How preservation of Greek culture made the 1821 revolution inevitable

The Death of Markos Botsaris, painted by Marsigli Filippo, depicts the killing of the Greek revolutionary hero by Ottoman forces. (Supplied)
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The Death of Markos Botsaris, painted by Marsigli Filippo, depicts the killing of the Greek revolutionary hero by Ottoman forces. (Supplied)
How preservation of Greek culture made the 1821 revolution inevitable
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Updated 29 March 2021

How preservation of Greek culture made the 1821 revolution inevitable

The Death of Markos Botsaris, painted by Marsigli Filippo, depicts the killing of the Greek revolutionary hero by Ottoman forces. (Supplied)
  • Greek revolutionaries were mesmerized by the place their ancestors held in art, literature, philosophy and politics
  • Preservation of Greek language, local autonomy, education and trade ensured the survival of Hellenism down the ages

ATHENS: One of the consequences of the fall of Constantinople in 1453 was the biggest brain drain in early European history. Greek intellectuals left the Byzantine Empire in droves, with many settling permanently in Italy, bringing with them their vast knowledge and precious collections of manuscripts.

Their presence contributed significantly to the rediscovery of classical Greek literature and philosophy, which they reinforced through teaching, translations and publications. The European Renaissance owes a great debt to them. 

In the process, Venice became the center of the Greek intelligentsia and mercantile class, which organized themselves into a strong community.

By contrast, the former lands of the Eastern Empire entered a darker age, which could have obliterated Greek culture altogether were it not for the Orthodox Church, preserving the Greek language through its liturgical texts and ceremonies and local autonomy institutions, safeguard the feeling of belonging to a community.

One man who helped rescue the Greeks from intellectual oblivion was Kyrillos Loukaris, a patriarch of Constantinople in the early 17th century. Under the influence of Reformation ideas, Loukaris sought to educate Greek clerics to defend against the aggressive proselytism of the Catholic Church. He also established a printing press and an academy in Constantinople.

From the late 17th century onward, numerous schools opened across the southern Balkans, almost all of them teaching courses in the Greek language. Many of the most influential schools were established in major centers of Hellenism: Smyrna, Ayvalik and Chios.

Chios hosted a library containing some 12,000 volumes. Ayvalik, a rich city with an exclusively Greek population numbering 30,000, had a modern school with more than 300 students, managed by a liberal clergyman named Benjamin of Lesbos.

This movement to establish schools was driven by an educated monk named Kosmas of Aetolia. He traveled throughout the southern Balkans, from eastern Thrace and the Aegean Sea to the Ionian Islands and from Macedonia to central Greece, emphasizing the need for education and a strong grasp of the Greek language. 

His influence was tremendous and his followers numbered in the thousands, including Greeks, Albanians and even Turks. Before his arrest and beheading by the Ottomans, he and his followers had established more than 200 schools.

But it was not just the rapid spread of schools that helped preserve Greek culture. The curriculum became richer, emphasizing logic, mathematics, the natural sciences, philosophy and the classics.

Many Greeks learned French, Italian and other European languages. Greek nobles (Phanariots) and merchant families sent their sons to Europe to continue their studies while their daughters were home-schooled.

Although many poor young men were also able to reach Western Europe to study on scholarships, the hero of the Greek Revolution, Theodoros Kolokotronis, saw this outward flow of the brightest and best as yet another brain drain.

“The third class, the merchants, these diligent Greeks, the better part of our nation but also the educated Greeks, left their country and they abandoned the poor people to a deplorable situation,” he once said.




A boy dressed as a Greek Presidental Guard watches a military parade on March 25, 2016 in central Athens during the anniversary of the Greek Independence Day. (AFP/File Photo)

Most of the new schools were supported by the Orthodox Church and local communities, which offered them a source of funding and a kind of legal protection against the abuses of Ottoman authorities. But over time, Greek merchants, guilds of artisans and emigres became major sponsors.

