This Past Week in History

Spyridon Louis' Silver Cup. (Photo by Eurokinissi, file)

January 7th:
On this day in 1934, Tassos Papadopoulos, the Cypriot politician and lawyer, was born in Nicosia, Cyprus. After studying law at King’s College London and Gray’s Inn, Papadopoulos returned to Cyprus to practice law. Papadopoulos was always drawn to politics and participated in the island’s political life. He was eventually elected as the fifth President of Cyprus and served the country for exactly five years – from February 28, 2005 to February 28, 2008. Papadopoulos has been described as a “hardline champion of Greek Cypriots.” In 2004, he urged the Greek Cypriots to vote against the UN-backed reunification proposal – the Annan Plan – with Turkish Cyprus. While Turkish Cypriots voted to accept the plan, Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly voted to reject it, and, as a result, Greek Cyprus alone was admitted to the European Union in May of 2004. Papadopoulos, an avid smoker, ultimately died of lung cancer in 2008. Almost one year after he was buried, his corpse was taken from his grave. At the time, news sources said that police described the act as “highly organized” – the body snatchers shifted a heavy marble slab encasing his tomb and dug through several feet of dirt to reach the corpse before covering their tracks with lime. Three months after the act of sacrilege the body was found in another cemetery in Nicosia after the police received an anonymous tip that the body had been moved there. DNA testing confirmed that the body was indeed the late president’s corpse.

January 8th:
On this day in 2006, a strong 30-second earthquake with a magnitude between 6.7 and 6.9 occurred in southern Greece, off the coast of the island of Kythera. According to reports, the shock was felt in a spatially extended area that covered Greece, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Cyprus, Israel, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Although the quake shook this huge region, its epicenter was at a depth of nearly 40 miles beneath the sea – which likely contributed to the lack of major damage or serious injuries (for comparison, in 1999, a 5.9 magnitude quake near Athens killed 143 people, injured about 2,000 and left thousands more homeless). At the time, a Washington spokeswoman for the U.S. Geological Survey said that scientists projected that as many as six million people may have felt the 2006 earthquake.

January 11th:
On this day in 1916, French forces took formal military control of the Greek island of Corfu (a/k/a Kerkyra) in order to provide a safe haven for the growing number of refugees leaving the Balkans, specifically Serbia, during World War I. Thousands of Serbian soldiers, civilians, and government officials fled to Albania after German and Austro-Hungarian forces battered their country. Towards the end of 1915, a massive rescue operation involving more than 1,000 trips made by Italian, French and British steamers transported 260,000 Serb soldiers to Corfu, where they waited for the chance to reclaim their country.

January 12th:
On this day in 1873, Spyridon Louis, the first modern Olympics marathon (40 km) winner, was born in Marousi, Greece. Louis was not favored to win the Olympic title but his unexpected triumph gave Greece its only victory in a track & field athletics event at the 1896 Olympic games. Before becoming a national hero as a result of his Olympic medal, Louis helped his father sell and transport mineral water in Athens, which at the time lacked a central water supply. After the race, he became a police officer, but eventually lost his job when he was imprisoned for more than a year for falsifying military documents before being acquitted in 1927. In Greece, various sports establishments are named after Louis – including the Olympic Stadium built in Athens in anticipation of the 2004 Olympics. Today, the phrase “egina/ginomai Louis” (I became/I am becoming Louis) is known as a common Greek phrase meaning “to disappear by running fast.”