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

 

6. THE COMING OF CAIN

 

 

It is easy to imagine the relief which Yané must have felt when the gold was safely lodged and the women restored to their dear ones. Past were the endless weeks of hiding and being hunted, the agonizingly slow days of waiting and long nights of fleeing, when even the sun and the moon acted as enemy spies, and when the vulnerability of the women set the men at greater risk. Gone was the oppressive weight of the tiny babe, and the terror of its crying. . .

 

Yet it seems that a few nights’ unbroken sleep and a few days’ freedom from abnormal anxiety were rest enough for Yané. Even before Gotsé had returned from Macedonia, Yané set out with a cheta of twelve through Kyustendil, and Krŭstyu Asenov did the same. By chance, on the frontier between Macedonia and the Principality, they met Gotsé, and therefore they both turned back and accompanied him to Sofia, where the money was officially handed over to the Organization. Then, leaving Gotsé in Sofia, Yané, Asenov and Chernopeev set out once more on tours designed to combat Supremist propaganda.

 

Relations between the Internal Organization and the Supreme Committee had reached a deplorable state of mutual antagonism. During the autumn of 1901, there had been lengthy discussions between the members of the Supreme Committee and Tushé Deliivanov and Dimitŭr Stefanov [1] — the Organization’s External Representatives—but agreement was reached only on matters of secondary importance. By December 1901, things had reached such an impasse that Deliivanov and Stefanov sent a circular to all Macedonian Societies in the Principality, informing them that the Organization was permanently breaking off all relations with the Supreme Committee in its present form. The Supreme Committee replied that, for its part, it was breaking off relations with the External Representatives, but would continue to maintain its links with the Organization as such. It regarded the two men as the representatives, not of the Organization, but of a group whose ‘lair was in Free Bulgaria’, and it considered them to be superfluous. [2] This was an attempt to drive a wedge between the leaders

 

 

1. In September 1901, the Central Committee had appointed Deliivanov and Stefanov in the place of Gotsé, who was touring Macedonia, and Gyorché, who had been interned in Turnovo, following his release from prison.

 

2. See Supreme Committee Circular to member societies, dated 19.XII.1901. BIA NBKM, f. 224, a.e. 81, p. 686. Successive Supreme Committees had longed to rid

 

 

95

 

of the Organization, who were anxious to avoid the disaster of an ill-prepared rising, and the membership, who were eager for action and less mindful of the consequences. In pursuit of this aim, the Supremists dropped their previous line of argument—that officers could lead an uprising better than teachers—in favour of one that was far more insidious, namely, that the leaders of the Organization did not really want a rising at all and were simply living on the backs of the members. Supremist cheti toured the villages, propagating this slander, citing as proof of their insinuations the Organization’s slowness in delivering guns already paid for, and making airy promises of massive help from the Principality and Russia. All the peasants had to do was to agree to support the Supreme Committee in its plans for an uprising in the summer or autumn of 1902. Where persuasion failed, force or treachery was used; leading members of the Organization, both in the frontier towns and in Macedonia, were threatened, beaten up, abducted or denounced to the Turks. [3] In his stronghold in the Petrich area, Doncho Zlatkov chased out the teachers, who were usually local pillars of the Organization, until there was seldom more than one teacher to every five or six villages, and this teacher was usually a local man with little more than elementary education. Outsiders and people with better qualifications could seldom stand the state of affairs created by Doncho, and would leave after only a short stay. In areas where there was no teacher, the population was more susceptible to Supremist propaganda. [4]

 

Not even Gotsé Delchev himself was immune from the unbrotherly behaviour of the Supremists, some of whom harassed his cheta as he was returning to the Principality in late February or early March, 1902, and killed one of his chetnitsi—Georgi Ivanitsa Danchov, from Svishtov, who had been unfit to travel further and had remained behind in a hut with several other invalids. [5]

 

It must not be supposed that all the constituent societies of the Supreme Committee endorsed these encroachments upon the Organization’s territory and prerogatives. There was considerable disquiet among members, and a

 

 

themselves not only of Stefanov and Deliivanov, but also of Gotsé and Gyorché, whose stubborn opposition to military adventures and premature risings was a major stumbling-block to the officers.

 

3. See Delo (the Cause), edited by the poet Peyu Yavorov, No. 1 (31.XII.1901), No. 3 (14.I.1902), No. 6 (11.II.1902), No. 7 (18.II.1902), No. 21 (2.VI.1902), and Nos. 25-26 (8.VII.1902).

 

4. See Memoirs of Georgi Kotsev, OIM, Blagoevgrad, No. 1680, p. 86.

 

5. The incident is described in detail in the unpublished memoirs of Alexander Kostov Dŭrvodelsky, from Vratsa, who took part in the kidnapping of Miss Stone, and, as the youngest chetnik, was given the task of being the women’s constant guard. After their release, he joined Gotsé’s cheta, and witnessed the harrassment. According to him, the commander of the Supremist cheta was Sofroni Stoyanov, who, like Gotsé, had been at the Military School. Delo (No. 23, 16.VI. 1902) ascribes the actual murder of Danchov to Doncho.

 

 

96

 

number of societies [6] were in favour of calling an Extraordinary Congress to discuss the Committee’s failure to observe the directives of Congress regarding the different roles of the two organizations. As early as October 1901, the Society in Ruse had broken off relations with the Supreme Committee, as a token of solidarity with the Dupnitsa society, after the latter’s complaints about Saev. [7] The Supreme Committee, however, brushed aside all complaints as malicious gossip and rumour, and it assured its society members that it respected the directives and regarded the frontier between the Principality and Turkey as the frontier between the two organizations. Thus many members were deceived as to the real situation, and all efforts to call an Extraordinary Congress failed.

