For Greece, 21 April, 1967, was the day when the army colonels overthrew the government resulting in seven years of dictatorship for the country.
Though the military takeover was feared by many politicians as well as Constantine, the young king of Greece, it was three lower-ranking officers who took over power rather than generals as everyone had feared. Colonel Georgios Papadopoulos, Brigadier General Stylianos Pattakos and Colonel Nikolaos Makarezos were the ones who ordered tanks to roll down Athens.
Greeks woke up to a surreal 21 April, 1967, was surreal as tanks rolled down Panepistimiou Street and battle hymns played on the radio before an announcement confirmed that the Hellenic Armed Forces had taken over the governance of the country.
Soldiers took over the most crucial areas of the capital and key politicians were arrested along with Lieutenant General Grigorios Spandidakis, the Commander-in-Chief of the Greek Army.
Members of Greece’s left were arrested as the “colonels” of the dictatorship warned that Greece was in danger of falling into the hands of communists. Upon assuming power there were 10,000 names already on a list for those to be captured, including composer Mikis Theodorakis, other artists and left-wing academics. Black-listed individuals were sent to Yaros island concentration camp, and many suffered brutal tortures which left them scarred for life.
Freedom of speech ceased to exist and strict censorship laws were implemented while Greeks were encouraged to become informants and spy on their neighbours.
Former president of the Greek Community of Melbourne Christos Mourikis told Neos Kosmos what that time meant for the Greek diaspora.
“Greeks abroad were opposed to the military dictatorship right from the start, including Greeks in Australia,” he said. “News of the dictatorship of 21 April reached here via foreign news agencies and later on the same day, the front page headlines of the local afternoon press were ‘Greek Army seizes power’. The news fell like lightning on the Greek community. New migrants, who came in droves at that time from Greece, brought with them news of the climate within Greece and they lived with agony regarding developments. The same occurred in the community press, especially in Neos Kosmos (an organ, back then, of the Greek Left in Australia). Just as in Greece, in this distant country, Greeks also agonised over the situation in their birthplace, and had not expected a military dictatorship.”
In Greece, brutal tortures left many scarred for life and were brushed under the carpet by the “colonels” who tried to cover the crimes with a frenzy of public works in an effort to become more likeable. They built new schools, hospitals, factories, stadiums and roads.
Despite the new works and huge public celebrations to celebrate the 21 April anniversary and other feasts being held for Greeks, most people within Greece and especially Greeks abroad did all they could to showcase how the colonels were violating human rights in their regime.
The junta succumbed to the anger of the Greek people and huge public outcry by calling elections where Colonel Papasopoulos appointed himself as President and Spyridon Markezinis as the prime minister of Greece. The rigged elections were later followed by a huge uprising at the Greek Polytechnic (Polytechnio).
A few hundred students and other Greek citizens occupied the building of the Polytechnic (National Technical University of Athens) and demanded colonels leave power. They created their own printing press and a pirate radio station.
On 17 November 1973, the military forced its way into the university and cleared out the students, leaving several dead.
The incident allowed Colonel Dimitrios Ioannidis to bring down Papadopoulos on 25 November with another coup. His plan to overthrow Archbishop Makariod, President of Cyprus, so that Greece and Cyprus could unite was followed by the Turkish invasion of the island on 20 July, 1974. Three days later, Ioannidis resigned, paving the way for statesman Constantine Karamanlis to return to Greece and create a democratic government.
The nightmare ended for Greece, but for Cyprus it had just begun and is occupied by Turkey to this very day.