by George Kyriakou
What do we say to the following article by George Kyriakou in Aegina? (my translation) In the past I have supported Aegina’s claims to recognition, specifically as the site of the swearing-in of Capodistrias on 26th January 1828 and the creation of the modern Greek state. The date of 26th January corresponds to the date of Australia’s controversial national day and as someone born in Australia I was impressed by this coincidence. In fact it was even the inspiration for a function in Athens on 26th January 2019 in honour of Julian Assange. But George Kyriakou’s perspective, which is supported by the historian Panagiotis Paspaliaris (admittedly a Naupliot but also a person with a respect for historical fact) has won my consent, particularly given its joint support from people with such different politics as Kyriakou and Paspaliaris.
On 11th May 2020 at an online meeting of Aegina’s Municipal Council an announcement was issued nominating the membership of the Municipality of Aegina’s Co-ordinating Committee for participating in the celebration of the bicentenary of Greece’s 1821 Revolution. (1). The decision was unanimous and approved by the members of the Committee. But as early as January “the question of co-ordinating the activity and the events for Aegina’s participation in the programme of the ‘Greece 2021’ Committee” for celebrating the passage of 200 years since the 1821 Revolution had been discussed in the Aegina Municipal Council, with some preliminary statements, amid proposals for the form the celebration should take and the way this could be promoted to the “Greece 2021” Committee. (2). In June the president of the Aegina committee resigned for reasons unknown(3). A few days ago the new president of the committee, the well-known Aeginetan journalist Manolis Kottakis, assumed the committee presidency with declarations such as “everything started from here, everything started from Aegina, our first capital” (4). In the meantime interventions from the former mayor (5)(6), from the regional councillor and former deputy prefect for the Islands (7) not to mention a protest memorandum from Sakkiotis to the municipal authority-Metropolis of Hydra, Spetses and Aegina (8), were actions aimed at projecting Aegina as the first capital of the Greek state. For whose benefit?
For a start, the constituted committee itself has not elaborated or mentioned principles, positions or objectives, a necessary terrain of reference for evaluating the Revolution of 1821 and its meaning today, but the Municipal Council has shown an inclination to co-ordinate with the committee officially appointed by the Government. And while there have been unbelievable provocations from Prime Minister Mitsotakis, who declared on 25th March that “two hundred years ago” Greeks brought into being a nation” and from Gianna Angelopoulou and the committee logo featuring a scarf (which with a little goodwill can be construed as a 2 next to a 1) and even more so from members of the Government-appointed committee who ridiculed the memory of fighters of 1821, of Capodistrias; and while there have been the resignation of an academic from the official committee for reasons of self-respect , and provocations from the stance of members of the official committee declaring that “Greeks did not feel oppressed by the Ottoman Empire” and while we face the provocative prospect of conversion of Agia Sophia in Constantinople – which was the unifying symbol of the revolutionary struggles – into a mosque by the Islamo-fascist Turkish regime….the 2021 committee on our island was bursting with pride that “everything started from here, everything started from Aegina, the first capital”, to quote the words of the Aegina journalist Manolis Kottakis. He himself indicated a desire for agreement with Athens mayor Bakogiannis for joint celebrations between the “first capital and the final capital”, sidelining the previous capital because in Aegina the word “Nauplion” is required to be more or less taboo. The priest Father Manolis Giannoulis, historian of Aegina, literally saved the day, explaining at the side of the committee president the meaning of unity: “it is not a celebration that concerns one municipality. It is a celebration that has to do with the total endeavour of Hellenism to achieve a State. Which is why because a State had not been founded one cannot speak of capitals. Pardon me on this point but it was a State under construction. … So let’s forget this first and second (capital)…” (9). With this brilliant and valuable exception once again the people of our local elite, along with others who spend a part of their lives in Aegina, instead of projecting some positions of principle and goals for assessment of the Revolution of 1821, prefer to utilize the easy solution of the temporary housing of Capodistrias’ government, reinvigorating the surviving localism. Another tourist product for the summer of 2021?
