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History Frames: October 4, 1912 – The Beginning of the Balkan Wars

October 10, 2020
By Dr. Dimitra Kamarinou

On October 4,1912, the Balkan Wars began. They were the greatest military and diplomatic achievement of the modern Greek state since its establishment in 1832. Due to its successful military operations and its diplomatic acuity Greece doubled its territory and population. The Balkan Wars lasted only ten months from October 4, 1912 to July 31, 1913. 

The predominance of the Young Turks movement in the Ottoman Empire (1908) and its policy of violent Turkification of the various ethnic groups living in the European territories of the Ottoman Empire led the Balkan countries to form the Balkan League. The objectives were to defend their ethnic groups and to claim territorial gains from the disintegrating Ottoman Empire, where a large part of their national population lived. The First Balkan War (October 1912-May 1913) was declared right after the Ottoman government's refusal to adopt reforms that would ensure the political autonomy of the empire's ethnic groups. In October 1912 the Ottoman Empire was involved in a war against Serbia and Bulgaria. Greece entered the war in an alliance with Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, and Romania. 

The above photo, was taken on the morning of September 29, 1912, when Prince Constantine I, among the Council of Ministers, departed from the Larissa railway station, in Athens, for the war front of Thessaly-Macedonia. He had been appointed Commander in Chief of the Army of Thessaly. Constantine Raktivan, Minister of Justice (second from the right) was to take over the administration of liberated Thessaloniki in 1912. 

Greece had prepared quite well for the war in terms of army training and artillery. In 1911, the French General Eydoux together with thirteen French officers came to Greece to train the Greek army in the new artillery. Their contribution was decisive. On the left side of the photo, standing on the steps, is the French General Joseph-Paul Eydoux. 

Thousands of expatriates from America participated in the Balkan Wars. They left their comfortable lives and their families and volunteered to join the Greek army. Most of them arrived in Greece in full military uniform with weapons purchased in America. 

On October 4, 1912, the day when the First Balkan War began, after a doxology was performed in the presence of King George I and Eleftherios Venizelos, Rear Admiral Pavlos Kountouriotis was appointed Chief of the Aegean Fleet. The Aegean Squadron then departed to liberate the Aegean islands, which until then, with the exception of the Cyclades, were under Ottoman occupation. The first destination was the island of Lemnos. 

Lemnos was the first island to be liberated on October 9, 1912. Lemnos is located opposite of the Dardanelles Straits, where the Ottoman fleet anchored. The bay of Moudros in Lemnos became the base of the Greek fleet, in order to control and successfully face any exit of the Ottoman fleet. 

*The photographs come from the historical postcards collection of Sotirios Kamarinos (1875-1963), High School Principal of the First Gymnasium of Athens and philologist. Together with the present text they are included in the book Καρέ Ιστορίας. Αγώνες των Ελλήνων 1821-1923, written by Dr. Dimitra Kamarinou. 

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