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





Words such as ‘freedom’, ‘uprising’, ‘liberation’ must have entered Yané’s vocabulary almost as soon as the names of the various saints and animals whose festivals marked the passage of time in Vlahi, for his early childhood coincided with the turbulent final years of Ottoman rule in Bulgaria.


Yané was nine months old when the Turks hanged Vasil Levsky, whom the people called the Apostle of Freedom, and who created a centralized revolutionary organization by travelling from town to town, from village to village—almost from house to house—setting up secret committees, and ‘weaving a fiery net of rebellion in which to trap and render harmless the monster of tyranny’. [1]


Yané was three when Levsky’s comrades organized a hastily prepared and therefore shortlived rebellion in the Stara Zagora area. He was nearly four when the far more serious April Rising of 1876 brought his country to the attention of the world. This time the events came nearer home for the people of Vlahi. Only a few hours’ walk to the east, across the high ridge of Pirin, was the Razlog [2] valley, which had been visited by Levsky himself, and which was considered to be part of the Fourth Revolutionary Region (Plovdiv and Panagyurishté)—the best organized and most active region in Bulgaria. A delegate from Razlog was present at the historic meeting at Oborishte, in the forests above Panagyurishté, where the final arrangements for the Rising were made, and the revolutionaries of Razlog were informed of the arrangements by a special emissary. Razlog itself did not rise, but, across the Struma, in the mountains of Maleshevia, a teacher named Dimitŭr Popgeorgiev Berovsky, and a priest named Stoyan, roused the peasants to rebellion and temporarily freed the village of Razlovtsi. The rebels’ banner had been embroidered by two other teachers—Nedelya Petkova and her daughter, Stanislava, who like Levsky, were natives of the Rose Valley in Central Bulgaria, and who had, indeed, once embroidered a banner with the lion of Bulgaria and the slogan ‘Freedom or Death’ at Levsky’s personal request.


Neither in the Fourth Region, nor in Maleshevia, were the rebels successful for more than a brief initial period. Then, both combattants and civilians alike were engulfed by the Turkish backlash, which swept



1. The words are those of the Bulgarian poet Hristo Smirnensky in his essay Levsky.


2. At that time the name Razlog was used for the whole valley, and the present-day town of Razlog was called Mehomiya.





through the land like a stream of seething molten lava, sparing no one and leaving in its wake a wilderness of mangled corpses, blood and ashes. Such things were nothing new in Bulgaria, whose people had, for five hundred years, endured at the hands of their conquerors all manner of injustice and inhumanity from excessive taxation to torture, rape and murder. This time, however, the dreadful events took place against a background of acute crisis within the Ottoman Empire—the so-called Sick Man of Europe, whom the Western Powers were striving to keep alive, lest Russia should fill the vacuum left by his demise. In Bulgaria matters were approaching the point of no-return—that classical revolutionary situation in which the ruling class is no longer capable of governing in the old way and the governed are no longer prepared to submit to their rule. For the Bulgarian people, national liberation was not merely a question of winning the political independence that their neighbours in Greece, Serbia and Romania had already gained, but of solving the insoluble economic problems created by the continuance of moribund Ottoman feudalism, which deprived intellectual and peasant alike of prospects, security and a fair return for their labour. Thus, the people as a whole were becoming increasingly willing to participate in secret organizations and armed uprisings and to put their families and possessions at risk, in the hope of bringing their plight and aspirations to the attention of those Great Powers who presided over the affairs of Europe, and who were in a position—if they so desired—to sign the Sick Man’s death certificate.


In pursuit of its policy of bolstering up Turkey, the British Government of Disraeli attempted to deny the existence of atrocities in Bulgaria, or, at least, to place the blame as much on the Bulgarians as on the Turks, but the full, horrifying truth about the massacres which followed the suppression of the April Rising was made known to the British public, and the world at large, by the American journalist, J.A. MacGahan, who, during July and August 1876, visited the areas most affected and wrote a series of on-the-spot reports for the London Daily News. One of these read as follows:


‘I have just seen the town of Batak with Mr Schuyler. [3] Mr Baring [4] was there yesterday. Here is what I saw. On approaching the town on a lull there were some dogs. They ran away and we found on this spot a number of skulls scattered about, and one ghastly heap of skeletons with clothing. I counted from the saddle a hundred skulls, picked and licked clean; all women and children. We entered the town. On every side were skulls and skeletons charred among the ruins, or lying entire where they fell in their clothing. There were skeletons of girls and women with long brown hair hanging to the skulls. We approached the church. There these remains were more frequent, until the ground was literally covered with



3. Eugene Schuyler, the American consul general in Constantinople.


4. The Second Secretary at the British Embassy in Constantinople.





skeletons, skulls and putrifying bodies in clothing. Between the church and the school there were heaps. The stench was fearful. We entered the churchyard. The sight was more dreadful. The whole churchyard for three feet deep was festering with dead bodies partly covered—hands, legs, arms, and heads projected in ghastly confusion. I saw many little hands, heads and feet of children of three years of age, and girls, with heads covered with beautiful hair. The church was even worse. The floor was covered with rotting bodies quite uncovered. I never imagined anything so fearful. There were 3,000 bodies in the churchyard and church. We were obliged to hold tobacco to our noses. In the school, a fine building, 200 women and children had been burnt alive. All over the town there were the same scenes. . .’ [5]


The Daily News also printed a report on events in Panagyurishté to itself by Schuyler:


‘Old men had their eyes torn out and their limbs cut off, and were then left to die, unless some more charitably disposed men gave them the final thrust. Pregnant women were ripped open and unborn babies carried triumphantly on the point of bayonet and sabre, while little children were made to bear the dripping heads of their victims.’ [6]


Once the facts were made public, sympathy and support for the Bulgarian cause came not only from Disraeli’s inveterate rival, William Gladstone, but also from famous men all over the world, among them William Morris, Oscar Wilde and Charles Darwin in Britain; Guiseppe Garibaldi in Italy; Victor Hugo in France; Leo Tolstoy, Turgenev and Mendeleev in Russia.


