September 22, 2023

The story of Nicosia International Airport’s Manager: Mr Athanasios Papaioannou

 By Oz Orman…..

 I recently posted two videos online regarding the old airport at Nicosia. Although lengthy and not in keeping with the short and sweet, right here, right now YouTube generation. I was pleased that I was able to put together videos that told the story of not just Nicosia, but the aftermath of what happened at Ercan and Larnaca airports.

There is many a video and information about Nicosia International on the Internet and sometimes you have to box clever when trying to find out fact or opinions. Some organisations I have contacted have been helpful and supportive. Unfortunately with any kind of research, you can exhaust all relevant channels, be it a picture reference or historical information. I felt that I had told the story of Nicosia International Airport and was happy to move on with my next round of research.

However, at the last moment and this does happen, I came across some information that hadn’t been featured on social media or the net. The story of the airport manager of the time, Mr Athanasios Papaioannou or Thanasis for short. I was intrigued to find out more about this gentleman and wanted to tell his story. I’m well versed in the politics of Cyprus and had to plan and think carefully about what I wanted to portray. After all, Turkish Cypriots had been barred in the airport’s administration since 1963 and for the inquisitive out there. The airport signage in the terminal building at Nicosia was only in Greek and English.

There was no Turkish language as far as I could see in the terminal building, which was opened in 1968. So much for a facility built to represent all Cypriots, another classic case of out of sight, out of mind. Research also showed that Turkish Cypriots endured a fractious time when passing through the airport and were given harsh treatment by Greek officials. My own family members had passed through the airport before 1974, but had the luxury of British and American passports so were not hassled as such.

Athanasios Papaioannou

So what of Nicosia’s first and last airport manager? He was born in Değirmenlik (Kythrea) in September 1923 and was the eldest of five brothers. Thanasis had trained to be a primary school teacher and for a while worked at a school in Lapta on the north coast. However, with the coming of World War II, he was encouraged to join the war effort and travelled to the U.K. to become an aviator in the RAF. Initially, he wanted to become a pilot, but due to a shortage of pilot training instructors, he opted to become a radio operator. Papy as he was known to his fellow aviator’s on board his Lancaster Bomber experienced the realities of war, which stayed with him for a long time. He had been involved in bombing missions over Germany and was apparently close to dropping ordinance onto Hitler’s lair in Austria near the end of the war.

More highs and lows followed and he ended back in Cyprus in time to be named the Director of Nicosia International Airport. This had been bestowed upon him by then Cyprus President, Archbishop Makarios who would become a good friend. Papaioannou then worked on developing the airport with the help of the government.

His life changed further when the airport succumbed to the events of 1974. Firstly, the Greek-backed coup and then the arrival of Turkish forces on the island. The airport became a target and his role as airport manager changed overnight. Thanasis persevered in the uncertainty and handed over the airfield to Major Barker, who was the UK’s UN camp commandant at the time. Nicosia International became a United Nations Protected area and Thanasis would then go on to manage Larnaca and Paphos airports before his retirement in the 1980’s.

He also found time to write books and contributed to Cyprus’s wartime campaign in WWII. You can find out more about his life by watching Part 3 of the video. In the future, I would like to do a video about Ercan’s first airport manager. If anyone can help or assist me, that would be great.

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