Before the formation of the independent and sovereign state the Republic of Macedonia in 1991, before the formation of the Peoples´ Republic of Macedonia in the Yugoslav Federation of Republics in 1945 and even before Macedonia´s partition by Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria in 1913, the Macedonian people came together and rose in 1903 against their oppressors the Ottoman Empire in a bid to free themselves and create a united, free and independent Macedonian state.
Termed by some as the greatest rebellion in Europe since the French Revolution, the people of Macedonia violently rose on Ilinden, August 2nd, 1903 and rebelled against the Ottoman Empire. It was a grass roots revolution like no other involving ordinary people from ordinary villages but with extraordinary courage. Their desire was to live free in their own independent state. Unfortunately it was not to be but only because of circumstances beyond their control.
Today is August 2nd, 2009, the 106th anniversary of that famous Ilinden Uprising and to celebrate it I would like to dedicate the following essay entitled "The Course of the Ilinden Uprising" written by Dr. Krste Bitovski and edited by Risto Stefov;
After visiting several of the regions in the Bitola Revolutionary District and finding out more about the situation and the preparations for the popular uprising, the General Staff, towards the end of July 1903, decided to meet near the village Smilevo for the purpose of drafting and distributing a proclamation announcing the start of the Uprising. In part the proclamation said: "Death is a thousand times better than a life of misery. The day has been decided when the people from all of Macedonia and Odrin must come together with guns in hand to meet the enemy. That day is Ilinden, August 2nd, 1903. Down with tyranny! Long live the people, long live freedom!"
The day of the uprising remained an absolute secret from the Ottoman authorities. Not a single copy of the proclamation, which couriers carried to the leaders of the six boroughs in the Bitola Revolutionary District, fell into the hands of the authorities. The enemy was caught by surprise, and this was of enormous significance for the initial success of the Uprising.
On August 1st the General Staff sent their final instructions to all the leaders which stated that the uprising was to begin on the evening of August 2nd during the Sv. Ilija (St. Elias) or Ilinden festival – which is why it was called the "Ilinden Uprising". It had been made clear that battles would have to be fought partisan style using terrorist and anarchist tactics, which meant in practice forming small military detachments to go into simultaneous action in all parts of the District. It was also recommended that the insurgents not engage in long battles with all their forces concentrated, in order to avoid offering the Ottoman troops the chance to do major damage. The longer the uprising lasted the greater the chances were – in the General Staff's opinion – that there would be European powers military intervention. The rebel detachments were instructed to only attack the small Ottoman garrisons stationed in the Christian villages and also to surprise government posts, border towers and similar buildings, but the Ottoman women and children were not to be touched.
The proclamation also stated in part that: "We are taking up arms against tyranny and inhumanity and we are fighting in the name of liberty and freedom. Those who suffer in the dark empire of the Sultan are our brothers. Today all Christian people and Ottoman peasants are unjustly treated and made to suffer. We have a common enemy and that is the Ottoman government…"
The representative body of the Organization in Sofia also took part and informed the world public that the uprising had begun through a declaration issued by the Central Committee of the Internal Organization. A justification for the Uprising was also given explaining that the Christian population had no choice but to rise up against the Sultan´s tyrannical power.
The Uprising in the Bitola Revolutionary District began on August 2nd, 1903 as was planned. The Borough of Bitola, the largest borough of the District, was divided into the following Regions: Krushevo, Gjavato, the Bitola plain, Demirhisar, Resen and Prespa (Lower Prespa). The battle for the liberation of Krushevo and the declaration of the Krushevo Republic were the most glorious events in the history of the Ilinden Uprising.
The Gjavato Region covered the area between the villages Capari, Gjavato, Smilevo and the Bigla Mountain; the centre for this Region was the village Smilevo. The start of the uprising was in fact proclaimed in Smilevo in the presence of the General Staff. On the night of August 2nd, 1903 two hundred rebels attacked a garrison of eighty Ottoman soldiers, while in other parts the rebels burned all the houses of the Ottoman Beys, cut the telephone lines and destroyed the bridges on the road between Bitola and Resen. In the Bufkol Region, which was closest to Bitola, the rebels set fire to haystacks to let the people of Bitola know that the Uprising had begun.
