The Greek-American CIA Spy Who Empowered the Taliban

Greek American spy Taliban
Greek-American CIA spy Gust Avrakotos helped the Mujahideen. Illustration: Greek Reporter

Afghanistan’s Islamist terrorists, the Taliban, owe a lot to a Greek-American CIA spy who ran the largest covert operation in the agency’s history in arming their predecessors, the Mujahideen, in the 1980s.

Gust Avrakotos was in charge of arming Afghan tribesmen during their guerrilla war against the Soviets, who had invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979.

The Soviet-Afghan War (12/24/1979-2/15/1989) mainly took place in the Afghan countryside with the mujahideen being backed by the United States, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, and the United Kingdom.

The ten-year-long conflict was one of the final acts of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and an opportunity for Avrakotos, or “Dr. Dirty,” as he was dubbed by colleagues, to do his undercover work.

In retrospect, the Greek-American Afghan Task Force Chief for the CIA was instrumental in arming the Mujahideen, whose weapons eventually fell into the hands of the Taliban, who later took over Afghanistan.

Who was Gust Avrakotos?

Born on January 14, 1938 in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, Gustav Lascaris Avrakotos was the the son of Oscar, a Greek-American soft drink manufacturer from the island of Lemnos, and his wife Zafira.

Young Gust graduated as valedictorian from Aliquippa High School in 1955 and attended college at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (CIT).

He then had to take a break from his studies in order to work to support his father, who was facing financial problems. He worked selling beer and cigarettes to bars frequented by immigrants from Europe.

After paying off his family’s debts, Avrakotos returned to college at the University of Pittsburg from which he graduated summa cum laude.

He almost got hired by IBM, when one of his professors, Richard Cottam, who had also worked at the CIA, suggested he be interviewed for a job with the Central Intelligence Agency.

Although the CIA salary was only a third of what he could have made at IBM, Avrakotos chose to join the CIA on August 1, 1962.

Because he spoke Greek, he was posted to Athens. While in Greece, a junta of army colonels overthrew the democratic government on April 21st, 1967 and established a dictatorship.

Avrakotos became the chief CIA liaison to the Greek colonels. But not only that—he became friends with them and advised them on several unofficial issues, sharing their anti-Communist views.

The regime fell in July 1974, and, a year later, the November 17 terrorist group assassinated the CIA’s station chief in Athens, Richard Welch.

CIA renegade Philip Agee, who had exposed Welch as the Athens station chief, later revealed Avrakotos, as well.

Avrakotos stayed in Greece even after his exposure. However, he was vilified by the Greek press for his role in the colonel’s regime and eventually was forced to leave Athens in 1978.

The Greek-American’s coarse and roguish character, along with his profane language, was not liked within the CIA and he would not be granted a good assignment, much less a promotion.

Nevertheless, he worked in Boston for a while, recruiting foreign businessmen. Afterwards, he was stationed at the agency’s headquarters in Langley for three years, undertaking difficult missions in which moral standards were often overlooked.

Greek American spy CIA
Charlie Wilson, in Afghan attire, meets with Mujahideen in Afghanistan. Credit: Tripalis/Wikipedia Public Domain

The Greek-American spy finds his calling in Afghanistan

The Soviet-Afghan War was a bonafide opportunity for the Greek-American CIA agent to conduct his clandestine war against the Communist enemy.

His collaborator was former congressman Charles Wilson (D-Tex.), a man who used his leverage to fund and arm the Mujahideen in their war against the arch enemy.

In late 1982, Avrakotos found a position in the CIA’s Near East desk, which included overseeing the agency’s work in Afghanistan, including involvement in Operation Cyclone, the CIA program to arm and finance the Afghan Mujahideen.

In 1983, he was appointed acting Chief of the South Asia Operations Group, funneling a lot of money and guns to the Mujahideen.

Wilson, as a member of two major foreign policy and covert-ops committees, along with Avrakotos, controlled more than half of the CIA’s annual expenditures for covert operations.

In 1984, Avrakotos appointed Michael G. Vickers from the CIA’s paramilitary group to Operation Cyclone to revamp the strategy for the Mujahideen.

New weapons like AK-47’s and heavy machine guns, new tactics, and training were introduced to make the Afghan fighters more competitive in battle.

Money kept pouring in until the well-armed tribesmen drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan, striking a great victory against their enemy and the U.S. enemy, as well.

During his stay in Afghanistan, Avrakotos broke every rule in the CIA book. Yet, he had a cunning ability to avoid anything that would put him in trouble with the agency.

The Avrakotos-Wilson clandestine collaboration was exposed in 2003 when 60 Minutes TV show producer George Crile published Charlie Wilson’s War.

The book is a detailed description of how the two men convinced Congress and the US bureaucracy to support the Mujahideen cause and spend hundreds of millions of dollars.