In a sense, the cruelly defeated April Rising achieved its aim, for, at the end of 1876, an international conference was convened in Constantinople to consider the future of the Balkan Peninsula. Then, when neither the decisions of the Conference, [7] nor the reforms hastily promised by the Sultan, were carried out, Russia declared war on Turkey in April 1877. Two months later, the Russian Army crossed the Danube at Svishtov, and began to liberate Bulgaria.


At first it all seemed like the denouement of a fairy-tale: for centuries, the Bulgarians had thought of Russia as the all-powerful hero who would one day smite the Turks, as St George smote the dragon. Ever since Ivan the Terrible had captured Kazan from the Tatars and added ‘Prince of the



5. Daily News, August 7, 1876.


6. Ibid, August 29, 1876.


7. The lands with a predominantly Bulgarian population were to be made into two autonomous vilayets (regions), each with a Christian governor. The capital of the Eastern Vilayet was to be Turnovo, while that of the Western Vilayet, which included Macedonia, was to be Sofia. The division into two of lands unanimously agreed to be Bulgarian was insisted upon by Britain and Austro-Hungary, who feared that a large united Bulgarian state would give Russia too much influence in the Balkans. Russia accepted the division because she was confident that the two vilayets would eventually unite. The proposal was shelved because the Sultan announced an extensive programme of reforms, which were not implemented either.





Bulgars’ [8] to his many styles and titles, the Bulgarians had looked to Moscow for salvation. The crescent and star of Islam might dominate the once-Orthodox city of Constantinople, but away to the north-east there was another holy city, with snow-white churches and golden domes, ruled by a mighty Christian Tsar, who was their kinsman. Once, in the distant past, when Bulgaria had been a great and cultured state, the Bulgarians had given the Russians the most precious thing that they possessed: their alphabet and the priceless gift of books. Now it was the turn of the Russians to repay their debt by giving Bulgaria the equally priceless gift of freedom.


For centuries the Bulgarians had dreamed of this moment. Their unshakable faith in the liberating mission of Russia had long been expressed in the two-headed eagles which adorned the heavy silver buckles of women’s national costumes and were prominent on the carved ikonostases of numerous churches throughout Bulgaria. The people of Vlahi had embodied their Russophil sentiments in a song about a magic tree, born of the drops spilt by a star that was serving God with wine. The tree blossomed with silver coins, which ripened into gold, and angels picked the fruit and carried it to the Tsar, begging him to use it to pay for an army which would defend the Bulgarians against the Turks. Now the moment of liberation had come, and wherever the bratushki [9] appeared, they were greeted with all the ceremony and hospitality of which the Bulgarian population was capable. Volunteers fought beside the Russian soldiers, guided the armies over the mountains, tended the wounded, provided transport, acted as scouts, and did everything possible to ensure a speedy Russian victory.


The road to victory was, however, far from easy. Prolonged titanic battles raged around the town of Pleven and on the heights of Shipka, and the gift of freedom was dearly bought with Russian blood—not coins from amagic tree. Moreover, although the Bulgarians were not yet fully aware of it, the greatest obstacle to the Russian advance was neither the snow and ice that blocked the mountain passes, nor the strength of the Turkish army, but the steadfast diplomatic opposition of the Western Powers.


Pirin was comparatively far from the theatres of war, for the main ill rust of the Russian army was directed towards the Turkish capital. After freeing Sofia on January 4, 1878 (December 23, old style), most of General Gurko’s men went east towards Plovdiv and Adrianople, and only a small force consisting of one battalion of infantry, some cavalry, and one unit



8. When the Proto-Bulgars of Asparuh migrated to Bulgaria in the seventh century, another branch of the Proto-Bulgars went up the Volga and settled near its junction with the Kama. It was these Bulgarians—whose descendants are the present-day Chuvash—whom the Tsar had in mind in taking the title ‘Prince of the Bulgars’. The Balkan Bulgarians, not realizing this, enthusiastically adopted the Orthodox Moscovite Tsar as their own champion against their Muslim oppressors. ‘


9. A Russian affectionate diminutive for ‘brothers’.





of artillery, set out southwards down the valley of the Struma towards Dupnitsa (Stanké Dimitrov) with orders to take the heights near the villages of Upper and Lower Dikanya, to go on, if possible, to the Rila Monastery and prevent it from being destroyed by the Turks, but not to go further south, i.e. to Gorna Dzhumaya, Pirin and beyond, until the major battles for Adrianople and Constantinople were safely won. [10]


The people who dwelt beside the Struma knew nothing of the finer points of strategy and tactics. They only knew that Sofia was free and that the Turks were fleeing before the bratushki, and with a mixture of joyous anticipation and anxiety, they waited for their liberators to arrive. Paradoxically, the very success and nearness of the Russians were creating new difficulties for the Bulgarians. Ever since the April Rising, the situation had been explosive. The more fanatical Turks were advocating preemptive attacks on peaceful Bulgarian villages, without waiting for further risings, and bashi-bozouks (Turkish irregulars) were roaming the countryside looting and killing. Now that they had seen the writing on the wall, the Turks reacted with the savage fury of mortally wounded beasts, venting this fury on the helpless Bulgarian population.