 

In March 1902, the Organization’s External Representatives again sent a circular to all Macedonian Societies in the Principality, in the hope that, once enlightened as to the real situation, they would cease to support the Tsonchev Committee. The writers began by saying that it must be assumed that public opinion had been misled, since there could be no other explanation for a legal body like the Supreme Committee behaving as it was. They then described in some detail the activities of the Supremist cheti, their attempt to dictate ‘an act of madness’, and their attacks upon members of the Organization, and the letter ends with an appeal to their free brothers, if they do not want to help, then at least not to hinder the cause of the Macedonian Bulgarians. [8]

 

At the Tenth Regular Congress, held at the end of July 1902, there was indeed a split between those societies which supported General Tsonchev and those which did not, but to little purpose. Tsonchev was able to secure a majority simply because those societies which had opposed him during the previous year were not admitted. The opposition was thus numerically weak, and, after the annual report had been accepted by the Tsonchevist majority, the minority, led by Hristo Stanishev, walked out and held a congress of its own elsewhere. [9] Thus two rival committees came into being, each trying to win over as many societies as possible. General Tsonchev was in no way deterred by the split: with a staggering display of demagogy, he continued to pay lip service to the principle of non-intervention in the affairs of the Internal Organization, while working might and main to undermine the authority of its leaders and to impose his own plans upon its members.

 

After concluding his business with Gotsé, Yané left Sofia again early in April 1902, having agreed with Chernopeev and Asenov that they should tour the villages on the right bank of the Struma, while he visited those on the left. Their task was to open the eyes of the people to the realities of

 

 

6. Delo, No. 13, 4.IV.1902, gives the number as being about 30.

 

7. BIA NBKM, f. 244, a.e. 25, p. 2525.

 

8. BIA NBKM, f. 224, a.e. 81, p. 1009.

 

9. For a more detailed account of the Congress, see MacDermott, Opus cit., pp. 311-312.

 

 

97

 

the situation and to dissuade them from co-operating with the Supremists. This task was not an easy one. In the frontier villages there were many who had once seen Russian soldiers and had tasted freedom; the very proximity of a free Bulgarian state was a spur to struggle, and the peasants were dazzled by the appearance of uniformed Bulgarian officers with promises of Russian aid and speedy reunification with their brothers of the Principality. In many places already the Organization was swimming against the current: the people wanted freedom and they were prepared to fight for it; they wanted to believe the officers’ promises, and they listened with only half an ear to the Organization’s warnings.

 

‘Our plan,’ Yané recalled, ‘was to explain to the people the aim of the Organization and why it was making preparations, and to explain that it was not true that the Organization was not thinking of a rising, but that it did not want one when the Supremists did. We explained how the Supremists differed from us. We said that they were the people of the Court and that they wanted to get hold of the Organization in order to play with the Cause. Through the rising which they are propagating, we said, they want first to disorganize us, and, secondly, as officers, having said that they will proclaim a rising, they want to do so at all costs. . . We said that, as we saw it, a rising could take place only if everybody was ready, without relying on promises from outside; that we first have to be sure that the whole people is prepared. All this had to be organized, and, when it was clear that we were sufficiently strong, a decision for a rising could be taken.’ [10] He solemnly warned them, however, against lightly embarking on a rising in which they could find themselves alone, outnumbered and at the mercy of the Turks.

 

This time Yané’s cheta consisted of sixteen men, including Sava Mihailov, Georgi Skrizhovsky (from Skrizhovo, near Drama), Petŭr Milev (from Kosach, near Radomir), Andrea Kazepov (from the Resen district), Spiro Petrov and Georgi Bazhdarov. In his memoirs, Yané proudly recalls that all of them had at least two or three years high-school education. Mihailov, Skrizhovsky and Bazhdarov were all teachers by profession; Kazepov had full high-school education, while Milev had reached the sixth grade of a Sofia high-school.

 

They crossed the frontier at a point where it followed the course of the Rila River, a few miles north of Gorna Dzhumaya, and an Organization courier took them to the village of Delvino. Here they spent a couple of days, talking to the people along the lines of the ‘plan’, before going on to Hŭrsovo and Marulevo to do the same. Ahead of them, a Supremist cheta, led by a certain Captain Georgi, was moving from village to village, busily sowing false hopes and slanders. In Marulevo, Captain Georgi’s agitation against the leaders of the Organization had borne fruit in the shape of a massive dose of mercury which Yané detected in the bacon

 

 

10. Miletich, Book VII, pp. 24-25.

 

 

98

 

supplied to his men. When Yané sent a messanger to Gradevo, requesting that a courier be sent to guide them thither, the local leader refused on the grounds that both Captain Georgi and Captain Yordan Stoyanov [11] were in the village with their cheti, and he feared lest Yané’s arrival should result in a battle. Yané concluded that the Supremists had set up an ambush, and therefore he decided to bypass Gradevo and go instead to Nedobŭrsko (present day Dobŭrsko), a village high in the southern slopes of Rila. The Supremists had not yet penetrated the villages of Razlog, and the local committees were fully ready to repell them in accordance with the declared policy of the Organization. Indeed, when Yané and his men arrived in the village of Godlevo, they found the Bansko cheta waiting, just in case the visitors turned out to be Supremists! From Godlevo they went to Bansko itself, where Yané provisioned his cheta, and summoned the Nevrokop cheta to join him, so that together they could deal with the Supremist cheti, which were now in the area of Vlahi.

 

The Nevrokop voivoda was Atanas Shabanov Teshovaliyata, a peasant, from Teshovo, who had become a haidut after beating up a gang of Turkish bullies, and had served his time in bands led by Doncho and other haramii, before Gotsé, with his characteristic care for the individual, had managed to win him for the idea of organized struggle, as opposed to private vengeance. Once convinced, Atanas Teshovaliyata forsook his old life and never looked back, and, when Yané called him to Bansko, he was already a voivoda of some two or three years’ standing. Since he was illiterate, a one-time teacher, named Hristo Kuslev, acted as his ‘secretary’. The Organization always preferred to have educated people in leading positions, but genuinely reformed haramii, with their experience in guerrilla warfare and their intimate knowledge of the forests and mountains were too valuable to waste, and they were, therefore, given command of cheti, with a ‘secretary’ to assist them with paperwork and to act as what later generations would call a ‘political commissar’.

