Freedom or Death. The Life of Gotsé Delchev

Mercia MacDermott



Stricken he lies there – Milé Popyordanov,

Stricken he lies there – Milé Popyordanov,

Close by his bedside sits his aged mother,

Sits his aged mother, with a raven kerchief.


'Rise up, oh, rise up, darling child, my own one,

'Rise up, oh, rise up, darling child, my own one,

All thy companions through the streets are roaming,

Through the streets are roaming and of thee are talking.'


God rest his spirit, Milé Popyordanov,

God rest his spirit, Milé Popyordanov,

Milé Popyordanov perished for the people,

Perished for the people, and for Macedonia



When the pains subsided and he was able to sleep and take some nourishment, Gotsé improved in strength and spirit and set out to shake the Empire with his bombs. His investigations along the Struma had convinced him that the bridges there were too closely guarded to be suitable targets, and so he went east into the Drama district with three cheti - his own and those from Demirhisar (Siderokastro) and Drama itself.


On the night of March 18 (old style), 1903, Gotsé and his men carried out the Organization's first major bombing action [2] by blowing up the Salonika-Constantinople railway at the point where it crossed the River Angista, a tributary of the Struma also known as the Dram-itsa. A few days later, on March 25, Gotsé wrote an enthusiastic letter to Yavorov: 'Brother P., we destroyed the railway bridge over the Angista and the nearby tunnel; we cut the line in one place and the telegraph wires in two. Everything went so well that the best military engineer might envy us. There has been no move yet on the part of the Turks. [3] When writing about the action in the newspaper, don't give the credit to a cheta, but to that general force which exists throughout the country under the name of the Secret Revolutionary Organization.' [4]


Further on in the same letter, Gotsé wrote: 'Tomorrow or the next day, I shall go alone to X (Salonika - M.M.), where I shall meet you-know-who, and also my dearest comrade Gruev, who recently arrived there from Bodrum. I'll be staying in X. about ten days at the most, and I'll try to see that a common standpoint is reached on that question.' [5]


My dearest comrade Gruev - there was much more in these words than a mere expression of Gotsé's love for Dame. There was also the unspoken hope that all was not lost, that Damé would surely support him, and that together they would set everything to rights.


Inspired by this hope, Gotsé set out for Salonika just before Easter





(April 13/26), alone and disguised as a peasant. He found the city patrolled by unusually large numbers of Turkish soldiers, whose presence was occasioned by fears on the part of the authorities that bomb outrages against public buildings were being contemplated. [6] Undeterred, Gotsé armed himself with a basket of red Easter eggs, which, he knew of old, were much prized by the Turks. In Kukush - as indeed, throughout Bulgaria - it was the custom to prepare such eggs on Maundy Thursday. First they were coloured and then the patterns were etched upon them with nitric acid. The first egg was always set aside for 'Grandfather God' and was placed in front of the family ikon, together with the figure-of-eight roll of bread given to God at Christmas. The second egg was placed on the roof to ward off thunder. Its effectiveness may have been problematical, but there was no doubt at all about the positive influence which painted eggs exercised on Turks. The people of Kukush would distribute Easter eggs to all their neighbours, regardless of race and religion, and the Turks, highly delighted, would give them coins and sweetmeats in return. Thus, when Gotsé offered his basket of eggs to the patrol in Salonika, the men eagerly helped themselves and waved him through after the most perfunctory of examinations.


By the bright waters of the warm Aegean, spring was already far advanced. Away in the north, the snows still glittered on the peaks of Rila and Pirin, but, here, in Salonika, everything was deep in greenery, and the town basked in the warmth of a sun that seemed to be rehearsing for the summer.


The joy of Easter was upon the entire Christian population, as Gotsé, fearlessly staking his life and liberty on the power of a painted egg, slipped into the town to confer with Dame. He came alone, and there was no Yavorov to observe and chronicle his changing moods, but almost certainly his thoughts were running along the same lines as those of the Correspondent of the London Daily News, who, in a dispatch from Sofia, described the repetition of the words 'Christos Voskresé' - Christ is Risen - by 'diplomats who hold in their hands the fate of those Balkan peoples whom the Turk still keeps in thralldom, and whose homes before next Easter Day may run red with blood.' [7] It is hard to rejoice wholeheartedly in the sunshine and the Resurrection when one's eyes are darkened by visions of mass crucifixion without the promise of redemption.


