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Salonica Front gives impetus for the end of World War I

21 October 2015 / 20:10:05  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

In the period 22-24 October Thessaloniki will host an international conference on "The Salonica Front in World War I", organized by the Aristotle University, the University of Macedonia and the Institute for Balkan Studies in Thessaloniki.

The occasion is the centennial anniversary of the establishment of the front and its importance for the outcome of the war. Dozens of contemporary historians from many countries, including Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Great Britain, France, Russia and many more will present reports during the conference.

GRReporter talked with chairman of the organizing committee of the conference Yiannis Mourelos. He is a Modern History Professor at the History Department of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and Vice-President of the Institute for Balkan Studies. At the conference he will present his report on "The Salonica Front in World War I. Political Challenges and Strategic Planning."

Mr. Morelos, why is turning back to this period of history in the Balkans important? What is the purpose of conducting the conference?

The aim is to celebrate the centennial anniversary (5 October) of the arrival of the first Allied troops in Thessaloniki, i.e. the creation of the Salonica Front. Therefore the events in the rest of the Balkans in terms of the specific situation were part of an even broader context, namely World War I.

Of course, the Balkans were part of this war long before the opening of Salonica Front. The war began in the summer of 1914, after the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne by a Serbian nationalist. A war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia followed, which quickly became a European war. This expansion of the war, the fact that it took place only on the main front, from the appearance of the trenches until the end of 1914, drove different staffs to encourage peripheral hostilities. Two such fronts started to operate in our region. One was the front at Gallipoli and after the excruciating experience of the Allies, they formed there the Salonica Front in order to help Serbia that was in a state of collapse.

Even today in Bulgaria there is a sentiment that parts of northern Greece were always Bulgarian territories and the Bulgarian army actually did not enter into a foreign territory but went to defend its own land. Why does Greece consider these areas its own?

This was the argument used by the Bulgarian side. The question is whether this is the historical truth from the moment that Bulgaria declared its independence as a state in 1908. Of course, it was autonomous before that, after the Berlin Congress, and even earlier there was also a Greater Bulgaria that existed no longer than a few months after the Treaty of San Stefano.

It is expected in such a situation of war, during such a generalized war at that, that historical dimensions be attached to arguments that are actually deprived of such dimensions. This is because the historicity of Thrace and Eastern Macedonia dates back to ancient times in terms of the Greek cultural and demographic presence.

In these regions there was a Bulgarian population. The Bulgarian public space talks about the assimilation of this population. Is that correct?

I do not think so. The argument that I will use to support my opinion refers to the post war reality. I mean the convention for voluntary migration of populations that accompanied the Neuilly Peace Treaty signed by the winners in the war and Bulgaria. Under it, everyone on both sides of the border, including the populations of Greek origin who lived on the territory of Bulgaria at the time, were free to move to another country. And they benefited from this right.

And I would say that, to a certain extent, the Convention of Neuilly was more moral and correct compared with the agreement for the obligatory exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey that was signed a few years later.

Did people have a distinct sense of national identity at that time? Could we say that all who considered themselves Bulgarians left Greece? 

Having decided to take advantage of this right, obviously the answer is yes. And again I would like to emphasize that I am talking about the people on both sides of the border. The fact that they decided to migrate from one country to another on their own initiative and by their own wish apparently means that they had national consciousness. Therefore, they decided to go to the country, which they considered to be closest to their upbringing, religion, culture, beliefs and traditions.

Bulgarian soldiers in the trenches of the Salonica Front

What were the factors that determined the end of the war?

This is a very important issue because the Salonica Front was understated during the war and also by the subsequent historiography until the present day. My opinion is that the reason for this is the following: we are talking about a European war that for nearly four years was a war of positions, not of actions and manoeuvres. The operations were static, with a very high mortality rate.

Tags: HistoryWorld War ISalonica FrontInternational scientific conference in ThessalonikiYiannis Mourelos
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