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General News

Hellenes and Philhellenes, Together at the Battle of Peta in 1822, Together to Honor Democracy in 2021

ATHENS – The Municipality of Nikolaos Skoufas, extending to the delightful town of Arta in Epiros and named for one of the founders of the Filiki Eteria that engineered the liberation of Greece from the Ottoman yoke, presented a moving commemoration of the Battle of Peta of July 4, 1822, hosted by Mayor Rozina Vavetsi.

For too many Hellenes – both in Greece and the Diaspora – 1821 is just a year, one among many anniversaries, but thanks to exceptional recent events on both sides of the Atlantic, for Greeks and Philhellenes alike, most of whom know about Greece’s ancient but not its modern history, the Greek Revolution is coming alive.

Held on July 4, the Peta event was attended by local officials, representatives of Greece’s political parties, and the members of the diplomatic corps in Athens and Thessaloniki.

As mountains, lakes, and sky were transfigured from brilliant green and blue to the soft purple and golden hues of sunset, accompanied by poignant birdsong, guests learned about the participation of Philhellenes in the liberation of Hellas.

The tribute began with a memorial service and concluded with wreaths being laid in honor of the fighters at Peta.

Demetrios Orfanides, Justice of the Court of Appeals in Athens, began the speaking program with a historical overview that emphasized that “it was not just a Greek revolution, it was a Philhellene revolution.” He cited the striking number of 1,200 non-Greeks fighters, and the material, financial, and moral support that flowed from the feelings aroused by passionate poets, playwrights, and journalists who deeply appreciated that the modern world they were building with new political and economic freedoms – along with democratic hopes – was founded on the thinking and practices of the ancestors of the Greeks who were now fighting for the most basic freedoms.

While Orfanides outlined the contributions, organization, and origins of the Philhellenes, he said “I will not go into details about the battle, but I will note they all fought heroically.”

Men like George Jarvis (1797–1828), who fought in 13 battles, and was known as ‘Καπετάν Γιώργης ο Αμερικάνος – Captain George the American.’ A compatriot, the great Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, about whom Orfanides spoke extensively, said “he has become completely Greek.”

Some of the guests received as a gift the book Portraits of Historic American Philhellenes, which contains portraits of several of the people he mentioned painted by its author, Frederiki Pappas of the nearby village of Paramithia.

Mayor Vavetsi, after graciously welcoming the guests, said, “tonight we are gathered here to pay tribute to those who without any obligation other than their sense of Honor and their love for Liberty and Greece came and fought for our country, sacrificing everything, even their lives.”

Vavetsi added that, “the battle of Peta is not simply a battle with the usual consequences – defeat, victory, etc. It’s chief characteristic is the spirit of volunteerism that motived [the Philhellenes]. Tonight, 200 years later we are here to honor our common values: liberty, democracy, solidarity between peoples. Ladies and gentlemen of the diplomatic corps, your compatriots who are buried in this soil were devoted to the same values. Everlasting be their memories.”

The United States was represented by its Embassy’s Charge D’Affairs, David Berger, who told The National Herald, “I have had the pleasure being here in Greece for about two years to learn more about the role of American Philhellenes in the Greek Revolution.” He noted the Greek Revolution is a fascinating part of American history because, “it is one of the first foreign policy arguments in the United States as our young nation had to respond to this revolution inspired in many ways by ours … In the end, many Americans came in a private capacity and many raised money back in the United States – in a way it was one of our first foreign aid programs.”

Berger declared in his speech, “I think that the international showing in Peta today is a testament to our countries’ pride in our democracy and the debt we owe to the ancient Greeks for this gift of Dimokratia,” and emphasized the American Philhellenes were guided by “their unshakable belief in democracy, human liberty, and the rule of law.”

The Ambassador of Malta Joseph Cuschieri, pointed out that his country’s name had Greek roots, and echoed his colleagues in thanking the Hellenes for their gift to humanity of ‘Dimokratia’.

Sybilla Bendig, Consul General of Germany in Thessaloniki, noted that while there was not a unified Germany in 1821, “there was a ‘Battallion of Philhellenes’ from Hamburg, Saxony, Bavaria, and so on.” What she found remarkable was that “the Philhellenes came from countries who had just been at war with one another – the Napoleonic wars … [but they had] a common understanding and vision of freedom, independence, and justice.”

Switzerland’s Deputy Head of Mission Marc Bruchez said that while the number of Swiss fighters was small, one was “the leader of the two companies which constituted the Philhellenes’ battalion, Lieutenant Chevalier, who fought and fell in the front line … Today, 200 years after the battle, we are here to remember them and their sacrifices.” 

Among the more moving moments was the statement of  Polish Ambassador Artur Lompart, who said, “when on March 25, 1821, the day of the Annunciation, when the Greek hierarchs symbolically blessed the revolutionary flags, not many people expected that the motto ‘freedom or death’ would soon be repeated in almost all European languages.” Or that “the attitude of the Greeks was the spark which ignited the desire of other nations for freedom,” since the Greeks’ “success gave hope to other peoples of Europe … who at the time were also under foreign rule,” like Hungarians, Poles, Irish, etc.

There were almost fifty Polish soldiers in the battalions of the Philhellenes, “like the ‘magnificent twelve’ who died heroically in the Battle of Peta,” Lompart said. “Today we honour their memory. Thanks to the heroic attitude of many courageous people, the new generations have the opportunity to realize their dreams in free and democratic countries.”

The battle of Peta did not end well for the Greek cause, but the words of one fighter are emblematic of the spirit that led to ultimate victory: “My friends, we lost everything except our honor.”

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