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This Week in History: April 29th to May 5th

APRIL 29TH:

On this day in 1863, Constantine P. Cavafy, the Egyptian-Greek poet, journalist, and civil servant was born in Alexandria, Egypt. Interestingly enough, 70 years later in 1933, Cavafy also died on this day. C.P. Cavafy became one of the most important figures not only in Greek poetry but in Western poetry as well. He lived in England for much of his adolescence and then moved between Alexandria, Liverpool, and Constantinople, where his family had ancient roots. During his lifetime, Cavafy was an obscure poet, living in relative seclusion and publishing little of his work. A short collection of his poetry was privately printed in the early 1900s, but that was the extent of his published poetry. He never offered a volume of his poems for sale during his lifetime. Instead he distributed privately printed pamphlets to friends and relatives. A skeptic, he denied or ridiculed traditional values of Christianity, patriotism, and heterosexuality, though he was ill at ease with his own nonconformity. His language is a mixture of the refined and stilted ‘official’ Greek called ‘Katharevousa’, modified from Byzantine Greek, and the ‘Demotic’, or spoken, tongue. His style and tone are intimate and realistic and the lyric treatment he gave to familiar historical themes made him popular and influential after his death.

 

MAY 1ST:

On this day in 1946, the Paris Peace Conference concluded that the islands of the Dodecanese should be returned to Greece by Italy. Italian rule over the Dodecanese, which lasted for over twenty years – officially beginning in 1923 with the Treaty of Lausanne – was “firm and efficient but never popular.” Italian became the official language, and in 1925 the Dodecanesians were obliged to take Italian citizenship. In response to such restrictions, significant numbers of islanders migrated to the United States. The generation of islanders that remained under that regime was largely bilingual as a result. After World War II, the islands temporarily came under British occupation, with Greek participation. The conference of foreign ministers in Paris agreed in 1946 that the islands should pass to Greece and were formally ceded in 1947.

Also on this day in 1925, Cyprus became a British Crown Colony with a top British administrator, the high commissioner, becoming governor. At first a protectorate, Cyprus was annexed by Britain on the outbreak of war with the Ottoman Empire in 1914 before becoming a Crown Colony. From the 1930s, Greek Cypriots campaigned for ‘enosis’ (union with Greece), a movement that came to be led in the 1950s by Archbishop Makarios. The UK proposed instead (in 1948, 1954, and 1955) various forms of internal self-government, all of which were deemed unacceptable by the Greek Cypriot Ethnarchy Council. In 1955, the National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters (EOKA) began armed resistance against the UK. Turkey helped the Turkish Cypriot leaders establish the Cyprus Is Turkish Party and the Turkish Resistance Organisation, and the fighting ultimately became inter-communal. In 1960, the UK negotiated an independence agreement with Greece and Turkey, under which the three powers guaranteed to protect the integrity of Cyprus, which was to be allowed neither to unite with any other country nor to be partitioned. Cyprus, which had not taken part in these negotiations, became independent as the Republic of Cyprus.

 

MAY 4TH:

On this day in 2001, Pope John Paul II visited Athens and apologized for the sins of the Crusader attacks on Constantinople in 1204. The visit to Greece marked the first Papal visit to the country in 1291 years. The Pope met with Archbishop Christodoulos, the late head of the Church of Greece. After a private 30-minute meeting, the two spoke publicly with Christodoulos reading a list of “13 offenses” of the Roman Catholic Church against the Eastern Orthodox Church since the Great Schism of 1054 – including the pillaging of Constantinople by crusaders in 1204. The Pope responded by saying, “for the occasions past and present, when sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned by action or omission against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us forgiveness,” to which Christodoulos immediately applauded. John Paul II also said that the sacking of Constantinople was a source of “profound regret” for Catholics. At the end of their public appearance, Archbishop Christodoulos and Pope John Paul II issued a common declaration, saying, “we shall do everything in our power, so that the Christian roots of Europe and its Christian soul may be preserved…We condemn all recourse to violence, proselytism, and fanaticism, in the name of religion.” They then said the Lord’s prayer together, breaking an Orthodox taboo against praying with Catholics.

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