Freedom or Death. The Life of Gotsé Delchev

Mercia MacDermott



High art thou soaring, Vitosha, [*] dear one,

High art thou soaring to the blue heavens;

Low thy foot plunges, Vitosha dear one,

T'wards Sredets [**] town, our capital city.


To thee has fallen, Vitosha, sister,

A lot that is heavy, heavy yet glorious:

To be for our people a prop and a mainstay

Of all that's called by a name that's Bulgarian.


From holy Ohrid and Thessaloniki

To the white Danube and the Black Sea,

Where flows the Vardar, yantra, maritsa,

All, all is thine, and thine all the care.


See'st thou, O sister, from the high heavens,

With thine eyes, dear one, grey like a falcon's,

See'st thou the things that are there beyond Rila,

In the martial land that was once Samuil's?

    Hristo Matov

    (From A song of Vinitsa. 1898)


Those who lived and worked in Macedonia were not alone in their concern for that unhappy land. In the free Principality, too, there were men who schemed and toiled for her redemption. [1] Many were exiles with their roots in the enslaved province; some were simple patriots from other regions of Bulgaria - the Dobrudzha, Thrace, the Danube Plain and the Rhodope - whose hearts still bled for their dismembered country and who could not enjoy their own freedom while any part of their land remained under Turkish occupation.


Ever since the fatal Treaty of Berlin, Macedonian societies had been a feature of public life throughout the Bulgarian Principality. Until 1894, however, their activities lacked co-ordination and were therefore limited in their scope. At the end of 1894, public opinion in Bulgaria - as indeed, everywhere else - was outraged by the atrocities in Armenia, and numerous protest meetings were organized, with renewed clamour for the implementation of Article 23 of the Berlin Treaty. [***] The situation, both nationally and internationally, was fav-



*. Vitosha - the mountain to the south of Sofia.


**. Sredets - the name by which Sofia was known in the Middle Ages.


***. Article 61 of the Treaty of Berlin provided for the introduction of reforms in Armenia, but, like Article 23, it remained a dead letter. Kurds and Circassians, encouraged rather than checked by the Turkish Government, continued to attack the Armenian population, and there developed an Armenian revolutionary movement led by Socialists and Anarchists. Disturbances and massacres became a part of life in Armenia, and, in the summer of 1894, there were bloody clashes between Kurds and Armenians. The situation became steadily worse until the





ourable for some fresh initiative on the Macedonian question, and the setting-up of an organizational centre became a matter of prime necessity.


The first step was taken in Sofia by the Macedonian Youth Society, which had been formed in May 1894, as a revival of the Young Macedonian Literary Society, defunct since 1892. The new group had a newspaper called Glas Makedonski, and they also revived the journal Loza and opened a Reading Room Club. At the end of 1894, members of the Society held two preliminary meetings to discuss plans, and then they called a meeting of Macedonian exiles living in Sofia, at which a Macedonian Committee was elected. [2] The main task of the Committee was to collect and publish information about Turkish atrocities in Macedonia and the Adrianople district, in order to bring Macedonia's woes to the attention of those already disturbed by the plight of the Armenians. In view of the forthcoming international conference on the Armenian question, deputations were sent to representatives of the Great Powers, and money was collected to organize meetings in European capitals. Efforts were also made to form similar Macedonian committees in other towns and in neighbouring countries, and preparations went ahead for the convening of a General Assembly which would unite all Macedonian societies into a single organization.


From the outset, however, there was a marked lack of unity. Indeed, at the very time that the members of the Macedonian Youth Society were holding their first preliminary meeting to discuss the setting-up of the Macedonian Committee, another group, who had policy differences with the Society, were sitting in the Hotel Cherven Rak (Red Lobster), drawing up rules for a new organization which came into being at a second meeting held on December 27, 1894. The organization was called Bratski Sŭyŭz (Fraternal Union) and its aim was to work legally for an improvement in the conditions of their unliberated brothers in the Turkish Empire. [3]


Two days later, the members of the Fraternal Union took part in the general meeting of Macedonian emigrés and Traiko Kitanchev, Chairman of the Fraternal Union, was one of those elected to the new Macedonian Committee. Later, however, the disagreements between the Macedonian Committee and the Fraternal Union reached such a pitch that Pravo (the organ of the Union) refused to publish the Committee's communications, and the Union started forming branches in other towns, claiming to be the central organ of the Macedonian movement - an honour which the Committee disputed.


