Guns (and Grenades) of the Greek Underground
Greece is an interesting (and arguably understudied) country to anyone in the security field. Its early 19th-century armed struggle for independence against the Ottoman Empire not only inspired a host of similar nationalist uprisings, but also captivated intellectuals already living in “free” and often democratic western countries, and to an extent, it established the values of self-determination in a pre-Wilsonian world. Its geography is interesting, consisting of some of the most ungovernable terrains on Earth, in this case, mountains and archipelagos of separate island chains. Greece’s islands make it a natural target for a vast network of smuggling and organized crime, and its northern inland borders are shared with post-communist countries whose regimes collapsed in the 1990s and whose militaries experienced broad illicit and illegal outflows of weapons from armories that were—in the case of Albania—literally opened up and pilfered by civilians or commonly sold off by corrupt military officers who faced uncertain futures. The country also lies perfectly between southeast Europe—which experienced tremendous violent conflict in the 1990s—North Africa, and the Levant, most of which is either still experiencing some form of armed conflict or recovering from revolutions and/or violent unrest of some kind. Furthermore, Greece itself has a rich internal history of armed political violence and especially of guerrilla activity, be it in the form of the bandits who dominated northern mountain passes in the time of the Ottomans, the guerrillas who fought fascist forces in WWII, the nationalist rebels who went to help the guerrilla organization EOKA fight the British on Cyprus, the Marxist-Leninist urban guerrillas of the late 20th Century, or their militant anarchist predecessors of the present day. Adding to all of this, for most of the 21st Century, Greece seems to have been suspended in a permanent state of unrest, and the Greek people have a remarkable ability to mobilize one another into the streets for mass protests, demonstrating for a variety of causes.
Among the minority of those Greeks and foreign nationals who are either a part of serious organized crime networks or are committed, ideologically motivated militants, the weapons they acquire in-country by and large fall into consistent categories that are predictable given Greece’s location on the map and normal patterns of illicit/illegal weapons trade in the region. A few anomalies appear which are mostly vestiges of Greece’s history, particularly WWII-era weapons that are in various conditions and come from both Axis and Allied forces.
The weapons featured in this article have almost all been seized by the Hellenic Police, and they come from a variety of actors, ranging from private individuals who are enthusiastic about firearms but lack proper permits, to petty drug dealers, to some of Greece’s most notorious urban guerrillas. Many of the weapons are from the former Yugoslav republics, a smaller number have come from Bulgaria, and it is very common to see weapons that were manufactured in and/or originated from the former People's Socialist Republic of Albania. Alongside these are weapons common throughout the rest of the world such as various calibers of Glock semi-automatic handguns, manufactured in Austria. Similarly, common shotguns are also included in these arsenals, ranging from break-actions to average pumps and semi-automatics. One occasionally comes across weapons in these seizures that were manufactured in neighboring Turkey, notably AR-style .12 gauge shotguns.
These weapons and others will be discussed beneath the following subheadings below, beginning with a section that addresses a unique term used in Greek and Slavic languages that originated from Russian, the yiafka (pl. yiafkes), or hidden weapons cache. Others will look at weapons that are ubiquitous to the Greek underground, such as AK-patterned rifles and TT-33-style pistols.
Yiafkes (Weapons Caches)
These pictures are from an extensive yiafka seized in rural Greece by Hellenic Police in 2020. It notably contained multiple rocket-propelled grenades and very much resembled the yiafkes of urban guerrilla groups from the late 20th Century and early 2000s.
The above anti-tank weapon, the RPG launcher, industrial-grade explosives, and small arms were seized from a yiafka in downtown Athens, which had been stored in a secret underground tunnel beneath an apartment being rented by members of a Turkish Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group known as DHKP/C. Nearly a dozen Turkish citizens were arrested in the counter-terrorism raid that led to the weapons seizure.
