The website "Arhivite govoriat", set up by the State Archives Agency, will publish documents, studies by foreign researchers, illustrations and other materials relating to Macedonia, Thrace, Dobruja and the Western Outlands – areas which for centuries have been inhabited by people who regard themselves as Bulgarians.
Bulgarian historical land
The project begins with Macedonia not because of the latter’s romantic image, but because the historic fate of the region is linked to the past and present of eight Balkan republics: Macedonia, Greece, Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria. Most of these countries include within their borders territories of the historical and geographical region of Macedonia. Some (e.g. Turkey and Romania) consider themselves the motherlands of certain religious and ethnic communities in the region without having a common border with it. This Balkan mix of interests has sometimes been accompanied by pressure on the part of one great power or another, which further heightens tension in the region.
An electronic documentary chronicle of Macedonia and its population will be of interest to both specialists and the general public, particularly the descendants of the hundreds of thousands of Macedonian immigrants to Bulgaria, Western Europe, North America and Australia.
Visitors to the site will have the opportunity to acquaint themselves with documentary and other sources on Macedonia – some of them well-known, others more obscure or simply forgotten – testifying to the origins of its population, major church and educational events, the revolutionary struggles of Macedonian Bulgarians led by the Bulgarian Exarchate and IMERO/IMRO, the attempts of the Balkan states to retain and extend their influence in Macedonia, and the various wars, peace treaties and their consequences for the region.
Some of these sources are grouped in four sections tracing the historical development of the Bulgarian people in accordance with the accepted chronological periodisation. To facilitate orientation, materials in the main sections are organised in three major groups: 1. Foreign records; 2. State-administrative documents; 3. Bulgarians on themselves. The remaining sections of the site have their own individual structure according to the specifics of the materials contained within them.
The Slav and Bulgarian settlements of the 6th and 7th centuries are at the bottom end of the chronological division, while at the top the timeframe is open, reaching to the present day.
We hope that the documents, the introductory texts to the different site sections, and the other materials on the site will not only assist researchers and experts on Balkan issues, but will also be of interest to the general public in Bulgaria, the Balkans, and beyond. The site will enable anyone interested in matters Macedonian to access, without ‘visas’, special regulations or need of intermediaries, original historical sources and seek answers to questions on the history of the region and its population. As it is impossible to upload all records available, the archive sources for each document and/or documentary publication are duly noted for further reference by the inquisitive reader. The site also features previously unpublished historical sources which will probably attract the attention of specialists. Readers are provided with biographical data of historical figures and document authors, a chronological table of major events, a bibliography of predominantly documentary publications, etc. Those fond of illustrations will be pleased to find maps from different periods, picture galleries of settlements and persons, photos of notable monuments, and title pages of periodical publications, document collections and books related to the historical and cultural heritage of Bulgarians in Macedonia.
Macedonia, this Balkan region which has undergone so much suffering, has for over thirteen centuries been part of the historical Bulgarian lands, whether within the borders of the Bulgarian medieval kingdom, as part of the Serbian medieval state, under the sceptre of the Byzantine emperor or the rule of the Ottoman Sultan.
Sources show that the settlement of Slav and Bulgarian tribes in the Macedonian area played a vital role in the formation of its national characteristics. Soon after the recognition of the Bulgarian state at the end of the 7th century, Macedonia was developing in pace with the remaining territories of the state. Moreover, in the 9th century the Ohrid Literary School, headed by Cyril and Methodius’s disciples Clement and Naum, contributed to the cultural and educational prosperity of Bulgaria.
St. Kliment Ohridski
The first decades of the 11th century, when the efforts of the Byzantine Empire to restore its former glory on the Balkans finally met with success, marked the beginning of hard times for the Bulgarian kingdom. In the epic battles for its salvation, King Samuel’s men were tragically defeated by the armies of the Byzantine Emperor Basil II (1014). Samuel’s nephew, King Joan Vladislav, also suffered serious military losses when he tried to stabilise the kingdom by moving its capital from Ohrid to Bitola.
