||Macedonia: What Went Wrong in the Last 200 Years
Part IV - The 1903 Ilinden Aftermath
by Risto Stefov
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In the previous article (part III) I covered the rise of IMRO and internal Macedonian events leading up to but not including the 1903 Ilinden Macedonian Uprising.
In this article (part IV) I will start where I left off in part III and cover the 1903 Ilinden aftermath with special focus on the atrocities committed by the Turks and by the so called Greek-Bulgarian "religious wars".
Before I get into the details of the uprising I would like to make a few points very clear. Many village civilians died in the aftermath of the 1903 uprising and they were ALL Macedonian. Brailsford in his book "Macedonia Its Races and their Future" and Dakin in his book "The Greek Struggle in Macedonia 1897-1913" as well as many other authors provide statistics that show Greek and Bulgarian civilian casualties. Let me assure you that beyond some high-ranking Greek and Bulgarian clergy (bishops) and consuls most of whom lived in the larger cities, there were no Greek or Bulgarian civilians living in the Macedonian villages at that time. Everyone who died in the villages was Macedonian. The people that were (forcibly) Hellenized and pledged allegiance to the Greek Orthodox Church were Macedonian. The people that were lured by Bulgarian propaganda and fooled into joining the Bulgarian Orthodox Church were Macedonian. The informants that were killed by the Cheti (Macedonian armed revolutionary bands) were Macedonian. The Greek informants who informed on the Exarchists were Macedonian. The Bulgarian informants who informed on the Patriarchists were Macedonian. The Patriarchate priests who preached in Greek in the Churches were mostly Macedonian. The teachers who taught Greek in the Patriarch sponsored schools were mostly Macedonian. The Exarchate priests who preached Old Church Slavonic in the Churches were Macedonian. The teachers who taught Bulgarian in the Exarchate sponsored schools were Macedonian. Even some of the Patriarchate and Exarchate sponsored hoodlums and brigands were mostly Macedonian.
What makes this sad affair bizarre is that while Macedonians were dying at the hands of the Turk, Albanian, Greek and Bulgarian armed bands the Greeks were falsifying statistics claiming the victims to be Greek and Bulgarian. Since there were no Greek or Bulgarian civilians living in the Macedonian villages then there could be no Greek or Bulgarian victims. Brailsford, Dakin and others obtained their information through "politically correct" official channels. Unfortunately, the official channels were quoting biased and unchallenged Greek sources, which supported the Greek interests and the Greek political point of view. There were no official channels to represent Macedonian interests or the Macedonian point of view.
The Macedonian people were exploited by the Turks and the Europeans and despised for complaining. They were forcibly Hellenized then profaned for not being model Hellenes. They were punished by the Bulgarians for accepting Hellenism then forcibly Bulgarized. Those Bulgarized were then violated and murdered by the Greeks for switching allegiance. Such was the fate of the Macedonians greeted by the 20th century. But this was only the beginning, for a new force, Serbian chauvinism was about to be unleashed.
It was dawn August 2nd, 1903 and the men could see their breath in the cool, still morning mountain air. Darkness was finally giving way to dawn. Not a soul had slept all night. The fervor and business of the night before had died down. There was only silence now as darkness slowly yielded to dawn and each man reconciled his thoughts and comforted his fears. The stillness was interrupted by what seemed like a thunderbolt, when the Cheta chief soberly announced, "It's time". Like Olympic sprinters, the men rose to their feet ignoring the stiffness of the long night's motionless rest. Hearts pounding, they picked up their gear and rifles and began the descent down the mountain towards the chiflicks (estates) below. It was still dark and there was no one in sight. The men crept up on the barracks in silence. The chief motioned with his hand and the men quickly scattered and took their positions. The barracks were now surrounded. When a guard inside the barracks stepped out, the crackle of rifle fire broke the silence of the new day. Black smoke of gunpowder greeted the first rays of the sun and the cries of the wounded disturbed the serenity of the morning stillness. It was August 2nd, 1903, Ilinden, a new dawn for the Macedonian people.
By mid-day the Western Region of Macedonia was on fire as church bells rang, rifles crackled and bellowing smoke enveloped mountains and valleys alike. Five thousand strong had assembled to show their distaste for Turkish rule. They had no cavalry and no artillery except for the few cannons made of cherry wood which were more dangerous to them than to the enemy, but they had faith, spirit and trust in each other. They were the Macedonian Komiti (freedom fighters).
Following Damjan Gruev's orders from Smilevo, the village Cheti combined forces to form the following: the Smilevo and Gjavato Region Cheta of 650, the Krushovo Region Cheta of 400, the Kichevo Region Cheta of 350, the Bitola Region Cheta of 250, the Ohrid Region Cheta of 880, the Resna Region Cheta of 450, the Demir-Hisar Region Cheta of 420, the Prespa Region Cheta of 300, the Kostur Region Cheta of 700 and the Lerin Region Cheta of 450.
I am proud to say that my own great-grandfather Philip at age 53 participated in the Ilinden uprising. He was issued a rifle and a single shell and told to stand guard at Mount Preol at the entrance of Prespa. At the first sight of the Turkish militia he was required to fire a warning shot to let the Cheta know that the Turks were approaching. He survived his bout and lived to the ripe old age of 92 to tell about it.
The Cheti under the command of capable leaders such as Damjan Gruev, Vasil Chakalarov, Petar Pop Arsov, Pitu Guli, and others faired well and enjoyed considerable success in the few weeks before the Turkish militia began to amass. The local villagers also joined the movement giving moral support to the fighters. Even men from others regions that had not yet risen left their homes and came to fight.