Tom Hanks bought the rights of the book and turned it into a movie with the same title in 2007. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman starred as Gust Avrakotos while Hanks played Wilson alongside Julia Roberts as the influential Houston socialite Joanne Herring.

In 1986, the Greek-American CIA agent disagreed vocally with a president-supported program of selling weapons to Iran to fund the Contras in Nicaragua—the Iran-Contra affair —and the agency removed him from Afghanistan and stationed him to Africa.

The end of a shadowy career in the CIA

In his book, George Crile described Avrakotos as a man beyond any moral law and extremely worldly. He was never reckless in his actions, however, and was always aware of the risks he was taking.

Despite all this, he was made a member of the elite Senior Intelligence Service in 1985 and received the Intelligence Medal of Merit in 1988. He resigned from the agency in 1989.

In retrospect, Avrakotos’ shadowy actions in Afghanistan were heavily criticized because the weapons given to the Mujahideen were later used in the country’s fratricidal war before the Taliban took control.

The same weapons were later used against U.S. troops when the United States went to war in Afghanistan in 2001.

Avrakotos returned to work on contract for the CIA from 1997 until 2003. He died of a stroke on December 1, 2005.

 

The Japanese Ship that Saved Greeks During the Smyrna Catastrophe

Japanese ship Smyrna catastrophe
Credit: Public domain

The story of how a Japanese ship saved hundreds of Armenians and Greeks from genocide in Asia Minor in 1922 after the Smyrna Catastrophe was the theme of a recent lecture held in Tokyo by a prominent Japanese researcher.

Organized by the Japan Greece Society in cooperation with the Embassy of Greece in Japan, the lecture revealed the true story of the ship that rescued these desperate people from near certain death in September 1922.

In a most remarkable incident, described in the book Armenia, Australia and the Great War, the captain and crew of the Tokei Maru, a Japanese ship, showed exemplary courage in saving the desperate refugees who were stranded at Smyrna.

Desperate refugees stranded at docks after Smyrna Catastrophe

Hundreds of thousands of Armenian and Greek refugees had fled to the docks of Smyrna after Turkish nationalist troops had entered, burned, and occupied the city on September 9, 1922.

The Turkish occupation was soon followed by the massacre and deportation of Armenian and Greek civilians.

About twenty ships belonging to the WWI allies were in the harbor, with their crews simply sitting by and watching the events onshore unfold. A fire was started in Smyrna’s Armenian quarter four days later, which eventually ended up destroying much of the city.

The captain of the Japanese merchant ship suddenly decided to take it upon himself to rescue the refugees.

The nation of Japan later also provided vital humanitarian aid to the survivors of the Armenian genocide.

Anna Harlowe Birge, the wife of the American professor, Dr. Birge of the International College at Smyrna, witnessed the helpless refugees crowding each other off the wharves as Smyrna began to burn.

Men and women could be seen swimming in the harbor, hoping to be rescued after the catastrophe in Smyrna; many of these people eventually drowned.

Japanese ship saved hundreds of refugees

Birge related that “in the harbor, at that time, was a Japanese freighter, which had just arrived loaded to the decks with a very valuable cargo of silks, laces and china representing many thousands of dollars. The Japanese captain, when he realized the situation, did not hesitate.”

“The whole cargo went overboard into the dirty waters of the harbor, and the freighter was loaded with several hundred refugees, who were taken to Piraeus and landed in safety on Greek shores,” according to Stavros T. Stavridis, who wrote about Birge’s story in an article published in the American Hellenic International Foundation’s policy journal.

Another account of the brave rescue was published on September 18, 1922, in the New York Times.

Refugees constantly arriving…relate new details of the Smyrna tragedy. On Thursday [September 14th]…there were six steamers at Smyrna to transport the refugees, one American, one Japanese, two French and two Italian. The American and Japanese steamers accepted all comers without examining their papers, while the others took only foreign subjects with passports.

The humanitarian actions of the Japanese ship were also recorded at the time by many Armenian and Greek survivors of the Smyrna catastrophe.

First Skyscraper To Be Built In Greece Secures Permit

DIgital reproduction of Greece's first skyscraper.
First Skyscraper To Be Built In Greece Secures Permit. Credit: Foster and Partners

The Riviera Tower in Elliniko is set to become the first skyscraper and the tallest building in Greece.

Lamda Development on Tuesday secured the first ever building permit for the construction of a skyscraper in the country, the company announced.

Securing the permit for the iconic tower was a particularly complex process, the announcement said, as a large number of special approvals were required, such as from the Civil Aviation Service, the Central Council of Architecture, and the Fire Brigade Headquarters, and over 1,900 blueprints were made.

A large number of competent ministries and regulatory institutions were also involved in the permit approval.

The architectural design for the Riviera Tower skyscraper was done by the international architectural office of “Foster+Partners” in collaboration with the “Alexandros N. Tombazis SA.”