But Aegina, like all other Greek localities, made its own contribution to the Revolution of 1821. People who put their very lives, their property, their ships, at the disposal of the Revolution, participated in battles on land and at sea for the liberation of Greece. Aegina hosted a great number of refugees from the disasters at Psara and Chios, and later in the orphanage and the teacher training college took charge of orphans who were learning reading, writing and practical skills but also of young people who would staff the schools of liberated Greece.
Aegina is not the first capital of the modern Greek state as is maintained by the official authorities of our island. The first capital of the modern Greek state is Nauplion. Constantinople was the place the enslaved Greeks perennially yearned for. Athens emerged as the administrative option of the foreign factor for dismissing every idea that targeted the liberation of Constantinople and all parts of Greece.
A necessary historical note on the question of the first capital of the Greek state
The question of the first capital of the Greek state being in Aegina is something that has been widely “dealt with” in recent years. The first capital of the Greek state has been certified as our island by its official authorities. This has been done without any organization of a conference of national significance or any process of national character. A whole range of political figures in Aegina and Attica (because they have no votes to lose from Nauplion or Corinth), well-known artists, academics, scholars and scientists who spend some of the time in Aegina and personalities from the entirety of the local political system have spoken: the first capital of the modern Greek state is Aegina. It is written everywhere, at all the public serves, on envelopes, on water bills, at every opportunity to elevate localism as the pride of the local elite and present it as a placebo to its voters. The former mayor of Aegina S. Sakkiotis responds characteristically to questions from the newspaper “Ta Nea”.
-There has always been contention between a number of Greek cities over Ioannis Capodistrias. What claims does Aegina have over him?
-We are given this right by History. Capodistrias disembarked here. It was here that he laid the foundations of the modern Greek and it was from here that for a year and a half he put Greece on its feet.
-Have you had supporters in the undertaking to secure national recognition of the anniversary of the swearing-in of Capodistrias as the first governor of Greece, in a local celebration?
-There can be no questioning of the fact that it was here that the first government of the modern Greek state was sworn in. Accordingly, all scholars and all conferences on Capodistrias who acknowledge the historical reality are our supporters.
But there are corresponding truths for Corinth. In the speech by the mayor of Corinth in the celebrations for the anniversary of the First National Assembly at Epidaurus in 1822 he said among other things the following: “Today Corinth celebrates the anniversary of the declaration of Corinth as first capital of modern Greece, something not widely known by many”. University academics and other personages of the area lend vociferous assent and for good reasons because of the following well-known facts:
The institution of the national flag “Land and Sea”. Decree 540 of 15.03.1822 following the decision of the First National Assembly of 1st January 1822.
The convening of the first Holy Synod
The establishment of the first state hospital in Corinth
The founding of the first mint
The recruitment and organization of the regular army and battalion of Philhellenes (law 11/23-4-1822
These other points are also mentioned:
1. Symbolic, because occupation of Acrocorinth was an event of great importance for the revolutionaries.
2. Geographic. Corinth was situated in a key position, between two important ports: Lechaio and Kechries.
3. Economic, because its geographic position made Corinth the centre for noteworthy economic activity.
4. Administrative, because it was the connecting link between the Peloponnese and Roumeli.
5. Military, because it was of strategic importance and possessed an impregnable fortress, Acrocorinth.
6. Historic, because it was one of the most important Greek cities of antiquity.
7. Religious, being inseparably linked to the Christian faith of the Hellenes, visited by the Apostle Paul, who addressed epistles to the Corinthians.