It was sometime during the Russo-Turkish War that Ivan Sandansky decided to take his family down from Shemeto to the relative safety of Gorna Dzhumaya, [11] a small town situated in the south-western foothills of Rila, on a tributary of the Struma, some miles north of the Kresha Gorge. The move was, no doubt, seen as a purely temporary measure until the Russians arrived and put an end to the Turkish terror. In fact, things did not develop in the way they had imagined and the family never returned to Vlahi. Only Sofia, the eldest child, who was already married to a man named Iliya Marushin, continued to live there. [12]


As the Russians advanced, Turkish refugees came fleeing southwards, and when they reached Dupnitsa, some 24 miles north of Gorna Dzhumaya, the Turkish authorities, who optimistically expected that the tide of battle would soon turn, commandeered Bulgarian houses in which to accommodate them, and provided them with free bread. Soon, however, the flood of refugees became so great that the authorities could no longer cope, and, when refugees from Sofia itself began to arrive, the local Turks themselves began to prepare for flight, piling their goods into carts and trying to sell what could not be moved. Then, just before Christmas (old style), the retreating Turkish army arrived. By sheer luck—or divine providence, as the Bulgarians thought—Dupnitsa, which is very seldom affected by fog, since a gentle constant wind blows through the narrow



10. See Mircho Yurukov. Blagoevgrad. Kratŭk istoricheski ocherk. 1964, p. 62.


11. See Yané Sandansky’s memoirs, recorded by L. Miletich: Materiali za istoriata na Makedonskoto osvoboditelno dvizhenie. Vol. VII. Dvizbenie otsam Vardara i borbata s Vŭrhovistite. Sofia 1927, p. 11.


12. I am indebted for this information to Boris Sandansky, of Kresna, whose father, Kostadin Sandansky, was born in Shemeto.





valley in which it stands, was so enveloped in fog that most of the Turkish soldiers did not realize that they were so near a town and bivouacked outside. Thus, although some shops were broken into, the town escaped relatively lightly.


On the night of December 26-27, 1877 (old style), a false alarm convinced the Turks that the Russians were coming, and, without more ado, they fled, soldier and civilian alike, towards Gorna Dzhumaya. Next morning, the Bulgarian notables called the representatives of the Jewish community—and a solitary Turk who had remained—to a meeting to set up a provisional administration, and a deputation was sent to make contact with the Russian Army. The Russians had, in fact, had no part in the alarm which had caused the Turks to leave, since no further advance down the Struma was envisaged by the High Command. However, under the unforeseen circumstances, an advance group of eleven Russian cavalry men entered Dupnitsa on December 30 (old style) to the great joy and delight of the people. Those who were unable to reach the faces of the soldiers to kiss them, kissed their hands, knees, coats, swords and even their horses’ heads. On January 2 1878 (old style) the whole battalion of Russians arrived under their commander, Major Orlinsky, and were met by the whole population, both Christian and Jewish, led by the Orthodox priests, who were carrying the church banners and crosses. [13]


Dupnitsa was free, but the situation in Gorna Dzhumaya was still tense and confused, as waves of refugees—both Turks and Circassians [14] from Dupnitsa and the north—came flooding into the town. It was a very severe winter, supplies were inadequate, and every day the town’s unwelcome guests looted houses, seizing food, household goods and cattle. Those who resisted them were unceremoniously killed. In the countryside, bands of bashi-bozouks attacked the villages in the valley of the Rila Kiver, and the braver among the Bulgarians formed cheti (armed bands) to oppose them. The kaimakam of Gorna Dzhumaya attempted to bring some order into the situation by making an agreement with the local Bulgarian notables that they would protect the Bulgarians from the bashi-bozouks and Circassians, if the Bulgarians would, in turn, protect the Turks from the Russians and the komiti (rebels or revolutionaries). He then called all citizens to pray together for the Sultan and for victory. The tragi-comic joint prayer-meeting began with prayers from a hodzha, whereupon the crowd shouted: ‘May the Sultan live a thousand years!’ Then a Bulgarian priest read a prayer and began to sing: Save thy people,



13. ‘For an account of the situation in Dupnitsa immediately before and after the liberation, (and the subsequent liberation of Gorna Dzhumaya), see: Nikola Lazarkov, Spomeni iz robskoto minalo na grad Dupnitsa i selata mu. Dupnitsa 1925, especially pp. 117-191.


14. The Circassians had come to Bulgaria from the Caucasus, which the Russians had conquered in 1864. They lived mainly by marauding and were a great scourge to the Christian population.