The static and electromechanical studies were prepared by Buro Happold in London with the assistance of local partners, “DETA CONSULTING ENGINEERS” for statics and “TEKEM SA” for electromechanical studies. The landscape design was assigned to “DOXIADIS PLUS.”

First Skyscraper building in Greece ready to start

With the building permit in hand, construction for the two hundred-meter skyscraper is expected to begin in a few weeks.

Odysseas Athanasiou, Managing Director of Lamda Development, commented that “another important step towards the rapid completion of the first phase of [the] Hellinikon [project] has been completed.”

The skyscraper is part of the massive Hellinikon regeneration project at the former Athens airport, which is planned to become a state-of-the-art commercial, leisure, and business destination.

The project is expected to generate seventy-five thousand jobs, according to its developer, who envisages the old runways of Hellinikon airport becoming beachfront villas and high-end shopping malls with a marina, five-star hotels, a casino, office space, and the largest public park in Europe.

When the project was first presented to the public in 2021, Lamda said that the skyscraper would be forty-five stories tall with a total of two hundred apartments.

Luis Fonsi Offers Impromptu Performance on Mykonos

Luis Fonsi delivering an impromptu performance of hit song Despacito at a a beach restaurant in Mykonos.
Credit: Mykonos Live TV

Puerto-Rican music star Luis Fonsi is on vacation on the island of Mykonos, where he delivered an impromptu performance in front of a crowd of astonished fans.

On Wednesday, Paraga beachgoers spotted the multi-platinum-selling performer at the beach bar restaurant he was dining and gave him no choice but to perform for them.

The restaurant put Fonsi’s Grammy-winning hit song, Despacito, on the speakers, so Fonsi naturally took the microphone and got everybody dancing to the tune.

Despacito’s timeless success

Released on January 12, 2017, the reggaeton/Latin pop song was written by Fonsi, Erika Ender, and Daddy Yankee and produced by Mauricio Rengifo and Andrés Torres.

At the time, it attained Latin Grammy Awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Urban Fusion/Performance, and Best Short Form Music Video at the 18th Latin Grammy Awards. It also won him seven Billboard Latin Music Awards, five Billboard Music Awards, and three Grammy Awards nominations.

Five years later, Despacito is ranked among the best Latin songs of all time and referred to as one of the most successful Spanish-language tracks in pop music history.

Although Despacito is Fonsi’s biggest success to this day, his first Latin Grammy and Billboard Latin wins were awarded for Aquí Estoy Yo, performed with Aleks Syntek, David Bisbal, and Noel Schajris in 2009.

Fonsi enjoying Mykonos life

Later on Wednesday, Fonsi posted a photo of himself in Mykonos, captioned “Mykoneando.”

The Latin pop star also posed for a photo with the landmark white windmills of Mykonos in the background.

This is the second summer in a row that Fonsi has chosen Mykonos as his vacation destination.

He is reportedly enjoying his time on the famous island in the company of his wife, model Agueda Lopez, and a few friends.

Luis Fonsi posing for a photo with the white windmills of Mykonos in the background.
Credit: Instagram / Luis Fonsi @luisfonsi

The world-acclaimed performer took the Greek island break between tour dates in Spain. His next concert is scheduled for August 18th at Puerto De Santa Maria.

The Incredibly Diverse – And Healthy – Diet of the Ancient Greeks

ancient greeks diet
Symposium scene on an ancient Kylix, or drinking cup. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain

The diet of the ancient Greeks is fascinating for so many reasons. They had impressively varied eating habits by any measure, but they naturally contrasted in many ways to ours — with the most characteristic difference being that they ate much less than we do today.

In ancient Greece, people would begin their day with a very lean breakfast, which included a little barley bread, dipped in lukewarm wine, and figs.

Another common breakfast food was actually a drink, called “Kykeonas,” a libation made of boiled barley, flavored with mint or thyme, which was believed to have healing properties.

Greeks of that time were very fond of fish, perhaps even more than we are today. For lunch, they would routinely dine on any fresh fish that was available, including sea bream, mullet, sardines and eels.

There was always an assortment of legumes from which to choose, including lentils, beans, chickpeas, peas and broad beans, to eat with their fish.

The eternal European staple of bread was always part of the midday meal, accompanied by cheese, olives, eggs, nuts and fruits.

Ancient Greeks considered dinner to be the most important and enjoyable meal of the day.

A typical evening meal in ancient Greece

Although health specialists today recommend that we should eat particularly lightly in the evening, ancient Greeks actually spent a lot of time together at the table at the end of the day, and ate fairly heavily at that meal.

Dinner in ancient Greece was usually accompanied by desserts, the so-called “tragimata,” which could be composed of fresh or dried fruit, including figs, as well as nuts and grapes or honey-based sweets.

ancient Greeks diet
Figs. Credit: E.Abadjieva/Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 4.0

Regarding their meats, it was not often consumed in ancient Greece. In their diet, the ancient Greeks showed a particular preference for pork and veal, while they rarely ate goat or lamb.

