The date marked the 101st year since the Ottoman garrison surrendered Thessaloniki to the Greek army on October 27th, 1912, a day after the feast of the City’s Patron Saint, Saint Demetrios.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with distinct honor I have accepted to deliver this speech to you. It is about the region where I was born, reared, educated, and served as conscript in the Hellenic Army. Macedonia is my Hellenic homeland and Thessaloniki is the city where I was born.
Ever since Caranus (ΚΑΡΑΝΟΣ), the eleventh descendant of the legendary Hercules, led his people from Pindos to Western Macedonia and from there to the Pierian Mountains, Macedonia has been the heart of Greece. She is indeed in the heart of all Greeks.
Historians have written volumes on Macedonia and its history along with the contribution of Macedonians to the life within the Hellenic world, but also the spread of Hellenic ideals, philosophies, sciences, and in general the Hellenic civilization. Even today, one finds relics and remnants of the Macedonian presence in the cities of Bactria or Balkh, Kavoura or Kabul, Alexandria of Arakhosia or Kandahar, Aria or Herat, and others. All these cities were included in the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom and the Greco-Indian Kingdom that lasted close to the Christian era. Actually, the Greco-Indian Kingdom lasted until around the year 10 AD with the defeat of its last king, Menandros.
In addition, at present, one sees the Dioscuri brothers, Castor and Pollux or Polydeuces, on Afghani banknotes with the Greek inscription “Great King, Eucratides.” Furthermore, millions of Afghanis and Pakistanis wear the Macedonian kausia. The choice of the Dioscuri on the coin of Eukratidies has not been accidental. Oftentimes, Alexander the Great was identified as one of the Dioscuri brothers.
Macedonia was destined to play a very important role in religion and especially in Christianity. From the historical books of the Maccabees to the Apostle Paul, Macedonia has contributed the first Christian Church in Europe established in Kavala and the first European Christian, a woman named Lydia, baptized in Philippi, both cities of Macedonia.
The innovation of the first Slavic alphabet known as Cyrillic and the translation of the Bible by the two Greek brothers from Thessaloniki, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, into what is known as Old Church Slavonic language, had far-reaching implications for the present world which simultaneously meant that the message in the Bible is much more important than the sanctity of any language.
During its long history, Macedonia prospered in the Byzantine Empire despite repeated attacks by Avars, Slavs, Arabs, Bulgarians, Normans, and others. Many barbarities were committed on its people including slavery. Its allegiance was forced under one ruler or another, until it fell into the hands of Ottoman Turks. At the end of the 15th century, Macedonia received about 20,000 Jews driven out of Spain because of the Inquisition.
In the early 1900’s Macedonia became a battlefield between Bulgarians, who were determined to make Macedonia Bulgarian, and the Greeks, who tried to keep it Greek. That conflict is known as the Macedonian Struggle.
These are the main points of Macedonia’s past before the Balkan Wars. Today, we are here to commemorate two events that evolved in Macedonia.
The first event is the celebration of Macedonia’s return to her mother Greece that took place during the two Balkan Wars that ended on August 10, 1913 with the Peace Treaty of Bucharest. The second is the celebration of the beginning of the Greco-Italian war that ended in Greek victory.
By 1910, the Greek economy had become so dependent on the repatriated funds of Greek immigrants in America that the Greek government could do little to slow emigration, despite continuing, massive losses of work force. Interestingly, during the Balkan War of 1912, more than 40,000 Greek-Americans took note of the Greek government’s pleas and went back to Greece to fight. Overall, between 1910 and 1930, it is estimated that more than half of all Greek immigrants to the United States returned home.
As the First Balkan War broke out, Greece declared war on the Ottoman Empire and expanded its borders. When Eleftherios Venizelos, the Prime Minister at the time, was asked if the Greek army should move towards Thessaloniki or Monastiri, Venizelos replied “Thessaloniki, at all costs!” Because both Greece and Bulgaria wanted Thessaloniki, the Ottoman garrison became the target of both armies. The question was who was going to be the first to push the Ottomans to capitulation. The Greeks made it by one day. Securing Thessaloniki meant the reunification of Macedonia with Greece after centuries of Ottoman yoke. It was a brilliant military move.
