Macedonia: What Went Wrong in the Last 200 Years - Part III - Before 1903

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Macedonia: What Went Wrong in the Last 200 Years

Part III - Before 1903

by Risto Stefov

August, 2002

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In the previous article (part II) I covered events leading up to but not including the 1903 Ilinden Macedonian Uprising. Events covered included the 1878 Berlin congress and its effects on the Macedonian people.

In this article (part III) I will start where I left off in part II and cover events from about 1880 to about 1903 with a special focus on Macedonian affairs and events that led to the 1903 uprising.

The 1878 Treaty of Berlin set events in motion in the Balkans for the next forty years. The re-appearance of Ottoman soldiers, the worsening economy and the reign of terror imposed by the Greek clergy was crushing the spirits of the Macedonian people. In the meantime the economic situation of the Super Powers and the new Balkan States was improving daily. In 1881, the Muhareem Decree gave Europeans complete control of Ottoman finances and trade markets. During the same year the Constantinople Conference of Great Powers agreed to the Greek annexation of Thessally and Epirus. Later that same year Austria-Hungary agreed to allow Serbia to annex parts of Macedonia in some future time. Four years later, Bulgaria with some Russian help annexed Eastern Rumelia. While the Western Powers were contemplating the "Eastern Question" and collecting returns from Turkish loans, the new Balkan states were plotting Macedonia's demise. Here is what each of them had to say;

"Bulgaria's whole future depends on Macedonia, without her our State will be without importance or authority. Solun (Salonika) must be the main port of this State, the grand window to illuminate the entire building. If Macedonia does not belong to us, Bulgaria will never be firmly based".

"Macedonia is the lung of Greece, without it the rest of Greece would be condemned to death. For Greece to become a greater power she must expand into Macedonia."

"We (Serbia) are ready to enter into any combination if necessary in order to prevent the Macedonian Question being settled in any way that harms our vital interests, without which Serbia cannot survive".

In addition to being handed back to the Turks, the 1878 Treaty of Berlin now subjected Macedonia to three new tyrants. In time, Macedonia would be subjected to all kinds of evil but the most cunning would turn out to be Bulgarian chauvinism. The Macedonian people knew very well where they stood with the Greeks. Greek policies were straightforward, Hellenize everyone by any means possible, force and brutality included. The Bulgarian approach was very different. The Bulgarians were interested in educating the Macedonian masses into believing that they were Bulgarians. Anyone who showed any opposition didn't live to tell about it. And so became the legacy of so many educated Macedonian young men.

In part II of this article I explained, with ample evidence, that Greece was a "Western creation" to achieve two objectives. One, to keep Russia out of the Mediterranean Sea and two, to break up the Ottoman occupied Slav lands into small, nationally divergent, easily manageable and loyal States (a solution to the "Eastern Question"). Created by the Western Powers, the new Balkan States would be loyal to their creator, British politicians were counting on it. The Western powers introduced "nationalism" in the Balkans as a way of replacing the Ottoman Empire, not with a single state but with many "divergent" and manageable sized States. Nationalism however, was not a way with which Balkan people identified before the 19th century. For over 2,300 years the region was without borders and without a sense of national identity. For over 1,800 years, the people in the region lived with "religion as the only unifying force" which brought them together and allowed them to live in peace. Freedom of movement allowed the diverse people to travel anywhere within the empire to settle and mix with other people. So, how does one create "national consciousness" where one does not exist? Ignoring the fact that the Ottoman Empire of the 19th century was a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural pluralistic society, the Western Powers initiated the nation building process anyway. To them, it didn't matter what kind of "nations" they were building provided that the new nations were a "non-Slav" singular society that agreed to keep Russia out of the Mediterranean. While the Western Powers were trying to break up the Balkans into small and divergent states, Russia was promoting "Panslavism" to unite all the Slavs under Russian leadership.

The national awakening of Serbia was an accident that couldn't be helped but Greece was created by design. Greece was the opposite of Serbia and a solution for keeping the balance of power in the Balkans. While Serbia was destined to become a Slav State, Greece would be destined to become the "opposite". The name "Greece" was chosen to denote a "Latin" lineage, to represent the Latin "Romaos" (Roman) character of the people. The name "Hellas" was later chosen by Hellenized Phanariots to denote a lineage from the old City States of antiquity. Both of these names were foreign to the 19th century Balkans, but ideal to reflect the character of the new State. The pre-19th century Phanariots has no notion of nationalism or knowledge of the Ancient City States. Their aim was to drive the Turks out of the Empire and keep the Empire intact so that they could rule it themselves. But this was not what the Western Powers wanted. The process of Hellenization began by educating some Phanariots about the existence of the old City States and their exploits. Phanariots that studied abroad, London in particular, were seduced by the eloquently written, romantic stories about a people that lived at the bottom of the Balkans a long time ago. Phanariots were especially thrilled when they were received by Westerners as the descendents of those Ancient people. Not all Phanariots were Hellenized or convinced to take the Hellenic road, some still wanted to re-create the Byzantine Empire ("Megali Idea") but the West gave them no such choice. It was one thing to "create a nation" and another to "give it life and a past". The idea of modeling the new Greece after the old City States was well received but lacked continuity. No one could explain how the Greeks progressed from the old City States to the present, pre-19th century history has no record of it. There was no Greek culture and no Greek language that would tie the Modern Greek to the old City State citizen. With some creative imagination and a lot of convincing, the problem was solved. Ancient history was "re-engineered" to fit the modern Greek model. Yes, read your (fake) classical history and learn how the Mighty Macedonian Empire was "Hellenized", not by a powerful race, not by super intelligent beings, but by "the vanquished and subjugated" people of the old City-States. Alexander the Great, the most hated man of the old City-States, the King who wiped out and brutally crushed the spirits of the old City-State citizens, is now the "Great King of the Greeks" whom they revere and hold in such high honor. What hypocrisy!!! Perhaps some day, the English people will crown "Sitting Bull" as their King and rally around him (no offence to the native people of North America).