 

When the Nevrokop cheta arrived, Yané added the Bansko cheta to the group under his command and sent a messenger to Vlahi to make arrangements for their reception. The people there replied that, while they could not refuse to receive them, there were Supremist cheti in the vicinity and they feared for the safety of their village in the event of a clash between the rival cheti. Yané, however, was not to be deterred. They crossed the high ridge of Pirin under its summit—El-tepe—and because, although it was early May, there was still thick snow, they slid down the other side on their bottoms, carrying their guns horizontally across their backs and shoulders. Lower down, on the Vlahi River, there were a number of sawmills, and Yané was able to find out what the position was in the village below. In fact, the Supremist cheti had moved on, and Yané’s men

 

 

11. There were two Supremist officers called Stoyanov—Sofroni Stoyanov and Yordan Stoyanov. Yané does not mention the first name of the officer in question, but from other sources, it can be established that it is Yordan.

 

 

99

 

were able to spend three or four days in Vlahi, talking to the people, who were surprised to see Yané, because the Supremists had told them that he had gone abroad with Miss Stone’s ransom!

 

From Vlahi they went on to Oshtava. There, too, they called the people together and urged them not to be taken in by the Supremists. Nikola Svetetsov remembers Yané’s visit to the village of Ezerets, near Oshtava: ‘Once the voivoda called a few of his most loyal people together in the house of Angelush Srebrinchev. Seated on the minder, his proud and magnificent figure alone seemed to fill the pokey little room. Just one glance at him was enough to make one start. His dark eyes glowed and reflected the flame of the ikon-lamp. He spoke clearly and precisely, as though he knew how everything was going to happen. Not only would he brook no objections, but his very manner of speech did not permit one to make any such mistake. He spoke to us about the plans and aims of the Supremist bands, which were frequently appearing in our district. He was excellently acquainted with the tactics of the Supreme Committee in Sofia, and strove to preserve the purity of the Organization. He set the tasks and made Angelush Srebrinchev responsible. The cheti were to be isolated and were to receive no support from the local population. For traitors—a terrible doom.’ [12]

 

Their next port of call was Senokos, where, again, the Supremists had been before them, with tales of imminent intervention by Russian troops who would be coming to the Principality in connection with the consecration of the memorial church at Shipka. [13] Yané asked Mitso Chakalsky, the the leader of the local committee, what he thought was the difference between the Organization and the Supreme Committee, whether it was merely a question of ‘me and not you’, or whether it was something much deeper, and he was encouraged to find that Mitso appreciated the dangers inherent in Supremist policy, and had in no way been taken in. Neither had the committee in Kresna, the next village where they visited. In Mechkul, however, the situation was far from satisfactory, because the village leader had embezzled committee money and had fled with the Supremists for fear of being called to account. Yané collected the people together and exhorted them not to yield to Supremist pressure. The cheta then returned to Senokos, where they heard that Stoyanov was a few miles away in Sŭrbinovo.

 

In an attempt to put an end to this absurd and dangerous situation in which Bulgarian worked against Bulgarian, Yané and Mitso decided to invite Stoyanov to a public debate in the presence of five or six delegates from each of the surrounding villages, and Yané wrote him a courteous

 

 

12. Memoirs collected by Kuzman Dimitrov Petrov.

 

13. The Battle of the Shipka Pass was one of the major engagements of the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-1878, and the church commemorates the Russian soldiers who died for Bulgaria’s Liberation.

 

 

100

 

enough letter: ‘Bay [14] Stoyanov, I have learnt that you are nearby; since both you and we are working for the people, let us call them together to a meeting and explain ourselves to them, etc.’ Stoyanov’s reply was far from polite: ‘Who do you think you are?! I am a delegate of the Supreme Committee, and the people don’t have to know what we are doing.’ Yané wrote a second letter; then a third. In reply, Stoyanov challenged Yané to a duel.

 

Seeing that Stoyanov was trying to avoid a dialogue, Yané took his men to Sŭrbinovo and stationed them four to a house in one part of the village. [15] He then began to investigate the situation, and found that the village leader had also run away because of irregularities in the committee’s accounts, and the peasants had largely succumbed to Supremist influence. Yané called them together, and they came armed. He spoke to them, and some of them said that the Supremists had taken everything upon themselves, and that the village leader and the priest would kill them if they found out that they had come to see Yané. Stoyanov had apparently even tried to incite them to betray Yané. In reply, Yané told them that he had no intention of teaching them to betray, and that his men would not move from the village and were prepared to fight any Turks who might arrive—a prospect which would not be welcome to the peasants. Since the Supremists had alleged that Sava Mihailov had embezzled money for which he had given receipts, he proposed that they sort out the accounts in public, and he invited the peasants to produce the receipts in Sava’s presence. The account books, however, were kept by the priest, who failed to appear and could not be found. The cheta therefore remained in the village, and, after eleven days, the priest was discovered, hiding in his cellar with his gun ready. He was dragged out and challenged to furnish proof that Sava had indeed embezzled the money. This he was unable to do, and finally it came out that he himself had embezzled it.

 

While in Sŭrbinovo, Yané wrote a letter to Gotsé, dated 21.V.1902:

 

‘Brother Ahil, [16]

 

Of all the villages in this part of the Dzhumaya district, Sŭrbinovo and Gradevo will be difficult to put in order. The reasons are that the whole strength of the Supremists is with them. Here we are already twelve days in Sŭrbinovo, and we have succeeded to some extent in convincing the people that they have been deceived, and everybody admitted it, but there are four people who hinder and won’t allow this population to assemble and establish full order.

 

Stoyanov’s cheta is also here in the same village. They are taking around with them, bound, chorbadzhiya Georgi from Sushitsa, from

 

 

14. Bay is a polite form of address to a man somewhat older than oneself.

 

15. Like Vlahi, Sŭrbinovo consisted of several scattered settlements, so that it was possible for both cheti to be in the village without even catching sight of each other.

 

16. Ahil, i.e. Achilles, was Gotsé’s pseudonym.

 

 

101

 

whom they want 200 liri ransom. He’s had fifty liri and he wants the rest. We asked the people of Sŭrbinovo to hand him over to us, but they refused to do this. We invited Stoyanov to a meeting in front of the population, but he refused to do that either. You will see his refusal from his letters here enclosed.

 

Do send drugs for syringes and internal use immediately. Hristo is to pass through Bistritsa, without fail.

 

Sandansky—your brother.

Sŭrbinovo.’ [17]

 

In the meantime, Stoyanov had moved to the village of Oranovo, but Yané did not pursue him further and returned to Razlog. The Nevrokop cheta went back to its own district, and several of Yané’s men, including Sava, also departed.

