1935: Three Venizelist officers

Add comment April 24th, 2020 Headsman

Greek Venizelist generals Anastasios Papoulas and Miltiadis Koimisis, and major Stamatis Volanis, were shot on April 24, 1935, for a failed coup attempted weeks earlier.

The Liberal titan of the Greek polity over the preceding quarter-century, Eleftherios Venizelos had forged and politically dominated the post-monarchy Hellenic Republic. The last of his several turns as Prime Minister had ended two years previous amid the wrack of the Great Depression; now, Greece was led by the center-right government of Panagis Tsaldaris who seemed keen on midwifing the return of the deposed ex-king.*

The tense relations between monarchists and republicans were catalyzed by an unsuccessful 1933 assassination attempt on Venizelos …

… and this in turn drove the republican/Venizelist faction to contemplate more desperate measures. General Nikolaos Plastiras, who had the considerable credential of having led the successful 1922 rising against the monarchy, led a failed coup in 1933 and then from exile coordinated with a second putsch attempt on March 1, 1935. Venizelos himself had coordinated with the latter attempt in the preceding months and supported it when it was launched — triggering a furious backlash that included the release from prison of his would-be assassins.

More importantly, the coup failed to command critical mass of loyalty from the armed forces.

Although the casualties of this rising numbered in the single digits, the revenge upon it was wide-ranging.

Two officers committed suicide and three more were court-martialled and executed. Among them were the leading figures of Republican Defence, Generals A. Papoulas and M. Kimissis, who had done nothing during the evening of 1 March 1935 … their death sentence was an act of anti-Venizelist vengeance. Both Papoulas (a royalist before 1922) and Kimissis had in different ways been instrumental in the execution of the six prominent royalists in 1922 [after Greece attempted to seize parts of Asia Minor from the collapsing Ottoman Empire, with disastrous results -ed.]. Cavalry Major S. Volanis, who was left to rebel alone against the authorities of Thessaloniki, was also executed. Between 10 March and 14 May, when martial law was finally lifted, 1130 officers and civilians were tried. Sixty were sentenced to death, of whom fifty-five — including Venizelos and Plastiras — had already fled abroad, and two were pardoned. Fifty-seven were sentenced to life imprisonment and seventy-six were given light terms.

-Paschalis M. Kitromilides, Eleftherios Venizelos: The Trials of Statesmanship

The failure of their attempt and the wide purge that followed opened the path for the return of the monarchy that they had so feared: after a rigged plebiscite, Greece had her king back on November 30 of that same year. Venizelos died in exile a few months later.

* Chased into exile repeatedly throughout his reign — during World War I, by Venizelos’s Republic, and again during World War II — King George II was famous for his quip that “the most important tool for a King of Greece is a suitcase.” He’s the cousin of current British royal consort Prince Philip.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Greece,History,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Treason

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1922: Six Greek former ministers of state

11 comments November 28th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1922,* on the morning after a revolutionary tribunal held them liable for treason in the catastrophic Greek loss of Smyrna, six former high-ranking political and military officials of the Greek government were shot in Athens.

The long-running national conflict between liberals and monarchists had boiled over during World War I, setting the stage for increasingly bitter internecine conflict played out against the backdrop of a misbegotten foreign adventure.

Greece’s territorial aspirations after World War I.

As the Ottoman Empire — Greece’s neighbor and historical rival — collapsed in the aftermath of the world war, Athens under liberal colossus Eleftherios Venizelos set her sights on a vast pan-Hellenic domain spanning Constantinople, western Anatolia, and the Black Sea coast.

In 1919, backed — even pushed — by the British, Greece occupied Smyrna, a multiethnic economic hub in Asia Minor. But cruelty towards the Turkish population sparked immediate resistance which soon blended insensibly into the burgeoning Turkish National Movement, already on the path towards its destiny of forging the modern state of Turkey.

As the Greek army pressed outwards from Smyrna, it became drawn into full-fledged war. In 1920, the Greek government turned over (as it was often wont to do) and under the ascendant monarchists whose irredentism was not to be upstaged “fantasy began to direct Greek policy” — like a quixotic scheme to march on Constantinople rather than hold a defensible position. Greece’s European allies and sponsors began to cut bait.

September 14, 1922: Smyrna burns.

Far from threatening Constantinople, the Greeks suffered one of their greatest disasters — the “Catastrophe of Asia Minor”, when Ataturk drove them back to, and then out of, Smyrna, emptying the once-cosmopolitan city of thousands of Greek (and Armenian) refugees fleeing a sectarian carnage. Some swam out of the burning city only to be refused aid by ships of nations unwilling to be drawn into the affair politically.

In the dismayed Greek capital, anti-monarchist officers who had been purged by the new government revolted and rounded up the opposition’s leadership. “The Six” who faced public trial for treason included three former Prime Ministers:

With two other ministers of state and a general, they comprised all but one member of the offending monarchist government, a bloody thoroughness the New York Times compared to Robespierre. Western governments temporarily broke off relations.

After the day’s bloody deeds, Venizelos returned from exile to conclude the war on Turkish terms, including “population exchange” — fragrant euphemism — to solidify each government’s demarcation as a nation-state and ratify the destruction of Smyrna (renamed Izmir) as a multiconfessional melting pot.

Today, Smyrna is largely forgotten by those to whom it is not intensely remembered — and among the latter, its meaning is ferociously contested. To Turks, a chapter in their founding expulsion of foreign occupation; to Greeks, the calamitous end of the ancient Hellenic presence in Asia Minor; to each, a touchstone for one another’s atrocities; to others of a less parochial frame of mind, a parable of the perfidy of an entire enemy faith, or a subplot in the great game for Ottoman oil, or as Henry Miller conceived it writing in the antechamber of the second World War, the avatar of a stunted and cynical moral sense among European powers that would lead them to their next great reckoning:

Even the most ignorant yokel knows that the name Attila is associated with untold horrors and vandalism. But the Smyrna affair, which far outweighs the horrors of the first World War or even the present one, has been somehow soft-pedalled and almost expunged from the memory of present day man. The peculiar horror which clings to this catastrophe is due not alone to the savagery and barbarism of the Turks but to the disgraceful, supine acquiescence of the big powers.

Smyrna, like the Boxer Rebellion and other incidents too numerous to mention, was a premonitory example of the fate which lay in store for European nations, the fate which they were slowly accumulating by their diplomatic intrigues, their petty horse-trading, their cultivated neutrality and indifference in the face of obvious wrongs and injustices.

*Greece did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1923, the last European country to do so — so the date in Greece on the day of the execution was actually November 15.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Greece,Heads of State,Mass Executions,Notable Jurisprudence,Politicians,Power,Shot,Treason,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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