How the Greek Rebellion Began

When Sultan Mahmut II, who was a patient and determined ruler, tried to strengthened the weakening Ottoman Empire with reform, he fell out with Ali Pasha of Tepedelen, the governor of Jannina. When the governor revolted against the Sultan in 1820, his action inspired the Greek revolutionaries to rise up to benefit from the rift among the Turkish rulers.9,24 The Greeks began their rebellion in the Peloponnese on 6 April 1821 (by the Gregorian calendar-25 March by the Julian calendar) with the slogan: “Not a Turk shall remain in the Morea”, which inspired indiscriminate and murderous action against all Muslims.16 Upon hearing the news of the rebellion, some Greeks in the cities began killing their Turkish neighbours and setting fire to their property.13, According to the British writer William St. Clair, “The savage passion for revenge soon degenerated into a frenzied delight in killing and horror for their own sakes”. Another British writer, David Howarth, observes that the Greeks did not need any reason for these murders, “Once they had started…they killed because a mad blood-lust had come upon them all, and everyone was killing”.15,24

Massacres of the Turks

It is estimated that more than 50,000 Muslims , including women and children, lived in the Peloponnese in March 1821. A month later, when the Greeks were celebrating Easter, there was hardly anyone left. The few who managed to escape to fortified cities were suffering from starvation. Everywhere the unburied bodies of murdered Turks were rotting. According to William St. Clair:

“The Turks of Greece left few traces. They disappeared suddenly and finally in the spring of 1821, unmourned and unnoticed by the rest of the world…Upwards of 20,000 Turkish men, women and children were murdered by their Greek neighbours in a few weeks of slaughter. They were killed deliberately, without qualm and scruple…Turkish families living in single farms or small isolated communities were summarily put to death, and their homes burnt down over their corpses. Others, when the disturbances began, abondened home to seek the security of the nearest town, but the defenceless streams of refugees were overwhelmed by bands of armed Greeks. In the smaller towns, the Turkish communities barricaded their houses and attempted to defend themselves as best as they could, but few survived. In some places, they were driven by hunger to surrender to their attackers on receiving promises of security, but these were seldom honoured. The men were killed at once, and the women and children divided out as slaves usually to be killed in their turn later. All over the Pelopennese roamed mobs of Greeks armed with clubs, scythes, and a few firearms, killing, plundering and burning. They were often led by Christian priests, who exhorted them to greater efforts in their holy work”.24

According to Steven Runciman, author of a history of the Greek Orthodox Church, “The great fathers of the Church, such as Basil, would have been horrified by the gallant[!] Pelopennesian bishops who raised the standard of revolt in 1821”.23 This was not a war of Greek independence or liberation, but a war of extermination against the Turks and other Muslims, and the main instigators of it were the Greek Orthodox Christian clerics.

In 1861, the historian George Finlay wrote:

“In the month of April 1821, a Muslim population amounting to upwards of 20,000 souls, was living, dispersed in Greece, employed in agriculture. Before two months had elapsed, the greater part was slain-men, women and children were murdered without mercy or remorse…The crime was a nation’s crime, and whatever perturbations it may produce must be in a nation’s conscience, as the deeds by which it can be expiated must be the acts of a nation.”12

According to the historian C.M. Woodhouse, the entire Turkish population of cities and towns were collected and marched out to convenient places in the countryside where they were slaughtered.30 In Greek Orthodox Romania also, the leader of the Greek rebellion, Alexander Ypsilanti, and his supporters took the towns of Galatz and Yassy. The Turks were surprised and massacred in cold blood.10,22

Turks Burnt Alive

In April 1821, the Greek residents of the islands of Hydra, Spetsa and Psara joined the rebels. They attacked ships carrying the Ottoman flag, capturing crew members and killing them or throwing them into the sea. They also captured and killed many Muslim pilgrims on their way to Mecca. According to British writers such as St. Clair, Howarth and William Miller, the Greek rebels captured 57 crew members of a Turkish vessel, took them to the island of Hydra amidst shrieks of triumph and there, on the coast, they roasted them alive on a fire.15,21,24

Many Greeks in Thessaly, Macedonia and Halkidiki, too, joined the rebels and began to attack the Turks without mercy. The Greek peasants who remorselessly killed their Turkish neighbours saw the rebellion as a war of religious extermination, and for the most part, the bishops and priest who led them, shared this view.24

Massacres of Monemvasia and Navarino

The Muslims of the small town of Monemvasia, besieged by the Greek rebels, decided in August 1821 to surrender as they no longer endure the prevelant hunger and disease. Nevertheless, the rebels slaughtered them all barbarously. These events were hailed in Western Europe as “a victory of liberalism and Christianity”.27 A few days later the same fate befell the Muslims of Navarino. Between 2,000 and 3,000 Muslim residents were cruelly massacred. Turkish women were stripped and searched for valuables. Naked women were plunged into the sea and were shot in the water: children were thrown in to drown and babies were taken from their mothers and beaten against rocks.12,15,21,24 Muslim girls and boys, who were kept alive, half naked and in fear, were offered for sale as prostitutes. Some of them lost their minds and roamed round the ruins.

