THE BALKAN MOUNTAIN REGION 522. An isolated region.—The region of the Balkan Peninsula is very different indeed from the Central European Uplands. Travel is very difficult there. So many rivers have cut deep valleys in the Central European Uplands that boats can go to the interior by several routes. (Sec. 514.) In the Balkan Peninsula there is only one navi gable river.
This mountain region is the most shut-in and isolated part of Europe.
The mountains of the Balkan Peninsula are not a range or a plateau. They are for the most part a jumble of mountains which often shut people in from all the world and separate the different groups of peoples each from the other. The life of the peoples who live here is more backward or primitive than it would be if the same people could live somewhere else where means of com munication are easier.
Many of the Balkan Mountains are made of limestone rock with the usual caves and under ground passages into which surface waters disappear, to come out miles away as large springs. (Sec. 21.) Thus, some sections have no surface streams at all, and it is hard for the people to get drinking water. In a few places one finds a valley having a flowing stream. But suddenly the stream disappears and the traveler is surprised to find that it flows underneath a mountain, and because there is no valley the traveler must climb over the mountaintop to reach the other side.
The high mountain wall of the Dinaric Alps shuts both travelers and streams away from the Adriatic shore. (Sec. 548.) Where do most of the streams that drain the region near the Adriatic finally go? The best way to understand the Balkan countries is to think of them as being a large region somewhat like a rough and moun tainous pla,teau. (Sec. 3.) It is very diffi cult to make either highways or railroads through such a mass of mountains and shut-in valleys; and for this reason many people in the Balkans live in places to which they can travel or carry freight only on the backs of animals.
523. A backward region.
—Such an isolated country is a hard place in which to make a good living, and the people have been further handicapped by wars and unjust rulers. The Albani ans seem to have been the original race. No one knows when they came, but their land is so rough and difficult for the traveler that it has never been thoroughly con quered. The Greeks took
the lEgean shores four thousand years ago. Later came the South Slays, who took the territory to the north of Albania; then came the Bulgars, who took the land to the east; and finally, in 1453, the Turks came across from Asia Minor, captured Constantinople, and took possession of most of the Balkan region; but even they never succeeded in ruling some of the Albanians or the people of the Black Mountains (Montenegro) just north of Albania.
524. The Turkish Empire.—For more than five hundred years the peoples of the Balkans suffered from the unjust and cruel oppres sion of the Turks. In the height of their power the Turks had a large empire, reaching from the Persian Gulf to the Danube. It also included most of North Africa.
Then one by one the peoples gained their independence. The Greeks living in Athens and the parts of Greece to the south of Athens became free early in the 19th Cen tury. By a gradual process, ending in 1878, Bulgaria, Rumania, and Serbia, which is now a part of Jugoslavia, became almost or quite self-governing, but Turkey still had a strip of territory extending from the Black Sea to the Adriatic. Turkish rule lasted so long because of the jealousies of England, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia. The govern ments of these five big countries let the sultan rule in the Balkans and live in Con stantinople, because all feared that his removal would upset the balance of power by letting some strong nation get this key point to southern Europe and Asia.
In 1912-13 all the Balkan countries joined in a war against Turkey, and together they took more territory away from the sultan. After the World War, these countries were again enlarged in the attempt to let each people rule itself. Even this change has not ended the troubles of these peoples, because in many localities people of different races are so mixed up that it seems impossible for any Balkan country to become one people. Perhaps in one village the people are Greeks, in the next Turks, in the next Bulgars or Serbs or Albanians. In the southern part of the Morava-Vardar passage way, or corridor (Sec. 525), ease of travel has made the people a mixture of races.