They also loved hunting, especially small birds such as thrush and quail, but they were not averse to taking deer as well, so venison was not unheard of at the ancient Greek table.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the Greeks also loved their snails; it is recorded that Cretans had eaten them since the time of Minos.

Fruits and vegetables were always present on the table, although not in the variety that we find today. Pears, pomegranates, apples, figs, berries, cherries and plums were always in high demand.

Athenians were known to cultivate vegetables in their gardens, and they had a particular love for onions, garlic, lettuce, cucumbers, peas, artichokes, celery, dill and mint.

Mushroom, fennel, asparagus, and even tender, edible nettles, were to be found in abundance in the fields.

As almost all of us still do, ancient Greeks also loved their bread, and they would bake many different varieties of it, from flat breads to semolina bread, and even a coarse type of bread made from millet.

Greeks of all classes ate a large amount of fish

fish plate
Fish plate from 325-290BC. Credit:Sailko /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Most of all, perhaps, the ancient Greeks loved their fish. They frequently dined on the types of fish which lived right along the rocky shores of the Aegean, but they also enjoyed fish from the open seas, such as tuna, a much-sought-after delicacy.

They also enjoyed mackerel, bonito and anchovies, which were abundant during their season and were easy to catch with nets.

Tuna and anchovies, which were widely consumed by all social classes, were the product of a flourishing sea trade throughout the Mediterranean and the adjacent seas.

“Garos,” a type of sauce made from a fried, salted fatty fish, was another basic element of the diet along the coast in ancient Greece. High quality garos, made of tuna offal and blood, was actually quite expensive.

Ancient Greeks had many herbs and spices in their diet

The kitchen shelves of an ancient Greek house were always stocked with an impressive variety of herbs and spices, including oregano, basil, mint, thyme, cardamom, coriander, capers and sesame, which they would add liberally to their dishes.

Most foods were particularly light, as they were baked in the oven and on a skewer, and the same was true for sweets, which were made from pastry, with dried or fresh fruit, and honey.

ancient greeks diet
Credit: Greek Reporter

Every meal was accompanied by wine, of course, and olive oil was always on the table, especially for Athenians, as they considered it to be the goddess Athena’s gift to their city.
They believed that the purpose of food was to satisfy the palate and not to actually fill the stomach.

In that sense, and that sense only, one can even say that they were gourmands.

Spartans ate less than the average ancient Greek

The only exception to this overall rule were the people of Sparta, who were by far the lightest eaters of all. True to form, even in their diet, they followed a laconic austerity, with their daily food consisting of a bowl of “black broth” and a piece of bread, while on special occasions and feasts, they would have boiled pork, accompanied by a little wine and some pita bread.

But everywhere else in Greece, there was a great variety of food at each and every meal, and people took an obvious delight in it.

However, despite this mouth-watering array of delicacies, which no one today would scorn, ancient Greeks were still light eaters compared to us today in the modern world. They indeed consumed a great variety of foods, but in relatively small quantities.

So this proves that, even when it comes to diet, we still have a lot to learn from the ancient Greeks.

Piles Of Litter Left By Tourists On Zakynthos Navagio Beach

Pile of Garbage at Navagio beach, Zakynthos
Ovetourism ruinin Greek beaches. Credit: Environmental Scientist and Photographer, Michael Bakas

The private company operating the sea route from Porto Vromi Maries volunteered to clean up the famous Navagio Beach in Zakynthos from the piles of litter left behind by tourists, as authorities deny responsibility.

Navagio, or Shipwreck Beach, is among the most popular beaches of Greece and the second most-photographed site in the country even though it is now only accessible by boat following a dangerous rockslide in the summer of 2018.

Located in a secluded cove with turquoise blue waters and surrounded by towering white cliffs, Navagio offers a unique landscape, starring a historic shipwreck just off the famed beach.

Sadly, large volumes of litter are left behind by tourists each day in the summer, sabotaging the beautiful view while the issue is worsened by the lack of provision for regular litter removal in place.

Navagio litter responsibilities

The public discussion that lead to the private cleanup initiative was triggered by a photo of the litter piled up on the beach, shared by environmentalist Michalis Bakas on Facebook.

“I can’t understand how some people pay money to visit one of the world’s most beautiful beaches for a few hours, then leave their litter behind,” he wrote.

The discussion spiraled into a completely different direction than that of visitors’ personal responsibility, as locals commented that the issue was not properly dealt with by authorities either.

It emerged that the municipality has been denying responsibility for litter removal because Navagio is operated by an administrative committee of the Ministry of Tourism, who, they claim, is accountable for the litter.

The Minister of Tourism, Vassilis Kikilias, told media that litter removal is by law the sole responsibility of local authorities. He added, however, that the Ministry will do their best to help municipalities to deal with the task.

