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





In May 1903, Yané returned to Macedonia with a cheta of thirty, including Nikola Naumov, [1] Peyu Yavorov, Dimitŭr Stefanov (a former External Representative), Lyubomir Harizanov (a cousin of Yané’s), Alexander Radoslavov (a newly graduated science student), Lieutenant Naumov (a telegraphist) and Second Lieutenant Angelov. All of them were armed with Manlicher or Berdanka rifles, and Yané had obtained a further eighteen rifles, and other supplies.


They came back to a difficult situation. Turkish troops and police were still very active in the villages, and, to make matters worse, some Bulgarians had been drawn into a network of spies, whose mission was to discover Yané and betray him. For this reason, the cheta had to be constantly on the move across Pirin, sleeping rough and often going hungry, when nobody could get through to them with provisions. When they did have food, it usually consisted of badly-made corn bread and curds, which Yavorov described as ‘something like slaked lime with an odour of unwashed flesh’. [2] One of the chetnitsi had been given a sealed envelope by a waggish friend in Sofia, to be opened when he had not eaten for twenty-four hours. As soon as the condition was fulfilled, the man eagerly opened the envelope and pulled out. . . the extensive menu of a Sofia restaurant, offering ‘Hors d’oeuvres: black caviar, sardines. . . Soups and broths with vermicelli, chicken. . . Entrées, Roasts. . . Salads.’ [3]


There were also occasional days of feasting, when the cheta, having failed to catch some spy or traitor, would take their revenge upon his flocks. And, if sometimes they awoke soaked and chilled to the marrow after a wet and stormy night, there were also magic nights of moonlight, when ‘the nightingale scattered the silver dew of his trills’ [4] over the men as they slept under the great trees.


For some of the recruits, including the young officer Lt. Naumov, whose military training had not equipped him for such conditions, the hardships of life in Pirin soon outweighed the compensations and the Cause, and several of them went home discomfitted.



1. Nikola Naumov had been a fellow-student of Damé Gruev’s and was a friend of Gotsé’s. He edited the Sofia newspaper Pravo, which was critical of the Supremists.


2. Yavorov, vol. 3, 1965, p. 141.


3. Ibid.


4. Yavorov, Opus cit., p. 139.





Yavorov also left Yané, not because of the conditions—for he had travelled with Gotsé in much worse weather and survived—but because of personal incompatibility. The poet had become obsessed by the idea that Yané did not trust him and that he even regarded him as a rival for the leadership of the Serres Region. Even if one goes by Yavorov’s own account of their disagreements, [5] there seems to have been very little—if any—basis for such suspicions. Yané was perfectly prepared to accept Yavorov as a member of the Regional Committee, and he also agreed to his suggestion that he re-form and lead the Drama cheta, which had been decimated at the time when Gotsé was killed. Yané had such boundless self-confidence and so strong a personality that it probably never occurred either to him, or to anyone else, for that matter, that he could be ousted from his position. Far from displaying jealousy or suspicion towards people better educated than himself, Yané always strove to surround himself with such people. Such an attitude was far from universal within the Organization, for a certain amount of friction existed in the relations between the uneducated ex-haramii, who were experienced fighters, and the intellectuals, who often were not. They would, for example, ridicule each other’s clothes and manners, and Gotsé had raised the matter at the meeting in Karakyoy, in an attempt to smooth things out and achieve greater tolerance.


Once Yavorov had convinced himself of Yané’s hostility towards him, every disagreement between the two men assumed catastrophic proportions in Yavorov’s mind, until even his own comrades told him that he was being very obstinate. [6] His final quarrel with Yané came when he asked if he could take one of Yané’s men, Georgi Skrizhovsky, with him to the Drama District. Yané gave his consent, but insisted that Skrizhovsky leave his gun behind, since weapons belonged not to individuals but to districts. According to Yavorov, Skrizhovsky regarded his gun as a kind of talisman, and would not leave without it. No agreement could be reached, because the guns that Yavorov then offered Yané in exchange were of a different type. Two days later, Yavorov changed his mind and told Yané that he did not want to be voivoda of the Drama cheta, and that he would return to Bulgaria. By now Yané’s patience had run out. He admired the poet, regarded him as a great acquisition for the Region, and had been counting



5. Ibid., pp. 134-147.


6. Only Yavorov’s version of the disagreements has been recorded. Yané does not mention them at all in his memoirs. Ivan Harizanov (TDIA, f. 1508, op. 2, a.e. 19) says that Yané did not like talking about them, and neither did Yavorov. Yavorov’s account of them was published only after his death, in 1926. The rest of his memoirs about Macedonia were published in various journals during the period 1905-1908. Ivan Harizanov gives a different version of the quarrel, saying that Yané was annoyed with Yavorov over delays in the appearance of the newspaper Svoboda Ili Smŭrt (Freedom or Death), which Yavorov and Mitso Kiriliev had been producing under great difficulties since the meeting in Karakyoy. The newspaper was hectographed on jelly, and it came out weekly with a circulation of about one hundred copies.





on him to edit a newspaper to be printed on a new machine which they had brought from Bulgaria. Yané had never intended that Yavorov should lead the Drama cheta. That suggestion had come from Yavorov himself, and, at the time, Yané had bluntly expressed doubts as to whether the poet was sufficiently tough to deal with the ugly, unromantic situation which prevailed in the District. Yavorov, however, had insisted, and Yané had agreed, but without enthusiasm. Now, Yavorov was throwing up everything to return to Bulgaria. Without asking why, Yané turned away from him, and stared for a long time at the trunk of an oak. He was probably struggling to master his temper and remain calm. His nerves were already strained almost to breaking point: he was working day and night, trying to cope with Gotsé’s absence, striving to put order into a region torn by ‘affairs’, to cope with a flood of refugees who were leaving the villages and seeking shelter with him in Pirin, trying to prepare for a rising which he did not want and could not justify, and, in this situation, Yavorov’s caprices were more than he could bear.


At last, as Yavorov was turning to leave, Yané faced him once more, and said: ‘Alright, go to Bulgaria! You don’t need us and we don’t need you.’ And, having told him that he must leave behind his weapons, uniform, and everything else that belonged to the Region, Yané walked off and sent two chetnitsi to collect the things. Everyone was much upset and saddened by the whole affair, but Yané would make no further concessions or allowances. He would not coax or cajole a grown man to remain if he wished to go. Yavorov’s departure merely confirmed Yané’s opinion that the poet’s very nature precluded his total commitment to the Cause. When Yané had told him that he was too soft to do the things which, as voivoda, he must do, Yavorov had indignantly denied that this was so, asserting that he had come to burn in the fire. Yet even this very statement unconsciously betrayed his basically romantic approach to the struggle. The Cause could manage without those individuals who wanted to burn, to find emotional satisfaction in the struggle. It needed men of sober constancy, who were capable of controlling their emotions and desires so as to be ready, day in and day out, to do what had to be done.


‘But all the same, he is a great poet,’ Yané’s cousin Ivan Harizanov ventured to remark, expressing the general feeling of regret. Yané cut him short, as though the subject was painful to him: ‘The Organization is even greater.’ [7]


Thus Yavorov left Macedonia altogether, while Skrizhovsky, whose gun had, according to the poet, been at the centre of the quarrel, remained with Yané and was for many years one of his closest comrades.