All in all the Macedonian people possessed the will to fight but lacked the rifles and the ammunition with which to do it.
When the rebellion began, as a precaution, most villages were evacuated. People who left the villages took up residence in secluded places up in the mountains. They took with them whatever they could carry and set up camp with temporary shelters constructed from tree branches and covered with vegetation. The animals they took with them were fenced out of sight in wooded areas. They even built underground ovens to cook food and bake bread in safety.
Some villages that did not join the rebellion felt it was unnecessary to evacuate because they posed no threat to the Turks. One such village was Neokazi near Lerin whose residents stayed home thinking they would be safe. When the Turkish militia passed by, not only did they raze the village, they also turned on the civilian population. Not being satisfied with just burning the village, the Turks summoned about 60 Macedonian men and placed them under arrest. On their way to Lerin the Turks, instead of taking the men to jail, tortured and massacred them in cold blood. Eyewitnesses reported observing the Turks lining up the men in rows and firing at them to see how many one bullet could kill.
Three days later, it was Armensko's turn. After losing a skirmish to Chakalarov, Haireddin Bimbishi's (the butcher of Smrdesh) troops, defeated, angry and embittered were heading for Lerin when they came across a welcoming committee at Armensko. The priest and other members of the village went out to greet and welcome the Turks, but the Turks were not pleased and murdered the welcoming committee on the spot. Bambishi's men then turned on the defenseless village and pillaged, burned and satisfied their brutal lust undisturbed. Sixty-eight of the villagers were massacred and ten women and eight girls were violated. "Several women who managed to crawl out of their burning houses were afterwards caught as they lay dying, and violated repeatedly until they expired". (page 160, Brailsford, Macedonia its Races and their Future, taken from the "Blue Book" P. 319.).
The Turkish soldiers had orders to burn down all empty villages because it was a sure sign that they belonged to the families of the insurgents, and to spare the rest. As it turned out however, those who didn't join the rebellion and didn't want any trouble not only lost their homes but some even lost their lives. It was a choice between having your village burned or having it burned and being massacred as well. It was a hard lesson learned but it didn't help the sick and bedridden who were burned alive where they lay.
As battles raged on throughout Western Macedonia, the Cheti put down most of the local Turkish garrisons. They destroyed bridges, railway lines and communications centers, captured most chifliks and briefly liberated some regions such as Kichevo, Demir-Hisar, Kostur, Lerin, Klisoura and Neveska. The cities of Kostur and Lerin themselves were not liberated. The most successful and highly celebrated of all battles however, was the storming of the town of Krushevo. Nikola Karev led the Cheti in the attack and defeated the local Turkish garrison with ease. The Macedonians quickly took over the most strategic points like the Post Office, Town Hall and local Police Station and declared Krushevo liberated. True to their democratic commitments, the leaders of the liberating force constituted the Krushevo assembly which appointed a committee of sixty members, twenty from each of the community's Macedonian, Vlach and Albanian population. The committee in turn elected an executive body of six delegates, two from each community, which operated as a provisional government. The government in turn established a financial, judiciary and police force. "At Krushevo, under the rays of temporary liberty, fraternity and equality, national hatreds were dispelled and peace and concord reigned. For eleven whole days Krushevo lived as a little independent state, and although in miniature, clothed with flesh and blood that idea which spurred Macedonians to fight, against tyranny up to the Ilinden rising". (page 193, Vasil Bogov, Macedonian Revelation, Historical Documents Rock and Shatter Modern Political Ideology).
True to his socialist ideals, Nikola Karev drew up the famous Krushevo manifesto, a document aimed at eliciting support from all the communities including the Muslim Turks and Albanians. (You can read the full text of the Krushevo manifesto in appendix 3B, staring on page 275, in Michael Radin's book IMRO and the Macedonian Question. It is most inspiring to learn that in spite of what the Turks and Albanians had done to the Macedonian people, the Macedonian leaders still found it within their hearts to show compassion for them.) I also want to add that Brailsford in his book "Macedonia its Races and their Future" has nothing but praise for the Macedonian Cheti for their more than exemplary conduct during the uprising.
The "Krushevo Republic" unfortunately, lasted only two weeks, but it was a glorious Republic that will forever remind the Macedonian people of their eternal struggle for independence and of their thirst for freedom. The liberation of Krushevo imprinted on the new Macedonian generations the legacy of a timeless and irreversible march towards self-determination. IMRO came a long way from a group of academics deliberating what to do in the face of repression to delivering, in a true revolutionary fashion, a democratic Republic with all the socialist trimmings.
Here again, we see the Macedonian desire for multi-culturalism and for a new multi-ethnic society waiting to re-surface. The Republic was constituted on a multiracial basis in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the Macedonian people.
Next to Krushevo, Kostur, under the command of Lazar Pop Trajkov and my favourite hero, Vasil Chakalarov who faired second best in the tactical mobilization of the Cheti. These brigades staged successful raids and liberated Klisura and Neveska then returned southward and with the support of over three thousand villagers, attacked Kostur but without success. In the meantime other Cheti attacked and liberated Ohrid, which remained free for almost three months. The Ohrid attack was the most successful in terms of advance planning and administering the establishment of medical aid, underground workshops, secret bakeries and securing foodstuffs. Ohrid later became the center for establishing refugee camps for many displaced persons.
Uprisings outside of Western Macedonia were limited to swift guerilla actions consisting mostly of attacks against Ottoman institutions, bombings of railway lines and the occasional skirmish with the Turkish militia. Many Cheti were successful in capturing important Turkish officials with aims of constructing dialog for prospective negotiations but in actuality they met with little success.
