cattle were never driven away; there were not half-a-dozen of them killed in the fight, for the fighting in this country is not deadly—it is only when the Christians surrender their arms that there is any great loss of life. They have besides seized all the cattle and live stock of their Christian neighbours. They are better off from a worldly point of view than they were before. So we may spare any compassion we might otherwise have felt for them. They have in reality turned their Christian neighbours into slaves, forcing them to work for nothing, refusing them permission to gather their own harvests, except upon condition of sharing it half and half, and finally violating their women with impunity. This state of things exists at Strelcha at this moment, and there is no remedy for it.
To return to the story of events that occurred at Avrat-Alan. The young men here soon began to discover that aa insurrection required, to make it a success, something more than marching up and down the streets singing Bulgarian airs. Hafiz Pacha marched upon Otluk-kui, took it without losing a man, and then marched upon Avrat-Alan. They immediately fled to the mountains, and left the village to take care of itself. Hafiz Pacha approached upon one side, and the Bashi-Bazouks upon the other. The people who had taken no part in the outbreak decided to send to Hafiz Pacha and tender their submission. They sent two priests, one to the Bashi-Bazouks, who was immediately killed, and the other to Hafiz himself. Hafiz had apparently satisfied his thirst for blood and his desire for amusement at Otluk-kui; he was now disposed to do a little stroke of business, and he consented to treat with the inhabitants. He ordered that all the men of the place should come outside of the town to his camp, in order to discuss the terms on which he would accept their submission. They were detained in the camp two days, and during this time the Bashi-Bazouks and many of the troops entered the town. They did not, however, commit the same excesses as at Otluk-kui. They did not burn the town, nor did they kill any women and children. Hafiz Pacha had probably given orders that this should not be done, and his orders were obeyed, just as they were at Otluk-kui. They besides had also, perhaps, glutted their thirst for blood at the latter place, and were now satiated. But they pillaged every house, and they violated nearly every woman and girl in the town.
There were many well-to-do and comparatively rich people here. They have all more or less education and refinement; the houses were well and solidly built, with many appliances of comfort, and even what might in this country be considered luxury. The women we observed were generally comely, and even pretty. They dressed well, and made some pretensions to elegance in their poor way, giving many evidences of refinement and culture. And these gentle, sensitive, modest women were seized and violated by brutes whose hands were still red from the slaughter of Otluk-kui, whose clothes were still reeking with the blood of young girls and children whom they had outraged and slain. The women were stripped naked, and in the presence of each other submitted to every species of degradation and infamy that the foul and debased imagination of a savage could invent. Nay, more. A simple savage, with all the untamed ferocity of a savage state, still keeps within the bounds of Nature. He has not yet learned to overstep the limits which Nature has fixed. These Turks, on the contrary, seem to combine all the degrading vices of an artificial state with the unbridled lust of a barbarous race. And these gentle, virtuous women and girls were left in the hands of these beasts for two days, subjected to revolting, brutal, debasing treatment, that must leave its blot and its stain through life. Many of these women came to Mr. Schuyler to relate their woes. They would generally begin talking very quietly, and you could see that they had schooled themselves to calmness beforehand. They had a great idea of the dignity and importance of a Secretary of Legation, and it was touching to see their efforts to conduct themselves with proper decorum and to maintain a becoming composure. But the merest glance sufficed to show that this calmness was all assumed, that they were trembling with emotion. There was a paleness in the face, a nervous twitching of the features, and a tremor in the voice, threatening at every moment to break into a sob that showed only too well the feelings with which they were struggling. Then, as the story went on, they would suddenly stop, break down in the middle of it, bury their faces in their hands, and with a storm of sobs and tears that were strangely contagious avow that they could go no further.
God knows, they had generally gone far enough before this breakdown would come. They had bravely confessed dishonour with only a tremor of the voice, but there was worse yet. A woman, it seems, can suffer more than mere dishonour at the hands of a Turk. She can be stained, defiled, degraded, until she looks upon herself with horror and loathing. And many of these women were not weeping for themselves alone, but for their daughters as well—young, innocent, tender girls of twelve and fifteen; nay, even children, often maltreated in the same brutal manner. It may be asked why these women should thus come forward and avow their shame and their dishonour ? Who can tell ? A burden of injustice too great for endurance; wrongs too foul, too dreadful to be borne in silence ; the poor wounded spirit impelled by some invisible power to shriek them out, that Heaven may hear if it cannot see, and the feeble, the forlorn hope, perhaps, that some time they may yet be avenged, and justice yet be done. It would be useless for me to go on repeating the stories that were told us. I do not wish to be accused of dwelling needlessly upon these revolting details. Some of these stories are enough to drive one mad. You cannot listen to them without a feeling of almost ungovernable rage, all the more intense because it is utterly impotent and powerless, for you can do nothing. There is no justice for these people ; there is no redress for the wrongs of these young girls. They must carry this stain and this dishonour through life; they must carry these wrongs to the grave. There is no punishment for the perpetrators of these crimes, absolutely none. As far as all human probabilities go, these men will die in their beds in the odour of sanctity, calling upon the God of Islam, and not even conscious of their crimes. Besides those who came singly to tell their woes, a delegation of ladies called upon Mr. Schuyler, but they had comparatively little to say. They seemingly could not bring themselves to speak in each other's presence of what they had suffered, and it was not until they went away that we perceived the real object of their visit. For, upon going, they handed Mr. Schuyler a letter signed by them all, in which they gave a short but comprehensive account of what had happened. If Mr. Schuyler is at liberty to give this curious document to the world, he will probably do so in his report, but I am under the impression that they requested him not to publish it.
While these things were occurring, Hafiz Pacha was secretly negotiating with the men whom he retained prisoners in the camp the terms of the ransom of the village. They were agreed upon, the money, after much difficulty, was finally raised, and the men were set at liberty and allowed to return to their ravaged homes. Mr. Schuyler has, I believe, obtained all the facts of this transaction, though with much difficulty. The people are yet fearful of the vengeance of Hafiz, and should he ever discover the persons who told about him he would probably soon find means to pay them out; for this money was not levied upon behalf of the Government, but for Hafiz Pacha's own private exchequer, and the Government, needing money as badly as it does, may even yet ask him to pay it into the treasury. The number of people killed here was, I believe, between 200 and 300, among whom there were comparatively very few women and children. They were principally those who attempted to fly from the village, and were overtaken by the Bashi-Bazouks and killed in the country.