After the Neuilly Treaty of 1919

Further persecutions against Bulgarians in the wake of the Neuilly Treaty of 1919

The pang for Thrace felt by the Thracian Bulgarians, who were forced to leave their hearths in 1913, did not go away after the First World War. Instead of fulfilled national ideals, for which Bulgaria was again involved in this war, the country ended up with lost fertile lands, and the blood of thousands of its sons shed in vain. On May 16, 1920, a large meeting was held at the National Theater in Sofia, where the Bulgarian intellectuals and public adopted and addressed to the representatives of the Great Powers a resolution against the deprivation of Bulgaria of access to the Aegean Sea by handing over Thrace to Greece.

At this meeting eminent Bulgarian scholars spoke sharply in protest against the injustice to the lawful aspirations of the Bulgarian people for national unity, a right widely proclaimed and promised by the Entente forces for every nation even before the end of the war. These speeches by Bulgarian intellectuals most adequately reflected the general feeling of the Bulgarian public, which had to heal severe wounds, for which it saw no other cure than the hope that it would see the day of justice and retribution. Professor Lyubomir Miletich, who seven years back had described the pogroms and slaughter of thousands of Bulgarians in eastern Thrace, now delivered a fiery speech in defense of the Bulgarians in Western Thrace who were threatened by the same fate. This speech was an element from the book he planned to write about the ruin of the West Thracian Bulgarians, which the author was not able to complete, therefore I will give some more extensive quotations from it:

"After taking away Macedonia and Dobrudja, now with the resolution in San Remo they want to deprive us of Thrace -the land over which our people has an irreversible right and which gives us access to the Aegean. With this the injustice to us goes beyond all bounds and therefore, despite the foresaid, we lose no hope that the architects of our fate in the West will come to their senses. We consider it our duty on behalf of the united Bulgarian intelligentsia to remind the world of the Bulgarian material rights over Thrace..."

After these words of protest against the authors of the Neuilly Treaty of 1919 and the San Remo resolution that followed, which dealt a new fierce blow on the Thracian Bulgarians and deprived Bulgaria of access to the Aegean, Miletich recalled this was done even before the healing of another bleeding wound - the tearing away of Eastern Thrace from the Bulgarian body in 1913:

"The terrible blow in the unfortunate 1913 fell mainly on the Bulgarians in Eastern Thrace. Thrown out of the Bulgarian borders, today hearts of these exiles still throb in expectation of the saving call to return to the hearths they left. What these compatriots of ours, together with the Bulgarians in Western Thrace, have gone through need not be said here. What should be loudly said, however, is that in the hideous persecution of the Bulgarian population, which suffered grave losses in life and property owing to the rare even in the history of Turkey atrocities (committed over them), the Thracian Greeks played a leading role. I shall not dwell on this deplorable topic, which is extensively documented in my book The Ruin of the Thracian Bulgarians to commemorate the horrible Bulgarian sufferings in these parts."

Miletich wound up his speech in the crowded hall of the National Theater with a reproach to the Great Powers, which in the case of Bulgaria ignored the widely proclaimed Wilson's principles of the nations' rights, adopted by the Entente.

"We cannot refrain from asking, how is it possible to Ignore such a glaring contradiction'.'' Perhaps by this they mean: 'So what if you, the little ones, will suffer?'Yes, we have been and still are the most martyred nation in Europe... The Bulgarians are born to live free, to enjoy life, to create. The spiritual life of the Bulgarian people Is rooted in an old moral culture... Our small people has already shown sufficient supreme will, setting an example of sublime character, and at the cost of life it opposed evil to save its fellowmen, to build on the ruins of an antiquated culture a new, viable, national culture of the free man! The striving of the Bulgarian people to unite the Bulgarian ethnos was nothing other than a manifestation of a basic law of every individual life. On our way we met strong enemies in the face of the nations most advanced in culture and civilization, which two or three times now have drawn us backwards..."