Vrhovist involvement, as expected, was minimal during the uprising and brought to light once again the true nature of Vrhovism (Macedonia for the Bulgarians).
As the Cheti fought gallantly putting down garrison after garrison in the larger towns many of the smaller villages were left unprotected and open to Bashi-bazouk and Turkish militia attacks. Keeping in mind the Neokrazi and Armensko incidents, many of the Cheta chiefs felt compelled to return home to repel such attacks. Due to this and the fact that the Cheti were overpowered by the numerically superior Turkish militia, in the short term, a large-scale operation against the Turks never materialized. Unfortunately, as time passed so did the opportunities for a decisive strike, as an even larger Turkish force was amassing.
The initial success of the rebellion was a surprise to the Turks especially since the Turkish forces were numerically superior to those of the rebels. The Cheti however, demonstrated their abilities in battle and more than matched the numbers with will. Turkey unfortunately, was determined to put down the rebellion and amassed additional forces deploying a total of 167,000 infantry, 3,700 cavalry and 440 pieces of artillery (all cannons). Krushevo alone was surrounded by 20,000 Turkish troops with 18 cannons against an encircled force of no more than 1,200 rebel fighters. The battle to retake Krushevo began on August 12th with the Macedonians crying out "Sloboda ili Smirt" (liberty or death) against the onslaught of Turkish cannon fire. Pitu Guli and his men fought gallantly and provided stiff opposition to the Turkish advance but was no match for General Baktiar Pasha. Baktiar was a skilled war veteran who overwhelmed the Cheti by attacking the entire region simultaneously. The region was surrounded by soldiers, encircled by cannon fire, and every Macedonian stronghold inside was attacked simultaneously cutting off all reinforcements and all outside support.
After the mountains lit up with gunfire and smoke filled the skies, no Super Powers came to the rescue. Macedonia was left alone to feel the full fury of the Ottoman Empire's army and to pay for all of Europe's sins committed against the Turks.
Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria were now free, their freedom guaranteed by the Super Powers. When Greece got into trouble, the Super Powers wasted no time to come to her rescue. Where were the Super Powers when Macedonia needed their help? Why did they not respond to the cries of the burning villagers? Why did they not intervene to stop the killing, razing and pounding? Where was Britain when the European-made Turkish cannons pounded Krushevo to dust?
Once Krushevo fell, one by one other IMRO strongholds began to yield winding down the ten-week-old rebellion. In Krushevo Baktiar Pasha allowed his troops to kill, pillage and rape for three days, permanently devastating the town. 117 civilians were murdered, 150 women were raped and 159 houses were burned.
In the Ilinden aftermath, according to Radin, in total 4,694 civilians were murdered, 3,122 women were raped, 12,440 houses were burned, 201 villages were razed, 75,835 people were left homeless and about 30,000 people left the country for good becoming permanent refugees (page 105, IMRO and the Macedonian Question). Besides the atrocities committed against the civilian population in Macedonia, the most significant impact of the uprising was the loss of so many great IMRO leaders.
Despite the negative attitudes of the European Governments, there was much press about the Ilinden rebellion. World opinion was generally sympathetic to the Macedonian cause and highly critical of the Ottoman atrocities. Emigrant Macedonians the world over bombarded the Western Press with scathing attacks on the British, French and Austrian governments for supporting Turkey, militarily and financially. Even emigrants as far as the United States, staged large rallies in support of the rebellion. In New York alone more than 100,000 gathered to show support.
A Chicago newspaper reported that a Macedonian regiment had formed in that city and was preparing to take part in the rebellion. Closer to home, south Slav Nations such as Slovenia and Vojvodina held public meetings in support of the Macedonian Revolution. Even the European press featured sympathetic headlines when covering the rebellion. "It was a bitter struggle between the tortured slaves fighting on masse, often without weapons, but on spirit alone, for life and liberty; and the sadistic Pasha and his cohorts, murdering and plundering with rabidity" (Giorgio Nurigiani).
British official policy however, was less than sympathetic. According to the Daily News, September 14, 1903, Prime Minister Balfour told the House of Commons "...the balance of criminality lies not with the Turks, but with the rebels". The paper was critical of this attitude and recorded the following editorial: "The balance of criminality is surely here in our own land. Britain had denied Macedonia freedom at Berlin, knowing that (continued) Ottoman rule was synonymous with cruelty and tyranny, and by adopting a laissez-faire attitude at the juncture, Britain is a consenting party to all the ghastly murders and massacres in Macedonia..." (Radin, page 107, IMRO and the Macedonian Question).
While there was public outcry in the streets regarding the treatment of Macedonians, the British Government cared less about Macedonia's suffering than about Bulgarian threats to their precious Ottoman Empire. Being weakened by the Macedonian rebellion, the thinking in London was that Turkey was now ripe for a Bulgarian invasion. Balfour used the Macedonian rebellion as a pretext to move Britain's Mediterranean Fleet into the Aegean Sea fearing that war between Bulgaria and Turkey was now inevitable.
At about the same time Greek-Turkish relations began to warm up. The souring relationship between Turkey and Bulgaria was seen as a new opportunity by Greece to accelerate her Hellenization activities inside Macedonia. Making her way to Turkey, Greece had to first prop up her cool relationship with Germany. Her first attempt was initiated by inviting German help to re-organize the Greek military. After that, Greece began to grant industrial and commercial favours to German businessmen including the re-organization of the Greek telegraph.
The Turks on the other hand, were looking for allies. The loss of Ottoman Crete to the Greeks was only a bruise to the Turkish ego, so the Turks were willing to forgive and forget. Losing Macedonia however, was serious business, and bolstering the friendship with Greece was one way of staving off Bulgarian advances.