7. See Zemedelsko Zname, 22.IV.1949, article by Ivan Harizanov: Zashto cbovekŭt na deloto ne se pomiri s lyubimetsa na masite. Ivan Harizanov’s elder brother, Lyubomir, was in Yané’s cheta during this period. There is evidence (in the memoirs of Slavka Harizanova, their sister, told to Nikola Vŭlchev, her son-in-law), that Ivan was with the cheta for a short time, but was soon sent home by Yané.





Yavorov had understood Gotsé perfectly, and in his two books— Haidut Dreams, and his biography of Gotsé—he wrote about him with wonderful insight, sympathy and sensitivity. Yavorov could easily identify with Gotsé, in whose character lyricism, emotion, and even a streak of bohemian abandon lay close to the surface. Yané he never wholly understood, in spite of his admiration for what he called ‘the irrepressible energy, granite tenacity and unbelievable will-power of that man’. [8] Yavorov, the poet, came into the movement seeking romance and adventure. Even the title of his book confirms this, while inside he says: ‘I never had any ambition as regards the Macedonian Cause. In the beginning it was the romance of the work that carried me along, and later—the duty of a Bulgarian, who, nevertheless, endeavoured to get by with a minimum of commitment, reckoning that others would be more useful, being in a position to devote themselves entirely. [9]


Yané Sandansky was not merely one of these devoted ‘others’—the degree of his devotion was commensurate with the extraordinary energy, tenacity and will-power that Yavorov had observed in him. For Yané, nothing existed outside the Cause. For him, the Cause was all and everything—it was his profession, his wife, his child and his religion; it was the air which he breathed and the firm earth beneath his feet. Some of those closest to him asserted that he did not even bear personal grudges or have personal ememies. [10] He recognized only enemies of the Organization, and even in these he could admire bravery and other positive qualities, for the sake of which he would attempt to convert them to the Cause. For the sake of the Organization, he would kill, even when it was hard or repugnant for him to do so; for the sake of the Organization, he would tolerate and work with people whom he disliked or who had done him wrong.


In every sense of the word, Yané was a professional: unsentimental, cool in judgement, careful and precise in all that he did, and completely at home in the beautiful, merciless mountain that was his birthright and his fate. Even his manner of dress was strictly professional: avoiding both the flamboyance of the haramii and the scruffiness of some of the intellectuals, he always dressed neatly, with a simple elegance appropriate to the occasion. Yavorov described him in Karakyoy as ‘a big, spruce, almost refined figure in a well-fitting tunic and trousers of yellowish coarse woollen cloth, with carefully arranged black thongs over white leggings. A whole network of straps criss-crossed his chest: bandoleers, a large revolver, a bright dagger, and a broad yataghan slung over his shoulder like a sabre’. [11]


Several of Yané’s other comrades have described his appearance and



8. Yavorov, Opus cit., p. 147.


9. Yavorov, Opus cit., p. 136.


10. See Dimitŭr Arnaudov, Opus cit., pp. 6-7, and Ivan Harizanov, TDIA, f. 1508, op. 2, a.e. 20.


11. Yavorov, Opus cit., p. 77.





character in some detail. Kostadin Zlatkov Stoyanov, who had known him as a child in Dupnitsa, described the grown man thus: ‘He had a body that was well built, harmonious, spruce and manly; an oval face; big, black eyes, as kind and merry and gentle as they were severe, sharp and piercing, and—to his enemies—terrible. He had only to look at a person to freeze him on the spot, if he was one of his opponents. His mind was perceptive, far-seeing, circumspect, and immensely quick. . . Cautious, always, everywhere and in everything; punctilious, strict, strong-willed, alert, clear-sighted and confident, with the highest degree of resolution, with phenomenal courage, capable of overcoming all kinds of difficulties, self-reliant, immune to all forms of outside influence, tactful, with a superb talent for organization, an ability to organize and lead hundreds of chetnitsi, providing them with food, clothes, shoes and weapons, loving them like a father. . . An exemplary man, of the highest morality and dignity; with an unshakable will, a firm character and iron discipline; an excellent strategist, of astonishingly great tenacity, for he fought tens of battles with numerous Turkish troops, without suffering casualties, or, if there were any, then just ones and twos. He did not drink spirits, because he always had to be cautious and alert.’ [12]


Angel Nikolov Balev, a teacher from Bansko, said of him: ‘An impressive figure, powerful, brave, cheerful. His forehead was open and high, his face—rounded with a soft, forked beard; his eyes—bright and resolute; his voice—clear; his speech—brusque. His outward appearance captivated one, because he was fastidious about his clothes and equipment; he was always spruce and ready for action. His speeches were long, but full of meaning. Without affectation, he would hit the nail on the head. He was, of course, very convincing, because he possessed natural intelligence, logical thought, and—what is very important—an unshakable will. Sometimes it was necessary for him to raise his voice, to say some hard, unpleasant word, and even to move his hands to his waist, where "his trusty weapon hung, in order to be terrible when there was need". [13] His political credo was: a struggle for the freedom of Macedonia, but a struggle for social justice. He wanted to see not only a free Macedonia, but also the majority of the Macedonian population—the farm labourers and chiflik peasantry—freed from their merciless, grasping lords.’ [14]


Yané’s piercing eyes, with their ability to freeze people to the spot, made a great impression upon his contemporaries. This disturbing quality of theirs is mentioned in many memoirs, and is even reflected in certain photographs of him. Oddly enough, few contemporaries agree about their colour. In his passport they are said to be brown, yet people who knew him well have variously described them as being every colour from blue



12. OIM Blagoevgrad, No. 547.


13. The quotation comes from Ivan Vazov’s poem Levsky.


14. OIM Blagoevgrad, No. 558. Balev was born in Bansko in 1882. He wrote the memoirs in 1952.





to black, including grey and green. Evidently his eyes, like those of Pirin, responded to the season and the sky, and people’s impressions of them were, doubtless, influenced by the mood in which they found him and the circumstances under which they met. Thus a woman [15] who remembered Yané at her own wedding, at the christening of her three sons, at Easter celebrations, and so forth, and who therefore saw him in relaxed and festive mood, declared without hesitation—albeit more than fifty years after his death—that his eyes were blue! To Yavorov, however, suspicious and unhappy, Yané’s gaze was ‘icy’ and his eyes were ‘leaden’. If they were, it was not surprising. Although Yané had recovered his strength and energy, and walked as tirelessly as before, he was still oppressed by the decision of the Central Committee and by the thought of the horrors that lay ahead.


Gotsethe one person who could, perhaps, have stopped the rising, had he used his authority to the full—Gotsé was dead. So was Gushtanov, the Serres Regional voivoda. Thus the Region had been doubly bereaved at a time when it was most in need of leadership. Though he had not been officially attached to the Serres Region, it was there that Gotsé had spent the last months of his life; it was there that he had intended to play his part in the rising. [16] Now there was neither Gotsé nor Gushtanov; the projected congress in Lovcha had not taken place, and the original decisions of the meeting in Karakyoy—against a rising and for terrorist actions—still stood. Somebody had to take command, and Yané alone had sufficient authority to do so.


