Aris Velouchiotis (27/8/1905 - 15/06/1945)
His real name is Athanasios Klaras. He was born in Lamia to rich and respected parents. He did not finish high school; instead, he was sent at the Averof Agricultural Boarding School of Larisa in 1919. After his studies in 1922, he was appointed as an agriculturist at the Agricultural Agency of Greece in Drama and later, in Trikala. His relationship with his superiors was tense and he finally quit, because he denied having any part in the “political favor” business of the era.
He went to Athens in 1924, where he became a member of the communist youth and later enlisted in the army. However, he was fired because of his communist views. During the Metaxas dictatorship, he was incarcerated numerous times (as he managed to escape), before being exiled to Gavdos. He was finally taken out of jail after accepting to disclaim communism. After the German invasion, he started organizing the resistance movement and at that time, he also took the nickname “Aris” (from the god of war) and later “Velouchiotis”. In 1942, he started forming a partisan army; on 25 November 1942, his reputation skyrocketed after successfully destroying the Gorgopotamos bridge, which considerably slowed down the German forces.
After the liberation of the country, during December 1944, the dispute about who would gain power and control over Greece resulted in a clash between the Communist Party and ELAS on one hand, and the British and governmental forces on the other. Although Velouchiotis did not participate in the events, when the Communist Party surrendered, he had a direct conflict with the party, claiming that signing the agreement was treasonous, and decided to create the new ELAS, aiming to target British forces and the newly formed Greek government.
On 15 June 1945, Velouchiotis and his army were surrounded near Arta by the National Guard that was sent to arrest him. Until 2004, it was disputed whether at that point Velouchiotis committed suicide or he was killed, but it has now been clarified that it was a suicide. On the same day, the Communist party also declared that he was written off the party because of his opportunism. During the Panhellenic Congress of the Communist Party in July 2011, it was decided that Velouchiotis should be politically restored.
Velouchiotis is one of the most controversial figures in Modern Greek history. His supporters showcase his contribution to the national resistance and the formation of the largest partisan army in Greek history (ELAS); the opposition questions his real motives behind his actions and stresses the harshness and cruelty (to the point of torturing) he showed to his opponents.