To preserve whatever they could from a failing rebellion, IMRO turned its attention to diplomacy. In September 1903, Pere Toshev of IMRO took a trip to Tsari Grad (Constantinople) to elicit some guarantees from official representatives of the Super Powers. Toshev's only request was that Macedonia be governed by a Christian governor. Unfortunately, his request was rejected in favour of the status quo. Later however, when statistics of Turkish atrocities started pouring in, the Super Power attitude softened a little. In October the Super Powers re-considered Toshev's request, but instead of appointing a Christian governor each nation agreed to send a small "peace-keeping" force. This did not help the Macedonian position at all, in fact it hindered IMRO from self-defense initiatives even against Bashi-bazouk attacks.
Turkish atrocities committed against the Macedonian villages in the eyes of the world created bad publicity for Turkey and for her allies the Western Powers. As a result Turkish popularity started to decline and so did Turkey's favour with the Super Powers. Being financially strapped and having her hands tied, Turkey turned to her neighbours for assistance. By declaring Macedonia a "multi-interest-zone" and inviting armed propaganda from Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia to counter the IMRO insurgence, Turkey was hoping to turn the tide of the rebellion in her favour. Again, Super Power inaction put Macedonia and the Macedonian people into peril.
At the end of August, after the fall of Krushevo, Nasir Pasha was appointed to take over command from Omar Rushdi Pasha. Rushdi was blamed for the flare-up of the rebellion and Nasir was chosen to put an end to it. Nasir Pasha was a favourite of the Sultan, spoke German and was considered civilized by many who had high hopes for a quick end to the rebellion. Unfortunately, Nasir's plans involved the burning of ALL revolting villages and quickly cornering and rounding up all those doing the revolting. He certainly had the "right men" with the "right courage" to execute such a barbaric plan, unfortunately, Nasir Pasha's plan did not involve pursuing the Cheti. "...the regiments which should have been pursuing the Insurgents found it more agreeable and interesting to pillage the defenseless villagers and make war on the women and children" (page 155 Brailsford, Macedonia its Races and their Future). Nasir Pasha's strategy forced IMRO and the Cheti to rethink their plans and change their tactics. Henceforth, organized Cheti attacks on the Turks subsided and the Cheti regrouped to take up defensive positions. Concerned for their families and villages some of the Cheti broke up and returned to defend their own homes. After that, fighting became disorderly and on November 2nd, 1903, the insurrection was declared at an end.
According to Brailsford, the Cheti fought about 150 battles in total with 746 casualties, which amounted to about 15 % of the total fighting force. In most of these encounters the Cheti were outnumbered by at least 10 Turks to 1 Macedonian. (Page 155 Macedonia its Races and their Future). Before it was all over, the Turks were attacking everywhere, even in secluded areas that once were beyond militia reach. To save themselves, many civilians resorted to camping among the fighters and even following them in wild battles. Their only safety was to be with the Cheti. "...sometimes the battle raged about the lair where the women and children lay, the men fighting with all their manhood to defend some shallow trench, knowing that behind them cowered wife and child expecting massacre if their courage failed or their bullets missed the mark". (page 162, Brailsford, Macedonia its Races and their Future).
Before I finish with the Ilinden uprising I want to mention that even though not much action was seen in Eastern Macedonia, the Endene (Macedonian Dardanelles or Andrianople) region had also risen in 1903 to join the Macedonian rebellion. This forgotten region, that once ruled the world, belonged to Macedonia at one point in time because Macedonians to this day still live there. What the world calls Pomac (converts from Christianity to Islam) Bulgarians are in fact Macedonians that converted to Islam. It is believed that the Christians of Endrene initiated the revolt but could not sustain it for too long due to the numerical superiority of the Muslim militia and the fact that the region was without mountains and there were no places to hide.
There is no good time to wage war in any society let alone inside a self-sufficient agrarian microcosm. The leaders of the Ilinden rebellion knew that. They also knew that they would be risking more than their own lives when they called for a revolt. The crops would not be harvested and people would starve to death. "Fleeing incessantly, they soon left behind them their stores of food and their herds of beasts. They were now shelterless under cold skies. There were villages which lived for days together on roots and salad grasses. The young children died in large numbers, and men and women graduated for the epidemics which were to decimate those whom the Turks had spared". (page 162, Brailsford, Macedonia its Races and their Future). Those who came back from the mountains alive didn't fair well either. People from the burned villages crowded in towns where helpless masses of starving women begged for bread door to door. They lost everything, home, crops, cattle and hand made clothing that were to last them for half a lifetime. It was through the generosity and charity of neighbours that most of them managed to survive. Macedonians possess a unique compassion for all living things. Love and respect for life flourishes from generation to generation and is part of the Macedonian tradition.
IMRO leaders that survived the rebellion responded decisively to the new crisis by establishing temporary centers to distribute urgently needed food and medical supplies to the displaced population. While doing that, they were also fighting a political battle with the Vrhovists for control of IMRO itself. The Bulgarians had dispatched Komitadjis (assassins) to eliminate the "old guard" but the legendary Yane Sandanski and his Cheta remained active and fought back fearlessly. When word got out that Sandanski was still active he gained a large following and was able to successfully repel all the assassination attempts.
History, in a sterile sense, tends to remark on the numbers of casualties directly associated with the conflict but shies away from the true ugliness of a war's aftermath. The real casualties of a conflict are the innocents that through no fault of their own are left to bear the consequences of the war. The most unfortunate are those in whose homes the war is waged. For them, there is no escape. It is easy to show numbers and statistics of the dead, wounded, homeless, raped, orphaned, maimed, etc., but it is hard to imagine their horrific experience. History has a way of separating "us from them" and distancing our feelings from theirs. But that hardly does them justice if we can't even imagine their pain, anguish, frustration, fear, despair, hunger, humiliation and hopelessness. Many innocent children died a horrible death in the Ilinden aftermath and their sacrifices must not be forgotten.
