Macedonia prepares to mark a century since the killing of Jane Sandanski ­

Macedonia marks the centennial since the death of Jane Sandanski, a leading military commander of the VMRO and legendary fighter for Macedonian independence from the Ottoman Empire. Nicknamed the Tsar of Pirin, for the mountain where he was born in 1872, and killed in 1915, Sandanski was a VMRO commander for the region of Pirin and the near by region of Serres.
Born in the village of Vlahi, near the city of Sveti Vrac, which is now named Sandanski, in honor of the hero, Sandanski was only 5 when the family had to flee to the regional center of Gorna Dzumaja (now Blagoevgrad) from the fighting caused by the Russian ­ Turkish war. Once the war settled and the defeated Ottoman Empire was never the less allowed to keep Macedonia, this sparked the Kresna uprising, centered in the Pirin region. Ivan Sandanski, Jane's father, was one of the flagbearers of a militia involved in the uprising. Once they were defeated by the Turkish Army, the Sandanskis moved to Dupnica where the family lived in misery, among many refugees from the fighting. Jane grew up in Dupnica, finished two grades of high school, apprenticed for a shoemaker and in his uncle's law office.

While in high school, he begins reading revolutionary literature and becomes dedicated to the idea of continuing his father's struggle. Speaking with the Bulgarian philologist Ljubomir Miletic, who wrote his biography, Sandanski said that even as a child, whenever the kids would play war, he would always take the role of the Macedonian komiti ­ the fighters of the liberation committees.
Between 1892 and 1894, Sandanski joined the Bulgarian army, which was an immensely valuable experience for him. Two years later he begins to connect with the revolutionary movements in Macedonia, which remained wholly under Ottoman rule, even though the Turkish Empire was clearly fragmenting and collapsing. In 1897, Sandanski formed the Mladost (Youth) cultural organization, and after getting in touch with the Dupnica teacher and revolutionary Dimo Hadzi Dimov, and especially after meeting the VMRO leader Goce Delcev, Sandanski decides to join the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization. Delcev, and his ideas for an independent Macedonia, become the main inspiration and ideal for Sandanski.

In 1901, Delcev appoints Sandanski as military commander of the Serres region, to protect the ground from enroaching influence from rival pro­Bulgarian organizers and militia groups. In a short while, the region becomes the seat of the largest and best led VMRO komiti units. But, the population was poor and funding for the fighters against the Ottomans was short. This gave Sandanski the idea that he could gather funds by kidnapping prominent individuals. An attempt to snatch Suleyman bey, the son of the Gorna Dzumaja pasha, failed. Other potential high value targets were the protestant missionaries, active in the region at the time. The invitation to have a Solun (Thessaloniki) based missionary named House come to the Pirin mountain was seen as unrealistic, so protestant families from the region of Bansko invited an American missionary named Ellen Stone. In 1901, 18 komiti fighters led by Sandanski and Hristo Chernopeev kidnapped Miss Stone and her companion Katarina Stefanova Cilka, in what would become a famous hostage crisis, one of the first debated through the modern Western press. Sandanski demanded 25.000 Turkish liras in ransom, or about 110.000 US dollars. The initial response was a Turkish search party several thousand strong which tried in vain to free Miss Stone and her companion. After six months, during which Katarina Stefanova gave birth to a baby girl, in an episode immortalized in Macedonian national liberation literature and movies, Miss Stone and her companion were released near Strumica in exchange a ransom of 15.000 Turkish liras.

Sandanski also faced rival Macedonian militia units during this episode, and became ever more involved in the infighting that shook the VMRO. He opposed the ill­fated 1903 Ilinden Uprising, stating that the VMRO is not ready to take on the Turkish Army head on, but respected the decision of the organization, and joined the fight in his Serres region, tying up major Turkish reinforcements with his komiti. Following the crushing defeat in Krusevo, where the Ilinden Uprising was centered, Sandanski got ever more involved in fights with pro­Bulgarian militias, including a major confrontation in 1904. In 1905, during the VMRO congress held in the Rila Monastery, Sandanski faced against Boris Sarafov, before leading calls for his pardon before the Congress. Sandanski also becomes more outspoken in his position that VMRO should focus on creating an independent Macedonia, possiblly as an equal part in a future Balkan confederation, as opposed to the ideas that Macedonia should join the newly created principality of Bulgaria. Years later, in 1907, Sandanski will order the assassination of Sarafov and Ivan Garvanov and, next year survives an assassination attempt himself.

With the continued turmoil in the Ottoman Empire, Sandanski and Chernopeev form a political party that begins using the Turkish attempts at political liberalization, and proposes that the Empire is reformed as a federation, where Macedonia, Albania and Armenia would be autonomous regions. Sandanski discussed this with the Young Turks movement, that started pushing Sultan Abdul Hamid II to accept reforms. When the Sultan tried to go back on his promises, Sandanski led 1.200 Macedonian komiti in a Young Turk march on Constantinople which overthrew the Sultan and replaced him with his half­brother Mehmed VI. Shortly after the march, Sandanski survived a second assassination attempt in Solun. In the coming years Sandanski became active in petitioning the new Turkish authorities against the renewed reign of terror, practiced by the Young Turk regime, despite all expectations that the Empire will become more liberal toward its minorities.

With the outbreak of the First Balkan War in 1912, Sandanski took active part with his militia units. He ruled along the Struma river valley, captured the Pirin city of Melnik in October 1912, and in November, he marched into Solun, as soon as the Turkish garrison surrendered. In his toast, before what was still believed are allied Greek troops, Sandanski toasted to "a free and autonomous Macedonia, paid and bled for by the allied peoples of the Balkans". The toast was met with revolt from the Bulgarian officers, as it became clear that, once the Ottomans were kicked out of the Balkans, any talk of creating a united Macedonia, roughly equal in size to the earlier created Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece, will be impossible, and the three kingdoms will turn on each other and start fighting over Macedonia, which shortly sparked the Second Balkan War. As hostilities restarted, Sandanski cut off any ties with the Greek and the Serb army, and even contributed to several of their defeats at the hands of the Bulgarian army, even though all his life he fought pro­Bulgarian komiti militia units. Sandanski also got in touch with the Government of the newly founded Kingdom of Albania, discussing joint actions against the Serbian troops which held the Vardar valley ­ modern day Republic of Macedonia. But, with the quick collapse of the Bulgarian army, and the definite partition of Macedonia between the three kingdoms, Sandanski withdrew in his Pirin Mountain, now part of the Tsardom of Bulgaria.

He remained aware that he has many enemies, as the living embodiment of the idea to unite Macedonia, and also due to his opposition to Bulgaria joining the First World War, but still often traveled with armed escort. This was his downfall on April 21st 1915, when he left the mountainous Rozen monastery for the town of Nevrokop (now known as Goce Delcev). After spending the night in his ancestral village of Vlahi, he continued his trip and was met by an ambush, likely ordered by Tsar Ferdinand and Todor Aleksandrov. Stojan Filipov and Andon Kacarkov are named as the organizer and the perpetrator of the actual assassination. Sandanski's body was photographed where he lay, and taken to the Rozen monastery, where thousands came to mourn the Tsar of Pirin. Even Ferdinand ordered that a wraith of flowers be laid on his grave.

Sandanski was buried near the Rozen monastery and his grave remains an iconic place for students of Macedonian national history. He is also regarded as national hero of Bulgaria. One of the most beloved Macedonian revolutionary songs laments his death, and how his goal, of uniting the three parts of Macedonia ­ the one along the Vardar river, the White Sea (or Aegean Sea) Macedonia and the Pirin Macedonia ­ into one independent country, has remained unfinished.


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