O Lord. . . victory to our Tsar! It entirely escaped the understanding of the Turks that, when the Bulgarians prayed for their Sovereign, they meant the Russian Tsar and not the Sultan, so the Turks fervently joined in the Bulgarian cries of ‘Amen!’ The kaimakam then announced that he had received two telegrams (both equally fictitious), one saying that the Grand Duke Nikolai had been captured at Adrianople, and the other saying that three hundred million soldiers from China were coming to their aid! On leaving the meeting, some of the older Turks asked the Bulgarian head-teacher, Konstantin Bosilkov, how many a million was, and he replied, with his tongue in his cheek, ‘Five hundred.’ [15]


As the situation grew worse, and more Circassians arrived, some Bulgarians fled from the town, in spite of the great cold, and set out for the mountain villages and made contact with the cheti. Messages were sent to Major Orlinsky in Dupnitsa, begging him to take Gorna Dzhumaya as well. Major Orlinsky obtained permission from the Russian command in Sofia to go further south and pacify the Rila Area, since the armistice signed at Adrianople had placed the demarcation line just south of Gorna Dzhumaya, but, in view of the cease-fire, he was ordered to proceed quietly.


With a detachment of soldiers, Orlinsky rode down to the Balar-bashi heights above Gorna Dzhumaya, and sent an officer who knew Turkish, with three soldiers under a flag-of-truce, into the town to invite the kaimakam to parley. The kaimakam accepted, and went with several other Turkish dignatories to meet Orlinsky. The latter proposed that they surrender the town against a guarantee of safety for the population, and, after consulting his companions, the kaimakam asked for three day’s grace so that he might consult the Turkish population in the town. The request was granted. Back in Gorna Dzhumaya, the kaimakam sent to Serres—the next major town to the south—asking for advice, and was told to hold on, since troops were coming. In Gorna Dzhumaya itself, many of the more fanatical Turks refused to believe that the Russians were so close, and expressed the opinion that the kaimakam had been deceived by Bulgarian komiti disguised as Russians! The kaimakam knew full well that he had spoken to real Russians, but, buoyed up by the promise of troops from Serres, he agreed not to surrender the town, and left the Russian ultimatum unanswered.


When it became clear to the Russians that Gorna Dzhumaya would not be handed over to them peacefully, they set out from Dupnitsa, followed by large numbers of Bulgarians, some of whom hoped to retrieve the cattle stolen from them by the Turkish refugees on their passage south, while others just wanted to see what would happen. Near Kocherinovo, in the valley of the Rila River, they came upon a large company of bashi-bozouks, with some two hundred waggons, carrying away loot from the Bulgarian villages Stob and Porominovo, and an engagement ensued.



15. See Arseni Kostentsev. Spomeni. Sofia 1917, pp. 84-85. Also: Vasil Sharkov, Grad Gorna Dzhumaya. Minalo i dnes. 1930, p. 127.





Orlinsky was unwilling to use his artillery in view of the armistice, but was persuaded by Arseni Kostentsev, [16] a Bulgarian teacher from Gorna Dzhumaya, to fire at least one shot to convince the Turks that they were dealing with real Russians and not disguised Bulgarian komiti. This shot had an electrifying effect: the bashi-bozouks abandoned their waggons and fled back to Gorna Dzhumaya, where the people were already in a state of terrible alarm. The shell had fallen in the town and had been identified as a Russian one, so the arrival of the routed bashi-bozouks was the final blow. The streets were filled with the shouting and wailing of the stricken Turks, who prepared to flee southwards, while the Bulgarians locked themselves in their houses, waiting for the storm to pass. So great was the panic that some Turks abandoned their homes at once, leaving their supper half-eaten on the table. Here and there fires were started, and the glow was visible to the Russian army, which was still some miles away.


That night, with the exception of a few old people, the entire Turkish population of Gorna Dzhumaya fled southwards through the long, narrow Kresna Gorge, with its shaggy forests, fearsome precipices and tooth-like pinnacles of rock. Here the path for Serres and Salonika ran high on the cliffs on the right bank of the river, and here a new disaster overtook the fleeing Turks in the shape of Bulgarian villagers who were lying in wait for them on their four-hour passage through the gorge. The path was so choked with carts, rumbling one behind the other like the waggons of a railway train, that there was no room to manoeuvre, and, when the Bulgarians attacked, many of the frightened horses and oxen dragged their carts, together with their loads and passengers over the edge into the icy Struma far below. In Turkish the word boğaz means both ‘throat’ and ‘gorge’, and, indeed, to the wretched people in the Kresna Gorge, it must have seemed as though they were trapped in the jaws of some ferocious monster. Only about half of those who entered the gorge eventually emerged at its southern end. For a long time after, the river carried the bloated bodies of animals and human beings, and all the following summer the peasants were salvaging chests, copperware and other treasures from the water.


After putting the bashi-bozouks to flight, the vanguard of the Russian army reached the high ground just outside Gorna Dzhumaya where Orlinsky had parleyed with the kaimakam, but, because of the severe weather, most of the Russians spent the night in the village of Kocherinovo, where the two soldiers killed in the engagement were buried. Next morning early, some of the bolder townsfolk went out to look for the Russians, and greeted them with joyous shouts: ‘There are no Turks, bratushki, no Turks! They all ran away last night!’


