The Ilinden Uprising in 1903

The pogroms against Bulgarians during the Uprising on Saint Elijah's Day and Transfiguration Day in 1903

The Uprising on Saint Elijah's Day in 1903 gave the then Turkish government cause to repeat some of the pogroms against the mutinying Bulgarian population in April 1876 and in more than one case to even surpass them, this time it deployed regular troops to the revolting Macedonia and Edirne region.

Yet, it has to be observed that the pogroms against ethnic Bulgarians in Macedonia and Edirne region started much earlier than the Uprising. They were carried out along with the crush of the uprising in Kresna and Razlog towns and were resumed after each disclosed plot or captured militant detachment. Several thousand Bulgarians were either imprisoned or sent into exile in Anatolian forts. Some of them died or were beaten to death on their way to those places. Foreign diplomats and reporters broke the news of a 60-thousand-strong army in Macedonia, living at the expense of the locals. Reports inform of the fact that murders, beatings, arrests, closing down of Bulgarian schools and churches were a daily routine there. Most of the representatives of the intelligentsia were detained and the population was terrorized. In the district of Skopje 456 arrests were made, in that of Thessalonica - 2115, and in the region of Bitola - 812.

The uprising which broke out in the fall of 1902, and is popular as the Gorna-Djumaya Uprising, was quelled with wanton cruelty without taking into consideration European will for carrying out reforms in Turkey. Fifteen villages were reduced to ashes, 807 houses were plundered, 549 people were tortured, 50 were killed and several thousands took refuge in Bulgaria. The European press released news of burnt down and looted villages of Zheleznitsa, Sushitsa, Bachevo, Serbinovo, Bistritsa, Leshko, etc., and the reports featured incredible cases of violence and atrocities.

Military actions all across the territory of Macedonia and Edirne region lasted for over three months with 239 battles waged between 26,400 rebels and 350,000-strong regular Turkish army and bashi-bazouk. In Bitola Revolutionary District 150 battles were fought, in Edirne region - 36, and across the rest four revolutionary districts, a total of 38.

Drawing the bottom line, in Eastern Thrace alone 68 of a total of 92 rebelling villages, or 74 percent were reduced to ashes and devastated. Totally burnt down in the Edirne Revolutionary District were 40 and partially, 18 Bulgarian villages. It was all committed by the regular Turkish army, which is indicative of the intentions of the commandment to employ ethnic-cleansing tactics in that part of Thrace. As a result, 20,000 ethnic Bulgarians from Eastern Thrace were forced to flee their native places, to cross the border with Bulgaria and settle within the bounds of Bulgaria in their capacity of refugees. The number of those killed among the peaceful ethnic Bulgarians in the Edirne Revolutionary District during the uprising totaled 2,565. In the district of Malko Tarnovo town 950 people were slaughtered, consisting 5 percent of the total of Christians. In the region of Vasiliko (Tsarevo), 5.7 percent of the total Christian population was killed. To this figure, the large number of children who died during the flight to Bulgaria has to be added, as all the statistical reports failed to comprise them. Only their survived relatives are telling about them in anguish. All the Thracian refugees I happened to talk to, tell the stories of babies that have been abandoned by their families in order the rest of the kids to survive as the refugees needed food desperately. It is impossible to convey the drama of the parents forced to abandon their youngest child by a larger group of refugees who were in hiding in a grove, as the loud cry of the hungry infant could give them away to the merciless chasers. I've heard hundreds of pathetic recounts of refugees and their descendants about how maddened mothers have been forced to abandon their youngest children later, during the coercive eviction of Bulgarians from Eastern Thrace in 1903. Yet, as here we are talking about the period of the Uprising on Saint Elijah's Day of 1903, I am to quote only a few lines by chronicler and eyewitness Hristo Silyanov, reconstructing pathetic scenes of the tragedies of the refugees from the burnt down Bulgarian villages during the uprising, who hoped to get alive to the borders of Bulgaria.

"Thousands-strong masses are wending their way night and day on unknown mounts and ravines, lining for more than a kilometer... A father, carrying load on his back, is holding the hand of an infant boy and in his other arm - a two-year-old girl. The latter is crying all the time, the leader is angry, neighbors are nagging. The desperate father leaves the kid on a rock, but people give the kid back to him, the girl is breaking in more tears and the father ends in throwing her into a ravine... Further, a young bride is successfully giving birth to a baby, aside from the path. The father and mother leave their first-born to God's mercy and hurry to catch up with the group..."

Another sad recount made by Hristo Silyanov tells the story of a group of Thracian refugees, who succeeded to cross the border with Bulgaria as late as September 5, led and protected by the voivodes Stoyan Petrov, Stamat Ikonomov, Daev and Halachev:

"This three-thousand-strong mass of people was already safe, yet the horrors of what they had suffered and seen on their way was still to be read in their faces -hunger, grief, burning villages, triumphant enemies, who stalked them striving to avenge. Barefooted and ragged kids, young women with bleeding feet, old men and women, men overburdened with random chattels saved from their villages. All of them fell down heavily on the ground, in a state of total emotional and physical exhaustion. Infants were huddled up in their mothers' arms crying for bread, while the fathers were sitting besides, staring somewhat vacantly... "

Some three-thirds of the rebellious and burnt villages from the region of Kirklareli emigrated to Bulgaria. In the wake of the uprising, more than one-forth of the Bulgarians fled into Bulgaria from the region of Malko Tarnovo.

According to reports of the Internal Macedonian and Edirne Revolutionary Organization, a total of 205 villages were reduced to ashes in the uprising and over 70,000 people were left homeless. The number of killed Bulgarians is some 5000, other 15,000 from those places were detained, imprisoned or exiled and 30,000 saw themselves forced to emigrate for good and settle in independent Bulgaria as refugees.