The Bulgarians claimed this triangle on ethnological grounds. Its inhabitants, they asseverated, were their brethren, as genuinely Bulgarian as the subjects of King Ferdinand.
Of all perplexing subjects in the world few can be more baffling than the distribution of races in Macedonia. The Turks classify the population, not by language or by physical characteristics, but by religion. A Greek is a member of the Orthodox Church who recognizes the patriarch of Constantinople; a Bulgarian, on the other hand, is one of the same religious faith who recognizes the exarch; and since the Servians in Turkey have no independent church but recognize the patriarchate they are often, as opposed to Bulgarians, called Greeks. Race, being thus merged in religion—in something that rests on the human will and not on physical characteristics fixed by nature—can in that part of the world be changed as easily as religion. A Macedonian may be a Greek to-day, a Bulgarian to-morrow, and a Servian next day. We have all heard of the captain in the comic opera who “in spite of all temptations to belong to other nations” remained an Englishman. There would have been nothing comic in this assertion had the redoubtable captain lived in Macedonia. In that land a race is a political party composed of members with common customs and religion who stand for a “national idea” which they strenuously endeavor to force on others.
Macedonia is the land of such racial propaganda. As the Turkish government forbids public meetings for political purposes, the propaganda takes an ecclesiastical and linguistic form. Each “race” seeks to convert the people to its faith by the agency of schools and churches, which teach and use its own language. Up to the middle of the nineteenth century the Greeks, owing to their privileged ecclesiastical position in the Ottoman Empire, had exclusive spiritual and educational jurisdiction over the members of the Orthodox Church in Macedonia. The opposition of the Bulgarians led, as we have already seen, to the establishment in 1870 of the exarchate, that is, of an independent Bulgarian Orthodox Church with the exarch at its head. The Bulgarian propaganda in Macedonia demanded the appointment of bishops to conduct churches and schools under the authority of the exarchate. In 1891 the Porte conceded Bulgarian bishops to Ochrida and Uskub, in 1894 to Veles and Nevrokop, and in 1898 to Monastir, Strumnitza, and Dibra. As has been well said, the church of the exarchate was really occupied in creating Bulgarians: it offered to the Slavonic population of Macedonia services and schools conducted in a language which they understood and showed a genuine interest in their education. By 1900 Macedonia had 785 Bulgarian schools, 39,892 pupils, and 1,250 teachers.