Break out on May 1

On Benkovski’s proposal the meeting decided that the uprising should break out on May 1, but the developments forced the hand of the insurgents. The Turkish authorities learned about the meeting in Oborishte and sent gendarmes to Panagyurishte and Koprivshtitsa to arrest the organizers. The chairman of the revolutionary committee in Koprivshtitsa Todor Kableshkov had to escape and after a short meeting the committee took the decision that the uprising should start immediately. The quiet town in the mountains was shaken by gun shots and the alarm of ringing church bells. The streets were filled with young men in insurgents’ uniforms. The police headquarters were taken by storm and soon the red and green banner of the insurgents with an enraged lion embroidered on it with the words ‘Freedom or Death’ underneath was fluttering over it. A messenger was sent immediately on horseback to Panagyurishte carrying the celebrated ’letter signed in blood’ from the insurgents in Koprivshtitsa to the committee in Panagyurishte.

The letter gave rise to indescribable enthusiasm in Panagyurishte. Benkovski gave out the order to start the uprising immediately. In only several minutes power passed over into the hands of the insurgents. The detach-ment of Turkish gendarmes sent to Panagyurishte to arrest the revolutionary committee was put to flight. The local schoolmistress Raina Popgeorgieva, whom the people called Princess Raina, joined the insurgents dressed in their uniform, on horseback, holding aloft the banner she herself had sewn and embroidered. The whole town gathered in the square to listen to Benkovski’s fiery speech. A provisional government was formed with the prominent citizen of Panagyurishte Pavel Bobekov at the head. Couriers set out from the centre of the uprising, Panagyurishte, for all the villages in the district and for the other revolutionary districts with the long-awaited news and appeal to rise at once in an armed uprising. Benkovski himself assembled some 200 armed mounted insurgents who formed his legendary ‘flying detachment’ and led them on a tour of the villages to inspire and organize the people.

Uprising spread

The fire of the uprising spread to almost all towns and villages in the district and in the cities of Plovdiv and Pazardjik, where numerous Turkish garrisons were stationed. The insurgents fought bravely but the forces of the enemy were superior. The entire might of the Empire was sent against their old rifles and wooden cannons made of cherry-tree trunks. The insurgent towns and villages fell one after another into the hands of the bashibozouks (irregular armed Turkish hordes) and of the regular forces, armed with most up-to-date weapons. After three days of fierce battles, on April 30, the Turks entered Panagyurishte, which was set on fire by the artillery. All inhabitants, mainly old men and women with small children, who had not managed to run away and hide in the mountains, were massacred. The same fate befell the towns of Klissoura, Strelcha and scores of other settlements in the Sredna Gora mountains. The leaders of the uprising, together with small groups of insurgents, tried to escape to Romania, but most of them fell in ambushes along the long road: Benkovski was killed not far from Teteven, Volov – near the town of Byala. Kableshkov was captured and committed suicide in prison.

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