Altering classical history to say that the Ancient Macedonians were Hellenized, does not explain how and why there are "Slavs" all over the Balkans today. Thousands of years of Slav influence and culture could not be easily erased, but thanks to the ingenuity of the Western mind that problem too was solved. When the Westerners began to write the new "Greek" history, they quickly discovered that there was no continuity to tie the Modern Greeks to the Ancient City-States. Ancient Macedonia extinguished all the City-State cultures when she annexed them. The only continuity from the City-States to the Roman era was through Ancient Macedonia. Only through a Hellenized Ancient Macedonia could modern writers claim continuity for the Greeks. It was there and then that the "history revisionists" decided to KILL Macedonia in order to keep Greece alive. There is NO Greece without Macedonia! If Greece is to live then she must inherit everything that was Macedonian. Even after that however, there was still the "Slav problem". The Slavs were always in the way of Greek Nationhood and for these reasons the "Real Macedonians" became and still are Greece's worst enemy. The Greek zeal to become "who they cannot be" was transformed into jealousy and hatred for Macedonia and her people. From the outset, the Greek State deliberately chose Macedonia and the Macedonian people as "the enemy" as is so often eloquently put and without hesitation announced for the world to hear. Again, thanks to the ingenuity and brilliance of the western mind the Slav problem for Greece was solved with the creation of "Bulgaria". "What is not Greek must be Bulgarian, what is not Bulgarian must be Greek, there is no such thing as Macedonian", are words echoed to this day. This is what Macedonians faced and must face, lived and must live, every day of their lives both at home and abroad from the 19th century to this day.

The 19th century creation of Bulgaria was the "answer" to covering up all remaining evidence of the existence of a Macedonia outside of the "Hellenic model". Never scientifically proven, the so-called "Slav invasions" were concocted to cover up thousands of years of Macedonian culture and influence in the Balkans (and beyond). Modern history, without scientific proof, claims that the Ancient Macedonians died off (mysteriously to the last one) and were replaced by the "newcomer Slavs". It was later declared that the Slavs living in Macedonia were actually Bulgarians of sorts.

To divide the Bulgarians from the Slav fold and to show that they were a distinct society, different form other Slavs (such as the Serbs), the non-Balkan name "Bulgaria" was chosen to represent a Balkan State created for the first time in the 19th century. The name "Bulgaria" is derived from the river "Volga, allegedly where the Bulgarians came from. We are also led to believe that the Bulgarians were descendents of a small Tartar/Turkish tribe that invaded the region a long time ago and were assimilated by the Slavs. So according to Western sources, Bulgarians are not exactly pure Slavs or pure Tartar/ Turk but a mix of both, enough to make them different from other Slavs and enough to divide them from the Slav fold. Being part Slav, Bulgarians could lay claim to the "Slav speaking residents of Macedonia" on account that they too were Slav. Being part Tartar/Turk and a descendent of the "Volga" made the Bulgarians newcomers in their own land. Thus being newcomers to the Balkans, the Bulgarians could not lay claim to the heritage of Ancient Macedonia. Bulgarians however, could lay claims to items that did not fit the Hellenic model like the Modern Macedonian (Slav) Culture and language. More on this in future articles. If you wish to learn more about the above you will find useful information in George Macaulay Trevelyan's book "British History in the Nineteenth Century (1782 - 1901)", Longmans 1927.

After 1878, while the Macedonian economy was crashing down by leaps and bounds, the Bulgarian economy was improving dramatically. This was partly due to the cheap labour provided by a large influx of Macedonian pechalbari (migrant workers). Experiencing a very different life in Sofia in contrast to life in the village, many Macedonian pechalbari were seduced into believing the Bulgarian propaganda (Macedonians are Bulgarians).

After 1878, the first Macedonians to take up arms were those who were wronged and wanted to see justice done. Soon however, they realized that their efforts were futile and their revenge only resulted in the loss of innocent lives (relatives and neigbours were punished for their crimes, sometimes by death). Macedonian leaders came to the conclusion that what they truly wanted could only be achieved if the Turks were expelled from Macedonia for good.

