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The Enslaved Greek who Rose to Become Ruler of Tunisia

greek ruler tunisia
A painting of the formerly enslaved Greek man Mustapha Khaznadar and his son. Credit: Wikipedia commons

By Antonis Chaldeos

George Stravelakis, sometimes called “Halkias,” was an enslaved Greek man from the island of Chios who rose in society to become the Prime Minister of Tunisia in the 1860s.

He was born in 1817 on the island of Chios.

During the atrocity of the Chios massacre, Georgios’s father was killed, while George, along with his brother Ioannis and his mother Irene, were captured and sold into slavery by the Ottomans.

Chios massacre atrocity

Tens of thousands of Greeks were killed by Ottoman troops on the island of Chios during the Greek War of Independence in 1822.

Greeks from neighboring islands had arrived on Chios and encouraged the Chians to join their revolt. In response, Ottoman troops landed on the island and killed thousands, even trapping many in a church and burning them alive.

The massacre of Christians provoked widespread international outrage and led to increasing support for the Greek cause worldwide.

Sold as slave

George was then taken to Smyrna and then Constantinople, where he was sold as a slave to the bey, or ruler, of Tunis.

Stravelakis converted to Islam and was given the name Mustapha.

He was then raised by the family of the local Bey and soon became the state treasurer (khaznadar).

greek ruler of tunisia
Photo credit: Antonis Chaldeos

Climbing to the highest office in the land

He managed to climb to the highest offices of the Tunisian state and was promoted to lieutenant-general of the Army, as bey in 1840 and then president of the Grand Council from 1862 to 1878.

Mustafa Khaznadar retained memories of his Greek origin and supported his family in Greece by sending them money and helping his nephews in their studies.

Khaznadar was also a great benefactor to the Greek community of Tunis.

In 1864 he donated a plot of land measuring 9,905 square meters (106,616 square feet) to be used as a Greek Orthodox cemetery. Later, the church of St. George was erected in this area.

The slave-turned statesman died in 1878 and is buried in the mausoleum of Tourbet el Bey, in the heart of the Medina of Tunis.

As a recognition of Khaznadar’s generous donations to his Greek compatriots, the Greek community of Tunis placed an honorary inscription to his memory there.

This is an excerpt from the book “The Greek Community in Tunisia 16th-21st Century”, by Antonis Chaldeos. The book is published in French and Greek. More information is available here.

greek ruler of tunisia
Credit: Antonis Chaldeos

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