Professor N. Milev spoke at the meeting in the same spirit:

"When at the end of 1916 President Wilson made his first peace offer, in a well-known note the Entente stated among other things that concerning the Near East it Is firmly determined to banish the Turks from Europe, but there was no word of dismembering or even punishing Bulgaria in this document. There is no hint of such things in any official statements on the part of our opponents in the war. On the contrary, when speaking of the Balkans, especially the English statesmen, they pointed out the need for peace based on the national principle and on justice. More than that. In Paris, London, everywhere declarations were made that this war was a crusade of justice against brute force and that the victory of the new crusaders would bring in lasting peace, because the free will of the nations will be respected and the equality and liberty of each one of them will be secured. However, when the victory came, so unexpectedly complete that nothing could stand in the way of this peace, we heard the proclamation of the right of victory above all principles.

But, gentlemen, what happened to the little Bulgarian nation is not even the right of victory, it is an unscrupulous abuse of victory, triumph of violence! How else could we qualify the breaking of the Thessalonica armistice, the seizure of Dobrudja, the settlement of the Macedonian question... As regards Thrace, gentlemen, the Bulgarian public has every ground to think and say they were deceived, that even the right of the victor was skipped to strangle a viable people.

Thrace did not belong to any ally in the Entente, it was not taken by the Entente troops, there was no dispute over it between Bulgaria and its neighbors, as we saw even Greece repeatedly renounced it at moments when it could have had a hold of it...

What principles, what notion of justice should we refer the Neuilly Treaty to, so as not to call it monstrous? We were told our sin was big, unforgivable, because we raised our hand against those who fought for justice... "

Pain and embitterment streamed from the words of the other speakers, the professors Mihalchev, Ishirkov, Romanski, etc. at the protest meeting in the National Theater too. But the address of Prof. Boris Vazov departed from the general doleful tone to mobilize the inner strength of the Bulgarian people, recalling episodes from the recent past:

"Aren't we the people who fought at Shipka and won, who in its cradle won the fateful battle at Slivnitsa, who with a whirlwind of heroism swept away a whole empire in the battles of Seliolu and Lyule Burgas, who took Edirne and Tutrakan in one breath, who defeated the enemy at Doiran with iron discipline and unparalleled sacrifice... Let us stop admitting ourselves guilty! Because whenever we stretched our hands for forgiveness, our hands were caught and bound in even stronger chains ... Enough humiliation, because it falls on the entire nation! Let us understand once and for all that we are faced not with judges but simple avengers..."

Here Boris Vazov spoke the grave but just words about the great responsibility of the Bulgarian intelligentsia to the nation, which sooner or later would hold them accountable:

"Gentlemen! Let us tremble at the thought that one day the awakened people, In its suffering and hopelessness, will ask: Where was my intelligentsia that I gave birth to, fed and raised? Where was it to awaken me if I should drowse away, to direct me if I should be confused... We want the Bulgarian government to do its duty and declare before the world that with the ceding of Thrace to Greece, the diplomats planted a mine under the Balkan Peninsula, and that with the planting of this mine the so-called civilized Europe becomes solely responsible for the inevitable future bloodsheds... "

Finally, the meeting of Bulgarian intellectuals adopted a Protest Resolution Against the Accession of Thrace to Greece, proposed by Prof. S. Romanski and unanimously approved, which read:

"The Bulgarian people, which is a victim of the old policy of rivalry between the Great Powers in the East, waged hard struggles and suffered heavy losses for the triumph of the national principle and laid down its arms in the firm belief that the proclaimed victory of justice shall not be a source of new, even graver trials for it.