On October 24, 1912, the Greek Army crossed the Axios River after the railroad bridge had been modified to accommodate the passage of the army. One day later, at the urging of the consuls of the Great Powers, Hasan Tahsin Pasha and Crown Prince Constantine began negotiating the surrender of Thessaloniki and the Ottoman garrison. The talks dragged on for nearly a day and a half, until a protocol of surrender was concluded and on October 26, 1912, the feast day of the city's patron saint, Saint Demetrius, the Greek Army accepted the surrender of the Ottoman garrison at Thessaloniki. The Seventh Division marched into the city to begin the process of disarming the Ottoman garrison. In the process, the Greeks took 1,000 Ottoman officers and 26,000 soldiers prisoner.
While the Army was fighting on land, the Greek Navy was triumphant in the sea. For our purpose, I must mention that the Navy Lieutenant Nikolaos Votsis took a small gunboat from Litohoron, got into the Bay of Thessaloniki and sank the Turkish Battleship Fetih-i- Bulend or “Great Conquest.”
The Bulgarian army arrived one day after the surrender of the city to Greece, asking Tahsin Pasha to surrender the city to them. Tahsin Pasha told the Bulgarian officials "I have only one Thessaloniki, which I have [already] surrendered." About six months later, the excitement turned into mourning when on March 18, 1913 Alexandros Schinas, an alleged anarchist, assassinated George I of Greece in the city.
At the end of the First Balkan War during the London Conference of 1913, the allies signed the Treaty of London on May 30, 1913. Bulgaria requested that one of its units enter Thessaloniki with the excuse that they needed to relax. Crown Prince Constantine allowed one battalion of the Bulgarians to enter the city, but to the surprise of the Greeks, the Bulgarian battalion proved to be a 15,000 men force, which, after the signature of the Treaty of London, refused to disarm. In addition, Bulgaria demanded that Greece relinquish all territories north of the Pieria Mountains, including Thessaloniki.
On June 16, 1913, King Ferdinand I of Bulgaria, without consulting the Bulgarian government and without a declaration of war, directed General Savov to order the attack against Greece and Serbia. The second Balkan war was on. After the Second Balkan War and the defeat of Bulgaria, the Treaty of Bucharest officially granted Thessaloniki and the rest of the Greek portion of Macedonia to Greece in 1913.
Contrary to popular belief, the Treaty of Bucharest of August 10, 1913, did not set the present borders in the Balkans. What it did was to simply settle ONLY the borders of Bulgaria in relation to its neighbors. Even those borders were modified later.
The feeling of the inhabitants of the city is described in the following editorial of the Newspaper “MAKEΔONIA” published on Sunday, October 28, 1912.
With warm tears, tears of joy that floods the chest of the slave who recovers his freedom, tears of gratitude for his liberator that fulfills his existence, we are welcoming the Greek army, which entered the magnificent city of the Thessalonians.
This brilliant trophy of the heroic and victorious Greek Army demolishes the cornerstone of the Turkish state from the Greek Macedonia. Of the state, which, as the kingdoms of ancient monsters were established on layers of bones. Of the state, which has been synonymous to barbarism and dreadfulness. Of the state, which holding in one hand the torch of the arsonist and in the other the dagger of the murderer, burned and slaughtered our life and our honor, our faith and our ethnicity, and anything holy and sacred that we have.
And now the pulverized homeland of Aristotle and Alexander [the Great], whose every hill and every valley, every corner and every span, are soaked in innocent Greek blood and former and recent lamentations of the martyrs of the Faith and Fatherland, throws itself free into the warm and loving arms of Mother Greece.
Thus, the great epic of 1821 continues.”
The Balkan War against the Ottoman Empire attracted Greek and non-Greek volunteers from other parts of the world. Greek Cypriots volunteered and fought on the side of Greece not only in the nineteenth, but also in twentieth century wars for the independence and the creation of modern Greece. They represented the people of Cyprus, their attitudes and their Hellenic ideals.
One of them was a priest who later became the Archbishop of Cyprus, Makarios II. Another notable Cypriot was Christodoulos Sozos the mayor of Limassol who at the age of forty, married and with a child, followed his family’s tradition and secretly volunteered to fight in the first Balkan War. He died fighting at Bizani, Epiros.
