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The Megali Idea (Greek: Μεγάλη Ιδέα, romanized: Megáli Idéa, lit. 'Great Idea') was an irredentist concept that expressed the goal of reviving the Byzantine Empire, by establishing a Greek state, which would include the large Greek populations that were still under Ottoman rule after the end of the Greek War of Independence (1821–1828) and all the regions that traditionally belonged to Greeks since ancient times (parts of the Southern Balkans, Asia Minor and Cyprus).
The term appeared for the first time during the debates of Prime Minister Ioannis Kolettis with King Otto that preceded the promulgation of the 1844 constitution. It came to dominate foreign relations and played a significant role in domestic politics for much of the first century of Greek independence. The expression was new in 1844 but the concept had roots in the Greek popular psyche, which long had hopes of liberation from Ottoman rule and restoration of the Byzantine Empire.
Πάλι με χρόνια με καιρούς,
- πάλι δικά μας θα 'ναι!
(Once more, as years and time go by, once more they shall be ours).
The Megali Idea implied the goal of reviving the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, by establishing a Greek state, which would be, as ancient geographer Strabo wrote, a Greek world encompassing mostly the former Byzantine lands from the Ionian Sea to the west, to Asia Minor and the Black Sea to the east and from Thrace, Macedonia and Epirus to the north, to Crete and Cyprus to the south. This new state would have Constantinople as its capital: it would be the "Greece of Two Continents and Five Seas" (Europe and Asia, the Ionian, Aegean, Marmara, Black and Libyan Seas, respectively).
The Megali Idea dominated foreign policy and domestic politics of Greece from the War of Independence in the 1820s through the Balkan wars in the beginning of the 20th century. It started to fade after the defeat of Greece in the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922) and the Great Fire of Smyrna in 1922, followed by the Population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923. Despite the end of the Megali Idea project in 1922, the Greek state expanded five times in its history, either through military conquest or diplomacy (often with British support). After the creation of Greece in 1830, it later annexed the Ionian Islands (Treaty of London, 1864), Thessaly (Convention of Constantinople (1881)), Macedonia, Crete, (southern) Epirus and the Eastern Aegean Islands (Treaty of Bucharest (1913)), Western Thrace (Treaty of Neuilly, 1920) and the Dodecanese (Treaty of Peace with Italy, 1947), making them Greek territory. A related concept that continues to the present day is Enosis.
Fall of Constantinople
The Byzantine Empire was Roman in origin and was called the "Roman Empire" by its inhabitants and the entire world, until some 120 years after its fall, when Hieronymus Wolf coined the usage of "Byzantium". It became Hellenistic with time to the point where Greek replaced Latin as the official language in AD 610, owing to several factors: Its religion, being Christian, with the New Testament written in Greek; its location in the Greek-speaking realm and sphere of influence; and the fact that, following the fall of the Western Roman Empire, it became the eastern continuation of the Roman Empire. Byzantium held out against the invasions of the centuries with a vitality that the Western Roman Empire lost, repelling the Visigoths, the Huns, the Saracens, the Mongols and finally the Turks (during the first siege). Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium, fell to the Fourth Crusaders in the early years of the 13th century. The city was eventually liberated by the Empire of Nicaea, a Byzantine successor, and the Empire survived. However,the weakened city fell to a different power in 1453—the Ottoman Turks—and this fall of Constantinople marked the end of Byzantine civilization; after the defeat, the city was comprehensively handed over to Turks, and even Latin merchants like the Genoese colony of Galata recognized their rule. Following the conquest of Constantinople, there were no official Byzantine territories left, but everything became part of the Ottoman Empire.
Greeks under Ottoman rule
Under the millet system which was in force during the Ottoman Empire, the population was classified according to religion rather than language or ethnicity. Orthodox Greeks were seen as part of the millet-i Rûm (literally "Roman community") which included all Orthodox Christians, including beside Greeks also Bulgarians, Serbs, Vlachs, Slavs, Georgians, Romanians and Albanians, despite their differences in ethnicity and language and despite the fact that the religious hierarchy was Greek dominated. It is not clear to what extent one can speak of a Greek identity during those times as opposed to a Christian or Orthodox identity. In the late 1780s, Catherine II of Russia and Joseph II of Austria intended to reclaim the Byzantine heritage and restore the Greek statehood as part of their joint Greek Plan.
