US Hometown Honors Journalist MacGahan - 'Liberator of Bulgaria'

Society | June 10, 2011, Friday // 13:00|  views

Statue of MacGahan created by Lubomir Daltchev, dedicated at the MacGahan Festival in 1984. Photo by Ron Houston

The MacGahan American Bulgarian Foundation is hosting Friday and Saturday the annual weekend American-Bulgarian festival in tribute to journalist MacGahan and in celebration of the Bulgarian culture and heritage that he helped preserve.

The news was reported by the Foundation, cited by – the largest media portal in Bulgarian in America.

The MacGahan Foundation was formed in 1978 to commemorate the life of Januarius A. MacGahan—an American journalist and war correspondent born near New Lexington, located one hour southeast of Columbus, Ohio. New Lexington is the place of the annual festival dedicated to the journalist.

MacGahan (1844–1878) was working for the New York Herald and the London Daily News. His articles describing the massacre of Bulgarian civilians in the town of Batak by Turkish Ottoman soldiers in 1876 created public outrage in Europe, and were a major factor in preventing Britain from supporting Turkey in the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-78, which led to Bulgaria gaining independence from the Ottoman Empire.

The Batak massacre has not been well publicized and is more or less unknown by the people of most EU countries, unlike the Turkish atrocities in Armenia which receive constant media coverage. But MacGahan stories about the shock he had felt when he visited the "horrific scene" at Batak and in the surrounding villages focused the eyes of the world's most powerful nations on Bulgaria

MacGahan's vivid dispatches from Bulgaria, detailing the Batak atrocities, helped mobilize world opinion to stop the slaughter. These dispatches earned him the title "Liberator of Bulgaria."

Batak was an important staging point for the Bulgarian April Uprising in 1876, in which Bulgarian rebels attempted to end the Ottoman Empire's domination over their country. The rebel city declared independence from the Turks and this announcement was reported to the Turkish authorities. What followed can only be described as mass murder on an unimaginable scale.

On April 30, 1876, 8 000 Turkish soldiers led by Ahmet Aga Barun surrounded the city. After a first battle, the men from Batak decided to negotiate with Ahmet Aga. He promised them the withdrawal of his troops under the condition that Batak disarms. After the rebels had laid down their weapons, the soldiers attacked the defenseless population. 5 000 people were massacred in Batak alone. The number of victims in the district of Philippopolis (Plovdiv) reached 15 000. The majority of the victims were beheaded.

MacGahan was one of the first Westerners to arrive in Batak after the atrocities; his following report was printed in the London Daily News on August 22, 1876;

"...let me tell you what we saw at Batak.. .As we approached Batak our attention was drawn to some dogs on a slope overlooking the town...I observed nothing peculiar as we mounted until my horse stumbled, when looking down I perceived he had stepped on a human skull partly hid among the grass. It was quite hard and dry, and might, to all appearances, have been there two or three years, so well had the dogs done their work...As seen from our standpoint, it reminded one somewhat of the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii."

"The skulls were nearly all separated from the rest of the bones - the skeletons were nearly all headless. These women had all been beheaded....A little further on we came to an object that filled us with pity and horror. It was the skeleton of a young girl not more than fifteen lying by the roadside, and partly covered with the debris of a fallen wall. At the next house a man stopped us to show where a blind little brother had been burned alive, child. The number of children killed in these massacres is something enormous," MacGahan added.

MacGahan is still remembered in Bulgaria for his role in winning Bulgarian independence. A street in the capital Sofia, is named for MacGahan, as is a square in the city of Plovdiv, and streets and squares in several other towns.

More on MacGahan's life and work read HERE.

The program of the festival can be found HERE, courtesy of

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Tags: MacGahan American Bulgarian Foundation, New Lexington, Ohio, Januarius A., MacGahan, American journalist, war correspondent, London Daily News, Batak, massacre, atrocities, Russian-Turkish War


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