At the end of the 14th century, after a famous battle near the River Marica, Macedonia came under Ottoman Turkish rule. The history of Macedonia in the period between the 15th and 16th centuries was charcterized by the establishment of the Timar-Spahi system and other forms of Ottoman feudal exploitation. Agriculture at this period was the basic source of livelihood.
Alongside this economic exploitation, the Macedonian people were religiously and ethnically discriminated against, which may be seen from the concept of raya, which was a synonym for having no rights. For a long period Macedonia was subject to a dual domination: economically and politically to the Sultan's rule, and religiously to the rule of the Constantinople Patriarchate, at the head of which were Greeks.
The struggle against feudal exploitation and Turkish rule in Macedonia took the form of repeated rebellions and insurrections, which later developed into organized ajduk strife (ajduks were outlaws opposed to Turkish rule). In 1564-1565 the Mariovo- Prilep Rebellion took place, and in the 17th century ajduk companies attacked Osmanli feudal property. In 1689, part of the Macedonian population organized an uprising known according the name of its leader as the Karpos Uprising.
The economic and political situation in Macedonia further deteriorated. The weakening of the power of the central Ottoman authorities led to the rise of the power of the big landowners and cruel feudal anarchy. The Empire's decline at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century was accompanied by the first emergence of capitalism in Macedonia and the intensifying of national liberation activities. Macedonians took an active part in the insurrections of the neighbouring peoples. The attempts of the Ottoman Empire at reforms in the social, economic, and political system in Macedonia, made under the pressure of the contemporary European Great Powers, did not lead to any improvement in the difficult situation.
Following its defeat in the 1877/78 war with Russia and the Treaty of San Stefano, the Ottoman Empire's Balkan territories were considerably reduced. Serbia, Montenegro, and Romania were proclaimed independent, and Macedonia was annexed to the newly- established Bulgarian state. The revision enacted by the Congress of Berlin held in July 1878, according to which Macedonia remained under the authority of the Ottoman Empire, was just as great an injustice towards the Macedonian people as the clause referring to Macedonia in the Treaty of San Stefano. By ignoring the real interests and struggle of the Macedonian people for liberation and a state of their own, European diplomacy encouraged the nationalist and expansionist myths of the neighbouring Balkan states, and turned the Macedonian Question into an important European political question.
Dimitrija Chupovski's "Macedonia and the Macedonians"
Written in 1913
During the whole period of the Turkish rule, the Macedonians did not cease to wage an aware and persistent struggle, first for their independence, and after they were finally subjugated by the Turks, for their liberation from the Turkish yoke. They organized a large number of insurrections and often defeated the Turks, but, of course, at the end of it all, the insurrections were always suppressed in streams of Macedonian blood. They also took part in the liberation struggles of their neighbours - the Serbs, Greeks and Bulgarians - whose freedom was attained with the endeavours and help of the Macedonians, as well. Thus, at the time of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877/78, two thirds of the volunteers from the Balkan Slavs were Macedonians. The names of Georgi Pulevski, Stojan Vezenkovski, Popot Bufski and a whole pleiad of others who took part in the struggle of the cross against the crescent, meant a lot and still means a lot to the hearts of the South Slavs. And although Macedonia, after the unhappy Congress of Berlin had to remain under the rule of the Turks, it was only because it was closer than any other Slavs to the administrative centres of the Ottoman Empire, like Constantinople Adrianople and Salonika: Macedonia could be freed only alongside the final ruin of Turkey in Europe.
The Congress of Berlin which offered the Macedonian people as a sacrifice to the revenge of the shattered Turks, who knew what role the Macedonian detachments had played in the war that had been a Turkish defeat, caused an explosion of despair and discontent throughout Macedonia. The whole people, like one man, rose up and started and unequal struggle against the Turks for their liberation. This uprising lasted for more than a year and ended, of course, with the triumph of the embittered Turks, who finally devastated that unfortunate country. Many villages, and even towns, were burnt down, many people were butchered, and some of the Macedonian intellectuals were killed while others found salvation in fleeing to the free states.
Regardless of this bloody suppression of the uprising, the idea of liberation did not leave the Macedonians. All these 35 years which have passed from the Congress of Berlin up to the present war are one bloody page of continuous gigantic struggle of the Macedonian people for their liberation. The hundreds of thousands of victims they have offered at the altar of their fatherland have redeemed the right of Macedonia to freedom.