Greek schools were also established outside the Ottoman Empire, not only in Venice but in major European cities such as Vienna and Moscow. New books were published on secular subjects, many of them translations, contributing to a vibrant cultural exchange.

According to historian George Finlay, Greek domination of economic life, religion and education gave them an unbeatable advantage over every other Orthodox nationality.

“Literary education, and those who dispensed it, enjoyed a moral influence in society second only to the clergy. Greek priests and Greek teachers have transfused their language and their ideas into the greater part of the educated classes among the Christian population of European Turkey,” he wrote.

“They have thus constituted themselves the representatives of Eastern Christianity, and placed themselves in prominent opposition to their conquerors. All news was generally transmitted through a Greek medium, colored with Greek hopes and prejudices, or perverted by Greek interests.”

It was time for the bourgeoisie to succeed the Church in its intellectual leadership. Rich Greek merchants, especially those among the diaspora, began funding not only the churches and schools, but also translations and newspapers.




Museum founder Constantinos Velentzas describes a painting by German painter Georg Christian Perlberg in the new museum dedicated to the Philhellene foreign volunteers who fought and died for Greece on March 12, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

The Greek intelligentsia moved from Venice to Vienna as the latter became a thriving center of Greek commerce, alongside Trieste and Budapest. With this came a second wave of modern Greek enlightenment, which was radical, mostly liberal, secular and nationalist.

Key figures in this new wave include Rigas Feraios (the Greek Jacobin) and Adamantios Korais (the foremost liberal intellectual of the era). These men and their contemporaries transferred the radical Enlightenment ideas of the American and French revolutions to the Greek elites.

It was a time of renewed interest in the classics, the age of romanticism, and the allure of ancient Athens and Rome. Young Greeks were mesmerized by the place their ancestors held in art, literature, philosophy and politics, yet felt deeply ashamed of the present condition of Greece. They felt unworthy of their ancestors and cowardly for their submission to the Ottomans.

“The Turks did not either learn or unlearn anything since the conquest of Greece,” Spyridon Trikoupis, a foremost author of his day, wrote in his “History of the Greek Revolution” in 1860.

“They were against commerce and industry, illiterate and cocky. For them, the four centuries from the fall of Constantinople passed as four days. They missed the renaissance of letters and the progress of human knowledge, which had brought Europe from barbarism to civilization.

“But the Greeks, because of their ancestry and religion, associated themselves with the wise and industrious European nations through shipping and commerce. This association secured them material wealth and spiritual enlightenment.”

Trikoupis emphasized this asymmetry between the two nations as the chief reason why the Greek Revolution was inevitable.




Greek presidential guards parade on March 25, 2017 in Athens, during a military parade marking Greece’s Independence Day. (AFP/File Photo)

“It is not possible for two nations, living in the same lands, to have their political relation stable, when the one, which dominates, remains stagnant and the one dominated is making progress,” he wrote.

“The political change in their relationship becomes even more certain, when these nations have different origins, stand for a different religion, speak different languages, live separately without interethnic marriage, they both consider the other as sacrilegious and they simply hate each other,” he added.

“This was the position of the Turks towards the Greeks and vice versa. The change of their political positions was a matter of time and circumstances. When the suffering humanity, while feeling the cruelty, realizes at the same time its own power, the urge for the improvement of its lot is unstoppable.”

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* Aristides Hatzis is a professor at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, and director of research at the Center for Liberal Studies (KEFiM). He is a member of the National Committee for the Celebration of the Bicentennial of the Greek Revolution.


