The efficient and close rule of the independent principality of Samos could only be effected through the economic resurgence of the island. During the Regency, Samos became world famous for its tobacco, which was held to be of the finest quality. Vast tracts of agricultural land were given over to the cultivation of this cash crop, which was exported and processed in Samian owned cigarette factories in Egypt, Europe and the Middle East. Carathanassis & Co cigarette plants were found in China, Japan Canada and America.
The processing of hides into leather was also an important industry, especially in Karlovassion while the famous Samian wine, immortalised by Byron and by Shakespeare (King Richard drowned his brother in a vat of Samian moschato wine) continued to be cultivated and processed in Mytilenioi and other villages. Shipping also was of great importance, the deep-water harbour at Vathy allowing the embarkation of large ships.
In order to capitalize on Samian prosperity, many Greek immigrants from Asia Minor began to flood the island, at first in search of seasonal labour and often settled down. The economic miracle of Samos allowed great emphasis to be given to education by the State. Between 1851 to 1853, a school was built in every village on the island and literacy programs were put in place.
High Schools and Business Colleges were also built in Karlovassion as well as a Technical College at Vathy. Wealthy merchants and shipowners also provided funds for the erection of schools. Archdeacon Euthimios Kalymnios of Jerusalem, whose family began a slow migration from Asia Minor to the village of Mytilenioi during this time, provided the funds for the erection of the Euthimiada Scholi, a high school in this large agricultural village. This enlightened view of the role of the state extended even further. In 1909, Samos became the first state in the entire world to legislate for the compulsory tuition of the international language Esperanto in all schools. It was believed that teaching this language would foster the worldwide brotherhood of mankind.
Teaching ceased after the union of Samos with Greece. Many newspapers and publishing houses also sprung up during this time. Samian newspapers were known for their caustic wit, their defence of democracy, championing of union with Greece and burning social critique. The late nineteenth century also sparked great interest in the rich ancient past of the island. Under the direction of the Regents, archaeological digs took place at the ancient capital at Pythagoreion, as well as at Heraion, where the largest Greek temple ever built, dedicated to the Greek goddess Hera, existed.
Important historical and archaeological works such as those of Stamatiadis were published, as well as works of the Samian national poet George Kleanthis and many annotated translations of ancient Samian philosophers such as Pythagoras and Aristarchus. More so than in any other area of Greece did the re-discovery of the ancient past have such great effect. Even today, the majority of Samians bear ancient names, which their ancestors gave to their children as a popular fad during this period. Important Mathematical treatises and proofs were published by the scholar-Regent Constantine Karatheodoris, who also translated famous works of Arab philosophers in Greek in 1891. By the beginning of the twentieth century, it was apparent to all except the most conservative that the Regency, an anachronism in the age of nationalism, was a thing of the past. Social strife began to grow once more as incompetent Regents were sent to govern the island. This caused a review of the political system so that it could be re-organised along party lines.
Themistocles Sophoulis, a lawyer of Vathy formed the Progressive Movement, affiliated with the liberals of Eleutherios Venizelos in Greece. Through its newspapers, Nea Zoi and Fos, it agitated for union with Greece and encouraged popular dissent against the Regents. He was instrumental in organizing the revolt against repressive Regent Andreas Kopasis on 12 May 1908, as a result of which, he and his followers were sentenced to death, commuted to exile. Even in Athens however, Sophoulis campaigned for union. He encouraged the formation of guerilla bands in the villages, which engaged in periodic skirmishes with the Turkish garrison. The assassination of Regent Kopasis in 1912 by Stavros Baretis was held as an act of deliverance against a hated tyrant. Sophoulis quickly landed on the island and called a national convention on the issue of union with Greece.
In the meantime, victorious Greek armies were liberating Macedonia and Epirus and Sophoulis gauged that there was no time to lose. On 11 November 1912, at Vathy, Sophoulis proclaimed the Union of Samos with Greece under in front of an ecstatic crowd. The Turkish garrison was overpowered and compelled to leave the island, while a provisional government was formed. Strangely enough, there was no response from the Greek government, causing Sophoulis to fire off his famous “well do you want us or not?” telegram to the Greek government. Finally, amid tears of jubilation, on 2 March 1913, Greek troops arrived on the island and hoisted the Greek flag.
The 11 November 1912 is an important event in the Greek calendar. Samos’ fate directly influenced that of Crete, which enjoyed a similar regime and are in stark contrast to the sad fate of their sister island, Cyprus. In an aberration of history, a small island became a major player in the politics of the Mediterranean. The egalitarian ethos of the Samians, which was very sensitive to social inequality led to the formation of an enlightened welfare state with free schools, subsidized medical care and public transport decades before such concepts became accepted in the larger, industrial nations. Sophoulis lent his talents to the prime-ministership of Greece and steered the country on the path of reconciliation after the disastrous civil war in 1948 and in yet another aberration of history, Samos, the hub of the Greek revolution and the fomenter of social change, is now a sleepy backwater, albeit strewn with relics of its glorious past.
* Dean Kalimniou is a Melbourne lawyer and a freelance writer