Officially Yané was only the Melnik District Voivoda, but even at this stage, nobody questioned his authority in the Region as a whole. He selected seven or eight men, whom he put under the leadership of Mircho Kiprov and sent as a cheta to the Drama District. The rest of his men [17] he divided into four groups, and they began to tour the villages collecting food and other supplies. Everywhere they told the people that this was to be their only contribution: nothing more would be required of them. Indeed, Yané expressly forbade the population to rise, and said that only the cheti were to take any action.


They collected 60,000 kilos of wheat, 500-600 okka [18] of sugar, 200-300 okka of cheese, 30-40 strips of leather for moccasins, and unspecified



15. Paraskeva Potskova.


16. According to Gyorché Petrov, the Committee in Salonika had entrusted Gotsé with the task of winning the Serres comrades for the idea of a rising and of organizing action there. See Miletich, Vol. VIII, p. 165.


17. Stefanov and Nikola Naumov had gone off to a cave, intending to bring out a new paper, and Yavorov had gone with them temporarily to give them the benefit of his experience. Although they had brought a better hectograph from the Principality, the summer heat was already so great that the jelly would not set, so they abandoned the attempt. Yavorov and Naumov then returned to the Principality.


18. An okka is equal to 1,225 grams or 2.8 Ibs.





quantities of salts of lemon, soda, wax and ‘balsams’. [19] They also baked 6,000 okka of rusks, and these, together with the other supplies, were stored against emergency in various places high up in Pirin.


In the meantime, letters had been sent summoning representatives from the cheti and committees throughout the Serres Region to a congress to discuss a common plan of action. They met at the end of August (beginning of September, new style), in Belemeto, one of the most beautiful ‘circuses’ in Pirin, where the Mozgovitsa River rises in a series of glassy lakes, the largest of which—Tevnoto Ezero (the Dark Lake)—at well over seven thousand feet, is the second highest in Pirin. The delegates came from all the districts of the Region—Serres, Melnik, Razlog, Nevrokop, Demir Hisar and Drama, [20] and for three days they conferred under the chairmanship of Dimitŭr Stefanov.


By now, the rising had already begun both in the Bitolya Region and in Thrace. The impatient Bitolya comrades had met in Congress at the beginning of May (new style) in Damé Gruev’s birthplace—Smilevo. The Regional Congress had lasted a week, and, unlike the Salonika Congress, it had been attended by a fully representative group of delegates, whose number had risen to nearly fifty by the final session. Boris Sarafov had been there, pressing for a rising, with promises of military help from the Principality. Some other delegates, too, especially those from the Kastoria District, which was relatively well armed and prepared, had also spoken in favour. Others, however, had been totally against, and Lozanchev, the Region’s delegate in Salonika, had been roundly criticized for voting as he had, without any prior consultation. The discussions had been heated, but in the end, the delegates had followed the lead of Damé Gruev, who, though of the opinion that the decision taken in Salonika had been hasty and ill-advised, considered that it was too late to go back on it: ‘Bitti davasi,’ he had told him, ‘the die has been cast, the matter is closed.’ They had decided that the rising was to be partisan in character, and that the fighting should be done by the cheti, not by the population as a whole, and they had set up a General Staff, consisting of Damé, Sarafov and Lozanchev. In due course, the date had been fixed for July 20/August 2—Ilinden, the Feast of the Prophet Elijah, and, at the appointed time, the rising had begun.


At the eastern end of the Organization’s territory, in the part of Thrace that lies between the Black Sea and the Aegean, the leaders of the Adrianople Region had also held a Congress, beginning on June 28/



19. Miletich, Vol. VII, p. 40. Yané explains that the ‘balsams’ were phials containing refreshing spirit. They were, in fact, Ether Sulphuricum.


20. The delegates included Yané (Melnik), Mircho Kiprov (Drama), Georgi Bazhdarov from Gorno Brodi, Dyado Iliya Kŭurchovaliyata (Demir-Hisar), Dimo Lazarov and Simeon Molerov (Razlog), with Milush and Alexander Kolchagov and Boris Golev, who accompanied them, Alexander Radoslavov, Dimitŭr Penkov (Nevrokop) and Nikoliev (Serres).





July 11, 1903. Forty-seven delegates, protected by several hundred chetnitsi, had met on Petrova Niva (Peter’s Field)—a green, grassy natural fortress, bounded on one side by rocky precipices that fall to the serpentine River Veleka, and offering panoramic vistas of the thickly wooded hills of the Strandzha, with its ancient oaks, clothed in moss and mistletoe, and looking, for all the world, like hoary old soldiers, awaiting a command.


The Thracian delegates had unanimously agreed that they were not ready, yet, out of a feeling of solidarity for their comrades in Macedonia, they, too, had voted for a rising. Katerinsky, the one delegate who had voted against, had been asked to leave the Congress—which he did. In Strandzha the rising had begun on the Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6/19, 1903.


What happened was what Yané feared would happen, knew would happen: a rising large enough to provoke appalling reprisals, but not large enough to achieve its aim. It was, of course, a very different thing from the events of the previous autumn. Everywhere the characteristic ideology of the Organization made itself felt. Everywhere the lives and property of Turkish civilians were respected; everywhere in the moment of temporary victory, the Bulgarian rebels voluntarily shared power with other nationalities. On the Black Sea, Bulgarian cheti under Mihail Gerdzhikov freed the little coastal towns and immediately handed over their administration to the Greeks who formed the majority of the urban population. In the Strandzha, the peasants spontaneously formed communes, working the land in common and supplying the cheti and non-combattants alike with food from common stores. In the Bitolya Region, for ten glorious days, the liberated town of Krushovo became a ‘republic’ ruled by a provisional ‘Government’, in which the Bulgarians included representatives from the minority Greek, Albanian and Vlah communities. Even the inhabitants of the surrounding Turkish villages were persuaded that they had nothing to fear from the rebels and agreed to remain peacefully in their homes.


Yet this chivalry and internationalism counted for nothing when the tide turned against the Organization, and the armies of Abdul Hamid began to slaughter, burn, rape and torture. And no help came from the Principality. . .


The rising in Bitolya had been in progress for several weeks when the leaders of the Serres Region met at Belemeto. Faced with a fait accompli, they decided to give what help they could, namely to begin operations in the south of the Region, by blowing up the bridge over the Struma near Demir Hisar, and, if possible, by attacking the town itself; [21] to cut telegraph wires everywhere; gradually to bring the cheti into action against the Turkish Army; to accept Supremist cheti and to work with them, on



21. 2nd Lt Angelov was sent off with the Demir Hisar cheta to reconnoitre, since it was known that Turkish soldiers were guarding both ends of the bridge.





condition they obeyed the decisions of the Central Committee and the Serres Regional Committee. The date for the commencement of hostilities was fixed for September 14/27, 1903.


