Saturday, July 31, 2021



I don’t know about you, but I’ve been off the Olympics ever since the 1990 IOC announcement that Atlanta was to host the 1996 Centenary Games. This is not only because these were, as sundry Greeks termed them, the “Coca Cola” Olympics, but also because properly considered, these were not the centenary games. We forget that the revival of the Modern Olympics were first proposed by poet Panagiotis Soutsos in his poem "Dialogue of the Dead", in 1833. We also forget that the Modern Olympics were sponsored by Epirote benefactor Evangelos Zappas, in 1859, held in an Athens city square, with participation by athletes from Greece and the Ottoman Empire, and it is from this date that the Modern Olympic Games should be counted.  

We also conveniently forget that the "Cotswold Olimpick Games", an annual athletic event held near Chipping Campden, England, were first organised by the lawyer Robert Dover as far back as 1612, that in 1796 Revolutionary France staged an Olympic Festival known as L'Olympiade de la République, that in 1834, the Ramlosa Olympics were held in Sweden and that in 1850, William Penny Brookes founded what would go on to be the Wenlock Olympian Games. We do well to forget these because their existence takes the wind out of our sails when we cry cultural appropriation at the modern incarnation of the International Olympic Games, the ones Pierre de Coubertin founded, after attending the 1890 Wenlock Games. 

That dastardly de Coubertin is an appropriator that should be cancelled and his statues in Tokyo, Paris and Atlanta toppled, can be evidenced by the guilt trip he has embarked our people upon, to cite his reasons for wresting control of our cultural patrimony. For it was de Coubertin who propagated the falsehood that the Emperor Theodosius I outlawed the ancient Olympic Games, as one of his legislative measures to stamp out paganism. Indeed, de Coubertin triumphantly wrote of the Athens 1896 Olympic Games: “Fifteen hundred and two years before, the Emperor Theodosius had suppressed the Olympic games, thinking, no doubt, that in abolishing this hated survival of paganism he was furthering the cause of progress; and here was a Christian monarch, amid the applause of an assemblage composed almost exclusively of Christians, announcing the formal annulment of the imperial decree; while a few feet away stood the archbishop of Athens, and Père Didon, the celebrated Dominican preacher, who, in his Easter sermon in the Catholic cathedral the day before, had paid an eloquent tribute to pagan Greece.” 

That is right folks, having appropriated an event that was apparently discarded by those who didn’t appreciate it (an Elginesque justification if there ever was one), which makes it all right after all, de Coubertin even forced King George I of Greece (another westerner who appropriated an entire country) de Coubertin compelled the King of the Hellenes to legally rescind a decree made by a monarch whose legal successors were arguably the Ottoman Sultans across the Bosphorus. 

Except that there is no evidence Theodosius’ decree ever existed. While Theodosius did ban pagan sacrifices, presumably on account of the magnitude of their carbon footprint, he did not, as has been commonly parroted ever since de Coubertin, ban the Olympic Games. 

A recently discovered inscription listing victorious athletes suggests that the ancient games were still being held throughout the reign of their reputed abolisher. Furthermore, we have the verses of the court poet Claudian who refers to the games being held in 399, four years after the death of the Emperor. As if that were not enough, enough literary evidence exists from various contemporary commentators, to suggest that the ancient Olympic Games, rather than being banned per se, merely petered out due to poor facilities and lack of interest, like the Athens 2004 Olympic venues. In the Scholia of Lucianum, written as explanatory notes on difficult words in a classical text, in this case the word ‘Olympics,’ we learn: 

“The Olympic games … existed for a long time until Theodosius the younger, who was the son of Arcadius. After the temple of Olympian Zeus had been burnt down, the festival of the Eleans and Olympic contest were abandoned.” 

Theodosius the younger reigned until 450, half a century after his first falsely accused namesake.  

Even after the insurance claim was rejected amidst allegations of deliberate arson, games named after the Olympics continued to be held in various parts of the Empire, something that could not have been possible had there been specific laws enacted prohibiting them and prescribing such penalties to felons as compulsory exposure to Olympic host nation cultural critique by Bruce McAvaney for all eternity, or at least until such time as the Empire falls, whichever is the sooner. Thus, we know that Olympic games were held in Ephesus until at least 420 and in Antioch on the Orontes until the early 500s. Although clerics would fulminate against the dissolute and the profligate, it is recorded that Leontios, a Byzantine senator, intended to hold his own Olympics in Chalcedon, at least a century after the death of Theodosius.  

