Greece, Cyprus, Israel, UAE Forge Common Front in the Mediterranean

Greece, Israel, Cyprus and the UAE
The foreign ministers of Greece, Israel, Cyprus and the UAE at the Paphos meeting. Credit: Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Greece, Israel, Cyprus and the UAE said on Friday they would seek to deepen their cooperation in fields ranging from energy to fighting COVID, saying budding ties could change the face of a region more synonymous with conflict.

What unites the four countries meeting on Cyprus is “a common commitment to basic principles and values,” Greek Foreign Affairs Minister Nikos Dendias said after the meeting of foreign ministers in Paphos.

These principles include “promoting good neighborly relations and the peaceful resolution of disputes on the basis of principles of international law, such as the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea,” he said in a statement addressed to his three counterparts.

He noted that “Greece strives to build good neighborly relations with all the countries in the region, without exception.” The partnership of the four is very important for regional stability, he added.

Attending the meeting were Cyprus FM Nikos Christodoulides, Israeli FM Gabi Ashkenazi, UAE’s FM Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan (via teleconference) and his representative Anwar Gargash, UAE President’s Diplomatic Advisor and former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.

At the meeting, the four foreign ministers discussed extending cooperation in several areas, starting from the energy sector.

“In this context, we underlined the importance of the EastMed Gas Pipeline and renewable energy sources,” he noted, and they also discussed how to enhance exchanges on issues such as digital innovation, tourism, climate, defence, the coronavirus pandemic, and preparing for the post-pandemic world.

Dendias stressed that, as he has repeatedly noted, “our cooperation schemes are open to all. Provided that they share our respect for the values and the principles I just highlighted.”

Greece, Cyprus, Israel, UAE: Libya, Syria and Yemen in the agenda

Among other issues the four FMs exchanged views on were areas of common concern, such as developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

The Greek FM said he briefed his colleagues about his recent visits to Libya, where he said that a fundamental precondition to the elections scheduled there for December is the withdrawal of all foreign forces on the ground in Libya.

This, he said, addressing his colleagues, is “a position all of us fully share and support.” While in Libya, he added, “It was also pointed out that any arrangements that are contrary to basic principles of International Law are not valid.”

“The evolving web of regional cooperation is creating a new narrative, one that is cracking the glass ceiling of the prevailing (one) of our neighborhood as a region of turmoil, conflict and crisis,” said Cypriot Foreign Minister and host Nikos Christodoulides.

The UAE and fellow Gulf state Bahrain in September became the first Arab states in a quarter of a century to sign agreements to establish formal ties with Israel, forged largely through shared fears of Iran.

 

Kavafis: The Greek Poet Master at Saying a Lot with Very Little

Kavafis Greek poet
Konstantinos Kavafis, the Greek poet and master at saying a lot with very little.

Konstantinos Kavafis — or Constantine Peter Cavafy as he was internationally known — was one of the greatest Greek poets.

He was born in Alexandria, Egypt on April 29, 1863, the last of nine children of the wealthy merchant Petros-Ioannou Kavafis. He died on the very same date seventy years later, in 1933.

In a short autobiography, Kavafis wrote of his life:

“I hail from Constantinople, but I was born in Alexandria – in a house on Sherif Street. When I was very young I left and spent much of my childhood in England. I visited this country after a long time but stayed for a short while. I lived in France too. In my teenage years, I lived for over two years in Constantinople. I had not visited Greece for many years. My last job was as an employee of a government office of the Egyptian Ministry of Public Works. I speak English, French, and a little Italian.”

Incredibly, the man known above all else for his poetry Kavafis never published his poems in book form during his lifetime.

Instead, he preferred to give them to newspapers and magazines to publish, or simply handwrote them and gave them away to anyone who was interested.

Beloved Alexandria was Kafavis’ base

He wrote 154 poems and dozens of sketches and left behind a number of unfinished pieces. The first book of his poems was only published in 1935, two years after his death.

Kavafis lost his father at the age of seven, the death forcing his mother Harikleia to take the family and move to London, and then to Liverpool.

The young Konstantinos learned English and cultivated an interest in literature early on in life. However, financial problems forced the family to move again in 1878, this time back to Alexandria.

In 1882 the nationalist riots in Egypt prompted the Kavafis family to relocate yet again, but  to Constantinople this time. He made his first systematic efforts to write poetry during his stay in this great city, with the very first poem in his archives appearing to have been written in 1882.

The works “Beizades to His Mistress” (1884), “Dunya Guzeli” (1884) and “Nihori” (1885) show how deeply the Byzantine city had inspired him.

In October of 1885 Kavafis returned to Alexandria, along with his mother and his two brothers, Alexander and Paul, after receiving compensation for the destructive riots of 1882.

One of his first decisions upon his return there was to acquire Greek citizenship. Kavafis then began to work, first as a journalist and then as a broker at Egypt’s Cotton Stock Exchange.

In 1889, he was initially recruited to work as an unpaid secretary to the country’s Irrigation Service; in 1892 he became a salaried employee there, a post in which he would remain until 1922, even reaching the rank of Deputy Mayor.

In 1891, Kavafis saw his first remarkable poem “Builders,” published. He wrote some of his most important pieces, such as “Candles” (1893), “Walls” (1896) and “Waiting for the Barbarians” (1899) from 1893 until the end of the century.

The poet’s mother passed away in 1899, and Kavafis wallowed in his grief for a long period of time.
Kavafis Greek poetIn 1902 Kavafis traveled to Greece for the very first time in his life; it was in Athens where he met his future colleagues Grigorios Xenopoulos and Ioannis Polemis.

In a letter he wrote upon arriving in the Greek capital, he said he felt like a Muslim pilgrim who travels to Mecca.

He visited Athens again during the next year, and on Nov. 30 of the same year, Xenopoulos wrote the historical article “A Poet,” which appeared in Panathenaea magazine.

This was the first time Kavafis’ work had received any attention and praise from the Greek public.

Kavafis settled in the house at 10 Lepsius Street in Alexandria, where he would spend the rest of his life writing the most important poems of his oeuvre, in December of 1907.

