Saturday, 29 March 2008

The humble kolokasi

Kolokasi is a specialty in Cypriot cuisine. It is a root vegetable, which is usually stewed in a tomato sauce. Since Cypriots don’t really consider a meal a meal unless it has meat in it, pork is often added to the stew (see here for traditional recipe). Apparently, kolokasi was brought to Cyprus by the Romans who would cook it in sauce of pepper, cumin, rue, vinegar, oil and liquamen and to whom the root vegetable was known, as it is known now scientifically, as colocasia.

Now, I have to admit, I've never liked kolokasi and only ever ate it under protest and, more recently, as I've developed mentally and morally, to avoid conflict. Nevertheless, it has weighed heavily on me, this dislike of kolokasi, this repudiation of my Cypriot heritage.

Recently, however, I was told – by my aunt, who is English – that kolokasi is in fact Jerusalem artichoke. Interesting. Then I read an article in the newspapers last week about popular TV chef Gordon Ramsay's exclusive new restaurant in Paris, at which Jerusalem artichoke soup – a French specialty, apparently – is on the menu.

I tracked down Gordon Ramsay's recipe, which looked straightforward: Jerusalem artichoke, leek, onion, garlic, salt, pepper and double cream. I omitted the bacon – since it's Lent and I'm not eating meat; the bouquet garni – since I had no idea what this is; the floury potato – since I wasn't sure what 'floury' meant in this context; and instead of chives used parsley. Otherwise I closely followed Gordon's recipe. And guess what? It was delicious. I felt proud of myself. I was a good cook and a good Cypriot. I liked kolokasi.

With this new-found enthusiasm for the humble kolokasi, I decided to do more research into it – I googled it – and discovered that… I was misinformed. Kolokasi and the Jerusalem artichoke are not one and the same. Kolokasi is actually taro – which I'd never heard of before – and that what I'd made wasn't Jerusalem artichoke soup, but taro soup. And taro soup like it's never been made before. I, in fact, amid all this confusion, had invented a recipe, a good recipe too. Can I now have my own TV show?

*Go here, for traditional kolokasi recipe.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Radio Akritas: Papaioannou, part three

Vasili emailed to ask what happened to Yiannis Papaioannou's Turkish-language songs in Radio Akritas. I removed them is what happened to them. While I don't think Turkish is an ugly language, it does sometimes irritate me to hear it. Nevertheless, as a favour to Vasili and others who want to hear and download the Papaioannou songs, I'm making them available in Radio Akritas again – but I don't know for how long. I've also put in Radio Akritas a couple more Papaioannou songs. Altogether the songs are:

1. Karapiperim (in Turkish);
2. Gelmenden, sung by Rena Ntalia and Papaioannou;
3. Rambi-Rambi, sung by Rena Ntalia;
4. Tourkolimano, sung by Papaioannou;
5. Pente Ellines ston Adi (Five Greeks in Hades), sung by Papaioannou; and
6. Karapiperim (in Greek), sung by Rena Ntalia.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

More Makriyiannis

I’m not quite done with 1821 and the Greek War of Independence. Below is another excerpt from the memoirs of General Makriyiannis, recording the bitterness and resentment against foreign hypocrisy, foreign malevolence and foreign interference in the new Greek state. Greece, of course, is still fighting for its independence against the Turk and the so-called Europeans, in their manifold forms and guises.

‘And when God takes pity on these our people and wants to set them on their feet, everyone fights against them and would devour them and destroy them and wipe them out so that they might never be called Greeks. And what has this name of the Greeks done to you, you the noblemen of Europe, you the advanced, you the wealthy? All the foremost men of the ancient Greeks, the parents of all mankind, such as Plato, Socrates, Aristides, Themistocles, Leonidas, Thrasybulus, Demosthenes, and the rest, who were the fathers of mankind in general, struggled and laboured by day and night through their virtue, sincerity and their pure enthusiasm to enlighten mankind in general, and set it on the path of virtue and light and bravery and patriotism. All these great men of the world must have lived for so many centuries in some dark place in Hades and have wept and suffered torments for the many perils that this poor wretched country of theirs has undergone. When these perished, there perished too Greece, their country, and its name was wiped out. These men did not study to lay up some vain treasure of the day, they studied to enlighten the world with an eternal light. They clothed men with virtue, they stripped them of evil manners, such was their regard for mankind, and they became the teachers of the School of Truth. Their pupils, the Europeans, have wrought a change upon us, their descendants – a training in evil and corruption. Such is the virtue they possess, such is the light they give us. We, a handful of descendants of those ancient Greeks, without muskets or ammunition or any of the supplies of war, we tore off the mask of the ‘Grand Signor’, the Sultan, that mask which he kept on his face to scare you, the Great European. While you, the men of power, you the men of riches, you the men of light, you paid your poll-tax to him and called him Grand Signor, for you were afraid to call him Sultan. When the poor Greek, all unshod and unclothed, made war against him and killed more than four hundred thousand of his men, he had to fight against you, the Christian as well – with your counterplots and your deceit and guile and your supplies to the Turkish-held forts in the first years of the war. If you had not kept them in supplies, you the Europeans, you know how far we should have gone with the power that was then in us.’
(Makriyiannis: The Memoirs of General Makriyiannis, 1797-1864)