It is notable that during the Middle Ages and the Ottoman period, Greek-speaking Christians identified as Romans and thought of themselves as the descendants of the Roman Empire (including the medieval Eastern Roman Empire). Indeed, the term Roman was often interpreted as synonymous with Christian throughout Europe and the Mediterranean during this time. The terms Greek or Hellene were largely seen by Ottoman Christians as referring to the ancient pagan peoples of the region. This, however, changed during the late stages of the Ottoman Empire and the emergence of the Greek independence movement.
Greek War of Independence and later
After the Greek War of Independence ended in 1829, a new southern Greek state was established, with assistance from the United Kingdom, France and Imperial Russia. However, this new Greek state under John Capodistria after the Greek War of Independence was, with Serbia, one of the only two countries of the era whose population was smaller than the population of the same ethnicity outside its borders; most ethnic Greeks still resided within the borders of the Ottoman Empire. This version of Greece was designed by the Great Powers, who had no desire to see a larger Greek state replace the Ottoman Empire.
The Great Idea embodied a desire to bring all ethnic Greeks into the Greek state, and subsequently revive the Byzantine Empire; it applied specifically to the Greeks in Epirus, Thessaly, Macedonia, Thrace, the Aegean Islands, Crete, Cyprus, parts of Anatolia, and the city of Constantinople (which would replace Athens as the capital).
When the young Danish prince Wilhelm Georg was elected king in 1863, the title offered to him by the Greek National Assembly was not "King of Greece", the title of his deposed predecessor, King Otto; but rather "King of the Hellenes". Implicit in the wording was that George I was to be king of all Greeks, regardless of whether they then lived within the borders of his new kingdom.
Revolts, Cretan crisis and Greco-Turkish War (1897)
In January 1897, violence and disorder were escalating in Crete, polarizing the population. Massacres of the Christian population took place in Chania and Rethimno. The Greek government, pressured by public opinion, intransigent political elements, extreme nationalist groups (e.g. Ethniki Etairia) and with the Great Powers reluctant to intervene, decided to send warships and personnel to assist the Cretans. The Great Powers had no option then but to proceed with the occupation of the island, but they were too late. A Greek force of 1,500 men had landed at Kolymbari on 1 February 1897, and its commanding officer, Colonel Timoleon Vassos, declared that he was taking over the island "in the name of the King of the Hellenes" and that he was announcing the union of Crete with Greece. This led to an uprising that spread immediately throughout the island. The Great Powers finally decided to land their troops and stopped the Greek army force from approaching Chania. At the same time their fleets blockaded Crete, preventing both Greeks and Turks from bringing any more troops to the island.
The Ottoman Empire, in reaction to the rebellion of Crete and the assistance sent by Greece, relocated a significant part of its army in the Balkans to the north of Thessaly, close to the borders with Greece. Greece in reply reinforced its borders in Thessaly. However, irregular Greek forces and followers of the Megali Idea acted without orders and raided Turkish outposts, leading the Ottoman Empire to declare war on Greece; the war is known as the Greco-Turkish War of 1897. The Turkish army, far outnumbering the Greek, was also better prepared, due to the recent reforms carried out by a German mission under Baron von der Goltz. The Greek army fell back in retreat. The other Great Powers then intervened and an armistice was signed in May 1897. The war, however, only ended in December of that year.
The military defeat of Greece in the Greco-Turkish war cost it small territorial losses along the border line in northern Thessaly, and a large sum of financial reparations that wrecked Greece's economy for years, while giving no lasting solution to the Cretan Question. The Great Powers (Britain, France, Russia, and Italy) in order to prevent future clashes and trying to avoid the creation of a revanchist climate in Greece, imposed what they thought of as the final solution on the Cretan Question: Crete was proclaimed an autonomous Cretan State. The four Great Powers assumed the administration of Crete; and, in a decisive diplomatic victory for Greece, Prince George of Greece (second son of King George I) became High Commissioner.
Early 20th century
A major proponent of the Megali Idea was Eleftherios Venizelos, under whose leadership Greek territory doubled in the Balkan Wars of 1912–13 — southern Epirus, Crete, Lesbos, Chios, Ikaria, Samos, Samothrace, Lemnos and the majority of Macedonia were attached to Greece. Born and raised in Crete, in 1909 Venizelos was already a prominent Cretan and had influence in mainland Greece. As such, he was invited after the Goudi coup in 1909 by the Military League to become Prime Minister of Greece. A proponent of the Megali Idea, Venizelos pressed forward a series of reforms in society, as well as the military and administration, which helped Greece succeed in its goals during the Balkan Wars.
