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This Week in History: March 12th to 18th

March 12th:

On this day in 2002, Spyros Kyprianou, the Greek-Cypriot nationalist leader and politician, died in Nicosia after a battle with pelvic cancer. Kyprianou was born in Limassol on October 28, 1932. In 1976, Kyprianou founded the Democratic Party in Cyprus which won 21 of the 35 seats in the House of Representatives. Kyprianou was subsequently elected president of the House. Only one year later, Kyprianou succeeded Cyprus’ founder (and his mentor), Archbishop Makarios, as president of Cyprus after Makarios died in office. After a few months in office, Greek-Cypriot bandits kidnapped his son, Achilleas. Kyprianou won great popularity by refusing to negotiate, famously saying he was ready to sacrifice his son, ‘but never’ his country. (His son was eventually released). He went on to win reelection in 1978 and again in 1983. Beginning in 1979, Kyprianou negotiated with the leader of the breakaway Turkish enclave in northern Cyprus, but reunification talks between the two sides failed. In 1988, Kyprianou lost the presidency to millionaire businessman, George Vassiliou.

March 14th:

On this day in 1489, the last Queen of Cyprus, Catherine Cornaro, was forced to abdicate her throne by Venice. Catherine was a Venetian noblewoman who became the Queen of Cyprus by marrying James II, King of Cyprus, Jerusalem, and [in Cilicia] Armenia, thereby supplying him with a much needed alliance with Venice. The initial wedding ceremony was conducted in Venice when Catherine was just 14 years old. The King was not present at the ceremony – he was represented only by his proxy. The marriage was confirmed by a second ceremony conducted in person in Cyprus four years later. Upon the death of her husband in 1493 (and of their infant son, Prince James III Lusignan in August of the same year), Queen Catherine became the sole ruler of her island kingdom for approximately 15 years.

Also on this day in 1957, Evagoras Pallikarides, a member of EOKA during the 1955-1959 campaign against British rule in Cyprus, was executed. Born in his mother’s village in the district of Paphos, Pallikarides was the fourth of five children. According to his biography, from early childhood he began to display the characteristics that would accompany him for the rest of his brief life: dynamism, leadership, creativity, a love for his country, and a flair for literature. He spoke little, and was studious, contemplative, and generous spirited. He studied at the Greek High School of Paphos where, at age 15, he participated in his school’s boycott of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June of 1953. When EOKA began the struggle against the British authorities in 1955, Pallikarides took part in several anti-British demonstrations. A few years later, Pallikarides was arrested for carrying a loaded gun. At his trial, Pallikarides did not deny possession of the weapon and said that he did what he had to do as a Greek-Cypriot seeking his freedom. He was sentenced to death by hanging in 1957 – at the age of just 19.

March 15th:

On this day in 270, St. Nicholas (Nikolaos of Myra), the Greek Bishop who became the model of the modern-day Santa Claus, was born in Patara in Asia Minor. He lost his parents as a young man and reportedly used his inheritance to help the poor and sick. As a devout Christian, he later served as bishop of Myra, an ancient Greek maritime city during the time of the Roman Empire. After his death, the legend of his secret gift-giving to help the needy grew. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, and children.

March 18th:

On this day in 1913, King George I of Greece was assassinated by Alexandros Schinas in the recently liberated city of Thessaloniki. King George was a popular and respected figure among his subjects and in the Greek Diaspora. He ascended to the Greek throne in 1864 and married Princess Olga (Romanov dynasty) in 1867. They had eight children: Constantine, George, Alexandra, Nicholas, Maria, Olga, Andrew, and Christopher. Crown Prince Constantine assumed the Greek throne shortly after his father’s death. In the United States, Atlanta Greeks wore black bands as a mark of respect for their dead monarch. New York Greeks were stunned by the news of the assassination of King George and inquired continually at the offices of the Atlantis newspaper for news updates from Greece. King George’s descendants occupied the throne until the military coup d’état of 1967 and eventual restoration of the Republic in 1973.

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