■ I’ve also made available in Radio Akritas three songs by Nikos Xylouris:
1. Barba Gianni Makrigianni, (lyrics by Nikos Gatsos);
2. Hilia Milia Kymata; and
3. Ntirlanda.

Xylouris has such a heroic voice that even if he were singing about what he had for breakfast you’d still want to grab your toufeki and hunt Turks.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

'On that day, our country raised its head again'

The Greek War of Independence, which began on this day 1821, was fought by Greeks against Turks, Arabs, Albanians, Turco-Albanians and critically wounded the Ottoman Empire, the most degenerate, depraved, corrupt, backward, wicked, malignant, pernicious, squalid and cruellest institution or set of institutions known in human history. It was a war characterised by extraordinary Greek bravery and the usual Turkish atrocities.

The video clip above shows images of various battles, heroes, martyrs and massacres from the Greek Revolution, including works by Eugene Delacroix and Theophilos. The music is Saranta Palikaria, sung by Stelios Kazantzidis.

Below is an excerpt from the Homeric memoirs of one of the heroes of 1821, General Yiannis Makriyiannis, describing the battle of Langada in western Greece:

‘The Langada pass… was held by Gogos, Iskos, Georgakis, Valtinos, Karayannopoulos and eight Turks who were on the Greek side, with Soliman Vernozis at their head. All in all, eighty-one men. All that Turkish force [of seven thousand] fell upon these few men. Gogos ordered his men not to fire before he did. The Turks fell upon them with great bravery, because on this day hung the fate of the Turks and the Greeks. The Turks took stones in one hand and their swords in the other and came forward in line; they attacked the Greeks again and again, and were killed every time without achieving anything. For on that day the Greeks swore to work for their faith and their country, and neither bullet nor sword could stick in them.

‘After the Turks and Greeks had fought like lions for more than eight hours, over a thousand Turks were killed, and their skeletons remained unbroken for a whole year; the bones had dried hard. So many of them fell dead and were wounded that Arta was full of fugitives. The Greeks drove them before them with their daggers and hunted after them as far as Komboti, causing great slaughter and seizing much booty. Neither the Greeks nor the Turks could be accused in the matter of their bravery; both sides fought like lions. However, injustice was vanquished, for all bravery could do, because the Turks had gone far from the ways of God. On that day all the leaders and the soldiers did their duty. Gogos of beloved memory outshone all others in his glory. Our country owes him thanks. He fought like a lion and commanded like a philosopher. And, on that day, our country raised its head again. If the Turkish power had gained the pass then, Khursit Pasha was making ready other large forces, they would have relieved all those Turks who were besieged by the Greeks in Vonitsa, Agrinion, and elsewhere, but they lost heart when they learned of this slaughter of their own troops.’
(Makriyiannis: The Memoirs of General Makriyiannis, 1797-1864)

Monday, 24 March 2008

The Greek Revolution, 1821

‘Each person must imagine that they have to save their nation. Each person is born a potential saviour of their nation; even though few know they have been born as such, that they can be saviours, if they want. We must imagine that I alone am responsible for saving the nation, and that if I do not save it, no one else will. Nor must I look at what others do; instead I must imagine that only I have the great obligation to save the nation.’
(Ion Dragoumis, My Hellenism and the Hellenes, [1903])

