Blog 50 24/07/2017 Prodromos Bodosakis -Athanasiadis. From humble Asia-Minor roots to the richest man in Greece.
Prodromos Bodosakis -Athanasiadis:
From humble Asia-Minor roots to the richest man in Greece.
Born to a Greek Orthodox family in Cappadocia, Asia Minor in 1890, Prodromos Bodosakis-Athanasiadis, more commonly known simply as Bodosakis, was one of the most important figures in modern Greek history. Along with other notable Asia-Minor Greeks such as Aristotle Onassis, he came to signify the determination and business savvy that many of the Christians communities – Greek, Armenian, Jews – had in abundance in order to succeed in the cosmopolitan society of the old Ottoman Empire. Bodosakis barely had more than a primary school education. He started working as a trader in the Mediterranean commercial towns of Adana and Mersin. After the First World War, he went to Istanbul to seek his fortune and develop his skills in industry and shipping. Within a short time he became known as a wartime entrepreneur. He was married to the daughter of an Austrian engineer who in turn was related to Liman Von Sanders, head of the German Military in Turkey during WWI. As an Ottoman, he mixed freely with all nationalities but some of his early wealth appears to have come from his role as a supplier to the army’s quartermaster.
In 1919, using his connections, he purchased the famous Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul. Prior to that, it was owned by the Wagons-Lit Company who had made it their first hotel to accommodate their customers travelling on the Orient Express. The situation in Istanbul at that time was a precarious one. The aftermath of WWI, the Greek Occupation of Smyrna and the influx of thousands of White Russians fleeing the Bolsheviks, along with the rise of the Nationalists under Mustafa Kemal had turned Istanbul upside down. The city was in turmoil. Well-dressed and sporting a tiny moustache, Bodosakis was the embodiment of the confidant and astute Istanbullu of the time and he wasted no time in using his hotel to forge connections that would further his ambitions. At any time the famous hotels of Istanbul were filled with intrigue. Disaffected Ottomans and Germans would sit in the same lounge and bar across from the jubilant Allies – French, British and Americans. Ziya Bey, the Turkish memoirist at the time wrote that “the Pera Palace quickly established itself as a place where “foreign officers” and business men are feted by unscrupulous Levantine adventurers and drink and dance with fallen Russian Princesses or with Greek and Armenian girls whose morals are to say the least, as light as their flimsy gowns.”
But things were to change when the Nationalists defeated the Hellenic Army. After Smyrna was left in ruins, many feared the same thing would happen in Istanbul and after the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, thousands of foreigners and Ottoman Christians departed straight away. Bodosakis was one of them. He left in the early 1920’s
In the following months, Istanbul was now under the Nationalists and a new constitution was proclaimed. Those who stayed would have to become a Turkish citizen. For those who didn’t their businesses and land-holdings were subject to scrutiny. Worse still, those who had “run” and wanted to return were frowned upon as disloyal and their “abandoned” properties seized. Bodosakis no longer owned the Pera Palace. It was declared the property of the state and later given to an Arab businessman from Lebanon who had supported the Nationalist cause and took Turkish nationality. Bodosakis may have lost the Pera Palace but as always, he managed to land on his feet. He had been astute enough to move several of his businesses out of Turkey. Now settled in Athens, he was to become one of the world’s most formidable businessmen and many of those contacts that were to help him were made in Istanbul.
In 1934 Bododaskis became the proprietor of the Greek Powder and Cartridge Company, (GPCC) the largest arms manufacturer in Greece. The company was founded in 1874 by in 1887 was joined by the Malsiniotis Brothers. The acronym ‘Pyrkal’ was used later. In addition to ammunition and explosives, the company was a firearms manufacturer, most notably crating the advanced EPK machine-gun. After an introduction to General Ioannis Metaxas by the Governor of the Bank of Greece involving a discussion about Metaxas’s son-in-law joining the company, he and Metaxas became good friends and a year later Bodosakis helped finance Metaxas’ political rise. When the Metaxas Dictatorship finally came to power, Bodosakis was repaid by gaining the government’s backing to expand the GPCC and that year he secure a contract in Paris to supply 7mm cartridges for the rifles needed by the Spanish Republicans. That contract made the arms trade the largest industry in Greece after tobacco.
Arms dealing is a murky area often necessitating one country supply another via a third party. In 1936-37 during the Spanish Civil war, German arms were supplied to the Republicans from a company controlled by Herman Goring – Rheinmetal-Borsig – even though German forces were supposed to be fighting with the Nationalists. Bodosakis became a middle man. Arms were shipped to Greece and then transferred on ships “sailing to Mexico” according to the documents. In 1937-38 shipments from Rheinmetal-Borsig were worth around 40 million Reich mark each. In 1937 Bodosakis signed a contract for ammunition to the Republic for GP2.1 million in hard currency. At about the same time, Pyrkal provided armaments to Chiang-Kai-shek’s forces in the Chinese Civil War, to Palestine in the Arab revolt, and ironically of all, to Turkey.
In the events leading up to WWII the company facilities were used by German forces, but by the end of the war the company lay in ruins, having been looted by the retreating German forces. After the war, in a twist of fate, the company started to produce metal products and consumer goods first for the Greek Army and then for Nato and West Germany. The rebirth was to last several more decades. Because of Bodosakis’ arms trading, he has often been referred to as the latter-day arms dealer to Sir Basil Zaharoff by the Greek and foreign press. Zaharoff, also known as Basileis Zacharias made his name and his fortune during the First World War. Both have much in common. Zaharoff was an Asia-Minor Greek from Istanbul. He was knighted in Britain. When he died in 1936, he left a considerable fortune to the Greek State. After his death in 1979, the family of Bodosakis did the same, setting up the charitable philanthropic foundation to reward work from education, engineering, the sciences, health and to promote the Hellenic Culture.
The Embroiderer is a beautifully written novel spanning the 19th and 20th centuries, set against the backdrop of the Greek War of Independence. It was published on 5th November 2014 and is available to buy in paperback and as an ebook.
You can order from all good bookshops and online retailers.