Warrior’s possessions a reminder of a heroic age

Valuable artifacts that once belonged to Pavlos Melas, the leader of the armed struggle to free the Greek province of Macedonia from the Turkish yoke in the Greek-Turkish war of 1897, are being exhibited for the first time, a century after his death. Personal belongings used in Melas’s secret missions during the war are now in the possession of the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle in Thessaloniki. The artifacts are part of a bequest by Natalia Ioannidou, Melas’s granddaughter, in response to a request from the foundation that runs the museum to help it with its research into the struggles to free Macedonia, particularly by one of its most famous freedom fighters. The chest in which he transported his uniform and some of the equipment he used during his guerrilla activities arrived earlier this month in Thessaloniki. The director of the Foundation for the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle, Vassilis Nikoltsios, was amazed to discover that the objects completed the uniform worn by Melas during his campaigns in the mountains of Macedonia. At that time, he went under the names Mikis Zezas, Pavlos Dedes or Captain Mikis Zezas when he was officially appointed to head the guerrilla bands in the Kastoria-Monastiri region. The chest is stamped with the number 217, Melas’s serial number from the officers’s academy, the Evelpidon School, which he entered in 1886 and graduated from in 1891 with the rank of second lieutenant. Inside it, Ioannidou had placed her grandfather’s leather cartridge belts – one from his official uniform and the other from his artillery division, dating from the late 1800s, along with the belt from his official blue uniform as artillery officer, his inkwell and pens, two army pencils stamped with a crescent moon, crushed lead bullets engraved with the word «Hellas,» bullets, Greek army rifle cartridges, and various small objects such as uniform buttons. The rarest object is a yellow crest from the cap he wore as a cadet at the Evelpidon School. Neither the museum nor the most avid collectors were aware of the existence of these objects. Ioannidou, the daughter of Zoe Mela, inherited them from her grandmother Natalia Mela, Pavlos’s wife, whose (Dragoumis) family was a major inspiration in Melas’s decision to become directly involved in the Macedonian struggle. The objects comprising Melas’s uniform are to be shown in a special display case in the museum, which is already in possession of his scarf, his campaign cup, his hunting knife, original family photographs, and an invitation to his wedding with Natalia. His crucifix, Mauser rifle (1902 model) and his watch are in the National History Museum. «These valuable objects were an unexpected gift and perhaps the most important the museum has received,» said Nikoltsios. «No price can be put on them; they belong to the Greek nation. That is why Pavlos Melas’s granddaughter donated them to the foundation that highlights the history of Macedonia from the first revolutionary movements (1800) to the Balkan Wars.» Melas died 100 years ago on October 13 in Siatista (now Melas).

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