It was the charismatic humanitarian William Gladstone, a British Prime Minister three times, who uttered the words "Macedonia for the Macedonians" which rang out like loud church bells throughout Macedonia. "Macedonia for the Macedonians" was the signal that rallied the Macedonians into action and gave them hope that finally the West would support their cause. In spite of his great sympathy for the Macedonian people, unfortunately, Gladstone was not in a position to help. The best the Super Powers could offer were "reforms". A great number of reforms were drafted and agreed upon but never implemented. The Turkish Pashas continued to humour the Westerners with reams and reams of fictional statistics and accomplishments while the Begs (feudal lords) continued to dominate the "Chiflik" (estates) and squeeze the village peasants out of their existence. The only visible reforms were rail and road improvements sponsored by western companies who were able to divert Ottoman finances from the state budgets. Peasants who owned some land were taxed so excessively that they had to work on Sundays at road and bridge building to catch up on back taxes. To get such a job, they had to resort to bribery. As if that was not enough, in 1889 the tax burden was further increased by re-imposing a personal tax of seven shillings per year for each newborn son, reduced only when the boy was able to work at age fifteen. Some of these taxes were raised to assist small-scale manufacturing, which was largely owned by foreign investors. Village peasants were forced to sell, for next to nothing, their most valued possessions, hand-made crafts, old coins and heirlooms to pay for these taxes.

To further aggravate the situation, lawless acts by the Turkish authorities, without any avenue for appeal, contributed to the oppressive climate in the villages. In addition to pillaging, Turkish soldiers now plundered the farms and villages for their daily sustenance. The Turkish administration was in such disarray that suppliers of the military were not paid for long periods of time and were refusing to feed the army.

To counter the plundering, peasant militias began to form but were soon outlawed by the Turkish authorities.

By late 1890, those Macedonians who had land couldn't afford to work it because of high taxes and frequent raids. Those who worked for the Begs were at the mercy of their landlord without rights or legal recourse. The courts were clearly working against the Macedonians and beyond "external intervention" there was no way to challenge their tyrannical authority. Though the land was fertile, there was no incentive to work. Agrarian life became a burden, filling village life with hopelessness and crushing the spirit of the Macedonian peasant. Many Macedonian men left their families and turned to pechalbarstvo (migrant work), travelling to various foreign countries in search of work but often returned home poorer due to high travel and lodging expenses. It was during these times that large emigrant Macedonian communities began to form in cities like Sofia, Paris, London, etc. Besides migrant workers, Macedonian young men also traveled abroad to attend higher education. They too became involved in the growing Macedonian worker communities. By the late 1890's over 100,000 Macedonian men were working or studying outside of Macedonia. Cafe conversations, dominated by discussions of "what to do to improve the situation at home" became commonplace. It was clear to many that the discontentment they were experiencing was not a local or village issue, but a matter that enveloped all of Macedonia. It was also clear that Turkey would not allow Macedonia to protect herself or Turkish courts to rule in Macedonia's favour. It became clear to all that the only option open to a Macedonian was outright rebellion, a rebellion that would have common purpose, tactical mobilization and central direction. There were many lessons to be learned from the great deeds and disasters of the American war of Independence, the French Revolution and others. By the late 1890's, Turkish tyranny was not the only ill in Macedonia. There was also the process of Hellenization, Greek propaganda and the Greek clergy to contend with. Beyond that, there was Bulgarian propaganda that was becoming more venomous by the day.

On another front, escalated Bulgarian activities in Macedonia prompted Greece and Serbia to reconsider an old alliance (1866-67) of restoring ecclesiastical unity under the Patriarch in order to take away from the Exarchate. This alliance, due to Greek greed, for the time did not work out. This however, would be a prelude for a future and deadlier alliance that would last to this day.

By 1890, the rebellion started to organize and gain momentum. The students were the first to take action. A student revolutionary organization was formed in Switzerland and one in Bulgaria. Both used various tactics to combat anti-Macedonian chauvinist Balkan propaganda. Organized in 1891, the group in Bulgaria allied itself with the organization of Macedonian emigrant workers (Pechalbari) in Sofia and had much success. In time more organizations sprung up in Russia, Britain and Greece but none could match the achievements of the Sofia based "Young Macedonian Literary Society" under the tutelage of Petar Pop Arsov. This Society of young Macedonians formulated its own constitution and managed the revolutionary publication "Loza" (Vine). The first issue of Loza came out in January of 1892, followed by six more publications before the Society was denounced by the Greek and Serbian press, and claimed as "its own" by the Bulgarian press. According to official Bulgarian State policy, "Macedonians were Bulgarians" and any worthwhile Macedonian creation belonged to Bulgaria.

While émigré Macedonian students were fighting Greek and Bulgarian propaganda and shoring up Western support, an historic moment inside Macedonia was about to unveil. It was October 23rd, 1893 in Solun (Salonika) when two high school teachers, Damjan Gruev and Anton Dimitrov together with Petar Pop Arsov, a former editor of Loza and Hristo Tatarchev, a doctor got together in bookshop owner Ivan Nikolov's house for an informal meeting. The main point of discussion was the plight of the Macedonian people and what to do about it. As word got around a committee was formed, more Macedonians got involved and a second (formal) meeting was held on February 9th, 1894. The topics of discussion included the drafting of a constitution to guide the committee. By the end of the meeting the committee made the following resolutions:

1. The committee will be revolutionary in nature and will remain secret. 2. Its revolutionary activities will be confined to inside Macedonia's borders. 3. Irrespective of nationality or religion, any Macedonian can become a member of the committee.

