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City of Ioannina in Greece Marks Anniversary of Liberation

Ioannina Greece liberation
People thronged the city squares of Ioannina to welcome the Greek Army in 1913. Public Domain

The historic city of Ioannina, the capital of Epirus in northwestern Greece, marks February 21st as the day of liberation from the Ottoman Empire.

“The contribution of those who fought in the historic battles to liberate the city of Ioannina from the Ottoman rule is priceless and constitutes a timeless example for all of us,” stated the President of the Hellenic Republic, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, who attended the events for the 111th anniversary of Ioannina’s liberation.

In a statement regarding the message of the anniversary, she said: “The liberation of Ioannina from Ottoman rule on 21 February, 1913, is a landmark in our centuries-long history. The epic battles of the Greek Army to take over the forts in Bizani, the mass participation of volunteers, both men and women, in the front of the Epirote campaign touch and deeply move us.”

The day the city came under the control of the Greek forces, aviator Christos Adamidis, a native of the city, landed his Maurice Farman MF.7 biplane in the Town Hall square, to the adulation of an enthusiastic crowd.

The city, which endured centuries of Ottoman rule until 1913, celebrates the union with Greece every year with a parade accompanied by plenty of traditional food, music, and dancing.

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The Surrender of Ioannina by Esad Pasha to Greek Crown Prince Constantine during the First Balkan War. Greek lithograph. Source: Gennadios Library

Liberation of Ioannina followed Greece’s military victory at Bizani

Its liberation followed the battle of Bizani, where a fortress guarded the approaches to Ioannina. This decisive Balkan War battle was fought between the Greek Army and the last Ottoman army ever to enter Macedonia or Epirus.

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“Crown Prince Constantine watching the heavy guns shelling Bizani”. Credit: Georges Scott

The Army of Epirus had been rendered mainly defensive at the outbreak of the First Balkan War, since the majority of the Greek military units were sent to reinforce the Macedonian Front.

Following the annexation of Thessaloniki, the Ottoman Empire sought a truce with the Balkan Allies. The Greek government conceded to participate in peace deliberations but clarified that, since Epirus had not yet been liberated, Greece would still be at war with the Ottoman Empire until the final peace treaty.

On October 19, 1912, the Army of Epirus, under the leadership of Major Sapountzakis, abandoned its defensive role and attacked the Turkish Army. Although the Greek forces were outnumbered, Preveza was conquered, and an Ottoman attack at Pente Pigadia was repulsed.

Still, there remained enormous difficulties to overcome in the campaign to liberate Ioannina.

Ioannina Greece liberation
Crown Prince Constantine and Greek Army officers on the road to liberate Ioannina. Public Domain

The Ottoman Army’s numerical superiority and the fact that it had moved to the forts of Bizani, which historians describe as “strongly fortified,” combined with the extreme cold and lack of supplies, prevented the Greek Army from initiating an offensive.

Victories in Macedonia allowed the main bulk of the Army of Thessaly to move south and reinforce the Army of Epirus. Crown Prince Constantine then assumed the command of the army and demanded a peaceful surrender of the city. Essat Pasha did not accept the Crown Prince’s offer and prepared for attack.

With careful strategic maneuvering—and astounding heroism—the Greek Army conquered Bizani and forced Essat Pasha to surrender the city of Ioannina on February 21, 1913.

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