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A Guerilla Campaign in Macedonia

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A report from the American press about a Macedonian who immigrated to the United States. When he arrived in the States, he was physically a broken man. Characterized by the Guerilla fight against the Ottoman occupier. He told his story in the American press. How he became a lawless freedom fighter as a prior “loyal subject” and what he experienced in Macedonia. Below the picture you can read the report of August 28, 1904.

A Guerilla Campaign in Macedonia

The office of the New York’ Macedonian Committee, now closed, used to have a frequent visitor in a big, fair haired man of Slavonic type, once a hardy mountaineer of Razlog, Macedonia, but now a physical wreck. He is a man who, like many others of his compatriots, has given the best in him to fighting the Turks, and now, no longer able to take the field, he seeks refuge in this country. Six months ago he roamed the mountains of Razlog, one of a daring band of insurgents. He is one of three survivors of that band, and the stories he tells of their adventures are as though taken from the pages of some medieval romance.

“I am from Bachevo, in Razlog District, where fighting begins first and ends last,” he said. “When there is peace in Razlog there is peace everywhere. But peace comes seldom to Razlog, and every man there joins the bands sooner or later. If he is lucky enough to go through one campaign without getting his name on the Turkish black list, he may return to his home and till the soil for a season, until his next campaign. But I am on the black list. I can’t go home until I am in good health again, and then I can only go with a gun, with other men who have guns.

“This time a year ago I was a peaceful, law-abiding citizen of Bachevo, with no immediate intention of becoming an active insurgent. The local secret committee did not have me on their list as a possible recruit, as I was only nineteen. Let me tell you how it came about.

“I was on a visit to my aunt’s house in a small village near our town. The night I stopped there some Turkish troops came to the town, and four soldiers were quartered in my aunt’s house, in spite of her protests, for she was a widow with three children – a boy of sixteen and two girls, one fourteen, the other eighteen. “The four soldiers practically took possession of my aunt’s house. They emptied her larder, ransacked her closets and made us all do their bid ding. To have refused would have meant a blow from a gun barrel.

“I retired early to a room in the upper part of the house. Towards midnight I heard a shriek downstairs.

I jumped up and dashed down the stairs into the kitchen. One of the Turks had my elder cousin in his arms, and was kissing her in spite of her screams, while the other three soldiers stood off, laughing.

“I had not met my cousins five times before, but I picked up a wood ax which stood in a corner and struck at the Turk who held my cousin. He fell dead, I am certain. Then I hurled the axe at the other three, and one of them fell. The other two escaped by a door.

“My aunt and her other two children stood in the doorway behind me, stupefied with horror. Before the other two Turks could bring help.’ I had my aunt and my cousins out in the fields, and we hastened’ to the house of some friends farther in the town. There we hid away.

“An hour later we saw the old home go up in flames. The Turkish commandant made every effort to locate us, but without success, and next day the troops left town, but not before burning out three of my aunt’s neighbors.

“Several nights later an insurgent band of twenty men reported to the local committee, and they were ordered to take us with them over the Rilo Mountains into Bulgaria. They rested all the next day, and at nightfall we set out, the twenty armed men, my aunt and my three cousins.

“Our march was slow, because my eldest cousin had been so frightened that she was a nervous wreck. By morning we were up into the mountains, where we slept all day, starting off again at dusk. The second morning found us near the frontier, and we were just about to settle down to rest when a sentry raised an alarm.

A patrol of fifty bashi-bazouks were coming our way. “We were scrambling to a position for defense in a cluster’of rocks, when the bashi-bazouks saw us and opened fire. Our men waited, and the Turks, encouraged, charged our position. Then our men hurled five bombs into them, adding a heavy rifle fire. The bashi-bazouks retreated helter-skelter, with half their number down.

“We now began a rapid march for the ridge that was the boundary between safety and danger. The bashibazouks kept up an incessant fire from the rear. One of our men fell dead.

Then my aunt gave a scream and fell into her son’s arms. I picked up the dead insurgent’s gun and fired at the Turks. We managed to retreat, carrying my aunt, and in the afternoon we were in Bulgarian territory. My aunt was severely wounded, and died that evening, and we buried her there in the mountains. Next day we reached Rilo Monastery, and were given shelter with a Bulgarian family.

“I applied to the revolutionary committee at Rilo for enlistment in some band going back to Macedonian territory, and a week later I received notice to attend a meeting in a certain house in the town. Thirty men met there, and each of us was given a gun, which a priest blessed for us. Then each received 250 Mauser cartridges and four dynamite bombs. A solemn service was held by two priests, according to the rites of the church”, and a banner was presented to our leader, a young Macedonian of many campaigns. He carried it carefully wrapped up in his knapsack, to be taken out only in a fight. The consecration of the banner was an impressive ceremony.

“Next night we set out for Macedonia. Only ten of our band had fought before; the rest of us were recruits. One was Ivan Danskoff, of my own town, whose entire family had been murdered during a street fight between some insurgents and Turkish soldiers. One of our number was a woman. She had taken a holy oath to die fighting Turks, that she might avenge an outrage committed against her. Her brother had been killed in her defense.

“Besides these two, there were others who had simply been summoned by the local committees because it was their turn to take up a gun. But we three of the band -the woman, Ivan and I- had special grievances. We were fighting to wipe out blood wrongs.