The Supremist cheti were not slow in arriving. One of the first was led by Lt. Lyubomir Stoyanchev, and 2nd Lt Nastev, and consisted of about 40 men. Yané met them in the mountains above the village of Pirin. Alexander Radoslavov and Dimitŭr Lazarov, one of the Bansko delegates, were with him. He received the newcomers with extreme caution. By day they talked, but at night, he withdrew to a safe distance, and the Supremists, for their part, on Stoyanchev’s orders, slept with their guns at their feet. Only on the third night, did Yané become sufficiently convinced of their good faith to sleep beside his Supremist colleague. On Yané’s insistence, a public debate between him and Stoyanchev was held in the presence of all the chetnitsi, at which matters of policy, both ideological and practical, were discussed. Yané made it perfectly clear that, if the Supremists wished to stay, they must accept the plan adopted by the Serres Congress, and Stoyanchev agreed to all the conditions. As a mutual guarantee of good faith, Stoyanchev agreed to divide his men into two groups: one group, under Nastev, stayed with Yané, while the other, under Stoyanchev himself, went with Dyado Iliya Kŭrchovaliyata and a few of Yané’s men to the Demir Hisar District. [22]


The next Supremist contingent was harder for Yané to accept with equanimity, let alone with warmth, for it was led by his old enemies Captain Yordan Stoyanov and Doncho Zlatkov. They met at a place called Livadata (the Meadow), a couple of miles from the village of Pirin, in the moonlight, under a star-studded sky. The two groups [23] stood face to face—about 20-30 paces apart. Stoyanov made the first move towards reconciliation. Stepping forward, he went up to Yané and gave him his hand. Yané took it and the two men embraced and kissed.


For Stoyanov and his men, it was, no doubt, a moment of triumph and exultation. To them it mattered little that, formally, they had accepted the leadership of the Internal Organization—what mattered was that the latter had agreed to a rising, and most of the Supremists believed in all sincerity that it would lead to the liberation of Macedonia. They were even prepared to admire the Organization’s work in the Serres District. Stoyanov’s secretary, Georgi Belev, writes: ‘From the intimate conversations which I had with Kosta Molerov, I realized that the leaders of the Serres Revolutionary Region had done a very great deal to organize the Bulgarian population into a powerful organization; they had excellently organized the administrative, intelligence, judicial and other services, and also the support and provisioning of the cheti, but they had done very



22. Miletich, Vol. VII, p. 41. See also Stoyanchev’s memoirs, recorded by Ivan Harizanov, TDIA, f. 1508, op. 2, a.e. 22, pp. 81-85.


23. In memoirs the number of Supremists is variously given as between 80 and 150, while Yané’s cheta is said to have consisted of about 30 men.





little about arming the population, about preparing it so that it could itself, worthily and with honour, make a mass armed protest against Turkish rule.’ [24]


They had, indeed, done very little. Yané had not even carried out any military training among the population during his recent tours, because he had never intended to organize such a ‘protest’: his aim was to organize a revolution, first in men’s minds, as Gotsé liked to say, and then, in all Macedonia—a victorious revolution for freedom and social justice.


It must have taken all Yané’s legendary strength of will to stifle his natural feelings and to take the hands of men who had systematically slandered him, sabotaged his plans, persecuted and even killed his comrades. Yet he did so, knowing that, in the present situation forced upon him by these same men, nothing was to be gained for the Cause, and much might be lost, by conflict with them. And, if he did so coldly and without enthusiasm, he can hardly be blamed for his lack of warmth.


It was not long before the newly-found unity of the Supremists and the Serres cheti was sealed with blood in battle. The Supremists had arrived hungry, and they had barely finished eating, when Turkish troops appeared in the vicinity. [25] Livadata was in a valley, and was therefore unsuitable for defence, so all the cheti, each under its own commander, withdrew to a place considered holy [26] and known as Sveta Troitsa (Holy Trinity), where they ambushed the oncoming Turks and killed some 70 or 80 of them for very few losses on the Bulgarian side. [27] More Turkish troops arrived later, but the cheti were able to slip away under cover of darkness. The Turks then attacked the village of Pirin. Those inhabitants who were unfit to bear arms—old men, women and children—had already left with whatever they could carry, when they heard the firing at Sveta Troitsa. The village militia and other armed peasants were able to repulse the Turks because the latter attacked from one direction only, and the defenders were able to concentrate their fire in that place. That evening, the main Supremist contingent, under General Tsonchev himself and Colonel Yankov, arrived— a force of some 250 men. The General left one platoon in the village and took the others to a place called Garvanitsa to guard the road from Nevrokop, in case more soldiers should be sent from there. Battles were fought in both places, both in Pirin and at Garvanitsa. Hearing that



24. Memoirs of Georgi Ivanov Belev. Ilyustratsia Ilinden, 8 (28) 1930.


25. According to Apostol Popstamatov (then 12 years old), whose father, Stamat Popiliev, was the village priest and a member of the local committee in the village of Pirin, a Turkish tax-collector had got wind of revolutionary activity in the area and reported his findings to the Kaimakam of Nevrokop. The soldiers then caught and beat three villagers, who subsequently led them to Livadata. Whether the soldiers learnt that the cheti were at Livadata from the tax-collector or from the villagers is not known.


26. Such places were generally the site of a former church or shrine.


27. Popstamatov gives the Bulgarian losses as 8, Yané as 2, both from the Nevrokop cheta. Possibly Yané was quoting only Organization losses.





Tsonchev was fighting, Yané hastened to his aid, but it was all over before he could get there. The platoon left in Pirin found itself outnumbered by the Turks and was forced to withdraw and rejoin Tsonchev.


From his new position on the so-called Greek Meadow, Tsonchev sent Yané the following letter:


‘Comrades, true to our duty, together with 250 young heroes, we have answered the call of long-suffering Macedonia. Today at dawn, searching for you in the village of Pirin, we found Turkish troops who had remained there after your glorious and memorable victory yesterday. We, too, had to join battle, which we waged successfully, and so far, without losses on our side. All measures have been taken; there is no danger whatsoever. Come without fail, so that we can see each other and talk things over.


Yours, General Ivan Tsonchev

Colonel Anastas Yankov.’ [28]


Noon. September 1, 1903 (old style-MM),



The letter, written in the General’s own hand, was brought by two peasants to the place where Yané, Stoyanov and their men were resting after their battles and marches. They decided to accept the General’s invitation, and set out at about four in the afternoon. Night overtook them as they marched, but the harvest moon rose red above them, lighting their way through the whispering trees.


The Supremists hurried on ahead, eager to rejoin their General, while the chetnitsi of the Internal Organization came at their own more leisurely pace. When Yané, together with Dimitŭr Stefanov and their men, arrived on the moonlit meadow, the Supremists, with their combined strength of four hundred, were waiting for them, clustered around their General and in full military array, with Manlicher rifles and two or three hundred cartridges apiece, and with grenades and dynamite in their packs. The magical beauty of Pirin and the awesomeness of the occasion made a deep impression upon many of the Supremists: ‘Everyone on the Greek Meadow, in trepidation and with bated breath, was expecting something unheard-of, something great and glorious.’ [29]


When Yané was within twenty or thirty paces, the General stepped forward, and, evidently much moved, said in a loud voice: ‘Sandansky! In Bulgaria, in time of peace, we were, perhaps, enemies, but now, in enslaved Macedonia, on the heights of Pirin, I give you my brotherly, comradely hand. Take it, for the sake of Macedonia.’ [30]



28. The text of the letter, as well as the other details of the meeting between Yané and General Tsonchev, are taken from Belev’s memoirs, Ilyustratsia Ilinden, 1, 1927.


