24 April 2022

Easter 1822 and memories of the
Massacre of Chios 200 years ago

‘Scenes from the Massacres at Chios’, Eugène Delacroix (1824), in the Louvre in Paris … the massacre began 200 years ago on Easter Day 1822

Patrick Comerford

I visited the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford a few times this weekend to see the Orthodox celebrations of Good Friday (22 April 2022), and the celebrations of Easter last night (23 April).

Today is Easter Day in the Greek calendar in the calendar of all Orthodox churches.

But it is difficult today not to be reminded that Easter Day in Greece 200 years ago was marked by the Massacre of Chios in April 1822.

The Massacre of Chios is one of the many horrific events during the Greek War of Independence. The details of this massacre continue to shock and to horrify people as they learn about it.

The island of Chios is an Aegean island that is often counted as one of the Dodecanese islands, and it is just 8 km off the main Anatolian coast of Turkey.

The Chians or Chiots -- the islanders of Chios – never joined in the Greek War of Independence, and enjoyed many privileges under Ottoman rule, including a degree of autonomy, religious freedom, property rights, and exemptions from many taxes on houses, vineyards, orchards and trade.

The islanders had avoided threats of forced conversion to Islam experienced on so many Greek islands, and they were exempt from the devshirme, in which the fittest and strongest boys in families were captured or conscripted and sent to Constantinople, where they were trained as janissaries, an elite and brutal corps.

The island was known for the production of mastic, silk and citrus fruits, and for its sea trade. Many merchant families from Chios dealt in banking, insurance and shipping and founded merchant houses in England, Italy and the Netherlands. Traders from Chios settled in Smyrna, Constantinople, Odessa and other Black Sea ports.

It is easy to understand why the people of Chios rebutted an appeal to support a naval assault on the Ottoman Empire in April 1821. But, a year later, in April 1822, a small number of people from Chios joined a small band from the neighbouring island of Samos who attacked the small Turkish garrison on Chios.

A small number of soldiers were killed. But the response was swift, brutal and merciless.

The bloodbath began on Easter Day 1822 and continued for several months. In a revenge attack in June 1822, Greek insurgents from the neighbouring island of Psara attacked a flagship of the Ottoman navy anchored in the harbour of Chios while its sailors were marking the end of Ramadan. In all, 2,000 men were killed in one assault.

A second wave of savagery was unleashed against the people of Chios.

The original population of the island was 100,000 to 120,000. At least 30,000 were murdered or executed or died by suicide or disease, and another 45,000 people were sold into slavery. Whole villages were wiped out. Of the survivors, about 20,000 people managed to flee to safety on islands under Greek rule.

Richard Calvocoressi, a descendant of one such family from Chios, wrote recently in the New Statesman: ‘For months afterwards the slave markets of the Levant were glutted with Chian boys, girls and young women, for sale at knock-down prices; and for many, slavery meant sexual slavery.’

The massacre inspired Eugène Delacroix’s Scenes from the Massacres at Chios or Scènes des massacres de Scio, completed in 1824. It is an enormous painting in the Louvre seen by millions of visitors each year.

The massacre caused an outcry throughout Europe. Reports of the massacre, Delacroix’s painting and Byron’s writings encouraged Philhellenes to redouble their efforts in support of Greek independence from Ottoman oppression. But Ottoman continued for another 90 years, and Chios did not become part of the modern Greek state until 1912.

Although the composer Mikis Theodorakis (1925-2021) is popularly identified with Crete and was buried there when he died last year, he was born on the island of Chios.

Today, Chios is the fifth largest of the Greek islands, and is one of the Aegean islands that have become a centre for asylum seekers and refugees seeking to arrive in Europe.

Two hundred years after the Massacre of Chios, it is hard not to think of those merchants in Odessa and the brutality in Ukraine today; it is hard not to think of the refugees and slaves created by the massacre and not to think of the refugees and asylum seekers who arrive in Chios and other Greek islands in the hope of finding freedom today.

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
24 April 2022 (Psalm 60)

‘Upon Edom I will toss my sandal’ (Psalm 60: 8) … sandals in a shoe shop in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Second Sunday of Easter (24 April), and in the Calendar of the Orthodox Church today is Easter Day.

During this season of Easter, I have returned to my morning reflections on the Psalms, and in this Prayer Diary on my blog each morning I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 60:

Psalm 60 is the fifth in a series of five psalms in this section of the Psalms that are referred to as Miktams. Miktam or Michtam (מִכְתָּם) is a Hebrew word of unknown meaning in the headings of Psalms 16 and 56-60 in the Hebrew Bible.

