Fate of an Island: Imvros in 2012

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Fate of an Island: Imvros in 2012

By Catherine Tsounis

 

            Imvros is a small island, lying at the gateway to the Dardanelles. It was unique among Greek islands for having a homogeneous Hellenic population. In 1978, prominent Imvrians who were members of the Transfiguration of Christ Church in Mattituck, Long Island explained the history of the island. The article was published in the Orthodox Observer, under the leadership of His Eminence, Archbishop Iakovos, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America. The Primate was an immigrant from Imvros, along with prominent members of his staff. Their names remain anonymous. The situation has changed in 2012. 

1978 Fate of Imvros

 

            The 1978 article stated: Greeks were not allowed to engage in commercial activity. The island’s enterprises were in the hands of liberated convicts from Anatolia. During the Turkocratia (Ottoman Empire period) Imvros was given as a dowry to each Mother of the Sultan, the “Valide Sultana”, as her “evkaf” or personal property. During the 400 years of the Sultan’s rule, the Imvrians lived in relative peace and economic stability. They were allowed to practice their religion, operate their Hellenic schools and engage in the economic life of the island. In 1909, the time of troubles began for the island people with the coming of Kemal Ataturk. It was part of Greece, for several years. The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne gave it back to Turkish rule. In 1922, an agreement was made between Greece and Turkey, stating the Greeks in Turkey with Greek citizenship must leave after 40 years. All Greek citizens were expelled exactly 40 years later from Turkey in 1962. ……This was the year that fortifications of the island took place. The increasing tension between Greek Imvrians and the Turkish government was the direct result of the Cyprus situation………………………

            Few visitors to the island can estimate the number of soldiers and tanks in Imvros. …….Both the islands of Imvros and Tenedos are heavily fortified, because of their position three to five miles from the Turkish mainland. Many Imvrians, who now live in the United States, believe the island was a testing ground for the future invasion of Cyprus. In the early 1960’s, Greeks were persecuted with the seizure of land holdings and personal property. The Greek government did not object….this silence by Greece resulted in the quiet immigration of Imvrians abroad. This same treatment took place in Cyprus in 1975, but on a larger, more violent scale.

            The future of the lovely island of Imvros is bleak. It shares the fate of other Hellenic settlements in Anatolia. ……….In essence, the tragedy lies in human terms. For generations, Hellenes lived peacefully together in Asia Minor and neighboring “Turkonisia” (Greek islands within Turkish jurisdiction such as Mosconisia and city pf Aivali). The coming of the twentieth century caused displacement of Greeks from their ancestral homes with the accompanying psychological shock among refugees………..The loss of harmony between people and the  subsequent destruction of their lifestyle is the true tragedy of the dying , Greek island of Imvros.

                                                            

Very Rev. Demetrios Frangos:  Mentor to Greek-Americans

 

            The person who helped create St. Demetrios Elementary School in 1956 was Very Rev. Demetrios Frangos. He was a humble, low key senior who took the Q27 Flushing bus to Manhattan daily. He shunned mass media publicity and recognition for his work in “Human Rights” on behalf of Orthodox Christians. He was born on the island of Imvros and served in the Turkish military as all citizens of Imvros and Turkey. To get a modern view of such a life, visit utube’s portrayl of the Greek miniseries, “Ta Matomena  Homata” (“The Bloody Soil” by Dido Sotririou. As director of St. Basil’s Academy, he educated students and teachers of the Greek language. He was an inspiration for generations of Greek-Americans until his car accident on March 22, 1994.

John Politis, former president of the Salonika Imvros society, gave the following eulogy at a funeral dinner held at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church : “He was a patriot who worked diligently to foster ‘Human Rights’ for the Greek population of the Aegean island of Imvros in Turkey. He visited Imvros frequently and tried to help the old people of the island. He was not only a man of words but action. Father Frangos tried to stop the illegal seizure of Greek homes by resettled Turks. This unique churchman spent his life trying to prevent the island of Imvros from joining the lost centers of Hellenism of Smyrna and Asia Minor. Father Demetrios Frangos was a captain who commanded his ship. He will be in our hearts for all our lives.”

