December 29, 2018

The Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO), Part 3

By Risto Stefov

A failed rebellion was not something that the Macedonian people, especially the IMRO leadership could easily reconcile. But as events unfolded, the Ottomans were not the only ones who wished Macedonia to fail. There were more sinister forces at work, like the Vrhovists and the Patriarchate and Exarchate Churches, who equally did not want Macedonia to win. The Great Powers too had their own resolve and all they could do was watch Macedonia burn while offering the Macedonian people no more than their sympathies. They did not even offer aid to the sick, homeless and starving.


For the Macedonians it was a great revolution, a glorious revolution. To paraphrase Georgio Nurigiani, "The Ilinden rising is an achievement of great importance for the Macedonian people. There are things in it which stagger the imagination and cause this general insurrection to be ranked as a 'great historical event'. The whole people rose with a frenzied, irresistible urge for immediate freedom. The Macedonian people's faith made them believe in their creative possibilities, for only a people strong in spirit is able to pluck up courage and with full confidence venture on an historic undertaking. Through this courageous uprising, unique in its kind for noble daring, the Macedonian people expressed not only their love of freedom and justice, but also of moral power. This rising remains even today an unrepeatable human act of supreme self-sacrifice for a people's freedom. Ilinden will remain in history a sacred name for every Macedonian. It is written on the tables of the laws of the Macedonian people and will shine for evermore, because it is a magnificent expression of the Macedonian peoples' limitless love for their native land, their unquenchable thirst for freedom, their inflexible will for a new life, and a real inner essence of their being. It is not possible to speak of the epic of Ilinden without speaking of the man who incarnated it and who set in motion the Macedonian people on the road to revolution, on the road to freedom. That man was Gotse Delchev. He was not only a great revolutionary, he was one of the most upright, noble and idealistic natures born under the Macedonian ski; obedient to every moral principle and self-denying service. These are the characteristic qualities of Gotse Delchev, of a great son of Macedonia." (pp. 46-47).

As expected, the rebellion was strongest in western Macedonia where the population was most prepared. It started in Bitola Region on August 2nd, 1903 and in a few days spread like wildfire south to Lerin and Kostur and north to Resen, Ohrid and Prilep.

Karev and his Cheti stormed and liberated the town Krushevo and then created the Krushevo Republic, the first of its kind in the Balkans. Karev, after being elected president, constituted a provisional government with its own police force, judiciary and financial and welfare bodies. Through the creation of this Republic, Macedonians expressed their desire to national self determination. The fact that the Republic was constituted upon a multiracial basis also demonstrated the readiness of the Macedonian people to lay a multicultural foundation for their state. Sadly the Republic only lasted couple of weeks before the Turkish army destroyed it.

As for Vrhovist involvements in the general uprising, they did not materialize. Sarafov's boasting that at the first sign of struggle the Bulgarian army would storm in and liberate Macedonia, did not happen. All Vrhovist promises turned out to be lies.

Initial IMRO successes during the Ilinden uprising came as a surprise to the Ottomans. Even though they had a numerically superior force in Macedonia it was still no match for the fierce fighting Cheti. Reinforcements were called in and led by the ruthless and skilled war veteran General Baktiar Pasha. Baktiar's solution to the problem was total annihilation, not only of the fighting Cheti but also of the villages that support them.

By the time he was done there were 4,694 civilians murdered, 3,122 women raped, 12,440 houses burned, 201 villages razed, 75,835 people left homeless and 30,000 people exiled. IMRO was reduced to shambles with most of its leaders dead and almost all of the Cheti demolished. To again paraphrase Giorgio Nurigiani, "The tortured slaves, fighting on mass, often without weapons, but on spirit alone, for life and liberty; and the sadistic Pasha and his cohorts, murdering and plundering with rabidity." (p. 47)

Having failed its ambitious rebellion, IMRO was determined to continue the fight for the cause at a diplomatic level.

In September 1903 Pere Toshev was sent to Tsari Grad (Istanbul) to extract certain guarantees from representatives of the Great Powers. Dissatisfied with present conditions, IMRO sought to gain some degree of self-government in Macedonia through the appointment of a Christian Governor. The Great Powers, however, were not interested and hoped to maintain the status quo. A month later they changed their minds and agreed to send a "peace keeping force" to keep the peace in Macedonia. Unfortunately the only thing the peacekeeping force did was put IMRO out of action. Instead of keeping the Ottomans at bay, the peacekeepers kept IMRO's from defending the Macedonian people from Turkish and foreign aggression.

By now the Ottomans were out of favour with the Great Powers and decided to minimize their own aggressive behaviour and invite others like Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia to do it for them, by declaring Macedonia a "multi-interest zone".

What this meant was that Greek, Bulgarian and Serbian terrorist bands, sponsored by their respective churches, were now encouraged to roam Macedonia to murder, rape, pillage and do whatever they felt like without fear of retribution from the Turkish authorities. Greeks and Turks stood side by side as allies while murdering the Macedonian population. The Christian holy man Patriarchate Bishop Karavangelis of Kostur blessed the Muslim owned cannons with Christian words as the Turkish army opened fire on the Christian civilian populated Macedonian villages, killing innocent women and children. The Great Powers, with their military ships docked in the harbours, stood and watched as the mountains were dotted with fires. They watched villages burn and heard cries of suffering and yet did nothing. Such was the fate of the Macedonian people in the aftermath of the Ilinden rebellion.