World War I
Following the Greek gains in the Balkan Wars, the Ottomans began to persecute ethnic Greeks living in the Empire, which led to ethnic cleansing in the Greek genocide. This persecution continued into World War I when the Ottomans declared for the Central Powers on late 1914. Greece remained neutral until 1917 when they joined the Allies. Refugees reports of Turkish atrocities as well as the Allied victory in World War I seemed to promise an even greater realization of the Megali Idea. Greece gained a foothold in Asia Minor with a protectorate over Smyrna and its hinterland. Following 5 years of Greek administration, a referendum was to be held to determine whether the territory would revert back to Ottoman control or join Greece. Greece also gained the islands of Imbros and Tenedos, Western and Eastern Thrace, the border then drawn a few miles from the walls of Constantinople.
Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922) and the end of the Megali Idea
Greece's efforts to take control of Smyrna in accordance with the Treaty of Sèvres were thwarted by Turkish revolutionaries, who were resisting the Allies. The Turks defeated and expelled the Greeks from Anatolia during the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922) (part of the Turkish War of Independence). The war was concluded by the Treaty of Lausanne which saw Greece lose Eastern Thrace, Imbros and Tenedos, Smyrna and the possibility of staying in Anatolia. To avoid any further territorial claims, both Greece and Turkey engaged in an "exchange of populations": During the conflict, 151,892 Greeks had already fled Asia Minor. The Treaty of Lausanne moved 1,104,216 Greeks from Turkey, while 380,000 Turks left the Greek territory for Turkey. This followed other so-called population exchanges after World War I, including 40,027 Greeks from Bulgaria, 58,522 from Russia (because of the defeat of the White Army led by Pyotr Wrangel) and 10,080 from other lands (for example Dodecanese or Albania), while 70,000 Bulgarians from Thrace and Macedonia had moved to Bulgaria. From the Bulgarian refugees ca. 66,000 were from Greek Macedonia.
The immediate reception of refugees to Greece cost 45 million francs, so the League of Nations arranged for a loan of 150 million francs to aid settlement of refugees. In 1930, Venizelos even went on an official visit to Turkey, where he proposed that Mustafa Kemal be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Greek novelist Yiorgos Theotokas described the psychological impact of the defeat of 1922:
"For a short time, while the Treaty of Serves ran its joyful but uncertain course, it seemed to them that the...long-buried hopes of their ancestors were to be fulfilled. But the terrible summer of 1922 came all too soon. From the hermitage of Arsenios they watched, tense with anxiety, the daily unfolding of the national tragedy, the last desperate efforts of the Royalist Governments of Greece to save the situation, the failure of King Constantine's attempt to take Constantinople, and the final Catastrophe.
In mid-August Mustapha Kemal broke through the Greek front and the Greek army, exhausted by ten years of warfare and the privations of the Asia Minor campaign, was vanquished in two weeks. The Turks, advancing rapidly, recaptured in quick succession Afion-Karahisar, Eski-Shehir, Kiutahia, Brussa, Oushak—and then Smyrna! Once again the banners of Islam floated proudly, tauntingly, over the Aegean coast opposite Chios and Mytilene. The whole of Ionia was in flames. Slaughter and pillage descended on the smiling city of Smyrna and in a few short days turned it into a ruin...As day succeeded day, Greece seemed to have become paralyzed, to have lost all will, all ability to resist the blows of fate. The swiftness of the catastrophe completely overwhelmed the State, flooded as it was by the thousands of fleeting soldiers and refugees who sought shelter on the Greek coasts.The nation was plunged into deep despair...
Greece had lost her big gamble and had been uprooted from Asia Minor. St. Sophia remained in the hands of the Moslems. The brilliant plans of 1918 were mocking visions, hallucinations, dreams. And the return of reality was truly heartbreaking. The tale of the years was not yet told, then, the historic hour, the fulfillment of the Great Idea, the moment they had longed for with such faith and such anxiety for five tortured, bloody centuries, had not yet come! It was all a lie!"
Aftermath: World War II, annexation of Dodecanese and Cyprus dispute
Although the Great Idea ceased to be a driving force behind Greek foreign policy, some remnants continued to influence Greek foreign policy throughout the remainder of the 20th century.