When the main contingent arrived from Kocherinovo, the towns-folk



16. Arseni Kostentsev was actually born in Novo Selo, near Shtip.





had already assembled, led by the priests carrying the church crosses and banners. There were tears of joy and prayers of gratitude that the five-century-old nightmare of foreign occupation was over. Again the hymn Lord, save thy people. . . victory to our Tsar! was sung, but this time no one imagained that the Tsar was any other than the Tsar of Russia, for Dyado Ivan [17] had come at last. Then, singing, the people led the Russian army, headed by Major Orlinsky, into Gorna Dzhumaya, where the troops were quartered in inns and houses. That evening the liberators were feasted as royally as circumstances permitted. Every Bulgarian was happy if he managed to take at least one Russian soldier to his home, to entertain him and to present him with gifts, such as a shirt, or socks. The few Turks—mostly old men—who had remained in the town met the Russians bareheaded and kneeling in the streets outside their houses. Unfortunately, many houses in the Turkish quarter were looted by Bulgarians, and some unarmed Turks were killed—something which, together with the ambushes in the Kresna Gorge, was much regretted by Bulgarian writers of memoirs. [18]


In the first days after the liberation of Gorna Dzhumaya, a temporary administration was set up, with local and Russian participation, to keep order and clean up the town. A police force consisting of several score young men with above average education was established to prevent further looting and to preserve the peace. At first, these young policemen wore their own clothes with a tin badge bearing the letter ‘P’, but after a few months they received special uniforms. They enjoyed tremendous prestige among the population, who were delighted to have their own Bulgarian police and carried out their instructions to the letter.


One of the first tasks of the administration was to clean up the town and remove the carcasses of the many animals which had died of cold, starvation and disease, and which still lay in the streets. In spite of these precautions, epidemics broke out, mainly typhus, and many people died. Among the victims was Major Orlinsky, the liberator of both Dupnitsa and Gorna Dzhumaya, who was buried in the courtyard of the Bogoroditsa (Mother of God) Church in Gorna Dzhumaya amid general mourning.



17. Dyado Ivan (Grandfather Ivan) was a popular Bulgarian name for Russia.


18. See Arseni Kostentsev. Opus cit., p. 94. Also Vasil Sharkov, Opus cit., p. 129. In general, the Bulgarians behaved with admirable restraint when in a position to take revenge for the cruelties and indignities which they had suffered at the hands of the Turks. Levsky had frequently stated that the Bulgarians were not fighting against the Turkish people but only against the Sultan’s government, which misruled both Turk and Bulgarian alike. In the Statute of his revolutionary organization there was a clause guaranteeing equal rights to those Turks who chose to stay in the future free Bulgaria. During the April Rising, foreign correspondents remarked on the fact that no peaceful Turks suffered at the hands of the rebels. In Gorna Dzhumaya, however, it is hardly surprising that some Bulgarians took the law into their own hands. For weeks they had suffered at the hands of looting bashi-bozouks and Circassians and retreating soldiers and, rightly or wrongly, it must have appeared to them that much of the property left in Turkish houses or loaded onto carts for transport through the gorge must originally have been theirs.





The temporary town council was charged with the task of compiling an electoral register of all men over the age of 25, and elections were held in March 1878. The Russian civil Governor of Sofia, Pyotr Alabin, with his assistant, the Bulgarian professor, Marin Drinov, visited Gorna Dzhumaya shortly before the election to give instructions as to how they should be conducted, since no such thing had ever before taken place. The actual voting was done, not with ballot papers, but with beans and grains of corn, which were dropped into earthenware jars.


Other local bodies were also set up, including a Regional Law Council, whose secretary was Spas Harizanov, Yané Sandansky’s maternal uncle. Harizanov was, in fact, a teacher, but, since newly-liberated Bulgaria had no legal profession, and, indeed, no real intelligentsia other than teachers, he stepped into the breach, and later became a judge and the President of the Regional Court.


The next great event was the first call-up of conscripts for the new Bulgarian Army on the orders of the Imperial Russian Commissioner, Prince Dondukov-Korsakov. This happened in April 1878, and was greeted with great enthusiasm by the conscripts themselves, their parents and the whole population. [19]


They had hardly got used to the novelty and wonder of it all—the bratushki in their midst, their own soldiers and policemen, their own elections and courts, no bashi-bozouks, no Circassians, no zaptiehs, no kaimakam, no arbitrary arrests, no murders, no looting, no torture—when anxiety began to gnaw at their hearts. On the surface all was well; the war was over, and the Treaty of San Stefano, signed between the Russians and the Turks on February 19/March 3 1878, had given the new autonomous Bulgarian state what were, roughly speaking, her true ethnic frontiers. Yet there was growing disquiet among the population. Why did the Russians not continue their advance southwards and westwards to liberate the rest of Macedonia? What were they waiting for? What was the meaning of the rumours about a new international congress to be held in Berlin? How could the Great Christian Powers of Europe support Turkey?


In their naivete, the Bulgarians could not imagine that nations so advanced, so civilized and so enlightened as those of Western Europe could be anything other than just and noble in their international dealings. It never occurred to them that nations who owned and exploited vast colonial e mpires would hardly consider the rights of a small Balkan people, if those rights conflicted with their imperialist ambitions. They had not heard Queen Victoria’s comment on the protests of those Englishmen who, sympathizing with the Bulgarians, had in 1877 opposed Britain’s support for Turkey. The Queen had said: ‘This mawkish sentimentality for



19. For accounts of the liberation and the events which followed, see Vladimir Karamanov, Pŭrvoto osvobozhdenie na grad Gorna Dzhumaya prez 1878, Ilyustratsia Ilinden. 1939. Book 3 (103) pp. 8-10, and Kratkovremennata svoboda na grad Gorna Dzbymaya. Ilyustratsia Ilinden. 1939. Book 4 (104), pp. 11-12.





people who hardly deserve the name of real Christians. . . forgetting the interests of this great country, is really incomprehensible.’ [20] They had not read Disraeli’s note to Lord Derby, Britain’s representative at the Constantinople Conference:


