Kastellorizo is not just a painting tossed in the sea, a small island that fascinates with its exceptional natural beauty. It is a place of uninterrupted Greekness with a history that stretches back through the ages; a place that was conquered, pillaged and destroyed time and again over the course of the centuries, yet which always rose from the ashes, thanks to the determination and moral mettle of its residents. It is a place that kept its religion and language, its mores and traditions intact, as sundry conquerors swept across its land.
Located on the far fringes of our nation, small but with a weighty history, it may be best-known today by the name it was given during the ascendancy of the Order of the Knights of Saint John, but officially it still holds its ancient name: Megisti, or “The Greatest.”
And what an apt name it is, too. As the poet Odysseas Elytis wrote in one wonderful line, “Things obey their name.” It is, indeed, a great island and always has been, because it embodies the notion of patriotism in the best possible way. I was deeply moved to see our flag waving all over the island, flying proudly, even painted on the rocks. I saw in the residents’ faces the resolve, the unconquerable conviction, the self-respect and optimism with which they face the future.
I visited Kastellorizo to mark the island’s liberation from German occupation, 77 years to the day when the warship “Navarchos Kountouriotis” sailed into its port, even though war still raged across Europe.
My visit was necessary for many reasons. First was the critical situation created by Turkish aggression in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean, and the rhetoric emanating from the neighboring country seeking to cut the island off from the rest of Greece.
The second reason – and the more important – is the island’s enduring symbolic significance and the message it conveys to all Greeks. Kastellorizo is an integral and valued part of the nation.
Every stone tells a tale of heroism and love of country, and together all these tales form the strong fabric of national confidence which inspires the Kastellorizians of today in their battle to keep this age-old cradle of Hellenism alive. It is a battle that is evident in their most mundane activities, in their creative drive, in their dynamism and spirit.
And what moved me most was that their sense of patriotism does not depend on rivalry with the Turkish people. The Kastellorizians do not regard the sea as an impassable frontier, but as a channel of communication. Their ties to the adjacent coast are not restricted to commercial interests but extend to bonds of amity and shared cultural events.
Proud to be Greek, proud of their nation, they will not cower and will not be frightened. Their grit, courage, dignity and strength should serve as an example to all of us.