The Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising or simply the Ilinden Uprising of August 1903 (Илинденско-Преображенско въстание, Ilindensko-Preobrazhensko vastanie, Илинденско востание, Ilindensko vostanie) was an organized revolt against the Ottoman Empire, which was prepared and carried out by the Secret Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Organisation. The British researcher of the Balkans H. N. Brailsford wrote in his book Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future: "The moment for which the Bulgarian population had been preparing for ten years arrived on the festival of the Prophet Elias — the evening of Sunday, August the 2nd, 1903."
The rebellion in Macedonia affected most of the central and southwestern parts of the Monastir Vilayet receiving the support mainly of the local Bulgarian peasants and to some extent of the Aromanian population of the region. Provisional government was established in the town of Krushevo (to the west of Prilep), where the insurgents proclaimed the so called Krushevo Republic under the presidency of the school teacher Nikola Karev, which was overrun after just ten days, on August 12.
On August 19, a closely related uprising organized by Bulgarian peasants in the Adrianople vilayet led to the liberation of a large area in the Strandzha Mountains near the Black Sea coast, and the creation of a provisional government in Vassiliko, the so-called Strandzha Republic. This lasted about twenty days before being put down by the Turks.
By the time the rebellion had started, many of its most promising potential leaders, including Gotse Delchev, had already been killed in skirmishes with the Ottomans, and the effort was quashed within a couple of months. The survivors managed to maintain a guerrilla campaign against the Turks for the next few years, but its greater effect was that it persuaded the European powers to attempt to convince the Ottoman sultan that he must take a more conciliatory note toward his Christian subjects in Europe.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the Turkish Ottoman empire was crumbling, and the lands they had held in Eastern Europe for over 500 years were passing to new rulers. Macedonia and Thrace were regions of indefinite boundaries, adjacent to the recently independent Greek, Bulgarian and Serbian states, but themselves still under the control of the Ottoman Turks. Each of the neighbouring states based claims to Macedonia and Thrace on various historical and racial grounds. But the population was highly mixed, and the competing historical claims were based on various empires in the distant past. The competition for control took place largely by means of propaganda campaigns, aimed at winning over the local population, and took place largely through the churches and schools. Various groups of mercenaries were also supported, by the local population and by the three competing governments.
The most effective group was the Internal Macedonian-Adrianopolitan Revolutionary Organization (IMARO), founded in Thessaloniki in 1893. The group had a number of name changes prior to and subsequent to the uprising. It was predominantly Bulgarian and supported an idea for autonomous Macedonia and Adrianople regions within the Ottoman state with a motto of "Macedonia for the Macedonians". It rapidly began to be infiltrated by members of Macedonian Supreme Committee, a group formed in 1894 in Sofia, Bulgaria. This group was called the Supremists, and advocated annexation of the region by Bulgaria.
The two groups had different strategies. IMARO as originally conceived sought to prepare a carefully planned planned uprising in the future, but the Supremacists preferred immediate raids and guerilla operations to foster disorder and a precipitate interventions. One of the founding leaders of IMARO, Gotse Delchev, was a strong advocate for proceeding slowly, but the Supremacists urged a major uprising to take place in the summer of 1903. Delchev himself was killed by the Turks in May 1903.
Meanwhile in late April 1903, a group by young anarchists from the Gemidzhii Circle - graduates from the Bulgarian Men's High School of Thessaloniki launched a campaign of terror bombing , the so called Thessaloniki bombings of 1903. Their aim was to attract the attention of the Great Powers to Ottoman oppression in Macedonia and Eastern Thrace. As a response to the attacks, the Turkish Army and bashibozouks (irregulars) massacred many innocent Bulgarians in Thessaloniki, and later in Bitola.
By these circumstances the Supremacists' plan went ahead. Under a leadership from Ivan Garvanov IMARO made a decision about military revolt. Garvanov, himself, did not participate in the uprising, because of his arrest and exile in Rhodes. The day chosen for upspring was August 2 (July 20 in the old Julian calendar), the feast day of St. Elias (Elijah). This holy day was known as Ilinden. On 11 July, a congress at Petrova Niva near Malko Tarnovo set the date of 23 July for the uprising, then deferred it a bit more to 2 August. The Thrace region, around the Ardianople vilayet was not ready, and negotiated for a later uprising in that region.
