Nicholas Doumanis’ article, Italians as “Good” Colonizers, discusses the ways in which the natives of the Dodecanese islands felt about the arrival of the Italians to their islands and the colonization that took place. To better understand these reactions and responses I thought it would be helpful to have a better understanding of Italy’s presence in the Dodecanese Islands.
The Dodecanse, literally translated as ‘twelve islands’, represents the twelve large Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. The Dodecanses includes the islands of Rhodes (the most historically important and well-known of the islands), Kos, Patmos, Astipalca, Kalimnos, Karpathos, Kasos, Leros, Nisyros, Symi, Tilos, and Kastelorizo, as well as 150 smaller islands also in the Aegean Sea. After declaring independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, the Dodecanese Islands were quickly picked up by Italy, which, at the time, was deeply interested in this cluster of islands, particularly Rhodes, to monitor communications between Turkey and Libya.
Italy’s occupation of the Dodecanese became legal in July of 1923. Initially, Italians only planned basic improvements to the islands, such as the development of roads and street lamps, as well as the modernization of the water supply network. The next decade of Italian control over the Dodecanese islands can be characterized as an effort to “Italianize” the local inhabitants of the island. Many changes were made to the political and social environments of the islands. The educational system was changed to revoke the superintendence of the Orthodox Church over the schools, and the curriculums were made to include teaching of the Italian language. A school for the training of teachers was founded, and scholarships were developed for Dodecanesian students. In 1924, a law was passed which imposed multiple restraints on cultivation improved the ease with which land could be appropriated from the state, which greatly benefitted the environment but damaged the agricultural economy in the process.
In 1936 the fascist movement made headway in the islands when fascist Cesare de Vecchi became governor and imposed radical changes in an effort to achieve “radical Italianization and institutional modernization of the islands.” At this point there had developed a distinction between the “good” Italians and the fascists. It was after “Fascism came” that the initial efforts of the colonization became lost in de Vecchi’s agenda. “These were remembered as difficult times…interviewees had a habit of describing the period as the dictatorship, ‘when fascism came to the islands’” (page 230)