Balkan Wars

Two wars fought in the Balkans in 1912 and 1913. In the first, which began on October 17, 1912, Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, and Serbia, hoping to take advantage of Turkish weakness following the victory of Italy in Tripolitania in 1911 — 1912, fought the Ottoman Empire and surprisingly drove the Turks back almost to Constantinople. However, the allies immediately were at odds over the distribution of the unexpected gains. A second war, which began on June 29, 1913, pitted Bulgaria against its old allies, Turkey and Romania, and in the end they took advantage of Bulgaria’s vulnerability. In both wars ethnic hostility led to atrocities against civilians. This was particularly true in the contested area of Macedonia.

In 1913, the Carnegie Foundation commissioned an inquiry into the causes, character, and results of the Balkan Wars. The commission reported that the wars were rooted in passion, race antagonism, and desire for national aggrandizement. Ethnic violence was not new to the Balkans. Present atrocities as well as memories of past atrocities evoked reprisals. During the wars of 1911 and 1912, competing national ambitions fueled by antipathy for and fear of rival nationalities led to acts of unrestrained brutality, the victims of which were women and children as well as men.

Emily Greene Balch.

Emily Greene Balch.

Incidents of Ethnic Violence during the Balkan Wars Reported by the Carnegie Commission

"In the final result [of the Macedonian uprising against the Turks in 1903], 200 villages ruined by Turkish vengeance, 12,000 houses burned, 3,000 women outraged, 4,700 inhabitants slain and 71,000 without a roof. . . . The burning of villages and the exodus of the defeated population is a normal and traditional incident of all Balkan wars and insurrections. It is the habit of all these peoples. What they have suffered themselves, they inflict in turn upon others. . . . Donchev, a notoriously cruel [Macedonian] guerilla chief['s] . . . band massacred [Turkish] women and children. . . . While marching through Gumurjina, the [Macedonian] legion saw the dead bodies of about fifty murdered Bulgarian peasants. The dead body of a woman was hanging from a tree, and another with a young baby lay dead on the ground with their eyes gouged out [by the Turks]. . . . [R]aces whose minds have been molded for centuries by the law of reprisal and the practice of vengeance, tend to a common level of degradation. . . . Women and children to a number of over a hundred were massacred in a single house, and the slaughter was carried out with every conceivable circumstance of barbarity. . . . Deny that your enemies are men [human], and presently you will treat them as vermin. . . . [A]ll the Balkan races have grown up amid Turkish models of warfare. Folk-songs, history and oral tradition in the Balkans uniformly speak of war as a process which includes rape and pillage, devastation and massacre. . . . In the villages of Pichman, Ouroun-Begle and Mavro, the Greeks . . . outraged more than 400 women. … A woman of Haskovo described how her little child was thrown up in the air by a Turkish soldier who caught it on the point of his bayonette . . . three young women threw themselves into a well after their fiances were shot . . . the Turkish soldiers went down into the well and dragged the girls out. Two of them were dead; the third had a broken leg; despite her agony she was outraged by two Turks. . . . [T]he Greeks and Turks spared none from little girls of twelve up to an old woman of ninety. . . . On September 20 . . . in all of these villages the Servians committed acts of horrible massacre and outrage on women, children, and old people. … In Has-Keu’i … all the [Bulgarian] women were collected in a spacious barn and the [Turkish] soldiers banqueted for twenty-four hours, outraging all the women from eight to seventy-five. … At Kolibia a young girl, pursued by a soldier, fell from a window . . . while her body was still breathing the soldier assaulted her. . . . The Turks are fleeing before the Christians, the Bulgarians before the Greeks and the Turks, the Greeks and the Turks before the Bulgarians, the Albanians before the Servians and the Bulgarians. . . . Widespread and almost universal maltreatment of women and girls by the soldiers of the . . . nations has left behind moral consequences which cannot be estimated."

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