The plight of the Macedonian population and the likelihood of a new uprising were no secret to the outside world. Throughout the winter and spring of 1903, the Daily News, for example, carried almost daily reports of the sufferings of refugees still fleeing from the areas affected by the Supremist 'risings', and of atrocities committed by Turks in areas where all was supposedly quiet. In the Debŭr





region, on the Albanian border, Moslem robber bands were reported to be levying taxes, driving away flocks and herds, annexing peasants' fields, and taking fees for marriages. If these fees were refused, the bride would be stolen from the altar and the bridegroom murdered. [8] Day after day during February, the same paper carried accounts of torture, especially in the Gorna Dzhumaya district, in many cases quoting the names of the victims and the villages from which they came. One man had his hands and feet cut off; another had his ear cut off and his eyes put out; a third was suspended by the feet over burning straw; still others were tortured with cords, which were tightened until their eyes started out of their sockets. [9] People were beaten for not surrendering arms which they did not possess; women were paraded in a state of semi-nudity, and the soles of men's feet were burnt with red-hot irons. [10]


Refugees arriving in the Principality after nightmare journeys across the snow-covered mountains were described as 'wasted to skeletons, with dull, sunken eyes and pinched cheeks'. Some were 'mutilated or disfigured and the livid welts, the open wounds and the horrible marks of the red-hot pincers with which they were tortured were witnessed by all.' [11] Children were said to have been tortured to death while their parents were forced to listen to their screams: 'Once pretty faces were slowly lowered into the fire into which Turkish pepper had been plentifully scattered. This is, in truth, a form of torture which only a devil could have devised; for long before death releases the tiny mite, the eyes are said to start from their sockets and burst.' [12]


Even if the newspaper reports were exaggerated, even if only a tenth part of them were true, the picture presented by the press of those same Great Powers who held the fate of Macedonia in their hands should have goaded their Governments into speedy action. In spring, 'the Macedonian sky deserves all that has ever been said of its etherial loveliness and mysterious suggestion of infinite space', [13] yet such things were taking place under this sky that, for those who lived under it, the sun seemed totally and permanently eclipsed.


The long-awaited reunion with Damé did little to dispel Gotsé's gloom. Rather, it dealt him 'the final blow of disillusion,' [14] for Damé on his return from prison, whether out of weariness or lack of contact with the situation, had fallen into line behind the Central Committee and accepted the inevitability of a rising. Seized with the same impatience that had infected his own Bitolya region - an impatience born of tension and fatigue - Damé regarded the rising with the fatalism expressed in his own saying 'Better an end with horrors than horrors without end.' Thus, although they spent two or three days closetted together, all Gotsé's pleadings and protestations were in vain. Damé





continued to assert that it was too late to turn back; the die was cast - bitti davasi. [*]


'Delchev made objections. In particular, he considered that the sandjak of Serres was utterly devoid of arms, but we comforted him with the promise that what was needful would be obtained through special suppliers. Delchev calmed down. He set out with the intention of setting up a channel to Sveta Gora, through which the arms for Serres would pass.' [15] This is all that Damé has to say of their discussion in his memoirs.


It is hard to imagine how Gotsé could be comforted by such promises, when he knew how hard it was to obtain arms and how ill-prepared the people were to use them. And if, indeed, he stopped objecting and calmed down, it was because he was constitutionally incapable of fighting his comrades, and he bowed to force majeure. The end-product of all the discussions appears to have been a compromise agreement that the Bitolya region should rise, while the other less well armed regions should give support mainly through actions by the cheti, and that the date of the rising should be postponed from May until August. [16]


Gotsé cannot have been happy with this decision, even if he saw no other way out. This was not the end of which he had dreamed during those honeymoon months in Shtip, neither was it the end towards which he had worked throughout the nine ensuing years, forsaking all other loves and ambitions. But just as every child and every invention sooner or later outgrows the direct control of those who brought it into being, so too the forces set in motion by the Organization had now acquired a momentum that was beyond the power of its creators to halt or even regulate.


