NEW YORK – The East Mediterranean Business Culture Alliance (EMBCA) presented The Legacy of the Hellenic Diaspora in the Revolution of 1821 Panel Discussion Webinar on March 7, in association with AHEPA’s Hellenic Cultural Commission.
The panel for this unique event was introduced and moderated by Lou Katsos, EMBCA's President/Founder. The distinguished panel included historian and author Professor Alexander Kitroeff of Haverford College, author and Byzantinist Alexander Billinis, and author/poet and Professor of Sociology and Director of the Hellenic American Project at Queens College Nicholas Alexiou.
As Katsos noted, “the Hellenic diaspora, one of the oldest and largest in the world, with a continued presence from Homeric times to the present has played a very important role in Hellenic history including a significant one in the Hellenic Revolution of 1821.”
“These diaspora communities existed for centuries throughout the Balkans, Russia, Ukraine, Austria, Venice, Calabria and Bari in Italy, the Middle East, Eastern Anatolia, Georgia, the South Caucasus, Egypt, Cargèse in Corsica, France and beyond,” he continued.
“Examples of their influence range from the role played by Hellenic expatriates in the emergence of the Renaissance, through liberation and nationalist movements involved in the fall of the Ottoman Empire, to commercial developments across the world,” Katsos said, adding that “in many ways before and during the Hellenic War of Independence these communities raised funds and awareness abroad, fought, and served among other things as senior officers in Hellenic armies to help create and establish the modern state of Hellas.”
The panel discussed, among other things, various diaspora Hellenes including Rigas Feraios, Adamantios Korais, Ioannis Kapodistrias, Alexandros Ypsilantis, and Theodoros Kolokotronis, Hellenic communities such as Vienna, Odessa, Trieste, and the Ionian Islands, and societies like the Filiki Etaireia and their effects on the Revolution.
Prof. Alexiou spoke about Rigas Feraios, the fascinating protomartyr of the Revolution whose idea of freedom was for all those under Ottoman oppression, not just Hellenes. The line from Rigas Feraios’ battle hymn, Thourios which Lord Byron translated as “Better one hour of free life than forty years of slavery and prison” became a rallying cry of the Revolution.
He was influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution and the Constitution he drafted included a proclamation of the universality of human rights that was ahead of its time, paving the way for the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.
Rigas was betrayed by a fellow Hellene, arrested in Trieste, and then sent to the Ottoman governor in Belgrade where he was tortured and later strangled on June 24, 1798. Statues honoring Rigas Feraios stand at the entrance to the University of Athens and in Belgrade at the street that bears his name.
Katsos spoke about the fighters of the diaspora who returned to fight in the Revolution and had fought in foreign armies. He noted the many famous names among them, highlighted in slides from the book, Greeks in Russian Military Service in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries by Nicholas Charles Pappas.
Billinis noted his heritage from the island of Hydra as he discussed the contributions and the pivotal role the island and its people played in the Revolution with the flag of Hydra in the background. He noted the long history of the Hellenic merchant fleet of the time, pointing out that shipping in the region goes back to prehistory.
Prof. Kitroeff spoke about the diaspora Greeks of Vienna, Odessa, Trieste and Alexandria. He noted that many clerics were involved in the Greek Enlightenment, since the study of Theology offered “intellectual upward social mobility” since education opportunities were limited for Greeks, and many embraced the ideas of the Enlightenment while also maintaining their faith, including Anthimos Gazis, scholar and priest at St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church in Vienna, who produced Ermis o Logios, a Greek literary journal, and played a significant role in the development of the Greek Enlightenment. Gazis published a geographical catalog of Greece to explain the physical existence of Greek lands, an extension of the work of Rigas Feraios. He was also a member of the Filiki Eteria.
The event was part of EMBCA’s American Hellenic Revolution of 1821 Bicentennial Committee series of events focusing not only on the Revolution but also importantly on the American, Diaspora and International aspects and influences of the Revolution for its 200 Year Anniversary.
More information is available online: https://embca.com.
The event is available on EMBCA’s YouTube channel where previous events in the series are also available.