While authorities get the litter removal issue straightened out, the staff of Porto Vromi Maries Cruises & Fun have pledged to continue their voluntary cleanup of Navagio Beach themselves on their last route each day. This is not the first time they had to do the cleanup, they told local reporters.

Best beach in the world

Travel site FlightNetwork nominated Navagio Beach as the “Best in the World” in 2018 despite the rockslide that occurred a few months earlier.

Following the incident, the beach was divided into three demarcated zones for safety; one has free access; one has restricted use; and one is completely closed to all visitors.

Navagio Beach was originally known as “Agios Georgios Beach” until October 2, 1980, when the freightliner MV Panagiotis ran aground during stormy weather.

Rumored to have been smuggling contraband, including cigarettes and alcohol, the ship was subsequently abandoned and, today, still rests half-buried in the limestone gravel of the beach, which became known worldwide by the nickname “Navagio” (Greek for “Shipwreck”).

Greek-Americans Fund Reconstruction Of Fire-Stricken Greek Hospital In Istanbul

Fire burning Balikli Greek Hospital in Istanbul on August 4, 2022.
Credit: Twitter / Order of St Andrew @OrderStAndrew

The Greek-American community have pledged 350,000 US dollars for the reconstruction of the fire-stricken Balikli Greek Hospital in Istanbul.

The historic building, which also operates as a nursing house, sustained extensive structural damage from the August 4th fire.

Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, who arrived in Istanbul on Tuesday for the third pilgrimage organized by the Archdiocese of America in celebration of the 100th anniversary of its founding, informed the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the fundraising during their meeting at the Phanar.

The Greek Orthodox Archbishop was planning to visit Balikli in the following days.

The Greek-American community responded immediately to the call for donations following the fire, according to the Archbishop, and more funds are expected to come in privately.

The Balikli Greek Hospital is a health care institution for Greek Orthodox Christians of the Balikli neighborhood in the Zeytinburnu district of Istanbul founded in 1753. Its service continues to this day, and it is run by the Greek community of Turkey.

Elderly residents and patients were dramatically evacuated by staff and neighbors as firefighters were rushing to the scene, but no injuries were reported.

“Human lives matter. Buildings, facilities, material things can be restored, and our Omogeneia will contribute in any way we can to mitigate the material damages that have been suffered so that the Balıklı Greek Hospital can continue its mission caring for the elderly and infirmed,” Archbishop Elpidoforos had commented in response to the incident.

The President of the charitable Philoptochos Society, Arlene Siavelis Kehl stated: “Our love for the institution is profound and we stand ready to assist His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros in any way we can to address the damage that occurred. We are thankful to Our Lord that all were safely evacuated, and there were no injuries.”

The Philoptochos Society pledged 50,000 US dollars for the cause, and the Archons of the Order Of St Andrew offered $100,000.

“It is the mission of the Archons to support and defend our Holy Mother Church, and we are grateful to God that we are able to make this donation,” Dr. Anthony J. Limberakis, National Commander of the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, said of the donation.

The Leadership 100 Fund and the Archdiocese itself also donated 100,000 USD dollars each for the Greek hospital’s reconstruction. The fundraiser aimed at the reconstruction of the hospital continues.

Cyprus Remembers Brutal Murder of Tassos Isaac by Turkish Nationalists

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Tassos Isaac
Tassos Isaac being brutally beaten by a Turkish mob in Cyprus in 1996. Credit: hr-action / Wikipedia / Fair use

August 11th marks twenty-six years since the brutal murder of the Greek-Cypriot demonstrator Tassos Isaac inside the United Nations Buffer Zone in 1996.

Anastasios (Tassos) Isaac was a 24-year old Greek Cypriot refugee who participated in an August 11, 1996 civilian demonstration in Deryneia against Turkey’s illegal military occupation of the island.

During a confrontation that took place in the UN buffer zone between the demonstrators and individuals from the Turkish “Grey Wolves” militia group, Isaac suddenly found himself ensnared in barbed wire.

None of his fellow protesters had noticed that he had been left behind the main group of the Greek, Greek-Cypriot, and other European demonstrators who had traveled from around Europe to Cyprus to protest Turkey’s actions.

The Grey Wolves is an ultranationalist, Islamist, neo-fascist youth organization of Turkey, affiliated with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party.

Soon, a large group of the Grey Wolves ran toward Isaac and viciously attacked him.

Unchallenged by the nearby UN peacekeeping troops who had been caught by surprise, the Turkish and Turkish-Cypriot mob continued to brutally beat the protestor for several minutes.

By the time Greek-Cypriots, finally aided by UN peacekeepers, managed to drag Isaac away from the mob, it was too late.

The young Greek-Cypriot, who had been forced to leave his homeland at the age of two in 1974, was dead.

According to video footage that captured the attack, a number of Turkish-Cypriot policemen were also seen beating Isaac viciously instead of stopping the attackers.

When Isaac was murdered, his wife was pregnant with their first child.