In forcing the Greeks to abrogate a non-existent decree, de Coubertin was in effect holding up fabricated acts of Byzantium, considered in the West a (racially charged) by-word for corruption and intolerance, as the key rational as to why its modern day cultural, religious and/or ethnic descendants (at least according to the official ideology and de Coubertin’s own complex understanding of legal precedent) should not be entrusted with sole guardianship of the Olympic Games. Instead, it is the Christian West, embodied by the classically inclined Dominican preacher Didon, (whose name in Greek coincidentally means having given) that is the proper successor in title to the ancients. 


Consequently, when I view the Greek Olympic team march into Olympic stadiums at the head of all other nations, rather than feel my chest swell with pride and my loins engorge, I experience a deep sense of disquiet and consternation at seeing my kin thus coerced to add legal verisimilitude to yet another act of Western cultural colonialism. I remember the tragically ironic photograph of foustanella-clad Greek 1896 Olympian Spyridon Louis handing Holocaust-perpetrator Hitler an olive branch at the 1936 Berlin Games. I also remember how incensed certain residents of Melbourne, the sporting capital were, when the City of Casey erected a statue to Spyridon Louis in Berwick in 2013, shouting: “We don’t want Spyridon’s statue in our region,” “Spyridon who?” “Spyridon go home.” 

If I am to reconcile myself to these malign modern Games, which celebrate not the concept of friendly competition but rather the cult of ego, the cult of the market and the cult of the television rights, a good injection of old time ancient Olympic ethics would not go astray. 

During the ancient Greek Olympics, athletes who cheated were publicly flogged. This is much more exciting than mere ejection from the Olympic Village after a wonky urine test and would do wonders for ticket sales. Further, in the Greek Games, statues of Zeus lined the athletes’ path to the stadium at Olympia, all paid for by hefty fines levied against cheating athletes, post-flogging. Considering Zeus’ treatment of women and young children, the statues could be made of unreinforced concrete, so that they could be destroyed by angry social activists after the conclusion of the Games, televised of course. 

Also, athletes such as Judo competitor Ashley Mackenzie, who, eliminated after four minutes by his Azerbaijani opponent, bawled: “I just want to go home,” need to take a leaf out of six time ancient Greek Olympics winner Milo of Croton’s book, after whom the famous Australian milky beverage is named. A sort of precursor to Arnold Schwarzenegger and reputed to have burst a band about his brow by simply inflating the veins of his temples, (Chuck Norris could do the same just by thinking of frowning) he would consume raw bull's meat in front of his adversary and would drink raw bull's blood for energy and vitality, because after all, raw bull gives us all wings.  

Finally, on a point of attire. It is a little known but nonetheless highly significant fact that the ancient Greeks competed in the Olympics wearing the kynodesme, a term which literally means dog leash, this being a thin leather strap that was wound around the acroposthion (this you will be edified to know is the Greek term for the part of the foreskin which hangs past the head of the penis), which pulled the penis upward and was tied in a bow, tied around the waist, or secured by some other means. In the interests of the integrity of the Game, I move that this all-important athletic accoutrement be reinstated for all athletes of all genders. After all, you are either moved by what Greek national poet Kostis Palamas termed the Ancient Immortal Spirit when penning the Olympic Hymn, or you are not, and if you are, you might as well put your money where your mouth absolutely should not be. 

Misogynistic Pierre de Coubertin may have seethed at the prospect of women competing in the Olympics as follows:  "Impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic, and we are not afraid to add: incorrect, such would be in our opinion..." Yet the sight of our svelte Women’s Swim Team definitely has sections of the Australian media straining at their kynodesmae, so much so in fact that they have granted them the rather unfortunate soubriquet of “Golden Dawn.” While this may be a back handed compliment to our own Golden Dawn boys who are surprisingly light on their feet when evading responsibility for their crimes, Yuk and Double Yuk. Mud-Wrestling, anyone? 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 31July 2021

Saturday, July 24, 2021


Contrary to common belief, dégustation is not the hipster-bourgeois Greek-Australian term for a τσιμπούσι. Referring to the gustatory system, it is derived ultimately from the Latin gustare, meaning “to taste,” and is thus a sister word to the Greek “γούστο” meaning good taste, and to “γουστάρω” which means to like. It is also related to the English word “disgust”, referring to someone who finds something distasteful, but not to “gust” per se, which is Old Norse for “to gush,” something that aficionados of degustation apparently do quite a lot of, especially as a result of a particularly lethal combination of Moscato and Kefalograviera. In short, it denotes the careful, appreciative tasting of various food, focusing on the senses, high culinary art and good company. 


