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Aris Velouchiotis ( ), the nom de guerre of Athanasios (Thanasis) Klaras ( , August 27, 1905 – June 16, 1945), was the most prominent leader and chief instigator of the Greek People's Liberation Army (ELAS), the military branch of the National Liberation Front (EAM), which was the major resistance organization in occupied Greece from 1942 to 1945. Aris Velouchiotis was appointed military leader of ELAS by the EAM leadership, being at the same time a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Greece.

Early years

Klaras was born in Lamiamarker, Greece in 1905. As a youth, he participated in the leftist movement and later became a member of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE). During the Ioannis Metaxas dictatorship (1936-1941), he was arrested and jailed in Aeginamarker prison. During his trial, he escaped and joined the (then illegal) Communist Party. He was arrested again in 1939 and was sent to Corfumarker prison, and remained there until he signed a "statement of renouncement" of the Communist Party.

World War II

During World War II, he served as an artillery corporal in the Greek Army at the Albanian front (1940-1941) against the Italianmarker army, until the German invasion in April 1941 and Greece's subsequent surrender and occupation.

After Germany attacked the Soviet Unionmarker, the Greek Communist Party championed the creation of the National Liberation Front (EAM), and Klaras was sent to Central Greece (Roumeli) to assess the potential for the development of a guerrilla movement against the occupation forces. His proposals were adopted by the party, and in January 1942, Klaras moved to the mountains to start setting up guerrilla groups.

The first appearance of the partisans organised by Klaras occurred on June 7, 1942 in the village of Domnista in Evritaniamarker in Central Greece. There he presented himself as Major Aris Velouchiotis (from Ares, the god of war, and Velouchi, a local mountain) and proclaimed the existence of the Greek People's Liberation Army (ELAS).

One of the most important early operations of the Greek resistance movement (in which Velouchiotis and his fighters participated alongside Napoleon Zervas's republican EDES resistance forces and British saboteurs) was the destruction of the Gorgopotamosmarker railway bridge in Lamia in November 1942 (Operation Harling). Their success cut the single Thessalonikimarker-Athensmarker rail line, and disrupted the supply lines for Erwin Rommel's German forces in Africa for several days.

This was to be the last operation where the communist-influenced ELAS organisation fought alongside with Greek Republican resistance forces like EKKA's 5/42 Regiment and EDES. Although all major resistance organisations had opposed the re-institution of the Greek monarchy after the war's end, the antagonism between them led EDES' leader, Napoleon Zervas, to approach the British, who favoured the monarchy, for support. As the country's old political elites and middle classes feared EAM-ELAS' rising strength ad a possible Communist takeover, the rift ultimately led to a mini-civil war in late 1943 and early 1944, in which ELAS destroyed EKKA's 5/42 Regiment.

In October 1944, the Nazis evacuated Greece and a new government was formed under Georgios Papandreou, the leader of the Greek National Unity Government established following the Treaties of Lebanon and Cazerta. When the Varkiza agreement was signed to end fighting between EAM forces in Athens and governmental forces (with the support of the British troops), Velouchiotis vehemently refused to comply, in defiance of the Communist Party leadership, who consequently accused him of treachery.,

Death

Velouchiotis moved again to the mountains of Central Greece, in order to start an insurgency against the new government and the Britishmarker allies who supported them. He was reported to have denounced the sell out to the British in the 'Varkiza Agreement' to lay down the National Resistnace arms; particularly moving was the sight of his elite massed 'Mavroskoufides'(Black Berrets) openly mourning. He was outmanouevred by the KKE leadership and resolved to leave Greece; he repeatedly requested permission from the Party to be allowed leave to depart, which was refused. Though most of his associates abandoned him, he was reported to have continued to conduct guerrilla activities until June 1945. He was denoucned by the KKE Central Committee and increasingly isolated until he was ambushed with his unit in the mountain of Agrafa - some say that he was set up or even betrayed by KKE contacts, in 1945, by para-military groups controlled by the Athens government.It is worth noting here that although many of the Security Divisions known as 'X' which had collaborated with the German occupying forces, were rounded up and detained in Korydalos, the suburban Athens prison, there was almost a revolving door policy which allowed the majority of their officers to join the new Greek Polic Force, organised by the British forces under the expert leadership of officers who just had just set the infamous Northern Ireland police service known as the 'Black & Tans' who specialised in hunting down Irish Republicans and their supporters.

Aris and his 2nd in command, Javellas, were isolated by the main unit and finally Aris was killed with his comrade either by a hand grenade or by a bullet. Rumors want him to "committ suicide with his commander Javellas when his thoughts were that there is no better future for his revolution and its betrayals.".

Velouchiotis' and his second in command corpses was subsequently decapitated, with the heads displayed, hunging from a lamp post in the central square of the town of TrikalaWhenmarker British Labour government members of Parliament objected to the barbarity of the operation the received the reply that it was done in accordance to "Ancient Greek Custom".{Fact|date=February 2007}.

Following the rehabilitation in Greece of the Resistance movement and subsequently of the KKE itself, busts and statues of Aris have been errected in his native town; the KKE have moved discreetly into his quite rehabilation following the expulsion in turn of the KKE's wartime leader who had denounced him,Party Secretary Zahariadis, one who had survived his incarceration at Dachau German concentration camp, and his return to Greece by Brtish airplane.

Controversial figure

Supporters consider Aris Velouchiotis a symbol of Greek resistance against Nazi Germany and a hero of the communist cause. Critics see him as a perpetrator of atrocities against rural people who were perceived as opponents of communism. His involvement in attacks against non-communist Greek resistance forces and insurgency against the post-liberation government also draw criticism: C.M. Woodhouse remarked that Velouchiotis "fought Greeks more often than he did Germans".

Notes



Further reading

  • Extensive biography in Greek.



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