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Σάββατο, 19 Μαΐου 2007

THE SOULIOTES: THE WARIOR MOUNTAIN TRIBES OF EPIRUS

Souli is located the mountains of Epirus, the north-western region of Greece. In the 18th century it acted as a "state within the state" and was permanently at war with the occupation forces of the Ottoman Empire. For many Greeks and Albanians Souli belongs to the historical origins of their national state. For other Europeans this is an unknown location today. This page tries to recall it into European memory. The area was not always unknown to European travellers. The English landscape painter Edward Lear visited Souli in 1849 when the Souliots were still present in the historical conciousness of Europe. It is unknown in which century these mountains have been settled for the first time, but we know that Christian-Albanian tribes settled down during the Islamisation of Albania. At that time, Epirus was a mixed Greek-Albanian region. Since the Second World War this is in the Greek part noticeable only in some of the village names. There is more evidence in the South of Albania, despite the pressure of assimilation faced by the Greek minority in the time of communist dictatorship. In the Ottoman Empire the Turkish occupants made a distinction between religions, but not between ethnic characteristics. So Souli became a shelter also for Greeks who got into conflict with the Turkish authorities. The villages of Souli developed into an independent "state within the state", which defended regional autonomy over a long period.In the middle of the 18th century the "Confederacy of Souli" included 66 villages. The centre were the villages of Souli and Samoniva, and the fortresses of Kiafa, Kunghi and Avarikos. The ruins around the present village of Souli show even today that some thousands of people lived here. An army of 2000 soldiers protected the independence of the mountain republic. A visitor wrote: "No Souliot transacts any trade nor has he any merchandise. All their training from childhood is in weapons. They eat, sleep and wake up with these".The Turks tried to get the revolting region under control again. In 1731 Hatzi Achmet, pasha of Ioannina, got order from the Sultan to subdue Souli. He lost his army of 8000 men. The same happened in 1754 to Mustapha Pasha and his army. In the following years Mustapha Kokka came in with 4000 soldiers, and Bekir Pasha with 5000. Neither of them succeeded. In 1759 Dost Bey, comander of Dhelvinou, was beaten by the Souliots. Machoud Aga of Margariti, governor of Arta sufferd the same fate in 1762. In 1772 Suleiman Tsapari attaked Souli, his army of 9000 men was defeated. An expedition of Kurt Pasha failed in 1775.When in 1788 the notorious Ali became pasha of Ioannina, he tried for 15 years to subdue Souli. In the begining without succsess. In 1790 his army of 3000 Albanians was eliminated. After this, he managed to take some of the Souliot leaders as hostages, but even this did not intidimate Suli. At the next attack on Souli, the Souliot women killed 700 of Ali's soldiers and followed up the survivors.The Souliots got support from Europe, especially from Russia and England, which delivered weapons and ammunition. For the European powers they were an instument to weaken Turkey. When the British politics turned in favour of Turkey in order to strengthen all forces against Napoleon, these supplies were interrupted. Without support from outside and wearied by years of siege, the unity of the Souliot clans split. The Botsaris family parleyed with Ali Pasha.Ali promised them to let them go with all their property and even weapons to the Ionian islands, if they would give up their fortresses. At Christmas 1803 the majority of the Souliots left Souli towards the Epirotic coast. Those who stayed fought a last hopeless battle against Ali`s soldiers, and finally set fire to the powder Storage. In the meantime the Turkish army attacked the other Souliots, neglecting the promises they made. The march to the coast turned into a drama. A group of Souliot women jumped with their children from the rock of Zalongo, in order to avoid capture by the Turks. Another group choose suicide in the fortress of the village of Riza by setting fire to the powder storage. Yet a number also reached the harbour of Parga, which was British at that time. They settled down there or set off to the Ionian islands.Political instability was rising in the Balkans in the following years. When there were clear signs for the beginning of a Greek resurrection against Turkish rule, Ali Pasha saw his chance for making Epirus into an independent state. In 1820 he called the Souliots for help, and they returned to the mainland to support their former enemy against the sultan. But Ali΄s plans failed. The Turkish army occupied Ioannina, and Ali was killed. The Souliots now supported the Greek revolution, which started in 1821. The Souliot leaders Markos Botsaris and Kitsos Tsavellas became famous generals in the War of Independence. Souliot troops were fighting on the whole northern mainland of Greece. Together with volunteers from all Europe many of them lost their life in defending the city of Messolongi. Lord Byron, the most prominent European volunteer and commander in chief of the Greek army in Western Greece, tried to integrate them into a regular army and failed. The clan structure of the Souliots made this integration impossible.None of the Souliots of this time saw the liberation of their native place. Until 1909 the Turks kept a military base on the fortress of Kiafa. Finally in1913, during the Balkan War, the Greek army occupied large parts of Epirus and made it eventually a part of Greece.The price the Souliots paid for their uncomprimising stand, was high. The Greek-Albanian community who did so much for the independence of Greece, has been lost in history. Their native villages lie in ruins, their descendants are spread over all Greece and the whole world.While traveling through Greece in mid 19th century,the English painter and dandy Edward Lear ventures into the former stronghold of Souli formerly inhabited by the Souliotes warriors. Here is his account of this people: "The mountain of Souli may be conjectured to have been occupied by the Albanians about the thirteenth or fourteenth century, and when the greater part of the surrounding country lapsed to the Mohammedan faith,this race of hardy mountaineers adhered firmly to Christianity. During the eighteenth century the Souliotes carried on a predatory warfare with the surrounding territories of Margariti, Paramythia, etc., but when Ali Pasha had subdued all the surrounding tribes, the inhabitants of Souli found he was an enemy, determined either by craft or force to disposses them of their ancestral inheritance. From 1788 to 1792 innuberable were the artifices of Ali to obtain possession of this singular stronghold; in latter year he made an attack on it, which nearly proved fatal to himself, while his army was defeated with great slaughter. In 1798, after six years of bribery and skirmishing, a portion of the territory of Souli was gained by the Mohammedans, through treachery of some of the inhabitants, and thenceforward the accounts of protracted siege of this devoted people is a series of remarkable exploits and resolute defense, by Souliotes of both sexes, seldom paralleled in history. Every foot of the tremendous passage leading to Suli was contested in blood ere the besieger gained firm footing; and after he had done so the rock heldout an incredible period, until famine and treachery worked out the downfall of this unfortunate people. Then, in 1803, many escaped by passing through the enemy's camp, many by paths unknown to their pursuers; numbers have fled to the adjacent rocks of Zalongo and Seltzo; others destroyed themselves, together with their enemy, by gunpowder, or in a last struggle; or threw themselves into the Acheron or from precipes.Those of these brave people who ultimately escaped to Parga crossed over to Corfu, and thence entered the service of Russia and France. Many have returned to various parts of Epirus or Greece; but they have no longer a country or a name, and the warlike tribe who, at the length of their power formed a confederacy of sixty-six villages, may now be said to be extinct."

Edward Lear "Journal of a Landscape Painter in Greece" London 1851