FOR FREEDOM AND PERFECTION. The Life of Yané Sandansky
Mercia MacDermott

 

14. STORMS AND SUNSHINE

 

 

Yané came back to a situation fraught with problems and unpleasantness. The troubles had started soon after he had left for the Principality. Because Taskata Sersky had been unable to attend the Serres Regional Congress, the resolutions had been sent to him for his information, but unfortunately, during a battle, the bag containing the Congress material had fallen into the hands of the Turks. Only the ‘illegal’ delegates were actually named in the documents, while the ‘legal’ delegates were referred to by pseudonyms. Nevertheless, the Turks arrested sixty-four people in the Serres District, including two members of the Regional Committee. Lazar Tomov, who was then chairman of the Committee, escaped only because he was at the Rila Congress when the arrests took place, and, as soon as he came back, he was informed of what had happened by a woman colleague at the Teacher-Training School, and he immediately left Serres for the Principality. It was fortunate that he did, because he was sentenced, in absentia, to a hundred and one years in gaol. [1]

 

Shortly after Yané himself returned to Pirin, his cheta was trapped by Turkish soldiers, and, once again, he was required to prove his skill as a commander in battle against a numerically superior enemy. Yané arrived late at night on February 28, 1906 in the village of Gorni Orman (now Ladarevo) and, after his men had been provided with lodging in various houses, he himself spent most of the night in discussions with Mitso Vransky, Stoyu Hadzhiev, Chudomir Kantardzhiev and local leaders. At dawn, when the sentries posted around the village were being withdrawn, the sound of firing brought everyone out into the courtyards. What had happened was that a traitor from Malki Tsalim had noticed the passage of Yané’s cheta and had informed the commander of the Turkish garrison in Bozhdovo. He, in turn, had informed his superior in Melnik, and, while waiting for reinforcements, he had summoned bashi-bozouks from Krushevo (now Dzhigurovo) and encircled Gorni Orman at a distance. The Turks had been spotted by a sentry from the local cheta, who had fired several warning shots to alert Yané and his men.

 

A rapid consultation took place. The situation was, in many respects, similar to that in which Gotsé Delchev had found himself in Banitsa.

 

 

1. Lazar Tomov, Spomeni za revolyutsionna deinost v Serskiya okrŭg, 1953, pp. 43-45.

 

 

229

 

Gotsé had chosen to attempt a break-out in broad daylight, scorning the shelter of the sturdy stone houses—and he had died in the attempt. In Gorni Orman, too, some of the chetnitsi were in favour of an immediate attempt to escape, but Yané was against the idea, pointing out that the hills around the village were bare and afforded no cover in daylight; the Turks had, no doubt, posted men on commanding high ground, and any attempt to leave the village would result in heavy Bulgarian casualties. Instead, he ordered his men to take up positions in houses suitable for defence, to knock holes in the walls to serve as embrasures, and to hold out until dark.

 

The battle raged all day, as it had done in Banitsa. The terrified villagers remained in their houses, and the streets were empty, apart from fleeing dogs and hens. The Turks repeatedly attacked, but were always driven back by Bulgarian fire. Some of the fiercest fighting took place around a barn near the house where Yané had installed himself with a group of chetnitsi. The barn was of great strategic importance, because, if the Turks controlled it, they would be in a position to set fire to the house. Yané therefore sent a group of men, under Georgi Moadzhira—his bravest and most fanatically devoted chetnik—to capture the barn and beat off Turkish attacks. This they successfully did, although Georgi was wounded and had to be brought back to the house. Throughout the battle, Yané gave orders in a loud voice, and shouted insults at the Turks, in order to encourage his scattered men by letting them know that he was still alive. A curious feature of the battle was that the Bulgarians continually sang songs, including Hristo Botev’s poem ‘He is alive!’ One group, it is true, had no singers among them, but they had a man who could play the whistle-pipe, and thus they, too, contributed to the defiant music.

 

At one point, the sound of firing was heard from the direction of the neighbouring village of Dŭrzhanovo, and all shooting in Gorni Orman, both Bulgarian and Turkish, ceased while both sets of combattants waited to see who was coming. It turned out to be Chudomir, who had set out with six men for Dŭrzhanovo and who, on hearing the firing in Gorni Orman, had stopped above the village to cover Yané’s retreat. It so happened that the Turkish reinforcements from Melnik had made for the same high ground, not realizing that there were chetnitsi there. Chudomir’s men had waited until the unsuspecting Turks were within fifty yards and had then fired at them. The Turks fled towards Dŭrzhanovo, where they ran into half a dozen chetnitsi under Dyado Bozhin, who opened fire and scattered them.

 

In Gorni Orman, the battle was resumed after about twenty minutes and continued until dusk. On Yané’s orders, the chetnitsi conserved their ammunition, shooting only at reasonably certain targets. The Turkish losses were very heavy—various estimates put them at anything between 50-115 killed and 50-60 wounded—while the Bulgarian casualties amounted to one killed and five wounded, none of them seriously.

 

 

230

 

When it was sufficiently dark, Yané summoned a representative from each of the groups stationed in various buildings and held a council of war. After all the men had reported on the situation in their sectors, it appeared that there were least Turks in the vicinity of the river, and that this was the clearest route out of the village. Yané, however, was not tempted. It was possible that even now the Turks were moving in there under cover of darkness, and, if this was so, they could take up virtually impregnable positions behind the rocks along the river. Yané preferred the more open ground: it was true, he said, that there had been Turks there during the day, but a concerted attack would throw them into disarray, and they would have nowhere to hide. Yané’s plan was accepted, and, when all was ready, Yané went to the door of the house and bellowed so loud that it is said that he was heard in the neighbouring village of Dolni Orman: ‘Strike, boys! Strike, strike!’ This was the signal for mass simultaneous shooting on the part of the chetnitsi. When they stopped shooting all was quiet, and not a sound was heard from the Turks. The cheta safely withdrew from the village, following the steep course of the mill race, but when they reached the high ground between the Gorni Orman and Dŭrzhanovo rivers, they heard voices, and immediately lay down. Yané shouted: ‘Who are you?’ The speakers proved to be Turkish soldiers, who now crossed to the right bank of the Dŭrzhanovo River, lay on their faces and fired at the stars. Having offered this symbolic resistance, some of them shouted: ‘Damn it all, you enemies of the sovereign, aren’t you satisfied with shooting all day? What more do you want of us? The road’s clear up there.’