29. Ibid.     30. Ibid.





And, for the sake of Macedonia, Yané Sandansky gave General Tsonchev his hand, and the two men embraced and exchanged kisses, while the assembled multitude cheered until the forests rang.


For the sake of Macedonia. . . For her, Yané would do anything. . . anything. . .


Even while they were burying the hatchet, a group of Supremists and Organization men were already fighting and dying for her. Some days before, Yané had sent 2nd Lt Nastev and those of Stoyanchev’s men who had remained with him (about 20), together with eight or nine of his own men, under Spiro Petrov, [31] to fetch urgent military supplies from Bansko. ‘They were accompanied by some thirty peasants and an equal number of baggage mules. On the way back, while resting under a peak known as Kukla—the Doll, they were spotted by a large Turkish force in search of the cheti which had taken part in the various battles in the area. Spiro told the peasants to take the baggage on to its destination, while he and Nastev remained behind to engage the Turks and cover their departure. He also invited any of his men who wished to go with the baggage to do so, since he had resolved to stay and fight to the death. They took up their positions—Spiro and his men on one rocky peak and the Supremists on another, somewhat higher—and the battle began.


Spiro was nicknamed ‘the Nightingale’, because he had a wonderful tenor voice, and, even now, in the hour of battle and death, he sang continuously as he fired at the enemy. In the course of the fighting, Nastev withdrew from his position, without informing Spiro, thus, the Turks were able to attack Spiro from above. He held out until his four companions were dead and all the ammunition was exhausted. When the Turks, observing the silence, approached to investigate, he hurled hand-grenades at them, killing large numbers of them. The Turks then dug themselves in, encircling him, but he came out at them with his sabre, slashing to left and right, and, when all further resistance was useless, he killed himself with a bullet that he had kept in his revolver for the purpose. Apart from Spiro and his four companions, five or six of Nastev’s men had also been killed—a total of some 12 men. Yet, such was their courage, that the Turks, though nominally the victors, paid for their victory with more than a hundred dead. Misled by Spiro’s beard and his courage, they assumed that the dead man was Sandansky himself. They cut off his head



31. Spiro Petrov was born in Prilep, where he had engaged in trade before joining Yané. He had taken part in the Miss Stone Affair, and had afterwards returned to Macedonia with Yané to campaign in the villages. It is probably Spiro whom the women called ‘Shishko’ and whom Mrs Tsilka describes as being not only a great singer and whistler, who kept everybody entertained, but also as an excellent cook, fanatically clean both as regards his cooking and his person. See Otechestven Front, 13.IV.1982. Part 3 of Mrs Tsilka’s memoirs. Yavorov, who met him at the meeting in Alibotush, writes that he was ‘as upright as long-suffering Job, as handsome and brave as St George’. Yavorov, Opus cit., p. 84.





and sent it to Melnik, and later the authorities in Gorna Dzhumaya even went so far as to put up posters informing citizens of Yané’s death!


Borne on the clear mountain air and echoing from peak to peak the sound of the shooting had been heard at the place where the cheti had assembled, but they had been too far away to do anything. Contemporaries say that Yané wept unashamedly over Spiro’s death. Some say that he cried aloud in his grief: ‘Get married, my children, get married, my lads, so that there will be someone to shed a tear on your graves!’ Whereupon, one of his comrades, Taskata Sersky, replied with gentle irony: ‘We should follow your example, yes? [32]


Leaving the troubled areas around the village of Pirin, [33] the combined cheti of the Organization and the Supreme Committee—some 500 strong—set out northwards for a place where they could confer and draw up plans. Food was running short, and four chetnitsi were sent with a local boy, Apostal Popstamatov, [34] as a guide, to fetch some cattle from a village pasture. They came back with four cows, and the animals were duly slaughtered. One of the Supremists, Dobri Stanchovsky, has given details concerning catering methods: the meat was cooked in cauldrons, with rice or ‘wild onion’—a herb with a taste resembling that of onion— and when it was ready, it was put into very unusual ‘dishes’—hollowed out beech trunks about thirty feet long. After the meal, there was singing and dancing to the accompaniment of a bagpipe and several tamburi (instruments resembling long-necked mandolins). [35] Food, however, remained a problem, since all the villages were being blockaded by Turkish troops and no one could get through with supplies. Fortunately, the cheti came across a flock of some 300-400 sheep, which they commandeered and took to a place by the Breznitsa lakes, where they camped.


Here, for a brief spell, reality emerged into the greenwood idyll, as the sheep were roasted and eaten in a setting of peerless natural beauty. While



32. See Pirinsko delo, 13.VII.71, Konstantin Popatanasov: Smel i obayatelen borets za svoboda. Also Pirinsko delo, 20.VII.1975, Krum Mihailov: Legenda li e imeto Spiro Slaveya?


33. After the fighting around Kukla, the Turkish soldiers came to the village of Pirin, and began burning, looting, etc. The male population had been rounded up and locked in the church by those soldiers already in the village, and the newcomers, furious over their losses on Kukla, were intending to massacre the lot. They were prevented from doing this by the arrival of the Nevrokop Pasha, who had orders from Serres to calm the population and to stop further violence. The Pasha then managed, by dint of smooth speeches about the mercy of the Sultan, etc., to persuade certain villagers to give him the names of the ‘trouble-makers’, i.e. the local leaders of the Organization.


34. Apostal Popstamatov’s father—the priest—had been betrayed in August 1903 and had fled to Yané in order to avoid arrest. The rest of the family fled from the village during the fighting in September, and it was decided that Apostol should join his father with the cheti.


35. See article by Dobri Stanchovsky, Ilyustratsia llinden, 2 (32), 1931.





the men amused themselves around the numerous campfires, singing, dancing and cooking, the leaders met privately under the chairmanship of General Tsonchev. There was much quarrelling and disagreement, but, at last, a common plan emerged. The rebel army was to divide into three: Yané, Doncho, Stoyanov and Darvingov were to go south to the Melnik District; Dimitŭr Anastasov, Mihail Chakov and Stoyan Mŭlchankov were to go to the Nevrokop area, while General Tsonchev, Colonel Yankov and Dimitŭr Stefanov were to go north to Razlog. Tsonchev and Stefanov were to act as the General Staff, with their H.Q.. in Pirin above Bansko, and the rising was to begin on September 14 (old style)—Krŭstovden, the Feast of the Raising of the Cross. [36]


Dobri Stanchovsky has described his impression of Yané and his cheta at the lakeside meeting: ‘During that time, I went from cheta to cheta, admiring their beautiful weapons, for not all the cheti were similarly armed. The best armed cheta was that of Yané Sandansky, to which my friends Yonko Vaptsarov and Ivan Dobrinishtanina belonged. Their rifles were all carbines, their revolvers—Nagants, their clothes—uniform, smart and sound. This man made a great impression upon me. I watched him as he left the meeting, frequently pulling at his beard and frequently spitting (no doubt from habit). But all the time I thought he looked uneasy and angry.’ [37]


Stanchovsky had correctly interpreted the signs: Yané seldom lost his temper, but the nervous pulling at his beard and the spitting were infallible signs of inner tension and seething emotion beneath his habitually calm exterior. He tolerated the unwelcome guests, but his whole attention was rivetted upon the problem of how to minimize the undesirable consequences of their stay.