The disagreement stemmed from the fact that the Macedonian Committee was trying to achieve implementation of the Berlin reforms through deputations to the European powers and other diplo-





matic methods, while the Fraternal Union, in spite of the formulation of its Rules, which spoke of working 'legally', saw the necessity for revolutionary action.


The early months of 1895 were spent in attempts to iron out the differences between the two groups, and on March 19, 1895 a congress of delegates from Macedonian organizations in the Principality and Romania opened in Sofia. [*] The supporters of the Fraternal Union outnumbered those of the Macedonian Committee, and therefore their views were strongly reflected in the proceedings. [**] It was decided to set up an organization which would struggle to achieve for the people of Macedonia and the Adrianople district political autonomy applied and guaranteed by the Great Powers. The means used to this end were to be those advocated by the two organizations respectively. This apparent compromise was, in fact, a clear victory for the Union, since an organization favouring revolutionary action concedes little by agreeing to use diplomatic channels as well, whereas an organization favouring peaceful means changes its character entirely when it accepts the use of violence. The supporters of the Fraternal Union were therefore content to allow the new organization to bear their rival's name and be called the Macedonian Committee.


The governing body of the new Committee was to be a five-member bureau, assisted by fifteen advisers, elected annually, and although representatives of both groups were elected to the first Bureau, again the Fraternal Union predominated, with Kitanchev as Chairman, Tyufekchiev as Vice-Chairman, and Dimitŭr Matov as one of the two Secretaries. The other was Andrei Lyapchev, while the Treasurer was Georgi Georgiev, a member of the original Macedonian Com-


What kind of a man was this Traiko Kitanchev, who enjoyed such respect among the Macedonian emigre's, and who was welcome on every committee? He was born in 1858, in the village of Podmochani, near Resen, the son of a poverty-stricken hired shepherd, who later worked in Constantinople as a seasonal gardener and vegetable seller. Though illiterate himself, Kitanchev's father valued education, and Traiko attended school, first in Resen, and then in Constantinople, where, however, from time to time, poverty forced him back onto the streets, hawking his father's vegetables in baskets too heavy for his puny frame. Thanks to financial support from Bishop Natanail - then



*. The Congress opened on the premises of the Macedonian Youth Society, and then moved to a hotel owned by the Brothers Ivanov, one of whom was on the committee of the Fraternal Union.


**. Of the four delegates elected to the working Bureau of the Congress, three were supporters of the Union, including Kitanchev, who acted as Chairman and played the leading role in the proceedings.





Metropolitan Bishop of Plovdiv - Kitanchev was able to continue his education in Plovdiv, and then at the seminary in Kiev, and finally in the Faculty of Law at Moscow University. Unlike many bishops, Natanail put his country and his people before all else, with the result that he himself was usually short of money, and the support which he was able to give to his protégé was, with the best will in the world, barely enough to keep the student alive. Year after year, ragged, emaciated and sometimes seriously ill, Kitanchev toiled and starved his way through school and university. Then he became a teacher, first in a seminary at a monastery near Tŭrnovo, and then in the Salonika High School (1882), where he became 'internal' headmaster. At that time, the task of mollifying the Turkish authorities and of carrying out other 'diplomatic' duties vital to the school's existence was so time-consuming that the official headmaster was unable to carry out his normal duties, and the actual running of the school had to be delegated to an 'internal' head. After only one year in Salonika, however, Kitanchev and several other teachers were dismissed, following clashes with their more conservative colleagues. His dismissal also put paid to a scheme which he had for starting a Bulgarian newspaper in Salonika and for which he had already managed to obtain permission from the vali.


