ATHENS – With her gracious and occasionally smiling presence the President of Greece Katerina Sakellaropoulou conveyed the solidarity and love of a nation to the people of Kastellorizo on September 13.
The President also delivered a message of dignified determination to the leaders of Turkey, whose nearby mountainous presence looms over the tranquility of the beautiful East Mediterranean island and farthest outpost of the Hellenic Republic.
The occasion for the rare high-level visit is the celebration of the 77th anniversary of the liberation of the island from its Italian occupiers – the first patch of Greece’s sacred soil to be freed during World War II – when, as the President noted, the Greek navy’s destroyer Admiral Koundouriotis “arrived at the port, while the war was still raging throughout Europe.”
And in striking contrast to the belligerent and bombastic verbosity of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Sakellaropoulou’s brief, eloquent statement at the Municipal Auditorium of island’s main town of Megisti noted that the tragic consequence of aggressive Turkish words and deeds – which she noted are “addressed not only to Greece but also to the EU and NATO, as peace and stability in the region are threatened” – is that they undermine “the good neighborly relations and peaceful coexistence that have been established over many decades by Greeks and Turks, who view the sea that separates them not as barrier, but as a channel of communication.”
Indeed, numerous residents of Kastellorizo told the National Herald that they have developed strong friendships with Turks, especially in the tourism industry, which is mutually supportive in the region, as people travelling to Turkish resorts want to also visit the Greek isles and vice versa.
Sakellaropoulou continued her tone of peace-loving patriotism, saying “I know that your patriotism is not based on hostility towards your neighbor. It is based on ethnic self-confidence, pride in the long history of the island, the immortal memory of age-old struggles and sacrifices.”
Sakellaropoulou, accompanied by other Greek officials and Members of Parliament, was given a warm and enthusiastic welcome by the island’s and Dodecanese region’s leadership and residents, which included flowers presented by young children.
Kastellorizans beamed with pride as they heard the President of Greece say, “I am glad to be in Kastellorizo! I see our flag waving everywhere, rising proudly, even painted on the mountain. I am joyful to meet such beauty, optimism, and wisdom – the same wisdom that helped your ancestors preserve their religion and language during the years of Ottoman rule and supported them in the many trials that the island suffered during the twentieth century.”
She lengthened the Greek leadership’s embrace of the people of Kastellorizo by saying, “we are here to honor this place and to assure you that you will never feel cut off from the body of the homeland, never isolated and helpless. We are always close to you, inspired by your example and daily struggles to keep alive the flame of Hellenism with your journey of centuries.”
SIGNS OF REGIONAL TENSIONS EASING
The context of the historic visit is the ongoing tension caused by Turkey’s provocative words and acts all summer, although reports this weekend indicate a possible positive turn as Turkey's research ship Oruc Reis returned to the Turkish coast on Sunday. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said, “the return of Oruc Reis is a positive first step, I hope there will be continuity. We want to talk with Turkey but in a climate without provocations.”
After her visit to the two ships of the Greek navy, the Mykonos and ‘Mahitis – the Warrior’ stationed in Megisti’s port the President added, “the fact that the Turkish NAVTEX was not renewed is a step in the right direction. The pursuit of everyone must be the return to calm and normalcy.”
The two-day visit began with the President’s participation in a Doxology service at the Church of St. Constantine and Helen and a wreath-laying ceremony at the monument of Kastellorizo’s war-time fallen. Between official acts the President was hosted for coffee and sweets at several establishments where she participated in discussions with local leadership which included Regional Governor Giorgos Hadjimarkos, Kastellorizo Mayor Giorgos Samsakos, Member of Parliament for the Dodecanese Vasileios Ypsilantis, Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Simi, Tilos, Halki, and Kastellorizo, and the island’s presiding priest Fr. Giorgos Maltezos..
In addition to reassuring them in light of Turkey’s threats, Sakellaropoulos also addressed the long-term and daily concerns of the locals. “I know the problems of the island, the feeling of isolation that becomes stronger after the end of the tourist season, the lack of health coverage, the inadequate infrastructure. I also know that important development projects have been launched on your island that will improve your living conditions, such as work on the waterfront, the reconstruction of the port, the maintenance of the schools and the road network, the renovation of the church of Ai Giorgis.”
Activities scheduled in addition to lunch and dinner with islanders and accompanying journalists are visits to places of cultural and historical interest, including the little islet that was the home of the famed Greek patriot known as the Lady of Ro.
It is notable that apropos of Greece’s response to Turkey’s threat regional peace and stability, foreign press accompanied the President, including TV channels from the UK and Nic Robertson, CNN’s International Diplomatic Editor.