The Day The Poet Died - Tribute To Pallikarides
On March 14th, 1957, 18-year-old Evagoras Pallikarides was hanged by the British colonialists after being found guilty for possession of a weapon. Despite his short life, Pallikarides has become a national icon, not so much for his short participation in EOKA, but mostly for his determination to die rather than live as a slave, the integrity with which he faced his murderers and his inspiring poetry.
Pallikarides was born in Tsada, Paphos District, one of five children of Miltiades and Aphrodite Pallikarides. He studied at the Greek High School of Paphos where, at age 15, he participated in his school's boycott of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953. Due to celebrations in honour of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation, the British raised the Union Jack at all schools throughout Cyprus. Paphos was the only town where celebrations were not held because of demonstrations that erupted after Evagoras deliberately took down the British flag from his school. He knew full well what the consequences would be.(Wikipedia)
Anticipating arrest after another incident when he hit two British soldiers in his effort to free a demonstrator they were beating, he left a poem on his classroom desk. Addressed to his classmates, the poem announced his decision to leave school and “walk in high roads and forests in search of the all-beautiful maiden, Eleftheria” (liberty). A separate poem,adressed to the girl he liked in which he compared her big, blue and melancholic eyes to what he loved most - the clear sky of Greece (a metaphor for democracy, the pursuit of the arts and beauty and the individual’s right to freedom,) was published after his death. Palikarides wrote more than 500 poems, essays and letters with various themes, mostly about freedom, love and satire. Some of his poems are still popular as songs with music by major Greek composers.
Pallikarides joined EOKA in January 1956 and was arrested on December 18, the same year. The British police tried to pin a murder of an EOKA informer at him, but failed when the real killer stepped forward and admitted the crime in an attempt to save the young poet’s life. At his trial Pallikarides did not deny possession of the weapon. He refused to defend himself making just one statement: "I know you will sentence me to death, but whatever I did, I did as a Greek Cypriot who wants his liberty, nothing else."
Despite testimony by a British expert that the weapon Pallikarides was carrying was not functional and there was no way anyone could fire with it, he was sentenced to death by hanging for firearms possession on February 27, 1957. A huge effort by many all over the world, including appeals to the British Authorities and the Queen by British MPs, foreign governments, the US senate, the UN and others to spare his life failed. Pallikarides was hanged on March 14, 1957, at the age of 18. A propaganda leaflet was published after the hanging with a fabricated description of why he was hung, but the outcry was so strong that the British were forced to stop all executions on the island. At the time 26 hangings of EOKA members were scheduled, but had to be postponed indefinitely.
As Pallikarides had predicted in his last letter to his sister where he asked her to name her daughter Eleftheria (liberty) he was the last to be hanged by the British in Cyprus.
The British authorities refused to give his body to his parents for burial and they buried him at the yard, known as "Imprisoned Graves", of the Central Jail of Nicosia. His body remains for ever in the British prison surrounded by barbed wire but his spirit and poetry are free to inspire generations upon generations under the clear sky of Cyprus.
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