In Bizani, Americans fought on the side of Greece, as well. No, I do not mean just Greek Americans that I have mentioned before, but American citizens who had nothing to do with Greece. One of them was Thomas Setzer Hutchinson who, after the end of the Balkan wars, wrote the book An American soldier under the Greek flag at Bezanie; a thrilling story of the siege of Bezanie by the Greek army, in Epirus, during the war in the Balkans.
Two Balkan Wars, the First World War, the Treaty of London, the Treaty of Bucharest, the Treaty of Neuilly, and other diplomatic instruments brought 90% of the historical kingdom of Macedonia back to Greece. The only areas of the ancient Kingdom that remains outside Greece are two areas of Upper Macedonia, the region of Monastiri, i.e. Bitola and the region of Western Orestis, otherwise known as Korytza, which is the ancient city of Pylion.
In 1915, during World War I, a large expeditionary force of the Triple Entente established a base at Thessaloniki for operations against pro-German Bulgaria. The base ended with the establishment of the Salonika Front.
In August 1916, Greek army officers and civilians, with the support of the Triple Entente, launched the Movement of National Defense creating a pro-Entente provisional government by the name of the "State of Thessaloniki" that controlled the "new lands" in the political sense. The official government of the King in Athens, the "State of Athens," controlled the "old lands" which were traditionally monarchist. The State of Thessaloniki ended up with the political agreement of the two opposing Greek governments under Venizelos, following the abdication of King Constantine on June 11, 1917.
In 1923, as the result of the mandatory exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey as well as the voluntary exchange between Greece and Bulgaria, nearly 1.2 million Greeks settled in Macedonia offering new vitality in this vibrant part of Greece.
While Greece was expecting a time of peace to sort things out, world political events led humanity to another destructive war forcing Greece to participate, although its intention was to remain neutral.
Seventy three years ago, unexpectedly, Greece was attacked by fascist Italy. At approximately 3:30 am on October 28, 1940, the then Prime Minister of Greece, Ioannis Metaxas, was awoken from bed by his staff and was informed that Count Emanuele Grazzi, the Italian ambassador to Greece, had come to speak with him concerning an urgent matter. Metaxas, who was on friendly terms with Grazzi, hurried down from his bedroom and, still dressed in his pajamas, received the ambassador promptly. Grazzi reluctantly handed Metaxas a letter composed by Mussolini. The letter contained an ultimatum for the Greeks: Metaxas was to grant Axis forces permission to enter Greek territory and allow “certain strategic points” to be occupied by Italian forces; if refused, Greece was to face war. At that time, Metaxas, who suffered from cancer, sat down in stunned disbelief. He quietly asked the ambassador what “strategic points” Mussolini was referring to. To his embarrassment, Grazzi replied that he did not know for this information had not been given to him. With no other reasonable options left to him, Metaxas looked up and declared to Grazzi “Alors, c’est la guerre” (Then, it is war), which in popularized version has been translated to OXI or NO. It was the beginning of the WW II for Greece. Thus, that day has remained in history as the OXI Day.
History has taught us that power is only nominal until it is tested. Greece simultaneously confronted four armies and resisted the attacks of the Germans, Italians, Bulgarians, and Albanians for 219 days. At least, two of those armies were considered very powerful by world military standards until Greece proved the world wrong. Greece was the first Allied country to defeat an Axis power, sending the message to the world that the Axis was not invincible.
The Germans did not exactly have an easy time taking Greece. Upon capitulation, on April 10, 1941, the Germans expressed their admirations for the Greek soldier, declared that they were honored and proud to have as their adversary such an Army, and requested that the Greek Commanding Officer inspect the German army in a demonstration of honor and recognition! The German flag was raised only after the complete withdrawal of the Greek Army from Fort Roupel, which was incorporated into the Metaxas Line.
In WWII, all Greeks valiantly fought against the invaders, not just in war, but also during the occupation of their homeland. Among the fighting Greek Army, many Romaniote Jews fought for their homeland. One of them was Colonel Mordechai Frizis. He was one of the first Greek senior officers to be killed in action during the war at Kalpaki near Ioannina, fighting against the Italian Giulia Division.
Inspired by the Greek resistance during the Italian and German invasions, Churchill said, "Hence we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks".
