The first photo above is my uncle Yannis Koutkoutsakis, the next is my grandfather Eftihis Koukoutsaki with me when I was 6 years old. The last one is my uncle Pavlos Koutkoutsakis.
It took me a while but I finally got the interview from my uncle Yiannnis Koukoutsakis, second cousin of my father, and he gave me an interview about something that took place somewhere between the Greek/ Italian war and World War II (1940 /1941). I have heard the story before from my grandfather but never in so much detail.
It all took place in the next village to Azogires where my family had a lot of land. There were shepherds with goats and the goats were feeding on the grass of our hillside and flat land around our family’s old flour mill (the area is still called Ton Koukoutsido o mylos which means Koukoutsaki family’s mill). It was a rather large area with much rich grass because it was along the two rivers that unite to make the one and only Azogires River, so it was not only the land along the river but the land between the rivers, like a little island. However, the shepherds that had these goats refused to pay rent for the land, therefore causing arguments between our family and theirs, so one afternoon my grandfather’s brother George, who was just a young boy at the time, went up and started to chase away the goats from our land.
At that moment the shepherds saw him and fired at him with their rifles. Naturally, when my uncle George returned home and told him the story, this outraged my grandfather. Without second thought my grandfather grabbed a weapon and a belt of bullets and ran off to the neighboring village. As he was on his way there his first cousin Pavlos Koukoutsakis, who is one of the main characters in this story, caught up with him. Pavlos who was also carrying a rifle, said to my grandfather,
“Are you mad going alone in to the snakes nest? They will kill you! I will come with you.”
When they entered the village, they went in blasting at every house, shooting at doors, windows, and anything that was not breathing; like clay a cups, flower pots etc. They demanded that the villagers tell them who shoot at George. Finally, after an hour or so, the villagers gave in and told them where they could find one of the shooters.
They went to where he was hiding, pulled him out and gave him the beating of his life, and told him that if he ever shot at a Koukoutsaki again he’d better be prepared to die. After getting the beating the shepherd regained his pride and stumbled of to the mountain. In the meantime my grandfather and uncle went out of the village and in to our land and chased away the goats. This took a short while giving the shepherds of the rival family time to recoup and get some guns together - which in Crete is not so difficult to do!
The shepherds climbed on a high position above the fields and started shooting down at my grandfather and uncle who took refuge behind some rocks and fired back. However, they could not see the enemy so my uncle decided he was going to make a run for the top of the hill and shoot at the shepherds from there. My grandfather loaded up and started shooting nonstop towards the hill, therefore giving my uncle a chance to reach his goal. Unfortunately my uncle made a mistake and by the time he reached the top, his rifle was empty: the shepherds had pistols so they shot him down. He was wounded and without his weapon, stuck behind a small rock but they still would not dare go near him. In the meantime, my grandfather could not move higher because he now was alone and outnumbered by the many shepherds who held the hilltop. So, he was stuck inside a crack and kept trying to get to higher ground but had no chance until other Koukoutsaki family members started firing their guns from Azogires, scaring of the rebel shepherds.
My uncle was brought home and died some days later. As long as he was alive his dog Vamvakia stood by his bed and refused to leave his side, she stood right next to him until he left his last breath. He then was buried in our family cemetery In the neighborhood Koukoutsiana, St John the hermit.
About an hour after they buried him, the dog, Vamvakia, went up to the grave and sat next to it howling and crying; she stayed there for days. My ancestors tried to take her away both by sweetalking her and by force, she but never allowed them to come near her, threatening and growling at them. They eventually left her alone but they thought to bring food and water to her and for days they tried to feed her and to make her drink water. However, she didn’t touch one drop of water and she didn’t eat one drop of food; she just sat there crying for uncle Pavlos until the day she left her last breath on his grave.
That’s when a young boy, my uncle Yiannnis, the person I am interviewing today and who was witness to these events, went up dug a hole right below the church yard and buried Vamvakia so that she will forever be with her master.
This story still shocks me even though I’ve heard it so many times, it’s still so hard for me to understand how far a dog will go for his master - even until this day we honor both uncle and dog both for making different sacrifices for their family and teaching us something very important; so important that its deep inside our heart.
Vamvakia was female dog, white in colour, which was the reason of her name, it means ‘cotton’.
This particular vendetta lasted for about ten years and led to many deaths and the uprooting of families. Several families who were shepherds and took part that day in the shootout against my family, were driven off, sold their land and houses and never came back, therefore ending this feud. But even we made a sacrifice; we sold our land in the next village to the neighboring landowners, even including the flourmill which I will write about another time.
Today we speak only about one thing MANS BEST FRIEND: SOMETIMES NOT ONLY IN LIFE, BUT ALSO IN DEATH.