May 14, 2014

Macedonia's Joans of Arc

The Saint Paul Globe May 08 1904, Page 5


Author of "Deep Sea Vagabonds."

WOMEN fighters appear frequently in history, but in no modern wars have women taken so active a part as in the present Macedonian revolution. In almost every insurgent band that roams the mountains of Macedonia, harassing the Turkish troops and bashi bazouks by unexpected rushes, there are one or two women. At the present day there are at least one hundred women carrying guns. So says Constantine Stephanove, of the Macedonian Junta in New York, who escaped from a Turkish prison and joined the insurgents.

"We have not only one Jean d'Arc," said Mr. Stephanove, "but dozens. We accept them as a matter of fact. We are used to women fighters. We do not approve of exposing women to the dangers of battle more than other people, but all these women have demanded the right to fight. We could easily replace them with men, but when a woman comes with a holy oath to die fighting Turks because she, or her sister, or her mother, has suffered unspeakable outrage at the hands of Turks, a man must step aside and surrender to her his gun and his place in the band. These women are mostly desperadoes, seeking death, and some of the most heroic deeds in our campaigns have been done by them.

Why Anna Simitchieva Was Canonized by the Church

If there is one woman whom the Macedonians have placed above others for her fighting, it is Anna Simitchieva, who was shot by Turks in Koumanova last year. She has since been canonized by the church.

Some women and children and wounded insurgents were being wounded by the Turkish soldiers, when they sought shelter in a church in Koumanova and barricaded the doors. The Turks began an assault. Attached to this church was a seminary, Anna Simitchieva, a young teacher, gathered about her a dozen young men students, and, securing some guns I from a secret cache in the town, they attacked the Turks, who were beating down the church doors.

Infuriated by the sacrilege that was being committed against their church, and inspired by the fighting woman who led them, the Macedonian students fought with the fury of desperadoes. The Turks outnumbered, them ten to one, but so surprised, were the Sultan's troops by the boldness of the attack that at first they were repulsed, leaving a heap of twenty dead by the church door.

But that was only temporary; the Turks came back reinforced, and then ensued a sanguinary street fight, in which not only Anna Simitchieva and her band of students were annihilated, but the refugees in the church as well were hewn to pieces and the church burned. The last man to die, as the Turks themselves afterward told, was a young theological student, who had been an ardent admirer of the school mistress, and he stood astride of her body, after she had been shot, using his rifle as a club, until a Turk cut him down from the rear with a yataghan The mothers and sisters of several of the students saw the battle from windows of nearby houses.

Madame Arnaudova Who Is Still in the Field

Then there is Madame Arnaudova, who is still in the field. She has been through a dozen campaigns, and so far has escaped without a scratch. She belongs to Dubnitza, which is a small mountain town on the frontier of Turkey and Bulgaria. Years ago, for she is now well up in the thirties, Madame Arnaudova entered the ranks of the insurgents, and her presence has been such an inspiration to the bands to which she has been attached that they have done some of the most daring deeds.

She is a big, grim woman, who only speaks when she has something to say, but when she addresses a band of men for a few minutes they are ready to tackle the Sultan's whole army. Nothing demoralizes the Turks so much as seeing Madame Arnaudova among any band of insurgents they may engage.

Miss Malechefska, another Macedonian Joan of Arc, was a school teacher in Seres, when she saw some atrocity that would have unbalanced her mind were it not a pretty strong one, and she went to Bulgaria, where she enlisted in an insurgent band. She was barely twenty-two, but she, could carry a gun as well as anyj man, and she would not allow any male comrade to carry so much as her ammunition.

Surrounded by Turks She Escaped With Two Comrades.

The band she went out with was surrounded by Turks, and she was one of three that escaped. She reenlisted and her band again met disaster. All but ten were killed, and I they were taken prisoners, she being one of them. The Turks executed her comrades but kept her. She made a desperate dash for liberty one dark night and escaped again. She returned to Rilo Monastery, the sole survivor of the band with which she had left that Bulgarian town two weeks before. Nothing daunted, she I enlisted again, and when Mr. Stephanove left Sofia last fall she had just returned from her third campain, but this time she had taken part in a fight in which the Turks were worsted.

"Let me tell you of a woman warrior of my own town, Bansko, in the district of Razlog," said Mr. Stephanove. "She is a married woman of thirty-three, a woman of Brunhilde physique, fair haired and blue eyed. She scattered a whole band of Turkish guards once, single handed, and in open daylight This is how it happened

The Bravery of Elenka Spasova a Macedonian Widow

"A famous insurgent chief, Jorge Radonoff. had been taken prisoner, and was confined in the local prison in Bansko. Elenka Spasova, a widow, lived in a house adjoining the prison. She conceived the idea of liberating the insurgent chief, and set about it by beginning a tunnel from her cellar to the prison. She dug at night, and soon she could hear the tread of the sentry above her as she worked. Finally! she got under the prisoner's cell and signaled to him. Next day she went to the prison through the tunnel to arrange for an escape that night, when part of the tunnel caved in, and not only cut off her escape, but alarmed the guards.

"Let us make a dash as they open the door!" she cried to the prisoner.

But on her amount the chief refused to countenance such desperate measures. The guards threw open the doors, and Madame Spasova, drawing her revolver, dashed through the astonished Turks, shooting right and left, and escaped. Later on she persuaded a band of insurgents to go to the rescue of Radonoff, which they did successfully."

Every Macedonian woman takes part in the revolution - if not with arms, in other ways equally active. There was a case in Bansko which illustrates what the Macedonian women will do if called upon.

A member of the local committee was arrested and taken to the headquarters of the khaimakam. To save a recently arrived consignment of hidden arms and ammunition quick action was necessary. The other I members of the committee knew that few men can withstand the persuasions of physical torture.

The ammunition was hidden in a ditch far out in one of the fields. The men could not remove it without being observed by the Turkish patrols and sentries, so they went about among the women, and the result was this. The Turks saw the women coming and going in the fields as they usually did, apparently intent upon looking after their cows or goats or corn. They did not know that each woman went to the cache, secured several hundred rounds of ammunition, tied it to her by a string around her waist under her skirts and carried it to another place of concealment.

When torture finally compelled the committeeman to reveal the hiding place of the ammunition, the Turks went there at once, but found only a few empty boxes.

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