Serbian Chetnik Organization

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For the World War II guerilla detachments, see Chetniks.

The Serbian Chetnik Organization (Serbian: Српска четничка организација/Srpska četnička organizacija) was a revolutionary organization with the aim of liberation of Old Serbia (Kosovo) and Macedonia from the Ottoman Empire (in the vilayets of Kosovo, Manastir and Salonika). Its Central Committee was established in 1902, while the Serbian Committee (Српски комитет) was established in September 1903 in Belgrade, by the combined Central Boards of Belgrade, Vranje, Skopje and Bitola. Its armed wing was activated in 1904. Among the architects were members of the Saint Sava society, Army Staff and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It operated during the Struggle for Macedonia (Борба за Македонију), a series of social, political, cultural and military conflicts in the region of Macedonia. The central committee had initially funded individual, and small groups of hajduks (brigands), who were either self-organized or part of the Bulgarian revolutionary organizations in Macedonia (Supreme Macedonian-Adrianople Committee or Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization). These sought to protect the Slavic Christian population from zulum (atrocities, persecution). With the failed negotiations of a joint Serbian-Bulgarian action, and growing nationalism within the Bulgarian committees, the Serbian committee decided to fully organize their own armed groups. The Central Committee sent the first two bands into Macedonia in 1904, which were exposed early and completely destroyed. The second wave proved more successful; however, hostility between the Bulgarian Committee and the Serbian Committee began. Serb Chetniks thus fought the Ottomans, and Bulgarian and Albanian bands. Prominent guerrilla fighters include Jovan Babunski, Gligor Sokolović, Ilija Trifunović-Birčanin, Mihailo Ristić-Džervinac, Jovan Grković-Gapon, Vasilije Trbić, Garda Spasa, Borivoje Jovanović-Brana, Ilija Jovanović-Pčinjski, Jovan Stanojković-Dovezenski, Micko Krstić, Lazar Kujundžić, Cene Marković, Miša Aleksić-Marinko, Doksim Mihailović, Kosta Milovanović-Pećanac, Vojin Popović-Vuk and Savatije Milošević. The period is known as Serb Action in Macedonia (Српска акција у Македонији). After the proclamation of the Young Turk revolution in 1908 and the proclamation of the constitution, all of the brigands in Macedonia, including the Serbian Chetniks, put down their weapons. However, the organization continued its existence and played an important role in the Balkan Wars and the First World War.


In 1880, an assembly consisting of 65 of the most notable people of the districts of Kumanovo, Kriva Palanka, Kočani, Štip, Veles, Prilep, Bitola, Ohrid, Kičevo and Skopje appealed to the former Serbian commander of the Macedonian volunteers in the Serbo-Turkish War to have them armed and led in a revolt against the Ottoman Empire.[1] Serbia secretly and carefully aided them,[2] and the Brsjak Revolt broke out in the counties of Kičevo, Poreč, Bitola and Prilep, lasting over 6 months.[1] It ultimately ended in failure,[1] as the Ottoman army succeeded in suppressing the rebellion in the winter of 1880/1881, and many of the leaders were exiled.[3] Persecution of Serbs in Macedonia followed, with an increasing Bulgarization in the region.[1] Ilija Delija, Rista Kostadinović, Micko Krstić and Anđelko Tanasović were among the assembly members.


The Society Against Serbs was established in 1897 in Sofia, Principality of Bulgaria, whose activists were both "Centralists" and "Vrhovnists" of the Bulgarian committees, and had up until 1902 murdered at least 43 persons, and wounded 52 persons, who were owners of Serbian schools, teachers, clergy, and other notable Serbs.[4]

In May 1899, Golub Janić sent a detachment of 10 to 15 men to Macedonia.[5]


Serbian Chetnik Organization
Successor Chetniks
Formation 1902—September 1903
Type Revolutionary organization
Purpose Liberation of Old Serbia and Macedonia from the Ottoman Empire
Key people
  • Dr. Milorad Gođevac
  • Vasa Jovanović
  • Žika Rafailović
  • Luka Ćelović
  • Gen. Jovan Atanacković
Main organ
Central Committee (Serbian Committee)
50,000 dinars (1903)