As a gesture of gratitude for his services to Greece, the Greek government decided that the godparent of the baby would be the entire Greek nation.

When the baby girl was born, she was baptized Anastasia, after her father’s name, by the then Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Theodoros Pangalos.

Solomos Solomou: The Second Victim after Tassos Isaac

A few days later, on August 14, 1996, another Greek-Cypriot died at the hands of the occupying forces of Cyprus, which had been overcome with murderous mania.

Solomos Solomou, a 26-year old man who participated in a demonstration right after Isaac’s funeral, climbed a flagpole to remove a Turkish flag from its mast in Cyprus’ United Nations Buffer Zone. A few moments after trying to climb the flagpole, Solomou was shot and killed in cold blood by a Turkish officer standing in a nearby building.

Solomou was originally from the town of Famagusta, which fell under the control of the Turkish military as a result of the Turkish invasion of 1974.

Like hundreds of thousands of other Cypriots, Solomou and his family became internally displaced persons. They fled to the nearby town of Paralimni, where he grew up with other Greek-Cypriot refugees.

Solomou was th second cousin of Isaac.

The whole incident was taped by journalists who were present and was broadcasted live on Greek and Cypriot television, with millions of people watching the brutal murder live on their screens.

A few days after the incident, the Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis visited Cyprus; together with Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides, he visited the homes of the families of Isaac and Solomou.

Greece Wiretapping Scandal Might Cause EU Probe

wiretapping Greece
The conservative government in Greece is under pressure to investigate wiretapping allegations. Credit: European Parliament CC BY 2.0

The European Commission has intervened in the wiretapping scandal in Greece urging the government to investigate the revelations.

The European Commission wants embattled Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, trying to distance himself from revelations that a rival politician and journalist were being surveilled, to speed up an investigation into how things played out.

Mitsotakis said he was not informed that the phone of PASOK Socialist leader Nikos Androulakis, who resurrected a party once the major rival to the ruling New Democracy, was bugged so as to allow for his conversations to be tapped. Mitsotakis certifies that he would have otherwise intervened had he known.

The eavesdropping was revealed after Androulakis, a Member of the European Parliament, said analysts there discovered an attempt to install Predator spyware on his cell phone in September 2021, three months before he took over PASOK.

Predator can unlock access to encrypted messages and activate cameras and microphones on mobile devices, allowing hackers access to passwords and text and voice messages, compromising journalists and sources, too.

Anitta Hipper, a European Commission spokeswoman, said that “any attempt by national security services to illegally access data of citizens, including journalists and political opponents, if confirmed, is unacceptable,” and should be probed.

Mitsotakis, under pressure from rivals, including the former ruling SYRIZA who likened the scandal to Watergate, said the Greek Parliament would return early on August 22nd from a summer recess and agreed on an investigation.

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou said there should be an inquiry, but it wasn’t determined if it would be through Parliament—controlled by the government—or an independent panel.

She said that protecting the right to privacy was “a fundamental condition of a democratic and liberal society” and “requires the immediate and full clarification of the wiretapping case,” reported Reuters.

Cypriot Member of the European Parliament George Georgiou, Vice-Chair of a committee looking into the use of Pegasus spyware, also proposed that European lawmakers investigate the matter.

Androulakis, who turned to the country’s highest court to find answers, said he believes a text message he received with an attachment, would have, if downloaded, allowed for his phone to be monitored through Predator. The message came from Greece’s National Intelligence Service (EYP).

His case overshadowed that of financial reporter Thanasis Koukakis, whose phone was infected by the spyware that former EYP Chief Panagiotis Kontoleon admitted the agency installed.

That testimony to a parliamentary committee initiated the scandal and led to Kontoleon and Mitsotakis’ former General-Secretary—his nephew—Grigoris Dimitriadis, resigning under pressure for not informing Mitsotakis.

One of Mitsotakis’ first acts upon ousting SYRIZA out of power after the July 2019 snap elections was to put EYP under his control. However, it wasn’t revealed why he wasn’t told of either the bugging of Androulakis’ phone or the spyware, and he didn’t mention Koukakis.

Greece’s government apology on wiretapping not accepted

“Although everything was done lawfully,” Mitsotakis said, “the National Intelligence Service (EYP) underestimated the political dimension of that particular action. It was formally adequate but politically unacceptable. It should not have happened [and it] undermined citizens’ confidence in national intelligence.”

PASOK is Greece’s third-largest political party and Androulakis, who doubled the party’s popularity, could be a kingmaker in 2023 elections where changes in election laws make it unlikely for a single party to win a Parliamentary majority.

Mitsotakis apologized to Androulakis, who refused the government’s offer to brief him on what happened while SYRIZA leader and former premier Alexis Tsipras said: “Instead of hypocritical apologies and lies, Mr. Mitsotakis should say which other politicians and journalists have been followed.”

