It’s 1904 and the ancient land known as Macedonia, once ruled over by King Philip and Alexander the Great, but now part of the Ottoman Empire, is, once again, at war. There is a struggle to free Macedonia but the question is whether it will become part of Bulgaria or Greece.
The Greeks in the area have begun to fight the Bulgarians with an eye toward completing the “Megali Idea,” which called for the annexation of all ethnic Greek lands, including Macedonia, from the Turks and uniting Greece. The Greeks officially declared their independence from the Ottomans in 1821 and the modern Greek state began in 1830, but some areas, including Macedonia, were unsuccessful in their struggle to be free and continued to remain under the Ottoman Turks.
In a small village of Statista, located in the regional unit of Kastoria in northern Greece (Western Macedonia area), 34 year old Second Lieutenant Pavlos Melas, of the Greek Army, born in Marseilles, France, to a family with origins from Northern Epirus, enters the village. He, with a small unit, arrive to assess whether there can be established a military unit to fight the Bulgarian forces, known as the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization “VMRO.”
When Melas was young, his family moved to Athens and in 1891 he graduated from the Hellenic Army Academy as an artillery lieutenant. The following year he married Natalia Dragoumi, who was the daughter of a politician from Kastoria. It may have been because of his wife’s connections to the area, Melas became interested and attempted to raise money to assist the Greek Struggle for Macedonia. However, after the Bulgarian uprising at Ilinden-Preobrazhenie in August, 1903, the Greeks were concerned that the Bulgarians and not the Greeks would control Macedonia once it was freed from the Turks and greater effort was needed to assess the situation.
Melas, using the alias, Captain Mikis Zezas, and 35 men, entered the village. Although he leads only a small group of fighters, in actuality he is leading the resistance in the area. On October 13, 1904, Melas and his group are surrounded by Ottoman forces as a result of being betrayed by Mitros Vlachos and his men. A battle ensues and Melas is struck by a bullet and eventually dies from his wounds. Seven of his men are captured.
The tragic death of Pavlos Melas is not the end of the story. His death ignites the Greek effort to free Macedonia and brings the people of Macedonia together. Ionas Dragoumis said of Melas’ death, “. . .with the spark he lit on everybody, many people, blind till then, were able to see.” Greeks from all over Greece flocked to the cause and after the Balkan Wars (1912-13), Macedonia became free and joined Greece.
After Macedonia joined Greece, the village of Statista renamed itself, Melas, in honor of and after Pavlos Melas, the French born Epiroti who embodied and came to symbolize the Greek Macedonian Struggle.