Saturday, October 28, 2006
101 years since the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie uprising
More than a century ago, Europe was shocked by the new massacres in the Balkans. After living under Turkish oppression for five centuries, the Bulgarian people had just started to relish the taste of freedom after the Russo-Turkish war of liberation (1877-1878); now it was again subjected to cruelty and violence. It was probably no coincidence that the day of the “lord of thunder” St. Elijah was chosen as the start of the struggles for the liberation of Macedonia and Edirne Thrace, because this struggle for liberation resounded like a thunderbolt across the old continent.
After the Berlin treaty signed in the summer of 1878 by the representatives of the Great Powers and the Ottoman Empire, the Bulgarian lands were divided into the Principality of Bulgaria, Eastern Rumelia – an autonomous region within the Empire – and Macedonia and Edirne Thrace, which remained within the bounds of the Ottoman state. When the Bulgarians learnt of the Berlin congress decisions, the result was the outbreak of the Kresna-Razlog uprising. It ended in failure, but showed the world, that the Bulgarians from Macedonia and Thrace would not reconcile themselves to their fate. The followers and heirs of the heroes from the time of the national liberation struggles, led by Levski and Botev took the difficult road of the struggle for the liberation of Macedonia and Edirne Thrace. In 1893, the Internal Macedonian-Edirne Revolutionary Organization was set up, headed by Damyan Gruev and Gotze Delchev. The careful preparations for the uprising, the efforts of young and old led to the expected outcome. At the congress of the Internal Macedonian-Edirne Revolutionary Organization in Thessaloniki at the beginning of 1903, a decision was taken for calling a “nationwide and strategic” uprising. The leaders Dame Gruev, Yane Sandanski and Gyorche Petrov turned their efforts towards active revolutionary work. In April 1903, Gotze Delchev was killed – one of the most vivid figures in the revolutionary struggles and a universally acknowledged leader of the revolutionary organization.
A decision was taken: August 2, (St. Elijah’s day) would be the day for the start of the uprising in Macedonia, and a few days later, at Petrova Niva (in Stranja mountain), it was decided that Edirne Thrace would also revolt on Transfiguration day. The tactics of Yane Sandanski and Dame Gruev were to raise each village one by one. Whole regions in Macedonia and Thrace threw off Ottoman domination; whole areas gained the freedom they had longed for and at this stage, no one was thinking the endeavour could fail. The Ottoman Empire sent in regular troops – 35,000 men – against 30,000 Bulgarians, ready to do anything to win their freedom.
In the course of three months, patriots from all parts – Mizia, Thrace, the Balkan and the Rhodope mountain region, fought shoulder to shoulder with the Bulgarians from Macedonia and Edirne Thrace. Each helped any way he could, but defeat was inevitable. With the tacit approval of the Great powers, the Empire captured region after region, town after town, village after village fell. More than 250 villages were burnt down, more than 5,000 people – massacred, more than 15,000 taken prisoner. Over 30,000 Bulgarians driven away from their lands sought refuge within the free Principality of Bulgaria.
One more page in the history of the Bulgarian people had been written in blood. The yearning for national re-unification and freedom for all Bulgarians turned the region into one of the most volatile regions in Europe for years to come.