New York.- Vicki James Yiannias
Secretary of State for Gender Equality Vaso Kollia’s reference two weeks ago to “the first rays of light” in a Greece that she said is “now closer to the end of the tunnel” have so far amplified the festive mood of this year’s Greek Independence Day celebrations in New York.
Up from the Ashes – March 25, 1821: “We All Are Greeks”, a program at the Holy Trinity Cathedral ballroom on March 25 commemorated the Greek War for Independence with three talks that dealt with major historical aspects of the war titled “The Orlov Revolt: Prequel to the Greek War of Independence?”; Ali Pascha and His Influence on the Greek War of Independence”, and “The Cause of Suffering Humanity: American Relief Efforts During the Greek War for Independence”
Michael Theodorobeakos, President of the Hellenic-American Chamber of Commerce, and The Honorable Georgios Iliopoulos, Consul General of Greece (whose schedule that evening included a reception for the public at the Consulate), opened the program and Moderator Louis Katsos took over, introducing the three speakers and adding commentary. His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios closed the program
Vasilis W. Molos, Ph.D, Doctoral Fellow, Remarque Institute, New York University, spoke with the GN about his talk, The Orlov Revolt: Prequel to the Greek War of Independence?”
GN: The War of Independence has been thought to be a “new beginning” for Greece by some; what are other perspectives?
VWM: While many historians of modern Greece have portrayed the outbreak of the War of Independence in 1821 as the dawn of modern Greek history, my work suggests that it is more accurate to portray the failed Orlov Revolt as the dawn of modern Greek history.
VWM: It was during the Orlov Revolt that the idea of national self-determination was first introduced into the Greek world. It was in The Orlov moment that the uprisings in the Peloponnese, Aitoloakarnania, the Ionian Islands, Crete, and elsewhere gave rise to an image of a Greek nation trying to liberate itself politically.
And it was after the failure of the Orlov Revolt and the failure of the diplomatic settlement of 1774 to improve the political status of the Romioi that Greek intellectuals began reorienting themselves away from the Orthodox Christian east towards the enlightened European west.
The Orlov Revolt marks the beginning of modern Greek history because it inspired a range of new political possibilities, which assumed that the Romioi possessed a right to national self-determination.”
GN: What was stated in the 1774 Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca?
VWM: “The Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca compelled the Ottomans to make significant territorial concessions in the Black Sea region and elsewhere. From the Greek perspective, a couple of items are of importance: the treaty included an article that permitted Greek merchants to fly the Russian flag on the masts of their ships, and many historians have suggested that the growth in Greek merchant shipping in the late eighteenth century was tied to this condition of the treaty.
However, more recent scholarship undertaken by Gelina Harlaftis and a team of maritime history researchers has uncovered that Greek shipping developed between 1750 and 1821 with merchants primarily using the Ottoman flag. More importantly, at least in my view, was Article 3, within which the Russians and the Ottomans acknowledged the Tartar peoples as free and independent nations, with the right to be governed in accordance with their own laws. It revealed a willingness to recognize the right of some peoples to national self-determination, but also Catherine’s unwillingness to recognize the right of the Romioi to national self-determination.”
GN: Please talk about Iosipos Moisiodax, Dimitrios Katartzis.
Novel ways of discussing the Greeks’ political condition arose in the aftermath of the diplomatic settlement of 1774, as many eminent Greeks abandoned the idea that the elevation of the Greeks would be achieved by having a foreign patron liberate them. For instance, the enigmatic scholar, Iosipos Moisiodax, introduced liberal ideas into the Greek world, arguing that the elevation of the genos could be engendered by having the Greeks governed by rulers amenable to liberal reform. From his perspective, Greek cultural regeneration would be enabled from the bottom up. For Moisiodax, rulers were to maintain order and provide scholars with the intellectual freedom to introduce European ideas into the Greek world, while merchants with patriotic modernist sensibilities were to provide funds to facilitate this process. After the diplomatic settlement of 1774, Moisiodax’s writings reveal a scholar convinced that imperial subjects could make demands upon their rulers to maintain order and ensure toleration and equality within their realms. His belief that rulers must be accountable to their subjects’ will constituted a marked departure in Greek thought.
Others like Dimitrios Katartzis, a high-ranking Phanariot in Bucharest, portrayed the Greeks as an autonomous people, writing that the Romioi who comprised the millet-i-Rum formed a self-determining nation – albeit not a sovereign nation. His communitarian sensibilities led him to argue that the development – and indeed the preservation – of Greek society was dependent upon nurturing the bonds that united the Greeks through the production of books in vernacular Greek. From Katartzis’ perspective, the transmission of knowledge from elites to the masses would assure the development and future prosperity of the Romioi”.
GN: What was The Orlov Revolt’s significance in the Greek War for Independence?
VWM: For many, the Orlov Revolt is regarded as a ‘prequel’ to the Greek War of Independence; a failed first effort at achieving national sovereignty. From my perspective, few – if any – of the Romioi who participated in the uprisings had national sovereignty in mind as a goal in 1770. In that light, the Orlov Revolt’s significance to the Greek War of Independence five decades later stems from the influence that its failure had upon Greek culture. The failure of the Orlov Revolt and the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca to effect meaningful change to the political status of the Romioi was experienced as a shock for many Greek commentators. It challenged the veracity of both the Russian expectation and the prophetic literature that foresaw the resurrection of the genos (race). At the same time, it signaled to all that the Ottoman Empire was now in decline. After the diplomatic settlement of 1774, the Romioi had to figure out how they fit into this new world – if not as clients of the Russians and subjects of the Ottomans.