That was after Kathimerini said that 15,475 unidentified targets were being bugged through their phones. Kontoleon said Androulakis was monitored “in the national interest” and, supposedly, at the request of Ukrainian and Armenian intelligence services. However, both Ukraine and Armenia denied their requesting such measures.

“This is not a huge and unforgivable mistake,” Tsipras said. “It’s a huge scandal [that represents] the unforgivable arrogance of a regime, of a Prime Minister that thought no one could control him.”

The scandal added to the heat against Mitsotakis after he ruled out early elections. With Greece facing growing provocations from Turkey and the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, the specter of a spy state under Mitsotakis’ rule has been raised.

While most Greeks are away at their villages or islands in August and the government is concentrating on what could be a record-breaking tourism year, the scandal could fade away into the background unless there are further revelations.

Dimitriadis is trying to quash coverage in what Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said amounted to SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) lawsuits to chill journalists.

He sued the Reporters United website and journalists Nikolas Leontopoulos and Thodoris Chondrogiannos for writing of his so-called dealings with Intellexa, an Israeli company that sells the Predator spyware created in North Macedonia, which he allegedly sold to Greece—something the government has denied.

Dimitriadis also sued the newspaper Efimerida ton Syntakton (EfSyn) for its story about the Predator scandal as well as Koukakis, demanding the withdrawal of a tweet he posted about the piece.

“The decision to sue Thanasis Koukakis and the journalists who investigated the surveillance to which he was subjected instead of trying to shed light on the surveillance itself is deplorable,” said Pavol Szalai, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk.

Androulakis said that he “never expected the Greek government to put [him] under surveillance with the darkest [of] practices,” the Associated Press reported.

He added that “it is our democratic duty to protect the human rights and freedoms of Greek citizens. Today is a moment of truth for those whose arrogance and sense of impunity make them capable of anything.”

New UNESCO World Heritage Sites Include Greek Inscriptions in Saudi Arabia

UNESCO World Heritage Sites
The inscription known as “The Dancers” at Bar Hima, Saudi Arabia, part of the new UNESCO site. Credit: Heritage Commission/CC BY-SA 4.0

Nine new sites, including Greek inscriptions on a cliff in Saudi Arabia, European spa towns and a Chinese port city, have recently joined the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites of culturally significant areas.

UNESCO, the educational, scientific and cultural arm of the United Nations, is now honoring a Chinese port city once known as the “emporium of the world,” as well as a Saudi Arabian cliff whose rock art features 7,000-year-old inscriptions and artwork.

“Together, these sites embody the significant interchange of human values and developments in medicine, science and balneology” (the study of therapeutic bathing and medicinal springs), says UNESCO in a statement.

UNESCO Greek Writings
Inscriptions and writings from prehistory decorate cliffs on Saudi Arabia’ Hima Mountain. The area was just designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site by the UN. Credit: Heritage Commission /CC BY-SA 4.0

UNESCO honored the Ḥimā Cultural Area in southwest Saudi Arabia for its rock carvings, which depicts plants and animals, as well as human activities, in its panoply of ancient art and writings. The site is located in a mountainous spot along an ancient caravan route.

The artworks and inscriptions reflect the many cultures of those who traveled through the Arabian Peninsula over the millennia, with messages written in scripts including Musnad, Aramaic-Nabatean, South-Arabian, and Thamudic, as well as Greek and Arabic.

The site is in southwest Saudi Arabia, approximately 200 kilometers (120 miles) north of the city of Najran. An ancient Palaeolithic and Neolithic site, the Bir Hima Complex boasts art and inscriptions spanning from 7000 to 1000 BC.

UNESCO site
Petroglyphs at the Bir Hima site in Saudi Arabia include this rock carving of a goat. Credit:

The ancient history of human occupation of this now extremely arid habitat is credited to its once-abundant resources of wildlife and water and its limestone terrain. Saudi Arabia’s rock art, which has finally become more recognized and appreciated in recent years, is considered among the richest in the world.

The area was originally explored in modern times by the Philby-Ryckmans-Lippen expedition of 1951, whose descriptions were published by E. Anati from 1969 to 1972. They noted that the images on the rocks were inscribed with inset into the sandstone formation, dated from 300–200 BC.

The striking petroglyphs finally caught the attention of Saudi Arabia’s Department of Antiquities after 1976 when Jubba and other sites were investigated. One of the expedition members investigating this art form found a site west of the ancient wells of Bir Hima, where he recorded an incredible 250 images.

UNESCO Padua
The Scrovegni Frescoes in Padua, Italy are also among UNESCO’s new World Heritage Sites. Credit:Zairon /CC BY-SA 4.0

Bir Hima is categorized as a Lower Palaeolithic, or Oldowan, site. Apart from petroglyphs, carving tools used for this art work (in the form of chopper or pebble tools) were also found here, made of such materials as quartzite, andesite and flint.

