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Boris Sarafov – Macedonian Revolutionary!

Macedonian Revolutionaries

Boris Sarafov, on the right side of the picture, together with Vasil Chakalarov, Macedonian revolutionary in the southern districts.

Boris Sarafov was born in 1872, Nevrokop, Eastern Macedonia. He grew up schooled through the Exarchate and all of its Bulgarian propaganda, but nevertheless displayed clear Macedonian separatist tendencies during some critical points in his life. Like many energetic Macedonians, Sarafov travelled outside of Macedonia for an education, and had attended the Military Academy in Sofia, capital of the recently created principality of Bulgaria. His training in this institution ended in 1894, and in his memoirs he states that as of that same year he had begun to gather a clique of Macedonians with similar thinking, among the emigrant population in the principality of Bulgaria.

In 1895 the ex-prime minister of Bulgaria, Stefan Stambolov, was brutally murdered by Macedonians in Sofia for his anti-Macedonian and pro-Bulgarian/pro-Turkish stance. Still raging, Macedonians caused a riotous uproar and created an unwanted spectacle at his funeral. During the same year, ripe with Macedonian disturbances, Sarafov led an attack against the Ottomans at Melnik, Eastern Macedonia, which was held by the Macedonians for less than a week. Sarafov’s reflections on this event are as follows,

A correspondent of the news sheet Information has had an interview with M. Sarafof, the president of the Bulgarian Macedonian Committee, who was arrested a few days ago at Sofia. M. Sarafof made an instructive statement. He said that the whole movement had been misunderstood. It must be divided into two periods. During the first period it was under the leadership of men who were in close connection with the Bulgarian court itself and had been employed by several successive Ministries. The latter used the committee and the influence which it had in the country in order to fortify their own position, and to carry out the programmes of their parties. M. Sarafof continued thus: – In 1895 we young men were sent to Macedonia to prepare an insurrection, or, at all events, to try and start an outbreak of some kind, if only to show Europe that Prince Ferdinand constituted a powerful factor in the Balkan Peninsula and that his deposition would be a greater danger for the peace of the continent. It was only after these disturbances that the Powers, one after the other, recognized Prince Ferdinand as chief of the new Bulgarian dynasty. This first phase of the Macedonian movement, owing to the fact that it was subordinated to different party interests, acquired no hold on the bulk of the population in Macedonia. We young people have therefore been endeavouring for some years past to separate the Macedonian cause from Bulgarian domestic politics. If the rulers of the Principality now declare that they cannot tolerate us as a State within the State, it shows that we have at least succeeded in emancipating ourselves from the pernicious influence of the Bulgarian government. It is only because we are no longer disposed to sacrifice ourselves for this or that party, and regard the liberation of Macedonia as a question of honour for the entire people, that the Bulgarian Government is persecuting us…..(The Times, London, April 12, 1901.)

Sarafov (along with many of his type) initially favoured Prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria, although several Macedonians soon realized that neither the Bulgarian government nor its Germanic Prince(s) could be trusted. During his time under the patronage of Ferdinand, Sarafov was conjuring revolutionary ideas that later proved to be at odds with the policy of the Prince and government. Although he played no part in the formation of the Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation, only 6 years after its establishment (during 1899), the charismatic Macedonian nevertheless became leader of the Supremist faction based in Sofia.

The rest of the London Times article cited earlier gives further insight of the mind and sentiment of Sarafov during 1901,

It is a grievous error to suppose that we seek to acquire Macedonia on behalf of Bulgaria. We Macedonians consider ourselves to be an entirely separate national element, and we are not in the least disposed to allow our country to be seized by Bulgaria, Servia, or Greece. We will, in fact, oppose any such incorporation with all our might. Macedonia must belong to the Macedonians. The misunderstanding has arisen through our residing in Bulgaria. The circumstance of our having prepared a Macedonian insurrection while living in this country led to the conclusion that we were aiming at a union between the two Slav provinces. That is, however, perfectly absurd. If we were to be expelled from Bulgaria and were to settle in Switzerland nobody would suppose that we intended to liberate Macedonia on behalf of Switzerland; we merely go where we find the most favourable opportunities for our revolutionary work……..

But, wherever we may be, we wish to keep our movement distinct from the national aspirations of the independent Balkan States. We shall energetically resist any attempt on the part of those States to secure Macedonia for themselves………….

We will have nothing to do either with official Bulgaria or with official Servia, nor yet with official Austria-Hungary. We are revolutionists, and count only upon one-half of the peoples of Europe. In order to put and end to the misunderstandings among the Slav States of the Balkans concerning the movement in which we are engaged, two of our friends will shortly go to Servia and then proceed further in order to deliver lectures. Macedonia must no longer be a source of dissension among the Balkan countries. Emancipation must form the basis upon which the federation of those countries can be founded…………….