Looking back at the period, one can see that the revolutionaries of 1821 were essentially answering the questions posed by Greeks in the aftermath of the Orlov moment, and using the political language and political models introduced by the French Revolution to do so.
GN: What was the background of the Orlov Revolt? Who instigated it?
VWM: The Orlov Revolt was the product of years of planning by covert operatives acting in the interests of Imperial Russia, and operating largely within the Italian States and the Ottoman Empire. The specific plan to foment a revolt in the Balkans was initially broached to Catherine by her lover and confidant, Grigory Orlov, prior to the coup that ousted her husband. Grigory had first learned of this idea during his time in the military. It was during this period that he developed a close relationship with Georgios Papazolis, a fellow officer who had grown up in the Balkans. It is alleged that Papazolis informed Grigory that the Orthodox Christian inhabitants of Ottoman Europe were desperate to oust the Ottomans, and that they were sure to take up arms if Russian forces appeared in the Mediterranean. Eager to pursue this endeavor, Grigory sent covert operatives into the region in 1763 to gauge whether these communities were in fact interested in rebelling against their rulers.
Emmanuel Sarros, a Greek merchant who operated in St. Petersburg, was among the first of the covert operatives sent into the Balkans. Between 1763 and 1764, he, Papazolis, and several others traveled extensively throughout Roumeli and the Peloponnese, establishing contacts with powerful clan leaders and other men of regional importance. Upon returning to the Russian capital in 1765, Sarros reported that there existed a strong willingness to revolt among the Orthodox Christian population of the region. He proposed sending a small fleet of “ten Russian warships with sufficient cannon” to the Mediterranean, which he deemed to be sufficient to inspire a large-scale anti-Ottoman uprising.
With the outbreak of war, the conspiracy to foment revolution in Ottoman Europe took on a new urgency in Russian court circles. Russian archival records reveal that at the first meeting of the Imperial War Council, Grigory Orlov unexpectedly proposed a naval expedition into the Mediterranean, which was intended to serve as a diversion. While many in the council were surprised by the proposal, it was apparent that it had the full approval of the Empress.”
GN: What was the narrative the Romioi subscribed to in the lead-up to the Orlov Revolt?
VWM: In 1770, most Romioi seemed to accept some variant of the ‘Russian expectation,’ the idea that the Greeks were to be liberated from the Ottomans by the Russian Empire; however, participants in the revolt differed widely when it came to what sort of “liberation” they anticipated. Many hoped to see the Balkans incorporated into the Russian Empire; some desired a degree of regional autonomy (within the Russian Empire), while others desired a religious war that would see them liberated from the Muslim Ottomans. At the same time, many were motivated to participate in the uprising out of a desire for revenge against the self-aggrandizing class of kotzabazides, while others were motivated to participate out of a desire for plunder.”
GN: What was happening in the Peloponessos?
VWM: When the covert operatives visited the Peloponnese, they determined that it was an ideal location for fomenting an anti-Ottoman uprising. For one, the local magnates (kotzabasides), who had seen their sociopolitical influence increase considerably after the expulsion of the Venetians in 1715, provided the Russians with a politically frustrated class that could be mobilized fairly easily. Moreover, the political instability of the 1760s had already divided the population of the province into different factions that were competing for political power. Thirdly, the multitude of harbors and seamen in the Peloponnese, combined with the relative absence of Ottoman oversight after 1715, provided the Russians with the means of defeating the Ottoman navy and cutting off shipments of grain to Constantinople from Egypt.”
GN: Was the Revolt successful?
VWM: In the first month and a half of the uprising the insurgents established the upper hand in the conflict, as the Ottomans were ill prepared for an uprising in the Peloponnese, but the uprisings were quickly suppressed in a matter of months. The Ottoman forces sent to suppress the insurrections then embarked upon a decade-long pillaging spree throughout the region before the rule of law was finally restored over a severely depopulated Peloponnese. By most standards, the Orlov Revolt is regarded as a failure, which is why it has inspired scant interest even among scholars interested in the period.
GN: What were the reactions of Eugenios Voulgaris, of the poet Kaisarios Dapontes?
VWM: Some like the scholar and cleric, Eugenios Voulgaris, took the opportunity to rejoice in the Russians’ great victory, while many others lamented the failure. For instance, the famed poet Kaisarios Dapontes’ disappointment was captured in an excerpt from his Geographic History. Unpublished during his lifetime, this short reflection on the Orlov Revolt was highly critical of the Russians exclaiming: “It is for the Russians to lament now for the wretched Romioi, their brothers, who remain slaves and again ruined!”
Up from the Ashes – March 25, 1821: “We All Are Greeks”, was presented under the auspices of The Consulate General of the Republic of Greece by The American Chamber of Commerce, The Educational and Cultural Committee, The Hellenic-American Bankers Association, The Hellenic Lawyers Association, and the Holy Trinity Cathedral.
In next week’s issue: “Ali Pascha and His Influence on the Greek War of Independence”, by Dr. Katherine E. Fleming, Deputy Provost; Vice Chancellor, Europe and Alexander S. Onassis Professor of Hellenic Culture and Civilization, New York University, and “The Cause of Suffering Humanity: American Relief Efforts During the Greek War for Independence”, by Dr. Angelo Repoussis, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Temple University and West Chester University.