The Central Committee was established in Belgrade in 1902[6] by Milorad Gođevac, merchant Luka Ćelović, Vasilije Jovanović, Nikola Spasić, Ljuba Kovačević, Jovan Atanacković, Ljubomir Jovanović-Čupa, Ljubomir Davidović, revolutionary veteran Golub Janić and academian Ljubomir Stojanović. Captain Žika Rafailović later joined the Committee; he had up until then independently organized armed bands in Old Serbia. The seat of the board was in the house of Ćelović. The organization was initially funded by Ćelović who donated 50,000 dinars yearly, which at that time was a very large sum. The Committee chose Dr. Gođevac as President. It had initially funded individual, and small groups of hajduks (brigands), who were either self-organized or part of the Bulgarian revolutionary organizations in Macedonia (Supreme Macedonian-Adrianople Committee or Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization). The Serbian Committee (Српски комитет), or Central Revolutionary Secret Board (Централни револуционарни тајни одбор), or Central Board of the Serbian Chetnik Organisation (Централни одбор српске четничке организације), was established in September 1903 in Belgrade, by the combined Central Boards of Belgrade, Vranje, Skopje and Bitola. The fighters sought to protect the Slavic Christian population from zulum (atrocities, persecution), and carried out assassinations of known persecutors. With the failed negotiations of a joint Serbian-Bulgarian action, and growing nationalism within the Bulgarian committees, the Serbian committee decided to fully organize their own armed groups. It's armed wing was thus officially activated in 1904. Among the architects were members of the Society of Saint Sava, Army Staff and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In the beginning, and also at times at the end, the Serbian Chetniks had strict orders of defence and protection, and not any offensive; Ottoman government and the Great Powers agreed that the Chetniks did not carry out crimes and massacres, though the great armed conflicts could not be without violence.[7]


Serbian Chetnik Organization
Active 1903–1912
Allegiance  Kingdom of Serbia
Role guerrilla warfare
Nickname Chetniks
Motto "Freedom or Death"
Jovan Babunski


Milorad Gođevac, Luka Ćelović and Vasilije Jovanović formed the first armed band in Belgrade on May 29, 1903. The band, which had 8 soldiers, was commanded by Ilija Slave, a Serb from Macedonia who was a kaldrmdžija (cobblestone paver).[8]

April–May 1904[edit]

On Đurđevdan (23 April), 1904, Bulgarian students travelled to Belgrade to hold a congress.[9] This was after negotiations between the Bulgarian and Serbian committees about a joint Serb-Bulgarian uprising had failed after more than 50 meetings in a period of 4–5 months.[10] The Bulgarian students and the Serbian side constantly stressed the need for Serb-Bulgarian brotherhood.[9] After the students had left, it was unearthed that most of these were in fact members of the Bulgarian committee, who sought to find their companions and lead them back to Bulgaria.[9] Three of them were wholly assigned to persuade Gligor Sokolović to return to Bulgaria, but he refused.[9] They also met with Stojan Donski.[9]

On 25 April, two bands (četa) of some 20 fighters under voivodes Anđelko Aleksić and Đorđe Cvetković swore oath in a ceremony of the Serbian Chetnik Committee (Dr. Milorad Gođevac, Vasa Jovanović, Žika Rafailović, Luka Ćelović and General Jovan Atanacković), with prota Nikola Stefanović holding the prayers.[11] The Committee had prepared the formation of the first bands for a number of months.[11] The Chetniks were sent for Poreče, and on 8 May they headed out from Vranje, to Buštranje, which was divided between Serbia and Turkey.[12] Vasilije Trbić, who guided them, told them that the best way was to go through the Kozjak and then down to the Vardar.[13] The two voivodes however, wanted the fastest route, through the Kumanovo plains and then to Četirac.[13] They managed to enter Turkish territory but were subsequently exposed in the plain Albanian and Turkish villages, and the Ottomans closed in on them from all sides, and they decided to stay on the Šuplji Kamen, which gave them little defence instead of meeting the army on the plains; in broad daylight, the Ottoman military easily poured bombs over the hill and killed all 24 of the Chetniks.[14]

July–August 1904[edit]

