Witnessing of Georgi Achkov, 1903-04 survived prisoner

The Calvary of 323 Macedonian prisoners from Bitola to Diyarbakir

Twenty years after returning from prison after the Ilinden uprising, Georgi Achkov from Prilep, one of the 323 Macedonians sent to prison to Diyarbakir, managed to tell about the terror he survived in 1903-04 when on their way to the prison in Little Asia, half of the Macedonians who were convicted to 101 years were killed or died from torture. This disturbing witnessing, published almost 100 years ago, is kept in the collection of rare books at the National Library in Skopje today.


“Before we were taken in front of the court in Bitola, we were imprisoned in the so-called Basma-An, and then with the court’s decision we were transferred to the political offenders’ department, Katil-An to serve a sentence of lifetime in prison. Those very days the Russian consul Aleksandr Rostkovskii was murdered, so the Turkish population in the city was very irritated and we expected for the crowd to enter the prison and kill us all. However, the pressure from Europe was great so the crowd was stopped. In the meantime in Katil-An, I saw that my fellow citizen Vladimir Milchinov was also imprisoned. He was dressed in traditional clothing from Debar, and was listed under a different name. A month later, my mother came to visit me and told me that my father was intercepted on his way to the village of Senokos. He was beat to death by two Turkish soldiers and died from the injuries three days later.”

Chained on their way to Thessaloniki

On 8th September 1903, all prisoners from Katil-An were transferred to the railway station in Bitola because they couldn’t walk from the beating or from the chains on their legs. Just from the prison in Bitola, 62 Macedonian prisoners were loaded in one of the cattle wagons. When they arrived at the station in Voden, some of the prisoners tried to escape, but were caught, beat up, chained to one another and returned to the wagons. At the Thessaloniki railway station, they were lined up and taken to the district administration, beat and whipped non-stop along the way.

“In the middle of that torture, Simo Trajkov from Kichevo was stabbed with a bayonet, and then transferred to the military hospital in Thessaloniki where he died ten days later. He was the first victim. We lay in the Thessaloniki prison on the ground for three days, with no water and food. On the fourth day we set off towards the port, heavily chained. When they counted us, they realised that two of the prisoners had managed to escape. We were transferred to the steamboat where we were literally thrown through a small opening under the deck. While we were pushed toward the opening, the boat captain, a Greek, repeated several times that none of us would make it to the coast alive. Then they dropped the lid. I remember that Dimitar Mirchev was among the prisoners. They dropped him on the island of Mitilin.

Before he was called on the deck, he gave us 10 napoleons to share among the 22 of us in the group. After a while, we arrived in Smyrna, where we were set in the barracks. While we were heading toward the barracks, we were spat on and beat by the Turkish and Greek population that was on the streets. That is when Nedelko Atanasov from the village of Godech near Bitola died as a result of the beating. We stayed in the barracks in Smyrna for four days, waiting for the new prisoners to arrive. The following day we were all loaded in a new steamer and the day after that prisoner Josif Kondov along with ten other prisoners were dropped on the island of Rhodes; a bigger group of prisoners from Thessaloniki were dropped in Podrum Kale; and all of us from the district of Bitola were taken to the prison at Alexandreta port where four blacksmiths took off the chains from our legs, but put new ones on our necks and tied us in groups of eight.”

Kurds were like beasts!

The next morning, some Bekir-Pasha intercepted them on their way and when he saw that the prisoners were chained, ordered for their chains to be removed because if Europe found out they would think that the Turkish are barbarians. They took their chains and ropes off, and it stayed that way until the end of the road and the end of their Calvary. We continued toward the town of Halep, 30 km away. The escorting soldiers were on horses, so the prisoners had to keep up with them, even run at some point.

According to Achkov’s witnessing, immediately after they left the town, the Kurds pulled out their yatagans, took five of the soldiers, dropped them into a pit and slaughtered them mercilessly in front of the other prisoners. The journey continued for six more days, during which, 21 more Macedonians were slaughtered. At midnight on the seventh day they entered the town of Urf, tired and beat up, locked in a cattle pound where they stayed for a day and night with no bread or water. When they got up, they saw that in the mud, among them, died Mile Naumov from the village of Vranche near Prilep. They stayed in Urf for three days and then continued toward the town of Beredjik, travelling for 12 hours a day. They were tired, hungry and beat up, but they had to keep up with the Kurds on the horses because if they stopped, even for a bit, the Kurds took out their yatagans immediately and slaughtered mercilessly anyone who would stay behind. They arrived to Beredjik five days later. Four people died on the road because of exhaustion and seven were slayed because they couldn’t keep up with the horses’ tempo. One of the slayed was Naumche Grozdanov from the village of Vranche.

A priest, pulled from a horse, tied to his tail with his beard

“At last, on 10th November 1903, exhausted and beat up, we arrived in Suverik, the last point before our destination, Diyarbakir. Under an order from the authorities, we were kept in Suverik for two days. On the third day, we left the prison and the soldiers stabbed us with their bayonets everywhere. As a result, 16 people died immediately and 19 were left in agony and, as we understood a month later, were beat up to death by the present crowd. The other 33 of us were easily wounded, but we had to continue to Diyarbakir covered in blood. Somehow, we arrived in Diyarbakir six days later. We stood in front of the fortress for an hour. There, we were sprayed with water where dead snakes were put for 10 days. We found out later that it was some kind of belief that the domestic, Islamic population would be protected that way from our diseases. We went through the town and then put in a prison. The 70-day Calvary was over and ten days after arriving in Diyarbakir, we got permission to go out in the prison’s yard for the first time.”

According to Georgi Achkov, the Calvary from Bitola to Diyarbakir lasted 70 days. There were 323 people that left Bitola, with 121 of them dying along the way; 42 of them were slayed and 48 were stabbed. The rest died of stroke, exhaustion, wounding, starvation and other types of torture. Seven months later, on 10th April 1904, the prisoners received good news that all the political prisoners were given amnesty and freedom. On 14th April they headed for Macedonia. The 202 surviving prisoners arrived in Macedonia after a 54-day trip.

Blaze Minevski (MIA)

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