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|While going through my grandfather's
old things I found this collection of photocopied papers. Unfortunately,
they were all in Bulgarian and I could not read them. I matched piece to
piece and hopefully put everything in order. Through the miracle of the
internet I found someone in Bulgaria to translate these pages for a price.
The photocopies are, of course, still in Bulgarian (right) but I'm not
sure how true the English translation (below) is to the original story.
Also, please realize that I have edited the English version for better
Anyone that decides to read both versions please let me know how accurately
the translation compares to the Bulgarian version. Any suggestions to improve
the readability and accuracy of the translation will be greatly appreciated.
Thank you, Jon Colchagoff. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Authentic Story of a Bulgarian Freedom Fighter
The Battle in the Village of Goleshevo in 1903
|By April 16, 1903, six delegates from the Razlog
revolutionary district, including myself, had started for the village of
Lovcha in the Nevrokop region, where the Ser revolutionary district congress
was to take place. At about the same time Gotse Delchev started out from
Solun, only to encounter Turkish soldiers in the village of Banitsa in
the Ser region, where he was killed. As a result of his death, the congress
never took place. The delegation from Razlog consisted of 6 persons: Yonko
Vaptsarov (the chieftain of the group), Radon G. Todev (a schoolteacher
from the town of Bansko), Sando Kittanov (a detachment soldier from the
village of Leshko, region Gorna Jumaya [Blagoevgrad]), Simeon Dragnichev
(a guide from the village of Guliina Banya, region Razlog), Mitter Riskyov
(position unknown) and myself, the writer, Lazar G. Kolchagov (from the
town of Bansko and a member of the body of the local revolutionary organization).
The first night we passed by the village of Dobrinishte and arrived at the village of Kremen, in the region of Nevrokop, where we stayed the following day of April 17, 1903. Towards evening two schoolteachers from the village came and let us know that our bypassing Nevrokop had been a close shave; a planned gun-run in the village of Baldevo had been discovered by Turkish soldiers who then set the village on fire, killing many peasants.
Upon learning of this, we made up our minds to cross the Pirin mountains and then start toward the congress location (as of this time we were unaware of Gotse Delchev's death). The following morning we reached as far as the big lake, Papaz Gyol, with the assistance of guides. We moved on from the Papaz Gyol towards the Melnik region without guides for we thought the Pirin mountains to be a territory free from enemies. We passed through the Demir Kapia pass at broad daylight and spotted a rather large movement of people. We knew they could not be Wallachians, for they were not due to come until later to that area where they pasture their herds. Additionally, we didn't have field-glasses to recognize if the group of people were friends or foes. Since we suspected them to be Turkish soldiers, we bypassed them. (Indeed, these did turn out to be Turkish soldiers on their way to the village of Lopovo!) When we turned away from Lopovo we got lost in a wooded area, which fortunately kept us from an encounter with the Turkish squad.
The village of Kashina, in the Pirin mountains, Melnik region, was the first village we went in to. We knocked on a door and asked the master of the house about the village chief. The peasants immediately sent for him and he provided us with a guide to the village of Cheresnitsa. We reached Cheresnitsa at night and spent the next day there. We found out P. K. Yavorov was nearby in Lekhovo and was mimeographing the revolutionary newspaper "Freedom or Death". We were more than excited that we would have the opportunity to see Yavorov again, (we knew each other prior to this).
We started from Cheresnitsa to Lekhovo with a guide who took us there by night, to the house occupied by Yavorov. We also encountered Mitso Kirliev, a schoolteacher from Kukush, who was assisting Yavorov. We were elated by the meeting and Yavorov was similarly delighted with seeing old companions in arms. We stayed for the night. Yavorov knew about the congress-to-be of the Serres revolutionary district and we decided to take him along with us as well as his mimeograph equipment that the congress would be able to use.
The following day at noon, the master of the house entered our room. He appeared to be very alarmed and pale. "Boys, a great deal of Turkish soldiers have invaded the village, you must hurry and see if you can hide yourselves!" He then assisted us in hiding the mimeograph equipment quickly.
