Muslim Kos

Posted by admin | July 12, 2009 1

Defeterdar Mosque

Kos and Rhodes were the two islands which experienced Muslim immigration under the 400 years of Ottoman rule and being under Italian control were not affected by the “population transfers” (or ethnic cleansing in modern language) after the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. The Knights of St. John

surrendered Kos and the mainland fortress of St. Petrium (now days Turkish Bodrum and 10 miles from Kos) , which between them controlled the sea straits, to the forces of Suleiman the Magnificent (known in Islam as Suleiman the Lawgiver) in 1523 and this began a 390 year Turkish domination. The Turks renamed the island “Stanköy” and whilst the Greeks refer to Turkish rule as barbaric and refer to it as an “occupation” the truth is that under the Ottomans Kos was for the most part benignly neglected with a toleration towards other religions and a mix of Greek, Turkish, Armenian and Jewish population.

There were flare ups in that 390 year history. In 1603 the Knights of St. John unsuccessfully tried to retake the island and Kos was looted by the Ottoman mercenaries who retook the island. It was hit by a terrible epidemic of the plague in 1810/11 and it took part in the Greek Revolt of 1821. The retribution was savage by the Ottomans with a massacre on the island of Chios in the Sporades and the Orthodox Patriarch in Constantinople (Istanbul) being executed and his body thrown in the Bosporus. On Kos more than 90 Greek rebels were hanged around the Plane Tree of Hippocrates. The Turkish rule came to an end in 1912 in the Italian / Turkish war where Italy invaded Ottoman North Africa and to Italy were ceded to Italy to “ensure the due performance of the Treaty of Cyrenia.” Well the Ottomans did “perform” by leaving the area of North Africa known as Libya (and Italy embarked on a shameful and vicious colonial enterprise in Africa) but the Italians stayed in the Dodecanese. However despite the repression at times of rebellion, trade flourished under the Ottomans, religious freedoms were respected and the rule was generally even handed but the infrastructure was neglected.

The indigenous Muslim population in Greece is not homogeneous since it consists of different ethnic, linguistic and social backgrounds which often overlap. The Muslim faith is the creed of several autochthonous ethnic groups living in the present territory of Greece, namely the Pomaks, ethnic Turks, certain Roma groups, and Greek Muslims, who embraced the Muslim faith mainly in the 17th and 18th centuries. The country’s Muslim population decreased significantly as a result of the 1923 population exchange agreement between Greece and the new Turkish Republic, which also uprooted approximately 1.5 million Greeks from Asia Minor.

Turkish Cemetery, Platani

In 1923, under the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne, the Muslims living in Greece were required to immigrate to Turkey; whereas, the Christians living in Turkey were required to immigrate to Greece in an “Exchange of Populations” – nowadays this process is called “Ethnic Cleansing” and prosecuted as a war crime. The Muslims of Thrace and the Christians of Istanbul and the islands of Gökçeada and Bozcaada (Imvros and Tenedos) were the only populations not exchanged.

There is also a small Muslim community in some of the Dodecanese islands which, as part of Italy between 1912 and 1947 were not subjected to the exchange of the population between Turkey and Greece in 1923. They number about 4,000 most of whom espouse a Turkish identity and speak Turkish. The community is strongest on the island of Kos, and in particular the village of Platanos.

Kos at one time had a large Turkish minority but with the tensions over Cyprus, many have left the island. About 50 Muslim families remain on Kos and they mostly reside in Platani along with a Greek minority. Everyone seems to get along just fine but the good news is the Turkish restaurants that await visitors.

Colonised by the Italians after the Ottoman administration in 1912, 12 Aegean islands were occupied by the Germans in 1942 and then by the English after World War II. The problems of Turkish islanders – or Greek Muslim citizens, according to the terminology used in Greece – who were handed over to Greece with the Treaty of Paris, signed in 1947, still affects the local political agenda. Local politicians are also sensitive about the problems of Turks and other Muslims living on the islands. Alderman Nikos Milonas, who prepared a report titled “Problems of Muslim Society on Kos Island” in the first year of New Democracy party (ND) rule, began his report saying, “We generally avoid mentioning the problems of the small Muslim society living on Kos Island. Falsely-internalised nationalistic feelings keep us silent about this issue. However, such issues should come to the agenda and be discussed within the framework of efforts to reconstruct an open democracy in our country, just like other European Union countries.”

Ottoman fountain

Another significant problem is language and religious education. Turkish has not been taught at schools on Rhodes and Kos since 1972. There were no problems with native-language instruction from 1912 until 1947, when the islands were passed to Greece. Turkish schools also survived from 1947 on, but the lessons were taught both in Greek and Turkish. However, after Turkey banned Greek at schools on Gökçeada and Bozcada in 1972, Turkish teaching was totally excluded from the curriculum. Children must learn Turkish at home from their families now. They learn reading and writing in their native language only after they learn the Latin alphabet in high school to learn English. Nineteen-year-old Emine, who recently graduated from high school, will study tourism in Rhodes. Emine, who currently works in sales, says: “I attended English courses after school. I could improve my Turkish after I learned the Latin alphabet thanks to English. I took private Turkish courses. I improve my Turkish by reading Turkish novels.”