"The young women fared the worst, for, when the troops (Turks) could catch them, they were often carried off to the Turkish camps and there kept for some days until the last brute who desired them had had his will". (page 163, Brailsford, Macedonia its Races and their Future). Many of these young girls that survived returned to their village but instead of finding a home they found abandoned ruins and again fell prey to prowling soldiers or marauding Bashi-bazouks.
The story of the Macedonian fallen becomes more tragic when "history books" written by Macedonia's enemies or by those influenced by "politically correct propaganda", claim the Macedonian dead to be Greeks, Bulgarians and Serbians. It seems that the injustices committed against the Macedonian people do not end with the living but continue to haunt even the dead. Is it not enough that the living are robbed of their dignity, must the dead also be robbed of theirs? As long as authors neglect to mention the "Macedonians" in the "Macedonian epic struggle for independence" there can be no rest for the living or the dead. Those fallen men and women were Macedonians and died in a courageous struggle to free Macedonia. They were NOT Greeks, they were NOT Bulgarians and they were NOT Serbians. Let's not allow their enemies who robbed their children of their future to also rob them of their dignity. It is imperative that historians understand that anyone who unwittingly or willingly is alleging Macedonians to be Greek, Bulgarian or Serbian is propagating the "Greek lie" and committing a moral wrong against the Macedonian people.
The Ilinden rebellion had no happy ending for Macedonia. The Macedonian people lost their bid for freedom and paid the ultimate price. Henry Brailsford in his book "Macedonia its Races and their Future" describes the Ilinden aftermath in some detail by providing specific accounts of some of the worst horrors perpetrated. Brailsford was an aid worker inside Macedonia during the conflict and was witness to some of the accounts in his book. The book is worth reading, as long as you keep in mind that when he talks about Bulgarians and Greeks he means Macedonians who belonged to the Exarchate or Patriarchate Church.
I also ran into an article on the Internet by Blagoj Stoicocski, Sixth International Congress on South-East Europe, Sofia, 1989 (MANU, Skopje 1991), "THE POST-ILINDEN EVENTS IN MACEDONIA DURING 1904 ACCORDING TO NORWEGIAN REPORTS" posted at www.makedonika.org/STOICOVSKI1.htm
The author of these reports is Karl Ingvar Nandrup, who wrote on seven separate occasions to His Majesty Oscar II, king of the Norwegian-Swedish union during his stay in Macedonia, from the beginning of 1903 to December 30, 1904. In fact, this Norwegian officer had been sent to Macedonia under the sponsorship of Sweden and Norway to work as an inspector in the Turkish Gendarmerie (as a result of the "Padar's Reforms" of February 1903).
The author of the above article has succeeded in finding two of Nandrup's reports, one from May 16th, and the other from December 30th, 1904. The original reports were written in Norwegian and sent to the king in dispatches from Skopje.
In addition to being documents of value, the reports are also worthwhile reading.
"Every village which joined the revolt did so with the knowledge that it might be burned to the ground, pillaged to the last blanket and the last chicken, and its population decimated in the process. That the Macedonians voluntarily faced these dangers is a proof of their desperation." (page 159, Brailsford, Macedonia its Races and their Future).
The Macedonian rebellion did not succeed because there were too many factors working against it. The Macedonian people showed will and determination and rose to the task in spite of all odds. Compared to the Serbian, Greek and Bulgarian rebellions, the Macedonians were the most determined, well organized, and most desperate but they were not ready. The Serbians, Greeks and Bulgarian had only one enemy, the Turks and received a lot of help from friends in high places (the Super Powers). In contrast no one, outside of the Macedonians wanted the Macedonians to succeed. The Greeks and especially the Bulgarians went out their way to create obstacles. The Super Powers, believing that they had nothing to gain, also abstained from helping Macedonia. The Serbian, Greek and Bulgarian struggle for independence prepared the Turks and made them more determined to deal with the Macedonians. "The Turks had made war upon the women and children, and the men dared not prolong the unequal conflict with starvation". (page 163, Brailsford, Macedonia its Races and their Future).
When the conflict was over, the people that returned to their villages were devastated to find their homes destroyed. On top of all their ills, winter was fast approaching and no food or shelter was to be found. "The villages were mere heaps of charred wood and blackened stone, buried beneath a red dust which the rain converted to mud. A few walls still stood upright, the only hope for the winter". (page 164, Brailsford, Macedonia its Races and their Future). To make matters worse, a curfew was placed on travel and those away from home found themselves stranded. Those in need of work were no longer allowed to leave their vilayets. This was the first time in Macedonian history that Macedonians ever considered permanent emigration. Many early Macedonian emigrants to Canada, the USA and Australia were refugees from the Ilinden aftermath.
When reports of the uprising could no longer be contained and filtered out to the foreign media, it became clear that the Turks were not as successful as they claimed in keeping peace and maintaining the status quo in Macedonia. The Great Powers, Britain in particular, were disturbed by the atrocities committed by Turkish soldiers. On Britain's insistence the Super Powers recommended European officers take over command of the Turkish gendarmerie. Unfortunately, the European officers were Christians and the Turks refused to take orders from them. The German officers had some success because they had trained the Turks but not enough to make a difference.