The President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, made that clear. He said, "On the 28th of October 1940, Greece was given a deadline of three hours to decide on war or peace but even if three days or three weeks or three years were given, the response would have been the same. The Greeks taught dignity throughout the centuries. When the entire world had lost all hope, the Greek people dared to question the invincibility of the German monster raising against it the proud spirit of freedom."
But Greece’s adversaries were not detached. On May 4, 1941, in his speech to the Reighstag, Adolf Hitler said, “Nothing is impossible for the German soldier. Historical justice, however, obliges me to say that of the opponents that have taken up arms against us, most particularly the Greek soldiers, have fought with the greatest bravery and contempt of death. They only capitulated when further resistance became impossible and therefore useless.”
According to Hitler's Chief of Staff, Field-Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, the Fuehrer "wanted to give the Greeks an honorable settlement in recognition of their brave struggle and of their blamelessness for this war: after all the Italians had started it" and he continued, “because of their gallant bearing” Hitler ordered the release and repatriation of all Greek prisoners of war, as soon as they had been disarmed.
During the Axis occupation, Greek citizens were forced to systematic starvation, led to mass executions, dragged to concentration camps, and thrown into torture chambers. The Germans burned or destroyed as many as 1,600 villages and executed some 21,000 Greeks, the Bulgarians 40,000 and the Italians 9,000 in reprisal for armed resistance.
In the beginning of the Greco-Italian War, the Italians heavily bombarded Thessaloniki leaving 232 people dead, 871 wounded. In November 1940 alone the bombardment heavily damaged or destroyed over 800 buildings. Thessaloniki fell into the forces of Nazi Germany on 8 April 1941 and remained under German occupation until 30 October 1944.
During this dark period in Greece’s modern history, the Greeks did their best to protect their Jewish compatriots. The four years of the German occupation of Thessaloniki left behind many bad memories, which one can only describe as nightmares. Thousands of Greek patriots were tortured and executed. The Nazis forced the Jews into a ghetto near what at present is the Old Railroad Station across the Serbian Free Zone, and on March 15, 1943 began the deportation of 56,000 Jews to the concentration camps. The Germans deported over 43,000 of the city's Jews in concentration camps, where most were killed in the gas chambers and about 11,000 to forced labor camps where most perished. The inhabitants of city saw their fellow citizens dragged to trucks and trains destined to their death in Auschwitz (Poland) and Bergen-Belsen (Lower Saxony) concentration camps. Whosoever escaped to the Italian held areas of Greece such as Thessaly returned to Thessaloniki or they chose Aliyah and some emigrated to the United States, Canada, or elsewhere. Only about 1,200 Jews live in the city today.
Archbishop of Greece Damaskinos instructed the Church to issue false baptismal certificates to all Jews who requested them, thus saving thousands of Jews. In many cases, Greeks saved their Jew neighbors. Their names are inscribed at the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Yad Va-Shem, on the list of “Righteous Among the Nations.”
Upon the end of the war, half of the population of Greece suffered from tuberculosis after a campaign of systematic starvation in which at least 300,000 people perished in Attica alone. We do not have records on the number of people who lost their limbs, nor those who suffered psychological or mental problems. More than 10% of Greece’s population lost their lives, a number that includes 56,000 thousand Greeks of Jewish faith, victims of the Holocaust. I must add that the USSR had come second losing only 2.8% of their population.
Since its establishment, Thessaloniki holds the scepter of the most strategically located city in the Balkan Peninsula, making it the most important trade and business hubs in Southeastern Europe. Its natural port is one of the largest in the Aegean and geographically dominates and commercially facilitates trade not only throughout the Balkans, but also Central European hinterland.
The strategic position of the city has been demonstrated by actions of various powers. Nazi Germany offered the city as a present to Yugoslavia in exchange of the latter to ally itself with the Axis. Upon the capture of the city by German forces, Hitler originally planned to annex Thessaloniki directly to the Third Reich, making it part of German territory, instead of allowing the puppet government in Athens to administer Thessaloniki.
Unfortunately for Greece, its drama continued after WWII. As defiant as Greece was against the black authoritarianism, it remained equally defiant against red totalitarianism. This time the ultimate goal was not just the takeover of Greece, but its dismemberment to force Macedonia’s secession and incorporation into the new communist held state. At the end of the fratricidal struggle, the democratic forces of Greece won and Macedonia was secure once again.
