The Incident at Petrich, or the War of the Stray Dog, was a Greek–Bulgarian crisis in 1925, in which there was a short invasion of Bulgaria by Greece near the border town of Petrich, after the killing of a Greek captain and a sentry by Bulgarian soldiers. The incident ended after a decision of the League of Nations.
The relations between Greece and Bulgaria had been strained since the start of the 20th century, with their mutual rivalry over possession of Macedonia and later Western Thrace. This had led to years of guerrilla warfare between rival armed groups in 1904–08 (cf. Macedonian Struggle), and a few years later in the open conflict between the two states in the Second Balkan War (1913) and again in the First World War (Macedonian Front, 1916–18). The outcome of these conflicts was that half of the wider region of Macedonia came under Greek control after the Balkan Wars, followed by Western Thrace after the First World War, through the Treaty of Neuilly.
Nevertheless, the two regions remained a target of Bulgarian irredentism throughout the interwar period, with two organizations, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO) and the Internal Thracian Revolutionary Organisation (ITRO), based in Bulgarian territory and launching raids and terrorist attacks into Greek and Yugoslav territory. Petrich was the administrative center of the Bulgarian-held Pirin Macedonia, where in the early interwar years the IMRO practically ran a state within a state: in 1923, when the Bulgarian prime minister Aleksandar Stamboliyski's policies of reconciliation with Yugoslavia threatened its existence, IMRO played a leading role in his assassination.
There are two versions of how the incident started.
1) In the first version, the incident began on October 18, when a Greek soldier ran after his dog, which had strayed across the border from Greece at the pass Demirkapia on Belasitsa (Belles); thus, it is sometimes referred to as the War of the Stray Dog. The border was guarded by Bulgarian sentries, and one of them shot the Greek soldier.
2) In the second version, the Greco-Bulgarian frontier incident was caused when, on October 18, Bulgarian soldiers crossed the Greek border, attacked a Greek outpost at Belasitsa and killed a Greek captain and a sentry.
Bulgaria explained that the firing was due to a misunderstanding and expressed its regret. In addition, the Bulgarian Government proposed the formation of a mixed commission of Greek and Bulgarian officers to investigate the incident, but the Greek Government declined it as long as Bulgarian troops remained in Greek territory.
Also, the Greek dictatorial government under General Theodoros Pangalos issued an ultimatum to Bulgaria giving a time limit of 48 hours.
Greece in its ultimatum demanded:
- The punishment of those responsible.
- An official apology.
- Two million French francs, as compensation for the families of the victims.
In addition, on October 22, Greece sent soldiers into Bulgaria to occupy the town of Petrich with the objective of enforcing the Greek demands.
Fighting between Greek and Bulgarian forces started and Bulgaria appealed to the League of Nations to intervene in the dispute. Some chetas of Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO), together with the sentries, organised defence lines against the Greeks near Petrich. Volunteers and war veterans from the whole region were summoned to join the resistance. On the other side Greece made it clear that it was not interested in Bulgarian territory, but demanded compensation.
According to the newspapers of that time the town of Petrich was captured, but according to some other sources, the League of Nations sent a telegraph to both countries ordering them to stop their armies just few hours before Greeks launched their attack to Petrich.
The League ordered:
- Greek troops should withdraw from Bulgaria
- Greece should pay £45,000 to Bulgaria.
Both countries accepted the decision, although Greece complained about the disparity between its treatment and that of Italy in the Corfu incident at 1923, since the decision showed that there were two different rules in the League, one for the Great Powers, like Italy, and another for the smaller, like Greece.
The League Council sent military attaches from France, Italy and the United Kingdom to report to it when the hostilities have ceased and to observe the withdrawal of the Greek troops. The attaches also decided that the Bulgarians should not re-occupy the territory until a certain time had elapsed in order to prevent the incidents which would occur if the Bulgarian troops began their advance too soon.
The compensation that Greece had to pay for material and morale damage was £45,000 and should pay them in two months. Over 50 people were killed before Greece complied, mostly Bulgarian civilians.