The Historic Ancestry of our St. Demetrios Parishioners during the War of Greek Independence

Speech delivered at the March 25 Greek Independence Day celebration by Dr. Lou Economou:

The first Greeks to settle in America came in the 1870's. Since then, millions of Greeks, from various areas of the Fatherland, settled in America.  Their children, born in this country, became known as Greek-Americans. Over the years, these children were sent to the Orthodox Church as well as the "Greek Schools" to learn their religion, history, tradition, customs, and dance.  As the years passed, fewer and fewer children attended Greek School.  Slowly, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th generations began "melting" into the great American Melting Pot.

To a point, it's O.K. to melt into the American society, but not at the expense of losing your Greek heritage, tradition, culture, and for some, their Orthodox religion. I've met people with a last name that was Greek, so I asked "Are you Greek?" To my amazement, the response was, "No, but I think my grandfather came from Greece." How sad! How pathetic! To not know about or identify with their Greek roots is unacceptable.

I gave this a lot of thought. How can, after only a few generations, an individual stop identifying with their Hellenic roots? I know that over the years various speakers gave wonderful lectures about the Greek War of Independence – Telling everyone about battles, dates, events, and the heroes. But no speaker said anything about the actual fighters, the soldiers, (you know, the farmers, shepherds, and the fishermen), who fought for the Generals and the Admirals.

I will attempt to personalize the War of Independence, to show you that it was our own great-great-grandfathers who fought and died to create our Modern Greece, not just our national heroes.  Maybe then, our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren won't be so likely to lose their Hellenic or Greek heritage. I know what part of Greece many of our parishioners or their parents came from. But there are others here at St Demetrios about whom I don't know, nor the regions from which they came.  If I don't mention you or your region, it was not done on purpose.

From 1453 until 1821, the Turks, the most feared fighters in the world at that time, controlled Greece and the Balkan region.  The Ottoman Turks subjected Greece to crushing taxes and its peasants to serfdom. After putting up with this treatment for 400 years, the Greeks declared their independence. But who fought and defeated the Turks? Was it just the few national heroes about whom we read and sing? It was my great-great-grandfather and your great-great-grandfather who fought to defeat them.  Greece didn't have a trained and standing army.  It was our poor and hungry relatives who had no hope for a better life who risked their lives for the freedom of their people and land.  They were the farmers, shepherds, fishermen, and kleftes, your everyday Greeks namely, our relatives. If you were to look around the room, I could personalize it even more.  Our St. Demetrios Greek community is made up of people from Peloponnesos, Central Greece, Thessalia, Epiros, and from many islands.  We also have parishioners from Macedonia, Thrace, and Attiki.

When Bishop Germanos raised the standard to declare the Revolution on March 25th, 1821 at the Monastery of Agia Larva, don't you think that the relatives of Soula Bastounis, George Kallos, Nick Rapanos, and Tony Koutras were there to witness the event? You see, their families lived only a few miles away. What an experience, to witness and be a part of modern Greek history. The Revolution adopted the war cry, "Freedom or Death."

When Kolokotronis fought in Peloponnesos, he did not fight alone.  I'm sure the relatives of the following families also participated: the Veremis, Koutras, Kallos, Bastounis, Rapanos, Zaharias, Metropoulos, and Tsiros to name a few.

If Kolokotronis is like George Washington, then Ioanis Makrianis and Giorgios Karaiskas are like Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. To the students and adults of the St. Demetrios Greek community: did you know that Gus and Nick Makrianis are the great-great grandsons of Ioanis Makrianis, the second most famous general in the War of Independence, and one of the founding fathers of Modern Greece? I don't think so, but I ask you: why didn't you know? This information is part of your modern Greek history and you have two men in our Greek community with a famous background.

Do you know about your own family history and their involvement in the making of Modern Greece? The War of Independence, World War I, the Great Asia Minor Disaster, World War II, Greek Civil War?  Maybe you are melting into the American culture quicker than you thought.

St Demetrios has many Greek families from Steria Ellas or Central Greece.  Many of you or your parents came from small villages, like Lithoriki, Koupaki, Krokilios, Marathia, and Nafapktos to name a few. When General Makrianis called for men to fight the Turks, who do you think came to fight? - the Triantifilos, Psetas, Tarachas, Andriopoulos (Andros), Demetrokopoulos, Kolimbaris (Barris), Skentzos, Milionis, and Stoumbos.  They stopped farming, fishing, and tending their sheep, and went to war.  Some died but most everyone was wounded for the cause.