After leaving Salonika, he taught briefly in Plovdiv, Gabrovo and Sofia, before becoming an inspector of education in the Tŭrnovo area in 1884, a post which he held until 1890. In Tŭrnovo, he became close friends with Stambolov, but when the latter came to power and began to rule despotically, Kitanchev became one of his most outspoken critics. Contemporaries bear witness to Kitanchev's eloquence and lucidity of expression, qualities which made him a popular teacher wherever he went. Now, he decided to use his powers of oratory for political purposes. He stood for the National Assembly, and, after a somewhat discouraging start, was several times elected for a Tŭrnovo constituency. His fearless opposition to his all-powerful former friend eventually landed him in trouble. He lost his job as inspector of schools, failed to get a new post as a teacher in Macedonia through the Exarchate, failed the exams which he took in an attempt to return to Law - presumably as a result of ill-will on the part of the examiners - and was finally interned in Tŭrnovo. On his release, he retook the law exams in Ruse, and managed to pass them, but before he could begin to practice, he was arrested in March 1891, together with many other opponents of Stambolov, following the murder of the Minister of Finance during the unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the Prime Minister. Kitanchev was sentenced to three years' imprisonment, and when he came out of prison, he was again elected to the National Assembly. He would have returned to his constituency in Tŭrnovo,





had he not been persuaded by the Macedonian emigrés to stay in Sofia and work for the cause. Kitanchev, with his Macedonian roots, his powers of oratory, his public reputation as a martyr and an honest politician, seemed the obvious choice for the chairmanship of the new Committee. At first he had refused, on grounds of ill health, but had finally agreed on being pressed, and his election was unanimous. [4]


During the Congress which set up the Macedonian Committee, particular stress had been laid on the need to achieve unity of action, and one of the first things which the new Committee did was to send letters to all Macedonian organizations calling on them to amalgamate on a local basis, so that there would be only one Macedonian committee in any one town, instead of a multiplicity of groups treading on each other's toes. While the Congress was still in session, Kitanchev had sent telegrams to the Russian Tsar, to Graf Ignatiev and to Gladstone, expressing gratitude for their help in the past and hope for continued support in the future, but, when the new Bureau started work, its main activities were directed not towards diplomatic action but towards preparations for a rising. During the spring and summer of 1895, clieti were sent into Macedonia and the Adrianople district, [*] and in this enterprise the Committee was encouraged by the Bulgarian Government and Prince Ferdinand, for whom unrest in Macedonia could serve as a handy weapon in their current political and diplomatic


Between the two organizations - external and internal - there was, at first, no real contact or co-operation, in spite of the fact that Gotsé had met both Kitanchev and Naumov on a brief visit to Sofia during the Christmas holidays in 1894. On the way, Gotsé had caught a chill and was suffering from one of his bouts of stomach trouble, but, in spite of this, he managed to have some discussions about the policy of the newspaper Pravo, which Naumov edited, and also about the assistance which emigrés could render to the Organization. [5]


In the summer of 1895, when the Macedonian Committee was busily organizing its cheti, Damé went to Sofia to find out exactly what was happening. There he met Kitanchev, Tyufekchiev and Lyapchev, and informed them about the position in Macedonia. He, too, raised the question of assistance with Kitanchev, who was already too ill to talk very much. From these conversations, it became clear to Damé that the emigrés had limited resources and that little could be expected of them. He therefore confined his requests to what he considered to be realistic proportions and merely asked for moral support and help in obtaining revolutionary literature. His attitude towards the Committee in Sofia was one of cautious goodwill and of



*. In fact, only one cheta went into the Adrianople district, and the rest went to Macedonia.





gratitude for small mercies, without over-optimistic expectations. As far as the cheti were concerned, Damé felt that they would only cause confusion, since the Internal Organization was still at the stage of agitation and propaganda. Nevertheless, as he later commented: it was comforting for us that the emigrés in the Principality had also begun to work in the same spirit as us and were getting down to business.' [6]


Other members of the Internal Organization regarded the activities of the emigrés with a mixture of detached approval and indifference. Speaking of local reaction in Bitolya to the appearance of the Macedonian Committee's cheti, Gyorché Petrov said: 'We had no warning that any such thing would happen. We observed them with pure curiosity - neither criticizing them nor attaching any importance to them. But, on the whole, we were inclined to sympathy... The event had not the slightest influence on our activity - it neither stopped us, nor changed our course.' [7]


The Internal Organization played no part in the Sofia Committee's cheti during the summer of 1895, and, indeed, its assistance was never even sought. The Sofia Committee entrusted the leadership of the cheti to officers and to veteran voivodi who were intimately acquainted with the areas to be entered. These voivodi were often little more than haramii - semi-bandits - but the Committee made them take an oath not to rob or molest peaceful Turks and to pay for the food which they obtained from the population.