 

Thus, the chetnitsi were allowed to go on their way without further let or hindrance. On the next day, however, the Turks returned to Gorni Orman and took their revenge by burning two houses and as many barns and by robbing a further seven or eight houses. [2]

 

Only a matter of weeks after Yané had so brilliantly extricated himself from Gorni Orman, the Supremist Colonel Yankov perished together with his entire cheta, bar one man, in an incident as stupid as it was tragic. It occurred in Yané’s own village of Vlahi, and was the prelude to a great deal more unpleasantness and bloodshed there. The most detailed account of what happened is given by Georgi Kotsev. According to him, Colonel Yankov had arrived in Vlahi with a cheta of about 40 men on Easter Sunday. They all installed themselves in the house of Georgi Krŭstev in Drakolovo, one of the outlying quarters of Vlahi, and they bought lambs,

 

 

2. Accounts of the battle are contained in various memoirs, with some variation in detail, but the same general picture. See: Memoirs of Georgi Kotsev, Pirinsko Delo, 19.IV.1958; memoirs of Georgi Stoichev (from Gorni Orman) recorded by B. Popov, Pirinsko Delo, 18.V.1957; memoirs of Angel Manchov (from Lyubovka) recorded by Ivan Harizanov, TDIA, f. 1508, op. 2, a.e. 25, pp. 41-46. A brief account of the battle is induded in a letter from the Melnik District to the External Representatives, dated 25.III.1906, OIM Blagoevgrad, No. 247.

 

 

231

 

sucking pigs, rakiya and other necessities, for which they paid. Ignoring the tradition which demands that the Lenten fast be kept until the triumphant announcement that ‘Christ is Risen’, they began their Easter celebrations before the priest had even entered the church for the midnight service, with the result that, by the morning, there was not a sober man among them.

 

It had so happened that, two days earlier, on Maundy Thursday, Yané had clashed with Turkish troops above Sugarevo, and, after a battle which had lasted all day, he had withdrawn via Lilyanovo towards the Kresna district. The Turks had pursued him, and thus both Yané and the soldiers arrived in the vicinity of Vlahi. Here the Turks captured two of Colonel Yankov’s couriers, who, after a good beating, confessed that they had been with a cheta, and indicated the house in which it could be found. Without asking whose cheta it was, the Turks jumped to the conclusion that it was Yané’s, and threw a cordon around the whole quarter. Yankov was informed of this by local peasants, but, being already extremely drunk, he apparently took no notice, and he and his men continued drinking until the Turks had completely surrounded the house. By now, the cheta was a sitting target; not one of the Supremists was capable of shooting straight, and the Turks were able to come right up to the house and set it alight. Those who attempted to flee were shot down, and the rest perished in the smoke and flames. Only one man escaped alive to tell the dismal tale.

 

Yané, meanwhile, was above Vlahi in the mountains. He heard the shooting, and guessed that the Turks had attacked Colonel Yankov, of whose arrival he had previously been apprised. He immediately gave orders for his men to leave their baggage and to hasten to Colonel Yankov’s aid. Some of the chetnitsi raised objections: ‘Why should we go to save them? Tomorrow we’ll only have to chase them out and kill them. Let the Turks do the job for us, so that tomorrow we won’t have to soil our hands with our brothers’ blood. . .’

 

. . . Once there was a lad from Vlahi, with much enthusiasm and little experience. In his innocence, he joined a Supremist cheta, not once but twice, and did foolish things which only harmed the Cause. . . The Turks broke his arm with a bullet, and it went on hurting him for nine years, reminding him of his youthful foolishness, long after Gotsé Delchev had opened his eyes. . .

 

‘You’ve got things twisted,’ Yané answered. ‘Under the circumstances we are in honour bound to help them. Down there, there are a few educated people who have led the lads astray; the rest are simple, innocent little people. Others are to blame for conning them into taking this path.’

 

The men understood and immediately set out for Vlahi, but it was too late. Just above the village, they met peasants fleeing from the Turks, who, encouraged by their easy victory over Yankov, had run amok in the village, killing some thirty persons. There was nothing more that Yané’s

 

 

232

 

men could do, and they turned back, collected their baggage and went over the mountain to Bansko. [3]

 

Not long afterwards, Yané came back to Vlahi to punish both those who had sided with Yankov and those who had betrayed him.

 

Even before Yankov’s arrival in Vlahi, Yané had been determined to purge Pirin of Supremism once and for all. In spite of General Tsonchev’s decision to suspend all operations, some of his followers were slow to obey, and on March 25 1906, the Melnik District leadership had sent a letter to the Organization’s Representatives in Sofia, saying: ‘You are already aware of our intentions as regards Kresna and the Dzhumaya district. The need to cleanse this area of Supremist infestation is more than urgent. It is the sole lair of all the Supremist bands who have been constantly troubling us, especially during the last few months; moreover, through it runs our best channel to the interior, one which can be used at all times of the year. This undertaking of ours has been adopted by the neighbouring districts, and we have begun joint offensives.’ [4]

 

Ironically enough, it was precisely in his own native Vlahi that Yané encountered the most opposition and was to be seen at his most ruthless. On principle, Yané never did favours or made exceptions for his own kith and kin; his parents lived in poverty, while hundreds and thousands of gold pieces passed through his hands, and the fact that he had to punish neighbours, and even relatives, increased rather than diminished his wrath and his severity, for he felt doubly betrayed and dishonoured by their conduct. Thirteen people, including a woman named Maria Rizova, are said to have been executed during his purge of Supremist supporters and traitors in Vlahi.

 

It seems that Yané was himself partly to blame for the success of

 

 

3. See Georgi Kotsev’s memoirs, OIM Blagoevgrad, No. 1538. Kotsev was, however, not an eye-witness, and he assembled the facts second-hand. Arnaudov, also not an eye-witness, gives a shorter and slightly different version. According to his information, Yankov’s supporters saw Yané’s cheta on the heights above Vlahi, and, without Yankov’s knowledge, informed the Turks, in the hope of avoiding a head-on collision between Yané and Yankov. As for the burning of the house, Arnaudov also attributes it to a misunderstanding on the part of the Turks as to which cheta was there, following the capture of a peasant who told them where the komiti were. See Arnaudov, Opus cit., pp. 8-9. In an unpublished letter to Pirinsko Delo (5.IX.1955), commenting on material published in the issue for 31.VII.1955, Haralampi Dimitrov states that the men whom the Turks captured were, in fact, chetnitsi from the village of Lyubovka, to whom Yankov had given leave to visit their families over the holidays.

