Muslims in the Dodecanese

1. Ottoman Period – Italian Rule

From 1309, the Dodecanese islands were under the dominion of the Knights Hospitaller. Their capture by the Ottomans was very important because it equaled undisturbed naval communications with areas conquered by Selim I (Palestine, Syria, Egypt) and Istanbul, as well as because the islands would be used as the base for suppressing piracy in the Aegean.

Suleyman the Magnificent finally conquered the islands in 1522. Right after that, the Ottomans increased the population of the complex. Through sürgün(mandatory colonization), they transferred large populations in the Dodecanese; many were Muslims. The censuses of Rhodes and Kos, conducted in the first half of the 16th century, partly provide a picture of the population. According to that, the population of these islands comprised of 6312 families, 1121 of which were Muslims. This means that Muslim families back then were 18% of the population.

The Sublime Porte ceded wide autonomy in administration to the Dodecanese. Save Rhodes and Kos, on every other island there were few Ottoman officials. Thus, it is not surprising that there were significant Muslim populations only on these two islands.

Throughout the Ottoman Rule, the majority of the population of Rhodes and Kos were Christians. The Muslims were established mainly in the cities, whereas Christian populations dominated the country, especially from the mid-19th century on. Consequently, the Muslim population decreased and was confined almost exclusively within the capitals of these islands.

When the Italians captured the Dodecanese in 1912, everything changed, since the Muslims were also under the dominion of a foreign power. In their effort to cut off the islands from Greece, the Italians tried to win the Muslims over.

2. Integration into Greece

With the Treaty of Paris (February 10 1947), Italy ceded the Dodecanese islands to Greece, while they were typically integrated into the Greek state in 1948. Muslims of the Dodecanese became citizens of the Greek state without being included (like those of Thrace) in the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), the terms of which regulated the status of the Greek-orthodox minority in Turkey and that of the Muslim minority in Greece. According to the Ministry of Reconstruction, the Muslim population of the Dodecanese in 1947 stood at 6230, the vast majority of whom lived on Rhodes. According to the 1951 census, the overall number of Muslims on the Aegean islands stood at 5063, 4937 of whom lived in the Dodecanese. Considering that the overall population of the Aegean islands stood at 528,766, the vast majority being Orthodox (511,568), Muslims were a mere 9.6‰ of the Greek population of the Aegean. Their population has decreased even more ever since. It is rather the monuments of Ottoman architecture on Rhodes and Kos that bear witness to the rich Islamic past of the islands.