The above five photos depict the yiafkes of Greece’s most notorious urban guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Organization—17 November, or simply “17N”. The G3A3 rifles were stolen during a bloodless raid on a police station in Vyronas, in which members of 17N disguised themselves as officers and subdued the police on duty there before accessing the station’s armory. The anti-tank rockets, launchers, and hand grenades were taken by 17N during a raid on an army base in Larissa, and the Bazookas were taken from the Athens War Museum. These weapons were used in multiple attacks on soft and hard targets during the latter half of 17N’s 27-year operational career.
This is the yiafka of Revolutionary Sect, an anarcho-nihilist guerrilla group that emerged during mass unrest after the police killing of Alexis Grigoropoulos. Alexis was killed in the largely anti-authoritarian Exarcheia neighborhood of Athens, and many thousands rioted across Greece throughout December 2008 as a result of his death.
The Panzerfaust and MP-40 are great examples of the Axis weapons still lingering in Greece from the Second World War. However, the Panzerfaust is likely not functional in its present state.
Above are more examples of yiafkes. The US-made WWII-era Thompson is particularly noteworthy, but others have also been found and seized in Greece in recent history.
The above AK-47 was taken from a yiafka that belonged to the founder of the militant anarchist urban guerrilla group, the Organization for Revolutionary Self Defence. Dimitris Chatzivasileiadis had stored the weapon along with three similar rifles, a very unusually modified Soviet-era PPSh-41, and explosive materials at a friend’s home, who was later arrested before Chatzivasilieadis was himself apprehended in August 2021.
The above AK-pattern, Yugoslav-made Zastava rifle was taken from Yannis Michailidis (aka “The Syntagma Archer”) after he robbed a bank following a prison escape. Michailidis is an alleged member of the now-defunct anarcho-nihilist urban guerrilla group, the Conspiracy Cells of Fire (CCF).
Along with the Zastava, police seized an M84 submachine gun (also of Yugoslav origin), a handgun, and realistic disguises. Like the above rifle taken from Chatzivasileiadis, Michailidis’s rifle has an interesting craft-made side-folding stock.
The above rifle was found on Dimitris Chatzivasileiadis when he was arrested and was not included in the yiafka that police raided earlier.
Part of the Chatzivasileiadis yiafka, which includes the modified PPSh-41 mentioned above at the bottom of the photo.
Average criminals often come into possession of AK-pattern rifles, whose likely origins are in Albania, both indigenously produced and sourced from countries like China.
Zastavas are also common in Greece among criminals and ideologically motivated militants alike.
These Albanian AK-pattern rifles and Skorpions belonged to a heist crew that was robbing banks and maybe state-owned casinos. The mask is very similar to that which was taken from Yannis Michailidis during his last arrest.
Many of the firearms that are featured in this article are in abysmal shape, largely due to the challenges of storing them in concealed and secure locations away from prying eyes.
The above Zastava was taken from accused bank robber and militant anarchist, Fotis Tziotzis.
A “large” quantity of 7.62x39mm rounds—presumably for an AK-pattern rifle or rifles which were never recovered by authorities—was discovered along with explosives and handguns in a yiafka located in Athens.
TT-33s and Polish PW wz. 33 Pistols:
The only worthy comment on this small section of pistols is that these appear frequently in the hands of Greek criminals and guerrillas alike.
Other Small Arms
The above two AR-pattern shotguns are of Turkish origin. The topmost was taken from Greek citizens accused of antiquities theft and trafficking, as well as illegal weapons possession. The bottom shotgun and the AK-patterned rifle belonged to a local Greek rap artist who discharged the shotgun in the air during a dispute in his Athens neighborhood.
Odd weapons such as antiquated knives and even swords are often included in weapons seizures from criminal groups.
This Makarov was taken from alleged CCF member, Yannis Michailidis, along with other firearms.
Converted weapons originally intended to fire blanks are also fairly common among the Greek underground.
This weapon was taken by the Hellenic Police from a Greek citizen who ordered the Beretta pistol on the dark web. It came concealed in a record player.