With his literary reputation on the rise, he received a number of renowned visitors to his home, including Tommaso Marinetti, Andres Malraux, Nikos Kazantzakis, Kostas Ouranis and Myrtiotissa.

Kavafis and his famous poem, “Ithaca”

In 1911, Kavafis wrote his famous poem, “Ithaca.” Three years later, he met the great English novelist Edward Morgan Forster and became friends with him; five years later, Forster would introduce the poetry of Kavafis to the English-speaking world.

Kavafis was finally able to resign from his work as a public servant to dedicate himself to his poetry in April of 1922.

“At last, I was released from that hateful thing,” he later wrote.

In the following year the poet’s last living brother, John Kavafis, who had been the first admirer and translator of Konstantinos’ work, passed away.

In 1926, the Greek government awarded Kavafis their greatest honor, the Medal of the Order of the Phoenix.

He began to suffer from problems with his larynx and doctors diagnosed cancer in 1930.

Kavafis soon found himself unable to speak, and in 1932 he was subjected to a tracheotomy operation in Athens.

The poet returned to Alexandria, with his health constantly deteriorating, in 1933. In early April he was transferred to the Hellenic Hospital and at 2 AM on April 29, 1933, the poet breathed his last breath at the age of 70.

Kavafis brought an international aura to modern Greek poetry

Scholar Maria Akritidou wrote about the great man’s work “Konstantinos Kavafis is a hypermodern poet, a poet for later generations.”

“Apart from its historical, psychological and philosophical value, the austerity of his style, which sometimes touches on laconism, his weighted enthusiasm that appeals to emotional intellectualism, his correct phrasing, the result of a classy naturalness, his slight irony, represent elements which will be further appreciated by future generations, motivated by the progress of the discoveries and the subtlety of the mental mechanism.”

Greece 2021, the organization which organizes the events of the Greek Bicentennial, wrote about Kavafis:

“The ‘Alexandrian’ (1863-1933) brought an international aura to modern Greek poetry. Modern, even before modernism was a term, a scholar and an aesthetician, a realist, and lover of detailed verse. He compelled Greek poetry with his hedonistic, esoteric sentiment in the social context of the time. He glorified beauty and pleasure of the flesh.

“He was a master at saying a lot with very little. His style was ironic, esoteric, unrhymed, focused on detail and precise expression, qualities that made him a novelty among the poets of his time. Although his bibliography is rather small, just 154 published poems, it is an inexhaustible field for humanistic and poetry studies.”

Port Cities of Mumbai, India and Piraeus, Greece Mull Closer Cooperation

Mumbai, India and Piraeus, Greece
The port cities of Mumbai, India and Piraeus, Greece are considering strengthening their commercial ties. Illustration by Greek Reporter.

The major port cities of Mumbai in India and Piraeus in Greece are looking for ways to improve cooperation, as bilateral relations between New Delhi and Athens are described as excellent.

The mayor of Piraeus Ioannis Moralis met Indian Ambassador Amrit Lugun on Friday to discuss prospects for furthering cooperation on commercial and trade activities, including cooperation between Mumbai and Piraeus ports.

Mumbai, India and Piraeus, Greece
Ioannis Moralis meets Indian Ambassador Amrit Lugun. Credit: Piraeus Municipality

As Piraeus and Mumbai are major port cities, it ensures that there are immense opportunities for cooperation.

Mumbai Port

Mumbai Port, situated on the West coast of India, has long been the principal gateway to India and has played a pivotal role in the development of the national economy, trade & commerce and prosperity of Mumbai city in particular.

It provides integrated sea-port facilities to handle, store and deliver cargo. The port is well connected through an extensive road network of 126km.

The port has its own railway system connected to the Central and Western Railway through the broad gauge main line. With a track of nearly 100km and five diesel locomotives, the port’s railway system serves docks and important installations and factories on its estates.

Piraeus port

Piraeus Port is located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa, being the natural port of Athens and Greece’s main gateway.

The Port of Piraeus is majority owned by China COSCO Shipping, the 3rd largest container ship company in the world.

Since 2009, when COSCO took over, economic performance of container handling has greatly improved.

Before COSCO took over, the port’s container handling record was at 1.5 million TEUs. These figures rose to 5.65 million TEU in 2019.

Piraeus is now the largest port in the Mediterranean and the fourth largest in Europe, behind Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg.

Excellent relations between Greece and India

The political climate between the two countries is excellent, with relations being multifaceted, harmonious and warm, as the two peoples are linked by close ties of friendship and mutual cooperation, and represent ancient cultures, the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated.

President of India Ram Nath Kovind while visiting Greece in 2018 praised the contribution of Alexander the Great to the history of his nation.

“The most famous Greek to come to India was of course Alexander the Great. He arrived at the head of an invading army in 326 BC – but he left as a friend,” he wrote on Twitter.

“Every Indian schoolchild knows of how Alexander and Porus fought a pitched battle and then became allies,” he added.

In October 2020, Greece’s Foreign Minister and his Indian counterpart discussed ways to strengthen diplomatic and military relations between the two countries in a video conference.

Nikos Dendias briefed Indian FM Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Greece’s commitment to resolving tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean in the context of international law.

The Indian Minister emphasized that his country considers the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as the basis for resolving such disputes, referring to a maritime disagreement between his country and Bangladesh which was settled in the context of international arbitration.

The two ministers also discussed strengthening cooperation in the defense sector, and especially in the realm of technology.

Diplomatic sources pointed out that strengthening ties with India is important, given that India’s neighboring country of Pakistan is now conducting joint naval drills with Turkey.

The meeting, they said, is part of Greece’s relations-building effort with rising powers in the world such as India, which has been voted a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

 

Greece and Israel Sign Off Deal for Air Force Training Center

Greece Israel
The training center will not only be for pilots of the Hellenic Air Force, but also for pilots of other countries. Credit: Hellenic Airforce

Greece and Israel signed off on the creation of an international air force training center in Greece, the National Defense Ministry reported on Friday.