 

4. OIM Blagoevgrad, No. 247. The letter continues: ‘You have already spoken with Yané about the people and, in general, about the details of this question. It remains for you to take urgent measures for the formation and dispatch of the cheta in question. The importance of the struggle requires your most speedy instructions.’ It is not known exactly what was agreed between Yané and the External Representatives, but it appears that a cheta was to be formed and sent from the Principality to assist the Serres comrades to drive out Supremism. There is no evidence that any such cheta was sent, but perhaps the destruction of Yankov’s cheta rendered it unnecessary.

 

 

233

 

Supremist propaganda in Vlahi: ‘As the prime cause of the formation of an anti-Sandansky group, people cite the following circumstance. Since it was his native village, he was completely confident that he had only to talk to the peasants once or twice for them all to be on his side. And in view of this, he very seldom came to Vlahi. And, indeed, in the beginning, they were united and always helped him. But later on, numerically superior Supremists were constantly passing through Vlahi, and they managed to win people over, and these betrayed the Sandanisti.’ [5]

 

Yané began his operations against the Vlahi Supremists by waylaying a group of saw-mill workers outside the village. Through them, he issued a final warning to the inhabitants, telling them to come to their senses while there was yet time, or they would suffer for it. Some of these workers told him the names of those who supported the Supremists, and, that same evening, the cheta went down into Vlahi, seized some eight or nine people, including the woman, took them out of the village and executed them.

 

The fratricidal nature of the rivalry between the Organization and the Supremists in Vlahi is reflected in the case of Tanko Ruychev, another of the Supremists whose name is known. Tanko’s brother, Georgi (Gyorata), was one of Yané’s most active supporters, and the two brothers even came to blows over politics. [6] The execution of Tanko in no way changed the family’s devotion to Yané. They accepted that Tanko ‘had sinned against Macedonia’, [7] and had to be killed. Even more striking is the case of Yané’s own brother-in-law, the second husband of his sister, Sofia. After the death of Iliya Marushin, by whom she had no children, Sofia had married another man from Vlahi—Georgi Lazarov, a widower with four children. Again she had no children of her own; her three older step-children were hostile towards her, and it was only with the youngest daughter, Fidanka, that she managed to establish any kind of satisfactory relationship. Lazarov was one of the Vlahi Supremists, and there was little temptation for Yané to bend his rule about not favouring relations, because Lazarov was a drunkard, who continually tormented Sofia and even beat her in an attempt to make her ask her brother for money. Yané, therefore, had no compunction about having him executed.

 

There is a curious connection between the cases of Tanko and Lazarov:

 

 

5. TDIA, f. 1508, op. 2, a.e. 13. The document is a letter dated 20.X.1942 and written from Vlahi to Ivan Harizanov by a person whose signature is illegible but who addresses Harizanov as his maternal uncle. From the letter, it is clear that Harizanov asked the writer to go to Vlahi and to try and elucidate certain questions connected with Yané’s activity there. The writer speaks of his difficulties in finding out the answers, and says that he was even unable to learn the names of most of the thirteen whom Yané is said to have executed. The letter is nevertheless the fullest available account of the purge. Other evidence consists mainly of information handed down without definite dates, etc.

 

6. I am indebted for this information to Maria Mezhdurechka, daughter of Georgi Ruychev. As a child she witnessed the fight.

 

7. The words are those of Maria Mezhdurechka.

 

 

234

 

Yané had left some money with his sister, and, because she feared that her drunkard husband would take it, she had given it to Tanko’s wife for safekeeping. When Tanko was executed on Yané’s orders, his widow simply kept the money, regarding it as her rightful compensation. [8]

 

The Supremists of Vlahi were not slow to react to Yané’s offensive. Some twenty-five of the chorbadzbii (richer villagers) began to meet together, and they took a solemn oath to hunt Yané down and not allow him to set foot within the boundaries of Vlahi. One of them, Hadzhi Dimitŭr, was apparently on very good terms with the Turks, and the latter agreed to supply the anti-Sandansky faction with rifles. [9] Thereafter, those who went to work at the saw-mills outside the village went in groups and carried arms. There were even clashes between Yané’s men and the Vlahi Supremists, and eventually many people gave up working at the saw-mills altogether.

 

It is significant that, on the whole, Yané’s sworn enemies did not spring from those families who had directly suffered from his severity, even when, as sometimes happened, there were miscarriages of justice. Yané was known to be a man of integrity, a man who stood by his word and the rules of the Organization even to the point of cruelty, a man who remained true to his ideals, no matter what it cost. ‘Stern but just’ was the general verdict and there was little popular resentment against him. For centuries, the people had created and perpetuated tales of vengeance and punishment more dire than anything that was done on Yané’s orders, and his actions were not in conflict with traditional conceptions of right and wrong. Those who saw him as an ogre were either straight-forward political enemies, or people whose own principles and standards of behaviour left much to be desired. In time there developed a third category—those who were uninformed and believed the slanders spread by others.

 

A striking example of a wronged relation who bore Yané no grudge was Georgi Penkov, from the village of Mechkul, not far to the north of Vlahi. Georgi’s father, Petŭr Nikolov Bozhilov (locally known as Penkata) was one of the richest and most influential men in the village, respected by the Turks and inclined to support the Supremists. Yané naturally regarded him with some suspicion, and once, when it was suggested that Penkata should be made the local leader of the Organization on the grounds that he was a pillar of society, Yané retorted: ‘Don’t lean on that pillar,

 

 

8. I am indebted for this information to Lyubomir Spirov Yordanov, grandson of Tanko Ruychev.

 

9. That the Turks supplied the Vlahi Supremists with guns to fight Sandansky is also alleged by Spas Chakurov of Kresna, whose memoirs were recorded by Ivan Harizanov. See TDIA, f. 1508, op. 2, a.e. 22, pp. 53-54. Harizanov had obviously asked the writer of the letter (TDIA, f. 1508, op. 2, a.e. 13) to check Chakurov’s statement. The writer confirms the general picture, but says that Chakurov is wrong in saying that the Turks gave the Vlahi Supremists 40 Mausers: they gave them unlimited Martini rifles. The writer describes the chorbadzhii’s meeting place as ‘our house’, and says that Hadzhi Dimitŭr was his grandfather.