Meanwhile, some Greeks in Navarino were proudly relating the terrible massacres that had taken place there. One of them boasted that he had killed eighteen Turks; another one was relating how he had stabbed to death nine women and children in their beds.6 These merciless killers were proudly showing to the European volunteers, who had come to help the Hellenic cause, the corpses of the Muslim women whom they had raped, carved up and then thrown over the fortifications some time earlier.

But these terrible scenes did not impress the volunteers. On the contrary, they schocked and disgusted them. A German volunteer, Franz Lieber, describes how the volunteers felt hatred and disgust towards the Greek rebels, who were calling upon them to rape women after they themselves had already sexually assaulted them.18

Tripolitsa Massacre

In the town of Tripolitsa, where the Turkish governor resided, and which consisted of a population of 35,000 Turks, Albanians, Jews and others, the rebels committed a massacre on 5 October 1821. It lasted for three days and claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people. Most of the corpses were decapitated and carved up.7,15,19,21 According to the historian William Phillips:

“In Tripolitsa for three days the miserable [Turkish] inhabitants were given over to the lust and cruelty of a mob of savages. Neither sex nor age was spared. Women and children were tortured before being put to death. So great was the slaughter that [guerilla leader] Kolokotronis himself says that, when he entered the town, from the gate of the citadel, his horse’s hoofs never touched the ground. His path of triumph was carpeted with corpses. At the end of two days, the wretched remnant of Mussulmans were deliberately collected to the number of some 2,000 souls, of every age and sex, but principally women and children, were led out to a ravine in the neighbouring mountains, and there butchered like cattle.”20,22

According to St. Clair, Howarth and British Colonial and Foreign Office documents, these unfortunate people were slowly burnt to death after their arms and legs were chopped off. Pregnant women were subjected to all kinds of indignities. About 2,000 captives, consisting of mostly women, were stripped naked; driven to a plain outside the town and then killed. After this atrocity, many starving Muslim children ran from place to place, only to be shot dead by the Greek rebels, who were elated and with their mouths foaming.5,24 The chief Greek brigand, Theodoros Kolokotronis, who occupies pride of place in the Greek pantheon of heroes, took part in these massacres and pillages with relish.4

A Prussian officer described the incidents that took place after the capture of Tripolitsa by the rebels, as follows:

“A young Turkish girl, as beautiful as Helen, the queen of Troy, was shot and killed by the male cousin of Kolokotronis; a Turkish boy, with a noose around his neck, was paraded in the streets; was thrown into a ditch; was stoned, stabbed and then, while he was still alive, was tied to a wooden plank and burnt on fire; three Turkish children were slowly roasted on fire in front of the very eyes of their parents. While all these nasty incidents were taking place, the leader of the rebellion Ypsilantis remained as a spectator and tried to justify the actions of the rebels as, ‘we are at war; anything can happen’.” 24

European officers, including Colonel Thomas Gordon, who happened to be at Tripolitsa during the massacre, witnessed the hair-raising incidents there, and some of them later recalled these events in all their ugliness. Colonel Gordon became so disgusted with the Greek barbarities that he resigned from the service of the Greeks. A young German philhellene doctor, Wilhelm Boldemann, who could not bear to witness these scenes, committed suicide by taking poison. Some of the other European philhellenes who were extremely disillusioned, followed suit.2,17

Acrocorinth Massacre

Towards the end of January 1822, more than 1,500 Turks and other Muslims at Acrocorinth agreed to surrender to the rebels, provided that they could keep enough money to hire neutral vessels for their journey to Asia Minor. But, while they were waiting for ships to arrive, rebels under the leadership of Kolokotronis and others killed them.7 These bloody incidents were later related by a German officer as follows:17

“[The Greek rebels] spared the lives of beautiful Muslim women, but sold them as slaves. The proceeds from these sales went to augment the pockets of rebel leaders such as Mavrokordatos. Mavrakordatos sold the women to the captain of a British ship.”