There were four large cheti and several smaller ones, with a total of some 800 men, commanded by forty officers and a number of voivodi. The cheti went down to points along the frontier and crossed into Macedonia towards the end of June. One of them was commanded by Boris Sarafov, now a lieutenant, who had heard of the activities of the Macedonian Committee from his uncle, Kosta Sarafov, and had for some time been spending his evenings training volunteers in a Sofia tavern. The cheta went past Bansko into Pirin, where they met up with other cheti. In his memoirs Sarafov tells of the surprise felt by the local shepherds when they saw the cheta led by Sarafov in his officer's uniform: it was the first time they had seen such a cheta, and one composed of cultured people into the bargain: until then it had been only haramii.' [8]


The influence of the haramii was, however, still strong, and it was with considerable difficulty that Sarafov persuaded the other smaller cheti to join him in an attack on the town of Melnik, during which there was to be no plundering, but 'purely patriotic, political' action. Melnik, in the inaccessible, sandy southern foothills of Pirin, was then a prosperous and important town with a population of several thousand, mainly Greeks and Bulgarians. Famous for its thick, dark





wine, Melnik had trading links with towns in Austro-Hungary, Italy, and countries as far afield as France and Spain, and its richer, more stylish citizens were acquainted with the fashions and manners of the West. [*]


By the time that the cheti set out for Melnik, the Turks were aware of their presence and even of their intention, and had taken serious measures for the defence of the town. Forewarned, the cheti pretended to set out for Nevrokop, and then suddenly swung back to their original objective, catching the defenders unawares. In a lightning attack they captured the offices of the district administration - where they found the guards asleep - seized the post-office, set fire to both buildings and released the prisoners from the local gaol. Several Turkish houses were also burnt. Sarafov then collected together the leading citizens of the town and explained to them that the purpose of the attack was to bring about the liberation of Macedonia.


Not all his companions, however, were fully convinced of the need to keep their activity on a purely political level. Some of the former haramii were still hankering after plunder, and Sarafov decided to withdraw to the heights above the town, partly to avoid being encircled by Turkish regulars and partly to get his haramii out of temptation's way. Unfortunately, he was not entirely successful. A group of chetnitsi under Kocho Mustrukut went off, ostensibly to reconnoitre, but in fact, they attacked a Graecomance monastery and stole a sum of money. A number of Greeks suffered at their hands, and the Greek Metropolitan Bishop saved himself by fleeing disguised as a veiled Turkish lady! Eventually the Turkish regulars caught up with Sarafov and he made a fighting retreat into the Principality having been in Macedonia nearly a month. [9]


The other cheti also had trouble with their haramii. One of the larger cheti, consisting of two hundred men, burnt the village of Dospat, which was inhabited by Muslims, thus giving the Turks an opportunity to hold an inquiry and to spread horror stories about Bulgarian atrocities in the European press. This particular cheta returned to the Principality unscathed, but another lost more than half its number killed in clashes with the Turks. [10]


Kitanchev gave the survivors an enthusiastic welcome, although he had expected the action to last longer and to be more serious in character. He was also deeply grieved by the behaviour of the haramii and became even more despondent when the Government withdrew its support from the Committee.



*. At the end of the nineteeth century, the town was already falling into decline. It suffered badly during the Balkan Wars, and any economic importance that it still retained vanished when the new frontiers cut it off from Serres and Kavalla which were its natural markets. Today it has only 500 inhabitants and exists mainly as a museum town, by reason of its spectacular setting and original architecture.





During the time of the preparation of the cheti, the Bulgarian Government had been agitating for the implementation of Article 23 and also for the long delayed issuing of berats (warrants) for the appointment of Bulgarian bishops to those Macedonian dioceses which had declared their support for the Exarchate. [*] The cheti were seen by the Government as a lever in these negotiations, as a warning of what might happen in Macedonia if the Porte continued to prevaricate. When they actually crossed the frontier, Turkey sent Bulgaria a number of sharply worded notes and even ordered a partial mobilization, but when the Bulgarian Government stuck to its guns and continued to demand the implementation of Article 23, the Porte eventually climbed down, moderated its language and made vague promises of reform. It was not until after the Turko-Greek War of 1897 that the Porte actually issued berats for Bulgarian bishops to take over the dioceses of Bitolya, Debŭr and Strumitsa, as the price of Bulgaria's neutrality. In the meantime, a great deal had happened on the diplomatic front: the Government of Stoïlov had managed to effect a reconciliation with Russia, Ferdinand had received general recognition as Prince of Bulgaria, and had even been on a state visit to the Turkish capital in March 1896, and, following the Armenian massacres of 1896, the Great Powers were pressing the Porte to introduce reforms throughout the Empire.


