Epirus: The Enlightenment of the Greek Revolution

Greek Revolution: Epirus

The Greek Revolution for independence started in the 25th March 1821. After almost 400 years of Ottoman dominion, many revolts broke out in several regions, seeking to re-establish the Greek identity and sovereignty. In this series of articles, after a careful introduction about the political situation in Europe and Greece at the time, we will focus on the events which took place in Epirus, Peloponnese, Attica, and Macedonia.

Natural and Human capital of Epirus

Located in the borders between Greece and Albania, the region of Epirus extends through a very rich landscape. It includes a coastal portion; some of Greece’s highest mountains; the Pamvotida lake, which is the second oldest one in Europe; and the deepest canyon in the planet, in relation to its width, the Vikos’ Gauge. Nowadays, the main city of Epirus is Ioannina, which, during the period of the Greek Revolution and the precedent century, was considered to be the epicentre of the modern Greek Enlightenment. Additionally, not only it was one of the main focus of the Greek-speaking Hebraic world, as it harboured one of the biggest Greek populations living within what is the country’s actual territory. Hence, it is not surprising that, having such a diverse, stimulating natural background, accompanied by a great Human and cultural potential, Epirus played a very important role in the re-establishment of a Greek identity and setting the foundations for the creation of a State. Even if this region would only be annexed to Greece in 1913.

Why was Ioannina so important?

The monastic settlement in the lake island facing the city was at its highest peak during the 13th century. By then, it became the third biggest of its kind in Greece, after Mount Athos and Meteora, making of Ioannina an important religious center for the Orthodox Church. During the 17th century, while under Ottoman rule, a strong industry was developed in this city, especially regarding silver craft. This economic prosperity lead to the formation of many schools, which benefited from a close relation with the Republic of Venice, by that time occupying territories nearby. Such an investment in education lead to the creation of a cultural hotspot during the Enlightenment – which was paramount to the intellectual development which later sustained the Greek Revolution, and allowed it to acquire an international character. In this period, Ioannina gained administrative importance, and political autonomy. However, its apogee was to start in 1788, when a very important figure was left in charge of the Sanjak of Ioannina…

Who was Ali Pasha?

Ali Pasha of Tepelena, the Lion of Ioannina, was an Albanian Ottoman ruler from 1788 to 1822, responsible for establishing a Pashalik (a political rank higher than the Sanjak) in Ioannina. By then, the administrative region comprised a portion of Thessaly and the Greek Macedonia. Not only Ali Pasha became a prominent figure within the Ottoman empire, as he was admired by the Western European society, whose literature tended to describe him as the archetype of the Eastern despot. He was quite controversial, with some claiming he was merciful, while others acused him of being merciless. Undoubtedly, he was an eximious diplomat, managing his alliances very carefully, always according to his personal interests. Moreover, Ali Pasha is told to have encouraged in Ioannina a great revivalism of the ancient Greek culture, greater than in any other region. In fact, his independent and ambitious nature led him into a quest for power that culminated into the anger of the Sultan Mahmud II, who ordered his deposition in 1820. However, the Lion of Ioannina refused and rebelled against the Ottoman authority, recruiting an army ready to resist until the last consequences. Therefore, on one hand the seeds were laid for the creation of well-organized Greek military forces, which rectruited many exiled independentists outside Greece; on the other, the huge efforts the enemy had to do in order to supress the rebellion left other regions vulnerable for the Greek Revolution to come.

Only in 1822 would Ali Pasha be defeated by the Ottoman forces and their Egyptian allies. Ironically, he died by the Lake Pamvlotida, in the island with no name, whose prosperity he had blocked with heavy taxation. Furthermore, the mythological character the lake still has today, was due to the Lion of Ioannina, who ordered there the drowing of Kyra Frosini and 16 other women without any trial. It is said that, after Ali Pasha was beheaded, the enemy general kissed his beard in sign of deep respect, before his head was sent to the Sultan on a silver plate. As for the rest of the body, it still rests in Ioannina, within a very particular mausoleum, next to the Fethiye Mosque. Together with the monastery in which Ali Pasha was killed, they constitute two of the main touristic points of the city nowadays.

What other figures from Epirus contributed to the Greek Revolution?

Two of the three founders of Filiki Eteria were from Epirus. In addition, Ioannis Kolettis, physician in Ali Pasha’s court and also a member of Filiki Eteria, not only instigated revolts, as he would later become the first constitutional prime minister of Greece.

Katsantonis, despite being born in a wealthy family, was a klepht. Because, they were disliked by many Greek villagers, as they would steal from them as well in case of necessity, armed groups called armatoloi were created to combat them. However, they would join the klephts during the Greek Revolution, becoming one of the fiercest military forces the Ottomans had to face. Katsantonis was a sworn enemy of Ali Pasha, and gave him a hard time through many years of pursue. Only in 1808 would he be caught, while ill, and tortured until death. Notably, he is told to have left behind a sparkle for revolution.

Giorgos Karaiskakis, another member of Ali Pasha court, combated the Ottomans during the rebellion of his leader, changing sides at the very end, so to save his family. Started from 1821 seeking to organize revolts in Epirus; and was active in the Greek Revolution during 1822, together with other Greeks in high military ranks, who were pretending to be obedient to the Ottoman empire.

Notis Botsaris was born in 1756, in Souli, one of the martyr villages during the uprisals. The Botsaris family was a symbol of the resistance against the Ottoman administration, and Notis was a notable capitain combating during the Greek Revolution.

Christakis Zografos, born in 1820 in Northern Epirus, after studying in Ioannina, became one of the main bankers of the Ottoman empire. On the other hand, he financed the creation of schools in many communities in the period after the Greek Revolution. Hence, giving a major contribution for the education and spreading of the Greek language in these populations, Epirus included.

When did Epirus become part of Greece?

The first heavy revolts after the Greek Revolution started in 1854. The region of Arta became Greek in 1881. Only in 1913, after the First Balkan War, would Greece take possession of the region of Epirus, in its totality. However, in the same year, the conclusion of the Second Balkan War lead to transfer of the northern portion of Epirus to Albania. Nevertheless, the local population did not accept being part of Albania and proclaimed independence, forming the Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus. This State was to collapse during World War I. Despite being given again to Greece in 1919, this section of Epirus returned to Albania two years after the Greco-Turkish war, which ended in 1922. During World War II the regions was occupied by Italy and Germany, and in 1944 it became one of the main battlefields of the Greek Civil War. Finally, only in 1987 would Greece and Albania declare peace, with the first withdrawing its claims to the norther part of Epirus.

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