The committee also set out for itself the following objectives, which were later ratified at the first Revolutionary Congress held in Resen in August 1894:

1. destroy the Ottoman social system, 2. remain an "independent" organization, and 3. seek Macedonian autonomy.

The organization became known as Vnatrezhna (Internal) Makedonska (Macedonian) Revolutsionerna (Revolutionary) Organizatsia (Organization), VMRO (IMRO).

Being of clandestine nature, IMRO had some difficulties recruiting new members but within a year or so, its influence extended beyond Solun and into the rest of Macedonia. Initially, the organization was more ideological and less practical with the majority of its recruits being teachers, most of whom taught at the Exarchate schools inside Macedonia. To rally the masses the organization needed to educate them and bring them in line with IMRO's objectives. For that, it needed a charismatic leader who was able to talk to people at their own level, and who was free to travel without too much interference from the authorities. The man who answered that call was Gotse Delchev, a man of vision matched by only a few, the father of the Macedonian Revolution and the soul of the movement. (If you want to learn more about the IMRO leadership, you must read Michael Radin's book "IMRO and the Macedonian Question"). Gotse was a realist and at the same time an idealist who loved people, hated tyranny and saw the world as a place of many cultures living together in peace. As a realist Gotse knew that in order for a revolution to be successful it had to be a "moral revolution" of mind, heart and soul of an enslaved people. People needed to feel like people with rights and freedoms and not like slaves. With that in mind Gotse set out to build up a revolutionary conscience in the Macedonian population and thus set the revolutionary wheels in motion. Gotse's installment as undisputed leader of the IMRO was consolidated during the Solun Congress of 1896 after which IMRO began to massively organize. Gotse's abilities to "listen and learn" brought him close to the problems of ordinary people who wanted freedom but also wanted to preserve their religions, culture and way of life. With Gotse's field research in mind, the IMRO strategy was to "give the people what they want" and win them over. Initially, the strategy worked well and won IMRO the support it needed and by 1896, it was able to exert influence to a point where it acted as a state within a state taking over administrative positions from the Ottomans, leading boycotts against Ottoman institutions and offering isolated villages protection from Greek and Bulgarian sponsored brigands. In time, IMRO operatives were able to penetrate Ottoman economic, educational and even judicial functions. The downside of "giving the people what they want", opened the doors for Bulgarian infiltration. By "attitude" and by use of the Greek language, it was easy to recognize Greek influence but it was not as simple to recognize the Bulgarian one. While the Greeks cared nothing about Macedonian affairs and loathed the Macedonian language, the Bulgarians were a part of Macedonian affairs and eloquently spoke the Macedonian language. By far the largest Bulgarian infiltration into Macedonian affairs took place in Sofia among the pechalbari. As I mentioned earlier, the cosmopolitan lifestyle in Sofia, a far cry from life in the village, seduced some Macedonians to succumb to Bulgarian propaganda, which resulted in the formation of the "External Macedonian Revolutionary Organization" better known as the "Supreme Macedonian Committee". This organization was formed in Sofia in March of 1895 and was termed the "Trojan Horse" of IMRO by Gotse Delchev. The initial membership consisted of emigrant Macedonian nationalists but in time its leadership was infiltrated by officers from the Bulgarian State army ranks. The objectives, on the surface of this "two faced" organization termed "Vrhovist" (Supremacist) by the IMRO, were to fight for Macedonia's independence by armed intervention in an aggressive revolutionary manner. Its true nature however, (concealed from the people) was to undermine the IMRO by subordinating its central committee to its own "Supremacist directives". This and the fact that Vrhovism masqueraded itself as "Macedonian patriotism" in the eyes of the Macedonian people very much disturbed Gotse Delchev. True to his nature of keeping an open mind, Delchev along with Gruev took a trip to Sofia in hopes of reconciling their differences with the Vrhovists but came back more disillusioned. Instead of receiving a handshake, on March 20th, 1896, Gotse was informed that IMRO would no longer be supported by Bulgaria and all finances and arms would be cut off and from here on forward, the Vrhovists would decide what actions the IMRO would take inside Macedonia. This was indeed an attempt by the Vrhovists to usurp control of IMRO. Disappointed but not disillusioned, Gotse turned to "Mother Russia" for assistance, but there too he found no welcome reception. Russia had no interest in helping IMRO because there were no advantages to gain from liberating Macedonia (given Russia's current relationship with the Western Powers).

Due to IMRO's popularity, strength and ability to recognize a "Trojan Horse", the Bulgarian led organization failed to achieve its true objectives. After that it resorted to violent attacks and assassination attempts with the aim of eliminating the entire IMRO structure and its leadership. It used armed interventions in order to provoke Ottoman reprisals against innocent village peasants and put the blame on IMRO. By selective propaganda and by vilifying the Ottomans in the eyes of the world, the Bulgarian led organization was hoping for a Super Power intervention to weaken the Turk and at the same time create a climate for a Bulgarian invasion (disguised as a "liberation" of the oppressed Macedonians).

