This Week in History: August 30th to September 5th

Greek-Canadian actress Nia Vardalos. (Photo by Kostas Katomeris/ EUROKINISSI, FILE)

August 31st:

On this day in 1923, Italian forces bombarded and occupied the Greek island of Corfu after the death of an Italian general and three of his staff members on the Greco-Albanian border. Earlier in August, the general and his staff were engaged under international authority in determining the boundary between Greece and Albania. This event led to Mussolini ordering a naval bombardment of the Greek island of Corfu. After 16 people were killed, Mussolini issued an ultimatum, demanding a heavy indemnity and an apology from Greece for the deaths of the Italians.

Greece appealed to the League of Nations, which referred the dispute to the Council of Ambassadors – an organization established by the Allies in 1919 to deal with problems arising out of the peace treaties following the First World War. The Council ordered Greece to apologize and pay 50 million lire to Italy. Greece accepted the decision of the Council and Italy finally left Corfu on September 27, 1923. The decision of the Council was internationally criticized for submitting to the aggression of a bigger world power instead of protecting the smaller Greece from attack.

Also on this day in 1977, Spyros Kyprianou was appointed as the president of Cyprus. He was a nationalist leader and politician who succeeded Cyprus’ founder, Archbishop Makarios. Having served as the country’s first foreign minister, he was appointed president when Makarios died in office and went on to win reelection in 1978 and again in 1983.

Beginning in 1979, Kyprianou negotiated on several occasions with the leader of the breakaway Turkish enclave in northern Cyprus, but reunification talks between the two sides failed. He had some success in revitalizing the economy but was eventually voted out of office in 1988. He passed away in March of 2002 after a long battle with cancer. Kyprianou is survived by his wife Mimi and their two sons – one of which served as a European Commissioner from 2004 to 2008 and also as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus.

September 3rd:

On this day in 1926, Irene Papas, the Greek actress was born in Corinth, Greece. Her mother was a schoolteacher and her father taught classical drama. Papas was educated at the Royal School of Dramatic Art in Athens. In 1947, she married the film director Alkis Papas. They divorced about 4 years later, but Papas kept her married name. In 1954, she met the actor Marlon Brando and many reported that they had a long and secret love affair.

Papas, now almost 90, starred in over 70 films in a career that spanned more than 50 years. She became famous in Greece and then eventually became an international star when she played prominent roles in The Guns of Navarone and Zorba the Greek. She was also a powerful presence as a Greek heroine in films including The Trojan Women (where she played alongside Katharine Hepburn who was quoted saying that Papas was “one of the greatest actresses in the history of cinema”) and Iphigenia and played the eponymous parts in Antigone and Electra. In 2018, it was announced that she had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for 5 years.

September 5th:

On this day in 1993, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” actress Nia Vardalos married “Felicity” actor Ian Gomez. Gomez converted to Greek Orthodoxy prior to marrying Vardalos. Vardalos’ hit romantic comedy was inspired by her romance with Gomez – who also starred in the film – and her real-life experience as a Canadian of Greek descent looking for love.

The couple adopted their 3-year-old daughter, Ilaria, in 2008. However, on July 3, 2018, it was announced that Vardalos had filed for divorce from Gomez after 23 years of marriage and asked for joint legal and physical custody of their daughter. The reason cited was ‘irreconcilable differences.’ The divorce was finalized nearly 6 months later.