 

From Bansko, Yané wrote Nikola Maleshevsky a letter [18] that was also intended for Gotsé’s attention:

 

‘Send us poison for dogs and for people, powders for coughs and for headaches, quinine, stomach drops in larger quantities, and bandages. You must send us all these medicaments at once; also more pamphlets with Dimov’s report. [19] And you, too, take the plunge and write a wee letter; tell us what’s happening in your part of the world. Enough of silence. Regards to all the comrades.

 

Hristo, Kolé, Filip and Georgi are returning. They won’t give their reasons for this, although I invited them several times to do so. I gave them half a Napoleon for the journey. They are permanently excluded from the interior, but, as for there, they can stay, if they are useful to you. The reason for their return, as far as I can find out, is the difficult life. You ask them about this and write to me. Before they set out, they were informed that life in the cheta is hard and not for everybody. In the case of some quarrel or other with their comrades, they can be transferred to another cheta, but not to Bulgaria.

 

Send newspapers, pamphlets and so forth regularly, and also write to us more often, and keep me informed of everything that concerns the Cause. We have grown extremely dull-witted. Nobody anywhere is going to send us any spiritual food. You know that the Centre (the Central Committee in Salonika—M.M.) is far away, and if you don’t do something, there’s nowhere. I think that there has to be a little

 

17. Gotsé Delchev, spomeni, dokumenti, materials (prepared by the Institute of History, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences) Sofia, 1978, pp. 327-328.

 

18. Ibid., pp. 329-330.

 

19. The Report referred to is one entitled The Macedonian Question and the Teacher, delivered by Dimo Hadzhidimov at a three-day teachers’ conference held in Pleven during April 1902.

 

 

102

 

more and swifter communication between workers, which, I think, will be in the best interests of our Organization itself.

 

Greet the people at home and all the comrades. Written in Borovsko (Bansko-M.M.) to brother Maleshevsky on the fifteenth of June, this year (1902).

 

I kiss you fraternally,

Sandansky Yaneto. [20]

 

The Supremists’ insinuations that Yané and his men were in the movement only for what they could get out of it were as absurd as they were untrue. Life in a cheta was exceedingly hard, and only those who were both physically and morally tough could survive its daily rigours and privations. Patriotic young men who came to Macedonia with romantic notions of outlaw life in the greenwood, with visions of succulent lamb roasted haidut-fashion and accompanied by the ‘sparkling wine’ extolled in folksongs, found the reality not merely very different, but often beyond their powers of endurance. Even for the peaceful hiker, unencumbered with heavy weapons, the paths of Pirin are not easy. Time and the prehistoric movement of glaciers have turned the higher portion of the mountain into a honey-comb of ‘circuses’ or corries—deep horse-shoe formations, often containing lakes, and clustered together back to back, and side to side. He who would pass from one to another must scale the precipitous walls by stoney paths that zig-zag their way up to narrow, sometimes knife-edge, saddles and passes, between the sharp conical peaks, and down into the next cauldron-like valley. For all her beauty, Pirin remains an exacting, capricious mountain. Even on a summer’s night, she may choose to adorn her every blade of grass with the glittering silver of hoar frost, and everywhere, over the green goodness of her scented meadows, numerous morains, scattered boulders and the grey skeletons of uprooted trees bear witness to the violence of natural forces. Not for nothing did Spartacus and his fellow-Thracians call her ‘Orbelus’—the Snowy One; not for nothing did the ancient Slavs imagine that the God of Thunder dwelt among her peaks; not for nothing did Slav and Turk alike call her highest point the Mount of Storms.

 

Men who joined the cheti had to be prepared and capable of making forced marches across this terrible mountain that simultaneously protected them and tried them to the limit of their strength. They had to be able to sleep, if necessary, in the snow, to endure the discomfort of wet clothing and to survive on whatever food was available. It was a firm rule in the Organization for chetnitsi to be content with whatever the peasants gave them, without demanding anything special. Georgi Bazhdarov, who was with the cheta in that spring of 1902, has described how their usual

 

 

20. ‘Yaneto’ is a more intimate form of ‘Yané’.

 

 

103

 

fare was bean soup in which ‘the spoon seldom caught a bean’, and cheese which was as hard and dry as a stone. The cheta ate meat or fat bacon only on the rare occasions that they bought it themselves. Sometimes when bad weather and worse paths upset their plans, they found themselves without food and would keep up their failing strength by eating lumps of sugar sprinkled with Ether Sulphuricum—as long as the sugar lasted. The cottages in which they took shelter were mostly filthy and crawling with lice, which left tracks in the ashes on the hearth. [21]

 

Yané always described the rigours of life with the cheti to those who wanted to join him, and tried to make sure that new recruits understood what they were letting themselves in for, before he accepted them. But sometimes, as in the case of the four mentioned in his letter, the hardships proved more than they were prepared to stand. On one occasion, a group of students came from the Principality to join him in the campaign against the Supremists in the Kresna area. At Predela, near Bansko, an ox was slaughtered for meat, but the students were unable to eat the coarse corn bread provided by the peasants, and ate only the meat. When they arrived in Mechkul, they were given barley bread, and were so hungry that they ate it, to Yané’s great satisfaction. [22] On a second occasion, a newly recruited student was unwilling to wade through the cold water of the River Bistritsa, on the way from Chereshnitsa to Kalimantsi. The courier who was guiding the cheta offered to carry the man on his back, but Yané would not allow it, and insisted that the student enter the water like everybody else. When the same student grew out of breath when climbing a hill, and began to lag behind, Yané said: ‘Why did you come? Didn’t I tell you what life in a cheta was like?’ [23]

 

Early in June, Yané received a letter from the Melnik district asking him to come and help since the peasants were in rebellious mood and were demanding rifles, saying that if they did not get them within thirty days, they would call in Doncho, who was promising free guns. Yané set out across Pirin, but on the way, at a place called Chaira, he fell ill, seized with a fit of giddiness which caused him to fall. Two peasants from Malki Tsalim came and took Yané to their village, but his indisposition does not seem to have lasted long, and he was soon back in harness. On June 23, he called the teachers and other prominent persons from the surrounding villages to a meeting in Debrené, [24] and spoke to them ‘about the history

 

 

21. Memoirs of Georgi Bazhdarov, TPA, f. 229, op. 1, a.e. 73, pp. 18, 21-22.

 

22. From the recollections of Ivan Noykov, of Sugarevo, quoted by Georgi Kotsev, Opus cit., p. 77. No date is given, but it is possible that the dissatisfied chetniks may have been the same students, since there is a coincidence in the places mentioned.