Signed by armed forces officials of both countries, the agreement allows for the center to be set up at the 120 Air Training Wing in Kalamata, Peloponnese.

The signing was attended by Israeli Defense Attache in Greece, Colonel Υossi Pinto, President and CEO of Elbit Systems Bezhalel (Butzi) Machlis, and a delegation from Israel.

The creation of the flight training center is part of a $1.68 billion deal between Israel and Greece — the largest-ever defense agreement between the two countries — which also provides for the Hellenic Air Force to acquire 10 M-346 aircraft.

Israel will also provide simulators, training and logistical support as part of the 20-year deal.

Increasingly close relationship between Greece and Israel

It is part of an increasingly close relationship between Athens and Jerusalem that has seen Greece lease Israeli drones and also involved a pipeline deal signed last year.

Athens attaches great importance to the agreement as it expands the strategic relationship with Israel, but also because it provides a solution to the problem of training Hellenic Air Force pilots.

The training center will not only be for pilots of the Hellenic Air Force, but also for pilots of other countries.

Israeli Defense Ministry Benny Gantz said in early January, that the deal reflected the excellent and developing relations with Greece.

“It is a long-term partnership that will serve the interests of both Israel and Greece, create hundreds of jobs in both countries and promote stability in the Mediterranean,” he said, commending “recent strengthening of defense relations between our countries” and noting “my expectation that these will deepen further.”

The flight school will be built and maintained by Elbit Systems.

The company’s CEO, Bezhalel Machlis, said the new capability will strengthen bilateral relations.

“This selection attests to the leading position we hold in the area of training, providing tested know-how and proven technologies that improve readiness while reducing costs.”

Strategic partnership “significant”

During his visit to Israel in February, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had said that Greece was “happy to have an Israeli company take over flight training in Greece for the next twenty years.”

This operation, the Greek PM stated, will be the “most clear example of the partnerships we can build in defense” between Greece and Israel.

Mitsotakis who met with Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of security issues that have cropped up in the region of late.

The Greek PM stated afterward in their press conference that the new strategic partnership between the nations was “significant.”

He then added that the Mediterranean “must remain a sea of peace for all countries.”

 

Greece’s Top Mythological Sites That You Can Still Visit

House of Cleopatra
House of Cleopatra. Credit: Bernard Gagnon / Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

By Cliff Blaylock

The heart of the Mediterranean, Greece is blessed with many beautiful islands scattered about its coastlines. They often have glorious sandy beaches, fine cuisine and five-star resorts, but there is something about the Greek islands that sets them apart from many other holiday destinations across the globe; their mythological sites.

Many ancient societies had different beliefs and myths, but none are more prominent in modern-day life than that of the Greeks. Their creatures have become legends, their tales inspiration for great fiction and their gods immortalized through the continued retelling of their conquests and trials.

Delos: an ancient Greek mythological site

Matched only by the Acropolis of Athens, Greek mythological site the ruins on the island of Delos are an unmissable location for anybody interested in ancient Greek culture. One of the best-preserved examples of an ancient Greek civilization, the island is completely unblemished by modern architecture and as such, allows its visitors to delve deep into history. However, it is not just a site of great historical importance, but a mythological one too. It was on this island that both gods Artemis and Apollo are said to have been born. As a result, the island became a sacred place. Sanctuaries and temples sprung up across its hillsides as people from across Greece came to the island’s shores to worship the deities.

Greek Mythological sites
Throne room of the Minoan Palace in Knossos, Crete Credit: Annatsach – Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The Labyrinth, a famous site in Greek mythology

One of the most famous and exciting stories of Greek mythology is the tale of Minos, Theseus and the Minotaur. Minos was a powerful king, ruler of Crete and the son of Zeus, but after he betrayed Poseidon, he was cursed to raise a son with the body of a man and the head of a bull. Using this curse to his advantage, however, Minos built the fabled Labyrinth and trapped the Minotaur within it. He would then send victims to their deaths until Theseus, prince of Athens, ventured into the Labyrinth and slayed the beast.

While there are no Minotaur bones for you to see, there are two possible Labyrinths to explore. First is the likely home of King Minos, and therefore the most plausible home for the labyrinth, Kommos. Located along the southern coast of the island, Kommos is a great place to visit, with spectacular ancient ruins and beautiful ocean views. However, if you venture deep enough into the ruins of this ancient city, you will find many maze-like corridors and walkways that may have been the Minotaur’s home; or at least the inspiration for its tale. However, just down the road you will also find Gortyn, a site of great archaeological importance to Crete and another suspected home of the Labyrinth. Further away from Minos’ home, these ruins bear a much similar resemblance to the maze of mythology. Perhaps then, it is best to visit both Greek mythological sites and decide for yourself.

The Island of Ithaca: an ancient Greek site and holiday destination

olive
An olive tree on Ithaca that is thought to be 1,500 years old. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Ithaca, a well-known Greek mythological site for a holiday destination, is a place with a very interesting mythological past. Most notably, it was home to the legendary trickster Odysseus, the island’s greatest king and the brains behind the trojan horse. Odysseus was also the protagonist of Homer’s “Odyssey.” His decade-long struggle to return home after the war is the source of many of the most enduring Greek myths.

The famous Cave of Zeus on the Greek island of Crete

Greek Mythological sites
Cave of Zeus in Crete, Greece Credit: Tomisti / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Hidden away on the island of Crete is an extraordinary piece of Greek mythological history. Within a cave beneath Mount Ida, it is said that the King of Gods, Zeus, was born and raised. The Cave of Zeus is a beautiful location, with one entrance leading into a network of caves filled with stunning rock formations and underground pools. It does indeed seem a fitting place for the beginnings of the greatest god Greek mythology has ever known. However, it was not by choice he was raised here but by necessity. His father, the titan Cronus, was set on devouring all of his progeny to ensure that they could never contest his power. However, unbeknownst to Cronus, Zeus’ mother, Rhea, hid him within the cave so one day he could return to overthrow his tyrannical father; which, according to legend, he did.