There has been much degustation transpiring of late in our community. In the case of the Pammessenian Brotherhood “Papaflessas,” this was in the form of “A Taste of Freedom,” a remarkable culinary experience where a convivial company of the descendants of freedom fighters and philhellenes were treated to a carefully curated selection of Peloponnesian produce and bacchic distillations. For some reason, this tasteful and rather novel event has raised the ire of sections of the community, who accuse organisers and attendees alike of poor taste. “What,” they ask, generally in disgruntled Hellenic cadences, “do the heroes of 1821, who fought valiantly for our freedom, enduring immense privations, starvation, illness, torture and even giving up their lives for the cause.. What,” they ask again for rhetorical effect, “do they have to do with an event focused solely on the consumption of food and how can such an event possibly honour their memory? Are not their lotophagic descendants, by presuming to daintily devour delectable delicacies in the suburbs of Melbourne making light of their sacrifices and in fact dishonouring everything they stood for? Fie for shame! If Papaflessas were alive, he would be rolling in his grave!”  


Asked to elaborate as to the appropriate forms of rendering due reverence, such disparagers refer to solemn parades (out, because of coronavirus and the past shenanigans of the lunatic fringe), the solemn recitation of Greek folksongs, the solemn staging of plays in which all characters wear identical foustanellas purchased in bulk to take advantage of the discount rate from the same Athenian online purveyor, and where all such characters relay their lines in a stilted but nonetheless megaphonic manner because the local brotherhood president refuses to update the sound system, and the solemn performance of heroic klephtic dances, because after all, when they weren’t despatching the evil oppressor, the hoplarchs of 1821 were known to dance with each other, in suitably manly fashion. They certainly did not nibble tibits from a plate and then feel the need to cleanse their palate with a slice of citrus between tastings. 


It is not known what Papaflessas ate. We have a certain inkling as to what he wanted his enemies to eat because of the records that exist documenting the rather colourful utterances of this most potty-mouthed leader in all of the Revolution. What we do know however, is that as he travelled across the Peloponnese with his armed band, he would always be preceded by pipers and drummers. As one contemporary wrote: “The descent of Papaflessas into Messenia had a Dionysian quality about it.  Pipes, women, drums, town criers, crowds attend this strange priest… In the villages, he commanded that all the frightened villages be served wine.” Indeed Papaflessas celebrated his victories with largesse in the form of feasting for it was his ability to provide his supporters with loot, wine and provender that ensued their continued loyalty. In celebrating the freedom provided by such revolutionaries as the exuberant Papaflessas, his antipodean descendants, rather than exhibiting a gentrified disconnect from his tradition, are merely following in his footsteps. If they are raising his ire in the other world, it is not because they are degustating, but rather, because they are not throwing table manners to the wind and gorging themselves with enough gusto. 


Had the organisers of the event been of Central Helladic origin, their detractors may have had a point. After all, one does not honour such Central Hellenic heroes, as Athanasios Diakos, he of «Τότε τον βάλαν στο σουγλί και παν να τόνε ψήσουν» fame, through the consumption of comestibles, especially those that require roasting upon skewers. That is why the latest “Flavours of Greece” event, held at Philhellene Restaurant in honour of Cretan freedom martyr Ioannis Vlachos, known as Daskalogiannis is so courageous and why in certain circles it is considered controversial. 


Encouraged by illusory Russian promises, the hapless Daskalogiannis raised the flag of revolt on Crete on 25 March 1770, fifty-one years minus two days before the deluded Kalamatans, who strenuously maintain that they among all Greeks first proclaimed the independence of the nation. Russian assistance did not materialise (a perennial theme in the Greek discourse), and surrendering at Frangokastello, Daskalogiannis was taken to Herakelion, where he was skinned alive. Compelled to watch by the Ottomans, the sight of his suffering drove his brother insane. Definitely not the sort of martyrdom you would want to commemorate by a memorial dinner of skinless chicken breast. 