Alone and dressed as a charcoal-burner, with a blackened face, a broom in his hand and a bundle of leeks under his arm, [17] Gotsé once again slipped undetected through the Turkish patrols, and set out for the Serres district 'to lay down his life', as he put it in a despondent letter to Gyorché. [18]


He had not gone far before Salonika was rocked by a series of explosions engineered by the tiny terrorist group known as the Gemidzhii. [19]


Undismayed by their earlier failure to blow up the Ottoman Bank, the Gemidzhii had renewed their efforts in this direction in April 1902, after the leading spirit of the group, Ortsé Popyordanov, had returned from Paris and Geneva, where he had received encouragement from Russian revolutionaries of anarchist and nihilist persuasions, and had also obtained from Boris Sarafov 10,000 gold francs



*. Bitti davasi – a Turkish expression meaning 'the discussion is closed', 'the matter is settled', 'there’s nothing more to be said'. It was a favourite expression of Damé's.





and the promise of a thousand kilos of dynamite. Since the difficulties of obtaining explosives had proved to be the Achilles' heel of their first attempt, the Gemidzhii decided to waste no time in digging tunnels until appropriate amounts of dynamite had been secured. Otherwise, their aims and attitudes were unchanged. They were still extreme individualists, unwilling to accept the discipline of the Organization, yet imposing upon themselves conditions of life as hard, if not harder, than those endured by its most devoted members. Their sole aim and interest in life was the liberation of their people, and yet they did not believe that liberation could be achieved through mass revolutionary struggle, neither did they attempt to propagate their particular point of view. They sought to force the Powers of Europe to take action by making spectacular attacks on foreign property, yet they themselves wanted to remain anonymous - not for reasons of security, for they had resolved to die in their own explosions - but because, in their eyes, personalities were of no importance and the only things that counted were deeds. Ortsé - the most fanatical of them all - took this personal nihilism to the point of steadfastly refusing to be photographed on the grounds that he did not wish to leave any memory of himself after death. Not for the Gemidzhii were any of the outward signs of rebellion - the beards and careless dress of the Socialists, the outlaw costumes and showy weapons of the chetnitsi. All this they despised as vanity and ostentation and they dressed themselves well in a wholly conventional manner. They allowed people to regard them as frivolous youngsters, who had escaped from parental control in order to lead a life of idle pleasure in the big city - a view conveniently shared by the Salonika police - while, in fact, they lived like hermits, spending practically nothing on themselves and hoarding their money to finance their revolutionary plans.


They kept their group to the bare minimum necessary for carrying out their plans, and, indeed, because of the problems of obtaining dynamite, not all the Gemidzhii were called to Salonika, and those who remained in Veles and other towns were not able to undertake similar bombings there. The Salonika group consisted of ten conspirators, most of them between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two. Ortsé, born in Veles in 1881, was an introvert, reserved, nervy and hard to approach. He had a will of steel, and difficulties only strengthened his determination, although, once he had overcome them, he would become gay and even amiable. He was essentially a practical person, able to grasp the essence of a situation and to sum up people's characters. At the Salonika High School, he had shown great promise as a mathematician and historian, yet, in spite of his intellectual brilliance, he read little, for, not expecting to live long, he felt he had no time to study theories, and therefore he concentrated on practical





matters. Ortsé could never abide people who lacked the courage of their convictions. As a sixth-form pupil, he had led a school rebellion, and, when his class mates had buckled and capitulated under pressure from the School authorities, Ortsé had left the School in disgust, without completing his education. Now, barely grown to manhood, he despised all those who wept tears, real or crocodile, over the fate of the people, without daring to sacrifice their lives for them. He was a supreme individualist to whom all ties and constraints - whether of a personal, family or political nature - were anathema, yet he disdained personal ambitions and happiness, and directed all his activities towards the negation of himself as an individual.


Konstantin Kirkov (Kosta) was also in love with death, which he 'regarded as a happiness in life and which he desired, always and everywhere, no matter how and under what circumstances it came, providing it was certain and sooner rather than later.' [20] He, too, was very young, between twenty and twenty-one years old, an unusually handsome boy, beloved by the other Gemidzhii for his idealism and his unfailing kindness, optimism and sense of humour.


Dimitŭr Mechev (Mecheto) was somewhat oider than the others. He, too, came from Veles, and had joined the Organization as soon as it took root there, and, after an unsuccessful attempt to kill a rich citizen sentenced to death by the Organization, he had become a chetnik, and later emigrated to the Principality, where he had worked in a mine in Pemik, so as not to be a financial burden to his comrades. He was a silent, morose person, pessimistic in outlook, disillusioned by certain aspects of the Organization, and sceptical about the possibility of achieving any positive results through an uprising. He was, on the other hand, eager to serve his unhappy people, and shared the death-wish of the Gemidzhii, so that when Ortse' approached him on his return from Geneva, he agreed to join them.