In just five years - from 1898 to 1903 there were more than 400 confrontations between the Macedonians and Turks.
The persistent rebellious struggle against the Turks was guided by the so-called Internal Organization, which over ten years (up to the well-known uprising of 1903) achieved a marvellous feat: it turned the elements which had until then been disorganized and inspired only by the spirit of protest and rebellion, into a powerful and disciplined army, which was able to offer resistance to the tyrants. The most prominent activists of that organization were Gotse Delchev and Dame Gruev.
Apart from the Internal Organization, there were two other revolutionary committees in Bulgaria, the most serious role being played by the Supreme Macedonian-Adrianople Committee. This committee was founded by the Bulgarian government with a special aim - to take over the leadership from the Internal Organization, which had set itself as its aim the principle, "Macedonia to the Macedonians", which, of course, was not very pleasant for the Bulgarians, who aspired to Macedonia.
Those who are acquainted with the history of the revolutionary movement in Macedonia know about the many excesses of the Committee, which were contrary to the tasks of the Internal Organization and thus wakened the power of the popular movement.
Following the Macedonian uprising of 1895 (led by Trajko Kitanchev) and the (Armenian) slaughter in Asia Minor, the European states succeeded only in forcing the Sultan in 1896 to proclaim his famous "Irade" for reforms in the whole of European Turkey. But this irade did not help the Christian population of Macedonia in the least.
The Internal Organization, however, vigorously prepared itself for a new uprising under the slogan "Macedonia to the Macedonians", and the people, exhausted by the Turkish atrocities, were glad to join the revolutionary movement. Of course, this did not suit the will of the Balkan states, which dreamt of grabbing Macedonia themselves. They only awaited a suitable moment to declare war on Turkey, and such an event was a result of the difficult position of the Osmanli state, caused by the Macedonian and Albanian uprisings, internal turnovers, and primarily, by the Italo-Turkish War. Even before the end of that war, the Balkan states united in an alliance and came out against Turkey under the slogan of liberation of the Christians from the Turkish yoke.
In view of the menace of events the Macedonian emigrants to Bulgaria, organized in 27 brotherhoods, formed an executive committee from the delegates of all the brotherhoods, under the presidency of Lieutenant Colonel Aleksandar Protogerov and Polihron Naichev. This executive committee established from the Macedonian emigrants and Russian volunteer detachments, one of which, known under the name of "Krdzhaliska", captured Yaver Pasha with an army of 12,000. There were 27 such volunteer detachments, according to the number of the largest towns in Macedonia, and all those units were sent into Macedonia, some of them acting independently, and some along with the Bulgarian, Serbian and Greek regular armies. Apart from the aforementioned units, the activists of the Internal Organization, such as Todor Lazarev, Todor Aleksandrov, Petar Kuchev, Dr. Hristo Tatarchev, Hristo Matov, Sandanski and others, also organized local terrorist bands. Both these and the other partisan units acted ahead of the advancing allied front blowing bridges, demolishing roads, destroying Turkish units, giving information about the disposition of the enemy, etc. They also collected food both for the people and the horses in the regular armies.
Especially organized was the activity of detachments of voyvoda Sandanski in the regions of Mount Pirin, Melnik, Nevrokop and Drama. Even before the start of the war, the voyvoda took the Christian inhabitants from these regions to the mountains, where after they had built a series of inaccessible fortifications, he trained them in manipulating with arms. He had more than 2,000 men.
The activity of these detachments extended not only on the Macedonian military scene but on the Thracian one as well, where they suffered severe losses during the capture of Bulair and Shar-Koj. The Macedonian units captured many Turkish garrisons and many towns even before the arrival of the allied forces.
In this way, the Macedonians, as regards Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro, appeared as allies in the present Balkan war. In general, more than 100,000 Macedonians participated in this war, not considering the help of the whole population offered to the allies for the liberation. Justice required, after all, when the Macedonians fought against the Turks for their freedom under the slogan "Macedonia to the Macedonians" and helped the allies in the war, that the interests of Macedonia, too, should be recognized by the Balkan Alliance and all means satisfied in the form of autonomy.
