The new book of Serdar Korucu: Now Who Is Left in Imbros”
The book “Now Who Is Left in Imbros” by journalist and author Serdar Korucu is written using the interviews conducted by 28 people from Imbros who experienced the events in the islands since the 1960s. The interviews were done between 2020 Fall and the beginning of 2022 in four places in Turkey and Greece - Imbros, Istanbul, Thessaloniki, and Athens in four languages; Turkish, Greek, English, and French.
How did you come up with the idea for this book? What led you to do this research?
It started when I heard someone from Imbros saying “They killed my father in Imbros”. In 2015, we published the “6/7 September 1995 through Patriarchate Photographer Dimitrios Kalumenos’s Lens” book from Istos Publishing with the great help of Niko Manginas. The adviser of that book, just like this one, was Laki Vingas. I met Manginas through him (Vingas). That year, we realized that we were in Athens with Niko Manginas at the same time by pure chance and we decided to meet. When I met him, Konstantinos Delikostantis was also there and he is the aforementioned person who is from Imbros.
What is the situation of the Greek population in both Imbros and the rest of Turkey?
According to the Treaty of Lausanne, the same rules should be applied to Greeks in Istanbul, Gokceada (Imbros), and Bozcaada (Tenedos). One of these rules is that the Greek schools should be open. For almost 10 years the school has been open on the island (Imbros). But during the one-party rule and period after the 1960 Coup, that school was closed for many years. The Greeks in Imbros were deprived of the rights given to Greeks in Istanbul.
Did Turkey implement the other Imbros-related articles of the Treaty of Lausanne?
Besides the education rights I have just mentioned, the most critical subject was the special administration. The article is clear “The islands of Imbros and Tenedos, remaining under Turkish sovereignty, shall enjoy a special administrative organization composed of local elements and furnishing every guarantee for the native non-Muslim population in so far as concerns local administration and the protection of person and property.” The local administration was going to
establish a police force recruited from the local population. This never happened. But Ankara did not do this with a clear violation. On July 20, 1927, law no. 1151 titled “On the regulation of the local administration of the islands of Imbros and Tenedos” was passed. According to this law, there were “conditions” to be eligible for the 10-person district council. The first one was to know/be literate in Turkish and this became a big obstacle for the local population.
When did the biggest turning point on the island occur?
The Ottoman rule of the island ended at the beginning of the last century and came under Greek rule similar to many other islands. But the Allies using the island as a base during the Gallipoli Campaign changed the island’s fate. During the Conference of Lausanne, Ankara demanded that some islands be given to them to secure the Straits. And Imbros and Tenedos were the most crucial ones of those islands. Thus two islands that share the same fate came under Turkish rule. The main turning point began in 1963-64. The “Melting Program” was implemented in Imbros. Three tough measures were put to effect. The Greek education which was allowed in the 1950s Democrat Party rule was banned. Because of this, the families started to think that there is no future for them on the island. Confiscations were another step. According to the testimonies, they were conducted to the prices of eggs, and the people’s livelihoods were hurt. Another step is the establishment of prisons. Prisoners of serious crimes, especially murderers and thieves were brought to the island.
How did the establishment of the prison affect the island?
There is a statement made by Melih Cevdet Anday (Socialist poet/writer who led the Garip literary movement alongside Orhan Veli and Oktay Rifat) when he visited the island in 1962, “A lawyer friend of mine is thinking about moving to Imbros. I felt sad since he would not find work. Since the prison is empty, there is no much need for lawyers”. This statement is obviously before the open prison was founded. When the prison was built next to Shinudi (Dereköy) which has the largest population on the island, a climate of fear was set on the island. In the book, Metropolitan of Myra, Hrisostomos Kalayci says about this transformation: The ones in the prison did not only bother Derekoy but they reached everywhere. Do not forget that evil extends everywhere, reaches everywhere.” And it really happened. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I says: “The (prisoners) in the open prisons attacked the monasteries. As if it was not enough, they scared the women. This is why the Greeks left.”