When all had been settled, the cheti dispersed to take up their positions and to await the appointed day. The groups designated for the Melnik District and Razlog travelled the first part of the way together. They scaled the ridge above the lakes and followed its narrow granite parapet past the eight-thousand-foot peaks of Chengelchal and Dzhano to the high pass of Demir Kapiya—theIron Gate’, which never opens and is never closed. Here the two groups parted, each to make the steep descent into their respective areas.


A few days before September 14, Yané and his Supremist companions made camp below the Mozgovitsa ridge, in the valley of the Lilyanovo River, where there was a sawmill. Here they rested and, after breakfasting on bread and milk with cheese, the men splashed about in the river, and sang and danced. Letters giving instructions about the uprising were sent by Vlah couriers to the various committees, and, according to the rule



36. This feast commemorates the finding of the Cross by Helena, wife of the Emperor Constantine, its excavation and its elevation for adoration.


37. Ilyustratsia llinden, 2 (32), 1931.





that, if any one leaves the cheta, the whole group must move, to avoid possible betrayal, they all left the camp for a rocky place higher up in the mountain. Late in the evening, since there was no sign of hostile forces, they returned to the sawmill. Several of the leaders, including Yané, Radoslavov, Darvingov and Belev—Stoyanov’s secretary—gathered round the fire inside the cabin of the sawmill, and began to talk. Doncho’s hedonistic soul resented hardship without suitable material compensation, and the old haramiya was loud in his complaints: ‘What’s all this, brother? Day and night, here we are, wandering about, always on the heights of Pirin, like wild animals. Heigh-ho! What’s become of the past, what’s become of those good times when we and the cheti went about in the villages! Oho! What tlaki, and sedyanki! [38] What feasting and merrymaking there was then! [39]


Yané, too, voiced his dissatisfaction, but on a very different level. He said that the Supremist intervention was harmful to the cause of liberation for two reasons: first—their intervention gave both opportunity and grounds for it to be said that the revolutionary cause in Macedonia was artificial, and that it was fired and led from outside by Bulgarian rulers, and, second, that Prince Ferdinand and the Bulgarian Government, through the Supremists, wanted to take over the Internal Organization and to use it for their own ends. ‘Colonel Yankov’s expedition to Macedonia, and the Dzhumaya risings last year, 1902, were very precipitate, inopportune and harmful to the Cause,’ he told them. ‘The revolution in Macedonia should be proclaimed when the broad working masses of the people—Bulgarians, Turks, Albanians, Vlahs, Greeks and Jews—come to their senses and are revolutionized, when all of them have their eyes opened and are appalled by social injustice, by tyranny, by their trampled rights, by the domination of capital over labour. As for the present rising, it was forced upon me against my convictions and against my will. But once one has joined the horo, one has to dance.’


Yané’s attempt to share with the Supremists his vision of a multinational social and economic revolution aroused in them only scornful incredulity. They dismissed his ideas as ‘dreams, dreams that can lure a young, idealist visionary, but not a realist revolutionary, who should be guided here not by what ought to be, but by what is and what can be’, and they argued that, since the 1902 risings had produced the ‘watchman’ [40] reforms, another rising would produce more, and they blamed the Serres Regional leaders for opposing the officers’ entry, thus not allowing them to make better preparation.



38. Tlaki and sedyanki are both traditional gatherings at which people combined work, such as spinning or peeling maize, with singing, story-telling, etc.


39. Memoirs of Georgi Ivanov Belev, Ilyustratsia llinden, 6 (46), 1933.


40. Diplomatic activity had resulted in Austria and Russia producing a set of reforms which were presented to Turkey on February 8, 1903, and were accepted by the Sultan. The reforms were very mild and inadequate, one of the points being that





Yané answered them with bitter words about the officer class, the Prince and the existing regime in Bulgaria. All his political experience so far—the struggles against Mayor Radev in Dupnitsa, his reading of revolutionary literature, his friendship with Socialist teachers, the destructive activities of the Supremists—all had strengthened his conviction that autonomy was not a mere expedient, but a necessary prerequisite for the transformation of Macedonia into a land of justice, international brotherhood and social equality. The first steps towards this goal had already been taken by the Organization, but all that had been achieved was now being threatened by ill-considered haste. . .


llinden, and now Krŭstovden. . . St Iliya (Elijah) was said to ride through the air in a chariot of fire, drawn by fiery horses, and to ascend into heaven on the wings of a whirlwind. Thus he was portrayed in all the ikons, and the people believed that it was the passage of this wondrous vehicle that caused the lightning and the thunder, and brought welcome rain to the thirsty crops. St Iliya’s Day was one of the greatest holidays in Yané’s Vlahi, a day of ceremonies and celebrations, for he was the patron saint of the village. . . But this time, the wrong horses had been harnessed to the wrong chariot, and the wrong people were driving. . . Instead of thunder and lightning, there was the roar of guns and the flames of burning villages. . . The fields were wet with blood, and not with rain. . . And as for Krŭstovden and after, crosses would indeed be raised. . . forests of crosses above innumerable graves. . .


Krŭstovden came and went. On Krŭstovden, in Vlahi, the flocks would he brought down from the high pastures into the village for the winter, [41] but Yané kept his men high in the mountains, below the Mozgovitsa ridge. On September 15, Belev tackled him on the subject: ‘Well, Yané, here we are, today’s the second day of the rising. Down there on the plain, in accordance with the orders that we have given, the people have surely risen, and have already broken all the chains and are shedding precious blood for the freedom of Macedonia. Don’t you think, my dear chap, that it’s time for us to leave the heights, and go down there, to the people, to support them in the struggle? You can see and hear that everybody here is eager to do so; only you and Doncho Voivoda are against.’


‘Eh, comrade,’ Yané answered sadly, ‘didn’t you hear what those peasants who came to us the day before yesterday were saying? Didn’t you hear from them that the Turks know all our plans and have taken measures to prevent the people from rising? What can we do now—a handful of fighters against the Turkish Army, many thousands strong, which has occupied all Bulgarian villages and all strategic points? And you know, don’t you, that for many reasons we haven’t given the people arms, and we haven’t prepared them properly for today’s great day—the rising,



Christians should be appointed as village watchmen in Christian areas. Little came of the reforms.


41. According to the New Calendar, it would be September 27.





which in my opinion, is precipitate? Things being as they are, I tell you those people will remain quiet. [42] It would be unwise on our part through revolutionary actions, no matter how bold, to expose the population to danger and mass slaughter. It would be different if Bulgaria were to declare war on Turkey.’ [43]


Belev replied with the classic Supremist argument that the aim of the rising was to provoke just such a war, followed by international intervention, and that revolutionary actions, far from the villages, would keep the Turks in a state of tension until the Great Powers were forced to move.