Over almost twenty centuries the Macedonian people have always and in all circumstances striven toward freedom and independence. However difficult their economic situation was, however harmful for that situation their continuous struggle was, they raised at every suitable moment the banner of rebellion and rose against the oppressors, suffering innumerable sacrifices. But these freedom-loving people did not think only of their freedom; all revolutions, all wars for liberation of the Slav neighbours even those of the same faith, such as the Greeks, met with their fiery response. The Macedonians then left their fields, their wives and children, and went to die for the cause of the others, as if for their own. Who of the Bulgarians, Serbs and Greeks will dare deny this fact? The feeling of solidarity for the members of the same stock or the same faith has been preserved in them from times immemorial. The Macedonian national hero, Marko Krale, forced in 1394 to join the Turks as a vassal against the Moldavian prince Mirko, expressed the depth of this brotherly national spirit with the following words: "Lord, may I die in this battle, but let the Christians win". And he died for the Christians, compelled to fight against them.
The Slavs, settling the territory of present-day Macedonia, simultaneously adopted the Christian doctrine from the older inhabitants that remained there, and along with it, the Christian culture as well. The Christian communes were established here by the first followers of Christ and mainly, they were the result of the activity of the Holy Apostles St. Paul, St. Andrew, and one of the seventy apostles of Aristarchus, who was first Bishop Salonika.
For a long time, the cultural Christian centre of Macedonia, and of the balkan Peninsula in general, was Salonika with its archbishopric. But even the Emperor Justinian (527-565) with his decree (law), issued in the name of Archbisop Catelian, separated the Illyrian Archbishopric (which was located in western Macedonia, near present-day Skopje) as an autonomous unit, calling it Prima Justiniana, giving it an authority equal to the authority of the Patriarchate and subordinating the whole of the Balkan Peninsula to it.
With decree 131, issued on 17th March 545 A.D., Justinian confirmed those rights, with the amendment that the Archbishop should be ordained by his own synod, with rights equal to those of the Roman Pope.
The Prima Justiniana was of immense significance for the whole country and was actually an antecedent of the future Archbishopric of Ohrid.
But the whole Christian culture could not attain in its development full significance as an autonomous Chruch until the distinct Slav literacy, and along with it the translations of the holy books, were furnished by the Salonika brothers, SS. Cyril (with his secular name of Konstantin) and Methodius.
The father of Cyril and Methodius, Lev, was a Macedonian Slav in the Byzantine service, occupying the post of assistant to the Salonika military commander. Cyril the Philosopher and his brother acquired the highest education possible for that time in Constantinople, in the Imperial Palace, and attracted the attention of the Slavs even at the time. Born in Salonika, and being Slavs themselves, they invested all their efforts into educating their compatriots.
Soon after the completion of his education, we see Konstantin near the banks of the River Bregalnica, where he found a certain number of pagans still, and owing to his relentless endeavours, he Christianized, according to the data of the chronicler, 4,050 Slavs.
In 843 A.D. Methodius was appointed Prince of the Struma region in Macedonia, where he stayed until 853 A.D.
When in 855 A.D. the Byzantine emperor Michael, on the request of the Moravian prince Rastislav, decided to send Slav priests as educators his choice naturally fell upon the Salonika brothers (at that time the brothers had already cut their hair and become monks).
"You are Salonikans, and all Salonikans speak pure Slavic", said Emperor Michael, sending them to Moravia.
Even before, while they were still in Macedonia, the holy brothers composed an alphabet and with its help translated the Gospels and the religious service books into the Macedonian Slav language.
Just as in Moravia, the brothers sowed Christianity with the help of these church books throughout the other Slav countries as well, and after their death, their work was continued by their disciples Gorazd, Kliment, Angelarius, Sava, Naum and many others.
The most important centre of the Christian national culture of Macedonia became the town of Ohrid with its famous Archbishopric of Ohrid, restored upon the ruins of the Justiniana by the great Macedonian emperor, Samuil, with the same right as the latter.
This archbishopric fought, defending Macedonian Slav culture during the whole period from 995 to 1767, when it fell under the pressure of Hellenism, strengthened at the time of the Turkish reign, and as a result of the intrigues by the Constantinople Patriarch.
