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Historical Observations: Nikolaos Triantafyllakos

This article will focus on Nikolaos Triantafyllakos ,who briefly served as Greek high commissioner in Constantinople and premier in September 1922.

He practiced law for a short time before entering politics and represented Arcadia in the Greek Chamber from 1892-1928 except for the 1923 elections. Triantafyllakos held the Justice and Interior portfolios in the governments of Dimitrios Rallis (1897), Alexandros Zaimis (1898 and 1901), Kyriakoulis Mavromihalis (1909), and Dimitrios Gounaris (1915).

Following the electoral defeat of Eleftherios Venizelos in November 1920, Triantafyllakos continued to represent Arcadia. He was appointed Greek High Commissioner in Constantinople (February-July 1922) replacing Nikolaos Votsis (February 1921-22). Arriving in late February on board the warship Kilkis and taking up his position as High Commissioner at a time when the major European powers were seeking to find a diplomatic solution to the Greek-Turkish conflict. Triantafyllakos tried to maintain good relations with his allied counterparts throughout his tenure as high commissioner.

In early June 1922, an unnamed ex-Turkish minister who opposed Mustapha Kemal suggested to Triantafyllakos that Greece might consider concluding a peace treaty with the Sultan. Should the Greeks accept this, the Sultan would remove the Kemalist elements in the Constantinople government. The peace would be based on the following lines “Formation of an autonomous state under the suzerainty of the Sultan in Asia Minor whose boundaries would be laid down in article 66 of the treaty of Sevres. The governor to be Christian but not a Greek.” Further to this, the Turks would accept the Thracian frontier as laid down in the allied proposals of March to settle the Near East issue. Triantafyllakos inquired how would they impose this on Angora. The unnamed Turk stated that upon the signing of this peace treaty many Kemalist officers would desert Kemal’s movement. Triantafyllakos spoke to his British counterpart, Sir Horace Rumbold who was dismissive of such an arrangement.

Later in the month, Triantafyllakos attended a cabinet meeting in Athens to discuss the issue of Venizelist officers belonging to the Asia Minor Defence League, the Asia Minor front, and Patriarch Meletios. These military officers wanted to overthrow King Constantine and his government. The Greek government regarded the election of Meletios as illegal and the High Commission was not to have any contact with him. Even the Ottoman government did not recognize Meletios, whom they considered to be a Greek citizen.

Triantafyllakos spoke with premier Petros Protopapadakis regarding the military officers and his discussions with allied representatives in Constantinople. According the Athens newspaper, Athinai, he sought the “restoration of Constantinople officers of Defence League over the objections of the head of Asia Minor (army General) Hadjianestis.” Hadjianestis and the government wanted nothing to do with the Asia Minor Defence League. Triantafyllakos resigned as High Commissioner over differences in government policy and opposed the Greek decision to occupy Constantinople in late July. He knew the major powers would react unfavorably to the occupation of Constantinople with major consequences for Greece.

Athens’ decision to occupy Constantinople was to end the war by forcing Mustapha Kemal to the negotiating table and to establish peace in Anatolia. Rumbold thought the Greek decision “to be 50% serious, 50% bluff.” The Greeks abandoned this idea in the end.
After the collapse of the Asia Minor Front and the resignation of the Protopapadakis government in early September, King Constantine invited Nikolaos Kalogeropoulos to form a ministry. Kalogeropoulos tried unsuccessfully to form a government and even offered the position of foreign minister to Aristidis Sterghiadis who declined. A British diplomat in Athens, Charles Bentinck, stated that Kalogeropoulos was unacceptable as premier by the military leagues who favored General Metaxas. Two ex-premiers, Gounaris and Stratos, encouraged Kalogeropoulos to renew his efforts to form a government. In the end, Triantafyllakos formed a government on September 10 and also held the war and navy portfolios. He appointed Kalogeropoulos as foreign minister.

As premier, Triantafyllakos faced a massive refugee crisis, the return of disgruntled officers and soldiers from Asia Minor, and an angry population over Greece’s debacle in Smyrna. There was concern regarding the defence of Thrace from potential Serbian and Bulgarian attacks and also maintaining some semblance of law and order. With the resignation of the Interior and National Economy Ministers, Boussios and Meneas, the days of the Triantafyllakos government were numbered.

In late September, a revolutionary committee under Nikolaos Plastiras, Stylianos Gonatas, and Captain Dimitrios Focas forced the resignation of Constantine as well as Triantafyllakos on September 27 and 29, 1922 respectively. In an editorial published in the Venizelist newspaper, Patris described Triantafyllakos as a leader who proved incapable of handling the political and refugee crisis and that Venizelos was the man of the hour.

Army and naval revolts staged in Mitylene spread quickly to the garrisons of Thessaloniki and Athens which were widely welcomed by the populace. The revolutionary committee’s manifesto included: (1) the abdication of Constantine in favor of the Crown Prince; (2) the immediate dissolution of the national assembly; (3) the resignation of the government; and (4) reinforcements be sent immediately to the Thracian front. Prince George was sworn in as the new king of Greece.

In 1929, Nikolaos Triantafyllakos was elected senator and died on September 16, 1939, in Athens, at the age of 84.

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