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Filiki Eteria: The Group That Sparked the Greek War of Independence

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Filiki Eteria played a crucial role in the uprising which led to the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire. Image by Greek painter Tsokos. Credit: Public Domain

The Filiki Eteria (Φιλική Εταιρία), or the Society of Friends, as it was otherwise known, was founded on September 14, 1814 and played a crucial role in the uprising which led to the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire on March 25, 1821.

In the beginning of the 19th century, the notion that Greece had to be liberated after almost four centuries of Ottoman rule and that a new Greek state had to be established was ripe.

However, there were two camps: those who believed that the time for Greek revolution or war was “here and now” and those who believed that it was too early.

In 1814, three Greeks of the diaspora came together in Odessa in present-day Ukraine, where a thriving Greek community lived. They formed a secret society with the purpose of initiating a Greek revolution to rid the country of the Ottomans.

The beginning of the Filiki Eteria

The three founders were Nikolaos Skoufas from the Arta province, Emmanuil Xanthos from Patmos, and Athanasios Tsakalov from Ioannina.

Soon after, Panagiotis Anagnostopoulos from Andritsaina joined the organization.

The Filiki Eteria recruited mostly Phanariot Greeks from Russia, local chieftains from Greece, and Serbs.

Two of its early outstanding members were Alexandros Ypsilantis, a prince and high-ranking officer of the Imperial Russian Cavalry; Moldovan lord Michael Soutzos, the father of modern Serbia; and founder of the Karadjordjevic dynasty, Karageorge Petrovic.

Future leaders of the Greek War of Independence, such as Theodoros Kolokotronis, Odysseas Androutsos, Dimitris Plapoutas, and the metropolitan bishop Germanos of Patras also joined the Filiki Eteria.

In 1818, the Filiki Eteria moved to Constantinople. The year was marked by the death of founding member Skoufas. Xanthos and Tsakalov attempted to find a prominent person to take over the leadership of the secret society.

Alexandros Ypsilantis becomes leader

The other two founding members contacted Alexandros Ypsilantis and offered him leadership of Filiki Eteria, which he took up in April 1820.

Ypsilantis started preparations for an armed revolt and set up a military unit he named the Sacred Band.

Initially, the start of the revolution in Constantinople was proposed, but the idea was dropped in favor of the Peloponnese.

The Filiki Eteria created a cash box where a large sum of money was collected to meet the needs for arms, ammunition, and supplies for the revolution.

They even established an auditing system so that there was no abuse of the funds collected.

Ypsilantis recruited many untrained fighters, while at the same time calling on Greeks living in other countries to contribute in any way they could to the liberation war.

Ypsilantis sent fiery letters to all centers of Hellenism, asking diaspora Greeks to participate in the fight.

Failed Filiki Eteria revolt in Moldova; message for Peloponnese uprising

In October 1820, Ypsilantis decided to start the Greek revolution in Iasi, Moldova. It was a catastrophic move, leading to the slaughter of thousands of fighters.

Nevertheless, the revolutionary seed of the Filiki Eteria was planted, and the slogan “Freedom or Death” started playing on the lips of Greeks. They were determined to fight to the death for liberty.

On February 24, 1821, Ypsilantis sent a prophetic letter to his Filiki Eteria colleagues asking them to start the fight or contribute by sending money and supplies for the armed struggle: “Future generations will bless your names and they will praise you as precursors of their freedom and bliss.”

His prophetic proclamation was verified by history. Filiki Eteria was the vehicle for the uprising and inspired the heroes who started the revolt a month later. It was “Freedom or Death” indeed.

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