Rumours, indeed, reached them that the Great Powers had met in Salonika, and had granted autonomy to Macedonia, and to Bulgaria—the right to intervene if Turkey raised objections. Though quite without foundation, these rumours were received with great joy in the camp below the Mozgovitsa ridge, and the cheti decided to go down by night towards the village of Sveti Vrach. They reached a place called Popina Lŭka, where the river comes hurtling down a chasm in a spectacular waterfall. Here they were met by Shteryu, a Vlah and one of the Organization’s most trusty couriers, who brought them news of the approach of some 2,000 Turkish soldiers and as many basbibozouks. The cheti took up positions on a rocky place, but were encircled and trapped. The Turks hesistated to attack, in spite of their vastly superior numbers, and the two sides stared at each other for the space of several hours.


It was Doncho who saved the situation for the cheti. Promising to get them all out of the trap alive, if they followed him and kept silent, he waited until dark, and led them over very rough ground to a dead-end, where there were precipices on two sides, and, on the third, a rising vertical cliff, some 10-15 metres high, topped by a forest. Taking off his moccasins, he shinned up the cliff like a goat, and then let down a long stick to assist his less agile comrades to ascend. Captain Stoyanov was the first to go up, and the others followed. From the top, Doncho pointed to the circle of Turkish campfires around their former position, and observed that the unsuspecting soldiers were probably sipping coffee, and waiting until dawn to attack. There was much cheerful speculation among the men as to what the Turks would think when they found that the trapped cheti had apparently vanished into thin air, or flown away.


Soon after this, the group broke up. From the beginning there had been



42. Belev’s own observations confirm Yané’s view. In an article in Ilyustratsia llinden 9-10 (49-50), 1933, he describes how peasants from Lilyanovo brought the cheti bread, cheese, grapes, tobacco, coffee, sugar, tea, Turkish delight, and two cauldrons for cooking. These peasants said that they had no arms, and, even if they had, they did not know how to use them. They saw the cheti as doing the fighting, and saw their own role as staying in the villages and providing food for the cheti. Should Turks attack them, they would naturally fight and not allow themselves to be slaughtered like sheep, but, if they had forewarning of danger, they would flee into the forests until things had quietened down.


43. Memoirs of Belev, Ilyustratsia llinden, No 7 (17), 1929.





differences not only over aims, but over general behaviour. Initially some officers had wanted to eat separately from their men. Normal practice in Pirin was for the man on duty in the kitchen to dole out food in big bowls for groups of ten, and, when a duty-man had refused to serve an officer separately, the latter had wanted Yané to punish him. Yané had drawn up all the men, several hundred in number, and, having heard both sides of the question, he had ruled that the man on duty was right. ‘We are not in the barracks here,’ Yané had said, ‘here there are no gentlemen bosses and officers. Here there are only lads and comrades, and all are equal, because, if it should so happen that troops arrived right now, this soldier, with whom the gentleman officer doesn’t want to eat, will protect his rear. Anyone who thinks otherwise had better leave; he will be no use to the people and may only do them harm.’ [44]


Later, when they were at the sawmill, letters had been sent to the villages of Bozhdovo, Debrené and others, asking for food, and Doncho had asked a Vlah courier from Bozhdovo to bring rakiya as well. Knowing that Yané did not allow spirits, and fearful lest Doncho should kill him for not bringing them, the Vlah asked another man, named Andrea Zlatkov, to lead his horse into the camp, refusing to go himself, in spite of assurances that Yané would protect him. Doncho, in fact, got his rakiya from another source, but Andrea told Yané what had happened, and Yané, furious, gave Doncho a piece of his mind. Captain Stoyanov, too, was contravening the law of the cheti by asking the peasants to bring him chickens, and Yané turned on him as well’ ‘You’ve been giving orders for chickens, have you? You’re not in the barracks here. See to it that there’s bread.’ [45]


On another occasion, an old Supremist voivoda, called Ango, was dividing out bread and medicinal spirit, and kept more for himself. A quarrel broke out, in the course of which Ango threw the bottle of spirit into the fire, and the whole hut went up in flames. Doncho shouted: ‘Run two hundred paces and lie down, because there are bombs in the huts!’ and all his followers ran away into the forest, leaving Yané and his men to rescue the guns from the burning hut and extinguish the flames.


After they had escaped from the encirclement by the Lilyanovo River, they set out towards Kresna, and took up positions. They sent messages for food to the Organization’s local people, who managed to bring them a little bread before the Turks began to move. At this point, Captain Stoyanov sent ten of his men to Vlahi to seize two chorbadzhii, with the intention of squeezing money out of them and of punishing them for giving up their guns during the troubles of the previous year. The two men were taken out of the village, but they managed to run away. This escapade was positively the last straw for Yané. Realizing that it was hopeless to try and maintain discipline in a group of this kind, he left



44. Dimitŭr Arnaudov, Opus cit., p. 6.


45. Georgi Kotsev, Opus cit., p. 110.





Stoyanov and Darvingov to their own devices, and set out in the opposite direction—for Razlog. Doncho elected to go with him, remarking cryptically that he had no time to stand about hungry. [46]


It was a wise tradition that led the peasants to bring their flocks down from the heights on Krŭstovden. The first snow of the winter had already fallen when Yané and his men crossed the mountains into Razlog, and, on the way, they were forced to sleep two nights in the snow. Most of them were without the thick, goats-hair felt cloaks that chetnitsi normally wore in winter, and their position was becoming untenable: ‘Snow fell, naked lads, no cloaks,’ as Yané put it with characteristic brevity. [47]


The situation that he found in Razlog was extremely bad. On their arrival in the area, General Tsonchev, Yankov, Radoslavov, Stefanov and the others had decided to attack the town of Mehomiya, but, unfortunately, the operation had gone wrong from the start and was a total failure. Plans had been repeatedly changed, or not properly carried out. The narrow pass at Predel—where Miss Stone had been kidnapped—was left open for Turkish reinforcements to come from Gorna Dzhumaya, and the cheti had also failed to close the road which followed the Mesta from Nevrokop and the south. Rebel attacks on the Muslim village of Bachevo and on Belitsa, where the population was mixed, had ended in the Turks burning these and other villages, and massacring those civilians who were not able to escape with the cheti, who went over Rila and across the frontier. Thus when Yané arrived in Razlog about September 19 (old style), he saw smoke rising from the villages, and hundreds of destitute, panic-stricken refugees fleeing northwards towards the safety of the Principality.


There was nothing now that Yané could do except organize escape routes and provide the people with some protection on their arduous journey.