The other members of the group were, for the most part, very young and inexperienced, [21] but full of idealism and love for each other and for their people. They were quiet and modest in their behaviour, but they also enjoyed jokes and laughter, and seemed totally unoppressed by their Spartan existence and by the fate that hung over them.


Although the Gemidzhii jealously guarded their independence, they did not keep the Organization entirely in the dark as to their intentions, and, from time to time, sought the co-operation of individual members, such as Sarafov, who enjoyed their special confidence. Their relations with the Central Committee were bad. Garvanov regarded them as dangerous nuisances, and had, on more than one occasion, threatened to have them killed. He had also written complaining letters to Gotsé, accusing them of public agitation against the





Organization. This had so angered Ortsé that he had gone to see Gotsé, while the latter was still in Sofia, and had told him straight that if any member of the group was touched, the other Gemidzhii would not hesitate to take revenge. He also rejected Garvanov's accusations as slanderous, since the group had no contact with the masses and did not wish to have any.


Although Gotsé could not give the Gemidzhii his unqualified approval, he always treated them with kindness and consideration. [22] They were sufficiently close to him in spirit for him to be able to penetrate their self-imposed isolation and their terrifying fanaticism and to see them for what they really were - selfless idealists with the pure hearts of children, determined to sacrifice their lives for the freedom of their people. And he could not help loving them, misguided though they were. Once he told some of them: 'I am an anarchist at heart, a Social-Democrat by persuasion, and a revolutionary in practice.' Pavel Shatev commented: 'He wanted to tell us that he sympathized with us, but that, being committed to the revolutionary cause, to the Organization, he could not support us in everything.' [23]


Gotsé promised Ortsé that he would try to smooth things over between the Central Committee and the Gemidzhii, but his efforts appeared to have had little effect, and the group remained at daggers drawn with Garvanov. The latter, fearing for the safety of the Central Committee, attempted to bribe them to organize their explosions in Skopje, Veles or any other town, except Salonika, but the group refused to change their plans. Relations with the Central Committee deteriorated still further after Garvanov had managed, by means of a ruse, to seize the eagerly awaited thousand kilos of dynamite, which Sarafov had despatched from Marseilles to Dedeagach, disguised as a consignment of chemicals for use in combatting phyloxera!


This disaster only served to harden the will of the Gemidzhii and they found other sources of dynamite. When funds ran low, they turned to Gotsé, who arranged for them to be given 250 gold liri [24] in return for a promise not to blow anything up for eight months, since the Organization was trying to import guns through Salonika. With the utmost difficulty and risk, they managed to find and 'import' about 300 kilos of dynamite. Some of it was smuggled in via Kyustendil, Kochani and Veles, in loads of hay, sacks of rice, tins of alleged poppy-oil, etc., with the unofficial help of local members of the Organization. Another part of the dynamite was conveyed to Constantinople by Milan Sazdov a twenty-two year old lad from Veles, who worked as a waiter in the restaurant car of the Belgrade-Constantinople international train. Twice a week, when the train stopped at Sofia, the Gemidzhii contrived to leave a packet containing five kilos of dynamite under the washbowl





in the toilet, so that Milan could collect it at his leisure. On arrival in Constantinople, he delivered it to a cabaret singer called Anna Shepets, who stored it in her lodgings until it could be sent to Salonika in barrels purporting to contain fish. Milan was not one of the Gemidzhii, but agreed to help for purely patriotic motives, and refused to accept payment. Anna Shepets was Hungarian, but she, too, offered her services free, because she had previously worked as a chambermaid in the Hotel Battenburg, where she had come to love and respect the revolutionaries who were its guests, and she regarded their cause as a holy one.