The Demirhisar Region was one of the best organized and provided nearly a thousand armed insurgents. These insurgents attacked the Ottoman garrisons in a number of villages and one of the most famous battles fought was that in the village Karbunitsa, near Kichevo. After the initial attacks there was a period of calm but also of intensive preparation for further battles.
Prespa was divided into two Regions: Resen (Upper Prespa) and Prespa (Lower Prespa). Prespa was well organized throughout, which made it easier to form a larger number of detachments. One of the major actions of the uprising was the attack on Resen, which was aimed at throwing the enemy into panic and confusion. Most of Resen Region and Lower Prespa were liberated by mid-August and lay in the hands of the rebels.
On the morning of August 2nd the people of Ohrid woke up to street posters, written in the Ottoman language, advising Ottoman inhabitants to remain neutral because the battle which had just begun was not directed against them but against the intolerable Ottoman regime. The Ilinden Uprising in the Ohrid Region was supported by a well-prepared plan and well-organized stocks of supplies. Arrangements were made to stockpile food, build secret bakeries and bullet-casting workshops, as well as a medical aid service and a hospital.
Ohrid Region was divided into several sub-regions and the fiercest action took place in Malesia, Upper and Lower Debar and in Ortakol.
For the first ten days after the start of the Uprising battles were fought more or less regularly around Ohrid. Ottoman troops were constantly coming in from Albania and Debar and destroying the villages which the local detachments bravely defended. The Ottoman authorities were given support by bands of Albanian professional brigands who spread terror throughout the Macedonian villages. In spite of this, however, the mountain lords stayed with the rebels.
On Ilinden about five thousand Ottoman troops attacked Kichevo, captured it and then left it to its own accord. The bloodiest battles fought that day in Kichevo Region, as mentioned earlier, were in the village Karbunitsa. Instead of guns, knives and bayonets the two sides fought hand-to-hand combat leaving thirty rebels and over one hundred Ottoman soldiers dead. After this bloody debacle the Ottoman troops no longer used their strength to attack and most of the Kichevo Region was left free until the beginning of September.
Through its revolutionary vigour, its dynamic energy and concentration of power, and through the results achieved, the Kostur Revolutionary District fought the hardest in the Ilinden Uprising. Kostur Region was divided into several military centers with their own village detachments, commands and flags.
In addition to its central detachments, the Kostur Region Revolutionary District also had two regional detachments with one hundred and fifty insurgents each and a special detachment. The detachments were commanded by Lazar Poptrajkov, Vasil Chakalarov, Pando Kliashev and others. The proclamation of the General Staff announcing the start of the Uprising was received by the people of Kostur on the very day the Ilinden Uprising began. The regional command announced this historic event as follows:
"The Uprising begins today. Macedonia has declared war on tyranny...We call on all of you who bear arms and are capable of fighting to join the ranks of our fighters. Long live Macedonia. Let us fight for freedom, liberty and autonomy..."
The Uprising began with a number of attacks all throughout Kostur Region and on August 5th, 1903 more than 600 insurgents began a concentrated attack on the Ottoman stronghold in the town of Klisura. Within a few hours the Ottoman force was annihilated and the town fell into rebel hands.
Klisura´s liberation was marked as a great occasion and its liberators were welcomed with open arms by the local inhabitants. The commanders made speeches explaining that war was waged in the interests of all the oppressed, and for the autonomy of Macedonia. Klisura remained in the hands of the insurgents until August 27th, 1903 during which time a revolutionary government was formed and people enjoyed their short lived freedom.
The Kostur Region detachments, unlike those from other Regions, were in constant movement, always pursuing and attacking the enemy.
On August 25th, 1903 the Kostur Revolutionary District joined forces with detachments from the Lerin Region Revolutionary District and attacked and liberated the town of Neveska.
The Uprising in Kostur Region was carried out on a massive scale with the entire population, particularly in the northern region, taking part and risking life and property. From the start the Kostur Region leadership kept up the offensive, acting swiftly, almost always in large units, and scoring great successes in battle.
