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Feb 06 2013

Civil War in Crete threatened over young lovers.

(The information in the following has been obtained from various contemporary newspaper reports; mostly from Australia, Singapore and the West Indies. Accounts of what happened did apparently appear in newspapers elsewhere but tended to be overshadowed by the events of the Korean War then in full flow…and besides, most of the papers of record are now behind pay for firewalls!)

For a brief period in the early 1950s the political and social rivalry between two families in Crete made the newspaper headlines around the world: ’Mountaineers Offer To Fight In Defence of Cretan Lovers’, ‘Romeo Gets His Juliet; Crete Gets Martial Law’ & ‘Civil War Threatened in Crete by “Romeo and Juliet “ Elopement’ , being amongst them.  Whatever the frivolity of the headlines, the matter itself was considerably more serious given the times and the circumstances of the Greek state.

Following the murder of his son by German troops in 1941, Giorgos Petrakis (1890 -1972) a.k.a. Petrakoghiorghis [various spellings],[1] a former army officer who had fought in the Asia Minor War, prominent merchant and olive mill owner from Margarikari, Mesara Plain, Crete, took to the mountains. There, gathering a band of followers, he went on to become one of the leaders of the Cretan resistance; his band were involved in the capture of General  Kreipe and Petrakoghiorghis  was one of the first partisan leaders to enter Iraklion as the war ended, arriving there in a captured German vehicle[2]. While the Cretan resistance was not as riven on political grounds as the partisans on the Greek mainland, there were two main groupings; one being the communist/socialist EAM-ELAS and the other a mixture of non communist, pro and anti Royalist, groups. Each group coalesced around charismatic leaders such as Petrakoghiorghis, who lead an anti Royalist band.[3]

Giorgos Petrakis (Petrakoghiorghis) c.1944

Prior to the war Petrakoghiorghis had been a prominent supporter of the, Venizelist, Liberal Party[4], and with the end of the war against the Germans and of the Greek Civil War, he was elected to the Cretan regional parliament as a member of that party.

Petrakoghiorghis had a daughter, Thassoula aged, depending on which newspaper one believes, between 19 and 22 in August 1950, and Thassoula had a boyfriend one Konstantine Kefaloghannis, aged 39. While he too had fought against the Germans during the war, he had been in a Royalist, rather than Venizelist, partisan group and it would appear that there had been a history of bad blood between the two families before the war. Furthermore, in 1950 Konstantine’s brother was an opposition MP in the Populist Party sitting in the Athens Parliament.

On 19th August 1950 Thassoula, in direct contravention of her father’s wishes, eloped with Konstantine. The pair headed off for Mount Ida, taking a taxi from Iraklion. Unfortunately the taxi driver was later to add further confusion to an already complicated issue by stating that Thassoula had her hands tied up when Konstantine took her away[5]; the implication, taken up with alacrity by Petrakoghiorghis, being that she had been kidnapped rather than having had eloped.

A man of Petrakoghiorghis’ standing in the community was not going to take such an act by his daughter quietly  and he quickly called together his followers and set about hunting down the missing couple, eventually tracing them to a hideout in the mountains. While Petrakoghiorghis and his followers were not going to allow one of ‘their’ women to be kidnapped,  for their part Konstantine’s family were not going to take the incursion of political opponents into ‘their ‘ territory in search of one of ‘their’ men; consequently both sides apparently started to unearth weapons cached at the end of the war and an armed stand -off ensued.  Coming as it did shortly after the end of the Greek Civil War, the threat of armed conflict in Crete between two political factions which, though previously united against the socialists and communists, had a history of sometimes violent enmity stretching back to at least 1917, was not one to be tolerated by the Greek Government. Accordingly, the Greek Prime minister, Sophocles Venizelos, son of Eleftherias Venizelos, took draconian steps to calm the situation down; on 28th August declaring martial law over part of Crete, sending in troops to keep the factions apart and instituting press censorship in an attempt to defuse the situation.[6]

That same day, Petrakoghiorghis is reported as having visited Venizelos[7], a mark of the degree of Petrakoghiorghis’ political influence, and at some point thereafter, the timing is unclear from the newspaper reports, Konstantine’s brother Emannouil, a Populist Party MP, went into the Cretan mountains to visit the missing couple.  On his return, Emannouil is reported to have told the press:

”The situation in Iraklion is at its most dangerous. Things are now in the hands of God.”