Later that night, we left Lekhovo with guides. It was a hard nights journey for we had to follow goat paths and the mule was having a difficult time. By dawn we were coming to another village nestled in the gorge of Ali Botush. Since our guides were unarmed and in civilian clothes, they were able to enter the village along with the mule burdened with the mimeograph. We were hesitant. Yavorov insisted on following them while Yonko opposed him, insisting on camping at some remote location.
While in the village, a courier delivered two ciphered letters to Yavorov. He opened the first one which had been written by Gotse Delchev and read: "Have the hectograph with you and come to the congress at the Lovcha mountain; we have been waiting for you". The second letter was written by the master of the village of Krushevo which was within two hours walking distance. It read: "Delchev's detachment has been besieged in the village of Banitsa; I do not know what is going to happen."
The day was St. George's Day in 1903. Our detachment set up camp in the oak wood. Our contact from the village later visited us there. He had a letter from Yavorov and Vaptsarov, which he was to deliver to dedo Ilia Karnovaliata, the chieftain who had positioned his detachment in a 2 hour walking distance within the area known as "Suhia vrah (The Dry Peak)". The letter requested that he and his detachment should immediately come with us to the outskirts of Goleshevo so that all of us could start together for the congress in the Lovcha mountains. (Dedo Ilia had been a "haramia" (insurgent, rebel), but after the IMRO (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization) was founded, he joined with them, and proved to be useful and faithful to the organization.)
By one o'clock, the master of the village together with a schoolteacher from the village of Goleshevo had joined us to discuss organizational concerns. The weather was sunny and it was around three o'clock in the afternoon. Alongside the village young and old men were performing a ring dance. The sentry was on his stand while we lay in the trees. Yavorov was having a sound sleep. Suddenly a great commotion was heard, and immediately we sent dedo Georgi Kokalov to find out what was going on. We thought perhaps some cowboys were passing by, and we wanted to stay in hiding. Dedo Georgi climbed about 50 meters up the hill where he saw instead a Turkish squad! He rushed back to us shouting "Quickly, get up on your feet, boys! There is a big Turkish squad beyond!" We immediately ran towards the circling ring dance. Upon seeing us armed and running, the dancers scattered, making a rush to their homes. Yavorov and Vaptsarov immediately ordered us to run to the nearby barn. None of us should turn or shoot until we reached the stone wall and straw roof barn alongside the village.
We ran towards the barn, which was a distance of about 200 feet, without any cover while the bullets whizzed around us. Fortunately, nobody was wounded. Vaptsarov lifted a big rock and broke open the barn door. The barn was empty. We found a sharp metal object that Vaptsarov was able to use to make shot holes through the walls. Vaptsarov and Mitso Kirliev remained in the barn while three others took a position behind a big heap of rocks. Yavorov occupied the outside corner.
The Turkish soldiers spotted us around and within the barn, and they intensified their fire. We had Manlichers (a specific brand of rifle), and we killed any Turkish soldier we could take a precise aim at. The enemy was numerous and soon encircled us. An entire company had taken position behind a big heap of rocks near the village, and they tried enticing us with a fez and a beret we had left behind. Mitso Kirliev was shooting desperately from behind the barn door, holding back the Turkish soldiers and bashibouzuks [Turkish irregulars]. The soldiers were closing in and shouting at us in Turkish to surrender, promising a "pardon" on the name of the sultan.
We were in a hopeless situation and the Turkish soldiers were preparing to launch another attack against us. Bearing in mind that there were only seven of us, Radon Todev told me, "Lazar, the Turkish attack is imminent. There are too many to repel. As it is, the Turks will sweep us over and will catch us alive. We don't own revolvers to kill ourselves at the last minute. Our Manlichers are too long and won't do the job. We have no choice but to await their attack and for both of us to be ready to throw ourselves upon their bayonets, and to be hit by as many possible bullets so that they are not able to dishonor us." (This was the most crucial moment in my life. Never had I seen death so close to me.) The battle was at it's height. The Turks were enraged! How could seven rebels oppose 1000 soldiers and bashibouzuks?