What the stuffy detractors of the recent Cretan-themed “Flavours of Greece” event ignore, is that just before his final stand against the Ottomans, Daskalogiannis and his men danced the Pentozalis, and the chambers of Philhellene on the night of the event in question resounded to the strains of live Cretan music, significantly, performed by second generation Greek-Australians and one particularly fluent in Greek, Australian philhellene, signifying not only how tradition is passed on, but also, how it is shared. Rather than being disrespectful, the whole scene was reminiscent of the famous Cretan Rizitko song, where the freedom-fighter implores: “Mother, when my friends come, don’t tell them that I have died, but set the table that they may eat.” In the case of Daskalogiannis, commemorating his sacrifice through song and food, is utterly fitting.  


Of late, reviewing the various events that the Greek-Australian community is holding to commemorate the Revolution, there is an emerging of opinion that is beginning to appreciate just how the vision, frame of reference and values of many of those events, especially those organised by its Australian-born members  are increasingly informed by mainstream Australian discourses and modes of communication. According to this analysis, what is significant about the recent “Taste of Freedom” and “Flavours of Greece,” events is it merges two great cultural traditions: Since times ancient, Greeks have always gotten together to celebrate or to ruminate over food and wine. This is what the Symposium, the historical doppelganger of the degustation and the event in which arguably western civilisation was born, was all about. It is with food and wine that Greeks have throughout the centuries bonded with each other, and still do, through mezedes, the modern counterpart to the degustation menu, to the present day, so much so in fact that we understand our Deity to transform our gifts of bread and wine into His body and blood for our consumption, as a way of communing with Him and consider this the supreme act of our worship. The fact that this worship was instituted at a Last Supper to which He called all of His disciples, should also not go unnoticed. 


Viewed from this perspective, eating and drinking in memory of the dead or those about to depart is thus neither macabre, nor disrespectful. Instead, it is deeply culturally ingrained and arguably infinitely more suited to the lives and legacies of the larger than life personalities to whom we owe our freedom than any stuffy speeches or arid, ritualistic folkloric re-enactments. Graft that inherited tradition to Melbourne’s culture of food obsession and the result is an organic, hybrid, unique approach to 1821, which is not only rooted in the past but also vigorously relevant to the place in which we all live, providing easy access for even the most disconnected, to all facets of our complex revolutionary patrimony. 


Consequently, both “A Taste of Freedom,” and “Flavours of Greece,” offer us a tantalising taste of the future, should we have the courage to think beyond the conventional and seek novel and engaging ways in which to maintain the relevance of the Greek discourse within the Australian context. Should we follow their innovating lead, it is a future that shall prove for our community, very flavoursome indeed. 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 24 July 2021


Recently released in the original English and a Greek translation, Karen Martin’s novel, set in sun-kissed Crete exhausts the constructs of time, language and identity. 

From the outset a conceptual tension is apparent between the English and the Greek versions of the novel which should be considered separate artworks in their own right, the Greek version being notable for the exceptionally high quality of its prose, rendered by Iosif Alygizakis.  

In English, the title, “Dancing the Labyrinth,” is polyvalent. At first reading, it alludes to empowerment, in that one has sufficient mastery over whatever maze they find themselves in that they can actively “dance” it, that is, either dance through it, indicating that traversing it is easy, or  making the Labyrinth itself dance. Either way, here, it is the Labyrinth that is the passive party. 

The Greek title on the other hand, conveys altogether different connotations. «Στον Χορό του Λαβυρίνθου», (In the Dance of the Labyrinth), suggests that the active party is the Labyrinth. It is the maze that determines the dance, while the passive parties, those that dance a dance dictated to them by the Labyrinth, are the protagonist and/or the readers. 

In both versions of the novel therefore, we are given to understand that the Labyrinth, with all that it symbolises, is key to understanding the story as it unfolds, and the reader should have regard to the traditional Greek conception of a tale unwinding as it progresses, like Ariadne’s thread in the hands of a Theseus, on the way to confront the Minotaur. 


We encounter a similar polyvalency in the English and Greek versions of the main character of the novel, Cressida. Attempting to deal with a violent past, after the demise of her parents, Cressida seeks solace and healing in Crete. Falling pregnant, she experiences conflicting emotions with regard to her impending motherhood, as she contemplates the distinct possibility that her offspring will inherit the violent genes of her father, a patriarchal original sin if ever there was one. 