In the meantime both Delchev and Gruev were promoted to the rank of "District Inspector of Schools" in their employment, enabling them to travel unabated and without suspicion. Using inspection tours as cover, they were able to find ways to purchase and smuggle arms into Macedonia. They also took time to address Macedonian villages and make personal contacts with the village chiefs. Many people flocked to hear what these legendary figures of men, patriots, and saviors had to say. Unfortunately, lecturing out in the open placed IMRO leaders at risk from spies. As a result on one occasion, Gotse was arrested by the Turkish authorities in May of 1896 and spent 26 days in jail. When the Turks couldn't find anything to charge him with, Gotse was released.

Bulgarian influence was not limited to Vrhovist actions alone. Bulgarian undercover agents were dispatched to Solun to spy on IMRO activities and report back to the Bulgarian State. The Exarchate also had policies of its own and continued to rally the Macedonian youth for its own cause. When it seemed like the IMRO was unbreakable, the Vrhovists resorted to infiltrating the IMRO leadership itself, which in time brought them some success. Bulgarian interference in IMRO policies caused hardships and internal squabbling between executive committee members and eventually caused the organization to split into hostile factions. This undermined IMRO's credibility with the outside world. The Vrhovists badly wanted to provoke Turkey so that they could "liberate" Macedonia, but the Super Powers, especially Russia and Britain "didn't buy it" and saw their actions as provocative and dangerous. While the Vrhovist leadership agreed to curb its provocative actions, its armed wing of insurgents however, had already penetrated and captured parts of Eastern Macedonia. Even though the invasion lasted about two days, it became clear as to "who was who" and the true Vrhovist agenda was exposed. After that IMRO gave the Vrhovists a stern warning to "stay out of Macedonia" and to use Delchev's words, "whoever works for the unification with Greece or Bulgaria is a good Greek or Good Bulgarian but NOT a good Macedonian". After that while IMRO worked for a "Macedonia for the Macedonians" the Bulgarian Supreme Committee openly worked for a "Macedonia for the Bulgarians". IMRO leadership strove to purify IMRO from the Vrhovist infiltration. In essence, the IMRO constitution was bolstered to exclude Vrhovist demands and still be able to give the Macedonian people what they wanted. The IMRO leadership, without much success, made attempts to infiltrate and sabotage the Vrhovist Supreme Committee by making frequent trips to Sofia and attempting to rally dissident emigrant forces inside Bulgaria.

While the Vrhovists were plotting against IMRO and the Macedonian people from the north, a new menace was brewing from the south. On April 9th, 1897 armed Greek bands began to aggressively cross into Macedonian. The Turks protested this action to the Super Powers but the Greeks denied responsibility insisting all along that it was the Macedonian Cheti. It didn't take too long before the Turks took the offensive and drove the Greeks out of Thessally. When the Turks were about overtake the entire country the Super Powers intervened on Greece's behalf to once again save her. The Greek Government in charge of the invasion fell out of grace and when a new Government was elected, it agreed to pay a hefty fine, which consisted of four million Turkish pounds, as well as giving up Thessally to the Turks. In addition to losing grace, Greece had to relinquish control of her own finances (to the Super Powers) to ensure prompt payment of the fine. The Super Powers, without German support forced the Sultan to accept the offer and sign a peace deal. The Germans never forgave the Greeks for lying to them about their aggressive actions against the Turks. The Germans at that time were responsible for Turkey. Outside of Greek brigand actions, for the moment at least, Greece was not a direct threat to IMRO.

IMRO demonstrated great leadership by its ability to organize Macedonia into seven revolutionary districts (Solun, Serres, Strumitsa, Shtip, Skopje, Bitola and Endrene{Macedonian Dardannelles}). It also demonstrated its weaknesses. Having allied itself with the poor village peasants and striving to refrain from obligations and debts, IMRO found itself strapped for finances. The IMRO committee was unable to raise all the necessary funds to finance its campaigns. While the leadership turned a blind eye, the local commanders resorted to kidnapping rich landowners, merchants and foreign dignitaries for ransom. Kidnappings did not exclude foreign missionaries like Miss Stone who fell into the hands of Sandanski's Cheta (armed band). Taken by the plight of her captors, Miss Stone herself voluntarily made sure the ransom was paid in full. Short of finances mostly due to the unfriendly terms with the Vrhovist Supreme Command in Sofia, IMRO found itself lacking the necessary arsenal to wage war. Subordination to Bulgarian demands was out of the question so Gotse had to look elsewhere to get his weapons. Efforts were made to purchase weapons from Greece, Albania and even from the Turks themselves but without too much success. By 1897, the situation was getting desperate so the IMRO leadership resorted to purchasing from the black market, even stealing weapons. One such purchase was made from the Bulgarian Military. The military allowed the sale of outdated guns but later refused to sell cartridges, fearing the weapons may be turned against them. On October 1900, Chakalarov, a local chief in the Lerin/Kostur regions who spoke Greek, dressed up as an Albanian pretending to be from Ianitsa, was successful in purchasing some arms from Athens. Later attempts by others however, were not so successful. On one occasion, a translator betrayed the purchasers to the Turkish console on the advice of a Greek priest. After that the Turks trusted this translator and made him a sergeant in their gendarme. He served the Turks well and brought them much success in their search and destroy missions until he discovered he could make even more money by taking bribes before turning people in. As a result of this man's actions many band members were killed in many villages.