To prevent the situation from deteriorating further, Britain pushed for high-level reforms which resulted in the appointment of two Turkish inspectors. One was Hilmi Pasha, former governor of Yemen. Hilmi Pasha was dispatched to Solun as Inspector General with orders to reform the Turkish administration. But as usual nothing was done. "Hilmi Pasha issued a proclamation in Monastir saying that the law courts had been reformed, that the police and gendarmerie had been reorganized, that Christian village guards had been appointed, that the schools had been reopened and that roads and bridges had been repaired. He went on to announce that if indeed all was not working smoothly it was because evil people endeavoured to impede the Government". (page 112, Dakin, The Greek Struggle in Macedonia 1897-1913). No one was deceived by Hilmi Pasha's words.
Before the uprising, Russia and Austria proposed "The Vienna Scheme of Reform" which basically required the Turks to appoint an Inspector General to each of the Macedonian Vilayets for a minimum of three years. In short, the reforms proposed local control of troop enlistment, local control of finances and appointment of foreign specialists inside Macedonia. The gendarmes were to enlist from local sources that would reflect the proportion of the population. General amnesty was to be given to all under arrest or exiled and all pending law cases were to be settled without delay. Obviously these reforms did not work and their failure was blamed on Russian and Austrian neglect.
After the uprising, as the situation in Macedonia worsened, Britain, fearing that Bulgaria would imminently declare war on Turkey, pushed for more reforms. As a result on October 2nd 1903, the Murszteg Reform Program was drafted and on October 23rd it was proposed to the Turks. The reforms in part read as follows:
1. Two Civil agents, one from Russia and the other from Austria were to be attached to the Inspector General (of police) Hilmi Pasha for two years to accompany him everywhere and call to his attention the abuses and recommend remedies. They were also expected to report all activities to their respective governments.
2. The Ottoman gendarmerie was to be reorganized by a "general of foreign nationality" and to him were to be attached military officers from the armies of the Super Powers to lead, supervise, instruct and report on the activities of the Turks.
3. As soon as the rebellion was put down, the Super Powers would demand an administrative reorganization of the Macedonian territory based on "nationalities".
4. Administrative and Judicial institutions were to be reorganized allowing Christian employees to run them.
5. Mixed committees with consular membership from Russia and Austria were to be formed in the vilayets to inquire into political and other crimes.
6. The Turkish Government was to allot a special budget to pay for the return of refugees and for re-building the damaged houses, schools, churches, etc. The money was to be distributed under the supervision of the Austrian and Russian consuls.
7. Christian villages burned down by Turkish troops and Bashi-bazouks were to be exempt from all taxes for one year.
8. The Turkish Government was obliged, without delay to implement the "Vienna Scheme of Reforms" introduced in February of 1903,
9. The Turkish second class reservists were to be disbanded and the Bashi-bazouks were to be prohibited from banding together.
The Murzsteg Reform Program, like its predecessor the Vienna Scheme of Reforms clearly did not have the Macedonian people's interests in mind. The priority here was to keep Turkey out of trouble and in control of Macedonia.
On November 24th 1903, the Turkish Government accepted the nine point Murszteg Reform Program in principle, reserving the right to negotiate the details later. Noting that there was a two-year limitation on provision 1, the Turks haggled over the details, introducing delay after long delay while the Super Powers continued to show indifference. Precious time was wasted as the Turks were claiming credit for the relative quietness in Macedonia, which was largely due to winter weather. In time the Murzsteg Reform Program, like its predecessor the Vienna Reforms entered the "annals of empty promises".
As I mentioned earlier, determined to eradicate IMRO influence, Turkey turned to her neighbours for help. By declaring Macedonia a "multi-interest-zone" Turkey invited armed propaganda from Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia to counter the insurgents.
The failed uprising, the loss of so many great IMRO leaders, the Turkish backlash and now the foreign influence was too much for IMRO. The close links with the villages and the ideological differences between isolated IMRO branches widened. Although IMRO continued to live, it lacked direction and was on the verge of an ideological collapse. In time however, it managed to muster two more congresses. With the advent of Krsto Misirkov's book a new tide of opinion was spreading throughout Macedonia. Misirkov warned against falling under the influence of the chauvinistic elements and recommended taking a more nationalistic approach in order to weed out Vrhovist and conservative elements. At the Prilep Congress held in May 1904 IMRO was re-vitalized and its independence reasserted (this time with a socialist character). The most significant developments to emerge from this Congress were IMRO's ability to shed itself of its conservative elements and to adopt a resolution to decentralize the organization and give more power to the sub-districts. This Congress literally split IMRO into two ideologically polarized halves.
While leftist IMRO adopted a defensive strategy, the right wing conservative Vrhovists pursued a policy of renewed confrontation. The two factions continued to masquerade under the same banner and were headed for a showdown. The showdown materialized in November of 1905 at the Rila Monastery, near the Macedonian-Bulgarian border and took the form of a General Congress. There was a single item of paramount importance on the agenda, to determine the direction of the Organization. Twenty-two elected delegates in total attended the Rila Congress and by secret vote the left came out victorious.
As a result of the Rila Congress, a rulebook was issued proclaiming the aims of the Central Committee, which basically called for:
a. "creating an autonomous and independent Macedonia,
b. achieving this by means of a united national front, over a long period of revolutionary activity, and
c. resisting all foreign interference".
There was one more safeguard added that is worth mentioning. IMRO now possessed the capacity to recall a rebellion by a 75% majority vote of its delegates who could only be nominated from regional sub-committees within Macedonia. A safeguard that guaranteed there would be no more interference from Sofia and the Vrhovists.
Defeated at the Rila Congress, the Right wing Vrhovists took up permanent residence in Sofia and continued to wage terrorist war on the IMRO leadership. Both Nikola Karev in 1905 and Dame Gruev in 1906 were indirectly eliminated by terrorist acts of the Vrhovists.