Mount Olympus: Home of the Greek gods

Greek Mythological sites
Mount Olympus. Credit: Maylett/ Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Along the eastern coast of the Greek mainland, you will find one of the most well-known natural landmarks in the world; Mount Olympus. This legendary and iconic Greek mythological site is an awe-inspiring sight, however, there is more to it than meets the eye.

In Greek mythology, Olympus was created after the gods defeated the titans in the battle of Titanomachy; otherwise known as the War of the Titans. Atop its peak they then built the Pantheon, where Zeus sat upon his throne as King of Gods and the rest of the deities would convene to discuss matters of the world below and survey the world of men.

Seeing all these incredible mythological sites can be tricky, unless you charter a course aboard Deep Blue Yachting’s luxury sailing boat, the Glaros. It is a private vessel, you can set your own course and visit every site on this list, all in one trip.

Greek-Americans Call For Block On Turkey’s Satellite Launch

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Turkey sattelite launch
Roketsan, is Turkey’s leading company in the aerospace industry. Credit: Rocketsan

The launch of Turkey’s SpaceX Turksat 5B satellite in the second quarter of 2021 is raising concerns by NGO’s in the US.

The Hellenic American Leadership Council and the Armenian National Committee of America signed a joint letter to the United States’ FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation calling for a block on Turkey’s launch.

Addressed to Wayne R. Monteith, Associate Administrator of the AAA and dated April 2, 2021, the letter asks the Federal Aviation Administration to deny approval for the planned launch of Turkey’s dual-use Turksat 5B communications satellite, “on the grounds that the launch approval will materially jeopardize U.S. national security and foreign policy interests.”

The rationale behind call to block Turkey’s satellite launch

“The Turksat 5B satellite – produced by state-owned Turksat – has well-documented military applications, as confirmed by Defence Turkey, which has published articles affirming that the Turkish armed forces’ use of these dual-use communications systems.

Hellenic American Leadership Council calls for block on Turkey's Satellite Launch
A meeting of the Hellenic American Leadership Council in 2019. Credit: Facebook / Hellenic American Leadership Council

“The SSB, in its own product catalog, confirms the military use of the Turksat series. Among these applications is the field of drone warfare and other forms of unmanned remote weaponry.

“Turkey recently deployed Bayraktar UAVs in Azerbaijan’s attack on the indigenous Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh, and has threatened their use against Greece and Cyprus”, the letter continues.

Hellenic American Leadership Council letter Turkey satellite block
The letter sent by the HALC and ANCA to the United States’ FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation calling for a block on the launch of Turkey’s SpaceX Turksat 5B satellite. Credit: Facebook / ANCA

It contends that the Turksat series dramatically expands the coverage area, Ku-band capacity, and offensive reach of the Turkish military, locking in Ankara’s ability to independently conduct military operations against U.S. and allied positions across nearly half the globe.

“In light of Turkey’s open hostility to U.S. interests and allies, we call upon the FAA to reject the pending application for a Turksat 5B launch and to deny future license requests for any launches that contribute to Turkey’s offensive military capabilities,” it concludes.

The letter has been copied to the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, US House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Bob Menendez, Chairman of Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Jim Risch, Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Rep. Gregory Meeks, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Michael McCaul, Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

HACL’s most publicized advocacy efforts

The Hellenic American Leadership Council  and the Armenian National Committee of America have taken joint advocacy action before. In 2018 they published a full-page ad in the New York Times, urging the US not to sell F-35 stealth fighters to Turkey.

Entitled “Turkey is an Unreliable Ally,” the ad stated that Turkey threatens US troops in Syria, violates Greek airspace thousands of times in a year, illegally occupies Cyprus (an EU member) and uses warships in the island’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) where American and European companies are active.

In a milder tone, HACL turned to The New York Times in December 2020 with a sponsored editorial signed by powerful Greek Americans John A. Catsimatidis, Andrew Liveris, Dennis Mehiel, Michael Psaros and George P. Stamas.

The full-page article, titled “Turkey and Greece can and must live together,” highlighted “Turkey’s aggressive behavior” and the need for “the United States to support Greece’s commitment to international law and peaceful negotiations, while abstaining from threats of violence, military activity and belligerent rhetoric.”

My Dad Was a CIA Spy in Greece — But Not a Thug

CIA Greece Junta
Credit: Leslie Absher

by Leslie Absher

When I was just a baby, my father was sent to Greece for his first field assignment with the CIA. It was the summer of 1966 when we arrived, nine months before the military coup led to the Greek junta.

The day the colonels took over the government, I was playing in the garden and singing Greek nursery songs.

I had no idea that ordinary people were about to be arrested and detained in secret prisons all over Greece.

The CIA had a close relationship with the Greek junta

It wasn’t until years later, when I was in my twenties and we no longer lived in Greece, that I learned about the close relationship between the CIA and the Greek military dictatorship, or junta.

By then, I knew Dad was working for the CIA in Greece.

Questions about his role in the Greek coup plagued me. Had he known about it beforehand? Had he helped set it up? My questions, along with the fact that he had lied to me as a child, telling me a series of cover stories — that he worked for the State Department or the Pentagon, and not the CIA — made me feel I couldn’t trust him.

When I turned forty, I realized I could go on not trusting him or I could try and learn the truth once and for all. If we were ever going to have a relationship — a real one — I had to find out once and for all.

Was he a nerdy civil servant just collecting information, or an arrogant, vicious secret agent bribing government officials and beating prisoners?

“Daughters aren’t supposed to investigate their own fathers”

It was late October when I found a parking spot and headed toward UC Berkeley’s main library. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” I thought. Daughters aren’t supposed to investigate their own fathers.

We’re supposed to talk and visit and be in each other’s lives. None of that applied to me and Dad. Our monthly phone calls were usually about the weather or our cats. He never asked about my wife, Susan.

Inside the library, my shoulders tensed as I made my way toward the Greek History section.

As I scanned the long shelf before me, a thin blue book jumped out: “The Rise and Fall of the Greek Colonels.” I slid the volume out and dropped into a chair to read.

According to the author, there were many rumors regarding the coup. One was that a group of generals had plotted to take over, and another blamed the CIA for the coup in Greece.