We saw men in Turkish military uniforms on the hill across from us.
They gave a blast on their horn. The Turks that surrounded us echoed a
blast on their horn, too. It became clear the approaching Turkish squad
was the second company there to back their mates up. I turned to Vaptsarov
and told him: "Vaptsar, those cut-throats are going to skin us alive."
The approaching soldiers in white fez advanced still closer, when suddenly
three of them started shouting in Bulgarian: "Hey, Vaptsar, Sando, are
you still alive, men? Has anybody been killed?" We were astonished at hearing
At this time, a third blast on the Turkish horn was heard, signaling to withdraw. At that same moment the detachment of our comrades encountered another Turkish squad, of approximately 600 soldiers, approaching from the town of Melnik. This squad invaded the village from above while the other one did from below. It was then that the horrors came. The battle spread out into the village. Screams filled the air. The Turks murdered any peasant they came across in the village. A pipe had been playing and a ring dance had been occurring just two hours earlier in that same village! Survivors of that nightmarish day would never forget it.
We found ourselves trapped. The Turks occupied the nearby houses and they fired at us from every hole possible. We had only one hope left: to wait for nightfall and then try to slip away. The Turks were planning to set the barn roof on fire and thus make us abandon our shelter. To this end they sent some cattle toward us and then, hiding behind them, they tried to draw nearer and throw some flaming material upon the barn roof. We opened fire on the cattle and the animals scattered quickly away. Next, the Turks made another attempt trying to close in by having peasants, women and kids, as a living shield before them. They knew we would not fire against our brothers and sisters and children. "Keep away!" shouted Vaptsarov to the peasants and ordered us to fire a volley above their heads. Terrified by our fire, the peasants dropped to the ground and the Turks ran for their lives.
Meanwhile I had switched my position to between Sando Kittanoff and Simeon Dragovchev who had made openings behind the heap of rocks. Yavorov had taken position behind the outer corner of the barn and kept an eye on the Turk movements in both directions.
It was getting dark, and although we used our ammo sparingly we continued
to shoot at any suspicious shadow we spotted. Meanwhile, Radon Todev had
hit a Turkish second lieutenant. Despite the sustained burst of gunfire,
some of us would involuntarily fall asleep. Suddenly a human figure popped
up before our position at a 3-4 meters distance. We could not recognize
if it was a Bulgarian or a Turk. Radon shouted at him: "Who are you, man?"
The figure raised his gun and aimed at Radon instead of answering him.
Both myself and Simeon Dragovchev saw that the gun was a Mauser, and figured
the man out to be a Turk. We raised our guns and fired at him. Radon's
gun thundered along with ours. Three bullets hit the Turk, he swayed and
fell to the ground failing to fire a shot. He was heavily wounded but nevertheless
mustered up strength and shot towards the barn. The bullet hit the barn
wall barely missing Yavorov's head.
"Lazar, let's finish him off with rocks," suggested Simeon Dragovchev.
We both started throwing rocks upon the Turk and almost buried him under
In order to prevent more casualties on their part the Turks sent the
village mayor as a truce envoy. The mayor came into view at the small door
of a house across the way and begged us to surrender in order to save the
village and said that the sultan would allegedly pardon us. The house the
village mayor had come from was full of Turkish soldiers.
The darkness fell. We started planning on how to slip away from the enemy. The route through the village was inconceivable for it was infested with Turkish soldiers. The uphill route was no less dangerous; the moon was full and the night was bright. Still we made up our minds to break through uphill and, if lucky, to run for the cover of the Pirin mountains. Upon the order of Vaptsarov we started creeping forward keeping five to six feet from each other. We moved in the following manner: the last one in row crept forward until positioning himself before the first one, then the newly last one repeated the movement, etc.