Expecting no assistance or aid from the Great Powers, remnants of IMRO established temporary centers and distributed urgently needed foodstuffs and medical supplies to the population. While this was taking place, a political struggle for control of IMRO was also beginning to take shape. Bulgaria's wish for a confrontation between IMRO and the Turkish army was granted. Bulgaria no longer needed IMRO and sought ways to liquidate the rest of its leadership. Bulgarian hopes of fully subordinating IMRO to Vrhovist directives were slim at best, so with that in mind Bulgaria sent a number of assassins to eliminate the rest of the IMRO leaders. For a while Sandanski's forces succeeded in repealing them, but their persistence unfortunately paid off as they, in time, succeeded in assassinating all of the important IMRO leaders.

After the rebellion was put down, IMRO still had hopes of better times and perhaps another uprising in the future.

In May 1904 IMRO held a Congress in Prilep and issued "Directives for Future Activity". Among other things, it was decided to decentralize the Central Committee and give more decision making power to the districts. No future uprising would be allowed without consent from the Revolutionary Districts and from the Cheta chiefs themselves.

Not everyone in the IMRO leadership agreed with this resolution which unfortunately caused the Organization to split into a left and right faction. The right faction insisted on pursuing a policy of renewed confrontation, one no doubt suited to the appetites of its Vrhovist patrons, while the left faction pursued the original policies as outlined by Gotse Delchev.

Ironically, both factions operated under the same banner and a showdown was imminent. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and a negotiated settlement was reached during the Rila Congress in November 1905. The Rila Congress, which took place at the Rila Monastery on the Macedonian-Bulgarian border, was attended by 22 elected delegates and had a single item on its agenda: "What was the appropriate direction for the Organization and how was it to perform its role?" After several recommendations were put to a vote, a resolution was reached and a rule book was issued. Some of the more important recommendations adopted included the following goals;

(a) to create an autonomous and independent Macedonia,
(b) to achieve this by a united national front, over a long period of revolutionary activity,
(c) to resist all foreign interference.

Items put forward during the Prilep Congress were reaffirmed and certain safeguards were enacted to prevent irresponsible repetition of the Ilinden episode.

While IMRO was sorting out its own problems, armed terrorist bands from Greece and Serbia were making their way into Macedonia. Wreaking their own special brand of terror, the story was the same everywhere; pillaging, murdering and razing entire villages.

The most violent campaign was undoubtedly waged by the Greek terrorists who, aided by the Patriarchate Church and agents provocateur within Macedonia, penetrated far into Macedonia's south-central regions.

In 1905, sanctioned by the Greek government, one-thousand bandits from the Greek Island of Crete, reinforced by Turkish army deserters, roamed unhindered in Macedonia, razing and slaughtering entire villages, wiping them out completely from the view of the unsuspecting world. The violence wreaked upon innocent Macedonians was staggering.

Relief for IMRO and the Macedonian people came in the form of the Young Turk Uprising, which saw IMRO as an ally in the fight against Ottoman injustices and corruption.

After wrestling power from the Sultan in mid-summer 1908 in Macedonia, the Young Turk regime outlawed armed propaganda and ordered the various terrorist bands to disband. In exchange for their help and for various other reasons, Sandanski and his Cheta helped the Young Turks take Tsari Grad, the Ottoman capital.

With the passing of Gruev and Karev, Sandanski was the natural successor to Delchev and a leading figure in the IMRO leadership. His cooperation with the Young Turk regime earned him the privilege of making recommendations and proposals for reforms.

In July 1908 he proposed the "Nevrokop Programme", a land re-distribution program in favour of the poor landless peasants. To manage the Programme, an offshoot of IMRO called the National (or Peoples') Federative Party (NFP) was formed. Unfortunately the Young Turk regime turned out to be another Great Power ploy in their manipulation of the Balkans and soon began its decline until its final collapse on July 13, 1912.

With the return of the Sultan, Macedonia witnessed the resurgence of the armed bands, this time with renewed vigour.

Frustrated by the repressive stand of the Young Turk regime, Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia made a last ditch stand to impose their sovereignty over Macedonian territory and, in the guise of "liberation", occupied Macedonia.

The 1st Balkan war was precipitated by Montenegro's declaration of war against Turkey on October 18th, 1912. It was almost entirely fought on Macedonian soil, where again innocent Macedonians were forced to suffer in someone else's war.

The 2nd Balkan war, a vicious war between Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia over the spoils of Macedonia, was also fought on Macedonian soil, delivering even more pain, suffering and death to an even larger Macedonian population.

Worst of all was Macedonia's partition. August 10th, 1913, the day Macedonia's partition was signed in Bucharest, became the darkest day in history for the Macedonian people.

With the sanctioning of Macedonia's partition by the Great Powers in the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, so died IMRO hopes of liberating Macedonia. IMRO, however, did not disappear and subsequently the Serres branch of the Organization, comprising a great number of late Sandanski followers, merged with remnants of the IMRO Provisional Mission of western Macedonia to constitute IMRO (United) under the leadership of Gjortse Petrov and Dimo Hadzi Dimov.

Since IMRO was declared illegal by the occupying states and it was no longer allowed to function on its native soil, from time to time it operated in various countries abroad.

In 1923, under the leadership of Dimitar Vlahov, IMRO (United) was centered in Vienna, Austria.

The legendary IMRO did not liberate Macedonia and the Macedonian people from the clutches of its enemies but it did teach Macedonians not to lose hope for there would be another, a better day.

Dakin,Douglas M.A., Ph.D. The Greek Struggle in Macedonia 1897 - 1913. Salonika: Institute for Balkan Studies, 1966.
Nuriani, Giorgio. Macedonia: Yesterday and Today, Rome: Teleuropa, 1967.
Radin, A. Michael. IMRO and the Macedonian Question. Skopje: Kultura, 1993.

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