Filiki Eteria (Φιλική Εταιρία) — or the Society of Friends — played a crucial role in the uprising which led to Greece’s War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire on March 25, 1821.
In the beginning of the 19th century the notion that Greece had to be liberated after almost four centuries of Ottoman rule and a new Greek state should be established was ripe.
However, there were two camps: those who believed that the time was “here and now” and those who believed that it was too early.
In 1814, three Greeks of Diaspora came together in Odessa, in present-day Ukraine, where a thriving Greek community lived. They formed a secret society with the purpose of initiating an armed uprising to rid Greece of the Ottomans.
The three founders were Nikolaos Skoufas from the Arta province, Emmanuil Xanthos from Patmos and Athanasios Tsakalov from Ioannina.
Soon after Panagiotis Anagnostopoulos from Andritsaina joined the organization.
Filiki Eteria recruited mostly Phanariot Greeks from Russia, local chieftains from Greece, and Serbs. Two of its early outstanding members were Alexandros Ypsilantis, a prince and high-ranking officer of the Imperial Russian Cavalry; Moldovan lord Michael Soutzos and the father of modern Serbia; and founder of the Karadjordjevic dynasty, Karageorge Petrovic.
Future War of Independence leaders such as Theodoros Kolokotronis, Odysseas Androutsos, Dimitris Plapoutas and the metropolitan bishop Germanos of Patras also joined Filiki Eteria.
In 1818, Filiki Eteria moved to Constantinople. The year was marked by the death of founding member Skoufas. Xanthos and Tsakalov attempted to find a major personality to take over the leadership of the secret society.
Alexandros Ypsilantis becomes leader of Filiki Eteria
The other two founding members contacted Alexandros Ypsilantis and offered him leadership of Filiki Eteria, which he took up in April 1820. Ypsilantis started preparations for an armed revolt and set up a military unit he named the Sacred Band.
Initially it was proposed to start the revolution in Constantinople, but the idea was dropped in favor of the Peloponnese (Morea).
Filiki Eteria created a cash box where a large sum of money was collected to meet the needs for arms, ammunition and supplies for the revolution. They even established an auditing system so that there was no abuse of the funds collected.
Ypsilantis recruited many untrained fighters while at the same time he called on Greeks living in other countries to contribute in any way they could to the liberation war. Ypsilantis sent fiery letters to all centers of Hellenism, asking diaspora Greeks to participate in the fight.
Failed revolt in Moldova; message for Peloponnese uprising
In October 1820, Ypsilantis decided to start the revolution in Iasi, Moldova. It was a catastrophic move, leading to the slaughter of thousands of fighters.
Nevertheless, the revolutionary seed of Filiki Eteria was planted, and the slogan “Freedom of Death” started playing on the lips of Greeks. They were determined to fight to the death for liberty.
On Feb. 24, 1821, Ypsilantis sent a prophetic letter to his Filiki Eteria colleagues asking them to start the fight or contribute by sending money and supplies for the armed struggle: “Future generations will bless your names and they will praise you as precursors of their freedom and bliss.”
His prophetic proclamation was verified by history. Filiki Eteria was the vehicle for the uprising and inspired the heroes who started the revolt a month later– it was “Freedom or Death” indeed.