Published in 2A Magazine Issue#45 – Summer 2020

Summary Statement

This paper, excerpted from my on-going PhD thesis, analyses the role of myth and ritual in the post-displacement era of the island of Imbros, and questions whether Imbros’ myths and rituals can act as counter-displacement practices. The paper investigates the Panagia (Marian) rituals and local myths on the island, where the anti-minority policies of the Republic of Turkey caused the displacement of the island’s Greek community between the 1960s and 1980s.

The research behind this paper follows a site-specific approach, pursuing an understanding of site as a relational and mobile place beyond an indication of its physical location, as explained in the concept of “relational specificity” by Homi Bhabba. Imbros is an island of the Aegean Archipelago, located closer to the northeastern edge of the Aegean Sea. The area is also known as the Thracian Sporades, together with the islands of Tenedos, Thassos, Lemnos and Samothrace.

The island of Imbros has been under the control of the Republic of Turkey since 1923. Over the twentieth century, its occupancy was drastically changed as well as its names. Imbros used to be overwhelmingly inhabited by a Rum community (Asia Minor Greeks) who are acknowledged to be Christian Orthodox, speaking Greek, and in the case of Imbros, generally working in the area of agriculture. Rum is a generic term used for the ethnocultural community/minority who declared their belonging to Ecumenical Patriarchate, often speak Greek and have Orthodox Christian religion. The word is believed to derive from the Greek word Pwutol, meaning Roman, and refers to East Roman Empire/Byzantine Empire. Many historians claim that by considering the Byzantine Empire as their ancestors, the Greek community of Ottoman Empire uses the word Rum to describe themselves and their community.

Although the Rum populations of Imbros, Tenedos and Istanbul were exempt from the compulsory exchange of minority populations in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne which entailed a condition of autonomy for Imbros and Tenedos), the majority of the Rum population had to leave Imbros from the 1960s through the 1980s due to the displacement practices of the Turkish governments.

After the displacements, the historic villages slowly went to rack and ruin or even became targets of vandalism. The Imbrian community started to create a diaspora in Greece as early as the 1940s. Following that, two Imbros Unions in Athens and Thessaloniki were founded, aiming to bring the diaspora people together and sustain the cultural bonds. By the 1990s, the weight of the pressure on Imbrians significantly diminished in the island. By 1991 the island was no longer a military zone, but instead, it was declared a Heritage Protection Area. By the 2000s a sense of obligation in the Imbrian diaspora arose to visit the island and support the elders who were still living in Imbros. Indeed, the diaspora decided to revive the old rituals and traditions as a way of re-claiming belonging to the island. It was apparently an ambitious decision at the time, which required constant effort and economic support. With the revival of the Panagia (Virgin Mary) festival, which takes place every August, the island started hosting a series of events which are not only related to the Orthodox Christian religion but also to the island’s long (hi-) story of displacements.

This study suggests a re-thinking of displacements as a series of spatial, political and historical practices operating through complex relational processes. The concept of displacement is, therefore, a multi-layered phenomenon having different actors and affecting people differently according to their socio-cultural and economic affiliations. It investigates the practices of displacements in the island of Imbros, whose Greek community, regarded as a “minority in the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey as well, was forced to leave the island, despite having been under the protection of the international laws and agreements. Furthermore, as histories of architecture in the context of Turkey are also a matter of the nation-state’s exclusions of minorities, in a broader sense the study also addresses the spatial, temporal and political implications of the disappearance of minorities under the sovereignty of the Republic of Turkey from the beginning of the twentieth century.

The paper is developed around the notion that myth and ritual have the power to create material and immaterial spaces, and through these spaces memories of displacement, longing and an idea of the homeland that can be experienced and performed by the Imbrian community. The aim is to analyse the rituals and the spaces of the rituals accompanied by the local myths. Throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, these rituals and myths have been the driving force to maintain the community bonds and preserve Imbros’ cultural and architectural heritage intact. The oral and written myths and the histories of Imbros, indeed, have often played a part in the re-emergence of the rituals on the island by supporting each other. The Panagia rituals in particular are significantly shaped by the exile-return and the homeland themes, and take place at churches, graveyards, public squares, mountain chapels and some peculiar landmarks.

References

Jane Rendell. Site-Writing: The Architecture of Art Criticism (New York: IB Tauris, 2010) Mikhail Bakhtin. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays (USA: The University of Texos Press, 1981) Maurice Halbwachs. On Collective Memory (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1992). John Eade and Mario Katic (eds.). Pilgrimage, Politics and Place-Making in Eastern Europe: Crossing the Borders (USA: Ashgate, 2014).