An Italian volunteer named Brengeri, on a road to Corinth, found the dead body of a Turk, and further on, he found his wife and baby, still alive but very hungry. He and his friends gave her a few coins, in the hope that she would be able to feed herself and the baby a little longer. Before they had gone a few metres, they heard two shots. Some Greeks had killed her and the baby, and taken the coins.15 Brengeri later saw some Greeks killing a Turkish family, a man, his wife and two children. Before they killed the mother they tore off her veil to see what she looked like, and at that moment Brengeri rushed up and begged them to spare her. They asked for 50 piastres, which he gave them, and so he saved her.15 At Acrocorinth, following the Turkish capitulation, a Turkish couple, too starved and exhausted to carry their child any further, tried to hand it to a Greek. He immediastely drew a long knife and cut off his head, explaining, as a German officer was trying to prevent him, that it was best to prevent the Turks from growing up.24

Up to the summer of 1822, the Greek rebellion had cost the lives of more than 50,000 Turks, Greeks, Albanians, Jews and others. Many more were forced to live in slavery and deprevation. Compared to this, very few people died during direct and mutual confrontations. This so-called Greek war of independence hitherto was hardly a war at all in the conventional sense, but mostly a series of opportunist massacres.24

Massacres of Athens and Acropolis

Muslims besieged in the Acropolis area of Athens for a long time, suffering from thirst, surrendered on 21 June 1822, accepting the promise of bishops, priests and rebel leaders, that they would not be killed. However, with the exception of a few saved with great difficulty by foreign consuls, they were all killed. At the same time 400 defenceless Muslims in Athens were carved to pieces in the streets.7,13,21

When the Greek rebels were attacking Modon, they caught a Turk outside the city walls. They decapitated him, put his head on on a pike and took it to Navarino where they kicked it about as if it was a football.25 According to the statements of British sailors, the rebels used to torture the Turks they captured on the high seas. Anemat, a Dutchman, relates how the rebels revived the Turkish sailors whom they had captured unconscious and then tortured them to death and tore them to pieces. The Dutch described the Greeks as “cowards and barbarians”.14

Dervenaki Massacre

When the Turkish army appeared before Corinth in the summer of 1822, the so-called “Greek government”, which was established at Argos, tried to retreat to the coast and from there to escape on ships. Thousands of Greeks in the Argos plain were following suit, whilst the Greek brigands of Mainotis were trying to rob their own people before escaping. Soon the Turkish army ran out of provisions and munitions and tried to withdraw to Corinth. But as the mountain passes were under the control of Kolokotronis’ marauders, thousands of Turks were massacred at the Dervenaki pass. Had the rebels not wasted time in robbing the dead bodies, the whole Ottoman army would have been routed there and then. Many years later, travellers touring the area used to come across heaps of bones of massacred Turks.7,24

Nauplia Massacre

In December 1822, it was the turn of Nauplia town. In the streets of that town, which the rebels besieged for a long time, people frequently came across the dead bodies of children who had died of starvation. Emaciated women tried to scavege for food in filthy drains. Accordind to a German officer, Kotsch, one of the European volunteers who happened to be at Nauplia during the incidents, a Greek Orthodox priest who was suspected of establishing relations with the Turks had his fingers scalded by Greeks with hot water and his nails burnt. He was then buried in the ground up to his neck and his face was brushed with syrup so that flies would attack him. It took him six days to die in agony. Rebels captured a Jew trying to escape from the town, stripped him and cut off his genitals, before leading him around the town and then hanging him.24

When the town of Nauplia surrendered to the rebels on 12 December, they committed a terrible massacre, after which the rebels piled up the victims’ heads in the form of a pyramid. Commodore Hamilton, arriving in port on the British warship HMS Cambrian, was instrumental in saving some of the Muslim and Jewish residents of the town from certain death.15,24 During the ransack of the town, the lion’s share went to the Greek rebels. The rebels gave the European officers two or three Turkish girls as booty. They took them to Athens where they sold them to consuls, who transferred them to Anatolia and thus saved their lives.

One hundred and fifty Albanians who were returning to their home country on a Turkish ship that ran aground just outside Missolonghi, surrendered to the rebels following promises of safety given to them by Mavrokordatos only to be killled after being robbed.

