February 21 marks the day in 1913 when the historic city of Ioannina, the capital of Epirus in north-western Greece, was liberated from the Ottoman troops.
The city, which endured centuries of Ottoman rule until 1913, celebrates the union with Greece every year with a parade accompanied with plenty of traditional food, music, and dancing.
Its liberation followed the battle of Bizani, where a fortress guarded the approaches to Ioannina. This decisive Balkan War battle was fought between the Greek Army and the last Ottoman army ever to enter Macedonia or Epirus.
The Army of Epirus had been rendered mainly defensive at the outbreak of the First Balkan war, since the majority of the Greek military units were sent to reinforce the Macedonian Front.
Following the annexation of Thessaloniki, the Ottoman Empire sought a truce with the Balkan Allies. The Greek government conceded to participate in peace deliberations but clarified that since Epirus had not yet been liberated, Greece would still be at war with the Ottoman Empire until the final peace treaty.
On October 19th, 1912, the Army of Epirus, under the leadership of Major Sapountzakis, abandoned its defensive role and attacked the Turkish Army. Although the Greek forces were outnumbered, Preveza was conquered and an Ottoman attack at Pente Pigadia was repulsed.
Still, there remained enormous difficulties still to overcome in the campaign to liberate Ioannina.
The Ottoman Army’s numerical superiority and the fact that it had moved to the forts of Bizani, which historians describe as “strongly fortified,” combined with the extreme cold and the lack of supplies, prevented the Greek Army from initiating an offensive.
Victories in Macedonia allowed the main bulk of the Army of Thessaly to move south and reinforce the Army of Epirus. Crown Prince Constantine then assumed the command of the Army and demanded a peaceful surrender of the city. Essat Pasha did not accept the Crown Prince’s offer and prepared for attack.
With careful strategic maneuvering — and astounding heroism — the Greek Army conquered Bizani and forced Essat Pasha to surrender the city of Ioannina on February 21, 1913.