The Ilinden Uprising and the Krushevo Republic
The dissatisfaction of the Macedonian people was expressed through the revolts and rebellions of the first half of the 19th century; but by mid-century, it found its release through the organization of a movement for national liberation. This movement culminated in the formation of the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO) at the end of the century.
VMRO was preceded by a wide national unification movement led by a group of young Macedonian intellectuals writing for the periodical Loza (Vine) in 1892, later called Lozari. Distinguished members of this group included Petar Pop Arsov, Dame Gruev, Krste P. Misirkov and Grigor Hadzhitashkovich; Goce Delchev and Gjorche Petrov likely belonged to this movement as well. Misirkov writes that the members of the movement "...recognized the danger of Macedonia's partitioning between those two states [between Serbia and Bulgaria] if the Macedonians did not arm and gain freedom by themselves, with their own strength and means, counteracting thereby the division of Macedonia..."
On October 23, 1893, in Thessaloniki, Ivan Hadzhi Nikolov, Dame Gruev, Petar Pop Arsov, Hristo Tatarchev, Anton Dimitrov and Hristo Batandzhiev founded the Secret Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (TMORO, later renamed the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, or VMRO), to effect the liberation of Macedonia within its geographic and historic borders. The movement was to work within these borders, open to all faiths and nationalities, in the quest for national autonomy. Following the decisions of the 1896 Thessaloniki Congress, the Smilevo Congress of the Bitola Revolutionary District held on May 2 to May 7, 1903, resulted in the decision to launch an uprising.
In response to the Smilevo Congress, a meeting of VMRO's General Staff held on July 13, 1903 O.S. (July 26, N.S.) planned a general uprising to begin on July 20, 1903 O.S. (August 2, N.S.). The proclamation issued on July 15 O.S. (July 28, N.S.) reads that "the people of all Macedonia must come out with gun in hand to meet the enemy... On that day, hasten, brothers-follow your leaders and flock beneath the flag of freedom! Have courage, brothers, in the fight! Only by persistent and lengthy struggle can we be saved!"
The Central Committee's representative office in Sofia informed the Great Powers that an uprising had begun, explaining that the plight of the Christian population in Macedonia had worsened and forced the population to rise up. A request was made for the "appointment, with the consent of the Great Powers, of a chief administrator for the Christians who was never a member of the Ottoman administration and who would be independent from the Sublime Porte in fulfilling his duties", as well as the "establishment of continuous, collective international control with broad powers to sanction".
The uprising began on August 2, 1903, the Feast of St. Elias. The fiercest fighting centered around the Bitola Revolutionary District, where the rebels severed telegraph and telephone lines, blocked roads and attacked Turkish garrisons and estates of the beys. But the Krushevo Revolutionary District possessed the best strategy, laying out exactly-defined objectives and an elaborate plan to capture Krushevo by eight rebel detachments. Communications between the general headquarters of Nikola Karev and the individual detachments and guerrilla bands were maintained despite the rigors of war.
On August 2, the Krushevo staff announced that "We are burning with impatience, waiting for night to fall so that we may come and take Krushevo and then, together with all the people of Macedonia, let out a thunderous victory cheer! God and justice are on our side! Long live Macedonia!" That night, the cutting of telephone wires signaled the attack. Rebels struck strategic sites such as military barracks, the post office and the town council building; by August 3, the town had been wrested from the Turks. That afternoon an assembly was convened, attended by "about 60 representatives of all nationalities, in order to elect an executive body for the liberated territory. After short consultation, it was decided to establish a temporary government consisting of 6 members-representatives of the three most numerous nationalities in the town." These distinguished citizens constituted the council of the Krushevo Republic, while the Krushevo General Staff of TMORO represented the military authority of the new republic.
The temporary government was "to impose taxes on citizens by temporary order, to requisition food for insurgents and the population of the town and surrounding villages, requisition clothing and footwear for insurgents and militarized citizens, and materials for their armament; to take care of wounded and sick insurgents, citizens and peasants; to maintain order and peace in the town and alike."
Concurrently to the establishment of the temporary government, several commissions were formed to carry out the tasks assigned by the government. These included an Internal Commission, to maintain public order; a Food Commission; a Civil Commission responsible for construction and hygiene; a Clothing Commission; a Financial Reform Commission; and a Financial Commission. In the establishment of both the temporary government and the commissions, the principle of proportional representation of all nationalities was applied. As Aleksandar Hristov notes, "the temporary government in liberated Krushevo, although not provided for in the insurgents' constitution, was a legitimate representative of the insurgents. Its electio n and the revolutionary acts passed by it legitimized it as a fully legitimate, supreme authority on the territory of the [Krushevo] Republic."