With a heavy heart it should be noted that since the armistice the situation of Bulgarian has been aggravating... The Treaty of Neuilly which was imposed on us, denounced by all provident minds as an injustice and error, dealt a deadly blow on the rights of the Bulgarian people and the development of the Bulgarian state... The resolution of the San Remo Conference, which contrary to all geographic, ethnographic and economic considerations, and despite the repeatedly declared will of the Thracian population acceded Thrace to Greece, constitutes a new violence against the consciousness of this population... Having pointed out these facts, the Union of Bulgarian Scientists, Writers and Artists on behalf of the whole Bulgarian intelligentsia rebels against the great injustice committed against the Bulgarian people... "

The San Remo conference of the victors in the First World War decided to give to Greece not only Western but also Eastern Thrace with border near Chataldja. The issue of Western Thrace was raised again in August the same year in Sevres when the borders between Turkey and Greece were to be set. Article 1 of the Sevres Treaty, signed on August 10, 1920, between the chief allied forces and Greece concerning Eastern and Western Thrace, read: "The chief allied forces hereby declare they assign to Greece all the rights and titles they have under art. 48 of the peace treaty with Bulgaria, signed in Neuilly on November 27, 1919, over the territory of Thrace, which belonged to the Bulgarian monarchy and which are specified in the said article..."
Article 45 of this treaty annulled the promises given to Bulgaria for guarantees of free economic access to the Aegean Sea, granted it under Article 48 of the Treaty of Neuilly. Thus the Sevres Treaty, at the signing of which no Bulgarian delegate was present, crushed the little hope left in Neuilly for free Bulgarian access to the Aegean. As Turkey did not ratify the Sevres Treaty, the issue of Western Thrace remained open, although Greece had practically taken possession of it on May 29, 1920. The Conference in Lausanne from November 22, 1922 to January 31, 1923, rejected the motion to review the issue of Western Thrace, considering it given to Greece, but did try to secure for Bulgaria economic access to the Aegean. A subcommittee, headed by General Veygand, was assigned the task of drawing the terms for a demilitarized zone and the construction of a Bulgarian port in Alexandroupolis. The Bulgarian delegation found unacceptable the two proposals of the subcommittee for ports at Alexandroupolis and Makri and rejected them. Before leaving Lausanne it handed a note to all delegations warning of the disappointment the Bulgarian people would feel upon learning of the conference resolution, which took away even the little hope of access to the Aegean given by the preceding treaties. The Bulgarian delegation was not even invited to attend the second Conference in Lausanne from April 23 to June 24, 1923, and the Bulgarian claims were not efficiently brought up for discussion. Bulgaria was invited only at the end of the conference to sign the documents. With the ceding of Karaagach to Turkey, the victorious powers definitely bring to naught the promised Bulgarian access to the Aegean via the railroad Svilengrad-Alexandroupolis.

The deprivation of free access to the Aegean was only one side of the coin in the successive injustice to the Bulgarian people manifested at the conferences in Lausanne. These resolutions brought about a new wave of Bulgarian refugees to Bulgaria. The Bulgarian population again fled Western Thrace at the inception of its Greek occupation. Here is what Thrace researcher Anastas Razboynikov wrote in his book The Debulgarization of Western Thrace 1919-24:

"At first they [the Greek authorities] started threatening and forcing the Bulgarian population to sign statements of their Greek nationality. But since 1920 they applied to the Bulgarians: thrashing, imprisonment, exiling and economic ruin of whole villages. The ruin brought along misery, the misery brought diseases and death. The exiles started in January 1921, at first with the village and town notables, until they grew into mass plundering and exiling of whole villages, old people, women, children and all. This continued in 1922 and intensified in 1923 and 1924."
Only in the period between the two Lausanne conferences from November 1922 and July 1923 about 20,000 new refugees from Western Thrace arrived to Bulgaria.