In a series of articles, A.G. Hales, the Special Correspondent of the London Daily News, also described the piteous plight of the Razlog refugees, frost-bitten, drenched with rain and starving, some already insane with grief and suffering: ‘They come in tens and they come in hundreds, they come in rags and they come naked, men, women and children, all flying for dear life before the bloody steel of the Turks. Never since Attila scourged the world have the skies looked down upon sights so awful or upon misery so great and helpless.’ [48]


Individual cases are singled out to bring the mass horrors within human comprehension, such as the child who warmed his frozen hands on Hales’ pipe, or the heroic mother who had walked barefoot across the snowy mountains: ‘The feet of those who were unshod were a sight to make a strong man veil his eyes and shudder. Squatting in the lee of a flat boulder,



46. Yané’s memoirs, Miletich, Vol. VII, p. 44.


47. Ibid.


48. Daily News, 31.X.1903.





to be out of the way of the wind, was a woman of about twenty. She had one child of a few months slung at her back, as the Australian native women sling their picaninnies; in her lap was a curly-headed boy of about three years. When he saw me advancing with a piece of food in my hand he held out his baby hands and began to whimper piteously, and when I gave it him he ate as I have seen dogs eat, clawing it ravenously, never once taking his eyes from the food. Bending his head to his hands, he gnawed like some untamed being, until it made me sick to see him. I turned my eyes to the bare feet of the woman, and my flesh began to creep. Between the great toe and its neighbour of the left foot, and running halfway up to the arch of the instep, was a wound that gaped, raw, red, and angry. The bruised flesh was swollen, and looked blue-black except where the inflammation scorched fiercely. There it was crimson. The foot seemed almost split in two, and the frost had got to it, crushing the edges of the wound until it looked jagged and broken, like the teeth of a wood cutter’s saw. With such a foot as that I would have lain down and died like a dog in the snow, rather than face the terrors of the march. Yet this Macedonian mother, with one child upon her young back and another half the time in her arms, had struggled on by night and day, through snow and sleet, hungry, half-frozen, agonized. A man might turn and fight, and die gamely, but only a mother could do what this peasant woman did.’ [49]


Hales also describes the chetnitsi with touching sympathy: ‘These men look like a band of brigands scattered round the camp fire in the glen—a picturesque group who are making history, writing it with rifles, carving it on the face of time with steel. They look like brigands, and yet every man there is a hero, fighting for liberty, bleeding for liberty, dying for liberty, with no thought of pay, no hope of reward, no expectation of honours. It is wonderful, this devotion to a desperate cause, this loyal love for a great ideal. I have curled my lip scornfully many a time when I have heard pot-house politicians raving of the rights of man, but here there is no room to sit in the seat of the scornful, for these men do not talk, they fight, and in their simple earnestness are attempting what Europe with colossal cowardice dare not do.


‘With rude gentleness one of these rough fellows comes and spreads a sheepskin, so that my elbow may not feel the flinty rock on which I am leaning as I try to write. They have an old-world courtesy that one never meets with in cities—a shy sort of gentleness that tones all that is rugged in them to tenderness. How fierce they are in the fight, how stern, how strong. Yet now they are very gentle to the solitary Englishman who, in pursuit of his calling, has wandered amongst them. They watch me wistfully as I write. They know that this is going to one of the great journals of the world, and I know that they are hoping that it may do their cause some good. I, too, humbly hope it may. If I cannot get men for them,



49. Daily News, 6.XI.1903.





I hope I may get money—money for modern rifles and smokeless powder, money for the wretched women and the homeless and fatherless little children.’ [50]


Again and again, Hales expresses his longing for Britain to intervene: ‘I would to God that I could hear just now the tramp of Highland feet, the peal of Highland bagpipes, and the deep-throated cheers of Highland soldiers marching to free this people. A peaceful man by nature and by training, I would gladly throw my pencil down, and, rifle in hand, march with them. The tamest heart in Christendom would burn with bitter wrath when fronted with such sights as these that stain God’s earth in Macedonia.’ [51]


‘I do not waste much ink upon the Macedonian men, because I hold that in such a time as this the man’s place is in the fighting line. If the gods are good he will win through and see his dear ones again, but if not, if the worst comes to him, how can a man lay down his life more nobly, more usefully, then in defence of those consecrated to him by God and Nature? And it is my conviction that these men of Macedonia would be out fighting almost to a man if they had arms. They do things in defence of their homes that make a man’s blood thrill with envy. Listen to this, and see if your pulse does not beat a shade quicker as you hear the story. The second day of our search was drawing to a close. All the bands were mustering the fugitives they had found, getting them ready for the march towards the border, and a more desperately determined lot of men I never hope to see. Every man was armed with bombs, with which he meant to charge into the Turkish ranks and scatter annihilation as soon as it became evident that the infidels intended to slaughter the women. Some of the fugitives had managed to drive a few hogs or sheep, cattle or goats, with them, and these became the property for the time being of the commonwealth of sorrow. The milk had been shared amongst the children, beasts had been killed and cut up and given to the adults, and now all were resting for the desperate march towards freedom and security. I would have given a limb that hour for a thousand of our mounted infantry to guard our flanks. For though "Tommy" cannot scout and does not know enough about foraging for himself to keep his belly from courting his backbone, he is a mighty fighter, and a thousand fighters well armed and well led would have saved those wretched beings from hours of anguish that turned young matrons into old women and old women into imbeciles. But it might not be, and the duty of protection fell upon a gallant band of Bulgarian volunteers and Macedonian irregulars. May their memory never fade, and their glory never die!


‘As we waited a woman was pointed out to me who had been at work in a field with her husband when the Turks came upon them. They offered



50. Daily News, 10.X.1903.


51. Ibid.





the man his life if he would point out the path that led to a mountain depot where a small band lay hid, a depot that contained a goodly store of ammunition. He refused, and they beat him until he was nearly flayed alive. Still he set his teeth in his lips and held his peace—but his sons and his brother and his wife’s brother were at the depot. He shook his head, and snatching a knife from a Turkish belt tried to plunge it into his own breast. But they prevented him. He was to die, but not that way. Tying him by the feet they slung him head downwards from the bough of a tree and lit a small fire under his face. Still the peasant hero would not utter a word. Then they threw red pepper on the embers, and ask any soldier who has served in Eastern lands what red pepper thrown on fire does to the human eyes. I cannot write it here.


‘When at last the work of mustering the scattered folk was done, a rapid march was made towards Bulgarian territory, for in no other place were they safe. . . As soon as the march commenced in earnest sections of the bands spread out on each flank. So resolute were they, so full of fire and dash, that the Turkish forces dared not come to close quarters to attack, but contented themselves with sending strong volleys at long range at the 3,000 women, children and aged men who were escaping from their unholy clutches for all time.’ [52]


And for ten days Yané and his men remained in Razlog, fighting off the Turks, in order to help the refugees reach safety. And others, too, did what they could in a rapidly deteriorating situation. Bansko will for ever remember the heroism of its voivoda Radon Todev, who took his men to church and demanded of the affrighted priest that he say the funeral service for them in advance, since they had resolved to fight to the death and would have no graves. And they carried out their resolve, just as the Vlah voivoda, Pitu Guli, did when the Krushovo ‘Republic’ fell, because he, too, believed quite literally in the words embroidered in gold upon the red silk of the Organization’s banners: Freedom or Death.


Yané was less romantic. Phenomenally brave, both physically and morally, he nevertheless believed that, whenever it was humanly possible, one should live for the Cause, rather than die for it, and he always tried to conserve his forces for the next day’s battle, for the next day’s constructive work. The overturned chariots of St Elijah had to be righted, repaired and refurbished. Never again would he allow the Supremists to harness their fiery wild horses to the people’s Cause, never again would he allow them to run amok across his Region, destroying the dream that was his guiding star.


On September 29/October 12, with the winter already upon the mountains, Yané, too, crossed the frontier into the Principality and went to Sofia.



52. Daily News, 21.X.1903.


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