The Krushevo Republic created by the insurgents represented a potential projection of "the future autonomous state of Macedonia. It is characteristic that all [governmental] bodies were constituted by the people of Krushevo, from among all three nationalities in the town..."
One of the most important acts of the Krushevo Republic was the manifesto issued by the Krushevo General Staff, "representing a declaration of the aims and goals of the insurgents, outlining a basis for brotherly coexistence among the nationalities during the struggle for freedom." The Krushevo Manifesto was part of the civil orientation of the Krushevo General Staff; addressing the Moslem population it states: "We have raised no gun against you. That would be to our shame. We do not raise our guns against the peaceful, hard-working and honest Turkish man who feeds himself, as we do, by blood and sweat-he is our brother. We have together lived with him, and want to so live again..." Continuing, the staff summoned all citizens of Macedonia to a struggle against tyranny: "Come brothers, Moslems, come and fight against your and our enemies! Come, under the flag of autonomous Macedonia! Macedonia is our mother and she calls for our help. Come and help break the chains of slavery and free ourselves from misery and suffering so that streams of blood and tears are dried up!" The Krushevo Manifesto "represents the most mature political document of the either the Krushevo revolutionary authorities or the Ilinden Uprising in general." In this respect, Dimitar Mitrev argues that "The Krushevo republicans declared, in their own vernacular, in the Manifesto and in their political accomplishments, that there could be only one Macedonia for them-a free, democratic one, with full equality of all nationalities. A heavier blow could not have been delivered to Vrhovism [Supremacism]: the Republic was built in order that they could fully be masters of their own fate, not merely to be annexed to Bulgaria."
The Ottomans dispatched a sizable army to suppress the uprising. By the middle of August, Ottoman military power in Macedonia had reached a total of 239 battalions of infantry, 39 squadrons of cavalry and 74 batteries of artillery-a grand total of some 167,300 infantry, 3,700 cavalry and 444 cannons. Capturing Krushevo was the greatest problem facing the Ottoman commanders. Any counteroffensive against this center of this Macedonian rebellion would not be easy: the revolutionaries were solidly organized and the 1,200 insurgents fortified the town, preparing to repulse any Ottoman attack.
Not until August 9 and 10 did Turkish troops begin to move against the town; the main body of the Ottoman army, consisting of 10,000 troops with supporting artillery under the command of Bahtiar Pasha, advanced over the Prilep plain towards Krushevo. There, it emplaced around the village of Krivogashtani and placed 7 or 8 cannons at Topolishte. The second part of the Ottoman army, advancing from the north, was stationed by the villages of Vrbovec and Trstenik. The third column was to occupy the Monastery of the Holy Salvation, as a base for further operations. In addition, an Ottoman detachment of 4,000 soldiers arrived from Bitola and divided into two columns near the village of Pribilci. One advanced along the road from the village of Ostrilci to Krushevo, the other along the Zhaba River towards Koyov Trn. A final detachment of 5,000 soldiers approached from Kichevo, including several pieces of mountain artillery. The overall strategy of this army, which may have numbered nearly 20,000 troops, was to encircle Krushevo and capture it through a series of coordinated attacks. On August 12 the encirclement of the town was complete and Bahtiar Pasha called on the rebels to surrender. The Krushevo General Staff debated the merits of surrender, but settled on defending the town. Bahtiar Pasha then unleashed an artillery bombardment of Krushevo, followed by simultaneous infantry assaults.
The Ottoman troops encountered violent and heroic resistance. Although the General Staff ordered a retreat west to Osoy, individual fighters remained in the town to resist the Ottoman attack. The most notable was Pitu Guli who, together with his detachment, fought to the last. He and his fighters repulsed continual attacks; particularly fierce were the battles at Sliva and Mechkin Kamen, where most of the rebels died defending the town. The fighting for Krushevo itself lasted the entire day of August 12, with Ottoman victory coming that evening. Staff members led by Nikola Karev managed to break through the Turkish cordon and escape. On August 12 and 13, the Ottoman army entered the town and began reprisals, massacring and plundering the people of Krushevo.
While the Krushevo Republic was quickly brought to an end, "in spite of its short existence, it represents one of the most significant phenomena in [the Macedonian] national-liberation movement. Created in the flames of the struggle against the feudal system of the Ottoman state, it was at the same time an expression of the desire of [the Macedonians] for the creation of a national state. Hence, the proclamation of the Krushevo Republic represents the highest accomplishment and one of the most important state-legal acts of the Macedonian insurgents."
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