Imbros, Turkey, August 23, 2019
Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople called upon Greek Orthodox Christians to return to Turkey in his homily delivered on the feast of Dormition while visiting his native Imbros Island.
“Return home to the home of your ancestors. Many have already done so,” he said, calling upon the descendants of the Greeks who were expelled from Turkey in the 1920s, reports kathpress, the Austrian Catholic press agency.
The entirely Greek-populated Imbros was given to Turkey by the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, and was guaranteed a special autonomous administrative status, thereby excluding it from the population exchange between Greece and Turkey. However, the treaty was violated and these rights were revoked in 1927. Massive persecution against the Greek population began in 1961. 6,000 ethnic Turks from the mainland were imported and the Greek schools were all closed and land was seized from the Greeks.
In 1964, the island became an “agricultural prison” where criminals from all over Turkey were sent and allowed to move freely, resulting in unprecedented terrorization. Most Greeks fled; as of 2015, only 318 Greeks remained on the island.
Speaking to those gathered for worship in his home village of St. Theodore, Pat. Bartholomew thanked those Greeks who had endured the difficult years and remained on the island.
“I came back to my homeland, to the Imbros of our ancestors and our heart, which is always waiting to embrace its estranged, to tell them that it is alive and breathing,” the Patriarch said, as reports Romfea.
In recent years, monasteries, churches, and Greek schools have reopened on the island. “The fact that our schools unexpectedly reopened, gives us the right to hope, to be optimistic and to believe that Imbros is not a lost cause forever,” Pat. Bartholomew said.