After receiving the news in Belgrade, the Chetnik activity did not stop; four new bands were prepared for crossing the border.[15] Velko Mandarchev, from the Skopje field, became the voivode of a band that moved into Skopska Crna Gora.[15] The more experienced and bold Gligor Sokolović became the voivode of a band that would fight in the Prilep region (Prilepska četa).[16][15] Rista Cvetković-Sušički, a former friend and voivode of Zafirov, was sent for Poreče where Micko Krstić impatiently waited for him with the band.[15] Poreče was a source for the rebels; every villager was a martyr and hero, and although Poreče was small, it beat off all attacks, and from it, troops entered all sides, as an effectuation for the struggle.[15] The fourth band was firstly sent to Drimkol, Ohrid, its voivodes being Đorđe Cvetković and Vasilije Trbić.[15]

On the night of 19 July, the four bands crossed the border.[15] They went a secure route which had been put forward by Trbić and Anđelko.[15] They did not rush, and spent days in Kozjak and villages of the Pčinja.[15] They went fast and lightly in the night, and carefully descended towards the Vardar transition.[15] In the village of Živinj, in the middle of the junction, they encountered Bulgarian Voivode Bobev; the meeting at first was sudden and unpleasant, but quickly became friendly and festive.[15] Voivode Bobev assured them that he was happy that they would fight together, and took the bands to the village of Lisičja, where they would cross over the Vardar.[15] Only Sokolović suspected a fraud, but went reluctantly.[15] A sudden Ottoman chase urged them to abandon the route on the river coast of Pčinja, and to cross Vardar at one of its confluences, as they had intended at first.[15] On the night of 31 July, in the village of Lisičja, to no avail, a large Bulgarian ambush waited for Bobev to lead the Serbs to their hands – to terminate the Serbian Chetnik Movement.[17]

In the village of Solpa, they dried their clothes on the warm summer morning, and rested in the boxwood shrubs and ate wet bread.[17] Bobev, who was not allowed to leave them as part of the ambush, was still with them.[17] On the next day, 2 August, the bands crossed through Drenovo, and climbed the Šipočar mountain in a long line, where they would rest and drink fragrant milk of the Vlachs.[17] For three days they freely stayed in the mountain and watched the horizon, and routinely looked out, and then climbed to the higher Dautica mountain.[17]

Sokolović, troubled and bothered by Bobev's presence, did not want to go further and took his band towards Babuna.[17] The three bands that stayed, followed by Bobev, descended into Belica.[17] There they found a number of Bulgarian bands, led by Voivode Banča, who told them to call on Micko, a lord of Poreče.[17] The Serbs awaited him, not sensing a deceit.[17] But Trbić, who had always sought the background in things, found out from a drunk Bulgarian friend, whom he had been drinking with for an hour, that there was a plot against them.[17] Trbić told a villager assistant to report to Micko not to come.[17] After learning this, the band of Trbić and Đorđe Cvetković turned to Demir-Hisar.[17] Mandarčević and Sušički stayed in Belica, ready for betrayal.[17] In the mountain village of Slansko they found yet another Bulgarian band, of Voivode Đurčin, who kindly, but with the intent to follow them, sent with them two followers to Cer, in Demir-Hisar.[17]

In the meantime, in Belgrade, there was still hope that the Serbs and Bulgarians would work together in Macedonia; however, in Macedonian villages, there began massacres. On the night of 6 August, Bulgarian major Atanas Babata and his band entered the Serbian village of Kokošinje, where they were searching for people that were condemned to death by the Bulgarian Committee. The Bulgarian band demanded that the village priests and teachers renounce their Serbian identity, but they refused, and they massacred over 53 people. A servant of one of the teachers, who had managed to hide, set out to find the band of Jovan Dovezenski, who he had heard was crossing the border. The teacher's servant found another Serbian band, that of Jovan Pešić-Strelac, which had learned of the Bulgarian atrocities of Babota, but also of those of Jordan Spasev, who had killed members of the notable Dunković family on 11 August.[a]