Murder of European Grecophile Volunteers

The Greek rebels went so far in their barbarities as to murder some of their foreign supporters, including many of whom that had come from Europe to help them. After the rebels captured the town of Nauplia, some Greeks led their foreign supporters into a sauna bath in the town and disposed of them. The Greek owner of the sauna persuaded the foreigners to take off their clothes so that when he murdered them their clothes and boots would not be bloodstained. He would then be able to sell them. Of course, the naive volunteers did not suspect what would befall them.11

The orgy of genocide in the Peloponnese ended only when there were no more Turks to kill. The philhellene volunteers who went to help the Greeks and began to return to their homelands in 1822 and 1823, could not save themselves from the nightmares of those terrible days. They were expecting many good things from the Greeks, but instead they were flabbergasted. They began to hate the Greeks for deceiving them.8,24,28,29 Despite pressure from Greek societiesin Europe, they began to put pen to paper about their own experiences. The following sentiment is typical of what they wrote:

“I am writing this so that others will not make the same mistakes that I have made. Modern Greece is not like old Greece. The Greeks are a wicked and barbaric race who have no gratitude”24

Greek Disinformation

Meanwhile , there were stirrings in Crete, Cyprus, Samos, Samothrace, Thessaly, Macedonia and Epirus. The hellenophiles and propagandists portrayed to the West the Ottoman’s strong measures as “Turkish barbarity against the Christian people”26 The West, which closed its eyes and ears to the extermination of the Turks in Greece, began to raise its voice against the Ottoman reaction. The following leaflet distributed in August 1821 in Hamburg is very instructive:

“Invitation to the youth of Germany. The struggle for religion, life and independence is calling us to arms; humanity and duty are calling us to the aid of the noble Greeks, who are our brothers. We must sacrifice our blood and our life for the sacred cause. The end of Muslim rule in Europe is approaching. The most beautiful land of Europe must be saved from the monsters! Let us join the struggle with all our strength…God is with us, because this is a sacred cause-it is a cause of humanity-it is a struggle for religion, life and independence”.1

The returning Western volunteers who witnessed the bloody events in the Peloponnese became the antodote for this hellenophile and Greek propaganda. Several French officers who returned from Greece to Marseilles in April 1822 described the Greeks as, “Vile, cowardly and ungrateful”.24 A Prussian officer who had witnessed the Corinth massacres appealed to new volunteers on the point of departue:

“There [in Greece] you will find only misery, death and ingratitude. Don’t believe what they tell you in Germany or Switzerland; believe what an old soldier is saying”

Another Prussian officer wrote the following:

“The Ancient Greeks no longer exist. The place of Solon, Socrates and Demosthenes has been taken by blind ignorance. The logical laws of Athens have been replaced by barbarism…The Greeks do not fulfil the attractive promises they make to the foreigners through the Press”. 3

Establishment of a Greek State

During the Greek rebellion the British, French and Russian governments were clandestinely helping the rebels. These governments did not raise any objection to the dispatch of money, weapons and fighters to the rebels, and did their utmost to help them through their own secret agents. By contrast, the Reverend John Hartle, who was in Greece in 1826, wrote in his book Researches in Greece and the Levant (London, 1831) that the Turks suffered terrible things at Greek hands because they refused to become Christians.

When, in 1825, fortunes changed, and the army of Ibrahim Pasha, the son of Mehmet Ali Pasha, the governor of Egypt, began to reconquer the Peloponnese, all the Greek rebels who surrendered were spared. In April 1826, when the Turks recaptured Tripolitsa, Argos, Kalamata and Missolonghi, all Europe rose in outcry against them.

On 4 April 1826, England and Russia signed a protocol in St. Petersburg, agreeing to mediate between Turks and the Greeks. France later joined this initiative. Following the intervention of Grecophile states of England, France and Russia, in accordance with the London Agreement of 6 July 1827, and their navies’ complete rout of the Ottoman navy at Navarino on 20 October of the same year, a protocol was signed in London in February 1830. The protocol specified the frontiers of an independent Greece, guaranteed by Britain, France and Russia, the protecting powers. A year later the Greek state was established. In 1832, this state offered the crown to the son of the king of Bavaria, Prince Otto. The resulting Greek kingdom, taking its inspiration from the Megali Idea (Great Idea), the driving force of Greek imperialism, began to follow a policy of aggrandisement, first against the Ottoman Empire and later against the Republic of Turkey.

(Britain and France who were clandestinely helping the Greek rebels massacring tens of thousands of Turks in 1821-1822 and helped establish the Greek state, also helped Greece, together with Italy and United States of America, to occupy Izmir and Western Anatolia committing similar massacres, atrocities agaimnst the Turks, and to a lesser degree to Jews and other non-Greek communities during May-September 1919 and until September 1922. See article titled “Greek Occupation of Izmir and Adjoining Territories”. – Ed.)