The lack of sufficient arms brought home the realization that this "uprising" was going to be a long one. Here again Gotse and the IMRO leadership proved their worth by adopting a policy of self-arming. With a little bit of skill on weapons manufacture, learned from the Armenian Revolutionaries, IMRO set up a number of munitions factories in remote and secluded areas, capable of producing home made bombs and other explosives. Unfortunately, in 1900 during a raid at one of these factories, Dame Gruev was arrested by the Turkish authorities and imprisoned in Bitola. He came back to active duty in April 1903. In spite of all efforts made to obtain them, the Macedonian "Cheti" lacked arms but had plenty of courage to make up for it, which in time put fear in the Turkish hearts. As IMRO grew beyond its ideological stage, it began to recruit, equip and train fighters. Volunteers were recruited mainly from the villages, young men who were willing to fight for their freedom. Those who were in trouble with the law (brigands) were armed and recruited into active duty. Those were men who flourished by attacking Turks and stealing from them. They were admired for their courage and ability to live free. They were men who practiced the art of war, knew how to live in the open, how to ambush and how to hide. They were the men who taught the young Macedonian recruits to fight and win. The rest were reservists and lived at home, only called to duty as required. Each reservist was expected to purchase and secure his own rifle and ammunition. Recruitment was carried out in utmost secrecy. Even women were enlisted in the Macedonian revolution, but their role was limited to cooking, washing, mending clothing and nursing the wounded. The primary role of a fighter was to defend the people from Turkish and brigand attacks. The Cheti consisted of about five to ten men, organized for rapid mobilization and quick response. The goal was to have one Cheta responsible for one village (preferably their own) in all of Macedonia. The leader of each Cheta was chosen for his abilities to lead his men, and more so, for the peoples' confidence in him to protect their village. To respond quickly, the Cheta had to be familiar with the village's terrain and escape routes. To maintain secrecy all orders were given by word of mouth.

The IMRO mobilization managed to elude the Turkish authorities for a long time. However, an unfortunate discovery of some explosives accidentally uncovered the secret and led the Turkish militia on wide "search and destroy missions". The militia's conduct unfortunately was less than honourable when the soldiers took to torturing innocent people and burning properties in order to obtain confessions. The Cheti's responsibility was to ambush the militia, using guerrilla tactics, before they entered villages and prevent them from doing harm. This however, did not always work so some of the Cheta Chiefs resorted to retaliations and reprisals for crimes already committed. Although poorly armed and vastly under-manned (sometimes as high as 10 Turks to 1 Macedonian), the Cheti fought fierce battles and gained legendary reputations among both the Turks and the Macedonians. Unfortunately, as the Ottoman authorities became more aware of IMRO's intentions the Turkish militias began to swell with soldiers. If that was not enough, at about the same time the Exarchate, suspecting IMRO affiliation, began to dismiss Macedonian teachers on mass. Even though most Macedonian teachers despised working for the Exarchate, they used the schools as a means of promoting IMRO's aims. They frequently gave lectures, taught Macedonian patriotic songs, canvassed house to house etc. This was a blow to IMRO. A more severe blow however, came in April of 1897 in what was termed as the "Goluchowski-Muraviev Agreement". This was an agreement drawn up by Tsar Nikolas II of Russia and Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria regarding the future of the remainder of the Ottoman Empire. In part, the agreement stated that, at some future time, the Macedonian territory would be divided equally between Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria. In other words, when the Super Powers got their fill of Turkey and abandoned her, Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria were welcome to take their turn. This indeed was bad news and as history showed, it was devastating for IMRO and disastrous for the Macedonian people.

In about 1898, the Bulgarian Exarchate, instructed by the Bulgarian Prime Minister, created a Vrhovist organization inside Macedonia, based in Solun known as the "Revolutionary Brotherhood" which in turn began to form its own Cheti. While pretending to be part of IMRO, the purpose of this organization was to carry out terrorist activities and in the eyes of the world, discredit the real IMRO. By the year 1900, IMRO's enemies were growing in numbers and intensifying in ferocity. IMRO's woes were just beginning when they discovered that the Vrhovists had dispatched six assassins to murder Delchev and Sandanski (a legendary Cheta chief affectionately known as the "Tsar of Pirin"). The Vrhovist Cheti were raining terror on Macedonian villages provoking the Turks to act. Although never proven, it was alleged that the Vrhovist leaders were working with the Turks in successfully arresting members of IMRO, destroying munitions depots and torturing, raping and murdering people. Even the Turks themselves participated in sabotage tactics. Several Greek spies were killed at one time and the IMRO was blamed. As a result of this, many organizers were rounded up and arrested. In reality however, it was Turkish Begs who committed the crimes as was later discovered. The same Begs were seen attacking Turkish tax collectors. Failing to assassinate Delchev and Sandanski, the six assassins, in their frustration, turned to attacking people, burning down villages and stealing money and claiming it to be the work of IMRO. Several important leaders, including the famous "Marko Lerinski" (the "Tsar of Lerin"), Cheta leader of the Lerin and Kostur Regions, was killed in these attacks.