After the defeat of the Greeks in Asia Minor in their war with Turkey in 1922, the situation of the Thracian Bulgarians worsened. Western Thrace and Southeastern Macedonia were the only places where the Greek authorities could settle the thousands Greek refugees from Asia Minor. Under these circumstances, the Greek government gave up its plan of hellenization of the Bulgarian population there and proceeded to driving it away by exile and repressions. "Within a short time after this pogrom Western Thrace was crowded with hundreds of thousand Greek refugees from all parts of Turkey," Georgi pop Ayanov wrote in his book Ethnic Face of Western Thrace. To make room for their settlement in these lands, the Bulgarians had to be banished from their native places as soon as possible. Therefore, the terror against them was enhanced both on the part of the authorities and the new Greek settlers, who occupied the Bulgarian villages, appropriated the Bulgarians' property and drove them away from their own homes. The military power did not stay aside from this terror.

In the March 13, 1922 issue of Mir newspaper, Dr. Nikola Kalushev published an instruction by the Athenian government to the chief of the occupation corps in Thrace, General Zambrakakis, which read as follows:

"Act systematically, exercising moral, and even physical terror against anyone who calls himself Bulgarian and everything called Bulgarian. Exterminate all Bulgarian culture that reminds of Bulgaria and could help keep awake the Bulgarians' consciousness in your district!"

Under the pressure of the advancing Turkish forces, a hundred-thousand-strong Greek army was concentrated in Western Thrace which ruined the local Bulgarian population as it was deliberately billeted in the Bulgarian villages. New displacements and emigration of Bulgarians started, the number of exiles to the Greek islands increased. The Bulgarians were banished mainly to the Aegean islands of Crete (around the cities of Kanea, Retimo and Sudi Port), Milos, Kithira, Mitilin, Hios, etc. At this time 25,000 Bulgarians were sent into exile, which was approximately half of the Bulgarian population left in Western Thrace after the Greek occupation. Most strongly were affected the Bulgarians in the regions of Comoti, Alexandroupolis and Suflou, as the Bulgarian population in the other Aegean regions fled before the Greek occupation.

Many of the island exiles, especially the children and elderly people, perished of hunger and disease. Only from the village of Domus Dere, Larisa region, about 200 people died. Anastas Razboynikov established the names and age of 147 of them in the enquiry he carried out, similarly to that of Miletich in 1913. The largest number of victims in 1922-23 were suffered by the exiles from the massively interned villages: Domus Dere, Choban Koy, Kalaidji Dere, Dervent, etc. "Death stroke Bulgarians even after their return home in Western Thrace, especially in the winter of 1924," Anastas Razboynikov wrote in his above-mentioned book. "They found their villages devastated... The Greek atrocities in Western Thrace resemble the Turkish horrors. It was impossible to stay any longer. Only an escape to Bulgaria would save them..."

As a result of the above described violence in April 1923 entire villages from Western Thrace, such as Ludja Koy and Chermen, emigrated to the territory of Bulgaria.

Despite the authorities' efforts to conceal their actions, the violence against the Bulgarian population in Western Thrace became known to the European public. On March 1, 1923, the Bulgarian delegate to the League of Nations filed a note regarding the exile of Bulgarian population to the Aegean islands and Thessaly. The note was discussed, and the minutes were sent to the chief allied powers with the relevant recommendations, but no results ensued. The exiles and displacement of Bulgarian population continued and this was clearly reflected in the following lines from the enquiry by Colonel Korf and commandant Deruver, delegates to the Mixed Greek-Bulgarian Committee of Enquiry.

"The exiles protracted over many weeks in February and March 1923. The sending from each village was sudden. The unprepared villagers went without luggage, leaving their property and crops. Thus, about 1500 - 2000 families were sent into exile to the islands and Thessaly. To avoid exile, many Bulgarians from the inflicted and neighboring villages sought safety in Bulgaria and crossed the border... In 1923 the surviving exiles returned from the islands and Thessaly. They were in a wretched state. They prayed Bulgaria would open its borders and let them on its territory because when they came home they found their houses empty and were starving..."
According to chroniclers, in the autumn of 1922 and throughout 1923 many trains of refugees left their native places in Thrace and "without a rag to their backs and despondent" they headed for the border of their independent homeland. As the Thrace historian Georgi pop Ayanov noted, internments were not the only way the authorities drove away the Bulgarians from their native paces. They resorted to "arrests, bringing to court, beating to mutilation, robbery and bribes, down to any kind of moral and physical terror". The hardest hit villages were Kushanli, Kutrudja, Chadurli, etc. Similar violence were committed concurrently by the Greek authorities in Macedonia.