 

23. Ibid.

 

24. According to tradition, Debrené was founded by Vitan and his five sons, who had fled from Debŭr, in Western Macedonia, after killing a bey. The latter had come to the wedding of Vitan’s daughter, Nerandzha, and, after having been received as an honoured guest, had attempted to carry off the bride. This particular bey had apparently made a habit of stealing girls who took his fancy. Another fugitive family

 

 

104

 

of the Organization, and its aim, about the differences between us and the Supremists, and about the task of paralyzing the harmful activity of the Supremists’. [25] It transpired that Captain Georgi, with a force of five or six men (the rest had left him, one by one, to go back to the Principality) was somewhere near the village of Lyubovka, but when Yané attempted to find out exactly where he was, in order to meet him, the Captain fled to the Karshiak, on the far side of the Struma.

 

Again Yané made no attempt to pursue the Supremist cheta, but continued with the task of building the Organization in the villages of the Melnik district. For Yané, it was both a homecoming and a setting forth. The Melnik district, with its ancient town and many villages scattered about the slopes of Pirin and the hilly lowlands, was not only the land of his birth. Entrusted to him by the Organization, it was also destined to be the central arena of his activity for years of tireless and uncompromising toil in the name of his espoused ideal.

 

Wondrously beautiful is the land that lies between Pirin and Belasitsa: a southern garden, walled with mountains and drenched in sunlight, through which the Struma flows calmly towards the bright Aegean. Wherever one stands under the intense blue sky, amid a patchwork of grapes, grain, cotton, poppies and sesame, vistas of distant peaks and ridges greet the eye. Here Pirin sheds her alpine snows and evergreens, and appears in fantastic southern guise—in towering pyramids and shafts of weathered sandstone that change in hue from honey-gold in the glow of dawn and evening to dazzling white in the heavy heat of noonday. Here, above Petrich, Belasitsa stretches rampart-like across the south-western horizon, dark with forests, as though still dressed in mourning for the martyred soldiers of Tsar Samuil, for the fifteen thousand men who looked their last upon the beauty of the earth, here, in this fair Bulgarian land, before the Byzantines put out their eyes. [26] And here, two thousand years ago, Spartacus was born, and the land that he beheld in dreams, in Capua and by the camp-fires of the risen slaves, was this same land that Yané, too, called home and sought to free.

 

In the task of building the Organization in the Melnik district, Yané was assisted by Gushtanov, a teacher from Serres, and by the Demir Hisar cheta, commanded by Dyado Iliya Argirov Kŭrchovaliyata, [27] another

 

 

from the wedding founded the nearby village of Belevehchevo (the name was originally Belevezhdovo, meaning ‘of the white eyebrows’—a reference to the appearance of Zlatin, its founder). A third family—that of the kum (sponsor at a wedding)—went higher into Pirin and founded the village of Bozhdovo. See the memoirs of Georgi Kotsev. Kotsev was a native of Debrené.

 

25. Miletich, VII, p. 29.

 

26. This occurred in 1014. After the Emperor Basil II had defeated the Bulgarian Army of Tsar Samuil, fifteen thousand Bulgarian prisoners were blinded, and one man in a hundred was left with one eye to guide his comrades back to Samuil’s court.

 

27. Born in the village of Karaköy in 1852, Dyado Iliya was some twenty years older than either Yané or Gotsé. He came from a poor family, and he had earned his living as a shepherd for Turks and richer Bulgarians, and as a servant in Greek houses, after

 

 

105

 

colourful character who had been a haidut before meeting Gotsé. Yané divided the Melnik villages between himself and his comrades from Demir-Hisar. He took the mountain villages—Sugarevo, Doleni, Sushitsa, Dŭrzhanovo, Lyubovka, Gorni Orman, Dolni Orman, Gozhé, Debrené and Belevehchevo, while the others toured the more southerly villages— Lyubovishta, Chereshnitsa, Kovachevo, Kalimantsi, Dolna Sushitsa, Hŭrsovo, Vranya and Hotovo.

 

These villages were, for the most part, desperately poor. The land belonged to Turkish beys, and the Bulgarian peasants were either sharecroppers or tenant farmers. Wheat bread and such national specialities as banitsa, made with spinach or pumpkin, were eaten only on major holidays. Most of the milk and white cheese was sold to meet the family’s needs, and they kept only their curd cheese for themselves. Eggs were eaten only at Shrovetide, Easter and in time of sickness. Under ordinary circumstances they were exchanged for other essentials at the grocer’s, and a certain number were kept in reserve, in case Turks came to the village demanding food. The basic diet of the Bulgarian villagers consisted of beans, onions, leeks and lentils. A fatted pig, ingeniously processed to the last morsel, represented a family’s meat for the year. Most of the Turkish villagers—apart from the big landowners—lived equally poorly. Indeed, some were even worse off the the Bulgarians, because their religion forbade them even the occasional luxury of a pig. Trade was in the hands of the Melnik Greeks, who would go round the villages buying produce for a song and selling groceries at inflated prices. The intensive cultures, such as cotton, poppies, sesame and aniseed, were sold to buy salt, soap, cooking oil, etc. Clothes were made of homespun, and the women would spend every available moment with their distaffs and needles, spinning and knitting as they walked to the fields to work and even during their periods of rest. Bought moccasins were worn until practically nothing remained of them, so that the peasants walked virtually barefoot, and the soles of their feet would become as hard as ‘camels’ knees’. Only about one person in twenty had shoes, and these were worn only on holidays and when going to fairs in town. Even matches were rare and precious, so that if the man, with his tinderbox, was out of the house, his wife would go to a neighbour’s house where the chimney was smoking to bring burning coals to light her fire. Domestic lighting consisted of a kindled pine-splinter placed in an iron candlestick. Yet poor though the people were, they were fanatically hospitable, and would insist on sharing their simple meals, eaten with box-wood spoons out of a common dish, with anyone who arrived when

 

 

his father and two brothers had been killed by the Turks, and his mother had died prematurely of grief. At the age of seventeen, he had married a girl from the village of Kŭrchovo, and had worked as a charcoal-burner, but after a Greek had cheated him out of some money, he became a haidut, and remained one until Gotsé won him for the Organization in 1897. See article in Pirinsko delo (3.I.1973) by Dimitŭr Dzhutev and Dimitŭr Gushterov.