The images appear to have been inscribed with a bronze instrument of some kind. Some of the petroglyphs, initially found in the 1950s, consisted of daggers and swords, bows with arrows tipped with transverse arrowheads, sickle swords and throw-sticks. These depictions were interpreted as symbolic of spiritual animism.

Bir Hima, as part of Najran, is a treasure trove of petroglyphs, eclipsed only by those found in the Jubba region. One hundred sites have been identified. In the Najran area, as many as 6,400 human and animal illustrations, which include more than 1,800 camels and 1,300 human depictions, have been recorded.

Apart from depictions of humans, giraffes and other animals, the sixth century inscriptions of Dhu Nuwas, a Himyarite King who occupied Najran, are also recorded. A number of articulated camel fragments were excavated at he site designated as 217-44. While its engravings are probably much earlier than those of the Hunters Palette, the Bir Hima warrior, armed with a bow, is almost identical to the men portrayed on the Hunters Palette.

UNESCO
The Trans-Iranian Railway has been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Credit: Ali1986/ CC BY-SA 3.0

The new Bar Hima site is the sixth to be listed in Saudi Arabia, joining the At-Turaif district in ad-Dir’iyah north-west of Riyadh and Hegra in Al-Ula, the sandstone landscape in the northwestern desert of the secretive kingdom.

UNESCO says in its description that Hima is “located in an arid, mountainous area of southwest Saudi Arabia, on one of the Arabian Peninsula’s ancient caravan routes. Ḥimā Cultural Area contains a substantial collection of rock art images depicting hunting, fauna, flora and lifestyles in a cultural continuity of 7,000 years.”

The cultural nod by UNESCO is an acknowledgement of the recent efforts on the part of the Saudi government to engender a more “open” and welcoming image of the country.

In effect, Hima’s storied cliff walls function as a miniature library, as it features tens of thousands of ancient inscriptions written in a variety of scripts, some of which are extinct now.

The Hima site is also known for its many ancient wells, which were constructed at various intervals between 7,000 BC and 1,000 BC; amazingly, some of them still provide water even today.

Other UNESCO sites designated as World Heritage Sites this past week include Quanzhou, located on the coast of China’s Fujian province by the Jin River. It earned its place on the World Heritage List for its significance in maritime trade between the 10th and 14th centuries AD, according to the South China Morning Post.

The 22 historical sites and monuments marked out for world heritage by UNESCO include a huge statue of Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, as well as one of China’s first mosques and the Kaiyuan Buddhist Temple in the city.

Officials from the city’s government told the Morning Post “(These sites) not only record the prosperity of Quanzhou in the past, but also confirms a unique trade system created by the joint efforts of the central governments, local and overseas communities, which led to prosperous oceanic trade and cultural exchanges during that period.”

The site UNESCO calls the “Great Spa Towns of Europe” spanning 11 towns in seven countries, was designated as a World Heritage Site for their development of a spa culture that lasted over some 200 years, from the early 18th century to the 1930s.

Another historical site to the list is Rudreshwara Temple in Telangana, India, which was constructed in the 13th century AD to honor the Hindu god Shiva. As is normal the case with Hindu temples, the sandstone edifice was created as an integral part of a natural setting, against a backdrop of forests, waterways and agricultural fields.

UNESCO said in its statement that “The temple’s sculptures of high artistic quality illustrate regional dance customs and Kakatiyan culture.”

In an unusual move, UNESCO also singled out a railway for its honors this year.

The Trans-Iranian Railway, which runs from the Caspian Sea all the way to the Persian Gulf, made the list because it is a remarkable feat of engineering. Its construction, which was carried out between 1927 and 1938, required the creation of many tunnels and hundreds of bridges.

The Tehran Times says in its story that the railway reflected the grand modernization plans carried out during the reign of Reza Shah Pahlavi, who sought to limit foreign control of Iran.

He used only national taxes to pay for this astonishing feat of engineering instead of foreign investment.

Four other European sites were added his year including a complex of eight buildings in Padua, Italy. The buildings contain frescoes painted over the course of the 14th century, showcasing the development of art at the time, which involved completely new ways of representing space.

The sites of Paseo del Prado and Buen Retiro in Madrid, Spain, were also singled out for distinction because the buildings, gardens and fountains there reflect a grand vision of urban space that was a salient part of the aesthetics of the Spanish Empire in the 18th century.

UNESCO also added the striking Cordouan Lighthouse in France, which was built around the turn of the 17th century, to its list this year, statin it was as a “masterpiece of maritime signaling” exemplifying unique technological and architectural aspects.

The Darmstadt Artists’ Colony in Mathildenhöhe, in west-central Germany was also added to the UNESCO 2021 list; serving as a center for emerging modernist architecture and design in the early 20th century, it too exemplified the zeitgeist of its time.

UNESCO’s World Heritage List now includes a total of 1,129 sites around the world, from natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon in the US to  Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to cultural treasures such as the great pyramids of Egypt.

The designation honors such sites by stating that they are of “outstanding universal value to humanity.”