Sunday, 12 April 2015

April Uprising 1876

As we are now in April, there seems no better time than now to write about the April uprising (Априлското въстание) of 1876. At a meeting of the Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee, held in November of 1875, it was decided that the time was right to start preparing for a general uprising. To that effect Bulgaria was divided up into five revolutionary districts. These were centred in Vratsa, Veliko Tarnovo, Sliven, Plovdiv and Sofia. However the revolutionary committees of Sofia proved ineffective. To combat this the centre for region IV was moved from Plovdiv to Panagyurishte, so that both regions could be overseen from there.

Somehow the Ottoman rulers got wind of a meeting of the sub-committees within the 4th district, and the Ottoman police arrested the leader of the Koprivshtitsa local revolutionary committee, Todor Kableshkov. Armed rebels attacked and surrounded the police headquarters, where Kableshkov was being held effecting his release. This led to the rebellion being proclaimed two weeks ahead of schedule, and soon the rebellion spread throughout the Sredna Gora region, and various other towns and villages within the north-western Rhodopes. Kableshkov is claimed to have sent a letter to the headquarters of the 4th Revolutionary council, proclaiming the revolt. He signed the letter in the blood of the slain Ottoman governor, hence it is often referred to as the 'Bloody Letter'.

Since the plans were made for the uprising, villagers throughout the regions were building up stockpiles of arms and ammunition. These included wooden cannon, which were made from cherry and elm wood bound by iron. As it would be impractical for the 4th district to foment rebellion throughout the whole area, it was passed on down to sub-committees to charge trusted citizens to undertake this task. So rather than using a broad brush to paint the picture I shall focus on one area. That area is Bratsigovo, as that played quite a significant part in these uprisings. In this town a local man, Vasil Angelov Petleshkov, was given the task of coordinating the rebellion in that area, by Georgi Benkovski the head of region IV. But who was this man, in whom such trust had been placed?

He was born in Bratsigovo on January 14th 1845, and was the son of Catherine and Nayden Velchev. Unfortunately his father died while he was still very young, and so his mother Catherine remarried. She married another local man, called Angel Petleshkov, who adopted the young boy. Young Vasil travelled to Constantinople, or what is now known as Istanbul, to study as a Pharmacist. On qualifying he returned to Bratsigovo, where he worked tirelessly for the cultural advancement of the local population. In 1874 he founded the local library and community centre, 'Trandafil', and he became its chairman. It was during this time that he devoted himself to help free the struggling population from oppression.

Once news of the revolt reached Panagyurishte, he made straight for Bratsigovo, and announced that the long awaited rebellion had begun. The villagers armed themselves and set about guarding the approach roads to the town. They successfully repelled several skirmishes by Ottoman troops and irregulars. Bravely they fought against insurmountable odds, aware that they couldn't hope for any help from outside. They could only rely on themselves and their families. Elsewhere the rebellion was being put down with unwarranted savagery, most notably in Batak, but still they fought. For almost a week they lasted, inflicting casualties on their oppressors, but such victories were short lived.

Enemy numbers were increasing, and on the 16th day they overwhelmed the town's defences. Vasil spent several days in hiding as enemy forces tried to capture the rebellion leaders. Many claim that it was Vasil's step-father who gave up his step-son's hiding place to the Ottomans. Whether that is true or not has faded into history, perhaps it was simply to prevent any more bloodshed. Being a pharmacist Vasil managed to take poison before he was captured. Unfortunately it wasn't fast acting, and he had to endure a cruel torture at the hands of the Ottomans.

He was taken to the edge of the town where his body was tied to a stake, which was placed between two fires. These fires were then lit. Still the poison hadn't fully acted on him. As the fires were fanned, and burning hotter and hotter, he spoke his final words, "I am alone, there are no others. I led, I commanded. Look for no others." He died on may 8th 1876. His body was later found in meadows outside of the town, he had also been bayoneted several times.

How successful was the April Uprising? For one thing it did highlight, to the Western world, the atrocities that the Ottomans had used to suppress the rebellion. In short maybe this helped to focus public opinion from outside, which in turn maybe they saw the forced removal of the Ottoman yoke as a justifiable act. Would this understanding have happened were it not for the sacrifices that such men made throughout Bulgarian history? One good thing that I have found is that Bulgarians do not lightly forget their national heroes. Their lives live on through history lessons taught in schools, roads, stadia and schools are proudly named after them, and their statues can be found all over the country. Their houses are preserved as museums, and some even make it on to stamps.

  

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post. I happen to live in the vicinity where these events took place, so I appreciate the insight into the history of my area.

    From a village near Plovdiv

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. Bulgaria is a country rich in history, and I only hope that I do it justice in my blogs.

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