 The Sun had set (ah, men of Greece, a Sunset for you!)
And the Moon was no more to be seen,
No more to be seen the clear Morning Star,
Nor the Star of Eve that shines in its place,
For these four held council, and spoke in secret,
The Sun spins round and tells them, spins round and says
‘Last night when I set I hid myself behind a little rock,
And I heard the weeping of women, and the mourning of men
For those slain heroes lying in the field,
And all the earth soaked in their blood –
Poor souls all gone below in their country’s cause.’
(Composed by General Makriyiannis at the Siege of Athens, 1826)

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Cyprus talks to resume

President of Cyprus Dimitris Christofias (right) and leader of the Turkish minority on the island Mehmet Ali Talat met yesterday in Nicosia and agreed to set up a series of working groups to look at the issues which constitute the Cyprus problem, reporting back to the leaders in three months time, after which fully-fledged negotiations aimed at ending the Turkish occupation of the island and reuniting it as a bicommunal, bizonal federation will commence.

Since the Turkish side remains, according to recent statements, committed to partition, speaking of two states and two peoples, the maintenance of Turkish military guarantees and a permanent military presence on the island, and it is the Turkish government – and specifically the Turkish army – that shapes Cyprus policy, not the Turkish Cypriots – then it is impossible to be optimistic.

Indeed, even if the government in Ankara were prepared to end the occupation of Cyprus – in an effort, ostensibly, to boost Turkey's EU prospects – then it is hard to believe that the Turkish military and the ultranationalist secular bureaucracy it leads – at permanent loggerheads with prime minister Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist government – will consent to abandon Cyprus, which it regards as its fiefdom. Next week, General Yasar Buyukanit, chief of the Turkish general staff, is paying a three-day visit to the occupied areas. Why? To remind everyone – Talat and the Turkish Cypriots, Erdogan, the Greek Cypriots and the international community – that it is the Turkish army that lays down the law in occupied Cyprus and that it is the Turkish generals who will decide occupied Cyprus' future.

While accepting that it is the Turkish army that is the main obstacle to resolving the Cyprus problem, President Christofias and the communist party he's from – AKEL – have always argued that in the face of the monolith, the Greek Cypriots should attempt to detach the Turkish Cypriots from Turkey. Christofias and AKEL have pushed for rapprochement with the Turkish Cypriots not just because it appeared to them as a smart way to resist the occupation but also because it is part of Christofias and AKEL’s Marxist ideology and reading of the Cyprus problem – that it arose as a result of Greek and Turkish nationalism/chauvinism and that there exist no irreconcilable differences between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Those who object to the AKEL rapprochement thesis suggest it deflects attention from the essence of the Cyprus problem – which is the Turkish invasion and occupation – and will have no effect on reuniting the island.

But maybe Christofias' time has come. Not only does there now exist a significant section of the Turkish Cypriot community amenable to rapprochement with Greek Cypriots; but Christofias is also now speaking the language the international community – and specifically the EU – likes and understands: 'peace, friendship, reconciliation’ with the Turkish Cypriots. By talking about his vision of a multicultural Cyprus, Christofias has, in one fell swoop, managed to earn the goodwill of the European Union, which detested Tassos Papadopoulos and interpreted his humiliating defeat in elections last month as an indication that Greek Cypriots wanted a solution to the Cyprus problem, reversing the perverse perception that the Greek Cypriots were satisfied with the status quo.

Christofias’ expectation is that an EU sympathetic to Cyprus will play its part in resolving the island’s division, by doing what Cyprus cannot do, which is exert pressure on Ankara. ‘I’ll take care of Talat, if you take care of Turkey,’ Christofias is alleged to have said to José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission. ‘Thank you, Mr President, for allocating me the easy part,’ was Barosso’s ironic response, apparently.

* Christofias and Talat also agreed yesterday that a checkpoint at Ledra Street – Nicosia’s main commercial thoroughfare – will be opened. At the moment, every day, approximately 500 Greek Cypriots cross into the occupied areas and 5,000 Turkish Cypriots cross into the free areas through five checkpoints along the Green Line that divides the island.

In an attempt to give the occupation regime the attributes of a state, the Turks insist Greek Cypriots show passports or other identity documents to cross and, if they're using a car, take out insurance with a Turkish Cypriot insurance provider; while Turkish Cypriots to get into the free areas also have to show identification that proves they are Turkish Cypriots and not Turkish settlers – who are not allowed to enter the free areas – or other illegal immigrants.