 For many of us who grew up in the Astoria of the 1950’s, his legacy is the unique education system that exists today as an alternative for middle class youth. For more information on his role in Astoria, read Very Rev. John Antonopoulos, The Community of St. Demetrios and its Place in the Church of America: 1927-2006. Delta Printing, Inc., New York, 2007 that can be  ordered at Antonopoulos Funeral Home, Astoria, New York.

George Aneson: WWII Hero of Remagen Bridge

 

            The late George Aneson of Peconic, New York, who was an immigrant from Imvros (modern day Gökçeada orImro), always told us “we are cousins. Our island of Imvros faces your town of Panagia, Limnos (grandfather Vlassios Tsounis was from Limnos). We speak the same Greek dialect. We are of the same blood.” While I was in Myrina, historian Roccos and engineer Garofalos introduced me to Savvas and Anna Profidis with their grandson, Savvas Efstadiou. The Providis family is from Imvros. “We were forced in the mid 60’s to flee Imvros in a rowboat, leaving all behind. Our Turkish neighbors lived with us in peace and harmony. The Great Powers destroyed our lives.”

            Stories of valor are generated during wartime. Young men accomplish daring acts. Returning home, working, having a family are concerns that bury these wartime experiences. One often wonders, what happened to these heroes. George (Anastaselis) Aneson, a quiet, soft-spoken man shared with us in a former interview his exciting act of bravery of the Ludendorff  Bridge collapse at Remagen, Germany during W.W. II.

            In the winter of 1945, engineers were repairing damages on the Remagen Bridge. This was the first road into Germany. The bridge suddenly collapsed. The engineers were plunged into the icy Rhine River. Staff Sergeant George Aneson, standing on the shore, saw his comrades struggling in the current. In a split second, he plunged into the waters. He tied the engineers together with a rope from shore, preventing them from being swept away. The Sergeant helped them reach the shore. A television movie on “The Remagen Bridge” and other W.W.II movies have shown this incredible act. The deceased senior citizen who lived with his wife, Fotini, in Peconic, L.I. rarely spoke of this act of bravery. 

            Students and teachers from his former school of John J. Pershing J.H.S., said in a letter dated March 31, 1945 that “we are very proud of your deed of heroism. When you jumped into the Rhine River to rescue those two engineers, you did not think of your own safety, but the safety of those two men. Your alertness, courage and unselfishness set an example to every one of us in Pershing.”

            Pershing J.H.S. Principal Isabelle F. Forst summarized the viewpoint of W.W.II America saying, “all are over with pride of your brave deed. Peter, your brother, brought the account to school. I knew you would do good things in life. I didn’t know that you would do the great thing of freely offering your life and strength to another in his need. You did a very brave thing and while bravery has become almost a commonplace in these times, still yours had a very special quality. You were spontaneously answering the call of another’s need. It is the kind of act which excites our love as much as our admiration.”

Rev. and Presvitera Demetrios Frangos, fellow compatriots from his native island of Greek island of Imvros, Turkey, wrote to his parents, Mr. And Mrs. Anastaselis, that with “great joy we read in the National Herald of George’s accomplishments. We congratulate you, the parents, for having a unique child. We admire George and hope he accomplishes all his dreams. George will someday become the pride of Hellenism from our beloved island of Imvros.”

            Walter Cronkite showed a video of Sgt. Aneson’s act of bravery in one of his news reports. General Westmoreland was one of the soldiers watching George’s act of bravery. Years later he awarded him the highest honor “The Soldier’s Medal”. Ethnic newspapers such as the “Swedish North Star” (Nordstieinan) and National Jewish Welfare Board of New York wrote the young soldier asking him if he was one of their own. George said, “we were suppose to be dropped in Greece, as the MIT (Military Intelligence). Instead, the British went to Greece. My participation was shifted to the Normandy Invasion in1942 that led to action at the Remagen Bridge.”

