Realpolitik, being the politics of expediency and vested interest, often results in the sidelining of small nations and the imposition of treaties or status quo which are onerous and unjust.
The fact that Cyprus was not permitted by the Great Powers in the fifties, and after a lengthy struggle, to unite with its motherland testifies to the importance of vested interest and power struggles over the right of a people to self-determination.
However, it is a little known fact that such unjust arrangements were not new to the Mediterranean. Indeed, the Cyprus debacle had its precedent in similar diplomatic constructions made one hundred years prior, causing untold suffering, misery and social upheaval to the island of Crete and even before that, to the people of the independent principality of Samos. During the Greek revolution, Turks on the Ionian coast of Asia Minor lived in mortal fear of the pirates across the narrow straits of Dar Bogaz. The indomitable Samians, of the first Greeks to raise themselves in revolt against the Ottomans, would cruise up and down the coastline, freeing the Greek villages and marauding Ottoman camps and ports, rendering their access to the Aegean Sea and to mainland Greece well nigh impossible.
If the Ottomans had free access, especially during the difficult years of 1823-24, perhaps the revolution would not have been successful. As well, Samians were the only Greeks who not only revolted of their own accord, but also exported it to other regions of Greece. Lykourgos Logothetis landed on Chios on 11 March 1821 and immediately proclaimed a revolution there. The Ottomans endeavoured on several occasions to stamp out Samian revolutionary activity to no avail. The large naval invasion of 6 August 1824 met with total disaster off the coast of Mycale and never again did the Ottomans attempt to reclaim the island and the Samians set about forming a provisional government headed by the Metropolitan of Karlovasion.
Delegates from Samos attended the negotiations leading to the signing of the London protocol on 3 February 1830. In accordance with this document, all Greek areas that had taken up arms against the Ottomans were to be included in the fledgling Greek State. However, Samos was deemed to be too close to Turkey and thus of too much strategic importance to be given to Greece by the Great Powers. At a public meeting soon after, the Samians voted unanimously “that Samos would always remain an integral part of the Greek State”.
The Samians also vowed to continue the struggle for enosis. Thus the provisional government continued to send money to the Greek government as well as funding insurrections of guerilla groups in parts of Greece still not free. It also ensured that supply lines were kept open, stepping up its naval blockade of Turkey and the re-occupation of the coast of Asia Minor. The Sultan, in an attempt to protect himself from Samian belligerence appealed to the Great Powers, who decided to grant Samos autonomous status under a Greek regent on 10 December 1832. Henceforth, Samos would be an independent principality under the suzerainty of the Sultan and defended by a Samian home guard. All Ottoman troops were to evacuate the island.
The Samian principality was to pay yearly tribute to the Sultan and was also to have its own flag, first hoisted by Phanariot Constantine Mousouros on 12 May 1834. It featured a blue background symbolising the Greek character of the island and a white triangle in the centre, to symbolise the fact that Samos was under the “protection” of the three Great Powers (Britain, France and Russia). In the centre of the triangle was a red cross, to assure the inhabitants that their religion would be respected by the Ottoman Empire.
In later years, the flag was changed to the Greek flag, although the two top panels above the white cross were red instead of blue. When Stephanos Vogoridis, the first Greek regent landed in Samos, he was met with widespread consternation. The age old class distinction between the wealthy landowners kallikanzaroi who tended to look upon a Samos under the Regency as a secure and stable state and the karmanioloi, meaning supporters of the guillotine, who represented the peasants and the merchants, once more began to cause friction in Samian society.
Vogoridis tended to curry favour with the kallikanzaroi who supported his regime and introduced a set of repressive measures against the populace, curbing their freedom of movement and their freedom of speech. He further alienated the populace by exiling the leaders of the Samian Revolution and through oppressive taxation of agricultural produce. As a result of his harsh rule, repeated revolts broke out which were suppressed with surprising ferocity.
Finally, in 1849, Vogoridis was swept away from power and the Sultan was forced to grant a constitution to the inhabitants. The so-called “Organic Charter” stated that Samos would be ruled by an Orthodox Christian Regent appointed by the Sultan as well as a parliament of four members, elected by a council of elders of the largest villages. These elders formed the legislative body of the island and oversaw also the function of the public service. In reality however, the Sultan saw the 1849 revolt as a means to re-introduce Ottoman troops to the island.
The Regents following Vogoridis tended to be devoted followers of the Sultan who sought only personal aggrandizement and enrichment and as a result, they were dethroned by the Samians with surprising regularity. However, after the demise of Vogoridis, Samos enjoyed an unprecedented cultural and economic renaissance. The efficiency of its civil administration was such that the Greeks would send their public servants to Samos for study tours and training. Samos boasted a comprehensive legal code, a three-tiered judicial system with a court of appeal, a land registry and a registry of births, deaths and marriages. The capital of the principality was moved to Vathy in 1854 and much time and effort was expended in beautifying the city with public buildings in the neoclassical style. Samos also boasted a system of public transport in the main cities of Vathy and Karlovassion.
Tram lines run by the state ran through these cities till 1937 while other ambitious public works, such as the carriage roads that were hacked across the mountains to allow passage from Marathokambos in the far west to Vathy in the east.
* Continued next week
* Dean Kalimniou is a Melbourne solicitor and a freelance writer