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March 22, 2013

Peabody plans to celebrate Greek holiday

PEABODY — If you’ve seen “300,” the movie telling of the heroic stand by ancient Greek Spartans against invaders from the East, you might have the impression that the story ended there.

It didn’t. In the centuries that followed, aggressors tested Greek resolve again and again. Finally, after the fall of Constantinople to Muslim armies in 1453, Greece was overwhelmed. The Ottoman Empire would retain its grip on the country considered the birthplace of Western culture and democracy for the next four centuries.

While the treatment of the occupied Greeks might vary, by definition, they were thereafter considered second-class citizens in their own land.

This weekend and Monday, Peabody’s Greek community and its friends will celebrate the anniversary of Greek Independence Day, marking the day, March 25, considered a starting point of the revolt that would end Ottoman control once and for all.

Minas Dakos, the city’s Licensing Board chairman, remembers speaking Greek before he learned English. His love for this country hasn’t dimmed his emotional attachment to Greece and its people.

“Four hundred years under Ottoman rule,” he says in a voice choked with emotion. “Yet, to maintain your language. To maintain your religion. It’s unbelievable.” The stories of how it was done have been passed down from one generation to another.

“Parents would take their kids at night to a secret place,” he recalls, “and a teacher would instruct them in the Greek language and teach them Greek history.”

All that climaxed in a revolt starting in 1821 that won the sympathy, the admiration and, in some cases, the assistance of the Western World, including celebrities like British poet Lord Byron, who died in the service of the Greek fight.

On Monday at 3:30 p.m. Mayor Ted Bettencourt will honor this history with a proclamation as the Greek flag is raised at City Hall.

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