These six psalms, and many others, are associated with King David, but this tradition is more likely to be sentimental than historical. They may have formed one of several smaller collections of psalms which preceded the present psalter and on which it was based.

Miktam corresponds to the Babylonian nakamu, lid, a metal cover for a vessel, but efforts to derive a meaning for the term in the psalms have not been convincing. In modern Hebrew, the word has come to mean epigram, and numerous collections of Hebrew epigrams have used that word in their titles.

In the slightly different numbering found in the Greek Septuagint (LXX) and the Latin Vulgate, Psalm 60 is counted as Psalm 59.

Psalm 60 is addressed ‘To the leader: according to The Lily of the Covenant,’ referring to the title of a song, presumably identifying the intended melody, mentioned only here and in Psalm 80, and described as ‘A Miktam of David … when he struggled with Aram-naharaim and with Aram-zobah, and when Joab on his return killed twelve thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt.’
The heading text in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and other translations refers to Aram-Zobah, whereas in the King James Version the reference is to Zobah.

Biblical Edomites include King Herod, who was an Idumean, and Esau is regarded as the ancestor of the Idumeans.

The ‘Valley of Salt’ is also referred to as the ‘Valley of Saltpits.’

Many commentators consider the phrase ‘Moab is my wash-basin’ or ‘Moab is my washbowl’ in verse 8 to refer to the Dead Sea in the vicinity of Moab. Actor Stephen Fry uses the phrase Moab Is My Washpot for the title of his autobiography covering his early years.

Many commentators also read ‘on Edom I hurl my shoe’ or ‘Upon Edom I will toss my sandal’ (verse 8) as a reference to Edom becoming a humble servant, such as a servant who would clean a master’s sandals.

Psalm 108 also uses this imagery of tossing a sandal upon Edom. There was a custom in Biblical lands, when transferring a possession, of throwing down a shoe on the ground as a symbol of occupancy.

In Jewish liturgy, the psalm is recited on Shushan Purim, and verse 7 is part of the closing paragraph of the Amidah.

‘You have caused the land to quake; you have torn it open; repair the cracks in it’ (Psalm 60: 2) … today is the Second Sunday of Easter (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 60 (NRSVA):

To the leader: according to The Lily of the Covenant. A Miktam of David; for instruction; when he struggled with Aram-naharaim and with Aram-zobah, and when Joab on his return killed twelve thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt.

1 O God, you have rejected us, broken our defences;
you have been angry; now restore us!
2 You have caused the land to quake; you have torn it open;
repair the cracks in it, for it is tottering.
3 You have made your people suffer hard things;
you have given us wine to drink that made us reel.

4 You have set up a banner for those who fear you,
to rally to it out of bowshot.
Selah 5 Give victory with your right hand, and answer us,
so that those whom you love may be rescued.

6 God has promised in his sanctuary:
‘With exultation I will divide up Shechem,
and portion out the Vale of Succoth.
7 Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine;
Ephraim is my helmet;
Judah is my sceptre.
8 Moab is my wash-basin;
on Edom I hurl my shoe;
over Philistia I shout in triumph.’

9 Who will bring me to the fortified city?
Who will lead me to Edom?
10 Have you not rejected us, O God?
You do not go out, O God, with our armies.
11 O grant us help against the foe,
for human help is worthless.
12 With God we shall do valiantly;
it is he who will tread down our foes.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Logging in the Solomon Islands,’ and is introduced this morning by Brother Christopher John SSF, Minister General of the Society of Saint Francis:

‘Logging for export has been increasing in Solomon Islands since the 1980s and threatens the rich ecosystem of bush, river, lagoons and reefs.

‘Forests are damaged, as are rivers, drinking water supplies, gardens, and fishing and food gathering areas. Some overseas loggers commit sexual exploitation. Increased alcohol consumption further fuels gender-based violence. Logging takes people away from village life including church activities.

‘Last year came the chance for action. The Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights, a UN Human Rights Council programme, was to review the Solomons in 2021. We partnered with Franciscans International (our NGO at the UN), Dominican sisters and friars in the Solomons, and their NGO, Dominicans for Justice and Peace. We made a joint submission to the UN and lobbied diplomatic missions. A number of member states then included these issues as specific recommendations in their reports to the Solomons government.

‘In the end the Solomons accepted almost all the recommendations relating to logging issues.

‘This is a great achievement, but just a beginning. Implementation is the challenge! But we can be part of the solution, supporting monitoring and education, and keeping international eyes open to all that’s happening.’

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (24 April 2022, Second Sunday of Easter, International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace) invites us to pray:

Holy Spirit,
help us to navigate the future of the Church.
May we follow God’s will
rather than our own wants.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Inside the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford … today is Easter Day in the calendar of the Orthodox Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org