In the Greek tradition, there is only one Χρυσηίδα and she too is a victim of the patriarchy. As she appears in Homer’s Iliad, she does not even have a name. Instead, she is identified simply as Chryses’ daughter, an object. Taken prisoner by Achilles, she is appropriated by Agamemnon, who refuses to allow her to be ransomed, according to the mores of the time. As a result, Apollo sends a plague sweeping across the Greek armies, causing Agamemnon to return Chryseida to her father and appropriate another of Achilles’ slave girls. Significantly, according to the Trojan War Cycle, Chryses comes to the Greek camp to thank the Greeks for seeing that his daughter was fairly treated (never mind that she was raped), and in gratitude, returns her to her rapist. This mythological background, the treatment of the mythical Chryseida as a commodity, her betrayal by those who are tasked to protect her and the appropriation of her sexuality as a gift offering among men, is vital in comprehending the psychological trauma experienced by Karen Martin’s modern incarnation of same name in the Greek version of the novel. 

In the original English version however, Cressida carries with her the weight of a western cultural history that exists outside the Greek discourse. For in the West, Cressida, as reshaped by Boccaccio in his Il Filostrato, Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, and best known through Shakespeare’s play, Troilus and Cressida, is a symbol of inconstancy and the archetype of the faithless lover. Falling in love with Troilus, one of King Priam’s sons, she abandons him when taken hostage by the Greeks and falls in love with Diomedes instead. In this literary tradition, Cressida is not a human being, she is a motif. As soon as she has betrayed Troilus, she has fulfilled her purpose and the men who have written about her do not mention her again, save for Chaucer who grants his Criseyde insight as to how she will be portrayed in literature: "Alas, of me until the world's end shall be wrote no good song." Here the right of any woman to choose who she will love or stop loving is considered not all. In Scottish poet Robert Henryson’s version: ‘The Testament of Cresseide,’ she is depicted as repentant after having contracted leprosy and been abandoned by Diomedes. These literary tropes, of a patriarchy making value judgments about a woman’s sexuality and the means by which she chooses to express it, inculcating in her feelings of guilt or unworthiness, are also intrinsic to an understanding of the guilt and feelings of panic and despair experienced by Karen Martin’s Cressida. 


As a turbulent storm of angst rages inside a traumatised Cressida, she is caught up in the violence of a physical storm. Seeking refuge in a cave, she falls and ends up with dirt in her mouth, which tellingly symbolises in oneirology, the need to make amends or to ‘clean’ up an aspect of one’s life, while geophagia is a phenomenon known to affect certain pregnant women. Inadvertently, she discovers a cave filled with ancient Minoan paintings. Through the medium of the Minoan artisan Lydia, she learns to decode the images and is granted knowledge of the story of Pythia, a Minoan priestess, who established a women’s community to safeguard their ancient worship of the Mother Goddess from the onslaught of an increasingly male-dominated religion. 


Combining ancient Greek mystery cults with the Minoans that preceded them is an inspired approach, revealing an author sensitive to and deeply cognisant of, the intricacies of ancient thought and society. In each version on the novel, that relationship with time has its own phrasing. In English, the magical realism in which the story is imbued creates a narrative of rich hues and startling cadences as the past confronts the future in order to reconcile reality. In the Greek version, on the other hand, we are plunged into a discourse whose conception of time has never been Linear (A or B), and where past, present and future have always co-existed and informed each other. As a result, the element of magical realism is more subtle and nuanced, as befits a cultural narrative in which the distinction between myth and reality, is not always apparent or negotiable. Consequently, in both language versions, Karen Martin’s dexterity in the transcension of time and context is exceptional. Like all initiates, her Cressida is granted the requisite gnosis in order to change her life and she is empowered through the assistance of other sympathetic and possibly initiated women, to challenge the narrative of her troubled past and to create a new future of her own choice, infused with hope and meaning.  


The mediation of healing and hope through the Minoan world is significant. Narratives combining elements of the Classical World abound in Western literature and much has been written of late about how these appropriations serve to assert the superiority of “western” or “white” culture. In turn, the (decidedly fewer) Greek language treatments of the same theme often try to assert equality with the West, or to express feelings of inadequacy at the legacy of supposedly “superior” ancestors, whose example their descendants have fallen short of. Karen Martin brilliantly circumvents these vexed questions by constructing her own imagined past of a people claimed by no one and of whom we know very little and those to whom little emotional, political or gender baggage exists: the Ancient, possibly pre-Greek Minoans. 