He then said that Thassoula had refused to return home, saying, allegedly:

My place is now here.”

He went on to say:

“I begged everyone to avoid firing on the gendarmerie, and to surrender. My brother replied: ‘Farewell. We will see each other in a better world. If we are threatened with capture I will kill Thassoula and commit suicide.’”[8]

By the end of August the church had got involved in attempting to calm things down and it was reported that the Chief of Police, presumably from Iraklion, was to visit the couple to confirm that Thassoula did want to marry Konstantine; if she did her father would no longer stand in her way, if she didn’t, Konstantine would release her at once. Meanwhile in Athens, the editor of the daily paper Eleftherios had been arrested for breaching the Government’s censorship regulations in reporting on the matter.[9]

The situation was eventually resolved when, ten or so days after the ‘kidnapping’, the couple, by now in a monastery on Mount Ida, were married. Both sides withdrew their men and, after presenting themselves to General Samuel, the Greek Army commander of the troops sent to the island to contain the unrest, the newly-weds were promptly flown off to Athens  for a meeting with the Metropolitan.[10]

On 10th September Thassoula and her father were briefly reunited. On their arrival in mainland Greece, Konstantine had been arrested and charged with abduction and Thassoula had been subjected to cross examination buy the Public Prosecutor seeking to determine her role in the affair. On seeing her father in the court she apologised for the trouble she had caused him but stated that she wished to remain with Konstantine and asked for his blessing. He responded by saying:

 “Instead of my blessing I give you my curse. “[11]

Konstantine does not appear to have been convicted of abduction, but on 17th February 1951, he was sentenced to two years imprisonment for ‘forming an armed band.’ However, on 18th July 1951 it was reported that his sentence, quoted now as being for 18 months and being served in a Cretan low security goal, was reduced by the Greek King to 15 months and that he was expected to be released shortly to rejoin his wife in Athens.[12]

The path of love did not run smoothly however and by 6th January 1952, Thassoula was back with the father having ‘deserted’ her husband and now being described as being suffering from shock and having had a breakdown.[13]

Father and daughter reunited.

The marriage had apparently broken down with a degree of bitterness; Konstantine reportedly saying:

“She buried our love under her ambitious pretences. I do not love her anymore.”

In the meantime Petrakoghiorghis was planning to sue Konstantine for $70,000 damages, the sum that he alleged the elopement and its consequences had cost him. However, he was only seeking to recover his costs:

“I am asking nothing for moral damage to myself, my daughter and my family,” he stated.[14]

After this, the families’ quarrels appear to have disappeared from the public stage.

Petrakoghiorghis died in 1972 and his valour as a partisan leader was commemorated by the raising of a statue to him in his village, Magarakari.

Monument to Petrakoghiorghis.



[1] The spelling Petrakoghiorghis (Πετρακογιώργης in Greek) is that used in the newspapers of the time; modern spelling is more often Petrakagiorgis. Other spellings are also as of the 1950s.

[2] Hopkins A. (1989)  Crete: Its Past, Present and People. Faber & Faber. London p159.

[3] For details of Petrakogiorgis’ wartime activities see: A. Beevor (1991) Crete: The Battle and The Resistance. Penguin. London.

[4] Liberal in the Greek sense; not necessarily the British sense! Its policies would be characterised as right wing, anti socialist, on the British political spectrum; the roots of the party went back to the anti Royalist movement headed by Eleftherios Venizelos in the early 20th century.

[5] Sidney Morning Herald. 29 August 1950

[6] Adelaide Advertiser. 29 August 1950

[7] Sidney Morning Herald. 29 August 1950

[8] The Mercury. Hobart Tasmania. 30 August 1950

[9] Geraldton Guardian. Thursday 21 August  1950

[10] Canberra Times. Monday 4 Sept. 1950

[11] Adelaide Advertiser. 11 September 1950

[12] The Mercury. Hobart, Tasmania. 19 July 1951

[13] Straits Times. 16 January 1952

[14] Spokesman Review. 7 January 1952

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