But Nauplion enjoyed preference as the seat of the still internationally unrecognized national government following civil strife which led to weakening of the polity and the disaster of Turkish restoration under Ibrahim. One day before the termination of its proceedings, that is on 4th May 1827, the National Assembly through its Resolution XVIII nominated Nauplion as seat of the government and of the parliament. The proceedings were terminated on 5th May, with the signing of the relevant resolutions. But confronted there by the familiar civil disturbances and blockaded in the Bourtzi fortress, the Provisional Administration with the consent of the Parliament resolved through Resolution No. 1 and Preliminary Decree 32 to transfer the seat of government to Aegina, to which location they themselves then moved for the reception of Ioannis Capodistrias, who in turn specified in his correspondence with Philhellenes that “all material and moral assistance should be conveyed to Aegina“. It is obvious that Aegina was a temporary solution in the face of the tragic events of civil war. In any case, as soon as the situation normalized, the Governor moved his headquarters to Nauplio in January 1828, about a year after his arrival in Aegina. “Aegina was abandoned. The houses that they had built fell into ruin. The city became a village again” writes E. Abou in his book “The Greece of Othon”, Tolidis Brothers editions, 1982.
When on 3rd February 1830 the protocol of Greek independence (Spercheios-Acheloos) was signed by England, France and Russia, Nauplion was the capital of Greece. Both Poros, as seat of the Provisional Administration for a brief period and Aegina, from which Ioannis Capodistrias governed for a year, were temporary in their function. Later Athens, as destination of the romantic Bavarians and the dynasty which governed Greece after the assassination of Ioannis Capodistrias, ratified the one-sided relationship of Greece with its ancient history, subtracting the continuity of Byzantium. It was a symbolic and political way to divert attention from the central idea of liberating Constantinople, the symbol of Byzantium, at the same time appeasing the archaeolatric zeal of the European despotism that installed itself as manager of Greek continuity. So, without Byantium there would be neither a national idea nor challenge to the geopolitical plans of the rulers. So from an early stage history has been an object for manipulation, serving the geopolitical ambitions of the world’s hegemons.
It is no accident that the Philiki Etaireia chose Constantinople as the key site for the uprising of the Hellenes, which included arrest of the Sultan following a surprise attack launched by the crews of the ships. And indeed, in accordance with the “Great Plan”, or the “Partial Plan”, devised by the Kefalonian D. Eumorfopoulos, he himself, in collaboration with the head of the crews of the Turkish fleet, the Hydriot captain Gioustos, master of the Turkish flagship , would bring 400 sailors into the fleet, some of which would be set on fire, and the rest brought into the revolution. Many parts of the capital would be torched and an attempt would be made to arrest the Sultan himself. Philemon writes in this connection: “…All agreed on one point only, that the first explosion should be in Constantinople, half opening the prospect of success in the war through setting on fire of the enemy fleet in its naval bases and eradication of the sultan and the grandees without them knowing of the fires that had been set. Ypsilantis worked on this personally up until the time of his threatened resignation”.
It is obvious that since the fall of Constantinople, this city came first in the estimation of Greeks. Countless narratives in songs, references laments, brochures, extol the city’s importance as a symbol of Hellenism and Orthodoxy and perennial focus of the Great Idea of liberation of the Greeks. Rigas’ project the “Hellenic Politeia”, a political idea embracing the liberation of all the peoples (including the Turks) of the Balkans and Asia Minor and expressed symbolically by the cross and the club of Heracles (a synthesis of ancient Greece and Byzantium) incorporated the Byzantine state of the era of the Greek renaissance and began to contract under the influence of Western colonialism and the expansionism of the East. So there is nothing surprising about the Philiki Etaireia elaborating plans for beginning the Revolution in Constantinople.
Today celebration of the anniversary in Aegina, but also in other places where localist tendencies predominate, risks adulteration of historical memory, such that the symbol of every place comes to be seen as being of primary importance for liberation of the nation. So it would be wise for a proper orientation to be adopted by our island for celebrating the rebirth of 1821 and at the same time highlighting the small or great contribution of our particular place to that end. Any other orientation would be in bad faith, for flattering and consoling in an unhistorical way local communities that are being put to the test by an unprecedented and many-faceted crisis. It could only further feed the complacency of local elites who have made localism into an ideological shield. For their own advantage, not for the good of their communities.