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Delegation visits US supporting Orthodox minority rights on Imbros and Tenedos islands

Mr. Paris Asanakis delivers a lecture co-sponsored by the Hellenic Lawyers Association and the Pan-Imbrian Benevolent Society of New York. Archon Nikiforos Mathews, vice president of the Pan-Imbrian Benevolent Society of New York, coordinated the event.

A delegation of members from the Imvrian Association of Athens and the Imvrian Association of Makedonia-Thraki visited the United States Feb. 21-28 on a mission for religious freedom and in support of human rights for the Greek Orthodox minority of the islands of Imbros and Tenedos, which are under the direct spiritual supervision of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

These islands, located in the northeast Aegean Sea near the Straits of the Dardanelles, were ceded to the new Turkish Republic under the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, despite their predominant Greek Orthodox population.

However, under the treaty, the native island population was to enjoy a special self-administrative status and was to have the protections afforded to minorities. The treaty provisions providing for self-administration were never implemented and the religious and other protections of minorities were largely ignored.

The delegation consisted of Mr. Paris Asanakis and Mr. Kiryakos Bakalis of the Imbrian Association in Athens and Mr. Pavlos Stamatidis and Mrs. Sapfo Dikaou-Takidou of the Imvrian Association of Makedonia-Thraki. In New York, the delegation visited and paid its respects to His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, among others. The delegation also visited local Greek press offices, where Mr. Asanakis and Mr. Stamatidis, presidents of their respective associations, were interviewed, along with Archon Nikiforos Mathews, vice president of the Pan-Imbrian Benevolent Society of New York.

The purpose of the delegation's mission was to increase awareness in the United States, including with government officials, of the religious freedom, property and other human rights issues faced by the remaining Greek Orthodox minority of Imbros and Tenedos. In addition to its visits in New York, the delegation also met with representatives of governmental agencies in Washington, D.C.

One of the highlights of the mission was a lecture co-sponsored by the Hellenic Lawyers Association and the Pan-Imbrian Benevolent Society of New York, which was conducted by Mr. Asanakis. In his lecture, Mr. Asanakis pointed out that not only were the Treaty of Lausanne provisions protecting the Greek Orthodox minority on the islands ignored, but a systematic plan to dissolve it was implemented by the Turkish State in 1964.

He noted that the plan included, among other measures, the expropriation of 90% of the arable land, closure of the Greek schools and the establishment of an open agricultural prison, whose inmates were left free to wander and terrorize the Greek Orthodox minority. He also pointed out that over 300 churches and country churches on the islands were destroyed, desecrated or vandalized.

After an analysis of the parallel efforts of the global Imbrian associations to take advantage of Turkey's course towards EU accession, including participation in the civil society dialogue in Europe and Turkey and support of legal recourse to Turkish courts and the European Court of Human Rights, he concluded: "With the Imbrians' ever-increasing tendency to visit their island of origin from which they were once forced to flee, to restore their homes, to revive their ancient feasts and rituals, and to reunite with the few people who stayed behind, the Imbrian issue has ceased to be mere history. It already has a present and we will struggle with all our strength to make sure it will have a future."

In attendance at the lecture were His Excellency Anastasis Mitsialis, the Ambassador of Greece to the United Nations, Mr. Christopher Stratakis, legal counsel to the Order of Saint Andrew and Mr. Stelios Banagos, President of the Pan-Imbrian Society of New York. The delegation's trip was coordinated by members of the Pan-Imbrian Benevolent Society of New York and would have been impossible to achieve or do without the assistance or guidance of the Order of Saint Andrew.