‘Sal/isbury/ seems most prejudiced and not to be aware that his principal object in being sent to Const/antinople/ is to keep the Russians out of Turkey, not to create an ideal existence for Turkish X-tians.’ [21] Neither had they read his letter to the Queen (dated April 17, 1877) in a similar vein: ‘This morning a torturing hour with Lord Derby, who was for doing nothing, and this afternoon with Lord Salisbury, who evidently is thinking more of raising the Cross on the cupola of St Sophia than of the power of England.’ [22]


Here was the nub of the matter. After the fall of Adrianople in January 1878, when the way to Constantinople lay wide open to the Russian armies, Great Britain had refused to countenance even a temporary Russian occupation of the Turkish capital, and, supported by Austro-Hungary, had threatened Russia with war if her armies proceeded further. Thus the Russians had stopped short of Constantinople, and had concluded the war with the Treaty of San Stefano. This, too, was unacceptable to Britain, who considered that a large Bulgarian state, friendly to Russia, would present no less a threat to her interests in Suez, India and elsewhere, than a direct Russian presence in Constantinople. Austria, too, saw a strong Bulgarian state as a barrier to her expansionist ambitions in the Balkans. These two states now insisted upon a revision of the Treaty of San Stefano, and Russia, exhausted by the war, bowed to force majeure.


At the Congress of Berlin (June 1/13–July 1/13 1878), the Western Powers safeguarded their own selfish, imperialist interests by tearing Bulgaria apart in a way far less tolerable than the creation of the two autonomous provinces, each with a Christian governor, that they had originally proposed at the Constantinople Conference in 1876. Now, Bulgaria was to be divided into three parts, each with a different status: the lands north of the Stara Planina (Balkan Range), together with the Sofia region, were to become a vassal principality; those between the Stara Planina and the Rhodope, i.e. the area that had taken the most active part in the April Rising and had, consequently, suffered the worst during its suppression, were to become an autonomous province of the Ottoman Empire under a Christian governor nominated by the Sultan, while Macedonia, Aegean Thrace and the Adrianople Region were simply to be left under direct Ottoman rule, with promises of vague reforms.


The news came to Bulgaria like a death-knell at a wedding. Nobody



20. Letter from Queen Victoria to Disraeli, dated 21.III.1877. Quoted by G.E. Buckle—TV Life of Benjamin Disraeli, vol. VI, 1920, p. 130.


21. See Robert Blake. Disraeli, p. 616. Also W.F. Moneypenny, G.E. Buckle. Opus cit., vol. VI, p. 111, Note dated Dec. 28, 1876.


22. See Blake, Opus cit., p. 624.





could believe his ears. Had not the bratushki liberated them? Had not the Tsar and the Sultan signed the Treaty of San Stefano? How could outsiders undo what the Tsar and the Sultan had done? Why, indeed, would they wish to do so? Were not the statesmen gathered in Berlin honourable and cultured men, the leaders of free Christian nations renowned for their achievements in the arts and science?


Almost immediately, people all over Bulgaria began to come together in a desperate attempt to avert the terrible fate which threatened them. Appeals were sent to the representatives of the Great Powers, and ‘Unity’ Committees were’ set up in Tŭrnovo, Sofia and other towns. Ostensibly, these ‘Unity’ Committees were charitable organizations, with the avowed aim of helping compatriots in need, especially those still under Turkish rule. In fact, as their name suggests, the aim of these committees was to preserve the unity of the Bulgarian people, and, unlike most charitable bodies, which merely seek to alleviate suffering without tackling its cause, the ‘Unity’ Committees intended to strike at the root of the evil by organizing and financing an armed uprising against the provisions of the Treaty of Berlin. The Committee in Sofia, under the leadership of Meleti, Bishop of Sofia, assumed the leading role in collecting funds, while Natanail, [23] Bishop of Ohrid, went to the frontier area to establish branches in the towns of Kyustendil, Dupnitsa and Gorna Dzhumaya, and to recruit armed rebel detachments with the help of such veteran outlaws and revolutionaries as Ilyo Voivoda, [24] Dimitŭr Berovsky and Stoyan Karastoilov. [25] In Gorna Dzhumaya, the ‘Unity’ Committee, founded in the autumn of 1878, was headed by the town’s chief teacher, the energetic Konstantin Bosilkov. [26]


It was not hard to find volunteers even among the most stolid, un-



23. Natanail was born near Skopje. He wrote an autobiography entitled Zbizneopisanie mitropolita Obridsko-Plovdivskogo Natanaila. See Sb. NUNK 25, 1909, Sofia. See also Natanail by Kiril Plovdivsky (later Patriarch of Bulgaria), Sofia, 1952.


24. Ilyo Voivoda (c. 1805-1898) from the village of Berovo, in the Malesh Mountains, was a veteran haidut, with a life-long record of armed struggle against the Turks. He participated in the Bulgarian Legion in Belgrade (1862), the Serbo-Turkish War (1876) and the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. The word voivoda means ‘chieftain’ or ‘captain’.


25. Stoyan Karastoilov came from a comparatively well-off family in the village of Starchitsa, near Nevrokop (Gotsé Delchev). He became an outlaw in order to avenge an insult to his family, and was the terror of the local Turks. He was in touch with the organizers of the April Rising, but the latter was defeated before preparations in Nevrokop were completed.


