Dahlak Archipelago

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The Dahlac Archipelago is an island group located in the Red Sea near Massawa, Eritrea. It consists of two large and 124 small islands. The pearl fisheries of the archipelago have been famous since Roman times and still produce a substantial number of pearls. Only four of the islands are permanently inhabited, of which Dahlak Kebir is the largest and most populated. Other islands of the archipelago are Dhuladhiya, Dissei, Dohul, Erwa, Harat, Harmil, Isra-Tu, Nahaleg, Nakura, Norah and Shumma, although not all are permanently inhabited.

The islands are home to a diverse marine life and sea-birds, and attract an increasing number of tourists. The people of the archipelago speak Dahlik. The islands can be reached by boat from Massawa.

G.W.B. Huntingford has identified a group of islands near Adulis called "Alalaiou" in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, which were a source of tortoise shell, with the Dahlak archipelago. According to Edward Ullendorff, the Dahlak islanders were amongst the first in East Africa to convert to Islam, and a number of tombstones in Kufic writing attest to this early connection.

In the 7th century an independent Muslim state emerged in the archipleago, but it was subsequently conquered by Yemen, then intermittently by the Kingdom of Medri-Bahri (Land of the Sea) 1517, when the Ottoman Turks conquered them and placed the islands under the rule of the Pasha at Suakin as part of the province of Habesh.

The archipelago became part of the Italian colony of Eritrea, when it was formed in 1890. However, during this time the islands were home to little else except a prison operated by the Italian Colonial Forces.

After Ethiopia allied itself with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, following the rise of the Derg, the Dahlak Archipelago was the location of a Soviet Navy base. In 1990, Ethiopia lost control of the Dahlak Archipelago and the northern Eritrean coast to the Eritrean independence movement EPLF and by 1991 Ethiopia had lost control of all of Eritrea. Following the international recognition of Eritrean independence in 1993, the Dahlak Archipelago became a part of Eritrea.
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