Thus, after his coup d'état of 4 August 1936, Ioannis Metaxas proclaimed the advent of the "Third Hellenic Civilization", similar to Adolf Hitler's Third Reich (influenced by pan-germanism). The attack by Italy from Albania and the Greek victories enabled Greece to conquer, during the winter of 1940–1941, parts of southern Albania (Northern Epirus, as it is identified by Greeks) which were administered as a province of Greece for a short time until the German offensive of April 1941.
The occupation, resistance and the civil war initially put the Great Idea in the background. Nevertheless, another very good diplomatic performance by the Greek side at the Paris Peace Conference, 1946 secured a further enlargement of Greek territory, in the form of the Dodecanese Islands, despite the very strong opposition of Vyacheslav Molotov and the Soviet delegates. The Greek civil war, such as the Soviet opposition was also the main reason for the non incorporation of the Northern Epirus, since Albania was, after WWII, communist controlled.
The British colony of Cyprus became the "apple of discord" between the two countries, putting an end to the positive Greco-Turkish relations that had existed since the Kemal-Venizelos agreement in the 1930s. In 1955, a Greek army colonel of Greek Cypriot origin, George Grivas, began a campaign of civil disobedience whose purpose was primarily to drive the British from the island, then move for Enosis with Greece. The Greek Prime Minister, Alexandros Papagos, was not unfavourable to this idea. There was increasing polarisation of opinion between the dominant Greek population and the minority Turks.
The problems in Cyprus affected the continent itself. In September 1955, in response to the demand for Énosis, an anti-Greek riot took place in Istanbul. During the Istanbul Pogrom 4,000 stores, 100 hotels and restaurants and 70 churches were destroyed or damaged. This led to the last great wave of migration from Turkey to Greece.
The Zürich Agreement of 1959 culminated in independence of the island with Greece, Turkey and UK as guarantee powers. The inter-ethnic clashes from 1960 led to the dispatch of a peacekeeping force of the United Nations in 1964.
The Cyprus issue was revived by the dictatorship of the colonels, who presented their April 21, 1967, coup d'état as the only way to defend the traditional values of what they called the "Hellenic-Christian Civilization".
Brigadier General Ioannidis arranged, in July 1974, to overthrow Cypriot President Archbishop Makarios, and proceed with Enosis (union with Greece). This led to Turkey invading the island in response, with the expulsion of Greek Cypriots in areas controlled by Turkey, and the flight of Turkish Cypriots from the south. In 1983, the north declared independence, but to this day, the only country that recognizes Northern Cyprus is Turkey.
Megali Idea Today
Today, there is no significant population of Greeks in Turkey, due to the population exchange between Greece and Turkey, the Istanbul pogrom and the deportation of the Greeks from Istanbul in 1964. In addition to the ongoing dispute over Cyprus, here are several extant Greek–Turkish border disputes, most notably taking place at Imia.
Attempted Revival By Golden Dawn
For two thousand years, the Jews would say a wish during their festivals, "next year in Jerusalem", and ultimately after many centuries they managed to make it a reality. So I too conclude with a wish: Next year in Constantinople, in Smyrna, in Trebizond!— 
Michaloliakos criticized Thessaloniki mayor Yiannis Boutaris for wanting to name a street after Atatürk, who was born in the city when it was still part of the Ottoman Empire. In January 2013, a group of Golden Dawn supporters attacked the car of Turkish consul-general Osman İlhan Şener and hurled insults at Atatürk, during an anti-Turkey protest in Komotini.
Mihaloliakos has also called for the "liberation" of Northern Epirus. Golden Dawn and its former Cypriot counterpart ELAM support enosis.
In 2015, close to 100 Golden Dawn members and leaders were arrested on a range of charges, including murder and racketeering. In 2019, the party's level of support, slumped to less than 2%. In October 2020, most of Golden Dawn's leadership was convicted, including Michaloliakos. As of 2021, the party, which never enjoyed electoral support above 10% of the popular vote now has no remaining members in either the Hellenic or European Parliament.
- Greek diaspora
- Northern Epirus
- Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus
- Greece during World War I
- Occupation of Constantinople
- Zone of Smyrna
- Republic of Pontus
- Greek genocide
- Georgios Grivas
- Foreign relations of Greece
- Greek Plan
- Succession of the Roman Empire
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