This Week in History: August 16th to 22nd

Makarios at the royal palace in Tatoi, Greece. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Aristotelis Sarikostas)

August 16th:

On this day in 1960, the Republic of Cyprus gained independence from the United Kingdom after the long and bloody anti-British campaign by the Greek-Cypriot EOKA (National Organization of Cypriot Fighters), a guerilla group which desired political union (enosis) with Greece. The independence agreement signed by Britain, Greece, and Turkey stated that Britain would retain sovereignty over two military bases in the south and that the three countries guaranteed the new republic its independence. Archbishop Makarios III, a charismatic religious and political leader, was elected the first president of independent Cyprus. In 1961, it became the 99th member of the United Nations.

Also on this day in 1943, the population of the village of Kommeno in Western Greece was massacred by the Nazis. During the Axis Occupation of Greece during World War II, the village was torched and 317 of its inhabitants were executed indiscriminately (men, women and children – 74 of them under the age of 10). Thankfully, almost half of the village’s population managed to escape by swimming across the Arachthos river. Today, the names of the 317 villagers who were killed are recorded on a marble monument in the village’s main square.

August 18th:

On this day in 1917, the Great Fire in Thessaloniki started which destroyed more than 30% of the city. Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in Greece, was left with more than 70,000 homeless people (52,000 Jews, 11,000 Muslims and 10,000 Christians). The fire burned for 32 hours and destroyed 9,500 houses. Half of the Jewish population emigrated from the city as their livelihoods were gone. It is said that it was a spark from a homemade stove falling on a pile of straw at a refugees’ hovel that started the fire. As the center of operations for Allied forces in the Balkans during World War I, Thessaloniki had no fire service and its water supply was requisitioned by foreign soldiers.

August 19th:

On this day in 1963, John Stamos the Greek-American actor was born in Cypress, California. His mother was a model and his father, William “Bill” Stamos, was a Greek immigrant restaurateur. Before shortening it, his original surname was Stamotopoulos. Stamos has two younger sisters, both of them school teachers. His first professional role was on the daytime soap opera General Hospital.

In 1987 he began his role of Uncle Jesse on Full House, which is his best-known role to date, spanning eight years. At his request, the writers of Full House gave his character the last name of Katsopolis, instead of the original character’s name, Cochran, in order to highlight Stamos’ Greek heritage. Stamos later served as an executive producer on the Netflix Full House spinoff – Fuller House. Along with his contributions to popular programs like ER, Stamos has starred on Broadway and toured and recorded with The Beach Boys. On February 3, 2018, Stamos married actress Caitlin McHugh. A little over a year after that, the couple welcomed their first child, William “Billy” Christopher Stamos.

Also on this day in 1974, Rodger Davies, the United States Ambassador to Cyprus, was murdered by Greek-Cypriot gunmen during an anti-American demonstration outside the U.S. Embassy in Nicosia. An estimated 300-600 Greek-Cypriots were demonstrating against the U.S.’s failure to stop the Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus – which they believed occurred because of the United States’ perceived siding with Turkey. Only six weeks after arriving at his post as U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus, Davies, along with Antoinette Varnavas (an embassy secretary and a Greek-Cypriot national), were killed by sniper fire from a nearby building.