Right at the beginning of all this diplomatic activity, the cheti had served their purpose as far as the Bulgarian Government was concerned and had even become an embarrassment, in view of Turkish and Great Power warnings that their passage must stop.


Kitanchev, whose health had been undermined by years of privation, imprisonment and strenuous work, was unable to bear the multiple disappointments of the haramii's betrayal of their oath, the Turkish Government's exploitation of their lapses, the limited results of the Committee's efforts, and finally, the Government's volte face. Not long after the return of the cheti, he died of a heart attack at the age of only thirty-seven, oppressed by a feeling that the movement was being used for ends that were unconnected with its aims.


Kitanchev's pessimism was fully justified. The cheti organized from Sofia had the same built-in weaknesses as the legions and cheti organized by Rakovsky in Rumania and Serbia during the pre-Levsky era of the Bulgarian National Liberation Movement, namely, insufficient preparation inside the country itself and dependence on the good-will of governments with many other fish to fry.



*. The appropriate referendum had been held long ago, but the Porte had deliberately delayed issuing the berats, because it had come to regard the Bulgarian element in Macedonia as its chief enemy, and therefore deliberately supported Serbian and Greek propaganda there.





Hristo Matov, [11] a leading member of the Internal Organization, summed up the situation in these words:


'During 1895, the Macedonian emigrés attempted to bring the question to the conference table by means of an uprising. But it didn't help: its effect was exploited by others, namely, those on whose territory the uprising was organized and from whose territory it was directed. Moreover, Europe is not stupid: she knows that once she reaches an understanding with the Bulgarian Prince and with Bulgarian politicians, she has fixed the rebellious emigrés as well, since the latter cannot abuse hospitality. The emigrés can be tied hand and foot at any time.


'But even if their hands are not tied, what can they do? Kick up a row with meetings, protests and so forth, and send cheti from time to time to disturb the 'Sick Man', mainly in the frontier areas. And even these cheti, in order to flourish, have to have the ground prepared internally among the population, otherwise they risk starvation and betrayal at every step.


'For these reasons, there has to be a struggle which is not based on external, and often chance, factors, and which consequently does not depend on them, a stubborn, long-term struggle, a struggle which depends mainly, if not exclusively, on it. [*] From first to last, the reins of the struggle must be in its hands.' [12]


Kitanchev's death, the changed attitude of the Government, and disagreements within the Committee necessitated the calling of an Extraordinary Congress of Macedonian organizations in December 1895. It was attended by thirty-seven delegates from thirty-two Macedonian societies, but the Internal Organization was not represented. Indeed, one of the decisions taken by the Congress was that committees inside the Turkish Empire should not be allowed to send delegates. It was argued that the appearance of such delegates in Sofia would jeopardize their ability to work secretly on their return, while, if the committees mandated persons resident in the Principality, there was nothing to be gained from their presence since their knowledge of on-the-spot conditions in Macedonia would be no greater than that of anybody else.


The proceedings of the Congress were marked by a series of squabbles and criticism of the leadership. The credentials of some delegates were not accepted; the accounts were challenged; Tyufekchiev was accused of acting without consultation, and so on. Much of the disagreement stemmed from the fact that the very existence of the Committee represented a compromise between two different points of view - one favouring diplomatic pressure and the other - revolution.



*. 'It' refers to the population in Macedonia. Matov's syntax is not very clear.