The original plan had been to cause explosions in several towns, but the loss of Saratov's dynamite forced them to confine their activities to Salonika. The barber's shop near the Ottoman Bank was no longer available, but there was an empty shop next door, which they had rented and fitted out as a grocer's. Once again there began the slow hard work of tunnelling by candle-light until they were able to link up with the original tunnel built in 1900. The greater part of the dynamite was placed against the foundations of the Bank, ready for instant detonation, and one of the group was permanently on duty in the cellar of the shop, so that, in the event of premature discovery, he could light the fuse immediately. The Turks had, indeed, been forewarned of the possibility of explosions, but, since they were thinking in terms of bomb-throwing, in the Armenian style, they had merely posted extra guards around the Bank above ground, unaware of what was happening below.


By April 1903, the Gemidzhii were no longer bound by their promise to Gotsé, and they began to make their final plans. The Bank was the central objective, but it was also decided to blow up a French ship, since France had more economic interests in the Turkish Empire than any other power, and was therefore most interested in achieving calm and stability through reforms. The date of the explosions was, therefore, fixed to coincide with the appearance of a suitable French ship - namely the steamship Guadalquivir, which was due to sail on April 16/29 for Constantinople and Odessa. Some members of the group wanted to assassinate Garvanov in revenge for his seizure of the dynamite, but the majority felt that there was little point in killing him, since they themselves would soon be dead, and, in any case, since the Central Committee would almost certainly have to move to another town, there was a good chance of the leadership passing into other hands. They therefore simply warned him of the impending explosion, so that he could take whatever steps he considered necessary, and they categorically rejected all his last minute objections. Damé Gruev also attempted to persuade them at least to postpone the dynamiting until the autumn, after the rising had started, but the





Gemidzhii were adamant: they did not believe that a rising would have the desired effect and therefore they rejected his request as irrelevant.


During the idyllic days over Easter, with all their plans laid, the Gemidzhii rested from their labours and strolled idly around the town, gazing at the sparkling sea and commenting on the beauty of the pupils from the Italian Girls' School, as though they had, indeed, come to Salonika to sow their wild oats and not to die. Some of them, it is true, including Pavel Shatev, Milan Arsov and Marko Boshnakov, felt that they should die only as a last resort, and that, if possible, they should stay alive to continue the fight, but others - Ortsé, Kirkov and Mechev, in particular - felt that their own deaths were as much part of the enterprise as were the explosions themselves. To plan death, to cause the death of innocent people, and to survive oneself would not only be base and cowardly, but would detract from the total effect of their action.


Ortsé's conception of honour and morality had also led him to insure his life for 10,000 gold leva, in order to repay Sarafov [25] for the money he had made available to the group. He felt all the more bound to make restitution since Sarafov, called to account for the absence of the money at a Congress, had gallantly kept their secret and had told his fellow Supremists that the money had been stolen from him by a lady of easy virtue with whom he had intimate relations!


On the morning of April 15/28, Pavel Shatev bought a ticket, and boarded the Guadalquivir with a suitcase full of dynamite, which he exploded as the ship left port. The result was eminently satisfactory: all the passengers and crew, including Pavel himself, [*] were saved and ferried ashore, together with their luggage, but the ship was a toal loss and continued to burn all day and all night in a most spectacular manner, watched by the entire population of Salonika.


In the evening of April 15/28, Dimitŭr Mechev, accompanied by Iliya Trŭchkov and Milan Arsov, both of whom were only about eighteen or nineteen years old, laid petards and dynamite on the railway line on the outskirts of Salonika just before the arrival of the train from Dedeagach. Again, no one was killed, although the locomotive was damaged and most of the carriage windows were shattered.


The next day, April 16/29 was deceptively quiet. But in the evening, Kosta Kirkov blew up the gas and water mains where they crossed a little river, thus simultaneously plunging the city into darkness and depriving it of water. This was a sign for the other conspirators to go into action. Mechev and Trŭchkov were hiding near the gasworks, waiting to blow up the gasometer as well, but a night watchman



*. Shatev was later tracked down and arrested, because he was the only passenger who did not appear to claim his luggage and ask for a refund on his ticket!





arrived with a revolver and drove them away. They escaped in the dark, and ran through the town tossing bombs in various directions as they went. When they reached their lodgings, they proceeded to hurl their remaining stock of some sixty bombs into the street until they were both killed by the besieging troops and gendarmes. The cutting of the gas main was also the signal for Ortsé to light the fuses which sent the Ottoman Bank flying into the air, and for Milan Arsov and Georgi Bogdanov to throw bombs into an open-air theatre and a cafe. Vladimir Pingov was shot in an attempt to set fire to the Bosh-nyak Inn, but the others managed to get back to their lodgings in the darkness and confusion.