Of all the Revolutionary Districts that took part around the Bitola Uprising only Lerin Region fought in the offensive Partisan style. While the people did not abandon their villages and stayed home, more than 500 insurgents took up arms and attacked Ottoman garrisons, cut telephone lines, destroyed rail and road bridges and took over Ottoman Bey strongholds.
The August 2nd, 1903 Uprising was not limited to Bitola and surrounding Regions but also spread throughout most of Macedonia as well. But in some Districts like the Solun Vilayet (Solun and Seres Revolutionary District) there was no mass participation mainly due to lack of arms and ammunition. The districts were poorly supplied with arms and often fiercely clashed with the pro-Bulgarian Vrhovists (Supremacists) which severely depleted their ammunition and energy. The Solun assassinations too had serious consequences for the Solun Revolutionary District.
The rebel action in the Solun Revolutionary District coincided with that of the Bitola District provoking a number of armed clashes in the Kukush, Enidzhevardar, Voden and Tikvesh Boroughs and spread the rebel force thin. In addition to battling the enemy, the insurgents also employed sabotage tactics using dynamite and blowing up various parts of the railway lines between Solun and Bitola and Solun and Skopje.
The Uprising in the Skopje Revolutionary District unfortunately was also not a mass movement and only fifteen skirmishes took place mainly in the Kratovo, Kochani, Skopje and Shtip Boroughs and in Maleshevo and Preshevo. Part of the railway line between Skopje and Solun, together with thirty-two railway trucks, was blown up and other acts of sabotage were carried out. The rebel action in the Solun and Skopje Revolutionary Districts forced the Ottoman authorities to maintain a strong military force in these parts of the country and this to some extent eased the situation in the Bitola Revolutionary District, particularly in the beginning of the Uprising.
At the beginning of September, while the Bitola District was already full of Ottoman troops spreading terror throughout the Macedonian villages in their attempt to quell the Uprising, the Seres Revolutionary District held a congress at which it was decided to begin action in this part of Macedonia. The Uprising in this District began on September 27th, 1903 on Krstovden (Holy Cross Day) without the participation of the people. At the congress a commanding body was elected and a plan of action was drawn up.
After considerable negotiations the District Command decided to allow the Supremacist detachments to join the Uprising. Unfortunately the distrust between the revolutionaries of Seres, led by Yane Sandanski, and the Supremacists was so great that closer co-operation was not possible. Sandanski, as one writer put it, "received the supremacist detachments, which were entering an unfamiliar region, not only without warmth and friendliness but also without the courtesy to be expected". One of the detachments had come from Bulgaria wearing Bulgarian military uniforms and the insignia of the Bulgarian army; Sandanski ordered these men to strip off their insignia. Most of them complied but some refused which brought more tension between the two groups.
There were several battles fought in this district – in Nevrokop, in the Melnik region, in Gorna Dzhumaja, Seres, Drama and Demirhisar.
The Region actively covered by this Revolutionary Organization also included the Odrin District which did not belong to Macedonia. The uprising in Odrin began on August 19th, 1903 and was met with great success. In addition to the local inhabitants of this District, a number of Macedonians also took part in the Uprising.
The Ottoman authorities were not aware of the starting date of the Uprising, although they were already in possession of information, indicating the likelihood of an uprising in the near future. Ottoman officials in positions of responsibility did not pay sufficient heed to these warnings and did not want to believe that such an explosive situation might occur. This is why the Ilinden Uprising caught them by surprise.
Shortly after the outbreak of the Uprising the Grande Porte (the Ottoman Supreme Command) correctly concluded that the uprising in the Bitola Revolutionary District could only be stamped out with a far larger force than what was locally available at that time. But a fair amount of time would be needed to concentrate such a military force, and, until this was done, the initiative lay with the rebels who had liberated not only three towns but also great stretches of mountain territory together with many mountain settlements.
Ottoman preparations for a general offensive against the rebels were completed by August 25th, 1903. In addition to equipping the regular army, the Ottomans also armed a great number of Muslim civilians (Bashi-bazouks) in order to assist the military operations.