All was not lost however, during the next attack, Sandanski was ready for the Vrhovists and in September 1902, sent them packing. The Turks did the rest by crushing the Vrhovist remnants in November of the same year. The disturbances and civil strife were enough to convince Turkey that yet another uprising may be imminent and that she should take action to prevent it. As usual, violence was answered with more violence. The Turks initiated a wide campaign of search and destroy missions exacting serious retributions and terror on the village populations. In addition to regular Turkish troops, the Ottomans now enlisted reserves from the Albanian Muslim fold. Every bridge, railway cutting and railway tunnel was guarded. Also, every village had a garrison of ten or more troops guarding it. While the Turkish troops were content with "fighting it out" with the Cheti then retiring to their barracks, the Albanian reservists avoided direct confrontations and preferred to join the Bashi-Bazouks (armed civilian Muslims) in pillaging and plundering the villages. These gendarmes, recruited from the Albanian Gheg Muslim community, had a vested interest in disorder. The gendarmes allowed law-breakers to exist so that they could keep their employment. They rarely engaged in combat and their meager pay was always in arrears so they readily accepted bribes to make their living. Both the Patriarchate and Exarchate were known to bribe the gendarmes in order to allow Greek and Bulgarian brigands to function freely.

To make a bad situation worse, at the end of August 1902, the Vrhovists showed up in Macedonia uninvited and began to issue orders directly to the local chiefs to start the rebellion. According to Vrhovist plans the rebellion was ordered to begin September 20th, 1902. This was news to IMRO. This latest bold Vrhovist action turned a lot of heads including that of Vasil Chakalarov. Chakalarov was a respected chief and managed to sway the people away from the Vrhovists. But the Vrhovists were not finished and began to publicly accuse Chakalarov and the others of being cowards and peasants for not wanting to fight. When that still didn't work, Chakalarov was personally called a thief, allegedly having stolen a fortune from the Vrhovist money allocated for purchasing arms. Fortunately the Macedonian people knew that Chakalarov was a decent man. They also knew that the Vrhovists didn't contribute any funds for purchasing arms. Left alone, unable to start the rebellion, the Vrhovists tucked their tails and went elsewhere to cause trouble.

This latest Vrhovist action did not go unnoticed by the Turks and put IMRO in a difficult situation. The Vrhovists, for a long time wanted to get IMRO into a fight with the Turkish army but so far were not successful. This time unfortunately, their wishes were about to come true. The Vrhovists believed that a fight with IMRO would weaken Turkey enough to make a Bulgarian invasion possible. They encouraged the Cheti Chiefs to "start the insurrection and Bulgaria would finish it" for them. "Bulgaria has hundreds of thousands of troops standing by and will come to your rescue as soon as the first shot is fired" is what the Vrhovists were preaching to the Macedonian chiefs.

IMRO knew that its fighters were not ready for a frontal attack with the Turkish militia. They also knew that fighting or not, the Turkish militia was going to destroy Macedonia village by village one way or another. The Vrhovists on the other hand, could not be trusted for their help because they had no intention of honouring their promises, their actions made that point very clear in the past. In either case, IMRO had no choice but to act soon. The search and destroy missions were putting many innocent people in jeopardy including women and children. Local informants, Greek, and Bulgarian brigands did not hesitate to inform on the villages, especially if they had an axe to grind. On many occasion Patriarchate and Exarchate brigands (hired goons) were put out of action by the Cheti and that made their benefactors angry, who in turn informed on the villages. Brigands were hired to harass and exact terror on villagers to sway them to change allegiance from one church to another. The Cheti were fierce fighters and fought gallantly when it came to protecting their villages but were undermanned and poorly armed. As much as they wanted to they were not capable of always standing up to the large and well-equipped Turkish militia. The militia on the other hand, did not always operate under the best of ethics and was open to bribes. The poor people who couldn't afford bribes fared the worst. Some say it was less of a punishment to produce a rifle than not to have one at all. Some resorted to purchasing rifles and turning them in just so that they received a lesser punishment. On many occasions the houses of those suspected of aiding the Cheta were burned to the ground. The Turks did not even hesitate to jail old women accused of that crime. Historical accounts show that during the height of the search and destroy activities the jails in Macedonia were filled beyond capacity. In fact a Solun jail with the capacity for 500 was holding 900 prisoners (some were held in the White Tower). There is an old Macedonian saying, "there is nothing worse than being locked up in a Turkish jail".

On January 31st, 1903, the Turks declared IMRO illegal and sought ways to destroy it. The bad news for IMRO gave the Vrhovist the necessary momentum they needed to become a wedge between those in IMRO who wanted an immediate uprising, and those of IMRO who believed that an uprising at this point in time was suicidal. Gotse Delchev was against this "willing sacrifice" and was hoping to find a better solution, but time was running out.

