On this day in 2001, Michael Dertouzos, the Greek internet pioneer and former Director of the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science, passed away at the young age of 64. Dertouzos was born in Athens to a father who served as an admiral in the Greek navy and a mother who was a concert pianist. Upon graduating from Athens College in 1954, Dertouzos moved from Athens to the Ozarks, having received a Fulbright Scholarship to study electrical engineering at the University of Arkansas. He received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from that university and then went on to MIT where he completed his PhD in electrical engineering in three years. Upon graduating, he immediately joined the MIT faculty as an assistant professor, thereby beginning his long career at the university. Under his leadership, the Lab for Computer Science at MIT developed many of the technologies that underlie today’s computers, including one of the best-known methods for scrambling data – the RSA encryption system – and innovations that helped bring the World Wide Web into popular use. Dertouzos also predicted the popularity of personal computers and helped maximize their potential during this tenure at MIT.
On this day in 1931, Stelios Kazantzidis, the Greek singer, was born in Athens. Considered by many as the most prolific Greek singer of all time, Kazantzidis used his expressive vocal interpretations to capture the joys, as well as the melancholies, of Greeks everywhere – especially those in the working class and emigrants in the Greek Diaspora. He had little formal education and began singing professionally in 1950. Although he made scores of recordings in his career, he did not fare well during the military junta (1967-74) and made no recordings between 1975 and 1987, but Kazantzidis made a comeback to a new generation of fans in the 1990s. It has been said that during his musical career he recorded more than 1,500 songs. His death in 2001, after a long battle with cancer, was an emotional event for both Greece and its Diaspora. He is viewed as the most stirring singer of Laiko music and worked with many of Greece’s most renowned composers and writers throughout his career and life.
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 and their deaths 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 acquiescing in 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. He 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 was 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.