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Kapitan Petko Voivoda (Petko Kiriakov) - (Dec.18 (6),1844 - Feb.20 (7), 1900)

Kapitan Petko Voivoda (Petko Kiriakov) - (Dec.18 (6),1844 - Feb.20 (7), 1900)

2/20/2010 9:14:54 AM

Born on December (6)18, 1844, in the village of Dogan Hissar, on the territory of today's Turkey, Petko Kiryakov formed a rebel squad after several of his relatives were slaughtered by the local Turkish "bey". In the course of almost two decades he fought against the Ottoman outrages in the Rhodopes and the Aegean Thrace. Most of the life of Petko Kiryakov was not unveiled by historians but by the prominent Bulgarian writer Nikolay Haitov, who wrote a novel and a script turned into a TV series, which became a favourite of most Bulgarians. Haitov spent many years in the region of the Rhodopes to search for information on the liberation hero.

Petko was popular among ethnic Bulgarians, Turks and Greeks because he defended the rights of the poor ones. This Bulgarian Robin Hood did not limit himself to territories inhabited by Bulgarians only; he was eager to fight for any people in Europe suffering injustice. In a way, he was the first Bulgarian to turn the ideal of united Europe into practice. Part of his efforts was the amazing friendship he had with Garibaldi.

In 1864, Petko was in touch with Greek revolutionaries. He spent a year in the Athens Military School, learning the secrets of military art and tactics. Greece had been an independent state since 1829 but vast regions of the country and many islands, including Crete, were still under Ottoman rule. While in Greece, Kiryakov learned that Garibaldi, the leader of the Italian revolution, had been heavily wounded. At this time Italy was occupied by the Austrian Empire. The two met in person in 1866, at the estate of the famous Italian. The 60-year-old Garibaldi became like a teacher to the 22-year-old Petko.

"He, the Italian hero, gave me directions that I recalled my entire life and followed in my struggle against the Ottoman oppressors," Kiryakov once said of this important friendship. Garibaldi helped the young Bulgarian to form a squad of 220 volunteers, mainly Italians, which was later joined by other Bulgarian and Greek revolutionaries, and went to Crete to lead many battles against the Ottomans. The uprising in Crete ended tragically, despite being supported by the Greek government by means of weapons, money and volunteers. The Great Powers decided in favour of the Ottomans and asked them for no more than reforms. The island again became part of Greece in 1913 after the Second Balkan War.

After spending some time in Alexandria (Egypt) and Marseille (France), Petko returned to Bulgaria and continued his struggle until after the Liberation (1878). He spent the last years of his life in the city of Varna. Contrary to what anyone could expect, these last years were far from calm. Several times he was arrested and imprisoned by the regime of Stefan Stambolov. Despite being politically inactive, Petko was accused of being a Russophile and was even framed for organising a plot against the prime minister. Police raided his home in Varna and stole important documents and belongings of Kiryakov, among them probably a ring, which was a gift from Garibaldi.

After meeting Petko Voivoda, Garibaldi was very interested in the fate of Bulgaria. As a shrewd and experienced man, Garibaldi accurately appraised the extraordinary talent of the young Bulgarian. As a token of his friendship, the Italian leader presented Petko with a golden ring and gave him the rank of captain. This rank was also given to him by the Russian Emperor Alexander II, who also presented the Bulgarian hero with the St.George's Cross and an estate near Kiev - for services to Russia.

Captain Petko Voivoda died in 1892 in Varna, at the age of 56, and was almost forgotten...

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