 

 

106

 

they were seated at table. To refuse, even if one had already eaten, was considered an insult. Even when a newly-wed couple were too poor to have more than a corn-straw mat for a bed, they gave gifts to their in-laws and other relatives on the occasion of their wedding.

 

The level of education was abysmally low. Illiteracy was the rule rather than the exception. In some villages, even the kodzbabashiya, or mayor, would be illiterate, and the tax records consisted not of ledgers, but of wooden tallies. Around the turn of the century, only some twenty-five people in the whole district had secondary education, including five women, and only four had higher education. [28] The rest received a minimum education in village schools where they learnt to write on trays of sand in the first grade, progressing to slates in the second and third grade, and to exercise-books and ink made from soot, in the second half of the third grade and in the fourth and final grade. Small wonder then that Yané referred with such pride to the high educational achievements of the men whom he recruited to enlighten and organize the Melnik villages.

 

‘In all the villages in turn, we set up leadership bodies of four to five persons: a chairman, a treasurer, and the rest—counsellors. The members were divided into tens, and each group of ten had a leader. He was always supposed to know about his ten people: where who was at work; he had to watch their behaviour (theft, fornication, drunkenness), to collect their membership dues, and to apportion them work, equally, in turn. The group leader had to report all irregularities on the part of any member to the leading body, and the latter would investigate his case in the presence of all the group leaders. The group leaders were to make sure that people didn’t go to the Turkish courts.’ [29]

 

In contrast with the Supremists, who were interested only in rousing the people to revolt at the earliest possible moment, the Organization had embarked upon a complex programme of activity, designed to transform the people from passive slaves into conscious citizens. For the Organization, the actual rising was still far away, and the first task, as Gotsé liked to say, was to create ‘a revolution in people’s minds’. Before the guns began to speak, the Organization had to become ‘a state within the state’; the people had to divorce themselves entirely from the oppressor, and to create their own institutions and administration; they must learn to sort out their own quarrels without recourse to the slow and corrupt Turkish courts; they must stamp out drunkenness and immorality, not only in the name of civic virtue, but also because such phenomena could be exploited by Turks who sought to learn the secrets of the Organization.

 

During July 1902, Yané met a number of Vlahs from the villages of Bozhdovo, Shatrovo and Lopovo. These Vlahs were seasonal inhabitants of the Melnik district. In summer they grazed their flocks on the high

 

 

28. These figures, together with most of the other information about the Melnik district at the turn of the century, are taken from the memoirs of Georgi Kotsev.

 

29. Yané’s memoirs. Miletich, VII, p. 30.

 

 

107

 

meadows of Pirin, and in winter they left their mountain villages for snow-free pastures beside the Aegean. Realizing what valuable allies these semi-nomad shepherds could be, Yané called them together and persuaded them to join the Organization. In Bozhdovo, where the population was mixed, a Bulgarian known as Dukata became chairman of the committee, with two leading Vlah shepherds as his assistants. In Shatrovo and Lopovo, which were inhabited solely by Vlahs, the committees were headed by Vlahs.

 

Not long after, the Vlahs informed Yané that a Supremist cheta of eighteen men, led by a Supremist officer named Sarakinov and two haramii— Angel Spanchevaliyata and Tosho Banskaliyata—had seized one of the two Vlah committee members in Bozhdovo, together with the son of the other, and were holding them and demanding various items, including eighteen thick felt cloaks, forty pairs of socks, twenty jerseys and five pairs of trousers ornamented with braid, as well as tobacco and rakiya. Supremist cheti normally paid for everything which they took, as part of their campaign against the Organization, which required its members to support the cheti free of charge, as far as food was concerned. Possibly the Supremists and their haramiya henchmen felt that they could rob non-Bulgarians with impunity, not realizing that they, too, were part of the Organization. Yané decided to take immediate action in defence of the shepherds, and he sent six of his men after the Supremists, and four others down to the lowland villages. He himself had fallen ill again, so he remained with three men in the Vlah village of Shatrovo, moving later to Sugarevo, Sushitsa, Lyubovishta and Chereshnitsa, in turn.

 

When news came that the six had followed the Supremist cheta down towards the village of Belyovo, Yané summoned reinforcements in the shape of Dyado Iliya and Atanas Teshovaliyata, with the Demir-Hisar and Nevrokop cheti. He himself was evidently feeling better, for he, too, went down towards Belyovo and the whole company—Yané’s fourteen men, seven from Demir-Hisar, and four from Nevrokop—set up ambushes on the roads to catch the Supremists. Yané advised the local peasants not to warn Sarakinov, who had apparently been inciting them to kill him, hinting that he was carrying in his purse four hundred pounds in gold from Miss Stone’s ransom. On the second day, Yané saw the eighteen Supremists through his binoculars, and on August 6, the Feast of the Transfiguration, the two groups clashed. For two hours they exchanged fire, while Turks looked on from a distance, but did not intervene. Five of the Supremists were killed and the rest fled. Yané’s men, who had suffered no losses, either dead or wounded, collected the bodies, which were later buried by the Organization’s supporters in Belyovo.