Bulgarian interference in Macedonia did not only damage the revolutionary movement but also put fear in the civilian population, ripening conditions for Balkan intervention.
Greece and later Serbia were quick to take advantage of a weak IMRO and a frightened population. With the assistance of the Turkish military they were able to step up armed propaganda campaigns inside Macedonia. The aim was to kill two birds with one stone. By being the eyes and ears for the Turks, the Greek clergy spied on the Macedonians and disclosed information to the Turkish authorities. The Turkish military in turn, stepped up activities to eradicate the remnants of the Cheti and their leaders. At the same time, in the midst of terror, the same Greek spies were offering Macedonians Hellenism as a way to salvation. "No one can deny that the Greeks owed much to the Turks. Indeed the victory of the Turks in 1903 was the salvation of Hellenism in Macedonia. From the outset the Greek clergy and notables devised means of passing information to the Turks. The Turkish authorities on their side welcomed this support." (pages 118,119, Dakin, The Greek Struggle in Macedonia 1897-1913).
The most notorious of the Greek clergy was the Metropolitan of Kostur, Archbishop Germanos Karavangelis. Karavangelis was sent to Macedonia by the Patriarch Constantine V who favoured the Athenian (the most nationalist) style of Hellenism and selected Karavangelis as the right man to do the job. Dakin portrays Karavangelis as a charismatic and capable figure of a man that is a credit to the human race (pages 119-127, The Greek Struggle in Macedonia 1897-1913). That however, is far from the truth. Karavangelis was a ruthless killer and a disgrace to the Christian religion. Karavangelis was personally responsible for the assassination of hundreds of Macedonian patriots including priests, notables, teachers and IMRO leaders. He was also personally responsible for Hellenizing by force and by sheer terror hundreds of Macedonian villages. If you wish to know more about Karavangelis' terrorist actions in Macedonia read his biography (the original version) "Arheio Makedonikou Agona, Pinelopis Delta, Apomnimoneymata, Germanou Karavaggeli, Georgiou Dikonymou Makri, Panagioti Papatzanetea". Karavangelis' first priority after accepting the post as Metropolitan of Kostur was to raise an army. He couldn't import one, the Super Powers were watching so he resorted to purchasing one. The most pliable and feeble-minded man who would sell his soul for gold was the self styled brigand Kote of Rula ("the darling of Athens"). Kote sold out his own people for Greek gold. From being the most revered Cheta leader Kote became the most hated man in Macedonia. When Karavangelis decided who was to die, Kote became the executioner. In addition to regular pay for murder, Kote and his band of no-goods received additional rewards of gold coins for turning in desired body parts from their victims.
While Kote was doing the murdering in the Macedonian villages, Karavangelis, in person with Turkish escorts, was doing the Hellenizing. Nothing and no one could stand in his way. Those who Karavangelis couldn't buy or bribe he had killed.
"By containing and fragmenting the Internal Organization in Western Macedonia, Kota (Kote) and Karavangelis not only caused the projected rising to be continually postponed but they also caused it to be undertaken prematurely; and eventually they both contributed towards its defeat and failure. True, most of the recorded action (the arrests, searches and attacks on villages and bands) were carried out by the Turks, but the Turks nearly always acted on information supplied by Karavangelis or his agents. It was Karavangelis again who prevailed upon the Turks to attack Smardeshi (Smurdersh) on 9/22 May 1903". (Page 132, Dakin, The Greek Struggle in Macedonia 1897-1913)
"After the Ilinden rising of August 1903, it was Karavangelis who, escorted by 600 Turkish soldiers, visited the villages, celebrating mass, speaking to the villagers and calling upon them to surrender arms. The result was that even such strongholds as Aposkepos (Aposkep), Zagoritsani (Zagoricheni) and Gabresi (Gabresh), which only a few months before had declared themselves Exarchist, now returned to the Patriarchist fold. Without the support of the Turks, it is doubtful whether Karavangelis's work would have been successful. It is equally doubtful, however, whether but for the activities of the Patriarchist counter-movement, the Turkish authorities could have dealt such a decisive blow to the Internal Organization (IMRO)". (Page 135, Dakin, The Greek Struggle in Macedonia 1897-1913)
Even my own small village didn't escape the hand of Karavangelis. It was a Sunday morning when Georgios Tsantos (Varda) and his gang came to Oshchima looking to murder Pop Giorgi Popov. On the way they ran into a young man named Yane Zhigerov who was taking his mule to pasture. It is unknown what transpired but the young man was found dead with his throat cut. After killing Yane, Varda broke into Oshchima's Church of Svety Nikola and killed Pop Giorgi, by stabbing him multiple times. He then skinned the beard off his face and cut off his blessing finger. Varda was prepared to kill many more had it not been for the Oshchimian Cheta lead by Bozhin Temov who drove Varda and his hoodlums out of Oshchima at gunpoint.
Pop Giorgi Popov's beard and finger were delivered to Karavangelis in exchange for gold.
With regards to Kote from Rula, greed was stronger than loyalty. Lazo Papatraikov, an usher at Kote's wedding and a man who twice saved Kote's life, was on Karavangelis's hit list. After a skirmish with the Turks in Mariovo, word was out that IMRO leader Lazo Papatraikov had received a wound on the head and was on the run. Kote caught up to him at Turtska Polena in Oshchima and after a long chat the two men said their good byes and Kote left. On his way to Zhelevo, Kote sent some Zhelevtsi to kill and decapitate Lazo. Lazo's head was taken to Karavangelis to collect the reward. Lazo's headless body was buried behind the altar of the Sveti Nikola Church in Oshchima.
