By John Salvaris, OAM.
The Kastellorizian Diaspora settled in Australia, and many other countries around the world, and formed small communities which still exist and still call themselves Kastellorizians.
The bond that joins the Kastellorizians together is their common ancestry, customs and love for their mother island Kastellorizo.
Kastellorizo is a very small roughly triangular island of 8.88 square kilometres of rock and steep hills, with a history going back to the Mesominoan age. Evidence of the continuous habitation is the abundance of archaeological sites on the island from every period of history.
By all rules of geography, this small rocky island basking in the eastern Mediterranean a short distance from Kas, lying 110 kilometres both from Rhodes to the east and Antalya, on the Turkish coast, to the west, should have been uninhabited.
The produce of its soil, small quantities of olives and grapes, and absence of water in sufficient volume to support more than a few hundred people, belies the fact that at its peak the main and only town had a population of 9,000, and a subculture that survived the whole of written history.
Faith and hope kept Kastellorizo alive; faith in God and their Orthodox Church, faith in their destiny, and hope in their survival.
By some strange twist of fate and geography, Kastellorizo found itself on the crossroads of history and is mentioned in every period of the records of human endeavours, from the time of the Trojan War to World War II.
The island has seen many conquerors and masters: The Dorians sent their ships to support the Greeks in the siege of Troy. The Persians made it a semi-autonomous state with its own coinage. The Romans used its harbour and the island as a post station. The Byzantines made it a vital link in their trade and communication network, giving it the privileged status of an imperial estate.
The Knights of St John, the Egyptians, the King of Naples, the Venetians, the Spaniards, the Turks, the Greeks, the French, the Italians and the British, all fought for and occupied Kastellorizo.
During the 3,500 years that conquerors came and went, the Kastellorizians survived culturally unaffected because of their faith and hope that some day they would be free in the sphere of their cultural homeland Greece.
In 1949 their faith triumphed and their hope was fulfilled. The ruined island, with 50,000 of its sons and daughters scattered over the face of the earth, and its 250 residents, joined its motherland and was at last free.
Now the hope still lives in the hearts of Kastellorizians in Diaspora to visit their island at least once in their lifetime, and their faith, after three and four generations in other lands, is still unshaken in that their island will grow and prosper once again.
The world over Kastellorizians band together in their Clubs and Associations, where they talk of their island and their hopes, and practice their charity. They keep their customs and pass them on to the next generation. They still call themselves Kastellorizians.
The resilience of the Kastellorizian customs in many foreign environments is demonstrated by their characteristic charity. Involvement of Kastellorizians in public affairs and welfare is noteworthy. Many achieved pre-eminence and success in politics, the professions, business and the arts. Their willingness to be involved in church and welfare work is amazing.
The ruined old island of Kastellorizo is neither tired nor dead. It has many things to boast about and its faith, hope and charity will stay alive for some time yet.
This article by John B Salvaris, appeared in the 65th and 85th anniversary publications of the Kastellorizian Association of Victoria. Literature on Kastellorizo abounds, but this small piece, from the heart, captures the Kastellorizian ethos. It is appropriate to reprint it in the 90th year of the Club’s operation.
Kastellorizo today is alive and well
A number of homes have been restored, and new ones built, by locals and expatriate families mainly from Australia.
Kastellorizo now has a small permanent population, but during the summer months attracts large number of tourists to what is termed by the tourism industry as “One of the Jewells of the Aegean”