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Karouzos "Kapetan Korakas" – Tale of a Mighty Cretan

The National Herald

Mihalis Karouzos 'Kapetan Korakas’ (1797-1882). (Photo: Νικόλαος Αλικιώτης, via Wikimedia Commons)

In the context of the continuing celebration of the Bicentennial of the start of the Greek Revolution, which evokes memories of the many revolts of the Hellenes before and after 1821, The National Herald is pleased to print Mihalis Karouzos 'Kapetan Korakas (1797-1882),’ translated by Michael Terzakis and orated by Stylianos Nikolaos Daliadakis. The complete text follows:

It is unfortunate that even though we are blessed with thousands of beautiful words, which are supposed to allow us to read and comprehend various situations and historic events, sometimes we are speechless. In this situation words cannot describe the greatness of a human being, who was born in 1797 in the village of Mpompia, of the county of Messara in the prefecture of Heraklion on the island of Crete. It would seem more that of a dream or an urban legend, a poem perhaps written by one of the great Ancient Greek authors. Peisander wrote about the heroic trials of Herakles, and Homer about the Iliad and the Odyssey. A better example: Nikos Kazantzakis, would struggle to write the complete story of Kapetan Mihalis, even though he named one of his greatest works by that title. Domenikos Theotokopoulos, El Greco, with his immense talent would have struggled to paint a picture to express the greatness of our hero. This man dedicated his entire life for the freedom of Crete and Greece. This humble, honorable, religious patriot who fought against the fiercest Turks but also the wealthiest English commanders, resembled an immaculate and gentle white knight. An uneducated man who it appeared had divine intervention with him throughout his life, especially when he created battle strategies and covert attacks. He used his guile and his strength to fight well into his eighties. He was an impressive man standing over six feet two inches tall and with a girth so wide when he would attack, he appeared monstrous.

Just as in Greece, the Cretans started to rebel against the Ottoman oppressors in the early 1800’s. Kapetan Korakas was one of the most important exponents of this Great Cretan Revolution. When the uprising on Crete was suppressed in 1825, he gathered his strength to go and fight on mainland Greece. Kapetan Korakas and his men travelled to Peloponnesus and continued to fight the Turks, working their way to Central Greece. They fought alongside the legend Giorgios Karaiskakis at the Battle of the Acropolis. It is said that Kapetan Korakas and his men would drive to the front of the line and lead the charges of the Greek forces. When the fighting in Greece was under control they decided to go back to Crete. Upon his return to Crete, he continued his combat against the Ottomans, but this time on the water. He travelled to the islands of Kasos and Karpathos and he was able to buy and equip three ships. Kapetan Korakas started attacking Turkish and English ships in the Mediterranean. He caused enough damage that they needed to end his reign of terror on the water. He survived the battles and drove his ships into the shallow water on the southern side of Crete causing the enemy to also endure damage to their ships. The Ottomans requested and received 114 ships from the Egyptians which would be anchored in Souda Bay. These were brought to replace the fleet that had endured the wrath of Kapetan Korakas.  

When the Greek government found out about his continued revolutionary efforts on Crete, they honored him with the rank of Captain and wanted him to return to mainland Greece, but he refused it. To try and keep him away from the fighting, they granted him 100 acres of land in Argos so that he could retire and live out his life as a farmer in peace. He refused, stating that he did not fight the Ottomans for compensation but he fought for the freedom of Greece and his beloved Crete, and in his mind, it was the honorable thing to do.

He would continue to fight into his old age. Kapetan Korakas took part in over 96 battles in Crete, Central Greece, and on the Libyan Sea. He was written about in the battle of Malaxa, numerous battles in Rethymno, all over the prefecture of Heraklion and in the victorious battle of the 'Oropedio’ of Lasithi as well. He was revered by his men, but also admired by the Turks. He took part in the Cretan Revolution of 1878, despite the fact that he was already over 80 years old at the time. Some examples lead us to believe that he was more than just a warrior. He never sided with the Russians or the English, who were trying to exercise hegemony over Crete. He felt that their aim was to divide the Cretans and to exploit the island for themselves and not for the benefit of the Cretans. He always had a sixth sense – at the battle of Frangokastello he pleaded with the commander Xatzimixali Ntalian, who had come to the aid of the Cretan Revolutionaries from the mainland. Kapetan Korakas told him not to enter the castle, that they didn’t have enough men to withstand the Turkish attack. Ntalian refused to listen to his advice and wanted to reinforce their position within the castle with his 600 men. His warriors fought valiantly but fell to the Ottoman force, which numbered over 10,000. This battle led to the phenomenon of the ‘Drosoulites’, which are images of the warriors that appear to march toward the castle and take up positions on the anniversary of the battle at the crack of dawn.