 

 

235

 

because it’s rotted through and may bring the whole house down.’

 

Penkata had a rival in the shape of the local mayor, Toman Dzhuvtov, who, exploiting Yané’s dislike for him, concocted a petition requesting that Penkata and two other Supremists be killed, and contrived to make it appear that the whole village concurred with the proposal. The deceit was accomplished in the following manner: using his authority as mayor, Toman Dzhuvtov collected, on some official pretext, the seals which the illiterate villagers used for signing documents, and, without their knowledge, he set these seals to the petition and sent it to Yané. The latter was completely taken in. Penkata and the other two were sentenced to death on the basis of the petition, and Petŭr Govedarov and another chetnik were sent to shoot them, which they did on June 12, 1906 (one of the Supremists escaped). Eventually, of course, Yané discovered the deception, and Toman Dzhuvtov was, in his turn, sentenced to death. The executioner, appropriately enough, was Penkata’s young son, Georgi, and the fact that the boy subsequently joined Yané’s cheta is an eloquent testimony to the charismatic quality of Yané’s personality and to popular belief in the purity of his motives.

 

It was not only in Vlahi that Yané uncovered a nest of vipers during the uneasy year that followed the Rila Congress. Boris Sarafov was again attempting to disrupt the Serres Region through Dyado Iliya Kŭrchovaliyata. Sometime in the early summer of 1906, Yané summoned Dimitŭr Arnaudov—and some others whose names are not recorded—to a meeting outside the village of Belyovo (Melnik District). Here he read them six letters written in Sarafov’s own hand and sent to Dyado Iliya, who, after the Serres Regional Congress, had been sent to the village of Rila to assist the Organization’s frontier agent. The subject of Sarafov’s letters was no less than arrangements for the murder of Stoyu Hadzhiev, who had replaced Dyado Iliya as voivoda in the Demir Hisar district. In approaching Dyado Iliya, Sarafov may have had several considerations in mind: as an ex-haramiya, Dyado Iliya probably resented being semi-retired in favour of an intellectual; less ideologically stable than the other prominent Serchani, he had already shown himself to be not averse to co-operating with Supremist officers, such as Lt Atanasov, and his own son had been in Captain Stoyanov’s cheta. Being illiterate, Dyado Iliya made a practice of taking his correspondence to the teacher in the village of Rila, whom he trusted and who would read his letters to him and write answers. The teacher was also Yané’s friend, and he sent him all Sarafov’s letters, telling Dyado Iliya that such letters should be destroyed and pretending that he had done so. [10]

 

After the meeting at Belyovo, Yané agreed to go to Nevrokop with Dimitŭr Arnaudov and the others in order to talk further about the matter, and to make a tour of the villages around Nevrokop. Some two

 

 

10. See Arnaudov, Opus cit., p. 14.

 

 

236

 

hours after they had set out, following the Belyovo River upwards into Pirin, the weather suddenly deteriorated; black clouds covered the sky, and there arose a terrible storm, with thunder and lightning on the scale that gave Pirin her name. The night was now so dark that the travellers could not even see each other, and Yané tumbled into a pit some six or seven feet deep. He was not hurt, but, being unable to get out, he roundly cursed the storm, while the others laughed heartily. Arnaudov then held out the butt of his rifle, which Yané grasped, and they managed to drag him out onto the path again. By now, they were nearly in the Nevrokop District, and Arnaudov went ahead because he knew the paths and passes between the two districts better than anyone else. Extremely heavy rain began to fall, adding considerably to their difficulties and discomfort, and Arnaudov, who knew of a shepherd’s hut just off the path, began running towards it. Yané, on the other hand, not understanding the reason for his haste, called on everybody to stop and sit down, because the storm was now so frightful that he feared that the infernal machine and explosives which they were carrying might attract the lightning. After hurried explanations, they all went into the hut—out of the frying-pan into the fire, as it turned out, for the hut was full of fleas, thousands of them, which the hapless revolutionaries took with them, when they set out again half an hour later after the storm had abated. Early next morning—weary, wet and flea-bitten, they arrived near Gaitaninovo, where a courier was waiting to receive them. It was a somewhat comical meeting, for the courier kept repeating the pass-word simid (a small loaf of white bread), regardless of what was said to him. Apparently, he was new to the job, and it had been impressed upon him that, if he muddled things and said any other word, he would be taken for a bad man and killed! He had, therefore, been repeating the pass-word to himself all night in order to avoid any ‘muddle’, and continued to do so to the great delight of some jokers among the chetnitsi, who deliberately plied him with questions for their own amusement.

 

Yané and his comrades toured the villages in part of the district, holding meetings, which included improvised theatrical performances depicting the life of the Organization. Quick rehearsals were held in houses, and, in the evenings, the young people and members of the Organization assembled to see the ‘performances’, to listen to poetry recitals and to sing revolutionary songs.

 

In one of the villages, Yané met the director of a mine which was exploited by a French company. They discussed the wages of the workers and reached agreement, but when Yané raised the idea that a small proportion of the profits be given to the Organization, the director said that, before he could put the proposal into practice, he would have to obtain the consent of the company’s central office.

 

After this, Yané returned to his own Melnik District. Arnaudov and some of the Nevrokop comrades accompanied him as far as Sveti Petŭr—

 

 

237

 

a chapel on the boundary between the two districts. In the summer months, this area was temporarily occupied by as many as a thousand families of Yuruks—nomad Turkish shepherds, who came up from the Drama district with their flocks and herds. Because of their presence, Yané took certain precautions, and, before allowing his cheta to go and drink at a nearby fountain, he sent a few men to see whether there were any Yuruks there. The chetnitsi exceeded their instructions, and brought back a Yuruk whom they had captured in the dark. Yané spoke to the man kindly, assuring him that the komiti were not bad people and would not harm him in any way. The Yuruk then offered to fetch them something to eat, and, although the cheta was not short of food, Yané did not want to offend him and agreed to his suggestion. The Yuruk insisted on leaving his cloak as an earnest of his good faith, although the Bulgarians told him that none was needed, and within half an hour, he was back, with bread, cheese, cream, fried eggs, yoghurt and ten pairs of socks of the kind which the Yuruks made and sold to supplement their incomes. The cheta ate the food, thanked the man and paid him for the socks, although he protested that no payment was required. This was the start of friendly co-operation between the Organization and the nomads. The Yuruks were simple people, honest in their dealings and patriarchal in their ways. In the course of time, not only the original ‘prisoner’, but other Yuruks as well, helped the Organization in a number of ways, while it, for its part, helped them to wage an economic fight against their own state, by hiding their animals from officials sent to count them for tax purposes. Yané also gave them a letter of recommendation, describing them as good and honest people, which he addressed to the voivoda of the Drama District, where they would be spending the winter. [11]

