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THE APRIL UPRISING (1876)

On 11 and 12 November 1875 in Gyurgevo, in a house hired especially for the purpose, gathered 15-17 people. Most of them were people with rich revolutionary experience, wealthy and with families: Stefan Stambolov, Panayot Hitov, Georgi Benkovski, Stoyan Zaimov, Nikola Obretenov, and Ilarion Dragostinov. They took the decision to take part in the enterprise, risking their wealth and the life of their beloved.

During the discussions all present were unanimous that a new uprising had to be organized in the spring of 1876. Using the experience from the Stara Zagora uprising, they divided the Bulgarian territory into 5 revolutionary districts: first (Turnovo), second (Sliven), third (Vratsa), forth (Plovdiv/Panagyurishte), fifth (Sofia). The last district did not function at all. The command of the districts was in the hands of the apostles Stefan Stambolov, Ilarion Dragostinov, Stoyan Zaimov, Panayot Volov, and Nikola Obretenov. The plan for the uprising was completed on 24 December 1875 and the committee was dissolved. The apostles went to Bulgaria to begin new preparations.

A moving document of the patriotism and morals of a fighter for freedom is the farewell letter of Sava Mladenov from Teteven, who fell in battle in May 1876 not far from his home town:

"11 may 1876, Turnu Magureli Brothers, we are going to our dear fatherland called by the voice of our people to help our dear miserable brothers...

Brothers, don't forget us and don't think we had nothing to eat in Romania. A man born with a soldier's heart leaves behind his father and mother, his brother and sister, shops and goods, and everything which is best for him and strives for what is most precious for him".

Preparations began in January 1876. They were most successful in fourth revolutionary district headed by the apostles Panayot Hitov and Georgi Benkovski and their associates Todor Kableshkov, Georgi Ikonomov and Zahari Stoyanov The general meeting of the representatives of the committees from the district was held on 14 April in the Oborishte region, near Panagyurishte. The meeting set the plan for future action. The representatives gave an oath and agreed that in case of treachery the uprising could be declared earlier. The meeting appointed Georgi Benkovski for head apostle of the district and Panagyurishte was chosen as centre of the uprising. The authorities however were informed of the preparations for the uprising. They sent zaptiehs to Koprivshtitsa and Panagyurishte to arrest the leaders. Todor Kablelhkov summoned the committee in Koprivshtitsa for an emergency meeting and on 20 April 1876 declared the uprising. He informed the other commanders with the well-known "Bloody letter" (signed with blood). On the same day Panagyurishte was liberated, Benkovski formed a mounted detachment that remained in history under the name of the "Flying squadron". In no time the uprising spread in the region of Sredna Gora, the villages and towns on the right banks of the River Maritsa and in part of the Rhodope villages. In this way several thousand Bulgarians found themselves alone against the Ottoman authorities relying on no help from outside. Supported only by their wives and children, with unprecedented bravery and self-sacrifice, they defended their right of free existence. Almost the whole country became an arena of fierce, unequal and bloody battles.

The first to fall was Strelcha, then Klissura was put on fire (26 April). After four days of battle Panagyurishte was captured and destroyed. Koprivshtitsa escaped pillaging after paying a big ransom. On 1 May were defeated the rebels on Eledzhik peak and by the village of Petrich (southeast of Ihtiman); the uprising in Perushtitsa was suppressed; on 2 May the population of Batak was killed and the two towns were burned to the ground. On 7 May the Turkish soldiers entered Bratsigovo and arrested Vassil Petleshkov. Put between two large fires, he was subject to inhuman torture. Not to betray his friends, he swallowed poison and died in the name of freedom. In Perushtitsa, after retreating from their positions, the revolutionaries gathered in the school building, the church and several neighbouring houses. They took the decision to put an end to their lives to escape falling in the hands of the enemy. Kocho Chestemenski shot his wife, his sister and his newborn child. Spas Ginev killed his entire family. Their example was followed by other rebels. Even more tragic was the plight of the town of Batak where more than 3000 were slain and burned alive. Bands were organized in the Turnovo revolutionary district and the largest of them (about 220 people), headed by the priest Hariton and Bacho Kiro, engaged in heavy battle with the Turkish army in the Dryanovo monastery (till 7 May) and the monastery was destroyed. In the Sliven district was formed a small band under the command of Stoil voevode which, after a few days of battle, was surrounded and destroyed. In the Vratsa district there was no uprising. The detachments of Hristo Botev and Tanyo voevode from Sliven crossed the Danube trying to help the rebels from the country.

The perish of these two emigrant detachments marked the end of the April uprising in which more than 30 000 men, women and children were killed, 80 villages were burned down and 200 more were pillaged. Today there is extensive research on this great national epic but few are the ones who have asked the question - to what extent the educated, young and wealthy men, who took the decision to organize the uprising, were convinced in the success and how far did they sense the oncoming tragedy and the European reaction. The answer was given by Georgi Benkovski who, on seeing the burning towns of Lisets and Panagyurishte, exclaimed: ,,My goal is already fulfilled! In the heart of the tyrant I opened such a burning wound that it will never heal..."

In July - August 1876 the territories of the uprising were visited by a special inquiry committee. The results unmasked the Turkish authorities. The atrocities were confirmed leaving no doubt in the European public. In defense of the Bulgarian people stood up Victor Hugo (France), William Gladstone (Great Britain), Giuseppe Garibaldi (Italy), Feodor M. Dostoevski and Ivan S. Turgenev (Russia), the great chemist D. I. Mendeleyev, Januarius McGahan (USA) and others.

In this way the April uprising of 1876 fulfilled its mission from a political point of view. The attention of the Great Powers was attracted and the governments of the European countries were forced to reconsider the status quo of the Balkans and public opinion was prepared to accept the Russian-Turkish War of 1877 -1878 as logical and justifiable.

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