“We crossed over into Razlog early in the night, and when morning came we were down in the lower foothills of the valley. There’ we rested all day in the tall grass.

“Our object was to cross Razlog Valley and roam the Perm Mountains, watching the passes for Turkish convoys and small detachments of soldiers. Our rule was to attack anything not over four times our number. We were also to halt Turkish caravans and rob the travelers, the money, watches, jewelry, etc., of course going to the General Committee funds. Macedonians and foreigners were never molested.

“We made another all-night march, and by morning found ourselves in a big forest, where we made our day’s halt, not daring even to make a fire for fear of attracting the attention of the big patrols of cavalry roaming the valley.

“We marched only part of the next night, arriving early at the town of Bansko. Here we were comparatively safe, as there was no Turkish garrison at the place. We walked boldly about the streets next day, with our guns slung across our backs. Every man, woman and child entered into a keen rivalry to entertain us; we were actually dragged into houses and made to eat and drink.

“Several of our band left us here, as their terms of service were up, but their guns were at once taken by new recruits. It was only a question of taking turns at the guns. More arms would have brought out more recruits. In the local committee in Bansko I actually saw men weep because their turn, had not yet come, and one of our band, who was to be relieved, lied about the date of his enlistment, that he might make one more campaign.

“The woman in our band attracted little attention. Such women as she are common in the insurgent bands. Whenever she would meet a priest on the street she received a blessing, and the men removed their caps in her presence.

“At Bansko, an Armenian Jew applied for enlistment, and as he had his own gun and ammunition, he was admitted. It developed later that he had been tortured and flogged by Turks, and his one object was revenge. He proved a disagreeable companion. He was sulky, quarrelsome, and complained continually at the hard.

“After two day in Bansko, we struck into the nearby Perm Mountains. For weeks nothing of importance happened there. Twice we halted a company of travelers, but they yielded us little revenue.

“Then one day a courier came to us with the news that a company of Turks were coming from Dumaya to reinforce the garrison at the government seat of Razlog, Mehomia. They must come through the pass of Predal. There we waited for them.

“They appeared late one afternoon, most of them drunk, apparently, for they took no precautions against attack. Five of our men remained up on the sides of the pass, the rest of us were in ambush behind rocks and bushes. As the soldiers passed below our five men, dynamite bombs were dropped among them. The Turks were panic stricken, and scattered up the road toward the rest of us, Our bombs had killed and wounded twenty of them. Then we opened fire and they fell as they ran. Only about thirty got away – the rest were killed.

“We took no prisoners. That is understood on both sides – no prisoners are taken in fight. Not one of us had been even wounded, and we captured nearly eighty rifles.

“For a month after this victory we had a comparatively quiet time. We heard frequently how enraged the Turks were over their defeat in the pass, and how they were redoubling their efforts to find us.

“About this time a disagreeable incident happened among us. Our Armenian comrade grew more sour every day, and when we advised him to turn his gun over to someone else and return to his home, he answered with abuse. He hated the hardships of campaigning, but he hated worse to return to where the Turks could tyrannize over him.

“One day he began abusing the woman. She laughed, until he twitted her with the misfortune that had made her an insurgent. Then, with one hand, she grasped the muzzle of her rifle and swung the stock over the Armenian’s head with such force that he fell dead.

“Not long after this we received orders to return to Bulgaria, so we descended into the Razlog Valley, in tending to cross over into the Rilo Range. We camped in a forest, as we had done before. About noon our sentries suddenly awakened us, but not in time to save us from a charge of fifty mounted bashi-bazouks. Most of our men sprang up, only to be cut down by sabres. Finally, about a dozen of us found shelter in a thicket where the horsemen could not follow, and we opened an effective fire, for each of us was an expert sharpshooter.

“The bashi-bazouks rolled out of their saddles in numbers, and at last fled. Then began our flight for the Rilo Mountains. We were harassed all the way by the Turkish irregulars, or bashi-bazouks, which, literally translated, means unorganized troopers. The word has no ethnic meaning.

“Just ten of us finally reached the sheltering hills. Ivan was missing, but the girl was still with us. I distinctly remember seeing her beat to death with her gun a Turk who had fallen off his horse.

“For two days we watched our chance to cross over into Bulgaria without encountering the patrols, for we were too few to dare to fight them. We succeeded at last, but not before we had exchanged shots with a small band of bashi-bazouks. We saw one of their number fall, but no harm was done us except that I was slightly wounded in the thigh.

“We reached Rilo safely- the ten of us. Here my wound, not having received immediate care, developed into what came near to being blood poisoning. Good medical care saved my life, but not my health. My two girl cousins took turns nursing me. The boy had joined one of the bands. I applied again for enlistment, but the surgeon refused to allow it, and I was forced to retire.

“The other survivors, including the woman, joined another band. Only two of them returned – he who had been our leader and the woman. She seemed to bear a charmed life. She is still fighting.

“My parents at last sent me some money, and I came to this country. Perhaps I may recover my physical vigor in a few years. If such is my good fortune I shall take up a gun again.”

(Copyright, 1904, by Albert Sonnichsen.)

Source: The Saint Paul Globe, August 28, 1904, p. 5

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