The Serbian Chetniks in Poreče and Demir-Hisar, constantly followed by Bulgarians, did not know of the massacres.[18] The hungry and tired band of Đorđe Cvetković arrived at the village of Gornji Divjaci, where they were hosted by the villagers who had brought cheese and rakija.[18] They rested in sheets of sheep skin, and the village children came with bread and listened to their stories.[18] Cvetković, Trbić and Stevan Ćela rested in the house of the village leader, and ate several meals.[18] In the next morning, Trbić walked through the yard and went down some stairs, and saw an Ottoman jandarma whom he shot, who was then buried in the forest.[18] The rest ended and the band assembled and walked the river across the mountain.[18] They arrived at the village of Cer the next day where they also found Bulgarians, and the Bulgarian voivodes Hristo Uzunov and Georgi Sugarev joined their company.[18]

In the mountainous village of Mramorac, where Petar Chaulev had set up camp in the forest, Trbić band were told that the Bulgarian Committee had prohibited them to go to Drimkol.[19] On the same day, 14 August, the Bulgarians had killed Serbian priest Stavro Krstić, which the Chetniks later learnt from the villagers.[b] Far from the other bands, without help, tricked and surrounded, the band understood their situation.[19] Chaulev informed them of their disarmament and the Bulgarian Committee's verdict of crime against the Bulgarian organization.[19] They were only shouted at, as they were saved by some ethnic Serb voivodes in the Bulgarian bands: Tase and Dejan from Prisovjan and Cvetko from Jablanica in Debar, who were bound by oath to the Bulgarian Committee, but nevertheless openly defended the Serbian Chetniks, and friends, whom they had wintered together with in Belgrade.[19] They awaited Dame Gruev, the second leader of the Bulgarian Committee after Sarafov, who would arrive from Bitola.[19] Gruev and his escort arrived as village priests on a night.[19] Trbić knew Gruev from the Kruševo Uprising and from an encounter in Serava.[19] Trbić used their acquaintance and memories, reminding Gruev of the common revolutionary fight and his childhood, when Gruev was a cadet of the Society of Saint Sava in Belgrade, and an apprentice in the printing house of Pero Todorović, which was called Smiljevo after Gruev's birthplace.[19]


In 1906 and 1907, the Serbian Chetniks had most success.[7]

Young Turk Revolution[edit]

When the Young Turk Revolution broke out (1907–1908), and there was a temporary peace in Macedonia, the Young Turks gave Serbs more rights.


The organization continued its existence and also played a role during the Balkan wars of 1912 and 1915, as well as during World War I.[20]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Georgevitch, p. 183
  2. ^ Matica Srpska 1992, p. 55: "Србија је тајно и врло опрезно помагала акције хришћана у Турској (Брсјачка буна), али је на интервенције владе та помоћ престала ... 1881"
  3. ^ Koliševski 1962, p. 499: "Сето ова движење во Западна Македонија е познато во историјата под името „Брсјачка буна". Турската војска успеа во зимата 1880 — 1881 година да ја задуши буната и многу нејзини водачи да ги испрати на заточение."
  4. ^ Hadzi-Vasiljevic 1928, p. 14
  5. ^ Oswald Ashton Wentworth Dilke; Margaret S. Dilke (1984). Recollections of the National Liberation Struggles in Macedonia: At the End of the 19th and the Beginning of the 20th Centuries. Mosaic Publications. p. 46. For this purpose in May 1899, by their order, the people's deputy Golub Janic from Belgrade organized and sent to Macedonia a detachment of 10-15 men, while Serbian agents in Macedonia informed the Turkish authorities that it was a ... 
  6. ^ Srpska akademija nauka i umetnosti 1998, p. 197
  7. ^ a b Dedijer 2008, p. 631

    српска акција [...] Српска четничка акщуа имала је на

    —више успеха 1906. и 1907
  8. ^ Krakov 1930, p. 80
  9. ^ a b c d e Krakov, p. 147
  10. ^ Krakov, p. 146
  11. ^ a b Krakov, p. 150
  12. ^ Krakov, p. 154
  13. ^ a b Krakov, p. 155
  14. ^ Krakov, pp. 161–164
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Krakov, p. 166
  16. ^ Živković 1998
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Krakov, p. 167
  18. ^ a b c d e f g Krakov, p. 172
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h Krakov, p. 173
  20. ^ Roberts(1973), p. 21