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The Greek Minority and its foundations in Istanbul, Gokceada (Imvros) and Bozcaada (Tenedos)
Imvros (Gökçeada) and Tenedos (Bozcaada)
Pursuant to Article 14 of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, “the islands of Imvros and Tenedos, remaining under Turkish sovereignty, shall enjoy a special administrative organization composed of local elements and furnishing every guarantee for the native non-Moslem population in so far as concerns local administration and the protection of person and property. The maintenance of order will be assured therein by a police force recruited from amongst the local population by the local administration above provided for and placed under its orders”. At the same time, a special administrative status guaranteed the native non-Muslim population local autonomy, protection of their property and their persons, who were the overwhelming majority of the population of these islands at the time. However, the provisions of this article were never implemented and Turkey is to be held accountable and internationally responsible for this. What is more, in 1964 the Turkish State banned the teaching of the Greek language within the minority schooling scheme; as a consequence, the majority of students migrated either to İstanbul or Greece. These measures instigated a massif exodus of ethnic Greeks from the islands: from around 7,500 people in 1960, both islands are today home to roughly 600 minority Greeks (permanent residents).
The members of the Greek minority who still live on Imvros and Tenedos are faced with substantial problems, mainly concerning their private and community property rights. The Turkish authorities do not recognise the ethnic Greek foundation’s ownership of many buildings, churches and chapels. On the pretext of drawing up a new Land Register, the designation of large areas as cultural or natural monuments to be preserved, as well as the non-recognition of old ownership deeds, many buildings – even Churches – have come under Turkish state ownership, to be sold off subsequently to settlers from the Turkish hinterland. The Community of Tenedos (Vakif of the Dormition of Virgin Mary) has already taken this to the European Court of Human Rights in order to safeguard its property. In its latest judgment, the ECHR ruled in favour of the Tenedos Vakif (press release), ordering that three of its properties for purposes of worship (church, cemetery, etc.) be returned to their rightful owners, without giving the Turkish state the option of paying compensation.
A significant turning point for the Greek minority of Imvros and Tenedos – the island’s permanent inhabitants as well as those who have emigrated – came with a report drawn up by a Swiss MP and member of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, Andreas Gross, highlighting this issue that had been kept in the shadows for so long a time. TheResolution accompanying this report, adopted by the Assembly Plenary on 27 June 2008, combines recommendations to Turkey (proposed measures that would solve the problems of the past; i.e., ownership, educational issues, as well as matters that have to do with promoting the two islands’ special cultural characteristics) with an encouragement to look for solutions that would allow for harmonious coexistence between Christians and Muslims in the islands in future and also create the conditions for the return of members of the Greek diaspora to Imvros and Tenedos, irrespective of whether they are Turkish citizens or not. Certainly, the re-opening of Imvros minority schools is a step forward. Nevertheless, it is up to Turkey to confirm this positive trend by ensuring that all appropriate conditions are met (professional, social, educational, etc.) for the Greek community to unobtrusively continue its millennia presence there.
The protection of the Greek minority in Istanbul as well as on the Gökçeada (Imvros) and Bozcaada (Tenedos) islands has been and still remains an international obligation of Turkey, pursuant to the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, though systematically violated, thus enacting Turkey’s international responsibility.
Today, the effective protection of minorities is Turkey’s obligation vis-à-vis its own citizens, and also part of the political criteria of Copenhagen, to which Turkey will have to adapt as it moves towards Europe. The European Commission flags the problems in its Annual Progress Reports on Turkey and expects Turkey to resolve them. More specifically, the European Commission on the 2016 Progress Report on Turkey points out that: “The Council of Europe Resolution 1625 (2008) regarding property rights on the islands of Gökçeada (Imvros) and Bozcaada (Tenedos), needs to be fully implemented”.