Daskalogiannis. Airport, Boat…and Cretan Hero.

As you a queuing up to grab your bags or queuing up to check bags in at Chania Airport coming to or from Paleochora, you may notice that the airport’s proper name is Daskalogiannis Airport. You may also have been on the ferry from Agia Roumeli to Sfakia and noticed that the boat was also named after Daskalogiannis. So who was this bloke with the difficult to pronounce name? What did he do to be remembered down the centuries and immortalized as an airport?
Well, his real name was Ioannis Vlachos and he was born in 1730. Although he was known as ‘Teacher John’ he was, in fact, a wealthy merchant and ship owner from Anopoli, Crete. He attained his first public office at the age of 20 and became the leader of the province in 1765 when , together with his brother Nikolos, he was responsible for tax collection for the Ottoman rulers.

He owned four ships which plied the Mediterranean. During one voyage to the Peloponnese in around 1769 he met Theodor Olaf who was an agent of the Russians who wanted to secure control over the Orthodox Balkans. Olaf persuaded Daskalogiannis to organise a rebellion on Crete with the promise of assistance from Russia.

Back in Sfakia, Daskalogiannis had a tough time enthusing the Sfakiots to revolt. We know this from a famous song written by a poor cheese maker, Barba-Pantselios who lived in Mouri. The song depicts the discussions between Daskalogiannis and his uncle who was, at the time, the Dean of Sfakia. Fortunately, a shepherd, Sifis Skordilis, was able to write down the song  in 1786 (Barba-panselios was illiterate) otherwise it would have been lost. Here are some extracts:

Then the rural dean shook his head,
he was pensive, he foresaw much in his thoughts.
“Teacher Giannis”, he said, “come to your senses,
you assume responsibility for all the people of Crete.
You make Sfakia into a centre which it ought not be,
and all the pashas and the Turks will assemble here.
Before the ships with the Moscowits come with reinforcements,
there will not be one single house left for the Sfakiots to live in” . . .

Despite these misgivings, Daskalogiannis assembled a rebel force of around 2000 men and in 1770 they attacked the areas of Kydonia, Apokoronas and Agios Vasilios. Initially they had the run of the battle, but the Ottomans rallied and, soon after, massed an army of 15.000 men at Vrysses.

Daskalogiannis and his men suffered a terrible defeat and sought refuge in the high mountains.
While keeping the rebels in check, the Ottomans delivered retribution on the local villages, looting, stealing livestock and selling captured inhabitants into slavery at Iraklion. The Dean, Daskalogiannis’ uncle, was also taken prisoner and probably tortured to reveal the rebel plans.

The Russian help did not materialize and the rebels became more despondant as the winter wore on.
In the spring of 1771, the Ottomans gave an ultimatum to the rebels. They would be given safe passage upon surrender if they agreed to 12 terms of peace.

1. They were to pay all outstanding back taxes
2. They were to surrender their arms and provisions.
3. They were to surrender their leaders, who would be taken to Iraklion for legal proceedings.
4. They could neither contact nor provision Christian ships
5. They were to assist in arresting the crews on the Christian ships
6. The judiciary in Sfakia was to be managed by a justice of the peace appointed by the Ottoman authorities
7. The churches were not to be either repaired or restored. No new churches to be built.
8. They were to pay tithe according to the sultans’ firman .
9. No tall houses or castle towers could be erected, and no Christian symbols were allowed on   buildings.
10. It was prohibited to hold Christian religious celebrations, and ringing of bells was outlawed.
11. The captured Muslims were to be released.
12. The Sfakiots were to wear the specific clothes of subjugated Christians

Daskalogiannis received a letter from his brother, in captivity in Iraklion, attesting that the Ottoman authorities were good to their word and suggesting that he would be treated fairly if he surrendered.

Even though he must have realized the unlikelyhood that he would be spared, he surrendered to the authorities with a number of his most trusted men. It is believed that by doing so, he thought he would ease the suffering of the people of Sfakia.

The ottomans took him to Iraklion and tried him. On the 17th June 1771, Daskalogiannis was publicly flayed alive. This involved slicing and peeling of his skin in one whole piece, just as an animal is skinned after slaugher. During this extremely painful and unpleasant process, it is said that Daskalogiannis suffered his fate in silent dignity. His brother was forced to watch and accounts suggest that the experience sent him mad.

Three years later, the Dean of Sfakia and other rebels still held managed to escape from Koules fortress in Iraklion. The dean took refuge in a cave near Rouvas while the others made their way back to Sfakia.

So, those are the sort of deeds that are expected of you if you want to have a Greek airport in your name. Perhaps there should be an aftersun lotion named after him just in case of peeling skin.