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I refer to the special and exceptional position held by the Greeks in the Turkish dominions. Though the Moslems had possessed themselves of the Greek Empire from the Bosphorus to the Danube, Greek domination still survived as an intellectual, ecclesiastical, and commercial force. The nature and effects of that supremacy, and its results upon the fortunes of other Balkan nations, we must now proceed to consider.
The Turkish government classifies its subjects not on the basis of nationality but on the basis of religion. A homogeneous religious group is designated a millet or nation. Thus the Moslems form the millet of Islam. And at the present time there are among others a Greek millet, a Catholic millet, and a Jewish millet. But from the first days of the Ottoman conquest until very recent times all the Christian population, irrespective of denominational differences, was assigned by the Sultans to the Greek millet, of which the patriarch of Constantinople was the head. The members of this millet were all called Greeks; the bishops and higher clergy were exclusively Greek; and the language of their churches and schools was Greek, which was also the language of literature, commerce, and polite society. But the jurisdiction of the patriarch was not restricted even to ecclesiastical and educational matters. It extended to a considerable part of civil law--notably to questions of marriage, divorce, and inheritance when they concerned Christians only.
It is obvious that the possession by the Greek patriarch of Constantinople of this enormous power over the Christian subjects of the Turks enabled him to carry on a propaganda of hellenization. The disappearance for three centuries of the national consciousness in Servia and Bulgaria was not the sole work of the Moslem invader; a more fatal blight to the national languages and culture were the Greek bishops and clergy who conducted their churches and schools. And if Kinglake knew nothing of Bulgaria as late as 1834 it was because every educated person in that country called himself a Greek. For it cannot be too strongly emphasized that until comparatively recent times all Christians of whatever nation or sect were officially recognized by the Turks as members of the Greek millet and were therefore designated Greeks.
The hostility of the Slavonic peoples in the Balkans, and especially of the Bulgarians, to the Greeks, grows out of the ecclesiastical and educational domination which the Greek clergy and bishops so long and so relentlessly exercised over them. Of course the Turkish Sultans are responsible for the arrangement. But there is no evidence that they had any other intention than to rid themselves of a disagreeable task. For the rest they regarded Greeks and Slavs with equal contempt. But the Greeks quickly recognized the racial advantage of their ecclesiastical hegemony. And it was not in human nature to give it up without a struggle. The patriarchate retained its exclusive jurisdiction over all orthodox populations till 1870, when the Sultan issued a firman establishing the Bulgarian exarchate.
There were two other spheres in which Greek influence was paramount in the Turkish Empire. The Turk is a soldier and farmer; the Greek is pre-eminent as a trader, and his ability secured him a disproportionate share of the trade of the empire. Again, the Greeks of Constantinople and other large cities gradually won the confidence of the Turks and attained political importance. During the eighteenth century the highest officials in the empire were invariably Phanariots, as the Constantinople Greeks were termed from the quarter of the city in which they resided.
In speaking of the Greeks I have not had in mind the inhabitants of the present kingdom of Greece. Their subjection by the Turks was as complete as that of the Serbs and Bulgaria though of course they were exempt from ecclesiastical domination at the hands of an alien clergy speaking a foreign language. The enmity of the Bulgarians may to-day be visited upon the subjects of King Constantine, but it was not their ancestors who imposed upon Bulgaria foreign schools and churches but the Greeks of Constantinople and Thrace, over whom the government of Athens has never had jurisdiction.
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