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April Uprising / Априлско въстание (1876)

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The April Uprising (Bulgarian: Априлско въстание) was an insurrection organised by the Bulgarians in the Ottoman Empire from April to May 1876, which indirectly resulted in the re-establishment of Bulgaria as an autonomous nation in 1878. About 1,000 Muslims were killed during the uprising, leading the regular Ottoman Army and irregular bashi-bazouk units to brutally crush the rebels, leading to a public outcry in Europe and the United States, with many famous intellectuals condemning the Ottoman atrocities and supporting the oppressed Bulgarian population.

The 1876 uprising involved only those parts of the Ottoman territories populated predominantly by Bulgarians. The emergence of Bulgarian national sentiments was closely related to the re-establishment of the independent Bulgarian Orthodox Church in 1870. Together with notions of romantic nationalism the rise of national awareness became known as the Bulgarian National Revival.


In Europe, in the eighteenth century, the classic non-national states were the multi-ethnic empires such as the Ottoman Empire, ruled by a Sultan and the population belonged to many ethnic groups, which spoke many languages. The idea of nation state was an increasing emphasis during the 19th century, on the ethnic and racial origins of the nations. The most noticeable characteristic was the degree to which nation states use the state as an instrument of national unity, in economic, social and cultural life. By the 19th century, the Ottomans had fallen well behind the rest of Europe in science, technology, and industry. However, the Bulgarian population was also suppressed socially and politically under Ottoman rule. Additionally, more immediate causes for the greater mobilisation compared to earlier revolts were the severe internal and external problems which the Ottoman Empire experienced in the middle of the 1870s. In 1875, taxes levied on non-Muslims were raised for fear of a state bankruptcy, which, in turn, caused additional tension between Muslims and Christians and facilitated the breakout of the Herzegovinian rebellion and the Stara Zagora revolt in Bulgaria. The failure of the Ottomans to handle the Herzegovinian uprising successfully showed the weakness of the Ottoman state while the brutalities which ensued, discredited additionally the empire to the outside world. In the late 19th century European ideas of nationalism were adopted by the Bulgarian elite.


In November 1875, activists of the Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee met in the Romanian town of Giurgiu and decided that the political situation was suitable for a general uprising. The uprising was scheduled for April or May 1876. The territory of the country was divided into five revolutionary districts with centers in Vratsa, Veliko Tarnovo, Sliven, Plovdiv and Sofia.

The rebels had been hoarding arms and ammunition for some time and even constructed make-shift cannon out of cherry-wood.

In the progress of the preparation of the uprising, the organisers gave up the idea of a fifth revolutionary district in Sofia due to the deplorable situation of the local revolutionary committees and moved the centre of the fourth revolutionary district from Plovdiv to Panagyurishte. On 14 April 1876, a general meeting of the committees from the fourth revolutionary district was held in the Oborishte locality near Panagyurishte to discuss the proclamation of the insurrection. One of the delegates, however, disclosed the plot to the Ottoman authorities. On 20 April, Ottoman police made an attempt to arrest the leader of the local revolutionary committee in Koprivshtitsa, Todor Kableshkov.

Outbreak and suppression

In conformity with the decisions taken at Oborishte, the local committee attacked the headquarters of the Ottoman police in the town and proclaimed the insurrection two weeks in advance. Within several days, the rebellion spread to the whole Sredna Gora and to a number of towns and villages in the northwestern Rhodopes. The insurrection broke out in the other revolutionary districts, as well, though on a much smaller scale. The areas of Gabrovo, Tryavna, and Pavlikeni also revolted in force, as well as several villages north and south of Sliven and near Berovo (in the present-day Republic of Macedonia). During the revolts over a 1,000 Muslims were slaughtered and many more expelled leading to a quick and ruthless reaction by the Ottoman authorities. Detachments of regular and irregular Ottoman troops ('bashi-bazouks) were mobilised and attacked the first insurgent towns as early as 25 April. Massacres of civilian populations were committed, the principal places being Panagurishte, Perushtitza, Bratzigovo and Batak. By the middle of May, the insurrection was completely suppressed; one of the last sparks of resistance was poet Hristo Botev's attempt to come to the rebels' rescue with a detachment of Bulgarian political emigrees resident in Romania, ending with the unit's rout and Botev's death.

The April uprising was a failure as a revolution, but due to publicity that was given to the reprisals that followed, it led directly to European demands for reform of the Ottoman Empire, and the Russo-Turkish War, which ended in Turkish defeat, and the signing of the Treaty of San Stefano in March 1878, followed in July that year by the Treaty of Berlin. It thus ultimately achieved its original purpose, the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire.

Further reading

  • "Balkan Crisis and the Treaty of Berlin: 1878" from The Balkans Since 1453 by L.S. Stavrianos;
  • Charles Jelavich, Barbara Jelavich, The Establishment of the Balkan National States, 1804–1920 (History of East Central Europe), University of Washington Press (Seattle, 31 December 1977).
  • Mazower, Mark. The Balkans. Weidenfeld & Nicolson history (20 June 2002).
  • Walter Short, The Massacres of the Khilafah.