 

Yané pursued Sarakinov and the survivors across Pirin, and finally abandoned the chase when the Supremists had reached the Kresna area. As Yané and his men were returning from Atmegdan to the sheep-pens at Chaira, they were spotted by Doncho and Captain Stoyanov, who had

 

 

108

 

crossed the Struma into Pirin. Yané was unaware of their presence, and therefore the Supremists were able to surround his cheta unnoticed, as they sat resting by the sheep-pens in the moonlight. The Supremists caught a young Vlah shepherd, and when the boy began to shout, Yané’s men thought that a bear must have appeared, and were about to go to his aid, when the Supremists forced him to shout back reassuringly that it was nothing. The chetnitsi returned to the sheep-pens, had supper and then set out again on their journey. They had not gone far, when they were intercepted by the Supremists. The place was so dark that when Yané challenged them and received the wrong password, he assumed that they were Turkish soldiers, an impression further confirmed when the Supremists opened fire and sounded a trumpet. In the fighting that ensued, one of Dyado Iliya’s men was killed, and so was one of the Supremists. Another Supremist was mortally wounded, and, in falling, accidentally stabbed Doncho, so that he, too, was wounded. After this, the Supremists fled, and Yané was able to continue on his way. It was not until the following morning that Yané learnt from Vlah shepherds that their adversaries had been Supremists and not Turkish soldiers. The dead chetnik had been so convinced that he was fighting Turks that he had smashed his own watch, so that if he were killed the Turks should not have it. Yané’s comment, in his memoirs, about the death of the lad— ‘that very day he had dreamed that he had been bitten by a dog’—again reveals that strange side of his character which believed in fate and in the supernatural. In Bulgaria, to dream of being bitten by a dog is an extremely unlucky sign.

 

After this unfortunate incident, Yané came down from the higher regions of Pirin to carry out more basic political education in the villages. A large cheta was no longer necessary or convenient, so he sent the Nevrokop and Demir-Hisir cheti back to their districts, and allowed several of his own men to leave for the Principality, keeping only seven with him. They visited in turn the villages of Belyovo, Hrastna, Kovachevo, Chereshnitsa, Kalimantsi, Vranya, Hŭrsovo, Marikostinovo, Kapatovo, Hotovo, Spatovo, Gorni Orman, Dolni Orman, Debrené, Belevehchevo, Lyubovka, Malki Tsalim, Golemi Tsalim and Lilyanovo. In some places they heard and settled law-suits.

 

The tour had to be interrupted when disturbing news about Supremist activity was received from the Petrich and Kresna districts. Four villages— Igumenets, Palat, Shirbanovo and Ribnitsa—had sent letters begging Yané to come at once to support them against the Supremists, lest they be caught up in a disastrous rising. In addition to the letters, verbal messages were also sent. In his memoirs, Georgi Kotsev describes how two villagers from Palat (Doncho’s birthplace) approached him on market day in Sveti Vrach (now Sandansky), and asked him to tell Yané that ‘all the villages are ready to receive him and beg him to deliver them from the Supremist rabble which is carousing in villages and boasting that they will start a

 

 

109

 

rising in the Autumn’. [30]

 

The situation was indeed extremely serious. Already in June 1902, the Organization had issued two circular letters alerting its members to the dangers inherent in an ill-prepared rising, in which, contrary to Supremist assertions, no outside help would be forthcoming. The first was an emotional appeal written by the poet Peyo Yavorov, addressed to all the committees in Macedonia and Thrace, and describing the Supremists as ‘wreckers. . . hell-bent on raping our motherland and on forcing her to abort and bear a good-for-nothing ruptured bastard’. [31] The second, written by Gyorché Petrov in concrete, down-to-earth language and addressed to the committees in the areas of Maleshevia, Petrich and Gorna Dzhumaya, begged those who were co-operating with the Supremists to reflect and come to their senses before it was too late. [32]

 

During the spring and summer, Chernopeev had been hard at work in the villages on the right bank of the Struma, finding the same mixture of wavering peasants, muddled accounts, betrayals, unsavoury characters recruited by the Supremists, and so forth. Chernopeev, too, had attempted to organize open debates between the Organization and the Supremists in the presence of the villagers, so that the latter could judge between the two points of view. Such a meeting did, in fact, take place in the village of Leshko, but the results were inconclusive. Nobody changed his mind. Twice Chernopeev’s men clashed with Saev’s cheta, and there were casualties on both sides. Finally, in August, Chernopeev managed to have a day-long conversation with Saev, who voiced the opinion that there would be no early rising, and that another year or two of preparation would be necessary. Chernopeev replied that if that was so, it was to be hoped that the two sides could come to some agreement during the winter.

 

In fact, the Supremists were going all out to organize an immediate rising. Their first attempt was made, not in the troubled frontier area, but in the Kostur (Kastoria) district—the part of Macedonia most distant from Sofia. Here the people knew little of the quarrels between the Organization and the Supreme Committee and were at first inclined to welcome Colonel Anastas Yankov and his men, when they arrived in the second half of August 1902. Indeed, the Central Committee’s instructions that the cheta be disarmed caused much initial astonishment, since the district had need of military expertise and Yankov was a local man by birth. The Colonel, however, soon dissipated local good will by behaving tactlessly, by slandering Gotsé and the Organization, by associating with a notorious haramiya named Koté, [33] and by displaying ignorance of the situation in the neigh-

 

 

30. See Georgi Kotsev’s memoirs, p. 92.

 

31. For further details see MacDermott, Opus cit., p. 309. Full text: BIA NBKM, f. 305, a.e. 260, p. 50.

 

32. For further details see MacDermott, Opus cit., pp. 310-311. Full text: BIA NBKM, f. 305, a.e. 260, pp. 48-49.

 

33. Gotsé Delchev had tried in vain to reform Koté, and the Organization had finally condemned him to death for his crimes.

 

 

110

 

bouring district, where he proposed to set fire to the town of Lerin within a few days’ time. Once they had got the measure of Colonel Yankov, the district leaders handled the crisis with such skill and good sense, that the intruders eventually left for Greece, without having done much damage and having totally failed in their attempt to provoke an uprising. [34]

 

In the Gorna Dzhumaya and Petrich areas, however, the Supremists had considerably more success—if the pointless creation of two thousand homeless refugees can be described as ‘success’. Here the Supremists had  already built up a measure of support, by misrepresenting the Organization’s caution as duplicity, by exploiting the people’s genuine desire to free themselves at any cost, and by creating false hopes of Russian and Bulgarian military intervention once a rising had begun. The proximity of the free Bulgarian Principality—so near and yet so far—was an additional spur to those still suffering the multitudinous torments of moribund feudalism. Only an imaginary line through the cornfields and meadows, along a river and over the tops of the mountains separated them from their free brothers—a line crossed and recrossed with impunity by the cheti. Surely, only a little more initiative, a little more grit, were necessary to erase this line, and with it all the sorrows and suffering that it bred. Thus reasoned those who now eagerly supported the Supremists’ call to arms.

