The War of Greek Independence raged for more than nine years. It was a bloody series of skirmishes and naval battles, and heartless massacres. The conflict lasted much longer than anyone expected, and it involved more hardship and death than the Hellenic patriots imagined when they first declared war. Throughout the 1820’s the war’s outcome was never certain. In every way this war was a struggle.
Yet, the Hellenic cause to slip free from 400 years of slavery was ultimately realized with the intervention of European powers. A Greek-Turkish settlement signed in London in 1830 declared a new nation to be carved out of the Ottoman Empire. Greece was placed on the map of Europe and Hellenes would have their freedom.
The Ottoman Rule and the Phlliki Etairia
Hellenes were enslaved by Ottoman masters for nearly four hundred years, since the year 1453 when the Byzantine Empire fell to the Turks. The Ottomans’ reign over the Balkan territories proved especially hard for Hellenes — non-Muslim subjects of Orthodox Christian faith.
This is a truly dark age in our peoples’ history. Hellenes were subjected to the worst acts of systematic oppression. They were treated as inferior and suffered reduced liberties and senseless cruelties. The most egregious acts of slavery had the Turk overlords regularly gathering all young boys to enlist them in training for the Turkish military.
However, for generations the Hellenic Spirit endured — preserved and nurtured largely by the Greek Orthodox Church. Although restrictions were placed on the Church, subjected Hellenes maintained the Greek language and a sense of their heritage – and an independence – with the teachings of their priests.
Through the 1700s there were also learned scholars who helped to sow the seeds of independence. In evenings, often in secret gatherings, the scholars taught their pupils the Greek language and culture. One of the notorious teachers was Adamantios Koraes of Chios who is credited with laying the foundations of Modern Greek literature. Koraes was a humanist scholar who had witness the French Revolution and took his primary intellectual inspiration from the Enlightenment. He instilled in his pupils the hope for a new Hellenic classicism that would arise after the passing of the dark years of Ottoman suppression.
Another scholar of note that help advance a modern Greek Enlightenment was Rigas Feraios. He was a political thinker and writer who penned poems and books about Greek history. Although he died in 1798, Feraios is widely recognized as a pioneer of revolutionary thought, instilling hope and dreams of a better tomorrow. Today he is remembered as a national hero for his inspirational battle-hymn Thourios.
Though the Ottomans attempted to suppress all teachings of Greek culture, through the Church and the teachings of the scholars, the Hellenes heritage and language survived.
In 1814, a secret society of revolutionaries, the Phlliki Etairia (Friendly Brotherhood) was founded with an aim of liberating Hellenes from Turkish rule. In a short time the Phlliki Etairia had a presence in all regions of Greece. Today, the leaders of this society are regaled as heroes: great men who fanned the embers of revolutionary ideas and provided hope for a better tomorrow. Phlliki Etairia leaders included Theodore Kolokotronis, Petrompes Mavromichalis, Andreas Zaimis, Andreas Lentos, the Metropolites Palaion Patron Germanos, and Gregorios Papaflesas – all leaders dedicated to freedom from the Ottoman Empire.
The Philiki Etairia “revolution” had no geographical objectives but rather a spiritual basis that was centred in a cry for freedom from oppression. It was also a cry for Christianity and Hellene values. In 1820 plans for an insurrection were drafted, and by 1821 the Philiki Etairia were organized to strike.
Spring 1821 in Peloponnese and Heralding Independence
In late March, Greek patriots successfully captured the towns of Kalavrita, Kalames and Mani. The legendary account of the start of the war reads that on March 25, 1821 Bishop Germanos of Patras blessed and raised a flag of revolution over the Monastery of Agia Lavra in the Peloponnese and the fight for freedom was declared.
Patras was successfully taken and Lala, Corinth, Monemvasia, Navarino, Argos, and Nauplion were soon besieged by the patriots. With this flurry of attacks, Greeks heralded their independence.
The Ottoman response to the declarations was swift and brutal. The Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople Gregory V was taken from the cathedral on Easter Sunday, April 22nd and hung on the orders of the Sultan. In the following weeks there were executions of multiple clergies and bloody massacres throughout the Ottoman Empire. In Kydonia, Ionia, there was an estimated 25,000 Greeks killed, and in Thessaloniki the Turkish governor ordered every Greek be killed.
One of the most horrific massacres occurred on the island of Chios in April 1822. The Turkish military massacred 42,000 men, women and children, and nearly 50,000 were enslaved and 23,000 exiled. In the end, only 2,000 citizens remained on an island that once was prosperous with 117,000 inhabitants.
On the battlefields, the Turkish military answered the call in the Peloponnese by reclaiming some of the early lost territory. However, the Turks met the main Greek patriot force at Valtetsi and was soundly defeated. Greek morale soared even higher when patriots withstood a 4,000-strong Turkish force outside of Veivena. Meanwhile, at sea, Greek fleets achieved some successes against the Ottoman navy that prevented military reinforcements to arrive through the Aegean Sea. As a result, by 1822 the flag of the Greek patriots flew again over Navarino, Monemvasia, and Corinth and much of the Peloponnese.
It was less than two years into the conflict and already much blood had been spilt on both sides.
In the early years the Greeks experienced many successes. When the patriots declared independence in the Peloponnese, the Turks unsuccessfully attempted to take back the region three times between 1822 through 1824. The Greek forces surged to capture and hold Athens in 1822. Though successful on the battlefields, it was the Greeks’ own infighting and civil unrest that stole their lasting victory.
In 1825, fortunes began to turn against the Greeks with the arrival of Egyptian forces to bolster the beleaguered Turkish military. With the support of the Egyptian navy, in 1826 the Turks recaptured Missolonghi and Athens, and then in June 1827 they scaled the Athenian Acropolis to raise the Ottoman flag over the Parthenon.
The European Intervention and a New Independent State
Just as the war seemed lost, western European allies decided to come to the aid of the Greek cause. Stirred by the works and first-hand accounts of popular artists and thinkers, Europeans overwhelmingly sympathized with the Hellenes and their struggle. In turn, Great Britain, France, and Russia agreed to intervene in the war. In July 1827 the Treaty of London was signed; it called on Greek and Ottoman forces to cease all fighting. When the Turks declined the settlement, the European powers sent naval fleets and men to end the conflict.
On October 20, 1827 the infamous naval Battle of Navarino took place in the Ionian Sea in which the European powers crushed the Ottoman and Egyptian navies. This was a spectacular naval battle, the last one in history to be fought entirely with sailing ships.
French troops joined with the Greek patriots to defend the Peloponnese and retake central Greece. Together the French and patriot forces pushed the Turkish troops from central and southern Greece. Then, Russia in initiated the Russo-Turkish War (1828–29), a bloody Balkan conflict that diverted Ottoman troops away from Greece. The result of this combined pressure on land and at sea had the Turks agree in 1829 to a treaty that ceded the disputed territory to the Greeks.
Greece was officially recognized as an independent state on February 3, 1830 with the signing of the London Protocol. That settlement was determined and agreed to by the European Powers and the Ottomans, and adopted without a Greek signature. The new country of Greece was to be an independent monarchical state under the protection of Britain, France and Russia. Later in July 1832, the Treaty of Constantinople was signed in which the final borders of the new state were established and Prince Otto of Bavaria was crowned Head of State.
At this time, Greece had no more than 800,000 people in the new state; there remained 2.5 million Hellenes residing throughout the Ottoman Empire. Finally, after hundreds of years of oppression and a decade of fighting, Hellenes had a place to call home.
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