The Bitolia inscription by Ioan Vladislav
A notable attestation to the dramatic events of the time is the famous Bitola stone inscription, the work of Joan Vladislav. This relatively small slab of white marble, which was later to have a highly interesting destiny, refers to the last ruler of the First Bulgarian Kingdom as ‘Bulgarian by birth’ and ‘Bulgarian autocrat’ – a laconic and precise medieval Curriculum Vitae testifying to the national origin of king and kingdom!
After years of Byzantine rule, Macedonia became part of the restored Bulgarian state under King Kaloyan (1197-1207) and King Ivan Asen (1218-1241), but in the following decades new reversals took place in the fate of the region. Parts of it were initially incorporated into the state of Thessalonica and Epirus; then, in the mid-14th century, Macedonia was annexed to the Serbian state, only to be conquered by the Ottoman Turks at the end of the century.
A few hundred years later, during the 18th and 19th centuries, the Bulgarian Revival spread to Macedonia as well and, according to many learned authorities, the region became ‘the cradle of the Bulgarian Revival’. In those times, when the Bulgarian nation was formed on the basis of customs and traditions preserved through the centuries, Macedonian Bulgarians took active part in the struggles for the establishment of Bulgarian schools and a Bulgarian church, and for national liberation.
Thus, after the foundation of the Bulgarian Exarchate in 1870 and the referendum conducted among its population, its diocese included several eparchies from the region. The Great Powers also recognised the Bulgarian character of the latter at the conference of their ambassadors held in Tsargrad in 1876. The project for reforms in the Ottoman Empire envisaged that Macedonia become part of an autonomous western Bulgarian area with Sofia as its centre. The Treaty of San Stefano, signed by Russia and the Ottoman Empire on 3 March 1878, also stipulated that the territory of Bulgaria should include the greater part of Macedonia. This treaty, however, was revised in Berlin on 13 July 1878 and Macedonia, despite the ensuing dissent and mutinies, remained under the jurisdiction of the Sultan until 1912. Most Bulgarian and foreign statistics containing official data on the Ottoman state administration categorically state that, at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, Bulgarians accounted for over 50% of Macedonia’s population, which at that time was more than two million.
In 1893, a Bulgarian revolutionary organisation was founded in Thessaloniki known as the Internal Macedonian-Edirne Revolutionary Organisation (IMERO). It set itself the goal of attaining, by revolutionary means, political autonomy for Macedonia and the Edirne region. Nearly all its leaders and members proclaimed themselves Bulgarians, and the organisation’s documents and periodical publications were in Bulgarian. The revolutionary movement reached its peak at the time of the Ilinden Rebellion (1903). After the Young Turks came to power in 1908, IMERO temporarily stopped functioning, and two political parties were formed in Thessaloniki: the Union of Bulgarian Constitutional Clubs and the People’s Federative Party (Bulgarian Section). The restrictive measures introduced by the Young Turks seriously hindered legitimate actions on the part of the non-Turkish ethnic groups.
Proclamation of the Headquarter of Bitolia Revolutionary county for the proclamation of Ilinden-Preobrajenie uprising (1903)
Documents show that, in respect of identity, language and culture, the majority of the Macedonian population defined themselves as Bulgarians in the second decade of the 20th century, too. The region was then the battlefield of three wars, participants in which were all the Balkan countries, as well as certain Western European countries and their allies. The Bulgarian spirit was also present in the two uprisings which broke out in Tikvesh and Ohrid in 1913. The peace treaties concluded in this turbulent decade seem to aim at punishing the chief ‘troublemaker’ on the Balkans – Bulgaria, which was trying, without any success, to achieve its national aspirations. In 1913, due to lack of vision on the part of the government, Bulgaria lost strategic territories of its historical lands, among which the greater part of Macedonia. Under the 1913 treaty of Bucharest, Aegean Macedonia – about 34,000 km2, with Thessaloniki as centre – was ceded to Greece; Vardar Macedonia – about 26,000 km2, with Skopje as centre – was annexed to Serbia; Bulgaria retained the so-called Pirin Macedonia – about 7,000 km2, with Gorna Jumaya (Blagoevgrad) as centre. During the First World War, Vardar Macedonia temporarily became part of Bulgaria. The Paris Peace Conference (1919-1920) restored the inter-state boundaries of Macedonia of 1913, with the exception of the Strumica area, which was incorporated into the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (since 1929, Yugoslavia).