The author said that neither of those rumors was true. If the CIA had played no role in Greece, then neither had my father. A balloon of hope rose inside me.

When I was a child, I trusted my father. He was good. Upright. He was the one who held my hand as we waded into the sea.

When it got too deep for me to stand, I climbed onto his back. His neck smelled like coconut oil. As a girl of five, I clutched him like a starfish, letting him take the brunt of each wave with his pale and hairless chest.

I felt only the gentle rise and fall of each swell. But when a big wave rose up, I ducked quickly behind his shoulders. I trusted him to protect me.

CIA and junta played a role in 1974 invasion of Cyprus

I returned to the stacks, found another book, and flipped to the index. Dad’s name wasn’t there, and I exhaled. Then I suddenly saw the name of one of his Greek-American CIA buddies.

I remembered John from growing up. He was funny. I liked him. I flipped to where John was mentioned, and what I read made my stomach drop.

According to the author, it was John who gave the dictators of the Greek junta the green light to invade Cyprus in 1974.

After the Greek army landed on the island, Turkish troops followed right behind. People died, and families were torn apart. It’s still a divided country — and Dad’s good friend John had played a key role in that debacle.

I dragged myself around for the rest of the afternoon, going to student appointments and helping high schoolers with essays.

The next morning, I opened my laptop and Googled Dad’s name. An interview from ten years earlier popped up. “Intelligence is my favorite subject,” Dad had told the interviewer.

The words stung, because I wanted him to say that I was his favorite subject. Or my sister was, or something personal. But he didn’t talk about us.

The interview covered Dad’s work in Vietnam. The journalist said Dad had “zipped around his province in a helicopter, and when necessary called in B-52 strikes against suspected NVA [North Vietnamese Army] troop concentrations.”

Dad had ordered bombs to be dropped? I felt queasy. But the next sentence stopped me cold.

“I ran an interrogation center in Vietnam,” Dad said.

I stared at the page. An interrogation center? Wasn’t that spy code for “torture chamber”? My skin felt like ice. Grim scenes ran through my mind — of dank cells, prisoners who refused to talk, who got slapped around by men who lied and played mind games. Or worse.

“I never saw any brutality,” Dad had told the journalist. I didn’t believe him.

I sat numbly staring out the kitchen window until I heard Susan padding up the stairs.

“My dad ran an interrogation center in Vietnam,” I said as she entered the room. “I just read it in an interview.”

We locked eyes.

“He said he didn’t see any brutality.”

Maybe Susan would say that what Dad had said was possible, that not all CIA interrogations involved torture.

As a trial lawyer, she came home each day after spending hours scrutinizing the real world. When her clients were at fault, she advised them to settle. I trusted her read of world events, her analytical mind, and her sense of ethics.

“No brutality at an interrogation center in Vietnam?” she asked. “That’s hard to believe.”

I knew she was right.

Prisoners were exiled to uninhabited islands and tortured during the Greek junta

Back at the UC library the next week, I picked up a book I had ordered and settled into an overstuffed chair to read. The moment I opened the book, the library with all its college comforts fell away, and the Greek colonels and their dirty practices came alive.

During the junta, prisoners were held on small, barren islands. In the first year alone, almost 3,000 people were detained.

Many were hung upside down while guards struck their feet with wooden sticks or metal pipes. As I read, each scenario fed into the next and the next, like one long and continuous nightmare.

I searched for information about who actually did the torturing. It was the Greek junta, the security and military police in Greece, not the CIA.

The father I had hoped to find re-surfaced inside my heart.

But as I drove back to Oakland, my “good father” faded away. The torture wasn’t abstract.

It had happened in Greece, my first home, the place I felt I most belonged. The CIA may not have tortured individuals, but did they know about it or authorize it?

I parked the car and went into the kitchen and started to clean. I moved from counter to sink, furiously slamming dishes around. In the process, I knocked over a bottle of cooking oil. A huge puddle flowed onto the floor.

Susan came into the kitchen. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Torture,” I said, as I knelt down and started swiping at the oil with a wad of paper towels.

Susan made a move to comfort me. I shook my head. I couldn’t soften to receive her embrace. I lifted the sopping towels, heavy and dripping with yellow oil, stormed over to the trash, and heaved them inside.

Later, I looked out the window at the pine trees which reached high into the sky above our house, trees that had kept me company since I first moved to California to live with Susan.

Today, they were silent, distant witnesses, offering nothing.

Did the CIA know a coup was imminent in Greece?

CIA Greece Junta
Leslie Absher as a toddler, with her father in Athens. Photo supplied by the author.

While prisoners were getting beaten, I had been playing inside my garden, singing Greek nursery songs. For years, I had idealized my childhood, holding fast to a romanticized notion of the country and my life. Now, a truer picture surfaced. And it wasn’t pretty. I needed to dig deeper.

On a university website, I found an interview with a government official who had worked at the US embassy during the dictatorship. He said the US had known a coup was imminent. What’s more, he said that there was proof of it.

I thought back to what Dad had always told me — “We didn’t know what the colonels were planning. We were focused on other things.”

But this State Department official said that that wasn’t true; it was a lie. He said that there were Greek-American CIA officers who were sympathetic to the colonels and that some of them might have known the coup was about to happen, but decided not to report it. I thought of John.

Fingers of heat fanned out on the back of my neck.

I went to the State Department’s website and scrolled through a cache of declassified documents. Most were dry accountings.

I was about to give up when I came across a memo dated before the coup which said that a group of colonels had been meeting for years, and that in one of these meetings Greece’s soon-to-be dictator warned that, if the political situation continued to deteriorate, “drastic action, a dictatorship, will be needed.”

I stopped reading. My hope that the CIA, and by extension, my father, was innocent, was now over.

Whoever wrote this memo knew what the colonels were up to and did nothing. Feelings of blame and anger stormed inside me. At Dad. At his colleagues. The CIA. The State Department. They all blended into one culprit.

“You have to ask him,” I thought. My arm felt heavy when I picked up the phone.

Were Greek-American CIA agents sympathetic to the Greek junta?

