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This Week in History: April 15th to 21st

APRIL 15TH:

On this day in 1946, Stylianos Kyriakides won the 50th Boston Marathon. Kyriakides was the first and only Cypriot athlete to win the event. Born near Paphos in Cyprus, Kyriakides was the youngest of five children. He left home at an early age so that he could find work to help his poor farming family. He landed a job working for Dr. Cheverton, a British medical officer, who encouraged the young Kyriakides to start running. An athlete himself, Dr. Cheverton saw potential in Kyriakides and bought him his first set of running gear, gave him coaching advice, and taught the young Cypriot to speak English. In 1938, Kyriakides came to the United States by ship to run in the Boston Marathon. However, he had to drop out of the race because of blisters he developed from running with a new pair of sneakers and no socks. It has been said that he promised Jerry Nason, the Boston Globe sports editor at the time, that he would return to America and win the race. After World War II, Kyriakides, now 36-years-old, decided to sell his furniture in order to buy a ticket to come back to Boston for another chance at winning the Marathon. When he crossed the finish line of the race, he shouted, “For Greece!” As a result of his win, the United States sent Kyriakides back to Greece with the ‘Kyriakides Aid Package’ which included 25,000 tons of supplies and $250,000 in cash for the war-stricken Greek nation. Today, at the 1-mile mark of the Boston Marathon stands a 12-foot-tall statue called the Spirit of the Marathon. The statue depicts Spyridon Louis, the Greek winner of the first modern Olympic marathon in 1896, and Kyriakides, one of Boston’s greatest underdog stories.

 

APRIL 16TH:

On this day in 1996, Stavros Spyros Niarchos, the Greek shipping magnate, died at the age of 86. Niarchos was born in Athens but his family had its roots in the Laconian village of Vamvakou in the Peloponnese. He studied law at the University of Athens and began working in 1929 in his family’s grain business. Recognizing the substantial transportation expense in importing wheat, Niarchos believed that one would save money by owning the ships that provided the transportation. As a result, he bought his first six freighters during the Great Depression. Niarchos served in the Greek Navy during World War II. While he served, the Allied Forces leased one of his vessels which was ultimately destroyed in battle. Niarchos saw this as an opportunity and used the insurance funds as capital to expand his fleet after the War. Thus began the emergence of Stavros Niarchos as a significant participant in the world of international commerce. For many years he owned the largest private fleet in the world, with his company operating more than 80 tankers and other vessels. Although Niarchos passed away more than twenty years ago, his legacy continues into the 21st century with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. Working in Greece and internationally, the Foundation began its grant-making efforts in 1996 and derives its mission from Niarchos’ commitment to Greece and Hellenism, as well as his keen instincts and interests in support of causes in the fields of education, social welfare, health, arts, and culture.

 

APRIL 21ST:

On this day in 1967, a group of four colonels of the Greek army took control of Greece through a military coup d’etat. During the three years before the coup, the political situation in Greece was very unstable – left wing radicals were gaining strength and there was considerable public unrest – almost daily demonstrations, strikes, and riots. The leader of the coup, Colonel George Papadopoulos, fearful of the upcoming election and the rise of the left, decided that the Greek government needed to be overthrown. The four colonels formulated a plan to arrest all of the generals and politicians they felt might be a threat to their military takeover. Their plan was executed late one night and caught everyone by surprise – they did not fire a single shot. The Greek far-right military junta that followed (also known as the Regime of the Colonels, the Dictatorship, the Junta, and the Seven Years) lasted for seven years, ending on July 24, 1974 under the pressure of the humiliation and threat of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. In 1967 the new regime imposed martial law outlawed strikes, labor unions, long hair on men, mini-skirts, the peace symbol, the Beatles, Sophocles, Tolstoy, Aeschylus, Socrates, Mark Twain, and the free press. The fall of the junta was followed by the ‘Metapolitefsi’ (regime change) and the establishment of the current Third Hellenic Republic.

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