April 16, 2020

The Black Easter of Symi in 1919

The remote Dodecanese island of Symi experienced a Black Easter in 1919, though it is often called a Red or Bloody Easter for the blood that was spilled throughout the Italian-occupied Dodecanese. It was on this particular Easter that the islanders were not allowed to attend church services and they were left in grief and starvation, being confined to their homes. For this reason they "dressed" Easter in black.

According to local writer Chloe Attiti:

'The then Italian-occupied Dodecanese banned the bell-ringing and liturgies and the churches in general were closed for Easter in 1919. Because they went through this for Christmas, New Years and Theophany as well, the people of Symi, in protest and mourning, painted their eggs black with paint used to dye clothing, and they kneaded black circular bread with the ink of cuttlefish, and instead of the banner of the Resurrection they put black flags in the churches in conciliation with the other islands on the day of Easter (April 7, 1919), and after the Vespers of Love they revolted and demanded their freedom. Many were injured at that time, two were killed, but the women gave beatings to the Italians in Gialos, with sticks and poles.'

According to another source of that time:

'After the Service of Easter Sunday, in all the churches of the island, the congregations did not return home, but remained to proclaim their national wishes for the Union of Dodecanese with the Mother Country, Greece. Then the resolution was read in coram populo, and was signed by all present, who were wildly cheering for Union and liberty under the eyes of the carabinieri and other Italian soldiers present, who were watching the proceedings in every church, having been sent by the Italian Authorities, who it appears were aware of what was going to happen. At most of the churches the Italians held their silence, being content only to take notes ; in other churches, however, they attempted to molest the people and prevent them voting. For example, in the Church of the Holy Trinity, a carabiniere ordered Father Costa, when the latter was reading the resolution from the pulpit, to stop reading and shouted to him "Be silent, priest!" Because the priest took no notice and continued to read, the carabiniere mounted the steps of the pulpit, and seizing the priest by the surplice, he attempted to drag him down from the pulpit. The priest finished reading the resolution, the people, crying with enthusiasm and loudly cheering, signed it, asking for Divine help for liberation from the tyrants. The carabiniere, foaming with rage, seized one of the many Greek flags and left tearing it. cursing loudly as he departed.

In the church "Ta Isodia Tis Theotokou," the carabinieri, after the resolution and the service, arrested the schoolmasters, Theodore Nicoli and Papoutzi, and led them to the prisons. They also tried to arrest the priest whilst at the High Altar, but they were not successful.

In the Church of the Annunciation, the Italians attempted to arrest also the priest Dionesios, who managed to escape clothed in his Holy Robes whilst the people were voting. Whilst all hoped that the action of the Governor would be limited to this, on the contrary, on the following morning, Messrs. Panagioti, Petridis, Fotino Cladaki, Costa Boyadzi, and Ioanni Vitali were arrested, not because they were the instigators of the resolution or because they showed more zeal than the other Symiotes, but simply because they did not exert themselves and use their authority as notables to prevent the vote being taken. As many hours passed without their release and they were not brought before the Governor, their relations, accompanied by many citizens, held a demonstration, marched all together to see the Governor, and by means of a deputation composed of five members, complained of the arrest of the notables, and asserted the responsibility of all the people of Symi for the resolution. At the beginning the Italian governor promised to release the prisoners, but afterwards changing his mind he refused to do so. he was waiting for orders to arrive from his Commander at Rhodes to whom he had already sent particulars. As the crowd outside the Governor's Building did not immediately break up as he could, but continued to cheer for Greece and Union, a detachment of bersaglied arrived on the spot and with fixed bayonets fell upon the crowd, and by means of thrusts and rifle butts wounded as many as possible, icluding many women and children. We have over seventy who are at present in a" serious condition, having been brought by stretcher and bearing severe wounds, broken skulls, broken ribs, three of them bearing many wounds caused by bayonet thrusts. The Archiepiscopal Vicar Oeconomos Father Michael Massonaki, seeing the desperate condition and the danger in which his unarmed flock was in face of a armed tyrant who was thirsting for blood and revenge, taking the Cross in his hand and followed by all the priests and the people, went to the Governor, who was with the Commander of the Italian cruiser "Regina Elena," then in Symi harbour, and told him of the injustice of the arrests and the foolishness of ordering an assault of troops of a Great Power against unarmed citizens, women and children, whilst by peaceful means he could have dismissed the crowd, as the Dodecanesians are a peaceful, civilised, and orderly people quite as much so as any European nation. He again begged the Governor to release the prisoners. The Italian officer, not only would not listen to the old priest, but insulted him and dismissed him, threatening to shoot him at once and to order the warship to bombard the island unless the crowd did not disperse immediately. Whilst the crowd was dispersing and was returning slowly, cheering for the Union, upon signals from the Governor's Building 300 marines were landed from the cruiser, and charged on the people with fixed bayonets and broke up the crowd, whilst on the warship it was observed that unusual commotion was taking place.

The Italian Authorities instituted a blockade of the island, which is being enforced by a destroyer sent for that purpose. The people, as a protest, have declared themselves and the Church in persecution. They have taken down from the Ikonostasia the Ikon of the Resurrection of Christ, and have proclaimed a general mourning. Within and without the churches black flags have been hoisted, bearing a white cross. The doors of the Churches and of the houses have been covered with black sheets, and everyone is in mourning. The carabinieri and Marines go in bodies and tear the flags with rage, taking with them the ropes. The arrested notables have been taken bound on a warship to Rhodes, where they were thrust into a dark, dirty, damp prison, which contained no seats and without floor. There they remained three days without food, and were not permitted to leave the room at all, until the intervention of a liberal European country (France) towards which the Dodecanese and humanity owe much and are grateful they were released and by means of an Italian warship they were sent back to Symi, in order that they should not communicate with anyone in Rhodes.'

And in a village in Rhodes the following took place, according to a contemporary source:

'A third of the population was arrested and transported in military cars to the prisons of Archangelos, where they are kept without food and are flogged three or four times a day. In spite of this they shout "Long live the Union, and long live Venizelos." Owing to the martyrdom which those imprisoned are suffering, the remainder of the inhabitants have decided upon general mourning, services now are no longer held, the churches are in mourning, everything is funereal The schools are closed and all the peasants wear black.'