Iran’s sole nuclear power plant undergoes emergency shutdown

Iran’s sole nuclear power plant undergoes emergency shutdown
Updated 20 June 2021

Iran’s sole nuclear power plant undergoes emergency shutdown

Iran’s sole nuclear power plant undergoes emergency shutdown
  • The Bushehr plant shutdown began on Saturday and would last for three to four days, state TV says

TEHRAN: Iran’s sole nuclear power plant has undergone an unexplained temporary emergency shutdown, state TV reported on Sunday.
An official from the state electric energy company, Gholamali Rakhshanimehr, said on a talk show that the Bushehr plant shutdown began on Saturday and would last “for three to four days.”
He said that power outages could result. He did not elaborate but this is the first time Iran has reported an emergency shutdown of the plant, located in the southern port city of Bushehr. It went online in 2011 with help from Russia. Iran is required to send spent fuel rods from the reactor back to Russia as a nuclear nonproliferation measure.
In March, nuclear official Mahmoud Jafari said the plant could stop working since Iran cannot procure parts and equipment for it from Russia due to banking sanctions imposed by the US in 2018.
Bushehr is fueled by uranium produced in Russia, not Iran, and is monitored by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA did not immediately respond to request for comment on the reported shutdown.
Construction on Bushehr, on the coast of the northern reaches of the Arabian Gulf, began under Iran’s shah in the mid-1970s. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the plant was repeatedly targeted in the Iran-Iraq war. Russia later completed construction of the facility.
The plant, which sits near active fault lines and was built to withstand powerful quakes, has been periodically shaken by temblors. There have been no significant earthquakes reported in the area in recent days.


Decision time on Iran nuclear deal ‘approaching fast,’ says European diplomat

EEAS Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora and Iranian Deputy at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi wait for the start of talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna. (Reuters)
EEAS Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora and Iranian Deputy at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi wait for the start of talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna. (Reuters)
Updated 3 min 4 sec ago

Decision time on Iran nuclear deal ‘approaching fast,’ says European diplomat

EEAS Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora and Iranian Deputy at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi wait for the start of talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna. (Reuters)
  • E3 official said talks could not be open ended
  • Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called on world powers to “wake up”

VIENNA: Talks on reviving a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers cannot continue indefinitely and a decision needs to be made soon, a senior diplomat from the ‘E3’ grouping of France, Germany and Britain said on Sunday.

“We continue to make progress but we still need to resolve the most difficult issues. As we have stated before, time is on nobody’s side. These talks cannot be open ended,” the diplomat said

“Delegations will now travel to capitals in order to consult with their leadership. We urge all sides to return to Vienna and be ready to conclude a deal. The time for decision is fast approaching.”

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday opened his first Cabinet meeting since swearing in his new coalition government last week with a condemnation of the new Iranian president.

He said Iran’s presidential election was a sign for world powers to “wake up” before returning to a nuclear agreement with Tehran.

Iran’s hard-line judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected Saturday with 62% of the vote amid a historically low voter turnout.

He is sanctioned by the US in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Raisi has not commented specifically on the event.

* With AP and Reuters

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Israel launches official probe into deadly festival stampede

Israel launches official probe into deadly festival stampede
Updated 20 June 2021

Israel launches official probe into deadly festival stampede

Israel launches official probe into deadly festival stampede
  • Some 100,000 people, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews, gathered for the April 29 holiday festival despite coronavirus restrictions
  • Experts had long warned the Mount Meron complex was inadequately equipped to handle the enormous crowds
JERUSALEM: Israel’s government approved Sunday the establishment of an independent state commission of inquiry into a deadly disaster at a Jewish holy site in April that left 45 people dead.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the commission would investigate major safety shortcomings that led to a deadly stampede at Lag Baomer celebrations on Mount Meron.
It will be headed by a current or former senior judge, and its members selected by the country’s chief Supreme Court justice.
Some 100,000 people, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews, gathered for the April 29 holiday festival in northern Israel despite coronavirus restrictions limiting outdoor assemblies to 500 people, and longstanding warnings about the safety of such gatherings. The state comptroller’s office had previously issued a pair of reports in 2008 and 2011 warning that the conditions at Mount Meron were dangerous.
Hundreds of people funneled through a narrow passageway descending the mountain’s holy site during the festival. A slippery slope caused people to stumble and fall, precipitating a human avalanche that killed 45 people and injured at least 150.
The police launched an investigation into the disaster, but to date have yet to make any arrests.
The government said the commission would investigate the officials “who made the decisions that led to approving the event and determining the framework that was approved and its terms.”
Powerful ultra-Orthodox politicians reportedly pressured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other government officials to lift attendance restrictions at the religious festival.
Experts had long warned the Mount Meron complex was inadequately equipped to handle the enormous crowds that flock there during the springtime holiday, and that existing infrastructure was a safety risk.
Netanyahu’s political allies, including ultra-Orthodox lawmakers, walked out on a Knesset committee hearing that discussed forming an investigation last month. Families of the mostly ultra-Orthodox victims of the disaster had called on Netanyahu to take action and form an independent state commission to investigate the incident.
Bennett said at the start of his newly formed government’s first Cabinet meeting that “the responsibility is on our shoulders to learn the lessons to prevent the disaster to come.”
“The commission cannot bring back those who died, but the government can do everything to prevent an unnecessary loss in the future,” he said.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, one of the ministers who advanced the motion to launch the commission, said in a statement: “We must make sure that a tragedy of this nature never repeats itself. The taskforce’s purpose is, above anything else, to save human life.”

