- Ίμβριοι: «Φυγάδες απ’ τον τόπο μας όμηροι στην πατρίδα» by Yiorgos Tsimouris
The history of Imbros is often treated as a footnote in the study of Greek-Turkish political relations. This marginality, anthropologist Yiorgos Tsimouris suggests, has less to do with the intensity of the events that occurred there than with a silencing of the island’s history not only in Turkish, but also in Greek official and popular discourse. Indeed, the discrimination, violence, and ultimately displacement experienced by the great majority of the island’s Greek Orthodox, Greek-speaking population in the decades following the defeat of Greece’s Asia Minor Campaign (1919–1922) and the ceding of the island to the new Republic of Turkey bring into sharp relief the painful process of separating out modern nation states (in which language, ethnicity, religion, and territory align) from the formerly multiethnic and multireligious Ottoman Empire. [End Page 462]
This book is about Imbros, not Gökçeada, as the island was renamed in 1970 (from Imroz). In reinstating the island’s overwritten name, the author does not so much “lobby” for Imbriot diaspora political positions, as underscore the book’s emphasis on the Imbros of memory and longing, of recollection and fantasy, of the past and the future, rather than on fixed geographies and linear chronologies. While the imagining of any lost homeland might be described in these terms, the harshness of Greek Imbriots’ expulsion from their natal homeland—and the lack of public recognition of this loss—have infused discourses on Imbros with a particular bitterness. The Treaty of Lausanne (1923) stipulated the protection of the rights and property of groups “stranded” as minorities in the new nation states, including the Greek Orthodox populations of Imbros, Bozcaada/Tenedos, and Istanbul, as well as the Muslims of Thrace. These provisions, though, were quickly nullified in Imbros and, as Tsimouris notes, the panic that engulfed the island after the treaty was signed constituted a much more accurate premonition of how the future would unfold than politicians’ empty words of reassurance. The closing down of Greek schools, expropriation of property, restriction of religious freedom, erasure of Greek presence through the Turkification of place names, discrimination, and violence would lead to the mass exodus of local Greeks, particularly in the mid-1960s and 1970s. With the concomitant increase in the Turkish population through settlement (from the 1940s onward) and the establishment of open prisons in the 1970s, the ratio of roughly 7,000 Greeks to 300 Turks maintained until the early 1960s was directly inverted.
This ethnography, of course, is entitled Imbriots, not Imbros. As might be expected of an anthropological study, it focuses on the personal narratives of Imbriots, including the few remaining islanders, former residents who fled the island, and their offspring born and raised outside Imbros, with whom Tsimouris spoke between 1997 and 2002 on Imbros itself, as well as in locations where Imbriots have settled in Greece, such as the neighboring Greek island of Limnos, also the author’s natal homeland, and the Athenian neighborhood of Nea Smyrna. The timing of this study is symptomatic of the “discovery” of the Imbros issue on the part of Greek politicians, cultural figures, and intellectuals beginning in the early 1990s, when a thaw in Greek-Turkish relations enabled greater access to the island. During this period, Turkish political discourse also was marked by a new openness to acknowledging internal ethnic difference. As Imbriots pointed out to the author, this sudden interest in Imbros occurred only once the elderly, dwindling population had become more of a touristic ethnological oddity than a viable community demanding real diplomatic investment (on the part of the Greek state), or posing a true political threat (to the Turkish state).
While peppered with arguments drawn from the theoretical literature on nation, diaspora, ethnicity, and social memory, this book chiefly addresses the area specialist or general reader seeking a cultural take on the Imbriot problem. Structured as a kind of compendium, the book surveys the relevant historical background and presents documentary sources, while touching on a range of subjects (intergenerational relations, diaspora, cultural associations, rituals of return, etc.), each of which could form...