The name of Georgios Yiotas is hardly known to the Macedonian public. But that’s not because Yiotas was incognito. Rather, the fact that he changed sides makes him forget. The other side, however, commemorates and celebrates him as a national hero.
The Macedonian history of striving for freedom and independence from the Ottoman Empire, but also against the agitation of the neighboring peoples, is marked by hatred, betrayal and violence. The Macedonian people were deeply divided – according to religion and sentiment. It often happened that even family members or relatives fought on different sides.
A Macedonian could be a “Bulgarian” because he followed the Bulgarian church service or received a Bulgarian education in one of these church schools. At the same time, his relative could be a “Greek”. He just went to the Greek church and possibly also had Greek lessons at school. But both have something in common. They are Macedonians.
Our following player in the fight for Macedonia is such an example. While his cousin was in the ranks of the Macedonian Revolutionary Movement IMRO, the man who would later be known as Georgios Yiotas decided to fight for the Greek cause. In Macedonia such a person is called Grecoman (Grkoman).
Georgios Yiotas – Ethnic Macedonian and Greek national hero
Georgios Yiotas (Greek: Γεώργιος Γιώτας), best known as Gonos Yiotas (Γκόνος Γιώτας), was a chieftain in the Greek cause in the struggle for Macedonia. He is now revered as a hero in the Pella region of northern Greece. He is one of the most notable figures in the fight, they say.
Operating mainly around Lake Giannitsa, Yiotas collaborated with other notable Greek revolutionaries such as Stergios Daoutis, Alexandros Mazarakis, Ioannis Demestichas and Tellos Agras. He became known as the “Spirit of the Lake” (το Στοιχείο της Λίμνης).
He was born in 1880 in the village of Plugar (today’s Greek name: Loudias), a village near Giannitsa in the municipality of Chalkidona. His father, Vasileios Yiotas, was from the village of Kadinovo (now Galatades) and was a member of a local Greek committee.
From an early age he worked with his father and brother Konstantinos Yiotas (also a future Grecoman) in the fields of the monastery of Agios Loukas right on Lake Giannitsa.
There he learned how to use a firearm since his father was a security guard who owned arms.
He was the first cousin of IMRO leader Apostol Petkov, who became known as “Sun of Yenice-i Vardar”.
Gono was first a fighter for the Macedonian cause
Gonos Yiotas was involved in the IMRO troop of his cousin Apostol Petkov from 1900 to 1904, with whom he took part in the Ilinden Uprising and saw several skirmishes against Ottoman troops. However, he and his mother were Greek Patriarchists (followers of the Greek Church). This caused him to harbor sympathies for the Greek cause.
When IMRO organized the public stoning of the Metropolitan of Vodena, he began to question his future in the organization. A rift began to form between him and IMRO, which widened after a clash in the village of Agios Loukas.
The clash broke out when three armed comitadjis entered the church where Gonos Yiotas was attending Sunday services and demanded that the priest be replaced by a loyal exarchate priest. Gonos was also armed and after a heated exchange of blows he overruled the comitadjis and they withdrew.
As relations deteriorated, Georgios Yiotas left IMRO. He joined the Greek side in October 1904 and in 1905 entered the service of the Greek Consulate of Thessaloniki. He was mainly active in the Giannitsa area.
At first he acted as a guide in the swamps of Lake Giannitsa, where his diligence earned him a good reputation. Locals largely attribute its effectiveness to its apparent immunity to mosquito bites. His presence proved irreplaceable for the Greeks because of his knowledge of the landscape and local people.
Members of the Greek armed groups that invaded Macedonia were mostly proper Greeks originating south of Macedonia.
“Real Greeks” benefited from Grecomans
These imported Greeks knew neither the local conditions in Macedonia nor the language of the Macedonians. So they were dependent on the help of Macedonian Grecomans. From these Greeks, Yiotas learned the Greek language, especially the Cretan dialect. Most of the Greek fighters in Macedonia, the so-called Makedonomachoi (“Macedonian fighters”), were imported from the extreme south of Greece. Understandable, in Macedonia the Greeks were a minority.
Gonos Yiotas was instrumental in the reconquest of six villages from the ecclesiastical area of the Bulgarian Exarchate to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and had seen several clashes with his cousin Apostol Petkov’s troops.
In March 1905 he joined the first well organized Greek military group. The next year he collaborated with Tellos Agras and achieved great success. From 1908 he began to act with his own military group and had to seek refuge in Athens at the end of the same year.
After the Young Turk Revolution, the Young Turks called on the Macedonian armed factions to lay down their arms with promises of sweeping reforms and equality. Many followed the call of the Young Turks. But not Gonos Yiotas.
He continued to operate around the swamps of Lake Giannitsa. But a friend of former ally Apostolis Matopoulos named Dr. Antonakis collaborated with the new Ottoman regime. He betrayed the armory in the swamp of Gonos for personal gain. Gonos filed a complaint about the treason to the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but this was unsuccessful.
He took a break from his revolutionary lifestyle and went to Athens, but returned to Macedonia in 1909 after exarchists’ attacks on “Greek patriarchist” villages increased again. Upon his return to the conflict, his armed force again came into conflict with that of his first cousin, Apostol Petkov. In November 1909, Gonos recorded 86 kills, 21 in combat and 65 in ambushes.
In 1910 he and his fellow leaders Lazos Dogiamas and Athanasios Betsos became dissatisfied with the leadership in Athens. They made their dissatisfaction clear, leading to the three revolutionaries being classified as robbers and prosecuted by the Greek authorities.
By 1911, rumors had spread that Gonos Yiotas was investigating the actions of his former allies, Apostolis Matopoulos and Dr. Antonakis and their collaboration with the Young Turks. Matopoulos was alarmed and fled the region for safety reasons.
Betrayal led to his death
After a betrayal, Gonos Yiotas was killed on February 12, 1911 during an operation by the Ottoman Army that resulted in his encirclement at Lake Giannitsa. Many have speculated that Matopoulos and/or Dr. Antonakis were responsible for the betrayal. Matopoulos fled to the United States while Dr. Antonakis was later executed for his “endangerment of the Greek cause”.
After his death, the body of Gonos Yiotas was recovered and buried in Giannitsa Cemetery.
He is honored as a local hero in the Pella region of Greece. In Giannitsa, the town where he rests, a street and a square bear his name.
There are two identical busts of him, one in Vasileios Romfei Square in Thessaloniki and one in Gonou Yiota Square in Giannitsa. Some of his possessions are exhibited in the Giannitsa Folklore Museum.
He is mentioned in “Mysteries of the Swamp” by the famous Penelope Delta. His surviving descendants live in Greece and some have emigrated to the United States.
His birth name was Georgi Jotov. In Macedonian historiography he is referred as Gono Jotov.