            Who exactly is George Aneson? He immigrated to the United State with his family in 1936 from Imvros, Turkey. The island is seven miles from Limnos, Greece, near the Dardanelles’ straits. Within five years, he graduated Central High School of Needle Trades as valedictorian. This was an amazing accomplishment in 1940’s New York City. He was known as a quiet youth, a good student and a leader among his classmates. These are traits that have marked George (Anastaselis) Aneson’s life.

After his heroic deed at the Remagen Bridge, he returned to civilian life, married and became a furrier. He raised an American family of two children in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. His first wife, Mary, died young and he remarried. His present wife is Fotini, who is a native of Imvros. He worked diligently as an American businessman. He educated his two children in becoming professionals. His daughter, Sophie is a psychiatrist and son, John, an economist. George dedicated his life to his community, through the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America. When his fellow Imvrian, Iakovos, became Archbishop in the mid 1950’s, he began unpaid, philanthropic work promoting good citizenship till our present time. George and Fotini have played an integral role in the growth of the first Greek Orthodox Church on the East End of Long Island: the Transfiguration of Christ in Mattituck. He was a parish council board member of Holy Cross Church in Bay Ridge Brooklyn and the Transfiguration Church in Mattituck, L.I. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople has awarded the senior citizen the honor of Archon Exarhos.

He was unable to forget his Hellenic roots in Imvros. “A cousin of mine was stolen from the family as a child. He was trained to be a genitsaros (janissary). They were Christians who were educated and given places of honor in the Ottoman Turkish Empire. My cousin was called Sava Pasha and made a governor of the Aegean islands. As a major government official, he returned to Imvros and helped his family economically,” he said.

George makes it very clear that when he was born in Agridia, Imvros was a Greek island. On October 12, 1923, the island was given to Turkey as part of the Treaty of Lausanne, in the aftermath of the Asia Minor Catastrophe. “The Turkish flag was raised over the island from my Father’s boat. We were forgotten and deserted. My father was a sailor who jumped ship in New Orleans and went to Alaska. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in W.W. I and became an American citizen.”

On April 4th, 2004, he was honored at the Fasolada social in the hall of the Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church in Mattituck, L.I. “Your unique contribution to the United States during W.W. II is appreciated by your country. George Aneson, you are a role model for our youth. We will pass a resolution honoring you in the State Assembly,” said Patricia Acampora, former State Assemblywoman and former Chairperson of the Suffolk County Republican Party. His close friend from the Island, Rev. Timotheos Tenedios, was presbyter of the Transfiguration of Christ cChurch in the 1970’s. He was a cultured man who tried to keep Orthodoxy alive on the East End.

            “I appreciate the opportunity to join the long list of individuals who have commended you for your heroic actions during World War II. Your act of bravery saved the lives of many American men after the collapse of the Ludendorff  bridge at Remagen, Germany,” said Congressman Bishop in a letter read by his representative.

            Congressman Bishop continued saying that “all of the men and women in our armed services are heroes the moment they dress in the military uniforms of our country. The strength of our nation and the rights we hold dear to us are secure because of individuals such as you. It gives me joy knowing that your courage did not merely save the lives of the American engineers in Remagen, but it allowed these young men to return home to create families of their own. Your heroism is infinite; as your story will be retold by each generation surviving the men you saved in 1945. Each time a child is born to these families, they will thank you, in thought and by word.”

            He added, “I extend to you my gratitude and appreciation. You represent the finest of Americans that have served this country. Our nation will always be grateful to you and all of our young military men and women at arms and in peace.” Congressman Bishop representative presented an American flag that flew over the Capitol to Mr. Aneson and his wife Fotine.

           

George and  and Fotini Aneson’s Visit  in October 12th, 2003: Rebirth of Island

 

George Aneson through the years served as president of the Pan-Imvrian Society. On Oct. 12, 2003, George and his wife, Fotini, returned to Imvros. “I telephoned His Eminence, Archbishop Iakovos, and told him a trisagion (memorial service) was performed at his parent’s grave site. Imvros is today a Turkish island that has been renamed Gokceada.