Yet even here, ambivalence lies as to the true nature of the Mother Goddess and her cult which serves as the rear-guard of a united sisterhood resisting the incursion of the patriarchy and the conduit for Cressida’s re-birth from the womb of the cave as a person made anew. We simply do not know enough about the Minoan religion to plausibly assert that the Mother Goddess truly was a symbol of female empowerment. After all, if our civilisation vanished tomorrow and all that was left were a few icons or statues of the Virgin Mary, would not the archaeologists of a future time, unaware of the role of male theologians in establishing the importance of the Mother of God in the Christian religion also come to similar yet possibly erroneous conclusions? Nonetheless, as Jean-Bertrand Klus commented: “The artist creates the myth to obscure the art.” In this context, Karen Martin correctly identifies the healing and redemptive qualities of myth-making as far more important that the dry analysis of what actually may have transpired. After all, the modern Greek form of such myth-making, the paramythi, means, in its original form, consolation. And no one can deny the reality of that which heals us, or helps us to deal with the obstacles that stand in our way. 


To express one’s immense love for a topos, in Karen Martin’s case, her beloved island of Crete, is one thing. To distil that love into a complex, multi-faceted narrative that skilfully melds past and present, in order to negotiate a labyrinth of persistent gender equality issues that have dogged our social development down the centuries in a tenable and strident but not polemical manner, is quite another. In choosing to release her book in a dual English and Greek form, the author suggests to us that while historical, linguistic and social considerations may combine to shape diverse understandings and discourses of the issues affecting women in a world that still does not treat them as equals, fundamentally, there is unity in the way in which women draw upon the past wisdom and experience of those who came before them, regardless of how these are mediated, and upon each others’ strength in order to assert and claim the place that rightfully belongs to them. As such, “Dancing the Labyrinth” is a powerful and profound celebration of women’s resilience, courage and indomitability. 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 17 July 2021

Saturday, July 10, 2021


Earlier this year I was honoured to be invited to address the Melbourne Armenian Community’s protest march against the Australian government’s lack of recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Commencing on a Saturday at Federation Square, we marched down a Swanston Street studded with shoppers and concluded at the steps of the State Library, where the various speeches were given. These are all very public spaces and at all times, one could see passersby look up and take notice. I was able to count at least fifteen who approached participants to make a comment or ask a question, and when we arrived at the State Library, it being opposite Melbourne Central Station, I noticed a number of spectators stand around and observe, while others came and went. 

A number of thoughts popped into my head. The first was one of admiration for the dogged determination of the Armenian community. Despite the Genocide having been perpetrated over a hundred years ago and indeed, despite not having an independent nation-state until 1991, (except for the briefest of periods in 1918), the Armenians world-wide have maintained their anger and their rage. They have never stopped protesting and raising awareness of the heinous crime that befell their people. Given the privileged position afforded the perpetrator by powerful nations as a result of its geostrategic position and realpolitik, until recently, it appeared to all but the most idealistic, that Genocide recognition was an impossible dream. Yet a few days after the Armenian demonstration in Melbourne, United States President Joe Biden did what none of his predecessors dared to do: he formally recognized the Armenian Genocide. This, in large part was due to generations of Armenian persistence. Even here in Australia, such success that the relevant Greek and Assyrian communities has achieved in having the Genocide perpetrated against their communities recognized on a state level, is due largely to the activism of the committed Armenian community. 

The second thought was an inevitable comparison with the annual “Justice For Cyprus” march. While the Armenians deliberately chose to march through a busy thoroughfare on a day in which shoppers are out in force, thus ensuring maximum exposure for their message and enhanced community engagement, year after year, the Cyprus march has traditionally taken place on a Sunday, when there are few if any shoppers, weaving its way up a cold and empty Spring Street, where absolutely no-one is to be seen, to conclude at a just as desolate Parliament. In terms of exposure, engagement and conveying a message, the event does not achieve its aim. It is as if we are all howling in the wind. 

Further, unlike the Armenians, whose fervor for campaigning for Genocide recognition has not abated down the generations, our community does not seem able to maintain anything resembling that level of interest in pedestrian protest. There are few if any living survivors of the Armenian Genocide. There are large numbers of survivors of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, a crime that took place less than half a century ago. Nonetheless, we have seen numbers participating in the Justice For Cyprus demonstration dwindle year after year to a point where the inevitable question has to be asked: What are we protesting about if no one actually cares? 