Next day, Ortsé died in his room, after a three-hour battle with troops during which he, too, threw his remaining stock of bombs into the street. When his body was carried out of the house, some enraged soldiers wanted to mutilate it with their bayonets, but their commander who had earlier besieged Mechev and Trŭchkov, stopped them, and, pointing at the corpse, said: 'This is the way to die for your country. Let this dead man be an example to you of how one should sacrifice oneself and die for one's country.' [26]


The majority of the Turks, however, had no such chivalrous sentiments, and mobs, wild with fear and anger, began attacking the Bulgarian population in the mistaken, but not unnatural, belief that it was collectively responsible for the outrages. They were checked by the vali, Hasan Fehmi, who, quick to appreciate the possible effect of such pogroms upon European opinion, went out into the streets personally to reason with the mobs, promising official action against the dynamiters. His appeals had only a limited effect on the crowds until an Italian warship sailed into Salonika, firing salvoes, and closely followed by French and Austrian ships.


That day, April 18/May 1, 1903, saw the last of the Salonika explosions. Early in the morning, elegantly dressed and wearing a top-hat, Kosta Kirkov attempted to walk into the telegraph office carrying a bomb, but he was killed by a sentry before he was able to detonate it. Then, as the vali was returning to his summer villa in the Pirgi district of Salonika, Tsvetko Traikov attempted to carry out the death sentence passed on him by the group. Tsvetko was from Bitolya, a man of about forty or fifty, old enough to be the father of the Gemidzhii, but he had somehow been infected by their youthful fire and singleness of purpose, and, even now, when most of his young friends lay dead, he kept faith with them. When he failed to reach the vali's carriage and found himself pursued by his body-guard, Tsvetko calmly sat on his bomb and blew himself to smithereens before the affrighted Turks.


Six of the ten were now dead, and the other four - Pavel Shatev,





Marko Boshnakov, who had run the 'grocer's shop', Georgi Bogdanov and Milan Arsov, were all under arrest. They were tried by a Turkish military court [27] and sentenced to death, but after some months, the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and the four were sent to the town of Murzuk (Mursuq) in the Libyan province of Fezzan. Marko Boshnakov and Milan Arsov died there, but the survivors, Pavel Shatev and Georgi Bogdanov, were amnestied after the Young Turk Revolution in 1908. They returned to Macedonia with the heads of their dead comrades, which they gave to their parents for burial in their native land.


Nothing positive resulted from the Gemidzhii's actions, while the negative consequences were many and grave. Few had been killed by the actual bombs - and, indeed, the Gemidzhii had never intended to kill anybody except the vali - but thousands suffered in the wave of Turkish reprisals that followed the blast of the bombs. Hundreds of Bulgarians were arrested in Salonika, among them Garvanov, and many were sent to serve long sentences in distant places of exile. In Veles, the fathers, brothers and other relatives of the Gemidzhii were arrested and tortured, and twenty-three people, including Ortsé's father, were imprisoned for terms of from three to five years, although their only crime was one of kinship. In Bitolya, mobs of Turks began to attack the Bulgarian population, without any local provocation, and in Skopje, hundreds of people were arrested on the orders of Hilmi Pasha himself. In the village of Smŭrdesh, soldiers burnt two hundred and forty houses, and killed eighty-five people, many of them women.


Public opinion abroad was, indeed, shaken by the explosions. Some spokesmen considered that the Gemidzhii had only succeeded in damaging the Cause by alienating the 'sympathy of the civilised world.' [28] Others, while condemning their methods, understood their despair, admired their courage, and laid the ultimate blame at the doors of the Turkish Government and European diplomacy. But still nothing new was done to alleviate the situation in Macedonia, and, in the final analysis, the 'heroic, death-defying courage' [29] of the Gemidzhii had succeeded only in bringing fresh suffering upon the people, and in flinging the Organization into confusion just as it was rallying its forces for the long-awaited uprising. Yet, even this harsh verdict upon the Gemidzhii must include a strong recommendation for mercy. No one - either in Macedonia or the world at large - condoned their actions; yet such was the purity of their motives and the fearlessness with which they courted death in expiation of their own violence, that they were spared the opprobrium normally attached to dynamiters, and they are remembered by posterity as patriots who loved their people 'not wisely, but too well'.