The problem of religion and language education forces Turkish families to send their children to Turkey for secondary and high school education. This results in the separation of the children from their families at a tender age. The integration of these children into the island community also becomes difficult when they come back to their homeland. Another way of learning Turkish is Turkish lessons from the Mediterranean studies department at the university in Rhodes. Students have the opportunity to learn their native language as a foreign language at undergraduate level in the department, which has few students.

Turkish Gravestones, Kos Town

The first immigrants of Islamic faith arrived in the early 1970s from the Middle East, mostly from Palestine, and are concentrated in the country’s two main urban centres, Athens and Thessalonica. Since 1990, there has been an increase in the numbers of immigrant Muslims, fifty percent of whom come from Albania. The remainder are from various countries of the Middle East, as well as from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. The immigrant Muslim community numbers around 150,000 people.

During the last decades, as part of a Europe-wide trend of populations moving from rural areas to urban areas, many Greek Muslims, along with other Greek citizens, have left their birthplaces to move to bigger cities, most notably Athens and Istanbul. In the past, a considerable number of them were deprived of their citizenship after leaving Greece (especially for Turkey) and their properties were subsequently confiscated by the state under Article 19 of the Citizenship Law, which was repealed non-retroactively in June 1998.

Today on Kos the evidence of Ottoman rule is still highly visible and the small Turkish community struggles to maintain its identity and culture. In the main square of Kos Town, Eleftheria (Freedom) Square, one side is taken up by the Defeterdar Mosque (Defeterdar Mahmut Efendi Mosque). This was constructed in the 18th Century and is well preserved although it could do with some TLC. The Defeterdar was the Treasury minister of the Ottoman Empire. It is characterised by the minaret and the octagonal ablution fountain with its domed roof next to it. Behind it is the so called Forum Gate which leads into the remains of the walled Crusader Town of Kos. Little remains of this as it was built on the site of the impressive Roman Agora which was excavated following the earthquake of 1933.

Hippocrates Plane Tree Square

At the end of the walk (today known as “Bar Street”) you come to Kos’s most famous public spaces, Hippocrates Plane Tree Square. Under the huge and gnarled plane tree the Father of Medicine is meant to have lectured 2,500 years ago. It is huge and impressive and possibly the oldest tree in Europe but it can not be the one Hippocrates lectured under as plane trees generally live about 600 years. It none the less is a lovely space with the bridge to the Knights Castle of Neratzia, the Italian modernist court buildings and the Loggia Mosque framing it. As well as Hippocrates, the Apostle Paul is meant to have preached Christianity here in Roman times. There is a beautiful Ottoman fountain to the north of the plane tree, one of the many to be seen around Kos Town, which incorporates an ancient sarcophagus and it contains an inscription in Arabic characterising the water as “the water of Hippocrates” and giving the date of construction as 1786. Like all the Ottoman fountains in Kos this was an ablution fountain to clean the hands of the faithful before prayer and to wash their feet before entering the mosque. All the fountains, mosques and Mederessa in Kos are inscribed with the Shahaadah, the Muslim declaration of Faith “”There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is the messenger of Allah.”

Hassan Pasha (Loggia) Mosque

1786 was also the foundation year of the Lotzia (Loggia) Mosque also known as the Hassan Pasha Mosque which was founded by the Turkish admiral Gazi Irli Hassan. Ancient architectural elements from Roman remains have been incorporated into the fabric of the mosque and its minarets. The three story building is locked and unused and still bears the marks of wartime bombardment, especially in the tracery of the upper windows. The ground floor – like that of its near contemporary the Defeterdar Mosque – is taken up by several shops. The building looks sad and forlorn and is of such quality and presence that it cries out to be used better, ideally as a museum of Muslim Kos. At the east side of the square there is the more satisfying sight of an original 18th Century Hamman which has been restored with the help of EU funds.

The restored Ottoman Hamman at the back of the
Law Courts in Kos Town

However if you leave the square to walk down to the harbour through a small park you notice on your left the site of two ancient Muslim gravestones which have been vandalised and covered with graffiti. Ahead the go ahead Mayor of Kos replaced a taxi rank with a fine fountain and public space which provides a handsome approach from the harbour to the plane tree but there is the sight of a large Hamman which has been converted to a nightclub with extract vents crudely cut into the ancient domes.

