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Aris Velouchiotis monument at Kaloskopi.

Aris Velouchiotis (Greek: Άρης Βελουχιώτης), the nom de guerre of Athanasios (Thanasis) Klaras (Greek: Θανάσης Κλάρας, August 27, 1905 – June 16, 1945), was the most prominent leader and chief instigator of the Greek People's Liberation Army (ELAS), the military branch of the National Liberation Front (EAM), which was the major resistance organization in occupied Greece from 1942 to 1945. Aris Velouchiotis was appointed military leader of ELAS by the EAM leadership, being at the same time a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Greece.

Contents

Early years

Klaras was born in Lamia, Greece in 1905. As a youth, he participated in the leftist movement and later became a member of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE). During the Ioannis Metaxas dictatorship (1936-1941), he was arrested and jailed in Aegina prison. During his trial, he escaped and joined the (then illegal) Communist Party. He was arrested again in 1939 and was sent to Corfu prison, and remained there until he signed a "statement of renouncement" of the Communist Party.

World War II

During World War II, he served as an artillery corporal in the Greek Army at the Albanian front (1940-1941) against the Italian army, until the German invasion in April 1941 and Greece's subsequent surrender and occupation.

After Germany attacked the Soviet Union, the Greek Communist Party championed the creation of the National Liberation Front (EAM), and Klaras was sent to Central Greece (Roumeli) to assess the potential for the development of a guerrilla movement against the occupation forces. His proposals were adopted by the party, and in January 1942, Klaras moved to the mountains to start setting up guerrilla groups.

The first appearance of the partisans organised by Klaras occurred on June 7, 1942 in the village of Domnista in Evritania in Central Greece. There he presented himself as Major Aris Velouchiotis (from Ares, the god of war, and Velouchi, a local mountain) and proclaimed the existence of the Greek People's Liberation Army (ELAS).

One of the most important early operations of the Greek resistance movement (in which Velouchiotis and his fighters participated alongside Napoleon Zervas's republican EDES resistance forces and British saboteurs) was the destruction of the Gorgopotamos railway bridge in Lamia in November 1942 (Operation Harling). Their success cut the single Thessaloniki-Athens rail line, and disrupted the supply lines for Erwin Rommel's German forces in Africa for several days.

This was to be the last operation where the communist-influenced ELAS organisation fought alongside with Greek Republican resistance forces such as the EKKA's 5/42 Regiment and EDES. Although all major resistance organisations had opposed the re-institution of the Greek monarchy after the war's end, the antagonism between the groups led EDES' leader, Napoleon Zervas, to approach the British, who favoured the monarchy, for support. As the country's old political elites and middle classes feared EAM-ELAS' rising strength and a possible Communist takeover, the rift ultimately led to a mini-civil war in late 1943 and early 1944, in which ELAS destroyed EKKA's 5/42 Regiment, and executed its leader Col. Psarros.

In October 1944, the Nazis evacuated Greece and a new government was formed under Georgios Papandreou, the leader of the Greek National Unity Government which was established following the Treaties of Lebanon and Cazerta. When the Varkiza agreement was signed to end fighting between EAM forces in Athens and government forces (with the support of the British troops), Velouchiotis vehemently refused to comply, in defiance of the Communist Party leadership, who consequently accused him of treachery.[1],[2]

Death

Velouchiotis moved again to the mountains of Central Greece in order to start an insurgency against the new government and the British allies who supported them. He was reported to have denounced the sell out to the British in the 'Varkiza Agreement' to lay down the National Resistnace arms; particularly moving was the sight of his elite massed 'Mavroskoufides' (Black Berets) openly mourning. He was out maneuvered by the KKE leadership and resolved to leave Greece; he repeatedly requested permission from the Party to be allowed leave to depart, but was refused. Though most of his associates abandoned him, he was reported to have continued to conduct guerrilla activities until June 1945. He was denounced by the KKE Central Committee and increasingly isolated until he was ambushed with his unit in the mountain of Agrafa - some say that he was set up or even betrayed by KKE contacts, in 1945, by para-military groups controlled by the Athens government. Although many members of the Security Divisions known as 'X', which had collaborated with the German occupying forces, were rounded up and detained in Korydalos Prison in Athens, the majority of their officers were allowed to join the new Greek police force, organised by the British. The new Greek police force was formed under the expert leadership of British officers who had formed the paramilitary organization in Ireland called the 'Black & Tans'.

Aris and his 2nd in command, Javellas, were isolated by the main unit and finally Aris was killed with his comrade either by a hand grenade or by a bullet. Rumors want him to "commit suicide with his commander Javellas when his thoughts were that there is no better future for his revolution and its betrayals."[3].

The corpses of Velouchiotis and his second in command were subsequently decapitated, and the heads displayed, hanging from a lamp post in the central square of the town of Trikala. When British Labour government members of Parliament objected to the barbarity of the operation they received the reply that the display was in accordance to "Ancient Greek Custom".{Fact|date=February 2007}.

Following the rehabilitation in Greece of the Resistance movement and subsequently of the KKE itself, busts and statues of Aris have been erected in his native town; the KKE moved discreetly for Velouchiotis' rehabilation following the expulsion in turn of the KKE's wartime leader who had denounced him, Party Secretary Zahariadis who had survived incarceration at Dachau.

Controversial figure

Supporters consider Aris Velouchiotis a symbol of Greek resistance against Nazi Germany and a hero of the communist cause. Critics see him as a perpetrator of atrocities against rural people who were perceived as opponents of communism. His involvement in attacks against non-communist Greek resistance forces and insurgency against the post-liberation government also draw criticism: C.M. Woodhouse remarked that Velouchiotis "fought Greeks more often than he did Germans".[4]

Notes

  1. ^ ΚΚΕ, επίσημα κείμενα, τ8
  2. ^ Δοκίμιο Ιστορίας του ΚΚΕ
  3. ^ For a complete presentation of the circumstances of Velouchiotis' death see: Χαριτόπουλος, Διονύσης (Charitopoulos, Dionysis) (2003). Άρης, ο Αρχηγός των Ατάκτων (Aris, the Leader of the Rebels). Athens: Ελληνικά Γράμματα (Ellinika Grammata),565-71. It should be noted that Charitopoulos takes for granted that Velouchiotis committed a "heroic" suicide.
  4. ^ C.M. Woodhouse, "The Struggle for Greece, 1941-1949", ISBN 1-85065-487-5, p.4-5.

Further reading

  • Χαριτόπουλος, Διονύσης (Charitopoulos, Dionysis) (2003). Άρης, ο Αρχηγός των Ατάκτων (Aris, the Leader of the Rebels). Athens: Ελληνικά Γράμματα (Ellinika Grammata). ISBN 960-406-538-6.   Extensive biography in Greek.







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