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The Kougelas Story – “Give Us an Official Answer”

September 17, 2022

The Salonika newspaper, Makedonia, continued its series of articles on Greek POWs detained in Asia Minor as late as 1936. An English translation of the article with minor changes to the text for clarity follows below:

Makedonia July 1, 1936

GIVE US AN OFFICIAL ANSWER…. Thousands of captives are being tyrannized today in Asia Minor.

Yesterday we published the amazing news of the existence of Greek prisoners in the depths of Asia Minor. How Kougelas and other captives escaped from Mustafa Bey’s farm. Where the Greek prisoners shoot [at their] compatriots under the orders of the Turks. Sea! Sea! From Kon-polis to Patras.

Let there be a long investigation from the Red Cross into the small farms of the Beys in the depths of Asia Minor.

We also published the narrative of the return of Mr. Kougelas, who described the sufferings of our brothers in the interior of the country. Kougelas worked on Mustafa’s farm in Turhal in Sebasteia (Province). Let’s just say the escape wasn’t easy.

“With no more than fifteen prisoners, we set out to escape, but how?” Kougelas recounted the details of his daring [escape].

“We first all had to decide to lose our lives again. But our lives were worth it [to escape] that hell. We would rather be killed than continue this torture. So we had devised a plan. The escape would take place at the moment when they would take off the chains, with which they would tie us to the plows. So, one morning they were ready. They took us from the warehouse as they put us to sleep like animals and led us to the plain. We kept our cool as long as we could. But I assure you that at least my legs [were] shaking with anxiety. Fortunately, luck helped us and we were not overheard.

The Escape

Kougelas continued:

“When the prison guards actually came – and they freed our hands from the chains – we attacked them with all our strength. I confess that no one expected that we would fight with such ferocity and strength. We disarmed a few [prison guards] and [we] started shooting without hesitation. We planned to neutralize them, and set foot in the direction which we supposed led to the sea.

“But one of the jailers quickly slipped towards the neighboring estate. He alerted the other guards [who] immediately were in pursuit of us. Then a real battle took place. The Turks were shooting at us with true fury. Some of our comrades were killed and one or two were injured. There was no time to help them. We abandoned them, and there is no need for me to tell you what their fate would be.”

The Unimaginable

“The most horrifying part of this tragic story is that the Turks forcibly forced some Greek prisoners to shoot us. Two or three who responded were killed on the spot. We never found out whether those armed comrades of ours turned their arms against our tyrants.”

[The text at this point is unreadable due to the page being folded].

In the Unknown Mountains

“Out of fifteen, only seven of us managed to escape this dramatic adventure. We spent whole nights and days in the thickets of steep mountains that were completely unknown to us, surrounded by our pursuers. We walked very few kilometers every day with great caution towards the unknown. We didn’t know what was waiting for us. One day one of our comrades died from hardship, hunger, thirst and agony. We buried him in a ravine, a few hours away from the beach, which we had managed to find after unimaginable suffering. After we buried our partner, we reached the beach. With tearful eyes we gazed at the sea. We had thirteen whole years to see her. The beach was deserted that evening when we approached it. All of us, without saying anything to each other, ran and dipped our feet in the sea. We were washed with a joy that I cannot describe to you.”

The Sea

“The sea was the end of our horrible ordeal, written in black colors on the awful estate of Mustafa Bey. From the position where we first came out on the beach, we pulled towards the direction of the north. And in the early morning we found ourselves in the nice-old village of Nitsi-Palai on Euxenos Pontos [the Black Sea]. From there we manage to cross to Constantinople and then to Greece.”

“That’s all. I have nothing else to tell you. Except that in the heart of Asia Minor, in the vast valleys of Sebasteia Province, there are thousands of Greeks who live under truly horrible conditions. They are unreal. As you see me and I see you. I saw them with my own eyes.”

Comments:

Several issues emerge from this news story. Firstly, it is extraordinary that the Turks used Greek prisoners to shoot at their escaping Greek compatriots. Assuming this detail is correct, then the Greek prisoners would have opened fired under duress possibly fearing for their own lives from the Turks. Failure to carry out this instruction meant possible execution. Secondly, it is strange that the Greek state never officially responded to these claims with Ankara. I checked the Greek Foreign Ministry, the League of Nations, and the British Foreign Office archives where I can’t find archival documents about held Greek POWs in Turkey in 1936. I wonder if such information is available in Turkish archives. That doesn’t mean that this newspaper story is untrue, however.

I found a letter from Constantina Petropoulou (Milwaukee, WI),a U.S. Citizen, dated November 10, 1936 addressed to the State Department regarding her brother, Athanasios Sioutalos, detained as a POW in Turkey, requesting the assistance of the U.S. government. Since Sioutalos wasn’t an American citizen “the Department is unable to intervene in his behalf.” Thirdly, Kougelas doesn’t state by what means they reached Constantinople and then onto Greece. No details of their reception by the villagers of Nitsi-Palai and whether they helped them escape to Constantinople is mentioned in the news account. Overall, Kougelas’ concluding comment “That’s all. I have nothing else to tell you” reveals the trauma he must have endured as a POW and how he sought to blot out this nightmare from his memory.

 

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