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This Week in History: January 8th to 14th

January 10th:  

On this day in 1941, after four days of fierce battles, the Greek infantry divisions captured the Pass of Kleisoura during the Greco-Italian War. The Capture of Kleisoura, as it became known, was a military operation that took place between January 6 and 11 in southern Albania and was one of the most important battles of the Greco-Italian war. The Italian Army, initially deployed on the Greek/Albanian border, launched a major offensive against Greece on October 28, 1940 (what we celebrate today as OXI Day). After a two-week conflict, Greece managed to repel the invading Italians in the battles of Pindus and Elaia-Kalamas. Beginning on November 9, the Greek forces launched a major counteroffensive and penetrated deep into Italian-held Albanian territory. The Greek operation culminated with the capture of the strategically important Kleisoura Pass in January 1941.  

January 11th:  

On this day in 1916, French forces took formal military control of the Greek island of Corfu (a/k/a Kerkyra) in order to provide a safe haven for the growing number of refugees leaving the Balkans, specifically Serbia, during World War I. Thousands of Serbian soldiers, civilians, and government officials fled to Albania after German and Austro-Hungarian forces battered their country. Towards the end of 1915, a massive rescue operation involving more than 1,000 trips made by Italian, French and British steamers transported 260,000 Serb soldiers to Corfu, where they waited for the chance to reclaim their country.  

January 12th:  

On this day in 1873, Spyridon Louis, the first modern Olympics marathon (40 km) winner, was born in Marousi, Greece. Louis was not favored to win the Olympic title but his unexpected triumph gave Greece its only victory in a track & field athletics event at the 1896 Olympic games. Before becoming a national hero as a result of his Olympic medal, Louis helped his father sell and transport mineral water in Athens, which, at the time, lacked a central water supply. After the race, he became a police officer, but eventually lost his job when he was imprisoned for more than a year for falsifying military documents before being acquitted in 1927. In Greece, various sports establishments are named after Louis – including the Olympic Stadium built in Athens for the 2004 Olympics. Today, the phrase “egina/ginomai Louis” (I became/I am becoming Louis) is known as a common Greek phrase meaning “to disappear by running fast.” 

January 13th:  

On this day in 1822, the design of the Greek flag was adopted by the First National Assembly, a national representative political gathering of the Greek revolutionaries at Epidaurus. At the meeting, the assembly approved a number of important documents, including the Provisional Regime of Greece (i.e., the Greek Constitution of 1822), which also included a Declaration of Independence, as well as the design of the Greek flag. The flag has nine equal horizontal stripes, alternating between blue and white (five blue and four white), and a white cross on a blue square field in the canton. The nine stripes are said to represent the nine syllables in the Greek phrase that translates to mean “Freedom or Death,” which was a battle cry during the Greek War of Independence. Some say that these stripes symbolize each letter in the Greek word for “freedom.” However, others believe that the stripes represent the nine Greek muses. The white on the flag reflects the purity of the Greek independence struggle, while the blue represents the color of the sea and the sky. The shade of blue on the flag has varied through the years. Today, it is the original light blue color of 1822. It was altered in the 1970s when it was changed to a much darker navy shade. The cross in the canton represents Greek Orthodox faith. At times, Greece has used a plain white cross on a blue background as its land flag, reserving the striped one for the sea. 

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