Opening Ledra Street is expected to benefit the Turkish Cypriot economy, boost commerce and tourism in occupied Nicosia. Ironically, it was the Turkish Cypriots who first put up barricades on Ledra Street; initially in 1958 as part of the ‘from Turk to Turk’ campaign aimed at preventing Turkish Cypriots from shopping at Greek shops. The barricades were taken down in 1960, but erected by the Turkish Cypriots, in collusion with British ‘peacekeepers’, again in 1963 when Turkish Cypriots stepped up their terrorist campaign to partition the island and ethnically cleansed Greeks and, particularly, Armenians from the Turkish quarter of Nicosia.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Soul Kicking

‘The water calls. It's a long time since anyone drowned.’

In January, I wrote about Spirtokouto (Matchbox), an impressive first film from Yiannis Economides. Now, here, at, it’s possible to watch the Cypriot filmmaker's second film, made in 2005, Η Ψυχή στο Στόμα (I Psychi sto Stoma – known in English as Soul Kicking).

Soul Kicking is even bleaker than Spirtokouto, depicting a world in which human relations have broken down and all that's left is violence, brutality, selfishness and loathing.

The film opens with a line from Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck (1836) – 'The water calls. It's a long time since anyone drowned' – and indeed Economides' film is a reworking of the play, which follows the tragic demise of an abused and harried man made insane by the obscene society in which he lives and is driven towards a sacrificial murder.

The very talented Erikkos Litsis, who had the lead role in Spirtokouto, stars again in Soul Kicking. In the clip from Soul Kicking above, Takis (Litsis) is called round to deal with a family dispute, but it's too much for him.

Also, here’s an article (in English) from 18 months ago about the new wave of Greek filmmakers.

This blog, in Greek, has more information on Yiannis Economides' films.

I should also mention that Spirtokouto can now be seen here, with English subtitles.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Et tu, Brute?

Regarding my post yesterday on the Ides of March and the assassination of Julius Caesar, it’s been pointed out to me that ‘Et tu, Brute?’ is best translated as ‘Even you, Brutus?’ and not ‘And you, Brutus?’ I agree with this. It better conveys Julius Caesar’s sense of betrayal and bewilderment.

Someone else disputed the account of Caesar’s death given by Suetonius – which has it that after being stabbed by Brutus, Julius Caesar declares to him, in Greek, ‘Kai su, teknon?’ (You too, my child?) – on the grounds that Julius Caesar knew no Greek.

But, of course, Julius Caesar knew Greek, as any educated Roman aristocrat of the time would have known Greek. Greek culture and learning, in fact, dominated Rome and was the cornerstone of patrician education and intellectual standing. (Horace: ‘Captive Greece took captive her savage conqueror and brought the arts to rustic Rome’).

Julius Caesar also spent a great deal of his career in the Greek-speaking east, in Bithynia, Cilicia, Caria, Rhodes – where Caesar studied with the leading rhetorician of the day, Apollonius Molon – and Alexandria, where he notoriously became infatuated with the Greek queen of Egypt, Cleopatra.

Indeed, it has been suggested that Caesar’s ‘You too, my child?’ is the first part of a Greek proverb widely known to the Romans: ‘You too, my child, will have a taste of power.’

‘You too, my child, will have a taste of power’ is in fact a more complex and compelling statement than either Suetonius or Shakespeare and suggests denunciation as well as pity and shock in Caesar’s final words, horror that his trusted friend Brutus is among the assassins but also irony, sarcasm and contempt as he bitterly reproaches Brutus, predicts (correctly) his violent demise and reveals him not as ‘the noblest Roman of them all’, but as a power-hungry hypocrite, as ambitious and envious as the other assassins.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Cavafy: The Ides of March

The Ides of March
Guard, O my soul, against pomp and glory.
And if you cannot curb your ambitions,
at least pursue them hesitantly, cautiously.
And the higher you go,
the more searching and careful you need to be.

And when you reach your summit, Caesar at last—
when you assume the role of someone that famous—
then be especially careful as you go out into the street,
a conspicuous man of power with your retinue;
and should a certain Artemidoros
come up to you out of the crowd, bringing a letter,
and say hurriedly: ‘Read this at once.
There are things in it important for you to see,’
be sure to stop; be sure to postpone
all talk or business; be sure to brush off
all those who salute and bow to you
(they can be seen later); let even
the Senate itself wait — and find out immediately
what grave message Artemidoros has for you.