The next two decades brought further ordeals for the population of Macedonia. During this period, Vardar Macedonia was referred to as South Serbia or Vardar Banovina by the Serbian authorities, and it inhabitants were proclaimed Serbs. Bulgarians in Aegean Macedonia, who were called ‘Slavophones’, were also subjected to the processes of assimilation and denationalisation. Following the signing of the Treaty of Neuilly, tens of thousands of new Macedonian refugees arrived in Bulgaria, leaving homes and relatives behind in their native land. After 1912 – and particularly after the First World War, when its territory was divided between the Balkan countries – a great part of the population of the Macedonian region emigrated for economic and above all political reasons.
During those years, the interests of Bulgarians in Macedonia were defended by the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation (successor to IMERO) and by numerous legal Macedonian organisations in Bulgaria and North America. After 19 May 1934, the government in Sofia pronounced IMRO invalid and imposed serious restrictions on the other legal bodies. At the same time, due to the Kremlin’s foreign policy aspirations, the idea of a ‘Macedonian nation’ was launched against the Bulgarians in Macedonia and accepted almost unconditionally by the communist movement in Bulgaria.
During the Second World War, Macedonia again proved highly attractive to the ambitions, and armies, of various countries. Its Vardar and Aegean parts were occupied by the forces of Germany, Italy, Greece, Serbia and Albania troops, and – after April 1941 – by Bulgarian troops as well. In Vardar Macedonia, old formations were revived and new organisational structures were established which, together with the Bulgarian administrative bodies, radically transformed life in the region, drawing its population into the country’s state organism. Statistical data also attest to the considerable amount of provisions supplied by the Bulgarian authorities.
At the same time, different processes were taking place in Aegean Macedonia. Because of the interests of the Allied Forces, Sofia could not effectively defend the interests of the Bulgarians living there, which is why 1943-1944 witnessed a new emigration wave from Aegean Macedonia.
The Bulgarian population of the region continued to decrease in numbers in the years after the end of the Second World War, when the pre-war status quo of Macedonia was restored.
In November 1945, the People’s Republic of Macedonia (with Skopje as its capital) was officially incorporated into the Federative People’s Republic of Yugoslavia. Under the influence of Skopje, Belgrade and Moscow, Sofia accepted the state policy of Macedonism, which postulates a ‘Macedonian’ nation, language, and culture. This post-1944 policy of the two countries resulted in new acts of aggression upon Macedonian Bulgarians who refused to renounce their name and sense of identity.
As a result of the Greek Civil War, new numbers of Bulgarians left Aegean Macedonia, heading for destinations ranging from Central Europe to Asia.
The policies of the Bulgarian state which led to the growing loss of sense of national identity continued up to the 1960s.
At the end of the 20th century, following the state political changes in Eastern Europe, Yugoslavia disintegrated into separate independent countries. On 17 September 1991, the Republic of Macedonia declared its independence in Skopje and began a new life as an autonomous state which was first recognised by the Republic of Bulgaria, and then by other countries. Since the initial exhilaration brought by this important state political act, the Republic of Macedonia has had problems in communicating with all of its neighbouring countries – Greece, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia and Bulgaria. These problems are diverse in character, ranging from national identity of the local population to the history, language, church, minorities, boundaries, and name of the state. Part of these serious questions, as well as the issue of the descendants of Macedonian Bulgarians from Aegean Macedonia, many of whom have not forgotten their origins, relate to events from the recent and more distant past, and the key to their illumination is to be found first and foremost in the archives repositories.
Boundary pyramid on Tumba tomb where are gathered together the borders of Republic of Bulgaria, Republic of Greece and Republic of Macedonia