Lazar and his comrade's journey to Goleshevo Click to enlarge
We had only one bomb at the moment and it was carried by Sando Kittanov. Vaptsarov ordered him to be ready to detonate it in case we needed a distraction to break through the Turkish siege. We were creeping upward toward the crest of the hill while the Turks kept firing at the barn believing us to be still inside. We drew near the crest of the hill and were prepared to break the Turkish chain of soldiers. We were approximately 50 feet from the top of the hill. We heard a rustling in the wood across and then somebody said "the detachment". We stopped creeping and stuck motionless to the ground. Manlichers and Mausers opened fire. It was clear our comrades fought the Turks. We figured out that those with the Manlichers were our comrades who had helped us earlier in the day and probably were doing the same at the moment.
This third battle was brief. We resumed creeping uphill. Vaptsarov sent
me, Sando Kittanov and Simeon Dragovchev to take up position on the top
of the hill while the other four were to emerge from different areas, and
join us rushing to the charge; whoever escaped death would have all the
luck, as for the unlucky ones God rest their souls. Before ordering to
attack, Vaptsarov had given us the directions to the Pirin mountains and
Ali Botush so that whoever escaped knew where to run. The first three of
us crept out extremely carefully. We had a look around but failed to see
any Turks. We beckoned to the rest of our comrades. All of us got up.
Our comrades' fire had distracted the Turks from their position on the crest of the hill and we were lucky not to see any Turks during our passage uphill. They had simply provided us with safe passage and as soon as we had passed the Turks, they had retaken their position.
We went through the forest and came to the Goleshevska river where we crossed towards the Pirin mountains. Mitso Kirliev felt faint while trying to keep up with us. He asked us to abandon him for he had no more stamina left. We encouraged him. Simeon Dragovchev gave him a piece of bread and a lump of sugar. We relieved him also of his Manlicher and cartridges. He was able to pull himself together a bit. We hastened on. The night of St. George was a short one and we had to walk as far as possible, for there was a risk of encountering more Turks ahead. We walked all night long.
The next day we made a decision to spend the day in a hewn down beech-tree area that had started to grow again. We slumped down around the stumps, each one of us hugging his Manlicher close, expecting any moment to hear fire. We had not had any real sleep for two or three nights and on top of it we were starving. Noon was drawing closer. We heard trees being chopped in the wood at about three o'clock in the afternoon. We realized Vaptsarov was gone. Shortly afterwards, he reappeared with a peasant. It turned out he had gone towards the noise and had seen the peasant chopping trees. Vaptsarov had approached him with a Manlicher ready to shoot and had asked the peasant where he was from. The peasant had thrown the axe to the ground and had exclaimed: "Vaptsar, is that you? You're alive! Yesterday about 30 of us armed with old rifles moved to helped out the besieged detachment in Goleshevo, but the Turks were too much and we had to withdraw." He sent other peasants to the nearby villages of Hrasna and Belyovo to prepare warm food for us and offered to become our guide. When night fell he took us to his village where we met 30 other peasants who were overjoyed upon seeing us alive. We had dinner in Hrasna. Vaptsarov had our guide send charcoal-sellers who were not suspected by the Turks, to find out about the detachment that had tried to help us out the day before. We hoped that we could reunite with our comrades and start for the congress.
We spent the next day alongside the same village in an oak-tree wood and upon the nightfall started for dedo Ilia. We walked quite awhile before we reached a thin wood where dedo Ilia's detachment was located. We hailed them but our comrades did not look elated. We soon realized why. Our comrades told us that Delchev, Gushtanov and half of the Delchev's detachment had been killed two days before the day of St. George. About 15 men had managed to escape by driving through the walls of some houses and a barn. Among the lucky ones were Dimo Hadjidimov and Georgi Chalaka.
The chieftains got together to decide how to proceed. In view of the recent developments after Gotse Delchev had been killed, and knowing that the Turkish forces were mobilized, they decided that the congress should be canceled. A decision was immediately adopted instead: to start for the Pirin mountains and then from there all detachments and delegates should return home.
