Sailors, Pirate and Freedom fighters

Seven Greek sailors were sent as convicts to Australia in 1830 for piracy. The seven sailors on a Maltese ship Hercules attacked a British Ship, Alcestis.

“I find it amazing that both ships had Greek mythological names,” chortles historian Dr Panagiotis Diamandis over a scratchy Zoom link.

“The seven sailors from the island of Hydra were convicted of piracy by a British naval court in Malta in 1829 and were dispatched to serve out the term of their sentence in New South Wales.”

Georgios Vasilakis, Gikas Voulgaris, Georgios Laritsos, Adonis tou Manoli, Damianos Ninis, Nikolaos Papandreas and Konstantinos Strombolis were pardoned in 1834 and five decided to leave Australia while two remained.

“The sailors were revolutionaries against the Ottoman Empire, their defence attorneys at the trial in Malta played the line… that these people are fighting the Ottoman Empire, and the seven were not pirates,” Dr Diamandis said.

The confluence of colonial British policies and the rise of a new Greek state, played out in the trial of the seven freedom fighters.

“The new Greek state, formed in 1830, was petitioning the British government for the seven to be returned to Greece because the Greek state considered them freedom fighters of 1821.

“Gikas Voulgaris had nine children and fifty grandchildren his descendants are scattered all of New South Wales, all over Australia.

“Adonis tou Manoli του Μανώλη, or ‘of Manolis’ is without a family name, and I find that very curious,” Dr Diamandis said.

“He married an Irish woman and became a farmer in Picton, approximately 80 km south west from Sydney. His grave in Picton can still be seen today.”

In 1998, when Dr Diamandis was at Macquarie University, the university’s Catholic chaplain, who was “a man probably the same age as I am now in my 40s, came up to me and said that his ‘great, great, great, grandfather was the pirate Voulgaris’, I nearly fell on the floor.”

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The Genocides we can no longer ignore

Dr Diamandis has a detailed knowledge of the first modern genocides of “indigenous Hellenes and Assyrians” occurred. Between 1913 and 1924, three-million Armenians, one-million Hellenes and as many Assyrians were slaughtered “by the Ottoman state and the Republican Turkish state, its successor from 1920 onwards.”

Over one million Hellenes were forced on death marches and more were assimilated or exiled, between 1913 and 1923.

Part of the modern Greek narrative is that the Ottoman Empire was ‘fair’ to the Hellenes.

“This is one of the things that I love attacking” he shoots back.

“If you consider having a range of taxes paid only by Christians to be fair, if you consider that a non-Muslim could not give testimony in court to be fair, if you consider a non-Muslim not being allowed to carry arms or to ride a horse to be fair, then the Ottoman Empire was quite fair.

“From when the first Turkic state was established it took over 150 years for the region to Islamify indigenous Hellenes and others.”

Dr Diamandis argues that the notion of a ‘fair Ottoman state’ was only developed to explain the catastrophic defeat of the Asia Minor campaign in 1922, “the loss of literally half of historical Hellas in terms of the territories that we lived on, and to build a new national identity within the new Elladic state within the new country new state of Greece, as it formed a new identity”.

Postcolonial narratives have nothing to say about the Ottomans, or other non-European imperial projects.

“The Arabs for example were the most successful colonial imperialists, a group of desert tribes living in what we now call Saudi Arabia, until the Muslim expansion of the 7th and 8th century, took over what we now call the ‘Muslim world’ by conquest, and over the centuries very effectively wiped out almost all traces of the local cultures,” he said.

“Egypt spoke Egyptian, yet now except for a handful of Coptic priests and monks and nuns and clergy nobody speaks Egyptian anymore, they all speak Arabic.

“You’ve got Berber in Algeria and Morocco, the native languages of North Africa, but they’re not Arab, the only ones that successfully resisted this are the Iranians, which are people called Persian.”

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Self-loathing western historians and eastern Greeks

The blindness to the imperialism of Arabs and Turks is because the discourse “dominated by self-hating western historians particularly political scientists” for Dr Diamandis.

“These political scientists want to lay the blame for all of the ills of Africa, Asia and the Middle East at the feet of western colonialism and absolve the fact that the colonial enterprise only worked with corporation of a significant segment of the local population.”

The same people that now are weighed down by “self-loathing” once discounted the Byzantine, or Holy Roman Eastern Empire as “oriental”.

“The west was in the dark ages, while the east flourished, Paris was nothing but a ramshackle town on a swampy island on the river Seine; London streets were just mud and dirt, at the same time Constantinople and Ioannina had streetlights, running water, and even a police force of sorts.”

French and British historians sought to downplay the civilisation of the Byzantine Empire, “the Romioi as we Hellenes called ourselves as part of the Roman world.”

“The British and French saw us as swarthy, as eastern, and sought to link themselves with the ‘glories’ of Ancient Greece and Rome when in fact they were for over a thousand years in the dark.”

He shrugs off the perennial question is Greece, east or west?

“Greece is a Mediterranean power, it’s a Southern European power, but it’s neither East or West, we don’t need to be either east or west we are both”

Dr Diamandis stresses Greece’s newfound friendship with Egypt, Israel, India and China, reveals that Hellenes are “more confident about who we are,” and we no longer need to strive to be European.

Dr Panagiotis Diamandis is a historian from NSW who has published on the history of Greeks in NSW, and on the genocides of Indigenous Hellenes. He has contributed for the Dictionary of Sydney on the history of Greek settlement in NSW