On this day in 1941, Ioannis Metaxas, the Greek general and dictator (1936-1941) died at the age of 69. After active service in the Greco-Turkish War of 1897, Metaxas completed his military training in Germany at the Berlin War Academy. He distinguished himself during the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 and was eventually promoted to lieutenant general in 1916. Throughout his military career, he always supported the monarchy over the republic and was a big supporter of King Constantine I. During World War I, he unsuccessfully tried to maintain Greek neutrality and opposed the plans of Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos for the conquest of western Anatolia – accurately predicting the military catastrophe that inevitably took place. Metaxas eventually held a variety positions in the Greek government and founded the Freethinker’s Party in 1922 and eventually served as Prime Minister of Greece and then Greek Royalist dictator. To this day, Metaxas remains a controversial figure – reviled by some for his dictatorial rule and admired by others for his patriotism and defiance of aggression with his great “OXI!” to Mussolini.
On this day in 1996, the Imia/Kardak crisis came to a head between Greece and Turkey and brought the two nations to the brink of war. Imia (the Greek name) or Kardak (the Turkish name) consists of a pair of small uninhabited islets (about 10 acres total) in the Aegean Sea, situated between the Greek island chain of the Dodecanese and the southwestern coast of Turkey. In 1996, this pair of islets became the object of a sovereignty dispute (adding to the larger Aegean dispute over the continental shelf, the territorial waters, the air space, etc.) between the two nations. According to the New York Times, the confrontation started after a Greek television show reported that a Turkish ship had run aground near the islet in December and refused help from the Greek coast guard, saying it was on Turkish territory. A group of Turkish journalists inflamed the situation by taking down a Greek flag on the island and putting up a Turkish one. Greek and Turkish ships eventually surrounded the islets, which are located about 12 miles from the Greek island of Kalymnos and 4 miles off the Turkish coast. Greece also placed soldiers on one of the two rock clusters that make up the island. Turkey responded by sending their own troops to the other island the next day. Greece believes it owns the islands under a 1947 convention in which Italy ceded the Dodecanese islands to Greece. Italy had taken the islands from Turkey under an agreement in 1932, and Greece said Turkey had never before questioned the agreement. Richard Holbrooke, the Secretary of State at the time, said that top U.S. officials led by President Clinton negotiated a late night compromise to resolve the issue between Greece and Turkey.
On this day in 1946, Constantine (“Taki”) Papadakis, the Greek-American businessman and academic president of Drexel University, was born in Athens. He graduated from the National Technical University of Athens and then went on to get his master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Cincinnati and a doctorate from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He was an immigrant whose life and career are an extraordinary example of the Hellenic attributes and values that enrich society in America. In 1984, Dr. Papadakis agreed to head the Colorado State University’s civil engineering program – then the second largest in the nation. He went on to become the Dean of the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering. Finally, he served as president of Drexel University in Philadelphia from 1995 to 2009 where he doubled the university’s enrollment, quadrupled freshman applications and grew the endowment from $90 million to $550 million and research funding from $14 million to $105 million. Taki was taken from life too early after battling lung cancer for months – at the age of 63 – from pulmonary complications due to pneumonia three days after taking medical leave from Drexel.