The Greeks of Chicago during the Balkan Wars 1912-13

Photo: National Hellenic Museum, You Tube video extract

By Stavros T. Stavridis

Greek-Americans showed their patriotism to fight for their homeland against the Ottoman Empire during the Balkan Wars 1912-13. They would have followed the events of the Balkans through the pages of Greek-American newspapers press such as Athena, Loxias and the Greek Star published in Chicago which reported on thewar clouds gathering in a region described as “thepowder keg of Europe.” Educated Greeks who spoke English probably kept up-to-date on Balkan affairs through the pages of both American and Greek-American newspapers.This article will not discuss the actual Balkan conflict but will focus on a small number of US newspapers reporting of how ordinary Greeks living in Chicago and Indiana mobilized into action to the Balkan crisis.

TheChicago Examiner (1902-1918) belonged toWilliam Randolph Hearst newspapers which was a morning publication to compliment the evening Chicago American. As a newspaper it supported the Balkan states against Ottoman Empire and the actions of the Chicago Greeks.

On October 4, 1912 the Examiner reported that two Greek residents George Petropoulos and John Agriostathis were engaged in drilling Greek American cadets in a hall located at Polk Street and Blue Island Avenue.The article identifies the two Greeks as “former members of the Greek army” who more than likely were ex-officers preparing their countrymen for the forthcoming conflict.It should be noted the Greek government along with her allied partners: Serbia, Bulgaria, and Montenegro mobilized their armed forces due to provocations by the Ottoman army along the southern Serbian and Bulgarian frontiers.
With the continuing deteriorating political situation in the Balkans,some 6,000 Greeks packed Hull House to hear to call to arms by the Greek Consul in Chicago, Nicholas Salopoulos.“When the Greek Military Company, headed by John Agriostathis brought forward the flag of Greece, there was pandemonium,” reported the Examiner.The Greek national flag was an important symbol which could be used to rally some 3,000 Chicago Greeks needed for the Greek Army.

Salopoulos was the first Greek Consul in Chicago (1898-1918) who served in the medical corps during the Greco-Turkish War 1897 and whose name was also listed under physicians and surgeons in the Greek-American Guide and Business Directory 1911. He was one of the owners of the weekly Saloniki and later The Greek Press and president of the Greek Educational Association established in 1908 which gave him a high profile in the Greek community of Chicago.

In addressing the large gathering, Salopoulos stated that “the present move would never subside until the cross of Greece once more waved over the Cathedral of St.Sofia in Constantinople, and the ancient supremacy of the Byzantine Empire is once more restored.” The emotive language used by the consul added a religious element to the forthcoming conflict which offered an opportunity to drive the Ottoman Turk out of Constantinople and to reclaim this historic city for Greece. Modern Greece could consider herself to be the rightful heir of the defunct Byzantine Empire.

After thatmeeting, the Greek consul issued a proclamation published in the Examiner on October 6, 1912 in both English and Greek, appealing to the patriotism of his compatriots in Chicago. It stated:

“Greece our mother country, is at this moment mobilizing her sons to fight the hated       barbarian oppressor and all the reserves of the army are urged to hurry home and     take up their arms. Five thousand of our countrymen Friday night met and made their arrangements for going home.

“Three thousand of them will start to-morrow and thousands of others, sworn to the sacred flag and symbolizing the immortal Greek courage will go as soon as the executive committee is able to arrange transportation.

“They have sworn to go back, win more wreaths of laurel, as the heroes of old, and in so doing write another golden page in our motherland’s glorious history.

“The situation is a critical one and my trust is that every able man will make his earliest preparation to report for duty.

The proclamation contains such terms as “immortal Greek courage,” “wreaths of laurel,” “heroes of old,” and “write another golden page in our motherland’s glorious history,” which were intended to appeal to the patriotism of Greeks to do their duty for their nation against the “hated barbarian oppressor.”

Many Chicago Greeks went to the Consulate to enlist while others contributed money to help defray transportation costs. It appears that the Examiner may have been supportive of the Greece and its allies in the forthcoming conflict.

As many Greeks were preparing for their return to Greece, the Examiner reported that “considerable ill feeling [had] arisen among educated Greeks over an editorial in a morning paper urging the American public to ‘mind its own business’ in regard to the Balkan unrest.” The Examiner did not identify the morning newspaper in question, butthe editor of the Greek Star, Peter S. Lambros was quoted that the article was “unworthy of any American.” He commented that the unnamed newspaper used the slogan “Be Just and Fear Not,” whose opinion seemed contradictory that on one hand it sympathized with the“eight million Greeks [who were] sighing under the Turkish yoke” and “yet this paper cries ‘hands off.’”It could be argued that the editorial reflected the American attitude of the time in keeping out of the problems of Europe.

On October 10, Woodrow Wilson stopped offin Chicago as part of his presidential campaign, receiving a rousing reception by huge crowds who thronged the streets of the city to see him. Many Chicago Greeks wanted to speak the Democratic nominee about the Balkan crisis. After his address earlier that evening, some 50 Greeks who were ready to leave for the Balkans wanted an interview with Wilson so that he might give them his blessing. Wilson sent a message to them “they would go and fight for their native land and all return to this country after the war to become good American citizens.” He may have been thinking that after fulfilling their military dutyto their old homeland, they would return to seek American citizenship.Wilson may have had his eye on the 1916 presidential election, where the naturalized Greeks might vote for him and the Democratic Party. It also be argued that Wilson could have supported the Greeks, Bulgarians, and Serbians against the Ottoman Turks in the Balkans conflict.

The Balkan allies were achieving military successes over the Turks in their respective theatres of war. William Georgopoulos, president of the Greek community, and some 2000 Greeks “marched to Second Regiment Armory where they held a mass meeting to celebrate victories over the Turks.”

“When the star spangled banner was played by the Greek band and American flag was unfurled the audience cheered wildly for 15 minutes,” theExaminer reported. This action showed some loyalty and respect for their adopted homeland despite casting their eyes across the Atlantic.

The Greeks of Chicago responded quickly to the call of the patrida in the impending Balkan war. Many of the Greek returnees may have served in the Greek Army before migrating to the United States.