When on February 11, 1934, the Third Communist International Association, also known as the Comintern, decided to recognize a Third Slavic ethnic group in the Balkans besides the Serbian and Bulgarian, the “Macedonian” Slavs, it took into consideration Stalin’s understanding of what constituted a “nation.” The new ethnicity and its language would be the dominant ethnicity and language in the new country, i.e. the Balkan Federation, despite the fact that Macedonia’s population was by far Greek. The new country would include the territory of the newly formed People’s Republic of “Macedonia” or present day the FYROM, the Bulgarian part of Macedonia and, of course, Greece’s region of Macedonia, i.e. Macedonia Proper.
Ivo Banač (2003, xxxix) has hit the nail on the head when he observed,
“The growing successes of Tito’s partisans in Yugoslavia created new conditions in the Balkan region, favorable to Yugoslav solutions for such thorny issues as that of Macedonia. Precisely because under the Stalinist dispensation nationhood was the decisive element in territorial claims, it was very important to decide whether the Macedonians were a separate nationality or simply a Bulgarian regional group.”
Stalin’s definition of a nation was this: “a nation is a historically evolved, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture”. As you have noticed, the word “ethnicity” is missing from Stalin’s definition.
Tito’s disagreement with Stalin was whether the new state of a Socialist Macedonian Federation should exist. It was not as much on the political system of a Macedonian state, nor was it about the influence of Belgrade versus that of Moscow over the new country; Stalin had already cemented the power in his USSR. Stalin’s comment to Milovan Djilas, a high ranking Yugoslav official, was that Tito was an amateur and the fact that in Moscow he treated Tito in the first months of 1948 with indignation having the opportunity to eliminate him altogether, indicates Stalin’s political security.
In February 1945 in Yalta, Stalin had given his word to both Roosevelt and Churchill that Greece would fall under the influence of the Anglo-American political sphere and because of that, no Macedonian federation could or would include Greek territories. The last thing Stalin wanted was to be seen as untrustworthy. Although it was very important to Stalin that he was perceived as a man of his word, he actually had no choice. In 1948, the reality was that the USSR’s mortars were not by anyone’s wildest imagination a match for the United States’ nuclear bomb. With no help from Moscow, the efforts of Yugoslavia proved fruitless. The democratic forces of Greece won and Macedonia was saved once again.
During the period from1949 to 1991, Skopje habitually attempted to destabilize Macedonia and indeed Greece, using hostile means and improvised history offering when necessary new historical “evidence” that the Macedonians were actually Slavs. In the 1970s and 1980s, trips of TV crews travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan antagonizing each other on who would bring more evidence to Skopje, which somehow supported Vinko Pribojević’s and Mauro Orbini’s historical “truths” that everyone who lived north of Thessaly was a Slav. Of course, that includes the Thracians, the Illyrians, the Greeks of Macedonia, Getai, Celts, Goths, et al.
Twenty-two years after the independence of the FYROM in 1991, not only have relations with Greece not improved, but they have become more hostile as time passes. Skopje has elevated the myth of Macedonism to a science. The government of the FYROM through informal, non-formal and formal education spreads anti-Hellenism all over the country while it expects NATO and EU membership as a reward for its inimical behavior. Skopje, not being able to respond to Greece’s compelling arguments, has opted to circumvent agreements and understandings. It has employed cyber operations, engaging its diaspora to do the same. The latter works unchecked and unopposed gaining the hearts and minds of the world and indeed the U.S. Congress through misrepresentation of facts and outright lies. The government in Skopje has reached the point of paying journalists, educators, and even contributing to the re-election campaigns of foreign politicians to promote its baseless cause. It is up to us, the Macedonians, to stop them.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
One hundred years after the reunification of Macedonia with Greece, our birthplace is still in danger. The geostrategic importance of Macedonia as it gradually increases, develops into the number ONE national security issue for Greece. In his book published in 1886 under the title Makedonia, Ioannis Kallostypis wrote, “Macedonia is the heart of Hellenism … Macedonia is Greece’s boulevard to freedom, the guarantee of its future.”
At present, Macedonia holds the key to the territorial integrity of Greece. Since nobody has the right to negotiate the national security of Greece, nobody has the right to negotiate the name of Macedonia. Macedonia is one and it is located in Greece.