“I found declassified documents about Greece,” I said when Dad answered. My hands shook. “There’s a State Department field report that says the colonels were plotting a coup. You said we didn’t know about that, but we did.”

Dad’s deep baritone voice stayed even. “That’s not what I said. What I said was that we didn’t have any specific information about a specific group of colonels. We had a lot of suspicion in those days. There were always military plots.”

No, I thought. This was about a specific meeting of the specific colonels who launched the coup.

“There’s something else,” I said, moving on. “An embassy official has a theory about Greek-American intelligence officers.” John’s name hung in the air, unspoken.

“He says a group of Greek-American officers might have known about the coup but decided not to tell anyone.” I wasn’t supposed to be doing this—disturbing the pile of Cold War rubble that had been sitting quietly inside both of us for years.

“This guy can say what he wants,” Dad said. “You’re asking a lot of questions about the Greek colonels and the junta. Why are you so interested in them?”

I thought back to Athens, to our yard of white pebbles, to the fish pond with its fat golden fish, and to the pine trees of our quiet back yard.

“Because it’s part of my life,” I said. “Because we were there.”

I told Susan about the call later. “He lied to me,” I said.

“He isn’t allowed to say what he did,” she said. “He’s trained to deny it, to offer plausible cover stories.”

Coming to terms with the relationship between the CIA and the Greek junta

Over the next few days, I tried to sort through our conversation. It was a State Department document that said the colonels had been plotting a coup in Greece. It wasn’t from the CIA — so perhaps Dad really didn’t didn’t know about it.

The two agencies are notorious for not sharing information with each other. And maybe he didn’t keep up with the latest declassified documents about Greece from the CIA. But then, why change his story? Did he change it — or just clarify it?

Not long afterward, I was sitting in my car after a student appointment when Dad called. It was raining hard. We spent a few minutes talking about nothing, and then Dad said, “Say, can I ask you something?”

“Okay,” I answered.

“What made you so mad at me years ago?”

It took me a second to figure out what he might have meant. “You mean growing up?”

“Right. What was that about?”

My heart hammered inside my chest. I wasn’t prepared for this. How did I say, You were absent, preoccupied. Your work always seemed more important than me?

“It was kind of an accumulation of things,” I stammered.

“Can you tell me more about that?”

My list of lifelong disappointments — grievances I’d told therapists, and friends, and Susan, but never Dad — stretched wide inside me. The constant relocations. Burying himself in work after Mom died.

Never bothering to meet my girlfriends except that brief lunch with Susan that started with a stiff handshake. The fact that he hadn’t come to my wedding. But that felt too scary. Dad was waiting. I had to say something.

“There was that time a few years after I graduated from college when you and I made arrangements to meet at a café. Do you remember that?”

“Okay,” Dad said, sounding unsure.

“On my way, I stopped at a pay phone and checked my answering machine. There was a message from you. You weren’t coming. You just drove on through. No visit. No interest in my life.”

My eyes stung with tears.

“I’m sorry,” Dad said. He paused. “I should have made the time.”

I stared out the windshield at the watery image of Oakland — cars going by, people rushing around. I’d lived here for the past ten years, but it suddenly wasn’t the same city anymore. It was new. Everything was.

A few months after that conversation, Susan and I made plans to attend a cousin’s wedding in San Antonio. I called Dad to see if he wanted us to visit, because his house was only a few hours away and we had rented a car.

“Sure,” he said, surprising me. “That would be great!”

On the day of our visit, Susan and I drove to the Marriott, where Dad had arranged a room for us. A moment later, Dad pulled into a spot next to ours. I got out and walked toward him.

He was still tall and imposing, the way he was during my childhood, but now he used a cane. It had been almost five years since we’d seen each other.

We smiled at each other warmly and came together for a hug. After we hugged, tears welled up, and I looked away, which made me catch only the tail end of the hug he gave to Susan.

The three of us made our way into the hotel. Dad shuffled up to the front desk, made the arrangements, and the concierge handed us our room card.

“I’ll wait for you guys in the car,” Dad said, and headed back outside.

Susan and I wheeled our bags down the hallway.

“I can’t believe how well things are going,” I whispered.

“I know.”

We opened the door to our room and stepped into a spacious, light-filled suite.
Susan stopped abruptly. “Wow,” she said.

I followed her eyes to the middle of the room and saw a single king-size bed. Not two beds. One. I stared at the bed and what it meant.

The rest of our visit went smoothly. For the very first time in so long, things felt good between us.

A few years later, Dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He called to say he had only weeks to live.

I had spent years researching the coup and the Greek junta— reading books and websites, interviewing people. I had even gone to Greece. But things were better then between me and Dad.

And now he had cancer. I flew to Texas to say goodbye. I held his hand and whispered that I loved him.

Former CIA agent in Greece: “Did the right-wing dictatorship practice torture? Undeniably, yes”

After he died, I stopped researching the Greek junta. I told myself that whatever he had done in Vietnam or Greece or elsewhere was his business.

But I still couldn’t let it go. I wrote an essay that said everything I wanted to say — about my love for Greece and Dad, but also about my unresolved questions about the CIA and torture in Greece. I sent it to an online Greek news site, and they accepted it.

After it posted, I got an e-mail from someone named Steve.

“I just read your essay. I knew your dad well,” it said.

My pulse raced.

“I met your dad when I joined the CIA. We spent hours talking in Greek and reviewing the state of play in Greece. He was a class act, and one of the officers who truly loved the country.”

Then Steve said something that stunned me.

“I want to assure you that your dad and the other officers serving there were not directly involved in any form of torture. We collected intelligence in response to requirements, but torture or coercion is not in our genes. The agency has changed. Pre–9/11, there were rules. Post–9/11, the gloves came off.”

Doubt flared inside me. Steve was in the CIA in Greece. Of course, he would defend the agency. I kept reading.

“Did the right-wing dictatorship, the Greek junta, practice torture? Undeniably, yes. Did we know about it? I am sure that we did. Could we have stopped it? Our mission was to report on the situation in Greece. US policymakers at the time elected to support the regime.”