 

If the summer of 1906 brought Yané the satisfaction of winning new supporters for the Organization, it also brought him the shock and sorrow of the death of Georgi Moadzhira, one of his youngest and most devoted chetnitsi. Moadzhira was born in a chiflik village on the Serres plain; he had no education and became a shepherd. In 1901 or 1902, when he was no more than seventeen, he killed a bey’s agent, and fled to the Serres District cheta. According to Dimitŭr Arnaudov, he was transferred to the Nevrokop cheta, where, being extremely inexperienced, he fell under the influence of two men of bad repute. When the Nevrokop voivoda, Atanas Teshovaliyata, expelled the men from his cheta and sent them back to the Principality, Georgi decided to go with them. On the way, they stopped near Melnik to rest in a village. Yané happened to be in the same place, and, informed of their arrival by the village leader, he had Georgi brought to him and persuaded the boy to remain with him in the Melnik cheta. Yané was an excellent judge of character, and he saw great possibilities in the wild ex-shepherd boy, who, for all that he was illiterate,

 

 

11. This account of Yané’s journey to and from the Nevrokop District is taken from Arnaudov, Opus cit., pp. 14-15.

 

 

238

 

was highly intelligent and alert. By any standards, Georgi was an unusual phenomenon: silent by nature, and modest in his bearing, he was strikingly good-looking, and the sweet, girlish beauty of his face gave no clue as to his two other outstanding features—a love of fighting which would have done credit to a tiger, and a total absence of any sense of fear.

 

When he came to Yané, he was a rebel with no political understanding, and it was Yané who made him a disciplined revolutionary. A very close relationship developed between them; Georgi was always at Yané’s side, ready to fulfil his every command; he accompanied him to Sofia, and slept next to him all the time they were in the Rila Monastery. If anyone teased Georgi about his bomb-throwing and trigger-pulling, he would reply with a smile: ‘I don’t meddle in politics. You do the deciding. I’ll do the applying, but, in order for me to be bolder in carrying out any action, you must convince me that it is right.’ [12] Always in the forefront of any battle, always ready to undertake a dangerous task, the boy with the face of an angel and the hand of an assassin rapidly became a legend. For the Supremists and the Sofia newspapers, he was the sadistic familiar spirit of the ‘evil genius’ of the Macedonian movement. For the Serchani, he was the pride of Yané’s cheta, and when, at the age of barely 22, he was killed in a battle with soldiers, after he and two companions had ambushed a Turkish thug and shot him dead, Revolyutsionen List published an obituary which summed up his singular character by describing him as a ‘blood-thirsty lover of mankind’, and used as a leitmotiv words from Maxim Gorki’s immortal Song of the Falcon: ‘We sing of the madness of the brave.’ [13]

 

No one has recorded how Yané received the news of the death of his young protegé and friend, though doubtless he must have grieved more than he cared to admit in public. Such losses were rare in the Serres Region, thanks to Yané’s skill as a military commander and his strategy of seeking a united front wherever possible and of resorting to violence only when circumstances forced it upon him. Yet Yané was a stickler for law and order, and would never leave unpunished the slightest transgression of the Organization’s will. The action in which Georgi Moadzhira lost his life was part of a campaign to deal with counter-cheti formed by the kaimakam of Melnik, who had even imported Albanian ruffians for the purpose of terrorizing the population and of bringing it to heel. He was also recruiting extra spies in an effort to rid himself of Yané’s unwelcome presence. The kaimakam of Nevrokop was similarly engaged, and there was a noticeable increase in arbitrary attacks on peasants, often leading to their murder. The people turned to Yané for protection, and he responded by strengthening his cheta and the village militia, and punishing, as far as possible, those who were responsible. Blood had to be avenged, even if, in the process,

 

 

12. Arnaudov, Opus cit., p. 17.

 

13. Revolyutsionen List, 7.X. 1906.

 

 

239

 

men like young Georgi had to be sacrificed. The price was high, but it had to be paid so that the Organization could maintain its prestige and authority. Inactivity would discredit it in the eyes of the people. Every thug, bully and traitor must be made to feel the avenging hand of the Organization; every honest man must feel secure under its umbrella. And so, the fight went on. In September 1906, for example, a cheta led by Georgi Kazepov attacked a group of some twenty Albanian thugs while they were at supper in their quarters in Orman Chiflik (now Damyanitsa). The building was set on fire, and all the Albanians, except one, either perished in the flames or were shot. There were no losses on the Bulgarian side. An interesting detail of the action is that, although many of the Albanians had gold coins in their belts, not a single chetnik demeaned himself by robbing the dead—a fact which made it quite clear to the Turks that vengeance, not robbery, was the motive for the attack. [14]

 

Such acts of retaliation eventually dampened the ardour of the bully-boys, and most of them returned to more peaceful, agricultural pursuits, rather than risk incurring Yané’s wrath.

 

By now the Turks had developed a healthy respect for him. The soldiers had even conferred upon him, unofficially, the highest rank which Turkey had to offer—that of Pasha—and when they heard his loud voice ordering a charge, they would exclaim in alarm: ‘Sandan-Pasha is coming! Sandan-Pasha is coming!’ They explained his ability to escape from encirclements by declaring that bullets could not kill him, and Yané himself half-believed that this was so.

