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The Union of the Comoros is an island country in the Indian Ocean, off the East coast of Africa. Its major islands are Grande Comore, Anjouan, and Mohéli. Additionally, the island of Mayotte is geographically a part of the Comoros Islands, but claimed by France.

Also known as Ngazidja, Grande Comore is the largest of the Comoros islands, and the most populated. The island is made of two volcanoes, the highest of which is an active volcano. The island was divided into several sultanates for several centuries before France annexed the island in 1908. Becoming independent of France in 1975, it is currently an autonomous island that is part of the Union of the Comoros.

Also known as Nzwani, Anjouan is an autonomous island within the Union of the Comoros. Its first inhabitants were immigrants from Indonesia and Polynesia. Around 1500, the island became the Sultanate of Ndzuwani. Facing invasion from Zanzibar, the Sultan asked for French assistance. The island came under French protection in 1886, annexing the island in 1912. Anjouan joined the Comoros when it achieved independence in 1975, seceding in 1997, and rejoining the Union as an autonomous island in 2002.

The smallest of the Comoros islands, Mohéli is also known as Mwali. Until 1830, Mohéli was part of the Sultanate that ruled the neighboring island of Anjouan. Establishing its own Sultanate in 1830, the island became a protectorate of France in 1886, and annexed in 1909. Mohéli joined the Comoros nation in 1975, but seceded in 1997, rejoining as an autonomous island in 2002.

Currently a region of France, the Mayotte islands are geographically part of the Comoros island group. Its history and culture is similar to that of the Comoros islands, except that the people of Mayotte voted to remain part of France when the others separated in 1975. There are political movements within the Union of the Comoros and Mayotte to reunite with the Comoros. Although there is a desire to remain French in order to retain social equality and to receive financial aid, the people share a Comorean culture and are united through the practice of Islam.

The islands of the Comoros are volcanic in origin, so all of them are mountainous. Rich volcanic soils promote the growth of vegetation. Beyond the coastal areas, there are banana trees, coconut palms, and mangoes. Forest areas include several varieties of hardwood. Its climate is tropical and humid, with a monsoon season that lasts from December to April.

On each island, there is a ringed road circling the coastal area, most of them paved. Grande Comore has an international airport at Hahaia, while there are smaller airfields on each of the other islands. There is a year-round shipping port at Dzaoudzi, off the island of Mayotte. Other ports, at Moroni and Mutsamudu, have been recently expanded to permit large vessels.

In all likelihood, the islands were visited in antiquity by Phoenician sailors, but the first settlers were likely Melanesian and Polynesians who came sometime before the Sixth century. Other immigrants later came from East Africa, the Arab lands, Indonesia, Persia, and Madagascar. The Portuguese came in the early 1500s, and the French came in 1517. Although the islands were under French rule from the late 1800s until the mid-1900s, Arab influences have predominated.

French and Arabic are the official languages of the islands, although the most commonly spoken language is Comoran, a language akin to Swahili but with elements borrowed from Arabic. Sunni Islam is the chief religion of the islands, including a strong belief in the djinn. Only about one percent of the population is Christian, and they are denied several facilities. There are a couple of Catholic churches and a Protestant church on the islands, but the use of these churches are for non-citizens only, and discrimination against Christians is widespread.

The years since the islands achieved independence from France have been tumultuous. Within a month, the first president the Comoros was removed during an armed coup; months afterward, the new president was ousted. During the next thirty years, there were several attempted and successful coups. The Anjouan and Mohéli islands declared their independence from the Comoros in 1997, requesting to go back under French rule, but France refused. After a reorganization of the Comoros, forming the Union of the Comoros, the islands rejoined, but as autonomous islands. The first peaceful exchange of power came about in 2006, although peace was not to last. In 2008, the island of Anjouan held an election that was deemed illegal by the federal government, which seized the island by force. Since granted independence in 1975, there have been more than twenty coups or attempted coups, plus other disputes confined to a single island.



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