26. Konstantin Bosilkov was born in Koprivshtitsa. His real surname was Bashulkov. He worked for a time in Constantinople with his father, who was a weaver and dealer in coarse woollen cloth. He visited Marseilles and Egypt, where he worked on the construction of the Suez Canal. On his return to Bulgaria, he taught in Sofia, then toured Macedonia as the representative of the Plovdiv publisher, Hristo Danov, and then set up a book-shop in Veles, where he also taught to supplement his income. In 1872, he became head teacher in Gorna Dzhumaya, where he was exceedingly active in all patriotic matters from running the school to collecting arms.





political peasants, since the Treaty of Berlin, despite Disraeli’s fine phrases about bringing back ‘peace with honour’, meant the perpetuation in Macedonia, not only of alien rule, but of an economic system that was tantamount to destitution. The best land would continue to belong to the Turks, while many Bulgarian peasants were landless, hungering for a field to call their own, while taxation, like a multi-headed hydra, devoured what little substance they could scrape together.


Autumn is very beautiful in the valley of the Struma and in Pirin. The cloudless sky is the deepest cerulean blue, and the forests are ablaze with colour, as the green of summer merges with the gold of the autumn poplars and the hectic flame of the wild cherries. Everywhere the fruits of the earth gladden the eye:—massive ears of maize and strings of brilliant scarlet peppers hang drying from the eaves of houses; the vine-pergolas that in summer shade the courtyards from the white-hot heat of the sun are now heavy with grapes that the miracle of the vintage will turn into thick red wine; the balconies are piled with golden-orange pumpkins, and the orchards are festive with apples and pears of every shade of green and rose and yellow.


Thus it is every year, and thus must it have been in that black and blighted autumn of 1878. The fruits of the earth were there in all their colour and goodness, but the most precious fruit of all, grown and harvested with so much toil and blood and tears, had been snatched away, and all that was sweet became bitter. And so, in the autumn of 1878, the people rose in protest, for, as the Appeal of the rebel leaders stated: ‘The time has already come when we must show ourselves to be a people worthy of freedom, we must show that the blood of Krum and Simeon [27] has not ceased to flow in our veins; the time has come to demonstrate to Europe that to divide a whole people with a stroke of the pen is no joke.’ [28]


The first blow was struck on October 5/18 1878 when rebels seized control of the inns in the Kresna Gorge, after an eighteen hour battle with the Turkish troops that were stationed there. The rising spread rapidly. Soon the peasants of Vlahi and the neighbouring villages of Kresna and Oshtava joined the rebels en masse, and so did those of the villages of the Karshiak (the right bank of the Struma) and Maleshevia. By December, the rising had spread to the Razlog Valley on the other side of Pirin. Not only local people took part in the fighting: volunteers came from all over Bulgaria—from areas not directly threatened by the



27. Khan Krum and Tsar Simeon were two outstanding rulers of Bulgaria during the ninth and tenth centuries respectively.


28. From the Appeal of the ‘Provisional Bulgarian Administration in Macedonia’ calling on the Bulgarians and Slavs to support the Rising. Published in Maritsa, 1878, No 42. See also Macedonia—Documents and Material. Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, 1978, pp. 375-376. This Appeal is dated November 10, 1878.





Treaty of Berlin, such as Pleven, [29] Troyan [30] and Tŭrnovo, [31] as well as from Macedonia itself, from areas such as Ohrid, [32] Prilep, [33] Veles, [34] and Kastoria, [35] which had not so much as glimpsed a Russian soldier. [36] Among those who left their families and took up arms in defence of San Stefano Bulgaria was Ivan Sandansky, Yané’s father, who was standard-bearer in one of the rebel cheti. [37]


The same political opposition to the Berlin Treaty that was expressed in the rebels’ Appeal was also evident in a letter sent some two months after the outbreak of the rising by the villagers in the Karshiak to the kaimakam of Petrich, who had urged them to stop fighting and return to their homes, and had offered them guarantees of no reprisals: ‘We assure you, and you must know, that we have not been incited by anyone; however, when we realized that, at the Berlin Congress, the European Powers had again left us under your administration, we took up arms, and we shall not lay them ilown until we are united with the Bulgarian Principality, as was promised in the Treaty of San Stefano by Sultan Hamid himself. . ,’ [38]


The rising lasted nine months and ended in bloody defeat. The rebels were many, but they were inadequately armed and lacked both experience and good leadership. The High Command, which included haidut voivodi (outlaw chieftains), intellectuals, and foreign ‘officers’ of doubtful motives and ability, was riven by discord, which resulted in the judicial murder of Stoyan KaraStoïlov and two other rebel leaders by their own comrades. There was disagreement, too—not over aims, but over tactics—between the Sofia Committee and its branches, on the one hand, and the local leaders, on the other. Many peasants, too, were disenchanted when, in the liberated villages, the leaders failed to distribute Turkish lands to the landless Bulgarians, and told them to preserve intact the property of those Turks who had fled, and to give it back to them when they returned.


If the rebels had hoped that their readiness to die would move the



29. Dokumenti po Kresnenskoto vŭstanie ot 1878. Edited by Prof. G. Katsarov and I. Kepov. Sofia 1940, p. 24.


30. Ibid., p. 23.     31. Ibid., p. 23, 65.      32. Ibid., p. 89.


33. Hristo Hristov. Agrarnite otnosheniya v Makedonia prez XIX i nachaloto na XX v. Sofia, 1964, p. 158. A report to the Russian Ambassador in Constantinople speaks of two armed units from the Prilep area, consisting of 70 and 110 men respectively.