Last year, due to the lockdown, the Justice for Cyprus march did not take place. This year, SEKA, the Justice for Cyprus Co-Ordinating Committee has announced that the march will again not take place, citing Coronavirus as its reason. While Coronavirus did not deter the Armenians and the Greek and Assyrian friends who marched with them, SEKA’s decision is at least understandable. One community stalwart even ventured to opine on radio that it is for the best that the march be cancelled because it creates trauma for victims of the invasion. There is a realization that something that has been deemed a moral imperative for over four decades may have become deleterious to the mental health of all of those victims living in our city. 

It is sad to witness the demise of the Justice For Cyprus march after so many decades and it is difficult not to view it as a barometer for the health of our community and its capacity for collective action and social activism. Yet its fate is a cursory tale of what happens when one perpetuates a tradition solely for the sake of self-perpetuation, having lost the ability to critically evaluate the effectiveness of the action in achieving the desired aim in the first place. The Justice For Cyprus rallies of the past two decades have had scant effect on Australian government policy in relation to the Cyprus issue, which has remained stable and sympathetic from the outset. If anything, the dwindling numbers of participants suggests to politicians that this is no longer an issue pertinent to the affected community and thus, no collateral damage at the ballot box will be incurred should policy change occur to our detriment in the future. 

Furthermore, protest marches while voluble, are fast becoming an outmoded form of applying political pressure. Governments these days have developed mechanisms to neutralize crowds, largely deal behind closed doors, with interest groups and their representatives, and are rarely influenced on ‘marginal’ issues by a flag waving, marching constituency, especially one whose numbers are so small that they can all fit on the steps of Parliament. Instead, protest marches are legally sanctioned because they provide participants with the conviction that because they are able to an express an opinion and blow off some steam, they are taking part in the democratic process, despite the fact, especially in relation to the Justice For Cyprus march, that there is absolutely no one listening. 

I am going to miss the Justice For Cyprus march, a winter fixture since my childhood, one that had a marked effect in the formation of my community consciousness and sense of social responsibility. On the other hand, I consider its abolition by SEKA to be a brave and necessary decision, for SEKA too is at the cross-roads, faced as it is with the task of self-evaluation. Up until now, the march has been the key event in its yearly programme. Now, divested of the burden of convening an event that the community finds irrelevant and avoids, SEKA is free to explore novel ways of continuing and broadening the scope of its activism as it seeks redress for the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. A composite approach, comprising story-telling and photographic exhibitions in local libraries, social media updates on political developments, recording and publishing the memoirs of refugees for posterity, forming targeted dedicated lobby groups staffed by experts, the sponsoring of public lectures, drawing and literature competitions, research on the experiences of Australians living on the island at the time and indeed funding academic research on the issue, reaching out and collaborating with the other ethnic communities resident on the island such as the Maronites and the Armenians, both of which have a vibrant presence in Melbourne, engaging with the Turkish-Cypriot community in order to compare experiences and foster closure, all of these and so much more could serve to capture and maintain the interest of members of our specific and broader communities in the crime that took place in 1974, and its continued after-effects. 

Ultimately, SEKA is a community organization of volunteers and it is only as strong as the community that supports it. All of our formal institutions must get behind it in a meaningful way. It deserves and must have the active participation and assistance of all of us, for it is the most important “national issue” affecting the security of the two Greek-speaking countries that comprise our motherland, something we ought not to forget, considering that the undeterred perpetrator has applied the same tactics in Syria, Artsakh and elsewhere. Ours is a multi-faceted community comprised of people with an enormously diverse range of skills. All of these need to be harnessed if we are to honour those who lost their lives in the 1974 invasion, remain sensitive to the victims of rape, abuse and ethnic cleansing and maintain our vigilance in demanding of our government that it takes the necessary steps to seek justice from the perpetrator and ensure that such events never take place again. 

At the 2019 Justice for Cyprus rally, an old man, expressing his disappointment at the low turn-out, remarked to me: «Κοίτα πόσοι λίγοι είμαστε. Εμείς και εμείς είμαστε». My response was that we have always been just us. But sometimes, just us, in clever and novel ways, is all you need. 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 10 July 2021