(CP Cavafy)

g A soothsayer had warned Julius Caesar to beware the Ides of March (15 March). On the day, the sophist Artemidoros tried to inform Caesar of the conspiracy to assassinate him, but was ignored.

The clip above shows the scene as depicted in Joseph Mankiewicz' 1953 film version of Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar.

Shakespeare records Caesar's last words as ‘Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar!' ('And you, Brutus? Then fall, Caesar.') Plutarch says he said nothing, pulling his toga over his head when he saw Brutus among the conspirators. However, Suetonius gives Caesar's last words, spoken in Greek, as 'καί σύ τέκνον;' ('Kai su, teknon?'; 'You too, my child?').

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Radio Akritas: Glykeria

At a concert in Athens last week, irate Arab fans interrupted Glykeria’s set after she started singing in Hebrew, following a request by Israeli admirers in the audience. The rowdy Arabs were ejected and although Glykeria was surprised by the disturbance, she was not afraid, according to her husband, who added: ‘Glykeria loves Israelis and feels great visiting Israel and singing in Hebrew.’ (Read full story here).

Of course, there is no good reason for Glykeria to sing in Hebrew other than her attraction to the Israeli shekel. The shekel is also a preoccupation of the Turkish occupation regime in northern Cyprus, which has won the approval of the Israeli government to open a so-called trade office in Tel Aviv to encourage even more Israeli businessmen to invest in casinos, marinas, golf courses and holiday complexes on usurped Greek land on the island. (Read full story here).

Israelis and Britons are the biggest crooks and culprits when it comes to exploiting occupied Greek villages and confiscated Greek land in Cyprus; though let’s not forget that Syria continues to ignore the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus with the Latakia to Famagusta ferry service, even if so far the only passengers transported have been Iraqi, Palestinian and Syrian illegal immigrants who arrive in occupied Cyprus before, with the collusion of the occupation regime, crossing into the free areas in pursuit of ‘asylum’ and access to the EU.

Anyway, if Glykeria wants to sing in Hebrew and pander to the Israelis, that's her business and a matter for her conscience. She remains a wonderful singer, and I've made available in Radio Akritas four of her most popular songs.
1. Piga se Magisses;
2. Ta Dahtilidia and
3. To Paploma, both Giorgos Mitsakis' songs; and
4. Gyftopoula sto Hamam, originally by Giorgos Batis from 1932.

The video is of Glykeria and Michalis Tzouganakis in Cretan mode.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Forgiveness Sunday and Clean Monday

The Lord Confronts the Disobedience of Adam & Eve; the Expulsion from Paradise Nave Mosaics from Palatine Chapel, Palermo, Sicily. Mid 12th Century.

It is Forgiveness Sunday today in the Orthodox church, commemorating the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise, a day of sorrow and lament as we reflect on the wretchedness of our souls, the disastrous paths our desires have led us down and commit ourselves to return to a virtuous life, first by forgiving others and then by embarking on a process of self-examination and inner repentance, beginning tomorrow with the feast of Clean Monday (Καθαρή Δευτέρα), the first day of Great Lent, the 50-day period before Easter characterised by abstinence, from certain foods – mostly meat and dairy products – and other pleasures, though this is not abstinence as an end in itself, as a test of will-power or a means to purify the body, but as an exercise in repentance and spiritual regeneration.

Father Alexander Schmemann explains the purpose of Forgiveness Sunday and the beginning of the Great Lent season thus:

‘Why is it that the Church wants us to begin Lenten season with forgiveness and reconciliation? These questions are in order because for too many people Lent means primarily, and almost exclusively, a change of diet, the compliance with ecclesiastical regulations concerning fasting. They understand fasting as an end in itself, as a 'good deed' required by God and carrying in itself its merit and its reward. But, the Church spares no effort in revealing to us that fasting is but a means, one among many, towards a higher goal: the spiritual renewal of man, his return to God, true repentance and, therefore, true reconciliation. The Church spares no effort in warning us against a hypocritical and pharisaic fasting, against the reduction of religion to mere external obligations. As a Lenten hymn says:

In vain do you rejoice in no eating, O soul!
For you abstain from food,
But from passions you are not purified.
If you persevere in sin, you will perform a useless fast.