Another article during the same period corroborates these sentiments.

Boris Sarafov had made extremely important statements with a correspondent from Vienna. Some of the more important points are summarized: 1º The Macedonian movement is not a Bulgarian movement; the Macedonians constitute a unique nationality who do not want to be incorporated in Bulgaria, Serbia, or Greece……….(Pro Armenia, Paris, 25 April, 1901, Nouvelles d’Orient.)

Going by the above, the Macedonian identity of Boris Sarafov is prevalent above the Bulgarian influence and propaganda. He is strongly adamant that the Macedonians are not Bulgars or Serbs, and will not accept subjugation by one or the other. This clear Macedonian sense of identity was again echoed in a fascimile from 1902, and quoting Sarafov, it was displayed in the Macedonian Voice (printed in 1914), a periodical paper distributed by D. Chupovski, a Macedonian in Russia.

We, the Macedonians, are not Serbs nor Bulgarians, but simply Macedonians. The Macedonian people exist independent of the Bulgarian and Serb people. We sympathise with both, Bulgarians and Serbs; whoever will help us achieve our freedom, to them we will be thankful, but let the Bulgarians and Serbs not forget, that Macedonia is only for the Macedonians.

At some point during the end of the 19th century, the Internal faction managed to gain control of the Supremist faction, which eventually resulted in a division among the Supremists. Many chose loyalty to their brethren in Macedonia, while others, largely those that had become officers in the Bulgarian army, chose to serve the foreign interests of Ferdinand, Bulgaria and her government. General Tsonchev, who gained the leadership of the Supremist faction after a struggle with Sarafov, raised an unsuccessful rebellion in the Struma region of Eastern Macedonia during 1902, which provoked greater pressure from the Ottomans towards the Macedonian peasantry. The Macedonians were left with little option but to prepare for a pre-mature rebellion on a large scale. Tsonchev was opposed, often with force, by the likes of Delchev, Sandanski, Chernopeev and co. Tsonchev, Prince Ferdinand’s man, was responsible for several battles that took place where the Macedonians of the Internal faction fought against his Macedonian Supremists.

Despite Sarafov’s clear frictions with many of the revolutionaries from the Internal faction such as Jordan Piperkata, he shared better relations with others such as Gruev, at least for certain periods. He participated in the Ilinden Uprising of 1903, and after all seemed lost, he (along with Gruev) attempted to exploit the Supremists’ former favourable position with the Bulgarian government, by sending them a desperate letter pleading for assistance. In it, he wholly assumed the Bulgarian label as an identity, largely due to the common faith in the Exarchate Church, in his effort to appeal to the humanity and Bulgarian ‘patriotism’ of his recipients. The opportunity for Bulgaria and the Bulgarians to ‘liberate’ Macedonia and the Macedonians, was presented. They did nothing. Nothing. Even Tsonchev’s men made peace with the Internal faction, for the sake of the Macedonian cause if not anything else, but no Bulgarian Army and no Bulgarian mass of volunteer fighters arrived to the assistance of the Macedonians.

Karev, Gruev, Sugarev, Sarafov, Piperkata, etc and the Macedonians in their agony, were to receive help from none of the Balkan states or Great Powers. After the failure of the Ilinden Uprising, the Supremist faction loyal to the Prince was dissolved and the Macedonians were viewed with even greater suspicion by the Bulgarian government. In the years to come, they would also become a full fledged enemy. The failure of the Ilinden Uprising also re-ignited the old rivalries between the varying factions of the Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation.

Sarafov resorted back to his old ways, turning against leading figures such as Sandanski and Chernopeev, earning him much suspicion and hatred by several members of the Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation. A certain character named Daev was found to be complicit in a death plot against Sandanski, which also implicated Sarafov. The order was given, Daev, Garvanov and Sarafov were sentenced to death. The man entrusted with the job of killing Sarafov was none other than Todor Panitsa, a staunch supporter of Sandanski’s faction. After having visited Sarafov and Garvanov, discussing a range of issues, Panitsa prepared to bid his farewell as he approached the front door. He then turned towards the two men, and is said to have remarked, “there is just one more question…..“, before shooting them both dead.

Such was the end of Boris Sarafov, the untamed, energetic and charismatic Macedonian revolutionary. Always involved in the smuggling of weapons, the promotion of the cause abroad, lionised and demonised by the international media, he was constantly in some sort of exciting scenario or taking great risks during his spectacular attacks against the Ottoman army. Sarafov was viewed variously by the other Macedonians, to some a patriot, to others an opportunist, to others still a traitor. Ever the curse of the Macedonians, internal disputes resulted in the death of several prominent fighters.

Boris Petrov Sarafov, Macedonian, 1872 – 1907.

For further reading please click on this link:
Boris Sarafov, The Macedonian Agitation, The Times, 1901!