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This Week in History: June 12th to 18th

June 13th:

On this day in 1904, Nikiphoros Lytras, the Greek painter, died at the age of 72 after a short illness that is believed to have been caused by inhalation of chemical substances in the paints he used. Born on the island of Tinos, Lytras was the son of a popular marble sculptor. He was trained in Athens at the School of Arts and then at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Munich. After completing his studies, he became a professor at the Academy of Arts – a position he held for almost 40 years. In 1879, Lytras married Irene Kyriakidi, a daughter of a tradesman from Smyrna and they had six children – one of which followed in his father’s artistic footsteps. Lytras’ subjects ranged from figures of Greek mythology and Greek history, to more Asiatic themes after his travels to Asia Minor and Egypt, and finally to scenes about aging, loneliness, and the fear of death in his later years. His most well-known landscape was a depiction of the region of Lavrio.

June 15th: 

On this day in 1946, Demis Roussos, the Greek singer and performer, was born in Alexandria, Egypt to a Greek father and an Egyptian mother of Italian origin. Demis was raised in Egypt until his parents moved to Greece in the early 1960s after losing their possessions following the Suez Crisis. Best known for his solo hits in the 1970s and 80s, Demis sold more than 60 million albums worldwide before dying at the age of 68. After ‘retiring’ from making music, Demis was famously caught up in a plane hijacking when flight TWA from Athens to Rome was hijacked by members of Hezbollah in 1985. It was reported that he and his third wife at the time were held at gunpoint for five days before they were released. Some of his fellow passengers endured more than two weeks in captivity. Demis said that the experience changed his life and afterwards he decided the best way he could help others and promote understanding in the world was by returning to music.

June 16th:

On this day in 1945, Ares Velouchiotis (ne Athanasios Klaras), the former ELAS leader, was killed or committed suicide at the age of 39. Born in Lamia to an upper class family, upon graduating from the Geoponic School of Larissa, he was exposed to leftist and anti-militarist politics, leading to his joining of the Communist Party of Greece in the 1920s. Soon thereafter, he became an editor of the communist newspaper Rizospastis. He was arrested for his political beliefs several times in the 1920s and 1930s. While in prison, he was tortured, and on one occasion he was forced to sign a document renouncing the communist ideology, which was extremely humiliating to him. During WW2, he joined the Army and saw action against Italian forces in Albania. After the Greek defeat in April 1941, he began organizing a communist guerrilla force. It was around this time that he adopted the nom de guerre Ares Velouchiotis, stemming from Ares, the God of War, and Velouchi, a local mountain. The first recorded instance of him appearing in public under the name Velouchiotis was at the village of Domnista in Evrytania, Greece on June 7, 1942, where he announced the existence of his Greek People's Liberation Army (ELAS) and recruited villagers. Under his leadership, ELAS eventually grew to a size of 50,000, and tied down significant German resources in Greece during the war. By the end of the war his group was spending more time fighting the Greek anti-communist security battalians and collaborators than he did fighting the Germans. When the war ended Ares believed that communist victory in Greece could only be achieved by continuing the armed struggle and with a small group of followers left for the mountains. Surrounded by government troops near the village of Mesounda he apparently committed suicide, and it has been said that his severed head was put on display in his home town of Lamia.

June 17th: 

On this day in 2018, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras witnessed the signing of a deal to let the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia be called North Macedonia. Tsipras described the signing of the agreement as a "brave, historic, and a necessary step for our peoples." He added that, we are here to heal the wounds of time, to open a path for peace, fraternization, and growth for our countries, the Balkans, and Europe." This preliminary deal launched a long process that lasted several months, coming to fruition in January of 2019, when FYROM agreed to rename itself the Republic of North Macedonia.

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