Saturday, April 24, 2021


Yiannis Gounaris is, at least in the popular consciousness, an obscure figure of the Greek Revolution of 1821. Hailing from Ioannina,  he was employed by Omer Vryoni as his official hunter and accompanied him to Mesolongi, which was besieged by Vryoni in 1822. Unable to overcome the town’s defences, Vryoni resolved on a night attack during Christmas, when it was expected that the defending Greeks would be at their most vulnerable. Overhearing the Ottomans discussing the plan, Gounaris was faced with a dilemma. His wife and children were being held hostage for his good behaviour in Arta. Should he keep quiet, thus maintaining his family in safety, or should he find a way to alert the besieged Greeks of their ultimate doom? Ultimately, he chose the latter. When the Ottomans sprung their “surprise” attack, the Greeks were waiting for them. The attack was repulsed and Mesolongi stood, only to fall four years later. 

It soon became apparent to Vryoni that the only person who could have betrayed the plan to the Greeks was Gounaris, who had, in the meantime, fled. Consequently, Vryoni had his wife and children killed and Gounaris, heartbroken, entered a monastery.  

Aspects of Gounaris’ story have inspired some of Greece’s greatest writers. In Andreas Karkavitsas’ short story “Sacrifice,” emphasis is placed upon Gounaris’ anguish at having to choose between patriotism and family. In Penelope Delta’s version, Gounaris’ grief for his lost family is emphasised. In both of these stories and in all of the accounts of the tragedy, the voices of the children are not heard, nor is their terrible fated described in any detail. 

Similarly, in his memoirs of the Revolution, Yiannis Makrygiannis describes how he prevented a group of Greek fighters from raping a young girl on the outskirts of Athens. In the conventional narrative about the key event of our modern ethnogenesis, we hear much about the exploits of the freedom fighters, much about the depredations of the enemy and increasingly more about the role of women in the struggle. It becomes apparent however that the experience of children has largely been written out of the discourse on the Revolution, even though the historical resource material indicates that children on all sides suffered privations, abuse, slavery and violence. 

Some, sold into slavery after the massacre of Chios ended up in unforeseen positions of power. Others, orphaned, traversed continents and found themselves in completely alien lands. And, owing to a lack of attention on the most vulnerable members of society, the fate of the majority is unknown, while the fate of Muslim children, killed during the massacre of Tripolitsa and elsewhere, is glossed over. It is time we critically examined this aspect of the Revolution. 

Tell a Greek that Mustapha Khaznadar is one of the most influential figures in Tunisian history and you will most likely be met with a shrug and raised eyebrows. Tell them that Georgios Kalkias Stravelakis was the Prime Minister of Tunis for thirty-six years and immediately their interest is piqued and their attention engaged. Stravelakis, born in Kardamyla, was five years old when the Ottomans perpetrated the massacre of Chios, and was one of the tens of thousands of women and children who were captured and treated as war booty, rather than as human beings, were sold into slavery. Stravelakis was sold to an emissary of the Husainid dynasty, a family of Turco-Cretan origin, ruling Tunisia on the Sultan’s behalf.  

Stravelakis, like the vast majority of Ottoman slaves, was compelled to convert to Islam, assuming the name Mustapha and thereafter, rather than being abused or mistreated, as was the case with many captured children, his owners developed a liking for him. Allowed to thrive within the Tunisian court, he gained the trust of the ruling family, acting as the crown prince's private treasurer before becoming the bey of Tunis’ state treasurer. From these lofty heights, he managed to marry into the ruling family, marrying Princess Lalla Kalthoum in 1839, was promoted to lieutenant-general of the army, made bey in 1840 and then served as Prime Minister. 

Stravelakis seems never to have forgotten his Greek roots. There are records of him removing the sum of ten thousand riyals from the state treasury in order to pay for his two Greek nephews education in Paris. 

Most children enslaved during the massacre of Chios were lost and never heard of again. Considered a commodity, there were periodical drives in Western countries and in Russia to raise enough money to redeem them from captivity, but their mortality rate was high and they could not always be located. For example on 29 July 1824, the men of Psara petitioned the Greek parliament for money to ransom their women and children held as slaves in Asia Minor. Only 10,000 piastres were granted and this was barely enough to ransom the wife and child of captain Constantinos Karatzas. Generally, slaves purchased by well to do families fared much better, especially if they showed promise and child slaves were highly prized because they could be trained and marketed more easily than older captives. 