Where did the people leaving Imbros migrate to? Did they only go to Greece or did they also go to countries with a large Greek Diaspora like the USA or Australia?
Most of them wanted to go to Greece but could not since Greece did not issue them visas. Back then, even though people who wanted to quickly leave the island to save their lives tried to go to Greece, the vast majority of them did not succeed. People who went there earlier for higher education stayed, their relatives visited but Greece implemented a harsh policy against Imbros. They were neither accepted as refugees/immigrants nor got citizenship. It was basically like purgatory.
The name of the book belongs to the Patriarch, “Now Who Is Left in Imbros?” What is your answer to this question, who is left on the island?
The book is more about who is allowed to stay on the island instead of who stayed. Because until the beginning of the De-Hellenization, all of the islands were Greek. Today the vast majority consists of Turks, Kurds, and Arabs. Because, in the island besides the waves of confiscations, there were also migrations. The Greek population, which once dropped down to 300 is today around 500-600 also according to the statement of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.
Was the book written to record this change?
Exactly. Because until the point where the book is published, there are things that we can miss out on. While preparing the book, the lyrics of the song “Kar” written by Selim Kirilmaz of the band “Neyse” was stuck in my head, the lyrics said: “There would be ones who see and do not see, what would it change since the damage is already done? There would be ones who know and do not know, what would it change since the damage is already done?”. This rebellion can rise from within, it is not possible to change what already happened.
There is no use crying over spilled milk, but it is important to record it. One of the names included in the book, Kula Calikusu “We should not say that it does not matter if we write it or not since the harm is done. It should not be forgotten. It should be (written) history.” He is right, it is important to record it. Because Primo Levi told the story of Nazis telling their victims: “No matter how the war ends, we won the war against you; none of you will survive to be a witness but even if one of you survives, the world will not believe what they say. Maybe there will be doubts, discussions, and records of historians but proofs will not be found because we will destroy the proofs just like you.” This is why it is important to keep these proofs, keep these records, they are important.
Were there psychical effects caused by the changes in the demographic makeup of Imbros?
There are visible changes. People who are not from the island’s culture, people who did not grow up with that culture, or live with that culture have done injustice to this island and they continue to do so. For example, in recent periods there are constructions of tall buildings with many floors. Then, the island basically turns into a floating district of Istanbul. The unique, centuries-old culture of Imbros fades away. This is the sad part.
Yorgo Ksinos, interviewed in the book says: “Blue and white was never worn on the island. The doors and windows were never painted in blue and white. The colors used were known. Doors were painted lime white, the windows were painted brown, gray or green.” Because the pressure was felt over the island, its loyalty to Turkey was often questioned. But the islanders did not have this problem. This was a place that did not have any problems during the centuries-long Ottoman rule. This was said by the former Democrat Party, then Justice Party member Ziya Termen. Termen describes the island population as “500-year of Greek origin but never harming Turkey, who pay their taxes, who do military service, who respect the law and civilized to the level of not committing a murder or theft for a century.” But, as we can see in the 1928 report, Ankara described this island as “deeply Greek in feeling”. And the island was De-Hellenized after the (1960) Coup. Thus the island lost its true spirit. The culture of the island is commercialized for tourism today. Today, the island greets its tourists with blue and white decorated establishments with Greek names but non-Greek owners.
Stelyo Pulados says “some people earn money over our culture” and gives an example “For example, you know cicilya. It is like our (Greek) pizza. It includes curd cheese and greens. Someone took the copyright of the name cicilya. What can be said about this?” As told in Imbros, the cancellation of the fair is also part of this commercialization process. Despite this, with collective work, the fair took place.
*Born in 1997, Volkan Isbasaran studied Political Science and International Relations at Yeditepe University and holds an MA in Political Science from Central European University. His research areas include terrorism, conflicts, and ethnic/religious minorities.