New compensation offer made over Suez Canal blockage — lawyer

New compensation offer made over Suez Canal blockage — lawyer
Updated 20 June 2021

New compensation offer made over Suez Canal blockage — lawyer

New compensation offer made over Suez Canal blockage — lawyer
  • The Ever Given container ship has been anchored in a lake between two stretches since it was dislodged on March 29
  • The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) demanded $916 million in compensation before lowering it to $550 million

ISMAILIA: The owners of a giant container ship that blocked the Suez Canal in March have made a new offer in a compensation dispute with the canal authority, a lawyer for the authority said on Sunday.
The Ever Given container ship has been anchored in a lake between two stretches of the canal since it was dislodged on March 29. It had been grounded across the canal for six days, blocking hundreds of ships and disrupting global trade.
The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) demanded $916 million in compensation to cover salvage efforts, reputational damage and lost revenue, before publicly lowering the request to $550 million.
The Ever Given’s Japanese owners Shoei Kisen and its insurers have disputed the claim and the ship’s detention under an Egyptian court order.
Negotiations had been continuing until Saturday, SCA lawyer Khaled Abu Bakr told a court hearing in Ismailia over the ship’s detention.
The ship’s owners had put in a new offer, he said, without giving details. The SCA’s chairman previously said Shoei Kisen had offered to pay $150 million.
The court had been due to rule on the case on Sunday but Shoei Kisen’s legal team asked for a postponement to allow more time for negotiations, one of their lawyers said.
This week UK Club, one of the ship’s insurers, said it was engaged in “serious and constructive negotiations” with the SCA, and was “hopeful of a positive resolution to these negotiations in the near future.”


Rocket targets Iraq base hosting US troops: security source

Rocket targets Iraq base hosting US troops: security source
Updated 20 June 2021

Rocket targets Iraq base hosting US troops: security source

Rocket targets Iraq base hosting US troops: security source

BAGHDAD: At least one Katyusha rocket fell close to the perimeter of a military base that hosts US troops in northern Iraq on Sunday, Iraq’s military said.
The rocket fell near the sprawling Ain al-Asad air base in western Anbar province but did not explode, the military said in a statement.
There was no significant damage, the statement said. An Iraqi security official said a fence at the perimeter of the base was minimally damaged. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
An investigation by security forces found the projectile had been launched from the nearby al-Baghdadi area.
The attack is the latest targeting the American presence in Iraq. Rockets and, more recently, drones have targeted military bases hosting US troops and the US Embassy in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad.
The regular assaults have been described as disruptive by US contractors working on military bases. Recently, Lockheed Martin relocated its F-16 maintenance teams, citing security concerns.
The US and Iraq are negotiating a timeline for foreign troops to withdraw from the country. Talks began under the former administration of Donald Trump and resumed after President Joe Biden assumed office.