Ankara, Turkey – The Independent Government of Western Thrace, Garbi Trakya Hükûmet-i Müstakilesi, Προσωρινή Κυβέρνηση Δυτικής Θράκης, was a small, short-lived unrecognized republic established in Western Thrace from August 31 to October 25, 1913.

It encompassed the area surrounded by the rivers Maritsa (Evros) in the east, Mesta (Nestos) in the west, the Rhodope Mountains in the north and the Aegean Sea in the south. Its total territory was c. 8.600 km².

The whole of Western Thrace was captured by Bulgaria during the First Balkan war and awarded to the country by the Treaty of London. During the Second Balkan War the Greek Army captured most of the area between Skecha and the Maritsa river south of Soflu without encountering resistance by the weak Bulgarian army which retreated to the southern slopes of the Rhodope mountains (several kilometers to the north of Skecha and Gyumyurdzhina) while the Ottoman forces occupied the regions of Soflu, Dimotika and Ortakoy.

After the Second Balkan War the treaty of Bucharest was signed which returned the area to Bulgaria and the Greek army withdrew from Western Thrace. Thereupon local Muslims and Greeks petitioned, with the encouragement of the Greek authorities refused to recognize the Bulgarian control of the area and petitioned the Ottoman army to occupy Western Thrace. On their invitation, the region was then occupied by small Ottoman forces, largely irregulars.

While the area had been returned to Bulgaria by the Bucharest treaty, the Bulgarian army wished to conflict with the Ottomans and retreated to a line coinciding with the pre-Balkan war border up to Aydomush and from there along a ridge of the Rhodope mountains running west of Daridere and east of Madan up to the Bulgarian-Greek border.

After the retreat of both the Bulgarian and Greek armies, an autonomous state was declared with Ottoman support, in order to avoid Bulgarian rule after the Treaty of Bucharest, in which the Ottomans had not taken part. Under British pressure, the Bulgaria and the Ottomans signed the Treaty of Constantinople, which satisfied the Turkish claims to recognition of Eastern Thrace and recognized Western Thrace as part of Bulgaria.

The Ottomans withdrew their forces and by 25 October 1913, and the area was returned by Bulgaria. The southern part of the former Provisional government was occupied in 1918 by French forces. This area was finally annexed by Greece in 1920 and has been part of that country ever since, except for the Bulgarian occupation between 1941–1944. The northern part of the former Provisional Government remained part of Bulgaria after 1919.

The capital of Provisional Government of Western Thrace capital was Gümülcine, now Komotini, in Greece.

President: Hoca Salih Efendi.

Army: Standing force of 29,170, largely infantry. Commander of the Armed Forces was Süleyman Askerî Bey.

Steering Committee: Reshid Bey, Raif Effendi, Hafous Salih Effendi, Nicodimos (commissioner of the Diocese of Maroneia, representing the Greeks), Mikirditch Tabakian (Armenian), Yaka Cassavi (Jew), Hafous Galip and Eshref Bey Kushchubasi.

As soon as independence was declared the Provisional Government of Western Thrace determined the borders of the country, put up the new flags on the official buildings, commissioned a national anthem, raised an army, published its own stamps and passports, and prepared the budget of the new country.

A Jewish citizen, Samuel Karaso, was tasked by the government with establishing an official press agency and to publish a newspaper named Müstakil (“Independent”) in Turkish and French. The Ottoman Laws and Regulations were adopted without any change and the cases started to be heard by the Court of Western Thrace.

Currency 40 Paras = 1 Piaster

The flag of independent government of Western Thrace.

The region of Thrace was under the rule of the Byzantine Empire from the time of the division of the Roman Empire into Eastern and Western empires in the early 4th century AD. The Ottoman Empire conquered most of the region in the 14th century and ruled it till the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913. During Ottoman rule, Thrace had a mixed population of Turks, Bulgarians, and Greeks. Minority populations of Pomaks, Jews, Armenians and Roma also lived in the region.

In 1878, Northern Thrace was made into the province of Eastern Rumelia, which was annexed by the recently established Kingdom of Bulgaria in 1885. The terms Eastern Thrace and Western Thrace were used for the territories east and west of the Maritsa (Meriç) River.

During the First Balkan War (1912-1913), the Balkan League (Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Montenegro) fought against the Ottoman Empire and annexed most of its European territory, including Adrianople (Edirne).

After gaining large amounts of territory from Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria, dissatisfied with its portion of the lands in the First Balkan War, and especially with Greek and Serbian gains in Macedonia, launched an attack on its former allies in June 1913. The attacks were driven back, and the Greek and Serbian armies invaded Bulgarian-held territory in return. At the same time, the Ottomans advanced into Eastern Thrace and retook Adrianople, while Romania used the opportunity to invade Bulgaria from the north and advance against little opposition to within a short distance of the Bulgarian capital, Sofia. Isolated and surrounded by a more powerful coalition of opponents, Bulgaria was forced to agree to a truce and to peace negotiations to be held in the Romanian capital, Bucharest. The treaty of Bucharest did not give the Bulgarians what they wished, territories in Macedonia, they were however awarded Western Thrace.

On 31 Aug. and 1 Sep. 1913, the Turks in the region, under the leadership of Kuscubasi Esref, rose up against in Gumulcine and Iskece. The “revolutionaries” declared the formation of the Provisional Government of Western Thrace. During this time, Greek forces continued to occupy its major cities, Porto Lagos, Komotini and Alexandroupolis. The revolution declared their independence on 25 Sept, 1913 renamed the movement to be the Independent Government of Western Thrace.

While Bulgaria agreed with the Balkan nations they still needed to come to a separate agreement with the Ottoman Empire to firm the borders to the south. The Treaty of Constantinople (29 Sept. 1913), removed the last obstacles and the Bulgarian Army entered the region on 25-30 October, thus ending the Autonomous Government. The region remained as a part of Bulgaria until the end of World War 1 when it was taken under French protection, and ultimately awarded to and annexed by Greece in 1920.

The stamp of independent Government of Western Thrace

During this short timeframe, the government issued 4 different sets of postage stamps. One set consisted of a set referred to as the “Muhtariyet” issues, meaning ”autonomous” in English. The stamps were simple, printed in Turkish, with the date “1913” and the denomination also printed in Roman characters. The first two stamps were issued with the inscription “Provisional Government”, but the rest were changed to “Autonomous Government”. The stamps were printed with a control mark: a red circle (in Gumuldjina) or an oval (in Dedeagach).

Additionally, stamps of the Ottoman Empire were surcharged 1p on various different denominations, and stamps of Bulgaria and Greece were handstamped with a surcharge of various denominations. The surcharge for these issues were made with a handstamp which required two parts. According to Scott, one or both of the parts can be found inverted, double or omitted.