Turkish hysteria against Greece has reached its peak in the past month, with the latest ridiculous piece of propaganda claiming that Kastellorizo is so far from mainland Greece and so close to Turkey that it belongs to Turkey.
The Turkish logic – or lack thereof – is that whatever piece of land is close to another country, should belong to that country. For instance, since southern Bulgaria is so close to Greece, then it should be part of Greece, and so on, if one follows the logic of our neighbors.
Only two days ago, following that logic, Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay stated: “Look where Meis (Kastellorizo) is. It’s just two kilometers from the (Turkish city of) Kas. Don’t my citizens in Kas see this? Every morning when they wake up they cry their heart out.”
But the next moment, from tearjerking pleas, he moved on to violent threats: “We will tear up this map and we will tear up those who think of this map. We will crush them when necessary.”
Then it was the turn of Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy on Monday, who charged that Greece is trying to change the military status of the island by sending forces there, while in fact the troops on the island were only part of the normal, rotating military guard.
Aksoy repeated the direct threats that Turkey has been slinging for months now, declaring “Should Greece continue to take tension-increasing steps in the region, she will be the one suffering from it.”
Kastellorizo – or Meis as our eastern friends call it – with the exception of the nearby islet of Strongyli is the easternmost Greek island, situated in the Levantine Sea.
It is the largest island of the Kastellorizo archipelago comprising the islands and islets of Agios Georgios, Agrielaia, Voutsakia, Megalo Mavro Poini, Mikro Mavro Poini, Polifados Ena, Polifados Dio, Ro, Savoura, Stroggili, Tragonera, Psomi and Psoradia.
The proximity with Turkey – about 2 km (1 mlle) from the Anatolian coastal town of Kas – is what makes Greece’s eastern neighbor believe it belongs to them. The island’s official name, Megisti (Μεγίστη), which means “biggest” or “greatest”, is a misnomer as Kastellorizo is only six kilometers (3.7 miles) long and three kilometers (1.9 miles) wide, with a surface of 9.2 square kilometers (3.6 sq ml). It has a triangular shape, and is oriented from NE to SW.
Kastellorizo has a long, rich history, going back to the Neolithic times. Its first inhabitants were the Pelasgians, as various finds and the destroyed fortifications show. Then came the Dorians. Originally it was named Megiste by the colonist Megisteus. It was later renamed Castellorizo from the Italian name “Castello Rosso” which means red castle, taking that moniker from the color of the rocks on which its castle was built.
The fate of Kastellorizo was the same as the rest of the Dodecanese. During the period of the Byzantine Empire, the island chain was part of the “Province of the Islands”, the capital of which was Rhodes. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, it was owned by the Venetians and the Genoese and finally sold to the knights of Rhodes.
In 1512 it fell into the hands of the Turks despite its strong fortifications. Despite its inhabitants securing some special privileges, they were still under the rule of the sultan.
When the Greek revolution of 1821 broke out, the island enjoyed great commercial and economic prosperity. It had a large number of boats and ships which they offered to the fighters in the Greek War of Independence.
In 1830 Kastelorizo came under Turkish occupation again in accordance with the London Protocol. According to the Ottoman General Census of 1881/82-1893, the kaza of Kastellorizo had a total population of 4.871, consisting of 4.635 Greeks, 225 Muslims, six Jews and five foreign citizens.
The island’s population and the economy reached its apogee at the end of the 19th century with an estimated 10,000 people residing on Kastellorizo. At that time, it was still the only safe harbor along the route between Makri (today’s Fethiye) and Beirut. Its sailing ships traded products from Anatolia (coal, timber, valonia, and pine bark) for Egyptian goods (rice, sugar, coffee, fabrics and cotton thread), and carried Anatolian cereals to Rhodes and Cyprus.
The beginning of the 20th century ushered in the decline of the island. In 1913 the inhabitants revolted against the tyrants and in 1915, during World War I, Kastellorizo passed into the hands of the French, who used it as a naval base.
The island was then given to the Italians, who occupied it until the end of World War I.
The decline of the Ottoman Empire and the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923 led to a huge uprooting of the island’s inhabitants. By the late 1920s the island’s population had dropped to 3,000, after about 8,000 had emigrated to Australia, Egypt, Greece and the United States.
Kastellorizo was finally integrated into the Greek state on March 7, 1948 along with the rest of the Dodecanese Archipelago.
The many two-story neoclassical houses with wooden balconies along the waterfront and the majestic domes of its churches attest to the former prosperity of the island. The photos in the archeological museum there show how many homes were once on the island. Tragically, most of them were destroyed by bombing in World War II.
Kastellorizo’s Blue Cave, one of the scenic highlights of the island, is a Natura 2000 protected area. Additionally, the ancient historic roots of the original inhabitants of the island can be seen in the rock-cut Lycian Tomb, from the fourth century BC.
With its imposing Doric facade, it is the only one of its kind in all of Greece.