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Historical Observations: Ion Dragoumis – Writer, Politician, Activist in the Macedonian Struggle

This is a mini-biography of Ion Dragoumis (1878-1920), a writer, politician, and Greek nationalist involved in the Macedonian struggle during the early years of the 20th century.

Dragoumis was born in Athens and was the son of Prime Minister Stefanos Dragoumis and Elizabeth Kontogiannakis. He studied law at the University of Athens and enlisted as a volunteer in the Greek-Turkish war of 1897, which proved disastrous for Greece.

After the Greek-Turkish conflict, Greece proceeded cautiously in Macedonia and did not wish to start a revolt. In 1899 Dragoumis entered the diplomatic corps and in 1902 he was appointed vice-consul in Monastir. Before going to Monastir, Dragoumis was instructed by the Foreign Ministry “not to raise problems.” He had other ideas in visiting the ‘Patriarchist’ and ‘Exarchist’ villages in western Macedonia to encourage the inhabitants to defend the region’s Hellenism.

He was concerned with the growing influence of Bulgaria through its Exarchate and committees which needed to be countered.

The Macedonian struggle played an important role in revitalizing Greek national identity as Macedonia needed to be saved from Bulgarian influence at all costs. The smuggling of arms, stirring up people and politicians, and communicating with local leaders, army officers, and Cretans joining the cause would prove successful in the end for Greece.

Dragoumis also served as a consul in Serres (1903), Philippoupolis (1904), Alexandroupolis (Dedeagatch), and Alexandria (Egypt). In 1907 he was assigned to the consulate in Constantinople with the rank of secretary. His stay there coincided with the Young Turk revolution in 1908.

In Alexandria he met Penelope Delta and Marika Kotopoulis. When Dragoumis met Delta he “fell passionately in love with her.” Their love affair remained Platonic as Delta never abandoned her role as wife and mother. They exchanged letters and in one she wrote in 1906, “I know I’m crazy, but love drives someone crazy.”

He attended a play where Kotopoulis was performing and became enchanted with her performance and voice. They met in Constantinople in 1908, which set off a 12 year love affair between them. The Dragoumis family was displeased with Ion’s affair with an actress.

From 1909 he served successively in the embassies of Rome and London, he joined the Revolutionary Movement of Goudi (1909), and in 1911 he organized a conference in Patmos for the integration of the Dodecanese into Greece.

During the Balkan Wars he served on the staff of Chief General Crown Prince Constantine and in October, 1912 he negotiated the surrender of Thessaloniki with the Turks.

He was then successively appointed chargé d’affaires at the embassies of St. Petersburg, Vienna, and Berlin and in 1914 ambassador to St. Petersburg. In 1914, he wrote an essay titled ‘Greek Civilization’ arguing “the generative creativity of Byzantium was interrupted by the Ottoman conquest. Modern Greece’s task was to pick up from 1453, and with Byzantium as its guide, generate a new creative live force.” He believed in a revival of Hellenism in the Near East at a time when Greece and Turkey almost went to war in early 1915.

In May, 1915 he resigned from the diplomatic service to become a politician and was elected as an independent Member of Parliament for Florina. Initially a supporter of Eleftherios Venizelos, he broke with him, as he saw signs of authoritarianism and national subservience in his politics.

Dragoumis’ anti-Venizelism did not come from some blind faith in the Monarchy, but on the contrary from faith in national self-determination. In January 1916, he published the magazine Political Review, which shared the views of the anti-Venizelist faction.

After the success of the Venizelist movement in 1917, he was exiled with other anti-Venizelist politicians to Corsica under French guard, where he remained until the end of the great war. The reason for their removal was “hostility to the Entente.” During the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, he sent two memoranda regarding Greek claims. In the first one, he stated that Greek claims were “far from being imperialistic aims, representing only the minimum to which Greece, in all justice, and according to the principle of nationalities would be entitled,” whereas the second one accused Britain and France of “desires to establish a protectorate over Greece.” Dragoumis supported his nation’s territorial claims in Asia Minor but his criticism of the Anglo-French was probably not well received by them in Paris.

He returned to Greece only to be exiled this time to the Greek island of Skopelos. He was released at the end of 1919 and developed action in favor of the ‘United Opposition’, which rallied the anti-Venizelists. Ion Dragoumis was one of its leaders, as he stood out both for his political and diplomatic skills. The United Opposition consisted of conservative political parties opposed to the Venizelist ‘tyranny’ and wanted the return of King Constantine.

Two disgruntled Royalist officers, Apostolos Tserepis and Giorgos Kyriakis attempted to assassinate Eleftherios Venizelos in Paris (July 30/August 12,1920), as he was about to board the train for Greece at the Gare de Lyons. When this news reached Athens, Venizelists went on a rampage, destroying the newspaper offices of Rizospastis, Politeia, Skrip, and Esperini, as well as cafes, and businesses “belonging to owners of opposing political ideologies.” Venizelos’ greatest triumph with the signing of the Treaty of Sevres was damaged by the actions of his supporters in Athens. Dragoumis left his home in Kifissia that afternoon but his car was stopped by Venizelist security officers. He was taken to a nearby camp, hit in the face, and executed on the spot. Venizelos sent a telegram from Paris offering his condolences to the Dragoumis family for the senseless murder of Ion.

Delta noted in her diary on August 12 regarding Venizelos and Dragoumis: “Attempts on Venizelos’s life yesterday evening at the Gare de Lyon by two Greek officers of the reserve. Light wound on the shoulder which will not prevent him from leaving in a day or two. Great disturbances in the country. Night – they have murdered Dragoumis.”

She appears to be simultaneously relieved by Venizelos’ survival and saddened by her former lover’s death.

Kotopoulis had told him to remain home until the situation quietened down, fearing for his life, but Dragoumis apparently wanted to go to the offices of the Political Review to write an article condemning the attempted assassination of Venizelos.

In conclusion, I note that Dragoumis’ written work, consisting of political studies, articles of social concern, and literature, was coordinated with his national and political activity.

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