“Your Dad was a thoughtful, sincere individual. We all trusted his judgment.”

Steve and I talked via Skype later that day. I watched his face, and scrutinized his words. I believed him. In a follow up email, he added, “Your dad was a thoughtful, sincere individual. We all trusted his judgment.”

I stared at the screen. This was the father I had searched for. The one I knew to be true, but for so long had doubted. I would never know everything. Instead, I would have to find a way to live with not knowing. But maybe this was enough.

I read the lines again. “Your Dad was a thoughtful, sincere individual. We all trusted his judgment.”

The words went straight to my heart. And this time, I let them.

 

Leslie Absher is an American writer and journalist.

P.S. All names used in the piece are fictitious

Greek Photographer Wins Award For Refugee Camp Photos

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Greek photographer Tzortzinis
Greek photographer Angelos Tzortzinis has just received the UNICEF Photo of the Year 2020 award. Credit: Angelos Tzortzinis / AFP Illustration: GreekReporter

Acclaimed Greek documentary photographer Angelos Tzortzinis has fetched yet another international award, this time by World Press Photo, for masterfully capturing the harsh everyday reality of refugees at temporary camp settlements across Greece.

Shot in grayscale, his work “Trapped In Greece” has won Third Prize at World Press Photo 2021 in the Long-Term Projects / Stories category.

The award-winning photo story comprises thirty individual photos taken between 2016 to 2019. The project, shot mainly on the Greek islands of Samos and Lesbos but also in other refugee camps around Greece, aims to explore human and social adaptability.

World class Greek photographer

Overall, Tzortzinis has been working on migration issues for eight years.

The Athens-based freelance photographer is a regular contributor to Agence France Presse and has previously been recognized with awards from Time Magazine (Wire Photographer of the Year), Picture of the Year International (POYi), Magnum Foundation, UNICEF, Sony and Visa Pour l’Image.

He has covered major international events, most prominently the Arab Spring in Egypt and Libya, the revolution in Ukraine, and the Haiti earthquake several years ago.

In his home country, aside from the lives of refugees and migrants in Greece, he has also been documenting the domestic economic crisis for over a decade.

Harsh everyday reality of refugee camps

“Tens of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty-stricken homelands have become stranded in Greece since the height of Europe’s refugee crisis in 2016,” Tzortzinis comments on his personal website.

“International attention has shifted elsewhere, and local communities too have turned against them. More than 80,000 refugees and migrants were stranded in Greece, after the closure of the borders”, the Greek photographer adds.

Greek photographer Angelos Tzortzinis UNICEF award photo
A photograph by Angelos Tzortzinis from a previous photography contest, depicting the aftermath of the arson at the Moria migrant camp on Lesvos. Credit: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP

According to a UNHCR report from March 2016, more than one million people, mostly refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, had crossed into Greece since the start of 2015.

As Balkan and European countries north of Greece began closing their borders to incoming migrants, over 90,000 people were left trapped in Greece, in camps or on the streets.

Tzortzinis’ compelling visual storytelling captured moments of the residents’ harsh everyday reality, bearing witness to their actual living conditions at temporary settlement camps set up by the government.

Moria Reception and Identification Center on the island of Lesbos, in the eastern Aegean, where a majority of his photos were taken, was the largest refugee camp in Europe. By the summer of 2020, approximately 20,000 people were living in the settlement which had been built to accommodate 3,000.

Similarly, on the nearby island of Samos, almost 8,000 refugees were living on a former military base that had been built to hold 650 people. Both camps were eventually destroyed by arson fires that were set on September 9 and November 20, 2020.

An Ancient Greek Approach to Risk and the Lessons it Can Offer the Modern World

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Ancient Greek vase showing Approach to Risk
Riders and their dogs depicted on an ancient Greek vase c. 510-500 BC. Credit: Public Domain

The ancient Greeks laid the foundation for civilizations, their experiences represent teachings that can be learned even in modern times.

Most of us take big and small risks in our lives every day. But COVID-19 has made us more aware of how we think about taking risks.

Since the start of the pandemic, people have been forced to weigh their options about how much risk is worth taking for ordinary activities – should they, for example, go to the grocery store or even turn up for a long-scheduled doctor’s visit?

As a scholar of ancient Greek history, I am interested in what the classics can teach us about risk-taking as a way to make sense of our current situation.

The iron generation

One of the earliest written works in Greek is “Works and Days,” a poem by a farmer named Hesiod in the eighth century B.C. In it, Hesiod addresses his lazy brother, Perses.

The most famous section of “Works and Days” describes a cycle of generations. First, Hesiod says, Zeus created a golden generation who “lived like the gods, having hearts free from sorrow, far from work and misery.”

Then came a silver generation, arrogant and proud.

Third was a bronze generation, violent and self-destructive.

Fourth was the age of heroes who went to their graves at Troy.

Finally, Hesiod says, Zeus made an iron generation marked by a balance of pain and joy.

While the earliest generations lived life free of worries, according to Hesiod, life in the current iron generation is shaped by risk, which leads to pain and sorrow.

Throughout the poem, Hesiod develops an idea of risk and its management that was common in ancient Greece: People can and should take steps to prepare for risk, but it is ultimately inescapable.

As Hesiod says, “summer won’t last forever, build granaries,” but for people of the current generation, “there is neither a stop to toil and sorrow by day, nor to death by night.”

In other words, people face the consequences of risk – including suffering – because that is the will of Zeus.

Omens and divination

If the outcome of risk was determined by the gods, then one critical part of preparing to face uncertainty was to try to find out the will of Zeus. For this, the Greeks relied on oracles and omens.

While the rich might pay to petition the oracle of Apollo at Delphi, most people turned to simpler techniques to seek guidance from the gods, such as throwing dice made of animal knuckle bones.

A second technique involved inscribing a question on a lead tablet, to which the god would provide an answer such as “yes” or “no.” These tablets record a wide range of concerns from ordinary Greeks. In one, a man named Lysias asks the god whether he should invest in shipping. In another, a man named Epilytos asks whether he should continue in his current career and whether he ought to wed a woman who shows up, or wait. Nothing is known about either man except that they turned to the gods when confronted with uncertainty.