Now, forgiveness stands at the very center of Christian faith and of Christian life because Christianity itself is, above all, the religion of forgiveness. God forgives us, and His forgiveness is in Christ, His Son, Whom He sends to us, so that by sharing in His humanity we may share in His love and be truly reconciled with God. Indeed, Christianity has no other content but love. And it is primarily the renewal of that love, a return to it, a growth in it, that we seek in Great Lent, in fasting and prayer, in the entire spirit and the entire effort of that season. Thus, truly forgiveness is both the beginning of, and the proper condition for the Lenten season.’

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Grigoris Afxentiou: Greek hero, part two

It’s pleasing that the most popular post (in terms of hits) on this site so far has proved to be my last post, on Grigoris Afxentiou. This is what I would have wanted. So, since there continues to be interest in this great man, in Greece and Cyprus, I’m making available a video clip (above) from the 1973 docu-drama, Γρηγορης Αυξεντιου: Ενας Ηρως με Μνημοσκοπιο.

Also, here’s a link to Yiannis Ritsos’ long poem (in Greek), Αποχαιρετισμός. Οι τελευταίες ώρες του Γρηγόρη Αυξεντίου μες στη φλεγόμενη σπηλιά.
(Farewell. The last hours of Grigoris Afxentiou in the burning cave).

This poem reveals the tragic hero’s ecstatic state of mind as for 10 hours under siege in his hideout he meditates on his life and on his decision to die. It is shocking to consider that during those 10 hours fighting, wounded, in pain, Afxentiou must have considered again and again giving himself up, imagined living and returning to his home and family, and yet he would not be deflected by love of life and instead remained committed to his own death.

Here are Ritsos’ opening verses:

(Ο Γρηγόρης ΑΥΞΕΝΤΙΟΥ αποκλεισμένος στη σπηλιά της Μονής Μαχαιρά).

Τέλειωσαν πια τα ψέματα – δικά μας και ξένα
Η φωτιά η παντάνασσα πλησιάζει. Δεν μπορείς πια
Να ξεχωρίσεις αν καίγεται σκοίνος ή φτέρη ή θυμάρι.
Η φωτιά πλησιάζει.

Κι όμως πρέπει να προφτάσω να ξεχωρίσω,
Να δω, να υπολογίσω, να σκεφτώ – (για ποιόν; Για μένα;
Για τους άλλους;) Πρέπει.
Μου χρειάζεται πριν απ'το θάνατό μου μια ύστατη γνώση, η γνώση του θανάτου μου, για να μπορέσω να πεθάνω.

Οι άλλοι τέσσερις έφυγαν. Στο καλό. Τι ησυχία – σα νάναι εδώ να γεννηθεί ένα παιδί ή να πεθάνει ένας μάρτυρας, και περιμένεις ν'ακουστεί μια πελώρια κραυγή (του παιδιού ή του Θεού), μια κραυγή πιο τρανή απ'τη σιωπή
Που θα ρίξει τα τείχη του πριν, του μετά και του τώρα, να μπορέσεις να θυμηθείς, να μαντέψεις, να ζήσεις μαζί, μες σε μια άχρονη στιγμή, τα πάντα. Όμως τίποτα…

Monday, 3 March 2008

Grigoris Afxentiou: Greek hero

‘I will fight and fall like a Greek’
(Grigoris Afxentiou, in a letter to his wife, Vasiliki)

Grigoris Afxentiou is the pre-eminent hero of the EOKA struggle 1955-1959 to liberate Cyprus from British colonial rule and unite the island with Greece.

Afxentiou was born in the village of Lysi, Famagusta district, (now under Turkish occupation) on 22 February 1928 and killed in the Battle of Machairas on 3 March 1957.

After a four-year stint in Greece, initially as literature student at Athens University but unable to afford the fees then serving in the military as a lieutenant on the Greek-Bulgarian border, Afxentiou returned to Cyprus in 1952, where he worked with his father in the fields and then as a taxi driver.

When EOKA was formed in 1955, Afxentiou was one of the first to enlist and because of his military background, charisma and boldness, quickly gained the trust of EOKA’s leader, Giorgos Grivas, who made him his second in command.

Afxentiou led attacks on British installations on the island, such as the power company and the broadcasting corporation, and was responsible for training EOKA recruits in weapons' use, bombmaking techniques and guerrilla warfare. The British put a bounty of £5,000 on his head.

In December 1955, the British surrounded the EOKA hierarchy, including Grivas and Afxentiou, in the Troodos mountains, near the village of Spilia. Grivas split his men into two groups, with his group fighting the British ascending the north side of the mountain, while Afxentiou took command of the second group fighting the British ascending the south side.