It is interesting to note the position of the Bulgarian government on the issue. Already during the discussions, Racho Petrov's government supported IMARO's position of an entirely internal character of the rebellion. Apart form Racho Petrov's personal warning to Goce Delchev in January 1903 about delaying or even canceling the rebellion, the government sent out a circular note to its diplomatic representations in Thessaloniki, Bitola and Adrianopol, advising the Bulgarian population not to succumb to a pro-rebellion propaganda, as Bulgaria was not ready to support it.
The dates and details here are from an account by the anarchist author Georgi Khadziev, translated by Will Firth.
According to Khadziev, the main goal of the uprising in Thrace was to give support to the uprisings further west, by engaging Turkish troops and preventing them from moving into Macedonia. Many of the operations were diversionary, though several villages were taken, and a region in Strandzha was held for around twenty days. This is sometimes called the Strandzha republic or Strandzha commune, but according to Khadziev there was never a question of state power in the Thrace region. In the Rhodope Mountains, Western Thrace, the upspring expressеd only in some cheta's diversions in the regions of Smolyan and Dedeagach.
The reaction of the Ottoman Turks to the uprisings was savage and involved overwhelming force. The only hope for the insurgents was outside intervention, and that was never politically feasible. Indeed, although Bulgarian interests were favoured by the actions, the Bulgarian government itself had been required to outlaw the Macedonian rebel groups prior to the uprisings, and sought the arrest of its leaders. This was a condition of diplomacy with Russia. The waning Ottoman empire dealt with the instability by taking vengeance on local populations that had supported the rebels. Casualties during the military campaigns themselves were comparatively small, but afterwards thousands were killed, executed or made homeless. Historian Barbara Jelavich estimates that about nine thousand homes were destroyed, and thousands of refugees were produced. According to Georgi Khadziev, 201 villages and 12,400 houses were burned, 4,694 people killed, with some 30,000 refugees fleeing to Bulgaria. On 29.09. the General staff of the Uprising sends the Letter N 534 to the Bulgarian government, appealing for immediate armed intervention:
“The General staff considers its duty to turn the attention of the respectable Bulgarian government to the disastrous consequences for the Bulgarian nation, if it does not carry out its duty towards its birth brothers here, in an impressive and active manner, as imposed by the power of the circumstances and the danger, which threatens the all-Bulgarian fatherland – through war.”Unfortunately, Bulgaria is unable to send troops to the rescue of the rebelling fellow Bulgarians in Macedonia and Adrianopol Thrace. When IMARO representatives meet the Bulgarian Prime-Minister Racho Petrov, he shows them the ultimatums by Serbia, Greece and Romania, which he had just received and which informed him of those countries’ support for Turkey, in case Bulgaria intervened to support the rebels. At a meeting in early October, the general staff of the rebel forces decided to cease all revolutionary activities, and declared the forces, excepting regular militias, to be disbanded. After the uprising, IMRO became more strongly associated with the Supremacists, and with the goal of hegemony with Bulgaria. The savagery of the insurrections and the reprisals did finally provoke a reaction from the outside world. In October, Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary and Nicholas II of Russia met at Mürzsteg and sponsored the Mürzsteg program of reforms, which provided for foreign policing of the Macedonia region, financial compensation for victims, and establishment of ethnic boundaries in the region. The reforms achieved little practical result apart from giving more visibility to the crisis. The question of competing aspirations of Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, and local advocates for political autonomy were not addressed, and the notion of ethnic boundaries was impossible to implement effectively. In any case, these concerns were soon overshadowed by the Young Turk revolution of 1908 and the subsequent dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.
The Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 subsequently split up Macedonia and Thrace. Serbia took the major portion of Slavic Macedonia, in the north, which roughly corresponds to the Republic of Macedonia. Greece took Aegean Macedonia in the south, and Bulgaria was only able to obtain a small region in the northeast: Pirin Macedonia. The Ottomans managed to keep the Adrianople region, where the whole Thracian Bulgarian population was put to total ethnic cleansing by the Ottoman empire. The rest of Thrace was divided between Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey following the World War I and the Greco-Turkish War. Most of the local Bulgarian political and cultural figures were persecuted or expelled from Serbian and Greek parts of Macedonia and Thrace, where all structures of the Bulgarian Exarchate were abolished. Thousands of Macedonians left for Bulgaria, joining a still larger stream from devastated Aegean Macedonia, where the Greeks burned Kukush, the center of Bulgarian politics and culture, as well as much of Serres and Drama. Bulgarian (including the Macedonian dialects) was prohibited, and its surreptitious use, whenever detected, was ridiculed or punished. Internal Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Organization supported Bulgarian army during the Balkan Wars and the First World War. After the post-World War I Treaty of Neuilly the combined Macedonian-Adrianopolitan revolutionary movement separated into two detached organizations: Internal Thracian Revolutionary Organisation and Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation and continued its struggle against Serbian and Greek regimes in the following period to 1934.
IMRO have had de facto full control of Bulgarian Pirin Macedonia (the Petrich District of the time) and acted as a "state within a state", which it used as a base for hit and run attacks against Yugoslavia and Greece. IMRO began sending armed bands called cheti into Greek and Yugoslav Macedonia to assassinate officials and stir up the spirit of the oppressed population.
At the end of 1922, the Greek government started to expel large numbers of Bulgarians from Western Thrace into Bulgaria and the activity of the Internal Thracian Revolutionary Organization (ITRO) grew into an open rebellion. The organisation eventually gained full control of some districts along the Bulgarian border. In the summer of 1923, the majority of the Bulgarians had already been resettled to Bulgaria. Although detachments of the ITRO continued to infiltrate Western Thrace sporadically, the main focus of the activity of the organisation now shifted to the protection of the refugees into Bulgaria. IMRO's and ITRO,s constant killings and assassinations abroad provoked some within Bulgarian military after the coup of 19 May 1934 to take control and break the power of the organizations.
Portrayal of the insurrections by later historians often reflect on-going national aspirations. Historians from the Republic of Macedonia see them as a part of the move for an independent state as finally achieved by their own new nation. There is very little historical continuity from the insurrections to the modern state, however. Historians from Bulgaria emphasize the undoubted Bulgarian character of the rebels, but tends to downplay the moves for political autonomy that were a part of the IMARO organization prior to the insurrections. Western historians generally refer simply to the Ilinden uprising, which marks the date on which uprising began. In Bulgaria it is more common to refer to the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie uprising, giving equal status to the activities commenced at Preobrazhenie near to the Bulgarian coast of the Black Sea and limiting an undue focus on the Macedonian region. Some sources recognize these as two related but distinct insurrections, and name them the Ilinden uprising and the Preobrazhenie uprising. Bulgarian sources tend to emphasize the moves within IMARO for hegemony with Bulgaria, as advocated by the Supremacist and the right wing factions; Macedonian sources tend to emphasize the early goals of political autonomy when IMARO was established. Ironically, it was the Supremacist faction that pushed for the insurrections to take place in the summer of 1903, while the left wing argued for more time and more planning.
The leaders of the Ilinden uprising are celebrated as heroes in Bulgaria and in the modern Republic of Macedonia. They are regarded as Bulgarian patriots in Bulgaria, and as founders of the drive for Macedonian independence in Macedonia. The names of the IMARO revolutionaries like Pitu Guli, Dame Gruev and Yane Sandanski were included into the lyrics of the anthem of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia Denes nad Makedonija ("Today over Macedonia"). There are towns named after the leaders in both Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia.The leaders of the Preobrajenie uprising are celebrated as heroes only in Bulgaria, but in the Republic of Macedonia this part from the upspring is not celebrated and is even hushed up. Today, 2 August is the national holiday in Republic of Macedonia, known as Day of the Republic, which considers it the date of its first statehood in modern times. It is also the date on which, in 1944, a People's Republic of Macedonia was proclaimed at ASNOM as a constituent republic of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The ASNOM event is now referred as the 'Second Ilinden' in Republic of Macedonia, though there is no direct link to the events of 1903. In Bulgaria Ilinden and Preobrazhenie days as anniversaries of the uprising are publicly celebrated on a local level, primarily in the Pirin Macedonia and Northern Thrace regions.