What they did not achieve by repression and threats, the Greek authorities did by applying the so-called Convention on Voluntary Emigration of Minorities, signed in Neuilly, at first to the Bulgarians in Macedonia, and later to those in Western Thrace. According to this convention, the two neighboring countries had to facilitate the voluntary emigration of their minorities and special committees were set up for this purpose. The Greek side, however, appointed its committee on March 1, 1924. It deliberately postponed it to complete meanwhile the involuntary banishment of Bulgarians, which relieved the government from any further obligations. This convention was in fact, as its contemporaries aptly noted, only "a refined instrument for banishment of the Bulgarians" in 1924. "In this way," Ayanov wrote at the end of his book about the fate of the Bulgarians in Western Thrace, "between 1920 and 1924 debulgarization of Western Thrace took place for the third time after its barbarous invasion by the Greeks."

The Greek authorities pursued the same policy towards the Bulgarians in Aegean Macedonia. To prevent European intervention, Greece agreed to sign with Bulgaria, with the mediation of the League of Nations, the Geneva Protocol on Minorities on September 29, 1924, concerning the protection and rights of the Bulgarian minority in Greece exercised by foreign representatives on the Mixed Greek-Bulgarian Committee on Emigration. The obligations undertaken by Greece remained only on paper. By resolution of February 3, 1925, the Greek Parliament rejected the application of the protocol in Greece. It is supposed that this decision was taken also under pressure from the Serbs, who did not want official documents to mention Bulgarians in Southern Macedonia. The League of Nations also abdicated its obligations under these protocols.

Thus, the Bulgarian population on Greek territory was left at the mercy of the authorities. The current official Greek policy towards the Bulgarians in Western Thrace and Southeast Macedonia is very well documented in the statement by Jean Sander, representative of the League of Nations and chairman of the Mixed Greek-Bulgarian Committee on Emigration, published in the June 7, 1924 issue of Elefteros Typos newspaper. He said that "all Bulgarians who do not wish to change their nationality must leave Thrace and emigrate to Bulgaria".

Thus, in the mid-1920s Bulgaria turned up with several hundred thousand new refugees from Thrace, Macedonia, Dobrudja and the Westernmost Outlying Parts, which the unrecovered from the war aftermath and burdened with huge reparations cut-down country, torn by internal and political conflicts had to shelter and provide with minimum means of subsistence. No one can estimate the exact number of the thousands of refugees who died in the next few years within the boundaries of Bulgaria of starvation, misery and disease, while trying to obtain a roof over their heads and livelihood.

The stream of refugees from Thrace did not cease in the 1930s, although the Bulgarian population was almost entirely expatriated in the preceding decades. Vecherna Burgaska Poshta newspaper of August 25, 1934, for example, wrote:

"Yesterday onboard Bulgaria new Bulgarian refugees banished from Turkey arrived in Burgas. They, too, have been deprived of all property and money and our legation transported them by the ship for free. The arrivers came down the ship with an empty bag in hand... What is more important is that on all overseas tickets issued by our legation in Ankara the Turkish authorities had stamped: 'The person is extradited from the country, because of suspicion of communist propaganda.'This was done with the sole purpose of justifying the drastic measures to chase away the last Bulgarians in Thrace."

The newspaper editor had added that anybody who could see these meek and inoffensive Bulgarians would be convinced that in Turkey they were hardly able to make their living, let alone engage in political reformation of the country. When some time ago a large group of Bulgarian refugees from Thrace had also arrived at the Burgas port with no stamp on their tickets, the Bulgarian side had taken diplomatic steps.