1876 April Uprising and Tsanko Dyustabanov’s self-sacrifice

Photo: archive

The April Uprising broke out 138 years ago – it marked the peak of Bulgaria’s national liberation struggles that had lasted for five centuries. Though it was drowned in blood, the uprising achieved its political goal – to attract the attention of Europe towards the sufferings of the Bulgarians. The Liberation of Ottoman rule followed a couple of years later, after the 1877 – 78 Russo-Turkish war. Tsanko Dyustabanov was among many other participants in the uprising, hanged by the Turkish authorities. However, his famous speech before the court shall remain for good: “You are now over… Europe is scandalized by your means and will kick you out of here soon.”

The uprising broke out on 20 April 1876 /2 May the new style/ in the town of Koprivshtitsa. The state had been divided in 4 revolutionary districts a few months before by the organizers from the Giurgiu revolutionary committee in Romania. The revolt was headed by distinguished Bulgarian revolutionaries – Hristo Botev, Stefan Stambolov, Stoyan Zaimov, Georgi Benkovski, Panayot Volov, Zahari Stoyanov… The uprising broke out untimely, since the Turkish authorities had been informed on its preparation. Thousands of regular troops and Bashi-bazouk paramilitary formations were thrown at the settlements revolted. Many of those were burnt down, some 30,000 were slaughtered. The skulls of dead people can be still seen in the church of Batak for instance. Nearly all the leaders of the uprising were killed, Tsanko Dyustabanov was among the captured ones, who were to be hanged. Rosen Yosifov, a curator at Gabrovo’s Regional Museum of History, tells us more on him:

Photo: wikipedia.org“He was born on 13 May 1843 in Gabrovo, in a wealthy family. His mother was a close relative to the well-doer of the school here Nikolay Palauzov. The father had taken part in the 1854 plot. The house of the family was one of the best in the town. Tsanko had three brothers and five sisters.”

Though involved in the maintenance of the family’s property, Tsanko was really keen on self-education – he could read French, Italian, Greek and Turkish. He also turned into an expert in Turkish Sharia – the religious law. During his two-year long stay in Constantinople he attended lectures at the Robert College. He translated from Turkish to Greek the Napoleonic Code – Bonaparte’s civil code. Tsanko became a teacher in Gabrovo after his return, he was appointed a trustee at the local school and a member of the local court. Dyustabanov was convinced that the empire could not be beaten with an uprising and that foreign support was necessary. Despite this, in 1876 he got involved in the revolutionary bustle. Here is more from Rosen Yosifov:

“He was recruited by the Garbrovo revolutionary committee. Tsanko said to the others at the first meeting: “After all said here, I see two options – to give you in to the authorities, or to join you. I choose the second one.” He was appointed a leader of the Gabrovo squad then. Despite all this, Tsanko saw clear the self-sacrifice and the fatal future end of the revolt. His entire actions as a leader aimed at the protection of the local people. The squad gathered at the Gabrovo Monastery on May 1 and major battles took place there on May 9. The squad showed surprising maneuver, despite the lack of any military preparation. They were forced to seek the shelter of the Maragidik peak in the Balkan Range and the leader was hit in the arm during the last battle. He sneaked out with some comrades and started wandering around the mountain. On May 16 Tsanko Dyustabanov was nabbed, as he felt strong weakness due to the wound.”

His famous speech before the Turkish court has reached us thanks to the memoirs of a Bulgarian member of the Veliko Tarnovo district court, Rosen Yosifov goes on to say.

“A few days before the execution the Turks asked him: “Being an educated person, you are aware of our power, weaponry and military forces… Why did you get involved in this silly action of a bunch of people?” Tsanko Dyustabanov stood up and said: “I do know the size of your kingdom and the fact that we could not beat you anyway. However, I also happen to know that you are barbarians and satraps, who will attack the innocent and peaceful people, slaughtering them. Our purpose was not to beat you, but to provoke your atrocities, thus compromising you before the entire civilized world. This goal has already been achieved. You should be aware that Europe is now scandalized and it will soon kick you out of here. So, get ready for the Anatolia, as you’re time has come…”

Dyustabanov was hanged on 15 June 1876. “I see no shame on this gallows,” he said to the hangmen.

The self-sacrifice of the heroes is now remembered, as a monument to the killed April Uprising participants can be found downtown Veliko Tarnovo.

English version: Zhivko Stanchev

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