With dedo Ilia Karnovaliata, we found some peasants from the village of Goleshevo who had fled to his detachment the day after the battle took place in their village. They told us how they had gotten the impression that we had been killed in the barn and how the headquarters of the Turks had had two peasants go to the barn as truce envoys to persuade us to surrender, for otherwise the village people would suffer and the village would be destroyed. They reported how the Turks had made all the village people gather in the churchyard and then had started preparing to set the village on fire. Both truce envoys had been sent to the barn shouting "Surrender or the village will be burned!".
The nearby Turks also had shouted "Surrender!". At that time the sergeant we had wounded near the barn had thought the peasants shouted to him to surrender and had fired at them. Both peasants had returned to the Turkish officers who had sent them and told them: "You'd better kill us instead of letting the commitadjis do it." The peasants believed that the shot came from us in the barn.
That same shot had misled the Turkish officers into thinking we were still in the barn so they had sent the proprietress. She had come nearer to the barn and started shouting: "Surrender, guys!". But as nobody had responded she had crossed the small stack-yard and had entered the barn. To her surprise she had not seen any comitadji. She had returned to the Turkish officers and let them know the comitadjis had broken away. The Turkish officers had been astonished at hearing that: the comitadjis had managed to break away through two or three cordons of Turkish soldiers! It had sounded so unbelievable to their ears they did not believed the woman at all.
The horn caused the Turks to strengthen the cordons and to charge the
barn with their bayonets on. The Turkish soldiers had closed in on the
barn, but when they entered, it turned out to be empty. The binbashi (major)
had been furious and summoned the juzbashija (captain) that had first opened
fire against us.
At this time they gathered all peasants of the village of Goleshevo
and had taken them to the churchyard. Tin cans with petrol had been prepared
to burn the village. Mercifully, at that precise moment another Turkish
binbashi arrived from the village of Petrovo. He had gone to the headquarters
of the Turkish officers and asked them: "Were the comitadjis found out
in the village?"
We learned of all of these events from the peasants from the village of Goleshevo who had managed to escape and join dedo Ilia Carnovaliata's detachment. The six of us who were from the Razlog delegation got ready and started for the town of Bansko. Dimo Hadjidimov from the village of Gorno Brodi, and Gotse Mutavchiev from the town of Bansko, both from Delchev's detachment, both who had managed to survive, joined us. Yavorov and Mitso Kirliev also joined us. We reached the area over the town of Bansko that day. We happened to enter my native town on Sunday. Those who were from Bansko went home. Yavorov, Mitso Kirliev and Sando Kittanov were accommodated at the houses of members of the local revolutionary organization.
I was a grocer and the next day, Monday, I was to go to the regional market in the town of Mehomia (Razlog). I had just opened the stall when Yonche, the person in charge of the revolutionary organizational unit from the village of Dolno Draglishte, came to me and told me he would like to buy some printed calico, but as his wife was in the inn she had demanded that I should give her husband the whole roll so that she would be able to examine it and cut a part. I gave it to him and he took it into the inn.
The real purpose of that transaction was to deliver the roll into the inn and then to use it as a "wrap" for the revolutionary mail he received regularly from Bulgaria (via the Rila monastery) concerning the entire Ser revolutionary district. Indeed, in a little while he returned bringing the roll intact with him under the pretext his wife had not liked it. The delivery of the roll with the mail hidden in it took place in the presence of many Turks from the town of Mehomia and Bansko who did not suspect a thing. This was not the first time a delivery of revolutionary mail from Bulgaria was disguised similarly. Bulgaria also sent us newspapers, "Shangova mail", that often had coverage of our revolutionary movement and because of that we would eagerly read it.
Delchev's death had a deep impact upon the entire Macedonia and Odrin
region; it was a grievous loss for the cause of liberation. And yet, we
were not broken by this tragedy, we pulled together for the ultimate confrontation
with the Turks which was to come with the forthcoming Ilinden uprising,
which had already been planned in Solun. The Western Macedonia had already
burst out, the railroad bridge over the river Angista had been blown up
by Delchev himself, in Solun young people from the town of Velled had blown
up the "Bank Ottoman", the French steamship "Guadalkivir" had been burned
out, bombs had been thrown into the American consulates and American missionaries'