This Week in History: March 13th to 19th

Nikolas Asimos, the Greek counter-culture composer, actor and singer. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Antonis Nikolopoulos)

March 14th: 

On this day in 1489, the last Queen of Cyprus, Catherine Cornaro, was forced to abdicate her throne by Venice. Catherine was a Venetian noblewoman who became the Queen of Cyprus by marrying James II, King of Cyprus, Jerusalem, and Armenia, thereby supplying him with a much needed alliance with Venice. The initial wedding ceremony was conducted in Venice when Catherine was just 14 years old. The King was not present at the ceremony – he was represented only by his proxy. The marriage was confirmed by a second ceremony conducted in person in Cyprus four years later. Upon the death of her husband in 1493 (and of their infant son, Prince James III Lusignan in August of the same year), Queen Catherine became the sole ruler of her island kingdom for approximately 15 years.

Also on this day in 1957, Evagoras Pallikarides, a member of EOKA during the 1955-1959 campaign against British rule in Cyprus, was executed. Born in his mother’s village in the district of Paphos, Pallikarides was the fourth of five children. According to his biography, from early childhood he began to display the characteristics that would accompany him for the rest of his brief life: dynamism, leadership, creativity, a love for his country, and a flair for literature. He spoke little, and was studious, contemplative, and generous spirited. He studied at the Greek High School of Paphos where, at age 15, he participated in his school’s boycott of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June of 1953. When EOKA began the struggle against the British authorities in 1955, Pallikarides took part in several anti-British demonstrations. A few years later, Pallikarides was arrested for carrying a loaded gun. At his trial, Pallikarides did not deny possession of the weapon and said that he did what he had to do as a Greek-Cypriot seeking his freedom. He was sentenced to death by hanging in 1957 – at the age of just 19.

March 15th: 

On this day in 270 AD, St. Nicholas (Nikolaos of Myra), the Greek Bishop who became the model of the modern-day Santa Claus, was born in Patara in Asia Minor. He lost his parents as a young man and reportedly used his inheritance to help the poor and sick. As a devout Christian, he later served as bishop of Myra, an ancient Greek maritime city during the time of the Roman Empire. After his death, the legend of his secret gift-giving to help the needy grew. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, and children.

March 17th:

On this day in 1988, Nikolas Asimos (ne Asimopoulos), the Greek composer and singer, passed away at the young age of 38. At the age of 18, he moved from Athens to study at the Philosophical School of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. From a young age, his artistic vein was made evident by his participation in theatre groups, but his biggest loves were music and the guitar. He became a self-taught music writer and appeared in many Athenian music halls. He often had problems with the police, particularly during the period of military rule – the junta – in Greece and the consequent restrictions on civil liberties. Asimos became known as a counter-culture artist – his behavior and songs were often received as provocative by the general public. He had strong political opinions. Ideologically, he could have been categorized as an anarchist, but he never accepted being put in a special political ideology. In 1987, he was accused of the rape of an ex-girlfriend and was forcibly led to a mental institution. Shortly afterwards, he was sent to Korydallos Prison but was eventually bailed out. He never managed to overcome his bitterness over this charge and his psychological state began to deteriorate. After two failed attempts, he committed suicide by hanging in his house. It is rumored that he kept a diary during the last 15 days of his life in which he described his efforts to find something worth living for. He marked those pages with an ‘X’ which meant that he had not found anything worth living for. The last day that he ‘wrote’ in the diary was also marked with an ‘X’ – which was the day that he hung himself.

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