In April of 1821, Athanasios Diakos was captured and roasted alive by the Turks after the battle of Alamana.  This battle was less than a mile from the Battle of Thermopoloae, where the 300 Spartans fought and died, defending the pass, in 480 B.C. A few miles away is a village called, Avlaki.  You can bet that the relatives of Christos Athanasios Anagnostopoulos (Chris Anagnost) from Avlaki, fought at the Battle of Alamana. From Stelida, the Armeros relatives of Roula Koutras, I'm sure, also fought.  A little north of there, in Volos, the Majoros relatives must have fought in the battle.  South of Alamana, the Kookootsedis of Levadia (a very famous city of the revolution) must have been involved, and from Attiki the Ioanidis clan also participated.

We will slowly lose our identity, our history, and our language if we adults and parents don't pass their valuable history down to our children and grandchildren. Many parents do not insist that their children go to Greek school to learn the language. Later in life, the children will realize that they missed out, that they do have a need for the Greek language, but in most cases it will be too late to learn it.  So, for you children in Greek school, I take my hat off to you and I congratulate you for the years you dedicated to learn Greek.

Let's not forget our parishioners whose relatives came from the islands that made major contributions for the revolution. Because they were from the islands, and many were fishermen, most fought on ships for Admiral Kanaris, Admiral Miaoulis and Admiral Laskarinia Bouboulina, a women whom historians say was well over 6 foot 8 inches tall. The relatives of Kastros, Kanonas, Vrahoritis (Wright), Anagon, Stamas, Rentzos, Doumas, Mitchell, Zubulakis, Neophytous of Cyprus, and the Siradakis of Crete, fought bravely for many years and especially at the naval battle of Navarino.

When the city of Mesolongi was sieged for well over a year by the Turks, thousands of Greeks inside the walled city began to starve to death.  In the last months they resorted to eating rats to stay alive. Thousands died of the plague. The city of Mesolongi is in the western part of Greece called Evritania.  The only family from that region in our own community is the Evangelodemos family.  Some of their relatives must have been involved in Mesolongi.

From Epiros, my wife Soula's relatives fought with the great Souliote leaders Botsaris and Tsavellas.  Over a span of 18 years, my father-in-law gave me details in a blow by blow history of the Sianou clan and I digested the information and documented their involvement in Greek history. There is a region in Epiros known as Souli.  Originally they were Christians, as well as from Albania, who settled high in the rugged mountains of Epiros around the 1600's. When the first Souliotes arrived in this rugged mountain region, high above the Archiron River, they found wild cliffs protecting their backs and sharp mountain tops and narrow passes guarding the entrance to the Souli region.  Here, they founded a number of villages and spent their whole life training to kill Turks.  Over the next 200 years the Turks tried to invade the area, but each time they were defeated. On December 15th, 1803 (18 years before the War of Independence began), Ali Pashas, trapped one of 3 groups of Souliotes, in the mountains of Zolongo.  Here the men fought and died to the last man, and the Souliote women, with their children, climbed to the highest point of the mountain.  Realizing that they were going to be captured, they began singing and dancing, clutching their children in their arms, and then jumped off the cliff to their death rather than facing slavery, torture, rape, and other abuses at the hands of the Turks.

The other two groups of Souliotes broke out of the area, some going to Parga and then to Corfu.  The third group headed for the high and rugged mountains of the Agrafa region. The Turks chased after them and many Souliotes died.  The few that lived settled in the Agrafa mountains. My great-great grandfather, (together with the ancestors of the Skoutelases, my first cousins), was one of those Soulites who survived the Turkish slaughter. His name was Thanasis Zigouris, a Priest, who later changed his surname to Economou (a Priest title). I know that my relatives, as well as the Skoulelasis, fought with General Georgios Karaiskakis and Papafletsas.  From this area of Greece, the Zaharopoulos and the Tsatalas (Penny Metropoulos) families, I'm sure, fought in this region. From the Larissa region, the Zestos and the Samaras families contributed to the war. From Macedonia and Thrace, the Mourtzouhas, Paron, Marks, Tolas, and Batsios fought. The Kambourelis clan from Kavala and Christofidis of Drama likewise joined the battle at the cost of their lives.

As I have been saying, many of our relatives fought and died bravely to create our Modern Greece.  I am extremely proud of the Zigouri/Economou heritage and my children will not forget their ancestors' contributions.

Isn’t it a shame that for all the bravery and death, we have a number of Greeks who do not identify with the immense sacrifice their own great-great grandfathers have made for Modern Greece. I challenge you who are of Greek descent and who read these words to learn more about your history, and pass it down to your children.  The "Glory that was Greece" is not just in ancient Greece. The "Glory that was Greece" is also the founding of Modern Greece by our relatives. Study your own individual family history, and pass it on proudly.  Be proud of who you are.  Don't let your family melt into the American society totally. Insure that it is not your grandchildren who say "No, I'm not Greek, but my grandfather was born in Greece.”

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