With only two centuries separating us from the events of the Greek War of Independence, the bloodlines of some of its most iconic and influential heroes can still be traced today among the population of modern day Greece.
GreekReporter spoke to the descendants of the legendary Georgios Karaiskakis, Laskarina Bouboulina and Nikitaras about the experience of carrying the DNA and legacy of the very heroes who once claimed the lands of the modern Greek state front to front on the battlefields for the future generations.
The fourth great-granddaughter of military leader Georgios Karaiskakis, Eleni, has been aware of the outstanding legacy of her ancestor since childhood, as there were always mentions of the great commander of the Greek War of Independence in her family’s life.
Through photo albums, narrations, and heirlooms, “Karaiskakis was always omnipresent at home in every form as we were growing up”, she recalls.
In her words, the pride and awe that she has always felt for her heroic ancestor have been weighting on her as a legacy that is much bigger and greater than her very existence.
Often referred to as “the Achilles of Romiosity”, Karaiskakis was known, except for his military virtues, for his immediacy and tirade manner of speaking -which has played an additional role in the way that the collective memory identifies with him, she feels.
“Besides his strategic genius, Karaiskakis’s personality was unique, which makes him all the more relevant today. Theodoros Kolokotronis may be the first in order in the Pantheon of heroes of the Greek War of Independence, but Karaiskakis comes first in the people’s hearts. He has always been a popular icon”, Eleni believes.
This adoration towards him is today reflected in the response that she gets from the people that she meets. “Every time that someone realizes that I am a descendant, they want to touch me, caress me, have their picture taken with me, and these reactions always fill me with a beautiful feeling”, she describes.
As about Karaiskakis’s greatest achievement, Eleni is convinced that it was the event that most historians claim to have been his failure -the lost battle of Haidari, Athens.
“Despite its direct outcome, this battle was a milestone in the Greek War of Independence, after which things started to change -all the involved parties shifted their approach after that event”, she says.
Although the hero’s guns have been donated to museums in Greece long time ago, Eleni’s family still keeps their famous ancestor’s correspondence, most of which is to and from his war companions, who he called his “brothers”.
There is, however, one letter of greater sentimental value to the family. Addressed to his 15-year-old son, it was destined to be his last letter. Karaiskakis wrote he would be soon returning home to see his family but died before he could fulfill the promise.
“It is a very personal and moving letter”, Eleni concludes.
On his father’s side, Pavlos Demertzis-Bouboulis is a 6th generation descendant of Laskarina Bouboulina, from her youngest son, Nikolaos Dimitriou Bouboulis (1808 -1884) -a commander in the then Royal Hellenic Navy, and princess Sofia Marinou Comnenos.
Raised on the island of Spetses with his two brothers, in Bouboulina’s actual house, part of which remains their family home to this day, he has been constantly surrounded by her story.
“Since we were also carrying the family name, you can understand that it wasn’t something anyone could easily ignore, and it wasn’t always easy for us. I admit that, as children, our feelings about our heritage were mixed, something I consider completely natural at that age”, Pavlos recalls.
“Of course, as we got older and better understood the important role our great-grandmother played in Greece’s path to independence and the historic legacy of her actions, we grew to respect, admire and love our family’s history”.
Now the Director of the privately owned Bouboulina Museum, he declares immensely proud of his heritage, even though it comes with a great weight on one’s shoulders.
“I do not mean that in a negative sense”, Demertzis-Bouboulis clarifies. “When one is a descendant of a national heroine, an almost legendary individual, who continues to inspire so many people around the world, it couldn’t be any other way.
“It is a responsibility, a duty if you will, to safeguard her legacy and try to live up to Bouboulina’s actions and ideals, in a way fitting today’s modern world”.
People are always surprised and amazed when they find out the relation, and there is usually a bombardment of questions about her story and how it feels to be her descendant.
“I think a lot of people don’t realise that there actually are descendants of most of the heroes of the revolution.
“However, I rarely mention my family’s heritage of my own accord, unless it comes up in the conversation. I prefer people to get to know and like me for who I am and not who I am related to. Once that process is over (and hopefully they like me!) then I feel more comfortable mentioning it.
“It is always a moving conversation, especially with the older generation of Greeks, because she means so much to so many people”.
There are funny moments too, though. One of the funniest comments that Pavlos recalls was made a few years ago in the Museum.
“We had just finished a tour, and someone asked whether I was a part of the family. After I said yes, they gleefully responded “so does that mean you are a Bouboulinos?!”. There was quite a lot of laughter after that, by all of us in the room!”.
Greek War of Independence: Nikitaras
The family of Stefanos Nikitas Stamatelopoulos are the closest descendants of legendary swordsman Nikitas Stamatelopoulos, best known with his nom de guerre, Nikitaras, as the great-grandchildren of his brother, Nikolaos. The latter was also a powerful chieftain of the Greek War of Independence, although overshadowed by the personality of Nikitaras.
“I believe that heroes belong to all Greeks, but of course in the family we feel very lucky, and proud, and in awe of being direct descendants of such a hero”, Stefanos Nikitas states.
His first memory of realizing the significance of his heritage goes back to 1977, when his father entrusted his two sons, then young boys, with the task of laying the wreath during the annual ceremony at the monument of Nikitaras in Chiliomodi, Corinth. A tradition that Stefanos Nikitas keeps to this day, on the second Sunday of October, in honor of the battle at Dervenakia.
“I was a primary school pupil when my father surprised my brother and I by handing the wreath to us two. Asides of the emotion of a young child, who doesn’t understand much of what he is doing, when we experienced the applause of the crowd as we were walking down the stairs from the monument, I felt overwhelmed.
“And I thought that something important was going on with what I did; that was the first time I felt the “gift” that it is to be Nikitaras’s descendant”, he recounts.
For Stefanos Nikitas, the greatest achievement of his ancestor beyond the battlefields was his honesty and altruism.
“Nikitaras was not interested in loot, that was not what we fought for. He fought for the liberation of the Greeks and he was never compromised; that is why he stayed in history as a pure patriot”, he explains.
A letter that his family keeps today, bears testament to his values. Addressing Papaflessas, then Minister of Interior of the new Greek state, Nikitaras pleads that, after the conquest of Naflpion, a mosque is converted into a school or a theatre.
“Would anyone expect from a warlord to be speaking of schools, or to have cultural sensibilities? But indeed! He saw ahead, and wanted children to be getting education. That’s the size of hero he was, beyond military skill”, Stefanos Nikitas explains.
As a descendant, he is looking to bring the same traits of character out of himself.
“I get to be compared to this great man and brave patriot, and many times I feel that I experience the hero in me. I often consider what would he himself do in a situation, and so I try to also act brave, honest, self-contained, altruistic, and I think that I manage, generally”, he notes.
Having met with other descendants of heroes of the Greek War of Independence through their Union, founded in 1938, he infers that they are all impregnated with the flame and patriotism of their ancestors.
“We try to be worthy continuators, and we all carry the great weight and awe of what we represent”, he declares.