It was not only the urban terrorism of the Gemidzhii that failed to produce the desired results. Even Gotsé's sabotage of the bridge over the Angista - conceived as an alternative to involving the population in a bloody uprising - had produced its crop of innocent martyrs. Gotsé had been wrong in imagining that actions of this kind, carried out by cheti away from populated areas, would not provoke Turkish reprisals, tor in ten villages in the surrounding area, scores of people were arrested and tortured, although they had in no way been implicated in the explosion. Yané had been right when he predicted that the fruits of terror would scarcely differ from those of a rising.


There was no way forward, and no way out. No matter what was done or not done in this hapless land of Macedonia, the blood flowed and the fires reeked. There had been horrors before the Organization existed. Horrors had accompanied its growth, and horrors awaited its members, irrespective of whether they rose in rebellion or remained peacefully in their homes. Every action, whether mass or individual, ended in horrors for those it was designed to save, and all passivity served only to prolong an agony that was already beyond endurance.


There was no way out. Macedonia must burn at the stake prepared for her by the Great Powers at Berlin, and her people must be crucified as the followers of Spartacus were crucified.


Better an end with horrors than horrors without end.


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1. Although the folk singer calls his hero 'Mile', the song is popularly taken to refer to Yordan Popyordanov (Ortsé), a member of the Gemidzhii terrorist group.


2. On February 19 Gerdzhikov had attempted to blow up a train passing through an area in Thrace inhabited only by Turks, but the charge failed to go off properly and the attempt ended in failure.


3. Yavorov adds a footnote to the effect that, like all bridges and tunnels in the Turkish Empire, the targets were guarded, but when the chetnitsi began their work by cutting the telegraph wires, the guards by the Angista extinguished the light in their hut and sat tight.


4. Yavorov, p. 219.


5. Ibid., p. 220.


6. See report by Biliotti (British consul-general in Salonika) dated April 9, 1903 (F/O 195 2156, p. 367, Public Records Office, London). Biliotti says that the information was contained in a warning given by a Bulgarian workman to his master whom he had served for more than 18 years. Two batallions of the Anatolian Rediffs, which were to have been sent to Albania, were retained in Salonika until the return from Mitrovitsa of the Salonika batallion. A complete system of patrols had been established throughout the town and one batallion would be on duty every night.





7. Daily News, May 1st 1903. The Correspondent was John MacDonal.


8. Ibid, January 7, 1903.


9. Ibid., February 6, 1903.


10. Ibid. February 10, 1903.


11. Ibid. February 27 1903.


12. Ibid.


13. John MacDonal writing in Daily News, April 17, 1903.


16. Yavorov, p. 220. Also, Silyanov, Osv. borbi... p. 231.


17. See Gotsé Delchev Vol. III... p. 273. From the memoirs of Gotsé's sister Elena, vhom he met in Salonika. Memoirs of Gyorché Petrov. Materiali... Vol. VIII, p. 165.


18. The original letter has not survived.


19. Mihail Chakov says Gotsé was still the city when the first of the explosions took place. See Bŭlgarska misŭl. Nov. 1935. p. 504.


20. Pavel Shatev. Opus cit. p. 425-426.


21. Pavel Shatev, though still barely twenty-one, was one of the few veterans of the group, and had taken part in the earlier attempt to blow up the Ottoman Bank in Constantinople.


22. Pavel Shatev. Opus cit. p. 247.


23. Pavel Shatev, Solunskiyat atentat i zatochenitsité v Fezan, Sofia, 1927, p. 31.


24. According to Silyanov, the money was part of Miss Stone's ransom. See: Osv. Borbi, p. 253.


25. Because of Saratov's international notoriety, Ortsé named Simeon Radev as the official beneficiary. Radev knew nothing about it until after Ortsé's death, when a friend explained the position and asked him to give the money to Sarafov. Radev did so, and Sarafov, of his own volition, gave half of the money to Ortsé's father.


26. Pavel Shatev, V Makedonia pod robstvo. 1968. p. 389.


27. Gotsé's former school-mate at the Military School in Sofia, Hussein Tefikov, acted as translator during the trial. See Pavel Shatev, Opus cit., p. 397.


28. See Reuter's reports. Daily News. May 2 & 4, 1903.


29. The phrase was used by Reuter's correspondent in Salonika. See Daily News. 1903.