A second Solun Congress, dominated by the Vrhovists was staged in February of 1903. Delchev and most of IMRO's loyal supporters did not attend. A resolution was reached, but not ratified by the regional committees, that an uprising would take place on Ilinden, on the 2nd of August 1903. To weaken the Turks, the Vrhovists staged a number of bombings and terrorist acts. The Solun to Tsary Grad railway was bombed on March 18th as was the Solun Ottoman bank a month later. This did not weaken the Turks as expected but instead it brought more Turkish troops into Macedonia and further escalated the violence against innocent civilians. If that was not enough, the sudden rise in violence against Ottoman institutions was not well received by European investors and businessmen who saw Ottoman Macedonia as a safe place to invest. The few lonely voices in London calling for Macedonian support were quickly drowned out by the many voices of discontent calling for the demise of the terrorists.

Tragically, Gotse Delchev was killed by the Turks in Banitsa on May 3rd, 1903 a day after the IMRO Smilevo Congress had started. Termed the Bitola Congress, the purpose of the Smilevo Congress was to review the resolutions from the Vrhovist dominated Solun Congress held earlier in the same year. Damjan Gruev (a native of Smilevo) chaired the Congress and tried hard to realistically present the situation by arguing for and against an early uprising. When the matter was put to a vote however, the majority declared themselves in favour of an uprising. With these words "better an end with horrors than horrors without end", Gruev also voted in support of the Ilinden rebellion. From here on there was no turning back. A general staff was elected with Gruev as the head and preparations for the uprising began. In due time plans were made, a military strategy was prepared, weapons, medical supplies and food-stuffs were requisitioned and stock piled, Cheti were organized and training drills performed. On July 26th, 1903, by a dispatch to the Great Powers via the British vice-consul in Bitola, the General Staff formally announced the uprising. Then on July 28th, 1903, IMRO dispatched mounted couriers to all the sub-districts with the message "let the uprising begin". On the same day the General Staff informed the Ottoman Director of Railways to warn travelers to choose a different mode of transportation in order to avoid being hurt. In spite of all odds the brave people of Macedonia heroically rose to the task with valour. They knew well that the fight they were forced to fight might not bring them what they wanted but they chose to fight anyway because it was a fight for freedom and freedom after centuries of slavery was valued above life itself. That however, did not convince the Super Powers to lend a helping hand. Macedonia, again for a second time within a quarter century was exposed to treachery that would make the 1878 betrayal look like a picnic.

To be continued in part IV.

NOTE: Many of you have asked me to say something about the word "Slav"

The word "Slav" is an English translation of the Macedonian word "Slava" like the word Macedonia is an English translation of the word Makedonija. Slava in Macedonian means "glory, fame, renown". "Slaven" in Macedonian means "glorious, famous, renowned, celebrated, illustrious". "Slavi" in Macedonian means "to glorify, to celebrate, to extol". (page 925, Dushan Tsrenkovski's "The Standard Dictionary, English-Macedonian, Macedonian-English").

The word "Pravo" in Macedonian means "right" (page 850, Dushan Tsrenkovski's "The Standard Dictionary, English-Macedonian, Macedonian-English").

Putting the two words together "Pravo Slava" assumes a holy meaning like "Pravoslavna vera" or "Eastern Christian faith".

I want to make it perfectly clear that "Pravoslaven" in Macedonian means "Most Glorious" and refers to the Christian religion. "Slava" translates to "celebrate" as in a holy celebration. By no means does the word "Slav" have any connection to "nationality". "Slav" to a Macedonian once meant the same as Catholic to an Italian, Jew to a Hebrew, Orthodox to a Greek, Muslim to an Arab or Hindu to an East Indian. Today however, the beauty of the word "Slav" has, for political purposes, been twisted into something ugly, undesirable and denigrating to all Macedonians. More specifically, the Greeks and now the Albanians call the Macedonian people "Slav" to mean "new comers", "foreigners", "barbarians", "simpletons", "ignorant", "inconsiderate", etc. So please do not call the Macedonians "Slav", just call them Macedonian.

The Pravoslaven Empire (later renamed Byzantine Empire) lasted from 324AD when the Pravoslavna vera was first adopted as the official religion of the Empire to 1767 when the Phanariots with Turkish help, officially extinguished the Macedonian Church. After that up until 1850, the Macedonian Church lived underground and continued to operate illegally keeping the "Pravoslavna vera" and the Macedonian culture alive.

It is well documented that the language of liturgy of the Pravoslavni (people of the Byzantine Empire) was what we now call "Old Church Slavonic". Old Church Slavonic is a Macedonian (Solunski) dialect spoken and understood to this day in most parts of geographical Macedonia.

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1. A. Michael Radin, IMRO and the Macedonian Question, Kultura

2. Douglas Dakin, M.A., Ph.D., The Greek Struggle in Macedonia 1897 - 1913, Institute for Balkan Studies, Salonika 1966

3. H. N. Brailsford, Macedonia Its Races and their Future, Arno Press, New York 1971

4. Vasil Bogov, Macedonian Revelation, Historical Documents rock and shatter Modern Political Ideology

5. The University of Cyril and Methodius, DOCUMENTS of the Struggle of the Macedonian, People for Independence and a Nation-State Volumes I & II

6. The World Book Encyclopedia