Home Church & Religion The Dodecanese’ Unification with Greece: Celebrating 74 Years of Freedom

The Dodecanese’ Unification with Greece: Celebrating 74 Years of Freedom

By Sophia A. Niarchos

Photos: GANP/ Dimitris Panagos

OYSTER BAY, N.Y. – On Sunday, March 6, 2022, His Grace Bishop Apostolos of Medeia, representing His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, visited the St. Nicholas community in Baltimore’s Greektown as the parish hosted a celebration in commemoration of the 74th Anniversary of the Unification of the Dodecanese Islands with Greece attended by over 400 Greek-Americans.

Following the entry of the Evzones, the beautifully sung offerings of the Greek and American national anthems, and a call by His Grace to chantTi Ipermaho, Parish Council President Stamatia Ieromonahos recalled the event on March 7, 1948, when “in the presence of King Paul and the chief mayors, the people of the Dodecanese, on their knees and with tears, saw the lowering of the British flag and the raising of the blue and white in the town hall square of Rhodes. We, too, will today honor this day that…hundreds of generations dreamed of.”

Ambassador of Greece to the United States Mrs. Alexandra Papadopoulou remarked that the common perception of the Dodecanese was of its “wonderful islands, crystal seas, unbelievable light from the sun, infinite beauty.” However, she emphasized, “The Dodecanese is something much greater than these…. The Dodecanese people went through slavery, [through] occupation; and, through all of these trials, they never lost their faith or their identity…. I thank very much His Grace Apostolos for his efforts so that we celebrate this feast to remind the younger generations of the tradition they carry on their backs and to remind all of us…[of] our responsibility to carry the banner of previous generations and to give precisely those beginnings of freedom, the love of our fatherland, and the love of our religion to our children.”

Mrs. Maria Savvidou-Panayiotou, Cyprus Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission, noted the similarities in historical experience between Cyprus and the Dodecanese, while General Panagiotis Vlahopoulos, one of the Greek and Cypriot military representatives present, enumerated “the lessons that the past generation offers, lessons for the present but also lessons for the future….” 

Congressman John Sarbanes said, “The most powerful sentiment, the powerful driving passion in humanity is the quest for self-determination. That is what we are celebrating today, the unification of the Dodecanese in 1948 with Greece. That is an expression of self-determination, and today we must support and champion all efforts of self-determination,” referring especially to the U.S. efforts concerning the conflict in Ukraine.

In offering the keynote address, Congressman Gus Bilirakis highlighted the “amazing influence [the Dodecanese] have had on Greek culture and the world,” enumerating each of them and their contribution, and emphasizing their impressiveness in the face of more than 700 years of occupation.

He also reminded those in attendance of the Battle of Geronda Bay, which was fought off the coast of the Dodecanese and which was won by the Greeks despite their being outnumbered by the Ottoman Turks.

The youth of the parish and the area Carpathian and Rhodian Societies then offered a program of music, poems, and Greek dancing in the Dodecanese tradition.

In his remarks, His Grace Bishop Apostolos of Medea recalled “images from the beautiful Dodecanese, our islands, from my grandfathers and my grandmothers who told stories about Rhodes, about the years that were difficult…difficult because they were forbidden from speaking Greek, from praising God in Greek. Our grandmothers didn’t know how to write in Greek because there was no Greek school. However, they knew to speak ancient Greek, to preserve the ancient Greek language until today. Today this is an example that the children who are born here continue by speaking Carpathian, Roditika, Kalimnika, and Simiaka….”

“As a person who was born and raised on the island of Rhodes…I was reading the history of this unique unification moment, and I was very emotional when I read that, when the Dodecanese received the message from the Greek representative at the plateia that ‘we are free, we are united with Greece now,’ they immediately left the plateia and went to the cemetery because they wanted to give the … message to their parents and grandparents who had fallen asleep… ‘we are free now…’”

After speaking a few words in the Rhodian dialect, His Grace recalled in Greek, “When I was a child and went to Thessaloniki, I spoke Rhodian; and the people thought I was from another planet.” After changing to textbook Greek, he felt that he spoke strangely and wasn’t Greek. He encouraged the people “to recognize and speak that language and not to be ashamed. It is the language we took from Homer, a language that has a more than 2,000-year history.”

Thanking all those responsible for the event, he extended the blessings of Archbishop Elpidophoros who was in Constantinople as well as those of the Ecumenical Patriarch and asked those present to give their word that “we will celebrate the unification every year.”