The primary objective of the Ottoman Command was to take Krushevo. But in spite of all efforts Krushevo still remained in rebel hands despite the fact that Rudzhi Pasha, the Ottoman Commander in Chief, employed fifty thousand Ottoman soldiers.
Dissatisfied with Rudzhi Pasha´s performance, the Ottoman government had him removed and appointed Nazir Pasha in his place. At the end of August the Ottoman troops under his command started the general offensive. The difference in strength between Ottoman forces and those of the rebels, in both men and arms, was so vast that it was incalculable. Demirhisar alone was attacked by twenty thousand Ottoman soldiers.
On August 26th, 1903, with the assistance of Karavangelis the Greek Metropolitan in Kostur, the Ottomans set out to crush the uprising in Kostur Region. Over five thousand soldiers were dispatched from inside the city and more were recruited from the surrounding areas and by the start of September the enemy force was numbering over 15,000. Fierce battles broke out everywhere and were fought with ferocity. The bloodiest battles were fought in Grmeshina, Ohrid Region, near a camp where 1,700 women, children and old people were hiding. Unfortunately the rebels were unable to withstand the pressure as the Ottoman soldiers stormed the camp and massacred many of the women and children, leaving 160 dead.
By the second half of October the uprising in the Bitola Revolutionary District, as it was in most of Macedonia, had been brutally crushed and was followed by reprisals and torture. With the Macedonian people, however, these reprisals went far beyond the "normal" bounds and turned into genocide. It is impossible to describe all the horrors that were committed both by the regular army and by the Bashi-bazouks, not just against the insurgents but also against the non-combatant population. Here is what the Serbian envoy to Bitola had to say: "Every conceivable form of torture, murder, hanging, cutting children out of their mothers' wombs and flinging them to the dogs, seizing women and girls, breaking into homes and burning them – all this, I think, is every bit as terrible as the violence and bestiality to which the Ottoman lords and governors resorted, as the book describes, before our first and Second Uprisings..."
He continues: "The facts we have at hand indicate that the plan used in pursuing is not only to crush the uprising, nor to destroy the guerilla detachments – for such as they are they cannot be put down – but to wipe out the entire population that was in hiding..."
Describing the massacre in the village Armensko, Lerin Region, the Austro-Hungarian consul to Bitola wrote: "It is quite impossible to describe in detail the acts of bestiality. Women have had their wombs ripped open, their eyes torn out or their breasts cut off, the heads and bodies of small children have been brutally stabbed with ordinary pocket-knives, infants have been torn apart and flung to the dogs, nineteen women have been hung and three girls savagely butchered."
The well-known von Gaben, then advisor to the Ottoman authorities in Macedonia, alleges that an Ottoman colonel told him: "The rebel detachments fight like the Boers and we should follow the example of the English in putting them down. We shall burn their villages and their estates, and when they no longer have anywhere to hide they will be forced to scatter or give themselves up."
Despite instructions from the insurgent Revolutionary Command to conduct the Uprising along partisan lines, in practice the Uprising took the character of a mass Uprising particularly in the Bitola Revolutionary District. It was a peoples´ uprising because the Macedonian masses took part in it, determined to make the highest sacrifices to win their freedom. The Liberation Movement was led by the Macedonian intelligentsia, who mostly belonged to the petite bourgeoisie, but it was the peasant masses that were the striking force behind the Ilinden Uprising. In essence, the Uprising was a bourgeois-democratic revolution.
At the beginning of the Uprising the tactics of the General Staff varied from those of the people who had risen in revolt. The instigators of the Uprising and the General Staff believed that the object should be to force the European states to intervene and oblige the Ottomans to grant autonomy to Macedonia. The people, however, took up arms and set out to fight in order to free themselves and their country by themselves. They liberated several towns and established their own authority, driving Ottoman troops and government organs out, acts which were unplanned and unforeseen by the High Command.
There were undoubtedly several basic reasons for the failure of the Uprising. It was not properly prepared and therefore could not have covered all of Macedonia. Even in the district of Bitola, which was somewhat better equipped, there were not enough arms and those available were extremely primitive. Also it did not take long, after the start of the Uprising, for the Ottomans to realize that the main rebel force was in the district of Bitola and that this was where the bulk of the Ottoman troops should be sent; and this they would certainly not have been able to do if the Uprising had been carried out with the same intensity throughout all of Macedonia.
