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The Chios Massacre: The Worst Atrocity Committed by the Ottomans

chios massacre
“The Massacre at Chios,” Eugene Delacroix, 1824. Credit: Public Domain

The Chios massacre of 1822 was perhaps the worst atrocity committed by the Ottomans against Greeks during the Greek War of Independence.

Approximately three-quarters of the population of 120,000 were killed, enslaved, or died of disease after thousands of Turkish troops landed on the eastern Aegean island to end a rebellion against Ottoman rule.

Chios: an island of traders

For over 2,000 years, Chios merchants and shipowners had been prominent in trade and diplomacy throughout the Black Sea, the Aegean, and the Mediterranean.

The Ottoman Empire allowed Chios almost complete control over its own affairs as Chian trade and the very expensive and sought-after mastic plant, harvested only on Chios, were of great value to the empire.

The cosmopolitan Chians were also very prominent in Constantinople, causing the island’s ruling classes to be reluctant to join the Greek revolt, as they feared the loss of their security and prosperity.

Furthermore, they were aware that they were situated far too close to the Turkish heartland in Anatolia to be safe.

The Chios Massacre

greek war of independence
Relics of the massacre in Nea Moni on the Greek island of Chios. Credit: FLIOUKAS /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Things changed in March 1822 when several hundred armed Greeks from the neighboring island of Samos landed on Chios. They attacked the Ottomans, who retreated to the citadel. Many islanders then joined the Greek War of Independence.

However, the vast majority of the population had, by all accounts, not joined other Greeks in their revolt against the Ottoman Empire and had done absolutely nothing to provoke the hideous reprisals.

The Ottomans sent reinforcements to Chios on March 22nd. On March 31st, orders were given to burn down the town, and over the next four months, another estimated 40,000 Turkish troops arrived on the island.

In addition to setting fires, the troops were ordered to kill all infants under three years old, all males 12 years and older, and all females 40 and older except those willing to convert to Islam.

Tens of thousands of survivors dispersed throughout Europe to become part of what would become known as the Chian Diaspora.

A horrified Europe responds to the atrocity with shock

chios massacre
“The Massacre at Chios,” Eugene Delacroix, 1824. Credit: Public Domain

The massacre shocked Europe, and protesters highlighted the atrocity with many famous artists dedicating works to this heinous event.

One of the greatest works of the great French painter Eugene Delacroix was a depiction of the Massacre of Chios, the purpose of which was to raise awareness throughout Europe of the horrors and atrocities committed by the Ottomans on the island. Furthermore, Victor Hugo’s poem about the massacre also highlights the brutality suffered at the hands of the Ottomans.

Following the massacre, volunteer organizations collected money to support the Greek Revolution by providing arms and weapons while many Westerners arrived in Greece to fight the Ottomans.

On June 6th, 1822, Konstantinos Kanaris, a native of the nearby island of Psara, finally retaliated. Kanaris set ablaze a Turkish fleet which had landed in the port of Chios, killing 2,000 Ottomans and destroying all the ships in the port.

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