 

Once after Yané had slipped unnoticed and unscathed through a blockade near Melnik, the Turks could not believe that he had, in fact, eluded them and decided that he must have had a secret hide-out in the area. This intelligence came to the ears of Hristo Kirov, a teacher from Mehomiya, in the following manner. Kirov had been elected as a delegate to the Second Congress of the Serres Region, held in the summer of 1906, and, being in poor health, he travelled thither, not on foot, but on a horse hired from a carrier. Just before he set out, the mail for the Congress arrived along the secret channel from Father Paisi in the Rila Monastery. The Serres Region had an extremely efficient postal service; every week, in all weathers, couriers went to the Monastery to dispatch and fetch mail to and from Sofia. This time the mail was hidden in the straw of Kirov’s saddle, and, for greater security, the local committee decided that Kirov should travel in company with the Turkish mail, which had an escort of two cavalrymen. The latter, not realizing that Kirov understood Turkish, began to discuss events in the Melnik District, and commented with particular admiration on the fact that their colleagues had actually managed to trap Sandansky’s cheta, but—alas—when the noose was pulled

 

 

14. An account of the action is contained in a letter (dated 19.IV.1945) to Ivan Harizanov from Atanas Karadzhata, who participated in the attack. See TDIA, f. 1508, op. 1, a.e. 520.

 

 

240

 

tight, there was nothing there, so clearly he had some well-hidden lair into which he had gone to earth.

 

When Kirov reached the secret site of the Congress, he told Yané about the Turks’ conversation, and Yané, laughing uproariously, said that, indeed, after the cheta had slipped away, the soldiers had set about moving vast boulders in a fruitless search for the entrance to a non-existant hide-out!

 

The Congress opened in the village of Lovcha on July 26, 1906, in the house of Dimitŭr Ikonomov’s father. It was attended by twenty-six delegates [15] from the six districts of the Serres Region. They included Yané himself, who was elected Chairman, Chudomir Kantardzhiev, Georgi Skrizhovsky, Georgi Kazepov, Stoyu Hadzhiev, Todor Popantov, Petŭr Milev and Mihail Daev. Peré Toshev, who had been touring Macedonia on behalf of the Central Committee, was also present at the Congress. After five days in Lovcha, excessive troop movements were noticed in the area, and the Congress decided to move to Libyahovo before the danger became acute. When the delegates were all ready to leave, Yané stood up at his chairman’s table and began to sing the Russian revolutionary song The sun rises and sets, but in my prison it is dark. [16] A sudden surge of emotion engulfed the delegates, who began singing with him, expressing, as Kirov put it, their ‘patriotic sentiments for a struggle to the end for the liberation of unhappy Macedonia’.

 

They left Lovcha at night in single file, with the armed ‘illegal’ delegates spaced out between the unarmed ‘legal’ delegates, and all arrived safely in Libyahovo, where they continued their deliberations until August 6, in the spacious house of Ivan Kuyumdzhief.

 

After the business of electing a Congress Buro, scrutinizing credentials, and so forth, had been disposed of, the first question to be discussed was the irregular state of affairs in the Nevrokop cheta. Prior to the Congress, one of the chetnitsi, Dinka Drobenov (Tŭrliisky), had been tried by a joint court consisting of the Gorna Dzhumaya, Razlog and Nevrokop cheti, for ‘indecent’ behaviour towards a girl in the Dzhumaya village of Marulevo, and the court had sentenced him to be disarmed and sent to the Principality. Drobenov, who was under Supremist influence, had also wanted to usurp Petŭr Milev’s place as Nevrokop voivoda, and had gained the support of other chetnitsi, who were behaving in a hostile manner towards Milev. The Congress confirmed the sentence passed on Dinka Drobenov, and decided that the dissident chetnitisi should also be disarmed and sent under guard to the Principality. [17]

 

 

15. Irregularities were found in the election of two delegates, but they were allowed to remain in an advisory capacity, without voting rights.

 

16. Memoirs of Hristo Kirov. OIM Blagoevgrad, No. 1367. The song is sung in Maxim Gorky’s play ‘The Lower Depths’, which was first performed in Sofia in 1903 and was immensely successful.

 

17. See Resolution of the Second Regular Congress of the Serres Revolutionary

 

 

241

 

During the discussion and approval of the Regional Committee’s report, the Congress examined the failure of Daev and Petŭr Milev to carry out the death sentence which the Committee had passed on Sarafov before the Rila Congress. The two men were held guilty of dereliction of duty, but were pardoned, in view of the General Congress’s decision regarding offences prior to November 1, 1905. [18]

 

The Congress then considered the report of the Serres delegation to the Rila Congress, and, ‘since all the decisions and legal provisions of the draft Rules of the Serres Region had been fully adopted by the General Congress, it approved the conduct of its delegates’.

 

Reports were presented by the various districts regarding the general situation there, the activities of the district commissions for financial and judicial control, and other local probelms. From the reports, it was clear that, under Hilmi Pasha, the Turks were becoming more skilful in their struggle against the Organization, and were directing their attacks against ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ workers simultaneously. On the one hand, by forming Turkish cheti, by assisting the Greek, Serbian and Supremist cheti, and by murdering Bulgarian villagers, they were trying to break the spirit of the population and force it to abandon revolutionary activity. On the other hand, the enemy had learnt new tactics and had become more wily as a result of long experience in hunting the cheti; systematic raids and searches, redistribution of troops, and night movements by the army were all creating great difficulties for the cheti.

 

In view of all this, the Congress decided that efforts must be made to shift the centre of revolutionary activity from the cheti to the ‘legal’ workers, i.e. to the local committees, which had hitherto tended to play a very secondary role—not by design, but through force of circumstances and neglect. The Congress recommended that the personnel of the cheti be

 

 

Region. OIM Blagoevgrad, No. 1039. See also Memoirs of Hristo Kirov, OIM Blagoevgrad, No. 1367. See also Circular Letter of the Serres Revolutionary Region to the area and local leaders of the Nevrokop District, TDIA, f. 1508, op. 1, a.e. 472.

 

18. Apart from this resolution passed by the Serres Regional Congress, 1906, there is no documentary record of the decision to kill Sarafov. According to Silyanov, the decision was taken in the winter of 1904 (i.e. when Sarafov was negotiating with the Serbs) by Sandansky and Penchev, but was not supported by the three ‘legal’ members of the Regional Committee Lazar Tomov, Vladimir Blagoev and Saev. Silyanov states that Daev and Georgi Moadzhira were charged with carrying out the murder, and he does not mention Petŭr Milev in this connection. Silyanov says that Sarafov escaped death because Moadzhira became seriously ill on the way to Sofia, and Daev could not bring himself to do the deed. See Silyanov, Opus cit., Vol. II, pp. 490-491. According to Ivan Harizanov, in a chapter of his unfinished biography of Yané, the death sentence was signed by Yané and Petko Penchev on behalf of the Regional Committee, towards the end of 1904. Daev, Milev and Moadzhira were sent to kill him, but Moadzhira suffered frost-bite on the way and had to stay in the interior. Milev was arrested as a deserter from the Army on his arrival in Radomir. After his release, he went to Sofia but was dissuaded by Mihail Gerdzhikov from killing Sarafov. Daev had already been dissuaded by Damé Gruev. See TDIA, f. 1508, op. 1, a.e. 547, pp. 22-24.