On the other hand, the Macedonian people were placed in a situation in which they themselves had to fight against the Ottoman Empire. It is well known that the Serbs, Greeks and Bulgarians, when fighting against Ottoman rule, won their freedom largely due to the military and diplomatic aid from foreign powers, chiefly from Tsarist Russia. When the Macedonians rebelled, Tsarist Russia and the other great powers were on the side of the Ottomans and advised the Ottoman Empire to use all its strength to establish "order" in Macedonia. Morally backed by the governments of the Great European Powers, the Sultan was able to mobilize an enormous army with which it overran Macedonia, particularly the district of Bitola, and put a bloody end to the Uprising.
The attitude of the neighbouring Balkan states towards the Ilinden Uprising was also hostile. Since they were interested in partitioning Macedonia, the ruling circles in Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia regarded the Uprising as an act directed against their artificially conceived interests. Hence they were not interested in a victorious outcome for the Macedonian people.
Indeed Greece openly sided with the Sultan. No sooner had the Uprising begun than an Ottoman-Greek front was created to discredit the Uprising in the eyes of Europe. Protest meetings were organized in Greece against the Uprising and aid was offered to the Sultan to crush it. Inside Macedonia the Greek factions consisting of Greek teachers, priests, metropolitans and others began a propaganda campaign to discredit the Uprising and stood in support behind the Ottoman regime. It was precisely this kind of attitude, expounded through Greek propaganda that prompted the Serbian consul in Bitola to write to his government: "There is an aspect of the Krushevo question which stands out clearly, and I mention it with the feeling of great satisfaction which I have as a Slav. For I join the other Slav groups here in their delight that the Krushevo rebels have lasted out longer in their battles against the Ottoman troops than the Greek soldiers did in the last Ottoman-Greek war (1897). My satisfaction is all the greater since the Greeks are growing more and more despicable through their mercenary services to the Ottomans..."
The struggle to win their freedom was, of course, dearly paid for with the loss of many lives. In Macedonia alone nearly 150 villages, or 9,850 homes, were either totally or partially burnt and about 58,000 people were left homeless. Over 2,000 innocent people were killed and about 10,000 people left Macedonia altogether.
The Ilinden Uprising was the most important revolutionary event in the recent history of the Macedonian people right up to the Second World War. It was "a glorious expression of the Macedonian peoples´ desire for freedom". The Ilinden Uprising was also an epic struggle to create a free and independent Macedonian state which marked a turning-point in the historical development of the Macedonian nation. The traditions inherited from this Uprising will have a powerful influence on future Macedonian generations and on the development of future Macedonian revolutionaries.
Happy Ilinden to all Macedonians worldwide!
And now I leave you with this;
"It was during the eighth century that Slav influence became greatest in Greece. In 746 a great plague breaking out in the near East reached Monemvasia in the Peloponnese, and, from there, spread over the whole Empire. The population of Greece suffered heavily, and was then further reduced by the migration of many skilled workmen to Constantinople; whose families left both the mainland and islands. Empty districts were thus left free to be colonized by Slavs who now pressed southwards in greater numbers than ever. In the words of the imperial historian, Constantine Porphyrogenitus, ´all open country was Slavonized and became barbarous, when the plague was devouring the whole world´. According to W. Miller, this is the real explanation of the Slav colonization of Greece. Whatever be the truth, the Slavs had by now spread widely over the Greek lands. So widespread were their settlements that in the eighth century the southern Balkans lands and mainland Greece were known as ´Sclavinia´." ("A Short History of Greece" by W. A. Heurtley, page 20).
For those who are still not convinced that the Modern Greek identity is an artificial creation, please continue to read this series of articles.
Dear Macedonians, one way to defend ourselves from the Greek onslaught and gain back our identity and dignity is to fight back to the level to which the Greeks have reduced us; that is to attack their identity as they have attacked ours. We need prove nothing to them except to expose them as the artificial identity they truly are and to uncover their design to wipe us out in order to usurp our Macedonian heritage.