The Anesons participated on August 15th in a traditional meal that included Christian and Moslem islanders. “Cattle were slaughtered. A soup was made and shared by all,” he said. They stayed at Fotini’s ancestral home in a neighborhood that now has abandoned Greek homes. George explained, “our photos mean the most to us. It is all we have of Imvros and the memories of our ancestors. In 1922, 8,000 inhabitants lived on the island. Today, only 250 Greeks inhabit Imvros. The Turkish government has signs all over the island saying ‘Welcome to Imvros.’ Greek tourism is a major trade.” Many of the former islanders live in Limnos, Thessalonica, Athens and the United States. They return to the island annually, living in their ancestral homes. The capital city was called Panayia. Modern homes are being constructed. There is a regrowth of the island’s economy. The Greek dialect of Imvros and neighboring Limnos has the same ancient Greek roots.

 

Dialect

 

            The periodical Elliniki Diethnis Glossa (Greek as an International Lanugage) published a special edition in April 1999 on “Imvros: the Martyred Island” from Athens, Greece. Evgenia Spetsiotou in her article “Imvros: A Very Blessed Island” stated in her opening sentences” the history of Imvros and Limnos are tied together. Strabo and Herodotus state that the first inhabitants were Pelasgians (the first Greek tribes) from Attica about 1500 B.C.” Both islands were considered Athenian colonies in antiquity, with Athenian citizenship. Although since the Imvrians appear on the Athenian tribute lists, there may have been a division with the native population, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.  A second article in this issue was by Theodorou Mpelitsou entitled “Ancient Greek Remains in the Lemnian Language Idiom.”  He contends that “the Lemnian dialect contains many words from Ancient and Medieval Greek. It is similar to the dialects of Northern Greek regions such as Imvros, Thrace, Macedonia, Artaki in Lesbos and some areas of Crete. The Lemnian dialect has been perpetuated more among the Greeks of the Diaspora.” For more information on Elliniki Diethnis Glossa, visit their website at https://www.odeg.gr

 

Recent Visit of the Hatzi Family

 

            “The situation has changed in Imvros,” said Katerina Hatzi (Hatzikyriakidis), niece of George and Fotini Aneson.  Mrs. Hatzi now lives in Virginia, visiting her relatives in Peconic, Long Island regularly. “Imvros in ancient times was flooded with water. One could dig and find water, surrounded by lakes. The Greeks launched their attack on Troy from Imvros. My father and uncle left Imvros and went to Limnos so they would not be drafted in the Turkish army and fight against Greece. My father joined the Greek army and fought in WWI.”

            Mrs. Hatzi’s was born in the village of Agridia (today’s Tepekoy). Her husband, Peter, was born in Bedemli (Gliki) of Imvros. They are related to a Patriarch of Constantinople and Archbishop Iakovos. “My husband and I met in Brooklyn. Peter finished Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. I graduated from St. Basil’s Acdemy in Garrison, New York as a Modern Greek languge instructor. I taught at St. Constantine and Helen Greek language school of Brooklyn in the late 1970’s. My husband proposed to me at the American Bicentennial Celebration in New York harbor. We were married in 1977. We are restoring our home in Imvros. The island is now a major tourist attraction in Turkey. Most of our property is in Gliki, of my husband’s family. I am repairing my family’s home in Gliki. It needs a new roof and windows. Imvros should be open to tourist trade from Limnos as Chios has tourism to Tseme.”

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            On August 29, 2011, The Hellenic News of America reported that “Turkey’s government is returning hundreds of properties confiscated from the country’s Christian and Jewish minorities over the past 75 years in a gesture to religious groups who complain of discrimination that is also likely to thwart possible court rulings against the country.On January 12, 2012, the Greek minority school will reportedly reopen, 47 years after it was closed by the Turkish state. Yiorgos Dalaras song “Mes tou Bosphorou ta Stena” ( In the Bosphorus Straits)  sings about Romans (Greeks) and (Turks) as brothers drinking and communicating peacefully. His album is a blockbuster. It shows the desire to live in peace with one’s neighbor.

 

Photo 1 – Map of Imvros

Photo 2 –  Patricia Acampora, former State Assemblywoman and former Chairperson of the Suffolk County Republican Party, honored George Aneson.