Omens were also used to inform almost every decision, whether public or private. Men called “chresmologoi,” oracle collectors who interpreted the signs from the gods, had enormous influence in Athens. When the Spartans invaded in 431 B.C., the historian Thucydides says, they were everywhere reciting oracular responses. When plague struck Athens, he notes that the Athenians called to mind just such a prophecy.

Chresmologoi played so much of a role in bolstering public confidence that the wealthy Athenian politician Alcibiades privately contracted them as spin doctors in order to persuade people to overlook the risks of an expedition to Sicily in 415 B.C.

Mitigating risks

For the Greeks, putting faith in the gods alone did not fully protect them from risk. As Hesiod explained, risk mitigation required attending to both the gods and human actions.

Generals, for example, made sacrifices to gods like Artemis or Ares in advance of battle, and the best commanders knew how to interpret every omen as a positive sign. At the same time, though, generals also paid attention to strategy and tactics in order to give their armies every advantage.

Neither was every omen heeded. Before the Athenian expedition to Sicily in 415 B.C., statues sacred to Hermes, the god of travel, were found with their faces scratched out.

The Athenians interpreted this as a bad omen, which may have been what the perpetrators intended. The expedition sailed anyway, but it ended in a crushing defeat. Few of the people who left ever returned to Athens.

The evidence was clear to the Athenians: The desecration of the statues had put everyone in the expedition at risk. The only solution was to punish the wrongdoers. Fifteen years later, the orator Andocides had to defend himself in court against accusations that he had been involved.

This history explains that individuals might escape divine punishment, but ignoring omens and failing to take precautions were often communal rather than individual problems. Andocides was acquitted, but his trial shows that when someone’s actions put everyone at risk, it was a community’s responsibility to hold them accountable.

Oracles and knuckle bones are not in vogue today, but the ancient Greeks show us the very real dangers of risky behavior, and why it is important that risk not be left to a simple toss of the dice.

*Joshua P. Nudell, is an Assistant Professor of Classics, Westminster College. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

Ryanair Adds 74 New Greek Flights to Summertime Roster

Ryan Air Greek flights
Ryanair is adding 74 new routes to its Greek flight schedule this Summer. Credit: Wikipedia / Public Domain

The Ireland-based budget airline Ryanair announced on Friday a total of 74 new routes connecting Greece to European cities and countries, making its flight roster the largest ever for Greece. The extra Greek flights come at a time when the country is ramping up for its opening to tourists on May 14.

Just as the country braces for reopening, and after it agreed to lift quarantine restrictions on UK, American and EU residents, the extra flights serve as an important harbinger of the huge increase in Greek tourism that the company expects this Summer.

Ryanair’s Director of Marketing & Digital, Dara Brady, announced the added flights today, saying “As vaccination rollout programs continue in the coming months, air traffic is set to soar and we are delighted to announce the biggest ever Greek summer schedule with a total of 218 routes, including 74 new and over 550 weekly flights connecting Greece to a host of international and domestic destinations.”

The new Ryanair schedule includes flights to three new bases in Greece – Rhodes, Corfu and Chania, Crete.

Greek Flights schedule for Ryanair this Summer

Ryanair’s Summer flight schedule to Greece is as follows, showing the number of flights per week:

Chania – Berlin (2)
Chania – Billund (2)
Chania – Bologna (2)
Chania – Bremen (1)
Chania – Bari (2)
Chania – Budapest (3)
Chania – Cologne (1)
Chania – Rome Ciampino (2)
Chania – Gdansk (2)
Chania – Mykonos (3)
Chania – Kyiv (1)
Chania – Leeds (2)
Chania – Malta (2)
Chania – Newcastle (2)
Chania – Tel Aviv (5)
Chania – Turin (2)
Chania – Treviso (2)
Corfu – Aarhus (2)
Corfu – Barcelona (2)
Corfu – Copenhagen (2)
Corfu – Baden Baden (2)
Corfu – Munster (2)
Corfu – Heraklion (3)
Corfu – Santorini (2)
Corfu – Krakow (2)
Corfu – Marseille (2)
Corfu – Milan Malpensa (2)
Corfu – Weeze (2)
Corfu – Nuremberg (2)
Corfu – Odesa (2)
Corfu – Paphos (2)
Corfu – Sibiu (2)
Corfu – Shannon (2)
Corfu – Tel Aviv (3)
Corfu – Turin (2)
Corfu – Verona (2)
Corfu – Wroclaw (1)
Heraklion – Rhodes (2)
Heraklion – Corfu (3)
Mykonos – Budapest (2)
Mykonos – Chania (3)
Mykonos – Hahn (3)
Preveza (Aktion) – Stansted (2)
Rhodes – Barcelona (2)
Rhodes – Brindisi (2)
Rhodes – Birmingham (2)
Rhodes – Budapest (2)
Rhodes – Dublin (2)
Rhodes – Memmingen (2)
Rhodes – Heraklion (2)

Who can travel to Greece?

Greece is all set to ease travel from abroad and lift the quarantine requirement for American, British and EU travelers by next week, provided they are vaccinated or can show a negative test.

The move comes as Greece is gradually relaxing travel restrictions towards the official opening of the tourist season on May 14.

“We will gradually lift the restrictions at the beginning of next week ahead of the opening on May 14,” a senior Tourism Ministry official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The official said citizens from the European Union, the United States, Britain, Serbia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates will be allowed to travel to Greece via the airports of Athens, Thessaloniki, Heraklion, Chania, Rhodes, Kos, Mykonos, Santorini and Corfu, and two border crossings.

Passengers from those countries will not be quarantined, as long as they prove that they are fully vaccinated or show a negative PCR test carried out 72 hours prior to their arrival, the official said, adding the tourists would be subject to domestic lockdown restrictions.

Under current rules, all foreigners arriving in Greece must test negative and quarantine for seven days.

For passengers from Britain and the United Arab Emirates, a second mandatory test is also required upon their arrival.