Heritage & History

Karpos: the Untameable Will for Freedom

by Dimitar Masevski,
edited by Robert Alagjozovski

One monument stands out from the large number of equestrian statues which have appeared in Skopje over the past year or so. It is the monument to Karpos (pronounced karposh) – a dynamic figure of a mounted hero near the historic Stone Bridge. It is not by coincidence that this historic personality was commemorated in bronze near the Stone Bridge. The following story will tell why. Karpos had become a rebel icon for generations that followed and served as an inspiration for another national hero whose antifascist and liberation activity significantly contributed to the creation of the modern Macedonian state during the Second World War. The young communist Hristijan Todorovski adopted alias Karpos when he became a partizan commander. The most modern of Skopje’s municipalities was named Karpos in honour of these two national heroes.

Everything started with Karpos, the leader of peasants and miners from the Kumanovo, Kratovo and Kriva Palanka regions who in 1689 led the first significant uprisings against the Ottomans
in Macedonia. Although official documents and archive materials pertaining to his life are rather scarce, historians have profiled him as the leader of armed resistance of the Macedonian people in their struggle for freedom. After the decisive battle near Kumanovo he was captured by the Tatars of Selim Giray and brought to Skopje, to the Stone Bridge, where his head was cut off and put on a stake, and his body thrown in the waters of the River Vardar.

Precious little is known about Karpos prior to 1689. And what we do know about him is gleaned mainly from the Ottoman sources which describe him as a serious enemy honoured by a royal hat and called “King” by the Austrian Emperor Leopold I who was also waging a war against the Ottoman Empire at the time. In 1689 Ottoman records describe Karpos as an infamous leader of the ajduts. Many an experienced commander sent to destroy him failed. Then the Ottoman government attempted to enlist him as an ally and he was appointed leader of martoloz soldiers in Turkish service in the whole of eastern Macedonia. As is evident from another official document, Karpos retained this position for a very short time: “the traitor Karpos, one of the martoloz soldiers in Skopje, escaped and became the leader of a company of over 3000 non-Muslim robbers from the rebellious masses”. This report marks the beginning of the Karpos Uprising which started with the battle of Kriva Palanka on October 20 when the fortress was taken over by the rebels. On October 22, the rebels took over Kumanovo as well, and later some other parts of the Skopje Sandzak. Taking advantage of the defeats that the Ottoman army was suffering from the Austrian forces, towards the end of October, Karpos created the first free territory in Macedonia which included parts of the Kjustendil area and the Skopje Sandzak. Historical records found so far do not really have significant data on Karpos’s personality. Having created the first free territory, he worked intensely on securing it. He had an enormous trench dug out around the Egri Dere Fortress, a new fortress with a wide and deep trench and a strong stockade was built in Kumanovo. To put an end to this uprising the Ottoman government called in the leader of the Crimean Tatars, the Great Khan Selim Giray. After the first battle between him and Karpos at Kamenica Ovasi the Ottoman army took over Kriva Palanka on November 24, 1689. The Chronicles of Mehmed Rashid thus described the Macedonian leader: “that cursed man, Karpos, who was known as the King of Kumanovo, the bashi bazouk of the Caur ajdut villains, and who was presented with a kalpak by the Austrian tzar”. The decisive battle took place near Kumanovo, where Selim Giray’s troops far outnumbering rebels defeated them, and Karpos was captured. Mehmed Rashid described this event as well: “The following morning, the noble Muslim forces, heading from the south side of Egri Dere, reached the Kumanovo fortress. The cursed disbelievers engaged into battle; however the rebels soon afterwards were not left with any strength to continue the fight, thanks to the God almighty, the above mentioned cursed man, Karpos, and his many Caur followers were captured.” After the victory, the Tatar army entered Kumanovo Fortress and sacked it. Sometime towards
the end of November, or the first days of December, on the ancient Stone Bridge in Skopje, Karpos was impaled and then beheaded.

The spirit of the seventeenthcentury hero was reincarnated in Hristijan Todorovski, the legendary Kozjak partisan commander, People’s Hero of Yugoslavia and Macedonia who adopted the name “Karpos” as his alias during the Second World War. He is the symbol of the continuity of the fight of the Macedonian people for their own freedom. Hristijan Todorovski was born in Kumanovo in 1921 and raised in the spirit of national equality, unity, social justice, freedom and human rights for all. It was precisely these ideas and the uncompromising spirit that got him expelled from all of the secondary schools he attended in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. After the fascist occupation, he was very active in the preparation for an armed uprising. He was a member of the Kozjak squad, but later fought all over Macedonia, Serbia and Kosovo. In the meantime, officials of the Bulgarian occupying forces sentenced him in absentia to death by hanging. In February 1943 Todorovski
Karpos returned to Kumanovo where he actively worked on the organization of a new detachment. He excelled in his career of a military leader and commander. Similarly to his precursor and namesake, Todorovski Karpos created a safe territory on which he moved freely defying Bulgarian fascists and Serbian Chetnik armed formations. He was killed in battle against Bulgarian fascists at Biljacha on 7 February 1944 while repairing a defect on a mine carrier. He was proclaimed a People’s Hero of Yugoslavia in 1945.