Kapetan Korakas was a deeply religious man, and a specific event emboldened his virtue and his ethics. In the area of Koutsounares, near Psiloriti, his men captured a young Turkish girl. Rumors were spread that the girl was defiled and murdered. Knowing how the narrative would read, Kapetan Korakas sent one of his soldiers with a letter to the Pasha and the English that they could come and find the girl in this location, fed, untouched, and alive. Even though the Turks had been merciless to the Cretans, having killed innocents, having raped women and young girls, he would not lower himself to such brutality. Throughout all of his battles he was only injured once – a bullet grazed his mouth, the smudge from the powder never left his skin. After that incident he prayed and made a vow to never eat meat, dairy, or oil on Wednesday or Friday as the orthodox tradition follows.

Late in life he needed money to pay for surgery he needed on his eye. He was forced to sell a piece of his farmland to obtain the money. He travelled to Athens to have the surgery. After his recovery in Athens, he was summoned to Egypt to be honored by the Greek diaspora. He was honored by the Greek Egyptians who were one of the most powerful groups in Egypt. He was bestowed with the title of 'Hero of Greece.’ Upon his return to Crete, he was met with tremendous celebrations. The Archbishop of Crete greeted him in the port of Heraklion. Every village that the entourage passed created its own celebration. At one of the villages, he was greeted by a woman who ran up to him and venerated him as if he was an icon. She reached for his hand bowed down and kissed it. He looked at her and said, “I am but a man.” She responded, “you freed me when the Turks had captured me and were going to rape me, you saved my life.” He responded, “thank God and thank Crete.” It took him three days to make it back to his village. After he hung up his weapons, a year or so before he passed, a young lady whose husband had moved his family to the village of Mpompia and set up a woodworking shop, died of a pneumonia, leaving the wife as a widow with two young kids and an infant. The husband owed money to his employees, and the young men were willing to trade the debt for the hand of the beautiful widow. When word of this story got to Kapetan Korakas, he carried some supplies with him knocked on the widow’s door, and said “I am Mihalis Karouzos, I hear you have an unbaptized child.” The widow nodded. “I will baptize the child tomorrow,” Kapetan Korakas said to her. He organized the sacrament, after his 'Syndeknia’ (becoming Godfather) no one ever spoke ill or bothered the young widow and her family again.

These are but a few stories of this great man. A man who fought with honor and dignity for the greater good. When he realized he was dying, he went and received communion from three monasteries that provided refuge for him and his family during his battles. After his final communion, he returned to his village where he died a poor servant of Crete but a hero who left a lasting impression on all who have studied him. To truly understand this hero, one must study all the battles he was involved in, to research where he gained this strength to endure everything he went through. Once, at a meeting of Greek supporters, including different factions such as the English and Russians, at an area called 'Platanos’ there was a meeting to create a plan for further attacks, but in reality the meeting was to be an attempt to assassinate him. Since they did not achieve their goal they tried to discredit him, but he would not take the bait. A final measure was put into place: a man went and took his weapons. This was a colossal act of disrespect and an attempt to provoke him. Kapetan Korakas noticed that both sides took positions to fight each other. Kapetan Korakas stood up and towered over the man – some say he could’ve reached out his arm and crushed the diminutive offender’s neck. Instead, he looked him in his eye and said, “if you are worthy of those weapons and you can honor them, keep them”. Had he done anything else the revolution would have never started and the bloodshed would have been tremendous. They were looking for the spark to start the fire, but he was intelligent enough to never allow it.   

Konstantinidis wrote his epitaph which reads: “On the highest point of mount Psiloritis should your grave lie, and they should erect a military vault so that even in death you can protect our nation.” 

Orated by Stylianos Nikolaos Daliadakis, translated by Michael Terzakis.