Constantine Kanaris - The "Avenger of Chios"

Constantine Kanaris was one of the grand figures in the independence war of the Greeks against the Turkish occupation. Many Greek people still link this name with courage, will, passion and patriotism - he simply is a popular, admired national war hero. Even though he was born on a neighbor island of Chios, the Chians love him like their own son.


Constantine Kanaris (in Greek: Κωνσταντίνος Κανάρης) was born on Psara, a small island in the north-west of Chios, around 1790. In spite of its tiny dimensions Psara was a prosperous place also due to the positioning of the Greek fleet. Kanaris though became an orphan when he was very young. In this situation - without money - he chose what many people did: He became a seaman, which promises adventure and big money. The seamen of Psara were famous for their high capabilities on the sea, so Kanaris quickly succeeded and became the captain of a small merchant ship.

The Massacre of Chios shocked whole Europe - Kanaris though seemed to became even more daring and brave

But in March 1821 nearly nobody thought about continuing the normal career or life: On the initiative of the Filiki Etairia (in Greek: Φιλική Εταιρεία), literally the "Society of Friends", a secret organization whose purpose was to overthrow the Ottoman rule of Greece, there were uprisings of Greeks on the Peloponnese, Constantinople and the Principality of Moldavia. The Greek revolution had begun.

On 10th of April 1821 the island of Chios and Psara joined the Greek war of independence too. Constantine Kanaris was in the city of Odessa at this time, and the war on his island must have surprised him as he returned to the island in haste. Arrived on Psara, the island set up its own fleet of ships with Kanaris as fire ship captain.
Meanwhile the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mahmud II, sent a fleet equipped with a 45.000 soldiers under the command of Admiral Nasuhzade Ali Pasha (or Kara-Ali Pasha).

Mahmud II was furious about the brutal and bloody banishment of Moslem on the Peloponnese in the course of the Greek revolution, so he planned his revenge: The army destroyed the whole island 15 days, killed around 25.000 and enslaved 45.000 Greeks - The Massacre of Chios enraged the whole civil world.

Kanaris' game with the fire - "Konstantí, you are going to die"    

Some days after the massacre, on the night of  6./7. of June 1822, the Greeks fought back: Commanded by Constantine Kanaris and other famous seamen of Psara a Greek fleet arrived in Chios. In this night the admiral and other commanders stayed on the flagship, which still was in the port of Chios, celebrating the victory and the feast of Bairam, on the last day of Ramzan. Kanaris and his 36 men with two brigs, fitted as fire ships, succeeded in approaching the admiral's flagship Bourlota Saimaz unnoticed due to the distraction of the soldiers and in setting the ship on fire. While Kanaris and his men escaped, 2000 Ottoman naval officers, sailors and prisoners were instantly killed, as the flagship blew up in a terrible explosion. The Admiral Ali Pasha suffered serious injuries and died of them later. His graves is in the Kastro of Chios, a few steps next to his place of his death.

Ali Pasha's death was the hour of birth of the national hero Constantine Kanaris. Till today he is honored in Chios City: The impressive statue of him in the main park shows him proud and strong with the sabres in the belt and the whip in the hand. Although he was born on Psara, the sister island of Chios which forms one regional county with Chios now, the Chians consider him as one of their own: He is regarded as the Avenger of Chios.

Later, Constantine Kanaris distinguished himself as a excellent fire ship captain due to further successful attacks against the Ottomans: Between 1822–1824 he destroyed the flagship of the Ottomans in the port of Tenedos and several Ottoman ships near to Samos. Legendary is his sentence he every time murmuring when approaching a Ottoman warship on the fire boat: "Konstantí, you are going to die". His various attacks on fire ships inspired also many artists. One of those paintings you can see at the top of this site; "Το κάψιμο της τουρκικής φρεγάτας" ("The burning of the Turkish Frigate") is a work of Constanine Wolanakis (in Greek: Κωνσταντίνος Βολανάκης) (1837–1907).

Constantine Kanaris: From national war hero to a well-respected politician

In spite of the heroic actions of Kanaris, the Greek resistance was in an hopeless inferior position against the Ottoman Empire. Only the intervention of the western powers saved the Greek revolution, which resulted in the London Protocol of 1830 and an absolute independent Greece. The new Greek states included today's core Greece, but not Chios and Psara - They stayed part of the Ottoman Empire.

With the new Greek state, ruled by the compromise solution of the Western powers Prince Otto I. of Bavaria, also the role of Constantine Kanaris changed: As a merited national war hero he served his country as a politician. Altogether he served six times as the Prime Minister of Greece under two different monarchs. Once in retirement he got convinced by King George I. and came back as the Prime Minister again.

On the 14. September 1877 he died as a married man and father of seven children in Athens. He was buried in the First Cemetery of Athens, where most Greek prime ministers and celebrated figures are also buried. After his death he was honored as a national hero and there are three ships of the Hellenic Navy which were named after him. Read the Epitaph of Constantine Kanaris (from the German poem of Wilhelm Müller, translated by William Edmounstoune Aytoun):

 

Verse 1

Verse 2

Verse 3

Verse 4

I am Constantine Kanaris:

I, who lie beneath this stone,

Twice into the air in thunder

Have the Turkish galleys blown.

In my bed I died - a Christian,

Hoping straight with Christ to be;

Yet one earthly wish is buried

Deep within the grave with me -

That upon the open ocean

When the third Armada came,

They and I had died together,

Whirled aloft in wings of flame.

Yet 't is something that they've laid me

In a land without a stain:

Keep it thus, my God and Saviour,

Till I rise from earth again!

Unfortunately Kanaris never saw his home Psara and Chios as well as free Greek islands. Both islands had to wait until 1912 to finally be integrated into the Greek mother country. Although Constantine Kanaris was at this moment already dead for 35 years - Chios and Psara owe their liberty also to Kanaris and his daringness. Surely there will be time to remember this national hero at the celebrating of "100 Years Chios freed" ("100 XΡΟΝΙΑ ΧΙΟΣ ΕΛΕUΦΕΡΑ") at the 11. of November.

 

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