 

 

242

 

reduced numerically and improved qualitatively; that efforts be made to recruit better educated persons and to obtain the latest weapons. The people’s militia was to be reorganized as an independent institute for defending the population; the district committees were to engage special instructors to train all capable forces in the towns and villages, and, in order to develop their revolutionary spirit, recruits were to be given revolutionary literature to read and military and terrorist tasks to perform. Special military councils were to be set up in each district to deal with purely military questions. The Regional Committee was to appoint specialists to study the Region from the geographical and ethnographical point of view. In order to paralyze and destroy Turkish and other cheti, all harmful elements had to be wiped out by whatever means were considered appropriate, with the proviso that there was to be no indiscriminate killing.

 

The Congress gave considerable attention to the growth of Greek armed propaganda in the Region. Greek bands had begun to harry Bulgarian villages in the south of the Serres and Drama Districts, and were killing members of the Organization. [19] Describing Greek propaganda as ‘nationalistically inspired, having aims and purposes clearly opposed to those of the Organization’, the Congress prescribed ‘the most strict pursuit of all its agents, wherever they appear, and, in relation to the cheti which it employs, their instigators, agents and promoters, the taking of measures identical with those recommended in the case of the Turkish cheti. As regards the Greek bourgeoisie, which has always been hostile to the Organization and is the chief support of the said cheti—a complete boycott is recommended. To achieve the economic ruin of Serres as a centre of this propaganda, all Bulgarian merchants must, in the shortest possible time, wind up their trade engagements there and transfer their credit to Demir Hisar or Salonika.’

 

A large part of the Congress resolutions were devoted to economic, cultural and social questions, which were particularly dear to the Socialist-orientated Serchani. The Region’s economic policy was further clarified and developed. The Organization was to pursue three main aims: to improve the economic state of the population; to inflict financial damage on the Turkish State, and to strengthen the unity of the organized population. The chifliks were constantly to be attacked and sabotaged, so that the land would lose its value and gradually pass into the hands of the ‘poor

 

 

19. During the autumn of 1906, Greek terrorism against the Bulgarian population in the Drama sanjak, where British officers were attached to the gendarmerie, and especially in Kavalla, had reached such proportions that it was the subject of adverse comment at the British Foreign Office. In various confidential reports from British representatives in Turkey, the Greek consul in Kavalla and the Greek Bishop of Drama were accused of traffic in arms, active propaganda, and incitement to murder. As a result, the Foreign Office sent a strongly worded note to the Greek Government, stating that the activity of the Greek bands was the principal obstacle to the success of the reforms which the Great Powers were trying to introduce. See PRO: P.O. 371/155, pp. 424-429.

 

 

243

 

working masses’. In order to rescue the small-holders from the clutches of money-lenders, local committees were to investigate the possibility of setting up village mutual aid funds to provide cheap and easy credit. The setting up of producer and consumer co-operatives was also recommended. [20] Since, thanks to the Organization, the peasants were able to keep more of their produce, local committees were to encourage the introduction of poultry-farming, bee-keeping, silk-worm breeding, fruit-growing, etc., in areas where these branches of agriculture were not practised. Suitable literature on’the subject was to be obtained. The Congress also agreed on the necessity to strengthen the handicraft guilds, and to ensure that propertyless workers were paid proper wages. As before, the collection of state taxes was to be resisted and sabotaged in every way possible, including organized raids on barns where tithe produce was stored.

 

Unfortunately, little progress seems to have been made with education since the previous Congress, for the Resolution speaks of ‘criminal neglect’, with school buildings in the most sorry state, equipment non-existent, and teaching staff inadequate both in number and qualifications. Confirming its previous decisions on education, the Congress passed a number of new decisions: in view of the inadequacy of school premises and equipment, new school buildings were to be constructed; secondary education was to be made compulsory for children from rich families, whose parents could easily afford it; public funds were to be used to support talented children from poor families, so that they, too, could complete their secondary education; school inspectors were to be appointed in every district; teachers were to receive higher salaries, and pupils’ circles were to be formed in secondary schools to educate young people in a revolutionary spirit and to prepare them for future activity in the Organization.

 

When public health was discussed, it was decided to make district and local committees responsible for the setting up of pharmacies, as well as for regulating streets, drainage, etc. The Congress also stated that the proper age for marriage was eighteen for a girl and twenty for a boy. Boys of eighteen might marry if their parents were in very poor health, i.e. if they really needed a daughter-in-law to look after them. Extravagant weddings were again attacked, and the Congress voted to limit betrothal gifts to a ring, and wedding expenses to a maximum of 200 grosh. Presents were to be given only to the parents of the young couple and to the kum.

 

Education for citizenship remained an important part of Serres policy, and ‘in order to develop a revolutionary spirit among the mass of the people and to teach them to stand up for their civil and human rights’, the Congress made a number of recommendations for ‘legal struggle’.

 

 

20. On one of his visits to Sofia, Yané discussed the co-operative movement and its application to Macedonian conditions with his Socialist friend, Stoyno Stoynov, and among the material which they studied was a book on co-operatives by Tantilov. See memoirs of Stoyno Stoynov, recorded by Ivan Harizanov, TDIA, f. 1508, op. 2, a.e. 23, p. 22.

 

 

244

 

These included the distribution of suitable literature; protests to European diplomatic agents against all misdeeds, injustices and infringements of the law on the part of the Army and the authorities; collective refusal to pay all unlawful levies and taxes; political demonstrations, wherever possible, to express dissatisfaction with the Turkish yoke; and the subordination of all national institutions, such as churches, communes (parish councils), etc., to the control of the Organization. Protests were to be made direct to diplomatic agents, because the Organization regarded the civil agents and gendarme officers appointed under the Mürtzsteg Reforms as ‘ordinary Turkish officials’. A separate resolution dealing with European control states that, as a result of the Reforms, nothing had changed, or, if anything had, it was for the worse. It considered that the behaviour of European diplomacy on the Macedonian question was ‘with each succeeding day becoming purely provocative’, and recommended that steps be taken for the preparation of serious action against European interests in Macedonia. Gendarme officers found guilty of offences were to be treated in the same way as Turkish officials.