The triumphant Hellenism which extinguished the last embers of national church life in the form of the aforementioned archbishopric, invested all its forces in dispossessing and Hellenizing the Macedonian people. Only Greeks were appointed bishops and priests, the schools were turned into Greek, and the Slavic services replaced by Greek ones.
All this gave rise to a powerful resistance by the Macedonian Slavs, which started a long struggle for the restoration of their national Church, a struggle of Slavism against Hellenism, which led to the Bulgarians managing to establish their Exarchate (autonomous Church) in 1872. Many Macedonians joined it, since the Bulgarians were allowed to found churches and schools throughout Macedonia and the Macedonians had to choose the lesser of the two evils - at least a Slav, although alien, Church. The Macedonians have not succeeded in restoring their autonomous Ohrid Church up to the present day.
Thus, the detrimental influence of the Greek Patriarchate was combined with the no less detrimental influence of the Exarchate, which employed all its forces for the Bulgarianization of the Macedonian Slavs. Through this instrument of its own (the Exarchate), the Bulgarian Government put its chauvinist ideas firmly into practice, not shrinking from the use of any means.
The population of the unfortunate country began suffering pressure from two sides. But this was still not enough. The struggle of the Greeks and the Bulgarians for domination over Macedonia provoked the third side to struggle, too - the Serbs - who, noticing that nobody was advocating a case for the Macedonians anyway, procured a right from Turkey to spread their propaganda in the country also, thus creating "Serbian" people where they had never existed. In 1897, not without the support of Russian diplomacy, Serbia obtained the right to have its own Church in Macedonia, and then its own schools as well. From that moment on, the Macedonian people were forced to carry a triple cross upon their backs. What the Greeks could not Hellenize over the course of several centuries, what the Bulgarians could not put in their Exarchist bosom, now the Serbians started to try to grab with their Church and schools. The depredation of the unprotected Macedonian people thus began, and in that depredation the Turkish Government also consciously participated, which acting on the principle of divide and rule, readliy cooperated in the cultural and spiritual partition of this one poeple into three sections, finding in this the guarantees for its peace and power.
The historical facts and the evidence of national culture were distorted with evil intentions, the national customs, traditions and songs were twisted and destroyed with the only aim of proving that all of it was either Serbian, Bulgarian or Greek, excluding among themselves the rights of the others.
All these Bulgarian, Serbian and Greek nationalities were created artificially with the help of whole rivers of gold, which flew from the interested states into the pockets of both Turkish civil servants and certain Macedonians who sold their fatherland for money or worked for no profit as blind instruments of foreign states, under the influence of education or upbringing acquired there.
This abnormal phenomenon, which developed in the body of the living organism - the people, could not fail to cause protests and resistance by the patriots who thought honestly and who saw that such a state of affairs could sooner or later bring abaout the ruin of the whole people. A struggle was started, but not any more for "distributionof shirts", but against the foreign culture, which plundered the national property. Both individuals and whole organizations came out with protests against such a depredatory way of dealing by current allies. Collective complaints were submitted to the Turkish Sultan, as the supreme authority in the country, similar complaints were also submitted to the Russian Tsar, as the prime protector of the whole Slav and Orthodox world, memoranda were sent throughout Europe.
The Turkish authorities, of course, did not pay any attention to those complaints, but on the contrary, looked at the Macedonians as revolutionaries.
All those who declared that Macedonia was a single, indivisible body, which should not be subjected to disintegration, were handed over by the agents of the three aforementioned countries to the Turkish Government as persons who threatened the integrity and inviolability of the Turkish Empire, were put in prison and subjected to torture.
The Russian Emperor Alexander lll and the present sovereign who rules successfully, Emperor Nicholas ll, permanent protectors of the oppressed, have many times drawn attention through their representatives of the governments of Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece to the abnormality of this phenomenon.
But the countries interested in the cultural occupation of Macedonia, aware that in such a way they would also achieve a political occupation, refused to listen to any advice and continued their mission which was destructive for Macedonia, arousing thus great wrath and protests among the Macedonians whom they were tearing apart.
And now, after the subjugation of many centuries and the long influence of alien cultures upon them, regardless of all unfavourable circumstances, regardless of the pressure they endured and are still enduring, the Macedonian people have left the arena of the centuries just as pure and autonomous as they entered it.