STORRS, CT – The Federation of Dodecanese Societies of America commemorated the centennial of Rhodes’ Bloody Easter in 1919. The event was held on October 12 at the Center for Hellenic Studies Paideia at the University of Connecticut campus in Storrs and highlighted the fervent desire of the Greeks of the Dodecanese to unite with Greece at a time when the islands were still under foreign occupation.
Early in 1919, 17 mayors of the Dodecanese, led by the Italian mayor of Rhodes, signed a document supporting Italy’s claim to the islands which was presented at the Paris Peace Conference following the end of World War I, in spite of Eleftherios Venizelos’ fervent plea that the Dodecanese were and always would be Greek and the people wanted unification with the motherland Greece.
Tensions continued to rise as the situation remained unresolved, eventually leading to bloodshed on April 7, 1919 when a rally was held by residents calling for unification with Greece. Metropolitan Apostolos Trifonos of Rhodes called for unification with Greece in a speech read out at the rally citing U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and his ideas for peace among nations.
The Italian authorities responded with violence and arrests in an attempt to silence the demonstrators, including the arrests of two teachers, Konstantinos Pantazis and Nikolaos Magafas, and the deaths of a local priest, Papa Loukas, and Anthoula Zervou, a woman who reportedly had made a remark about a 12 year-old child who had been hit during the rally.
The Paris Treaty was signed in July of 1919 with the Dodecanese islands to be unified with Greece and only Rhodes to remain under Italian occupation for another five years. However, the Treaty of Sevres (1920) called for Turkey and Italy to give up any claim to the Dodecanese and the events in Asia Minor soon proved fateful for the Dodecanese as well. The Treaty of Lausanne (1923) handed the islands over to Italy and the occupation lasted until the end of World War II.
The British then occupied the islands as a military protectorate for two years, 1945-47, and Dodecanese unification with Greece was finally realized in 1947.