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Greece celebrates 200 years of independence

March 25, 2021

French and US warplanes have overflown Athens during a bicentennial marking the start of Greek uprisings that led to independence from the former Turkish Ottoman Empire in 1832.

Griechenland 200 Jahre Unabhängigkeit | Kampfjets über Athen
Image: Alkis KonstantinidisREUTERS

French and American leaders renewed allegiance to Greece on Thursday as it marked 200 years since a fractious partisan revolt begun in 1821 led a decade later to Greek independence.

During Thursday's Athens flyover, security was tight, with 4,000 police deployed and spectators not allowed, aside from reporters.

Nearly 400 years of Ottoman rule ceased in 1832 in what became Greece after European powers backed Greek partisans, including leader Theodoros Kolokotronis, culminating in treaties recognizing its statehood as a new Greek kingdom.

A key moment was in 1827 when intervening British, Russian and French warships beat a Turkish-Egyptian fleet in the Bay of Navarino in the western Peloponnese.

Painting of sea battle at Navarino by Russian artist Iwan Konstantinowitsch Aiwasowski
The Navarino Bay battle in 1827 off western Greece depicted by Russian-Armenian painter Ivan AivazovskyImage: akg-images/picture alliance

"Two centuries ago, a handful of determined fighters in and outside Greece raised the banner of independence," said Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, referring to the 19th-century Greek revolts, joined by disparate foreign adventurers and intellectuals known as the "Philhellenics."

"With the help of their allies, they fought heroically and won their freedom," said Mitsotakis as Athens was visited by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, Britain's Prince Charles and French Defense Minister Florence Parly.

In an address via Greek television, US President Joe Biden said both the United States and Greece "shared commitment to liberty, human rights and the rule of law."

French President Emmanuel Macron sent a message to Athens that "we will stand by your side when history is unfair to you."

His apparent reference to Greek tensions with Turkey follows long-standing differences between Athens and Ankara, including a row over seabed resources, and long-divided Cyprus.

Turkey's red and white-painted research ship Oruc Reis
Turkey, with its research ship Oruc Reis, recently challenged Greece over seabed rightsImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Turkey's Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources

Greek independence was eventually reached in 1832 after a European powers' conference in London two years earlier and three so-called Protocols of London.

Among the "Philhellenists" was the widely-traveled British Romantic-era literate Lord Byron who died during the Greek independence struggle in 1824.

Another was William Townshend Washington who died of musket wounds in 1827 — reputedly a descendant of the USA's first president.

'Plato under their arm'

Many volunteers "went there with Pausanias and Plato under their arm" and stirred by sensational newspaper reports, said Konstantina Zanou, a Mediterranean Studies specialist at Columbia University.

They included former Napoleonic soldiers, refugees and religious zealots, she added, with Classical Greece passionately seen as a civilizing influence.

Other sympathizers were French novelist Victor Hugo, German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Russian author Alexander Pushkin.

On Greek independence, the Ottoman Empire had extended through the Balkans and modern-day Turkey to North Africa, the Arabian peninsula and the Caucasus.

ipj/sms (AP, dpa, Reuters, AFP)