Nearly a decade after the Greek primary school on Imbros was granted permission to operate, the constantly increasing Greek presence is not only proof that more Greek families return to the island to stay but also that Hellenism has been revived.
By Giovanni Prete
A record-breaking fifty-seven Greek children—in comparison to just four in 2013—were present at the school’s first bell, which rang last Monday.
The consecration for the new school year took place last Saturday in the courtyard of the church of the Annunciation of the Virgin in Agridia of Imbros.
The consecration was performed by the Metropolitan of Imbros and Tenedos in the presence of students, parents, and teachers.
Η ανάσταση της Ιμβρου: 54 ελληνόπουλα άκουσαν το πρώτο κουδούνι, 600 ρωμιοί κατοικούν στο νησί!!!!! pic.twitter.com/9F81s6Xkgs
— kakos_lukos (@LukosKakos) September 17, 2022
The strength of the Greek community has increased even further in recent years and now amounts to over six hundred Greeks while a new generation of natives is being established. It is a generation of individuals born and raised on the island.
Speaking to Greek daily ethnos.gr, Nikos Laimopoulos, vice principal of the Greek high school of Imbros, says that “this is good for the island if we imagine that in the mid-90s and early 21st century there were less than 200 Greek people left, and most of them were elderly [with…] schools were not functioning until 2013.”
Born and raised in Istanbul, two years ago, Laimopoulos decided to support the repatriation efforts of Greeks on Imbros with the opening of schools playing a key role in this effort.
“We always asked for the school to open,” he said. “We try to have continuity. Let young people settle here and let the Greek population grow. We need young people who will live here, raise their families [so] children will come to the schools. And this is becoming a reality,” he added.
Greek primary school opened its doors in 2013
Following decades of the ban on Greek education, in 2013, the Greek primary school opened its doors in Agioi Theodoroi, the hometown of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, almost half a century after its closure.
During that time, there was only one Greek teenager living on the island. Initially, there were only four students attending, a number reduced to a mere three in the second year.
In the following years, the need for the establishment of a high school was presented because, otherwise, children would be forced to leave the island.
Laimopoulos says that “since 2015, when permission was given for the gymnasium and lyceum to operate, the students and the return of Imbriots to the island have been increasing year by year.”
The rise in education also signals a return of residents from Greece to Imbros, and now a new generation is being created that has been born and raised on the island.
Dozens of dilapidated Greek houses on the island have been renovated in recent years and are once again being inhabited.
It is also estimated that more than twenty Greek companies are currently active on the island.
Earlier in 2022, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew opened a renovated chapel on the island. The old chapel of St. Tryphon is located in the village of Schinoudi, where residents had been almost exclusively Greek until the previous century.
The Greek Orthodox chapels on Imbros in today’s Turkey, had been left demolished and desecrated but are gradually being restored by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople.
Greeks on Imbros since antiquity
The Aegean island was Greek since ancient times, as Imbros belonged to the Athenian Alliance. According to Greek mythology, the palace of Thetis, the mother of Achilles, was situated between Imbros and Samothrace. The stables of the winged horses of Poseidon were said to lie between Imbros and Tenedos. Homer wrote in The Iliad:
In the depths of the sea on the cliff
Between Tenedos and craggy Imbros
There is a cave, wide gaping
Poseidon who made the earth tremble
stopped the horses there.
Imbros is also mentioned in the Homeric Hymn which was dedicated to Apollo, and Apollonius of Rhodes mentions Imbros in the first book of his work Argonautica.
In classical antiquity, Imbros—like Lemnos—was an Athenian cleruchy, a colony whose settlers retained Athenian citizenship. In 511 or 512 BC, the island was captured by the Persian general Otanes.
Later on, Miltiades conquered the island from Persia after the Battle of Salamis. The colony was established around 450 BC during the first Athenian empire and was retained by Athens for the following six centuries.
Thucydides, in his History of the Peloponnesian War, describes the colonization of Imbros and mentions in his narrative the contribution of Imbrians in support of Athens during various military actions. During the Social War (357-355 BC), the Chians, Rhodians, and Byzantians attacked Imbros, which was an ally to Athens.
Following the fall of the Byzantine Empire, Imbros was claimed by the Ottomans and the Venetians mainly because of its strategic position, as it is very close to the entrance of the Dardanelles Strait leading to the Marmara Sea.
Until 1920, Imbros belonged to the Ottoman Empire with a few thousand Greeks still residing on the island. After Turkey and Germany were defeated in the war, the 1920 Treaty of Sevres saw the island granted to Greece.
However, following the Asia Minor catastrophe, which resulted in the defeat of the Greek army, the Treaty of Lausanne transferred ownership of the island to Turkey. Island inhabitants were exempted from the compulsory exchange of populations called for in the treaty, and Greek minorities—as likewise agreed upon in the Treaty of Lausanne—were provided autonomy and protection. However, this immunity was violated by Turkey on multiple occasions.
Following the catastrophe, Greek buildings and sites were demolished as part of a massive colonization effort by Turkey. In 1955, Turkish fanaticism led to the persecution of Greeks living in Turkish territories along with the expropriation of any and all property owned by them.
On July 1, 1964, the Turks banned the teaching of the Greek language in schools. During that time, the schools of the island were all Greek, with seven operating Greek schools and approximately 693 Greek pupils attending.
Three decades of persecution followed, through a Turkification plan, which was systematically implemented through a series of laws and decisions. As a result, the Greek population shrank dramatically.