All the while engaging the enemy, the Greek forces retreated to the summit of the mountain and, in heavy fog, managed to escape to the west, leaving the confused British, thinking they’d come across EOKA and not each other, to shell and fight among themselves. Grivas claimed that during the Battle of Spilia the British suffered 50 casualties; the British say they had three.

For the next year, Afxentiou, constantly on the move, often disguised, continued to direct and conduct operations from hideouts in the Troodos mountains, and at the beginning of 1957 found himself holed up near Machairas monastery, south of Nicosia.

On 3 March 1957, British troops from the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers and the Grenadier Guards acting on a tip-off surrounded Afxentiou and his four comrades in their hideout, and called for the men to surrender. Afxentiou ordered his men to leave to fight another day but insisted he had to stay. ‘I will fight and die,’ he told them. ‘I have to die,’ he said and repeated this four times.

With Afxentiou alone now, the British stormed the hideout, but Afxentiou held them at bay. They lobbed hand grenades into the shelter, but the wounded Afxentiou wouldn’t give up and continued to fight. The British sent in one of Afxentiou’s comrades, Avgoustinos Efstathiou, to persuade Afxentiou to surrender, but Efstathiou decided to stay and fight with his leader.

Eventually, after resistance that lasted 10 hours and after all conventional methods had failed, the British poured petrol into the hideout to burn out the EOKA men. Afxentiou once again persuaded Efstathiou to leave but still wouldn’t surrender himself. A charge was attached and the hideout blown up in an explosion that reverberated throughout the mountains.

The intensity of the flames made it impossible for the British to approach the hideout and it wasn’t until the following morning that the British were able to get inside, where they found Afxentiou’s burnt body and next to it a sub-machine gun, revolvers, grenades and a copy of Kazantzakis’ Christ Recrucified, given to Afxentiou by the Abbot of Machairas.

The video clip (above) is from a Cyprus TV documentary, the whole of which (70 minutes, in Greek) can be seen here. The clip shows newsreel footage from the Battle of Machairas, the capture of Avgoustinos Efstathiou and the death of Afxentiou. The excerpt with Michalis Triantafylides is particularly noteworthy and is an account of how Grigoris’ father, Pieris, was taken to see his son’s charred remains in the mortuary and came out with a broad smile on his face. Triantafylides says he couldn’t believe the old man’s reaction and thought that perhaps the remains weren’t Grigoris’ and he was still alive. Afterwards, in the car journey away from the mortuary, the old man broke down. Triantafylides asked him why, I thought from the way you were before that it wasn’t Grigoris they killed, that it was someone else. 'No', the old man said, 'it was him; but I didn’t want the dogs to see me crying.’ (To see clip with English subtitles, go here).

g At yesterday’s service at Machairas monastery to commemorate Afxentiou’s martyrdom, Cyprus’s new communist president, Dimitris Christofias, was subject to boos and catcalls from nationalist demonstrators as he laid a wreath at Afxentiou’s shrine. The demonstrators also chanted slogans in favour of EOKA, Giorgos Grivas and Enosis, proclaiming Cyprus is Greek and opposing a federal solution to the Cyprus problem.

g Since writing this post, I have received (16/01/09) an email from the brothers at Macheras Monastery objecting to the reference to a copy of Kazantzakis' Christ Recrucified being found in the cave among the possessions of Afxentiou when he was killed. My source for this detail was Colin Thubron's Journey into Cyprus, which admittedly does contain many half-truths and unlikely stories. The brothers write:

Recently, it has come to our attention the article about Afxentiou on your website. We were shocked to read that amongst other events, the abbot of the Monastery of Macheras has given Afxentiou a copy of the blasphemous book of Kazantzakis Christ Recrucified and it was found in the hideout next to the burned body of Afxentiou. This is fiction, not an historical event.

We don’t know from where you received this information because it is the first time we hear about this. Deeply disturbed, we contacted Avgoustinos Efstathiou, a co-fighter of Afxentiou, who took part in the battle and was with the hero till the end. Avgoustis confirmed to us that he never saw anything like it and such a book was never found in the cave. After all, is it not irrational for a book to survive after the total burning of the hideout?

Therefore, we kindly ask you to correct your article by emitting completely the fairy tale about the book.

With many wishes in Christ

The brotherhood of the Monastery of Macheras