34. Katsarov and Kepov, Opus cit., p. 80-81.


35. Ibid.


36. There were also a handful of foreigners—Serbs, Montenegrins, Greeks—and a few adventurers, such as the Cossack officer who was sent by the Sofia Committee to serve on the General Staff as a military specialist.


37. According to the unpublished manuscript diary of Stoyan Vasilev Kitanov, Ivan Sandansky was standard-bearer in the cheta of Ilyo Voivoda. Stoyan Kitanov was the grandson of Aleksi Sandansky, Ivan’s brother. The diary is in the keeping of Yordanka Kitanova, who lives in Sofia.


38. Letter dated December 11, 1878 and published in Maritsa, No. 46, 5.I.1879. See also: Macedonia—Documents and Material, pp. 379-381.





hearts and consciences of the Great Powers, they were sorely mistaken. These Great Powers had themselves put down too many revolts with troops and gunboats to be impressed by the events in Macedonia. The Treaty of Berlin remained in force, and its division of Bulgaria—if not the promised reforms—was ruthlessly carried out.


Gorna Dzhumaya was one of the towns most painfully affected by the setting aside of the Treaty of San Stefano. At the end of hostilities, it was just inside the demarcation line that separated liberated Bulgaria from the lands still under Turkish control. It was thus the only town in Macedonia to have experienced the joy of actually meeting the bratushki, the only town to have had elections, to have established a Bulgarian police force—in a word, the only town to have tasted freedom. Now, its people heard with sinking hearts that the new frontier set by the Great Powers was to run just north of the town along the Rila River, that the bratushki would have to withdraw, and that once again a Turkish kaimakam and his zaptiehs would wield absolute power over the Christian population.


Their first impulse was to rush onto the square in front of the Russian military H.Q. and to beg the commander not to leave them, not to hand over the town to the Turks. The Russian commander, Yosif Bartolomeevich Shevchenko, was a man much respected and beloved by the Bulgarians, because of the help which he had given, not only to refugees, but also to the rebels during the Kresna Rising. [39] But now, in spite of their tears, there was little that he could do. A delegation, headed by Arseni Kostentsev, went to Sofia to see Prince Dondukov-Korsakov, the Imperial Russian Commissioner. The Prince received the delegation but said: ‘Mr Chairman, go and tell the population of Gorna Dzhumaya that, with sorrow in my soul and grief in my heart, I have to state that it is impossible for Gorna Dzhumaya to remain under Bulgaria, because the Emperor himself signed the Berlin Treaty. Moreover, the Emperor has also said: "I set the boundary posts of San Stefano Bulgaria, but the Berlin Treaty came and removed them. Even though posts are removed, the holes remain, and, thus, sooner or later, the same posts will have to be set in the same holes"—this is the message of our Sovereign the Emperor.’ The Prince then urged the Bulgarian population to remain even when the Turks reoccupied their town.


The delegation returned to Gorna Dzhumaya, and reported back at a mass-open air meeting. The people listened to Kostentsev in silence, sighing to themselves. Then they began to curse the Germans and the English, and, finally, they broke down altogether, and, weeping and wailing, declared that since fate had decreed that they must toil for the Turks, they would rather toil for Bulgarians like themselves, and therefore they asked the delegation to go back to Sofia and beg the Russians to send carts, so that they could transfer their belongings to the Principality.



39. Having signed the Treaty of Berlin, Russia was officially supposed to restrain the rebels, but, in fact, local Russian commanders covertly gave them all possible assistance.





Again the Prince strongly advised the Bulgarian population against leaving Macedonia, but, nevertheless, he agreed to provide carts for those who were determined to move. Yet another mass meeting was held in Gorna Dzhumaya, and when, despite the Prince’s advice, all remained firm in their resolve to leave, the people were told to be ready to move out on the next day. Those few women who, trespassing on male territory, had attended the meeting, then began to weep for their homes in the most heartrending manner. But it was all to no avail.


During July 1879 most of the Bulgarian population left Gorna Dzhumaya for the Principality. As they left, some of the veterans of the Kresna Rising set fire to the Bulgarian quarter of the town, rather than leave it to the incoming Turks, but the flames were soon extinguished by Russian soldiers. Eventually, when things quietened down, sales and exchanges of property were made between Turks who had fled from Dupnitsa to Gorna Dzhumaya and Bulgarians who had moved in the opposite direction, and some Bulgarian families even returned to Gorna Dzhumaya. [40] A large number of them, however, settled permanently in Dupnitsa, among them the Sandanksy family, who had been only refugees in Gorna Dzhumaya, and whose own village of Vlahi had been burnt during the Kresna Rising.


Such was the troubled background of Yané’s childhood, and those things which he did not witness personally, or was then too young to understand, were recalled and discussed all around him as he grew up in Dupnitsa, one of the countless victims of imperialism, whose future was determined, not by the traditional orisnitsi, [41] but by the Great Powers gathered in Berlin.



40. See V. Karamanov. Kresnenskoto vŭstanie. llyustratsia Ilinden. 1939, Book 5 (105).


41. According to an ancient Bulgarian superstition, on the third day after a child is born, it is visited by three mythical beings known as orisnitsi or narechnitsi, who, like fairies at a christening, foretell its future.


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