 

The final matters on the Agenda concerned the Region’s budget, and elections for the Regional Committee, etc. One of the more interesting items of expenditure was 50 Turkish liri for the expenses of people sent to the Principality with the task of recruiting ‘educated forces to the Region’.

 

The Congress elected eight delegates for the forthcoming General Congress of the Organization, including Yané, Peré Toshev, Chudomir Kantardzhiev, Stoyu Hadzhiev and Petŭr Milev, and mandated them to raise a number of issues. One of these was the transfer of the Gorna Dzhumaya District (the villages on the left bank of the Struma only) to the Serres Region, since the Dzhumaya channel was the only one which could be used in all seasons. Another was the punishment of those responsible for the non-appearance of Revolyutsionen List. The newspaper had not been published since the previous General Congress, and the Melnik District had already expressed its dissatisfaction in a letter to the External Representatives, dated March 25, 1906: ‘Why, comrades, is the appearance of Revolyutsionen List still being delayed? Surely, in view of the absence of literature, our only newspaper in the interior should not cease publication for so long? Take the necessary measures for solving the question of List. After all, this is a Congress decision, which should be respected and not sat upon. Bear in mind that the time is past when the Representation had its own way in everything and everywhere—now we are keeping account of everything and one day we shall render an account for this— because it is the sole spiritual food of our workers, and you are taking even that out of their mouths.’ [21]

 

The Congress also required its delegates to demand that the Organiza-

 

 

21. OIM Blagoevgrad, No. 247.

 

 

245

 

tion make clear its relations to all those active in Macedonian affairs in Bulgaria. According to Dimitŭr Arnaudov, Yané spoke at the Congress for two hours and ‘explained in very accessible language the differences between the two Bulgarias, between that of the Bulgarian people and the of the officials of the Bulgarian Court. Yané made it quite clear that, while the interests of the Organization coincided with those of the Bulgarian people, they had nothing in common with those of the Bulgarian Court, which he regarded as a enemy of the Cause. [22]

 

The Congress ended, the delegates departed, and Yané resumed his ‘wandering life, accompanied by so many miseries and hardships’. More than two years had elapsed since he had thus described his existence to his parents, yet he was still as full as ever of energy and confidence. Had he now now a whole team of intelligent, like-minded comrades? Had not the General Congress endorsed his policies and set the Organization on its true course? Had not the Serres Congress opened the way to new improvements in the work of the Region?

 

The detailed application of the Congress directives makes fascinating reading. In the Demir Hisar District, Stoyu Hadzhiev introduced the peasants to tree-grafting and silkworms, for which he obtained 20,000 young mulberry trees from the area of Doiran and Gevgeli. He also opened two Bulgarian shops, with Organization funds, in order to facilitate the boycott of hostile Greek traders. Under his leadership, the peasants would steal produce at night from tithe barns, but ordinary thefts were virtually eliminated, since, as well as beating offenders, the Organization fined them ten-times the value of the stolen article; the owner would receive the full value of the object as compensation, while the remaining nine-tenths of the fine went to Organization funds. [23]

 

At a two-day village meeting in the village of Lovcha (Nevrokop District), attended by 180 people and held in September 1906, it was agreed that the local committee should supervise the raising of fruit-trees, vines, bees, cattle and poultry, with the exception of ducks and geese, which were not considered suitable because of the lack of water. In the hope of improving the heavy clay soil, the meeting voted to treat an experimental area with a dressing of sand and lime, and, so that no individual would suffer if the experiment was unsuccessful, they agreed to use part of the church field! The Lovcha peasants also discussed how local guilds could be revitalized; how tobacco merchants could be prevented from cheating the producers; how a village bank, offering low-interest loans, could be organized and financed by cultivating old cemeteries, making wax-candles, renting the mill, etc.; how the road across the Paril Pass could be improved so that it could be used by carts. They ratified a decision by the outgoing committee not to allow the cutting of wood or the pasturing of sheep in a certain forest for three years as a conservation

 

 

22. Arnaudov, Opus cit., p. 16.

 

23. ODA Blagoevgrad, f. 742, op. 1, a.e. 195.

 

 

246

 

measure. There was considerable discussion over the fate of another forest. On the one hand, the only food available for goats during the hard winter was dried oak foliage, cut and stored in advance; on the other, the forest was being destroyed by the felling of trees for the purpose. The meeting decided that the forest could be protected and the goats fed, if only the lower branches of the trees were cut and the crowns were left to grow. [24]

 

Yané himself did what he could to encourage the peasants to broaden the horizons of their daily work. Konstantin Lifinkov, of Kashina, for example, remembered how Yané would say to him: ‘One day we’ll make this place the biggest bee-keeping centre, and you’ll be the chief overseer. All Bulgaria will envy you.’ Telling the tale, Lifinkov added: ‘It was from him that I got my love for bees, and it will be with me to the end of my days.’ [25]

 

The sun rises and sets, but in my prison it is dark. . .

 

The sun rose and set. The blazing passion of the southern summer melted into the tranquil contentment of autumn, and the blue of the sky over Pirin grew ever richer and deeper as the leaves turned to gold, and the glitter of the first fresh snow softened the starkness of the scarred marble and granite.

 

But prisons breed vermin and create sickness, and for Yané there were always squalls and thunderclouds in the offing. They were his element, and he flew to meet them with the fierce exultation of the stormy-petrel, who knows that no cloud can hide the sun for ever. Yané believed, with every fibre of his restless, pulsating being, that one day the sun of universal freedom and brotherhood would rise and never set, and, in order to hasten the sunrise, he was prepared to do anything, to endure anything, no matter how hard, no matter how frightful.

 

 

24. The Resolution of the Second Regular Meeting of the Sevastopol Organization, 8.IX-10.IX.1906. OIM Blagoevgrad, No. 225. ‘Sevastopol’ was the code-name for Lovcha.

 

25. See Pirinsko Delo, 19.V.1981. Zhiv v sŭznanieto na sŭvremennitsite—Memoirs recorded by Iliya Filyanov.

 

 

 

[Previous] [Next]
[Back to Index]