Celebrating 200 Years Of Greek Independence

Two hundred years ago, on 25 March 1821, the people of
the south Balkan peninsula, a small corner of the Ottoman
Empire barely the size of New Zealand’s North Island, rose
up against their Ottoman oppressors with a cry of
“eleftheria i thanatos” (freedom or death). And
so began a decade-long struggle during which many died, but
which ultimately led to freedom and the formation of the
modern democratic state of Greece.

The uprising was
even more remarkable given the many generations of Greeks
that had lived under the Turkish yoke. Following the fall of
Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman Empire spread throughout
Eastern Europe, and the area we now know as Greece had been
occupied by the Ottomans for nearly 400 years.

the long occupation, the Hellenic spirit survived and Greeks
did not lose their identity during those 400 long years. The
Greek Orthodox clergy played a significant part, preserving
the Greek traditions, religion and language by operating
secret night-time schools in caves and basements, at great
personal risk, so that each new generation would grow up
knowing that they were Ellines and not

The achievements of Greece and the Greek
people in the intervening years have contributed positively
to the world, not only in peace, but also in war. Last
October we commemorated the 80th anniversary of Ohi
day when the Greeks met Mussolini’s ultimatum with a
resounding “NO”. Their resistance contributed
significantly to the eventual defeat of fascism, moving then
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to say: “Hence
we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that
heroes fight like Greeks.”

Today, Hellenes
throughout the world will be celebrating and commemorating
the deeds of our forebears, who gave their lives so that we
can live in a free and democratic society. But we do not
take our freedom for granted and it is incumbent on us today
to remember all people who remain oppressed and lack the
freedom we enjoy.

We owe it to the heroes of the 1821
revolution to remain vigilant and alert against aggression
and oppression directed at Greece, and indeed any other
country in the world.

One such example is the
bellicosity of Greece’s eastern geographical neighbour,
with its brazen questioning of Greece’s territorial
integrity and its belligerent expansionist policies. Their
fighter planes have been intruding into Greek air space,
sometimes several times a day, and they make baseless claims
to uninhabited rocky isles belonging to Greece. Turkish
ships continue to explore for hydrocarbons in Greece’s
Exclusive Economic Zone, a zone that has been rightfully
determined under international law. And for decades now,
Turkey has threatened Greece with the casus belli
a cause for war – should Greece dare claim
the full 12 nautical mile territorial waters it is entitled
to under international law.

We must guard against
attempts to rewrite history and expunge from memory
atrocities committed in the past. Despite Turkey’s
persistent denial, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s ethnic
cleansing of Asia Minor was a brutal campaign against all
the Christians of Asia Minor – Greeks, Armenians and
Assyrians – and amounted to a genocide which was witnessed
by Anzac soldiers, and which historians point to as the
inspiration for Hitler’s holocaust.

We must learn
from and be inspired by the achievements of our forebears
200 years ago who fought so bravely so that we might live in
freedom. We owe it to their memory to advocate for our
patrida (homeland), to lobby all free regimes,
including New Zealand, to call out all destabilising,
militaristic acts, including the illegal military occupation
of northern Cyprus, now in its 47th year.

As proud
Greeks, we live by our duty to call out and oppose all
oppressive and anti-democratic acts, regardless of where
they originate from, and against whom they are

Dr Demetrius Christoforou

Demetrius Christoforou, a retired industrial chemist, is a
Greek New Zealander passionate about both Greek and New
Zealand affairs. Born, raised and educated in New Zealand,
he lived in Greece for ten years and was a volunteer at the
2004 Athens Olympic

© Scoop Media


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