Hamman nightclub

Kos heavily touts its “Old Town” without actually telling you this was the Ottoman Old Town of Haluvazia. You enter the Old town from behind the covered Merkato on Platia Eleftherias and continue on a pedestrianised street which begins as Ifestou and then becomes Appelou before ending at Platia Dhiagoras overlooking the Western Archaeological Zone further on. It is a satisfying walk through Haluvazia; off the pedestrianised narrow main street you can see the sturdy Ottoman homes and courtyards which survived the 1933 earthquake. This was long considered an undesirable area, but while all the rickety townhouses nearby collapsed in the 1933 earthquake, the sturdy stone built houses and shops here survived. Today the area is crammed with tourist shops and cafes but if you look upwards you can see Turkish and Arabic inscriptions on the stones. There is a dry Turkish fountain where the walkway crosses Venizelou and another one juts out from the wall at the barber shop at the corner of Hristodoulou and Passanikolaki beside the minaret-less but still functioning Atik Mosque.

Ottoman Old Town of Haluvazia

Continuing in the same direction you can make a detour west of Platia Dhiagoras to Nikita Nissiriou to the Anatolian Hamman. During the Ottoman Period this was the residence of a local pasha whose descendants emigrated to Izmir in 1950; The small Turkish bath inside (the Hamman of the name) functioned as the neighbourhood spa until 1970 or so after which the premises operated as a brothel (legal in Greece) before falling into complete disrepair. It has now been restored (since 1992) with the original cedar floors and painted ceilings and has a lovely Arabic style garden at the back and is a stylish restaurant. I complimented the waitress that the excellent Arabic style hummus – the Chef came out and it turned out he was Coptic from Alexandria hence the authentic feel to the food.

Anatolian Hamman

For an insight into what it means to be Turkish in Kos these days head 2Km south of Kos Town on the road to the Asklepion to the Greek – Turkish village of Platani. Until 1964 it was most commonly known as Kermetes (Germe in Turkish) and the Turkish community had its own primary school. But in the wake of the Cyprus crises of that year the village was given a Greek name and education provided in Greek only. Subsequent emigration to Anatolia caused Turkish numbers on Kos to drop from three thousand to less than a thousand today. Only those Turks owning real estate and businesses have stayed put but, as on Rhodes, the long term outlook is bleak.

Platani’s older domestic architecture is similar to styles in Crete from where some of the village’s inhabitants came between 1898 and 1913. There is a working Ottoman fountain near the crossroads and several excellent Turkish tavernas; Arap, Asklipios, Sherif and Gin’s Palace. They all offer Anatolian-style mezedhes and kebabs and enjoy a reputation, including among the Greeks, as the best eateries on the island. We dined at Arap where all the vegetables are grown on the owners land and the meats sourced on the island. We enjoyed an excellent meal with our Greek friends who are regulars here. I expressed my surprise to Mr. Arap that the menu included a pork chop but he said there was not necessarily a strict interpretation on this before saying he had to earn a living. Well for myself I thought Al Qur’aan was clear;

“He has forbidden you only the Maytah (dead animals), and blood, and the flesh of swine…”
[al-Baqarah 2:173]


Fountain at Platani


Platani   (Kermetes) Mosque

The truth is that Kos, the Dodecanese and the Turkish mainland (Asia Minor) have since time immemorial been diverse lands which have hosted many religions and races, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Armenians, Turks, Crusaders, Italians and many more professing Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrian, Alevis, and the Gods of the Ancient World. Kos has gained its unique identity from this diversity and the sectarianism and mono-cultures are very much a product of these modern times. We need grown up discussions amongst grown up people and does a culture as strong as that of Greece really need to be so defensive? Does it have so little confidence in itself? So let us see in the 21st Century a new engagement where diversity is celebrated and embraced, where Turkish schools are reopened and Kos Town celebrates its unique patrimony with a heritage trail embracing the people’s who have made it unique in various museums; Greek, Roman, (Casa Romana), Jewish (The Old Synagogue;

Muslim (Loggia Mosque), Crusader (Neratzia Castle)and so on.

It is time to move on from the sterile nationalism of the past and the poisonous delusion of Megali Idea (Modern Greek: Μεγάλη Ιδέα, “Great Idea”), that irredentist delusion which has only ever brought disaster to Greece and suffering to Greeks from the farcical “invasion” of Asia Minor in 1923 to the disaster in Cyprus in 1974. It is time to recognise after 586 years that Byzantium had its day in the sun of history

and instead of blaming everybody else recognise that an Empire where 26 out of 92 Emperors were murdered or had “unexplained” deaths and where the word “Byzantine” entered the English language for all the wrong reasons may not have been the most competent outfit and contributed to its own demise. Most of all Greece needs to look forward not to the past and decide what sort of society it wants to be. By embracing Muslim communities, many of whose people go back several generations on Kos,and being proud and confident in its diversity the special isle of Kos, which has always been a crossroads of humanity, can lead the way for a New Greece.

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