On this date in 1956, the British hanged two members of Cyprus’s nationalist resistance underground, the EOKA
Andreas Dimitriou (left) and Michalis Karaolis.
Michalis Karaolis murdered a local constable; Andreas Dimitriou (or Demetriou) hadn’t managed to kill his target, and only injured the British intelligence agent he shot. This, however, occurred two days after the enactment of draconian emergency regulations to counteract EOKA terrorism, under which merely possessing a firearm could be a hanging offense, never mind discharging it into someone.
The two of them weren’t connected to one another save in their common support for expelling the British from the Mediterranean island and reuniting it to the Greek mainland. It was a longtime, long-frustrated Hellenic dream.
Great Britain, even while the death penalty was eroding domestically, spurned international appeals for clemency — the Greek government made history by filing the first state-vs.-state petition to the European Commission of Human Rights a few days before the execution — reckoning that its credibility as a hard line against terrorism was at stake.
In Nicosia, where the hangings took place, schools were shuttered, armed paratroopers patrolled streets barred to traffic, and newspapers operated under a censor’s requirement not to inflame the populace.
In Athens, beyond the reach of the crown, the soundness of this policy was unpleasantly confirmed. Seven deaths and hundreds of injuries resulted from the ensuing brickbats with police. (The mayor of Athens personally smashed up a tributary plaque to Queen Elizabeth II.) And in retaliation, the EOKA subsequently executed two British soldiers it had captured, Gordon Hill and Ronnie Shilton … although British skepticism over this claim required an additional statement clarifying the matter.