The unsatisfactory results of the cheti produced a natural swing away from former policies and a reaction against those who had formulated them. In particular, there was considerable controversy as to whether officers who had taken part in the cheti should be allowed to participate in the Congress, and when it was decided that they should have advisory rights only, they took offence and said that they would set up their own organization, which would prepare for a new uprising in Macedonia. [*]


After deciding not to accept the offficers as full delegates, the Congress went on to discuss constitutional matters. Since it was felt that in the past too much had been done by the Chairman and Vice-Chairman off their own bats, it was decided that, in future, power should be concentrated in the hands of a Committee of twelve. As if to stress the changed character of the Committee, the word 'supreme' was added to its name, so that it now became the Supreme Macedonian Committee. Its adherents were soon generally known as 'vurhovisti', or 'supremists', from the Bulgarian word vŭrhoven - 'supreme'. The word 'supreme' also served to distinguish them from the break-away officers' organization, which had decided to emphasize its authority by using the name of the original organization and called itself the Macedonian Committee.



*. The officers' organization was set up almost immediately. Among its members was Tyufekchiev, the much criticized Vice-Chairman og the Macedonian Committee, who refused to hand over the seal and various documents to the new leadership of the old Committee. At first the officers received official support, since it was again temporarily convenient for the Government to have a reserve lever to use against Turkey and the Great Powers. The need for this soon passed, however, with changes in the political climate, and the Government dropped the officers' committee and closed down the 'bomb factory', which they had set up and in which they had made three hundred bombs. In March 1896, most of the officers were posted away from Sofia and their organization fell to pieces.


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1. Much of the material about Macedonian organizations in the Principality and their relations with the Internal Organization is taken from Konstantin Pandev's thesis: Organizirano natsionalno-osvoboditelno dvizhenie v Makedonia i Odrinsko, 1893-1903, Sofia, 1970.


Dr Pandev's thesis represents the most detailed study to date of the archives relating to the struggles of the Macedonian Bulgarians during the period 1893-1903. I am much indebted to him for his kindness in making his thesis available to me, and for helping me in many other ways.


2. Those elected were Georgi Georgiev, Kosta Milchinov, Kosta Sarafov, Traiko Kitanchev and Vasil Diamandiev. Sarafov was the uncle of Boris Sarafov, Gotsé's fellow student in Salonika and Sofia. Diamandiev, from Ohrid, was a veteran member of Macedonian committees. He attended the Constituent Assembly in Tŭrnovo in 1879; headed the Bulgaro-Macedonian League in Ruse (formed in 1880), and the Sofia Macedonian Society (founded in 1884) which published Makedonski Glas, not to be confused with Glas Makedonski.


3. The Fraternal Union's committee consisted of Traiko Kitanchev - Chairman, Naum Tyufekchiev - Vice-chairman, N. Ivanov - Treasurer, T. Karayovov and E. Sprostranov - secretaries, and a number of advisers, including N. Naumov, D. Matov and others. Karayovov and Naumov were editors of the newspaper Pravo, which became the Union's organ. Tyufekchiev and N. Ivanov had close connections with the Bulgarian Government. Tyufekchiev was an arms merchant, whose brother, Dimitŭr, had been beaten to death by Stambolov's police in 1891, following the murder of the Minister of Finance. In his turn, Naum Tyufekchiev had helped to organize the murder of Stambolov. Initially the effective leadership was in the hands of Tyufekchiev, rather than Kitanchev, because the latter was engaged in fighting a by-election in Tŭrnovo. Tyufekchiev, Karayovov and Sprostranov had been members of the Young Macedonian Literary Society, which had published Loza.


4. See Y. Ivanov's biographical preface to the collected works of Traiko Kitanchev (Poems, articles, etc.) Sŭchineniya na Traiko Kitanchev. Sofia 1898.


5. Yavorov, opus cit. p. 167.


6. Damé Gruev's memoirs. Materiali... vol. V, p. 19.


7. Gyorche Petrov's memoirs. Materiali... vol. VIII, p. 21.


8. Boris Saratov's memoirs. Materiali... vol. V, p. 36.


9. Opus cit. p. 36-37.


10. Silyanov, opus cit. p. 56-59.


11. Hristo Matov was born in Struga on Lake Ohrid in 1872. He studied philology in Sofia, and, after teaching for a time in Serres, he came to Salonika where Damé recruited him for the Organization in the autumn of 1894. He then went to Skopje as head of the Bulgarian school there.


12. H. Matov. Osnovi na Vŭtreshnata revolyutsionna organizatsiya, Sofia 1925, p. 11-12.