The ultimate disgrace for Karavangelis came after the massacre of the village Zagoricheni. Refusing to bend to Hellenism, Zagoricheni on direct orders from Karavangelis, was massacred to the last person the Greeks could lay their hands on, including the unborn children inside the wombs of pregnant women. Witnesses reported finding bodies of pregnant women with their abdomen cut open. The survivors that escaped the atrocity refused to bury the dead bodies of their neighbours. For days the dead were guarded until the European consuls in Bitola came to witness the atrocities for themselves. Here is what Brailsford had to say. "The chef d'oevre of this Hellenic campaign was achieved at Zagorichani, a large Bulgarian village (author's note: Macedonian village, there were no Bulgarian villages inside Macedonia) near Klissoura, which, like Mokreni, took a leading part in the uprising of 1903, and like Mokreni was burned by the Turks. A Greek band, which is said to have numbered over two hundred men under three Greek officers in uniform, surprised it by night (April 6-7, 1905) by using bugle calls which led the villagers to suppose that Turkish regulars were manoeuvering in the neighbourhood. They burned ten houses, and twenty-eight of the temporary homes erected amid the ruins of the last conflagration. They wounded seven persons and killed no less than sixty, among them seven women, twenty-two persons over sixty years of age, and five children under fifteen. There was a good deal of evidence to show that the local Turkish authorities were privy to this massacre, and some circumstances seemed to include the Archbishop of Castoria (Kostur). It is quite clear that no conflict or provocation preceded what was simply a deliberate massacre, and the only reason for choosing Zagorichani was that it was an eager and patriotic Bulgarian center, and that it disobeyed the summons of the Greek Archbishop to return to the Patriarch fold". (pages 216-217, Macedonia its Races and their Future).
After the massacre when it was discovered that Karavangelis was implicated, to escape punishment, the cowardly Archbishop of Kostur fled to Sveta Gora (Holy Mountain) where he spent two years in hiding before fleeing to Austria. Today, there is a statue of Karavangelis in Kostur to commemorate his great contributions to Hellenism.
The Roumanie of Bucharest has published the text of a circular found by the Turks in some documents seized on the person of a Greek prisoner. It reads like a genuine Greek document, and its authenticity has not been questioned by the Greek organs. It is said to bear the seal of the Greek Committee. (Remember there were no Bulgarians or "Bulgars" in Macedonia). It read like this;
"Brave defenders of Hellenism, I address you today in order to express the gratitude which the entire nation feels for all you have done and will yet do on behalf of the Fatherland. Continue the struggle against the Bulgarian assassins, and neglect no means of proving to the whole world that Macedonia is purely Greek. Exterminate the priests, the teachers, and the notables who compose the Bulgarian Committees. It is at length time to put in practice the saying: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. When it is a question of taking vengeance we must not spare the Bulgarians, even when they hide under the robes of a priest. Burn, shoot, assassinate, and purify the soil of Macedonia from all that is Exarchist. The Supreme Panhellenic Committee has decided to intensify the struggle by making use of your arms, O valiant combatants, and if for some time past the Committee has hardly seemed equal to the occasion, the reason is that official Greece hesitates. But what is official Greece to us, when we have the approbation of the whole Hellenic world? Forward, then, until you have wiped out the last Bulgarian in our Macedonia. Your names will be inscribed in letters of fire in the annals of the race. May Heaven grant that the day be near when the sun of Hellenism will shine on Macedonia; then there will be peace for us and for the Turks, with whom we stand on the best of terms. Let our motto be: Purge Macedonia of the Bulgars." I quote from M. Gaulis' admirable paper, La Macedoine. (page 217, Brailsford, Macedonia its Races and their Future).
Macedonians were well acquainted with the murderous activities of the Bulgarian Vrhovists whose new waves of terrorist bands began to penetrate the Eastern borders of Macedonia in March of 1904. Fortunately, Yane Sandanski's forces were still in control of the Pirin district and more often than not, successfully repealed Bulgarian advances. In the West, bands of young Turks who deserted the army during the Ilinden rebellion, joined Albanian gangs and were looting and killing indiscriminately. From the north Serbian bands began to penetrate Macedonian territory. By mid 1905, there were eleven bands numbering almost 100 men pillaging, murdering, even razing entire villages, wreaking their own special brand of terror.
The most violent campaign was waged by the Greek terrorists who penetrated the south-central regions of Macedonia. By 1905 the Greeks imported a contingent of Cretans, a thousand-strong, reinforced by Turk deserters who roamed unhindered razing and slaughtering entire villages. By 1906, eight bands numbering over 400 men were operating in the Solun district alone and another twelve bands (600 men) around Bitola.
Along with the intrusions of armed bands in Macedonia there reappeared the foreign schools and propaganda institutions directed by non-other than the Greek and Bulgarian churches. The terrorist bands instilled fear in the Macedonian population and the Churches were quick to take the role of protectors setting the stage for the partitioning of Macedonia. Unfortunately for them, something else was brewing within Turkey, liberalism, headed by a small group of European educated young Turks.
To be continued in part V.
You can contact the author via his e-mail: [email protected]
1. A. Michael Radin, IMRO and the Macedonian Question, Kultura
2. H. N. Brailsford, Macedonia Its Races and their Future, Arno Press, New York 1971
3. Douglas Dakin, M.A., Ph.D., The Greek Struggle in Macedonia 1897 - 1913, Institute for Balkan Studies, Salonika 1966
4. Vasil Bogov, Macedonian Revelation, Historical Documents Rock and Shatter Modern Political Ideology