Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Imvros...our storyxxxx

As most of my friends saw on Facebook we spent a few days on Imvros last week.  Imvros which is now known as Gokceada in Turkish was one of two islands that were given to Turkey after the Treaty of Lausanne was drawn up in 1923.
 This Treaty, in my view, was catastrophic, not only for the Greek population in Turkey but also to the Turks that were living in Greece at the time.  For some exceptions, Constantinople, Imvros (Gokceada), Tenedos (Bozcaada) and Western Thrace all Greeks living in Turkey and all Turks living  in Greece had to pack up and move to their "respective" countries.  Sounds like a fair deal to some but just think indigenous Greeks who had lived in Asia Minor for millennia had to be uprooted from their homeland as were the Turks who had lived for about 400 years in Greece.  Not only was this traumatic for them they both had to endure racism..My mum and her family for instance were referred to as Turks by the Greeks.  Doesn't sound so bad now, but after 400 years of occupation and a couple of bloody wars during the first part of the 20th century it was like calling a Jewish person a Nazi. A lot of Greeks remained in Turkey by "converting" to Islam but secretly remaining Christian (cryptochristiani).

The Treaty stated that all citizens (Greeks living in Turkey, and Turks living in Greece) had the right to religious freedom, the right to learn their own language as long as the other was also taught and have the same rights as the rest of the population.  The Imvrians from what I know enjoyed some of these rights until WW2.  The citizens of Imvros was in the majority Greek. My grandfather was born in Imvros in the 1920's. When WW2 broke out the Turks were on the German side the Greeks on the side of the Allies.  My grandfather by then was about 20 years of age and as he was legally a Turkish citizen, was enlisted in the Turkish army.   However as the Greeks on Imvros would not fight against their own race, most of them, including my grandfather, were sent to the working concentration camps on the mainland.  They were treated harshly, a lot of them died.  My grandfather and another two detainees attempted to escape.  Two of them were caught.  From memory one died of hunger and the other killed.  My grandfather somehow got to the shore and stole a boat and rowed to the closest Greek island of Limnos.  It wasn't until he was on his deathbed some 20 years later that he confessed to the priest that upon stealing the boat there was a fight between him and a Turk who was going to turn him into the authorities.  In survival mode he killed the Turk to escape death himself.  This however ate at him for two decades until his death.
Upon arriving in Limnos his uncle took him under his wing and taught him to cook.  In Alexandroupolis he became well known for his cuisine amongst the generals and army officials. (Spiros Sindiris on the right)

My grandparents xx

My grandparents with my mum (left), uncle Stratos(grandfather's brother), aunty Voula (middle) and uncle Leo(far right).  A very rare meeting of big and baby brother!

His younger siblings however lived on the island till the 1960s.  It was then when most of the Greeks fled Imvros.  In an organised attempt by the Turkish government to "cleanse" Turkey of the indigenous Greeks they sent hard core criminals to the island to roam freely amongst the citizens.  After robberies, murders and rapes amongst the community by these monsters, they naturally packed up and relocated.  The Turkish government got what they wanted.

Fast forward to 2015...Imvros is beautiful...Not commercialised which is more my speed.  However going there for the first time you can't help but become emotional.  We stayed in a hotel in Glyki (Bademli).  Very cute with a lot of the houses being renovated.
Sitting on the balcony

Chris's dad....very funny man..god bless him!

love this front door at Agios Theodoros

Agios Theodoros where Evangeline's "pappou nouno" and his brother Patriarche Bartholomew were from is equally as pretty.  The place I got emotional was where Kate "nouna giagia" and my sister "Faki's" family are from.  The village of Shinoudi.  From what I've been told there were about 3000 greek citizens living there when they were growing up.  This was the biggest village in Turkey and the majority if not all Greek.  It was beautiful.  The Greeks were creative, industry was thriving, even despite the island being signed over to the Turks.  This did not please the Turkish government who as mentioned before released prisoners on the island but also forbid them from teaching the Greek language at school, looting Orthodox churches and holding violent demonstrations in front of the remaining churches.  The Greek citizens from what I was told asked for help from the Greek government but they did not do much to help the matter as they did not want to "rock the boat' politically with Turkey.  In 1984 from about 3000 greeks there were only 60 remaining. Today there are only about 40 if that!
Kate and Elpinikis house...fantastic refurbishment!

one of the thousands of derelict houses..

We met a man who lives on Imvros who told us that the mayor for the first time in Imvrian history since the Treaty of Lausanne has employed a Greek citizen as a public servant.  I say good on him.  However it sounds to me that regardless of the Treaty NONE of the liberties applied or were even enforced by the people who drew it up. The Greeks had no rights.  On the flip side in Western Thrace, the Turks I am sure have endured racism but they still as citizens of Greece have political representation and have the same rights as Christian Greeks.  There were no burning of shops in thousands like in Istanbul or terrorism amongst the locals like in Imvros or destruction of a magnificent city and people left to drown in the sea like in Smyrni or genocide of people like in Pontos.  I make sure I go to Komotini in Western Thrace everytime I am in Greece as I love the multicultural aspect of it.  It's like going to Victoria Street in Abbotsford when I want to feel like I'm in Vietnam.  I LOVE IT!!!!

On my visit to a newly opened cafe in Glyki, Imvros I was chatting to the owners about the island and one of the customers got involved in the conversation...(I wish I spoke Turkish, my new resolution!)  He said that he was from Ankara and worked in a restaurant in Aivali (near Smirni)..He said that religion should not split communities.  I told him through my translator that it is not religion as Christians, Muslims and Jews all believe in the God of Abraham..It is politics and ego maniac politicians that destroy the unity between people. He then revealed that his great grandparents were Greek and that over the generations they had converted to Islam.  As a 1st generation Australian I completely understood how the Greek language and customs were lost to him.  It made me vow to make more of an effort with my daughter to speak to her in Greek.
the owners of Stenada cafe...

Despite the horrendous politics over the last century I found the Turks in Imvros extremely hospitable, the shop owners in my foodie, wine and the best souvenir shop in Panagia (island capital) amazing and very interested in my connection to the island.
I will return to Imvros, hopefully even before I fly back to Australia.  If I could I would also buy property there and refurbish them to their original glory.  Unfortunately the law does not permit it.  Regardless of the fact that my grandfather was born on the island as I am not a Turkish citizen I can not do this! I wonder if I could be more than a dual citizen?  Australian, Greek and Turkish...Have to look into that one!

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