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Benaki show sheds light on Balkan Wars

By Christina Sanoudou

The entire face of Europe, and particularly the Balkans and Greece underwent fundamental changes in 1912 and after, yet the knowledge today’s younger generations have of the sociopolitical circumstances before and during the Balkan Wars is frequently fragmented. On the occasion of the centennial of the start of the conflicts, “Balkan Wars 1912-1913: The Beginning of the Greek 20th Century,” a new exhibition at the Benaki Museum’s flagship in Kolonaki, seeks to piece those fragments together to present a whole picture.

The exhibition features a selection of photographs and memorabilia including war medals, spoils of war, officers’ diaries and Eleftherios Venizelos’s pistol from the Theriso revolt. It covers events up to the Asia Minor Catastrophe in 1922.

From the advancement of the Greek army, the development of the economy at the beginning of the 20th century and technological improvements (such as warplanes and the steam engine) to improvements in medical treatment, the arrival of soldiers in foreign cities and countries and mass population shifts, “Balkan Wars” offers a comprehensive overview of the entire period by shedding light on different facets of history and society.

Beyond the history of the actual war itself, other images provide valuable information about everyday life during the period. They also highlight how rapidly the Greek landscape changed at the beginning of the century. Many volunteers lost their lives during the conflicts, and their portraits serve as a centerpiece for the exhibit, with the dates and places of death noted on the back of the photographs. These images are only a small selection of an extensive archive rediscovered in 1973 on the island of Chios which had been compiled by writer and war correspondent Elda Lambisi.

The transformation of Thessaloniki from a key hub of the Ottoman Empire to an integral part of the Greek state, meanwhile, is explored in a screening of Lakis Papastathis’s documentary “Seeking the Lost Images of the Balkan War.”

The exhibition – a collaboration with the Eleftherios K. Venizelos National Institute for Research and Studies and the Municipality of Thessaloniki – is slated to run through February 10, and also includes guided tours for the public with curator Tassos Sakellaropoulos.

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Benaki Museum, 1 Koumbari, Kolonaki, tel 210.367.1000, www.benaki.gr

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