We do not know the original name of Ibrahim Edhem Pasha, as in later life he tried to play down his Greek connections. His son, a noted archaeologist and painter claimed later that he was related to the Skaramanga family, and he was also enslaved during the Chios Massacre. Ibrahim Pasha had the good fortune to be adopted by the childless grand vizier Hüsrev Pasha. Lacking his own children, the Pasha ensured that Ibrahim, who showed a natural aptitude for studies, was educated in the best schools and later studied in Paris under an Ottoman state scholarship. There he was a classmate and, it is believed, a friend of Louis Pasteur. Not only did he become the Ottoman Empire’s first modern mining engineer, but also served a term as the Empire’s Grand Vizier. 

Raghib Pasha, who served as the sixth Prime Minister of modern Egypt was also a slave, having been captured on the island of Crete as a child and purchased by agents of the notorious Ibrahim Pasha, invader of the Peloponnese. Never losing his fluency in the Greek language, Raghib ascended the upper ranks of the military, becoming Brigadier General in 1846 and then going no to hold a number of responsible positions in the Egyptian cabinet such as Minister of Finance, Minister of War and Minister of Agriculture. His term as Prime Minister was a short one but it was notable in that it was the first in Egypt’s history to present to the public a comprehensive set of policies for implementation. 

The fascinating story of Lucas Miltiadis Miller is also instructive. Born in Livadia in 1824, he was orphaned at the age of four, when his father was killed in a battle and his mother died of typhus which was rife in Greece during the time of the revolution. Lucas was adopted by abolitionist Jonathan Peckham Miller, an American who served as a colonel in the Greek Army during the revolution and in 1828 was taken to Vermont. There, Lucas received an education, studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1845, most likely the first Greek ever to do so in the United States.  

Serving as colonel of militia in the Mexican–American War, Lucas also served as a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1853 and was commissioner of the Wisconsin Board of Public Works before being elected as a Democrat to the United States Congress in 1891, the first ever Greek Congressman. While he only served one term in Congress, his tenure there was noted by his proposal of a Constitutional amendment to change the country's name to "the United States of the Earth". 

Generally, however, most Greek children growing up during the revolution were not so fortunate. Many were killed by marauding Ottoman soldiers and there are accounts of the pro-Ottoman British consul of Patras, Philip James closing the door of his Consulate to women and children seeking protection. As a result, they were slaughtered. Charles Deval describes the harrowing experiences of children forced to haul logs of wood too heavy for them to carry at the slave market at Methoni and then being beaten when they slowed down.  

The disruption to agriculture occasioned by the struggle also took its toll on children. There was often insufficient food to support freedom fighters as well as the rest of the inhabitants of insurgent regions and children often went without. Lack of proper housing owing to destruction of villages or fleeing the conflict caused disease and decent clothing was also scares and the arrival of refugees into the regions held by the revolutionaries from other areas of Greece that had revolted such as Crete caused great pressure on children already exposed to parlous living conditions 

Scant evidence exists as to the psychological effects of the 1821 Revolution on children. The privations they endured, the violence and fear experienced as a result of the struggle would have created great traumas that would have undoubtedly effected both the outlook and development of children. Given how the voices of children are silenced or subverted to serve a preconceived national narrative of struggle and sacrifice, we can only speculate the effects of such traumas by examining the lives and inferring from the actions of those who came into adulthood directly after the creation of the first Greek state. 

The above notwithstanding, the Revolution served to emphasise to the new rulers of Greece, the importance of the Greek youth. Their proper upbringing became a matter of state importance, with the Peloponnesian Senate recommending to all parents on 27 April 1822, that they take care of the education of children of both sexes. Two years later, four of the largest monasteries of Athens took it upon themselves to establish schools for children, the girl’s school being housed on the Acropolis and named the “Parthenon.” A new era for the free Greek children had begun. 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 24 April 2021