 

The plan was simple: the killing of Turkish lords, tax-collectors, etc., in certain villages was to be the signal for a general uprising, which would at once be supported by the Bulgarian Army and would lead to European diplomatic intervention in favour of the rebels. Early in October (new style), Turks were duly killed in Sŭrbinovo and Zheleznitsa, and cheti from other villages rose to support their rebel comrades. There was no lack of heroism on the part of the people, but there was no supporting move on the part of the Bulgarian Army.

 

When Yané first received news of increased Supremist activity in the Petrich and Kresna areas, he had sent messages to the district cheti of Demir-Hisar, Drama, Serres and Nevrokop, asking them to join him in a combined operation against the Supremists in the hope of averting a rising. In all, about thirty-eight men set out with Yané for Kresna, but on the way across Pirin they met a Vlah, who told them that there was no point in their going since the rising had already started and the area was swarming with Turkish troops. Yané, therefore, turned back towards the village of Pirin.

 

Across the river in Maleshevia, Chernopeev and Asenov were to a large extent able to thwart Supremist plans and subsequently to clear the area

 

 

34. The incursion into the Kastoria district was not the Colonel’s first attempt to queer the Organization’s pitch. In his memoirs, Hristo Kuslev associates a visit by Yankov to Salonika (c.1898-1899) with the formation of a rival ‘Brotherhood’ group in the High School, where previously the Organization had reigned supreme, and with subsequent violent quarrels between the two factions among the pupils. See Miletich, VII, pp. 107-108.

 

 

111

 

of their cheti, but clashes between peasants and Supremist cheti, on the one hand, and Turkish soldiers, on the other, continued throughout October in the Gorna Dzhumaya, Petrich and Melnik areas. In all, some 2,500 peasants were involved in at least nineteen separate battles against Turkish forces which numbered over 14,500. These events were followed by the usual melancholy catalogue of killings, fires, torture, rape, plunder and desecration, which lasted much longer than the actual fighting, and left the Organization in disarray.

 

Doncho and Captain Stoyanov fled into the Melnik district, where they began to make a thorough nuisance of themselves. Stoyanov had initially arrived from the Principality with eighty men, and after they had killed a number of Turks in Sŭrbinovo, they had gone on to Vlahi. Having taken two hundred sheep from the Turks [35] in the nearby village of Grŭnchar, they collected a large number of cauldrons and began to cook. Before the meal was ready, however, news came of an approaching Turkish force, so Stoyanov commandeered mules from the Vlahi sawmills, loaded the cauldrons, etc., onto their backs and went over the mountains, via Spano Pole to Popina Ltika, where they met Doncho with fifty men. A letter was sent to Dukata, the Organization’s leader in the village of Bozhdovo, asking him to prepare food and accommodation. Dukata and his colleagues wanted to have nothing to do with the Supremists and left the village to avoid meeting them, whereupon Doncho and Rizo, one of his henchmen, occupied Dukata’s house and, as an act of revenge, sacked his shop, slaughtered his chickens and pigs, drank some of his wine and then let the rest run out of the casks.

 

Stoyanov and Doncho next sent letters to the villages of Malki Tsalim, Debrené and Belevehchevo, asking them to provide twenty men each for an attack on Melnik. The Organization’s leaders in Debrené discussed the situation and sent a reply in which they pointed out that the Statutes of the Organization forbade them to take part in an action which was being undertaken without the knowledge and consent of the District Committee. They also drew the Supremists’ attention to the fact that they had contravened the Constitution of the Internal Organization by coming without permission to raise ‘artificial risings’, and they advised the Supremists to go home. At the same time, they sent a ‘fast’ [36] letter to Yané requesting him to come and get rid of the Supremists, and they also decided to patrol the village every night, in case the Supremists should come their way. [37] The attack on Melnik was postponed after the Supremists had been informed that a Turkish regiment with two pieces of artillery had arrived in Melnik. This was pure invention, intended to save the town from unnecessary suffering, but Stoyanov believed it was true,

 

 

35. The Turks later confiscated all the sheep in Vlahi (some 300) in compensation.

 

36. A ‘fast’ letter was one carried from village to village without pause.

 

37. The only arms possessed by the villagers were two Berdanka rifles and six Krimki. The latter were quite obsolete, and the former far from modern.

 

 

112

 

and decided instead to attack the village of Dzhigurovo, which consisted of some 150 houses—80 Turkish, 40 gypsy and 30 Bulgarian. When they arrived there, however, Doncho, for whom discretion was always the better part of valour, said: ‘In this village everybody is armed, even the gypsies. I’m not going to risk my life and the lives of the people who have come with me.’ He then set off for Bozhdovo, where he caught Dukata, who had unwisely returned to his village.

 

In the meantime, villagers from Malki Tsalim, who had managed to slip into Bozhdovo, had learnt that the Supremists were now thinking of attacking both Malki Tsalim and Debrené, with the idea of catching the village leaders and punishing them for not sending men as requested. A joint ambush was prepared by the men of Malki Tsalim and Debrené, and, after an exchange of fire, all the Supremists fled—this time abandoning the cauldrons, which they had hitherto carted around with them on the mules. On the way, the unfortunate Dukata, whom the Supremists had taken with them, was murdered by Rizo, as a reprisal for his lack of co-operation. [38]

 

In his memoirs, immediately after a restrained account of Dukata’s sorry end, Yané continues: ‘Then a letter was received asking us to accept those Supremists who had run away and who might seek shelter in our districts. That was in September.’ [39] And with this, his account of the ill-fated rising ends. Yané tells us neither who sent the letter—the Supremists themselves, or the Organization’s Central Committee—nor what action was taken, yet with this bald juxtaposition of the killing of one of the Organization’s officials and the request that his comrades succour the murderers, Yané brings into perfect focus the monstrous affront that Supremist interference represented to the Organization.

 

 

38. Most of the material about the activities of Doncho and Stoyanov is taken from the memoirs of Georgi Kotsev.

 

39. Yané’s memoirs, Miletich, VII, p. 33. In view of the 13 days difference in the calendar, old and new style, it was almost certainly October, not September, in actual fact.

 

[Previous] [Next]
[Back to Index]