Suli - Epirus

Ancient region of Greece, on the Ionian Sea west of Macedonia and Thessaly, now occupied by Greece and Albania. At the time of Homer, Epirus was known as the home of the oracle of Dodona and of Acheron, river of Hades. With the start of the Middle Helladic period (1.900 - 1.550 B.C.), the first Greek tribe, the Thesproti, settled in Epirus, followed by the Molossi and the Chaones. In 800 B.C. the Corinthians founded colonies in the area, such as Amvrakia, Apollonia, Epidamnos and others. These colonies initiated contact between the Epirots and the Greek culture of southern Greece. In the 5th century, Tharypas, the King of the Molossians, united the various clans into a federation and endeavoured to introduce his people to culture by inviting scholars and artists from southern Greece to his court. At the end of the 4th century B.C., Arybbas came to the throne and gave his niece Olympias in marriage to Philip II of Macedonia. Their son was Alexander the Great.

After a period of unrest, Pyrrhus ascended to the throne of Epirus. In 280 BC he decided to mount a campaign against the Romans, but following some impressive but exhausting victories he was defeated by the more powerful state and returned to Epirus, from where he continued his attacks. But Epirus was sacked (167) by Aemilius Paullus, who took away many thousands of captives and burned all the towns.

In April 1204, the Crusaders occupied Constantinople and dismembered the Byzantine Empire. Michael Komninos Doukas then founded the Despotate of Epirus with Arta as its capital. Later, with the resurgence of Byzantine power, Ioanina became an independent Byzantine province, thus entering into a period of prosperity for the whole region. But in 1430 the Ottoman occupation which was to last almost 500 years, began. At the end of the 18th cent. Ali Pasha, the pasha of Yannina, set up an independent state in Epirus and Albania.

The harshness of the Turkish occupation included oppressive taxation, including a child tax that forced parents to give up one of their children to the Ottoman Empire, and the occasional genocide. So in 16th century, Christians who couldn't tolerate turkish tyranny settled to mountains of Suli (east of Parga harbour), where they fought against turkoalbanians remaing free and independent.

In the middle of the 18th century the "state of Suli" included 60 villages. The centre were the villages of Suli and Samoniva, and the fortresses of Kiafa, Kunghi and Avarikos. An army of 2000 soldiers protected the independence of the mountain republic. Most of their occupation from childhood was in cattle-breeding and in weapons.

The Turks tried to get the revolting region undercontrol again. In 1731 Hatzi Achmet, pasha of Ioannina, got order from the Sultan to subdue Suli. He lost his army of 8000 men. The same happened in 1754 to Mustapha Pasha and his army. In the following years Mustapha Kokka came in with 4000 soldiers, and Bekir Pasha with 5000. Neither of them succeeded. In 1759 Dost Bey, comander of Dhelvinou, was beaten by the Suliots. Maxoud Aga of Margariti, gouvernor of Arta sufferd the same fate in 1762. In 1772 Suleiman Tsapari attaked Suli, his army of 9000 men was defeated. An expedition of Kurt Pasha failed in 1775. When in 1788 the notorious Ali became pasha of Ioannina, he tried for 15 years to subdue Suli. In the begining without success. In 1792 his army of 3000 Albanians was eliminated. Although he had hostages (Fotos Tzavellas son of Lambros Tzavelas was one of them), Suliots under command of Georgius Botsares, Lambros Tzavelas, Dimos Drakos fought very bravely. Even women under command of Mosho (Lambros' wife) participated in the battle. 2000 Turkoalbanians and 74 Suliots were killed.

The Suliots got all their supplies from Parga but also they were supported from Europe, especially from Russia and France, which delivered weapons and ammunition. For the European powers they were an instument to weaken Turkey. When the British politics turned in favour of Turkey in order to strengthen all forces against Napoleon, these supplies were interrupted. Without support from outside and wearied by years of siege, the unity of the Suliot clans split. The Botsaris family for political reasons left Suli and parleyed with Ali Pasha. But the rest Suliots gathered together in Snt George's church and decided to win or to die. They were no more than 2000 armed men. The main leaders were Fotos Tzavelas, Dimos Drakos, Tousas Zervas, Koutzonikas, Gogkas Dagles, Giannakes Sehos, Fotomaras, Veikos, Panou, Zigoures Diamades, George Bousbos. Suliots won all the decisive battles, so Ali Pasha was forced to build castles in neighboring villages and prepared for a long siege.

Suliots stayed without food and ammunition, but they could hold if a traitor named Pelios Gouses, hadn't help turks to enter in the village of Suli. Suliots withdrew to the fortresses of Kiafa and Kughi, where they fought tha last battle in 7 December 1803. They capitulated and Ali promised them to let them go with all their property and even weapons to the Ionian islands.

12 December 1803, Suliots left Suli towards the Epirotic coast. Monk Samuel who remained in Kughi set fire to the powder magazine and exploded. In the meantime the Turkish army attacked the other Suliots, neglecting the promises they made. The march to the coast turned into a drama. 18 December 1803, 22 Suliot women after dancing jumped with their children from the rock of Zalongo, in order to avoid capture by the Turks. One family (Despo wife of Gerge Botzi) choose suicide in the fortress of the village of Riniassa by setting fire to the powder magazine. Yet a number also reached the harbour of Parga, which was British at that time. They settled down there or set off to the Ionian islands.

When there were clear signs for the beginning of a Greek resurrection against Turkish rule, Ali Pasha saw his chance for making Epirus into an independent state. In 1820 he called the Suliots for help, and they returned to the mainland to support their former enemy against the sultan. But Ali's plans failed. The Turkish army occupied Ioannina, and Ali was killed. The Suliots now supported the Greek revolution, which started in 1821. The Suliotic leaders Markos Botsaris and Kitsos Tsavellas became famous generals in the War of Independence. The death of Markos Botsaris was a popular motive on European prints for the support of Greeks in their War of Independence. Many Suliots lost their life in defending the city of Messolongi. Lord Byron, the most prominent European volunteer and commander in chief of the Greek army in Western Greece, tried to integrate them into a regular army.

Until 1909 the Turks kept a military base on the fortress of Kiafa. Finally in 1913, during the Balkan War, the Greek army liberated the southern part of Epirus.