The above handgun was taken, along with other weapons, from a local drug dealer who also possessed a swiveling office chair upholstered with the likeness of Pablo Escobar.
It is unclear what weapon these suppressors were intended for, or whether they were craft-made or factory produced.
M1911s are another common US-made, WWII-era weapon that can be found throughout Greece.
The above Glock 17 was seized from a yiafka in Thessaloniki belonging to the Organization of Anarchist Action (OAA), along with the components for improvised incendiary devices (IIDs) and bomb-making materials. OAA integrated into the larger network of militant anarchist guerillas known as the Direct Action Cells and effectively served as their Thessaloniki wing despite predating the network until OAA was dismantled by police in 2022.
Above is the M84 that was taken from Yannis Michailidis on his last arrest.
The small arms in the above photo were part of a larger yiafka that contained several rounds of ammunition in various calibers, as well as Yugoslav hand grenades.
Above is the cab of the vehicle in which Yannis Michailidis was stopped and arrested during his last arrest.
These pistols belonged to a larger yiafka maintained by a militant organization, which also contained gelatin dynamite and several rounds of 7.62x39mm ammunition intended for a rifle or rifles that authorities have yet to locate. It is common for militant groups in Greece to maintain several yiafkes in order to better secure their pooled arsenals. There is a high probability that another yiafka exists which belongs to the group and that authorities have yet to discover.
These tear gas grenades were located in a militant yiafka along with various firearms. What makes them somewhat interesting is the ubiquity of tear gas and crowd control munitions in Greece, where mass protests are frequent, and the police’s standing riot force (the “MAT”) is known to be particularly heavy-handed and quick to deploy CS gas and other munitions.
Anarchist Incendiaries and Melee Weapons
Molotov cocktails are the favored weapon of Greece’s many street-level and underground dissident movements, particularly among its yawning universe of anarchist groups, and their construction is rather sophisticated compared to Molotovs found in other countries.
Another weapon commonly deployed by the anarchist underground in Greece is an IID fashioned from butane/propane gas canisters like one might use on a camping stove. They are usually detonated using an external incendiary device, often a firework.
This IID was found in the garage of an Italian diplomat to Greece, which was not successfully detonated. A second IID was successfully detonated beneath the diplomat’s government vehicle.
Gas masks and various melee weapons are common among anarchist yiafkes stashed in squatted buildings, which often include doweling rods with anarcho-syndacilist bicolors affixed to them.
This rather large IID was detonated along the infrastructure of a power plant in Volos, where activists had been protesting a rubbish-burning scheme due to the pollution implications, and in which one activist died following detention by the Greek police. It is suspected that he died as a result of police brutality. Anarchists placed and detonated this device in revenge for his death.
Bombs and Detonators
Above: what is likely gelatin dynamite intended for a bomb, found in a large militant yiafka in Athens.
Police suspect that the contents of the above photo are components for improvised detonators meant to be used with a cellphone or other electronic device to command-detonate a bomb.
Above are more examples of improvised detonators, and in the plastic bag what might actually be military-grade plastic explosives.
This exhibition of arms from the Greek underground highlights the complicated security environment of a small but overlooked country that punches far above its weight in terms of importance to the region and indeed to the entire world. Greece is a nation of around 10 million people, yet it has an important role in Europe and the Middle East, politically, geographically, and historically. Due to this very geography, as well as Greek politics and the history of the country since gaining independence in 1832, militant movements on the left, right, and post-left will continue to operate domestically, especially if the country spirals into another financial and political crisis, as is quite likely to happen. Greece has a robust ecosystem of radical politics, which not only includes the post-left and revolutionary left but also the hard-right. Until 2019, dedicated neo-Nazis who marched their way into parliament and captured several seats in the 300-seat legislative body of the country terrorized Greece with their radical rhetoric and the murderous direct action of their street-level thugs. The country is also a natural destination for those who smuggle illicit and illegal goods of all kinds, lying where it does in the Aegean and acting very much as a gateway to and from Europe.