Pavlos Melas (29/03/1870 - 13/10/1904)
He was born in 1870 in Marseilles, France. After his family moved to Athens, he enrolled at the Evelpides Military School, and completed his studies in 1891. Having participated in the Greco – Turkish War of 1897 and feeling guilty about its outcome, he participated in the newly formed Macedonian Comitatus of 1900, in order to enhance the spirit of the disappointed Greek population of Macedonia.
In July 1904, he infiltrated the occupied province of Macedonia under the nickname Petros Dedes and went to Thessaloniki; there, he stayed for 20 days, discussing ideas with Lampros Koromilas on taking actions, and then returned to Athens. In August, everything was ready and Melas, having acquired the name Captain Mikis Zezas, led an army of 35 men, mainly people of Macedonia, Mani and Crete, and tried to organize the various partisan groups that were already active in the area. However, the Turks had been informed that Melas had entered Macedonia and had been taking action, so they formed many search squads to find him. Melas initially evaded them and even made successful hits against the Bulgarian troops. On 13 October 1904, he was in the town of Statista and he was turned in by a Bulgarian gang. He was quickly surrounded by 150 Turks and was mortally wounded. His last words were “May a single Bulgarian not remain”.
After Melas’ death, diplomatic action was taken to receive and bury his body. The Greeks did not want the Turks to find out who the deceased was, as well as the fact that he was a Greek army officer, in fear of causing a diplomatic crisis. The body was initially buried by villagers outside Statista. Later, the town priest tried to exhume the body and transfer it elsewhere. However, the Turks had also learned that this Zezas might in fact be Pavlos Melas, and were mobilized to take his body and have it as proof that Greece had infiltrated Turkish territory. While exhuming the body, the priest saw a Turkish squad arriving, so he cut off the head and buried it in front of a church in the town of Pisoderi. The Turks seized the headless body and transferred it to Kastoria for identification. The locals were mobilized and demanded that the Turks hand over the body, or riots might occur, threatening the peaceful coexistence of Turks and Greeks. So, the Turks handed over the body, which was buried in Kastoria.
Pavlos Melas became a symbol of valor and self – sacrifice. After his death, the Greek troops took more aggressive actions and eventually managed to annex West and Central Macedonia to Greece.