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The Greek Struggle for Macedonia 1904-1908 (in Greek language: "Μακεδονικός Αγώνας", "Macedonian Struggle") is how the Greeks describe their military conflicts against Bulgaria and Turkey in the area of Macedonia during the first decade of the 20th century

Refugees from Macedonia


The defeat of Greece in the Greco-Turkish War of 1897 was a painful blow that appalled Greeks. The nationalist organisation "Ethniki Etairia," considered to be responsible for the outbreak of the war, dissolved under the pressure of Prime Minister Theotokis. But the young officers that had established the organisation did not lose contact. They conferred with each other over the situation in Macedonia where the Bulgarians had made intense and systematic interventions, with the support of the Bulgarian Exarchate, especially for the foundation of schools.

Since 1899, Bulgarian guerrillas in Macedonia (the Internal Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Organization, commonly known by the abbreviation VMRO) turned against Turkish authorities with the slogan "autonomy for Macedonia". The guerrillas agitated under the auspices of officers of the Bulgarian army, and purported to be protectors of all Christians in the area. For this reason they initially they did not bother Greece. But gradually, their real intentions became clear after the assassinations of members of pro-Greek and pro-Serbian parties.

The situation became heated in Macedonia and started to affect Greek, Serbian and European public opinion. In April 1903, a group of anarchists with some assistance from the VMRO blew up the French ship "Guadalquivir" and the Ottoman Bank in the harbour of Thessaloniki. In August 1903, the Bulgarian VMRO managed to organise an uprising (the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising) in Macedonia and the Adrianople Vilayet. The insurrection proved to be unsuccessful and was eventually suppressed by the Ottomans with the subsequent destruction of many villages and the devastation of large areas in Western Macedonia and around Kirk-Klisse near Adrianople.

In Athens, nationalist organisations organised demonstrations against Bulgaria, but the official Greek State, numbed from the defeat of 1897 hesitated over what to do.

Early Stage

From 1900 onwards, the danger of Bulgarian control had upset the Greeks of Southwest Macedonia. The Bishop of Kastoria, Germanos Karavangelis and the ambassador of Greece in Monastiri (now Bitola), Ion Dragoumis, realised that it was time to act in a more efficient way and started organising Greek opposition.

As Ion Dragoumis wrote in his calendar ‘‘I am thinking how these communities of Greece outside of the Greek Kingdom can affiliate in our state. Why wait their liberation only from Greece? Let them work as Greece didn’t exist and then she will help them.’’

While Dragoumis concerned himself with the financial organisation of the efforts, Bishop Germanos animated the Greek population and formed committees promoting the Greek idea taking advantage of the internal disputes in VMRO. He also organized the first Greek guerrilla troops, composed of locals. They labelled themselves "the Macedonomachoi" (the Fighters for Macedonia) and were immortalized by the popular greek writer Penelope Delta in her bestselling novel "Ta Mystika tou Valtou" (The Secrets of the Swamp).

Greek chieftains (center) and Turkish officers (left) in Macedonia

Official Greek Involvement

The official Greek State became anxious not only because of the Bulgarian penetration in Macedonia, but also due to the Serbian interest, which was concentrated mainly in Skopje and Bitola area. The rioting in Macedonia, the atrocities of Bulgarian guerrilla troops against locals who considered themselves as Greeks and especially the death of Pavlos Melas in 1904 (he was the first Greek officer to enter Macedonia with guerrillas) caused intense nationalistic feelings in Greece. This led to the decision to send more guerrilla troops in order to thwart Bulgarian efforts to entice all of the Slavic speaking majority population of Macedonia with their propaganda (not only the exarchists but also the patriarchists,).

The Greek Embassy in Thessaloniki became the centre of the struggle, coordinating the guerrilla troops, distributing of military material and nursing wounded. Fierce conflicts between the Greeks and Bulgarians started in the area of Kastoria (Kostur), in the Giannitsa Lake and elsewhere; both parties committed cruel crimes at points. The greatest bloodshed was the massacre in the village Zagorichani (predomintantly populated by Bulgarians) in Kastoria district in 1905 when 79 Bulgarian inhabitants were executed.

The guerilla groups were also hunted by the Turkish Army. These conflicts ended after the revolution of "Young Turks" in July, 1908, as they promised to respect all ethnicities and religions and generally to provide a constitution.

Greek Military Unit during conflicts in Giannitsa Lake


The success of Greek efforts in Macedonia was an experience that gave confidence to the country. It helped develop an intention to annex areas with Greek population and in general establish Greek presence in Macedonia. After the Balkan Wars the part of Macedonia ceded to Greece was, more or less, the area that they controlled during the conflicts with the Bulgarians from 1904 to 1908.

See also

History of Modern Greece


Ancient Greece

Medieval Greece / Byzantine Empire

Modern Greece

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