11/02/2010, 00.00
TURKEY
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Christian graves vandalised on the island of Imvros

by NAT da Polis
The island, birthplace of the Ecumenical Patriarch, although inhabited almost exclusively by the Orthodox population, was handed to Turkey in 1923, which did not comply with the rules imposed by the Treaty of Lausanne. Bartholomew: vandalism is due to the "usual known-unknown suspects." It seeks to undermine the government new openings.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) –On the night between 28 and 29 October the feast day of the Republic founded by Kemal Ataturk, unknown assailants entered, in the cemetery of the island of Panagia Imvros (Goikocea in Turkish) and seriously vandalised 78 graves (see photo). A similar act had been committed in these parts 20 years ago.

The incident, it is rumoured on the island, indicates an attempt to create panic among about 350 Christians left on this island.

The island of Imvros, where the current ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew was born, along with the nearby island of Tenedos, were 99% inhabited by the Christian Orthodox population, but with the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 granted them to Turkey under the condition that the Ankara government allow their full administrative autonomy.

But neither then nor in the years to follow did the Kemalist regime respect the agreements signed at Lausanne, suspending the autonomous regime provided for in this Treaty and with various methods of coercion such as the forced expropriation of property, school closures and suspension of teaching the Greek language, encouraged the shift of populations from Anatolia - which has altered the demographic structure of the island - and the creation of a prison for convicts with a license to commit acts of violence against the Christian population, this forced their final abandonment of their lands to seek refuge first in Istanbul and then across the five continents.

According to Nikos Maginas, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, on hearing about the serious incident that occurred on his own native land, charged this act of vandalism to the "usual known-unknown suspects". Bartholomew himself in his sermon in the parish of St. Demetrius in Kurtulus Istanbul, referring to the incident said: "Ours is a continuous struggle for our survival and our ancient traditions in these lands. After much difficulty we started to see some glimmer of light, of hope for our long-standing problems. But again unpleasant facts emerge, such as those that occurred in the cemetery of the island of Imvros, where the usual known-unknown suspects were responsible for breaking the crosses on the graves of the cemetery. Our battle will never end .. But always with the grace of our Lord - concluded the Ecumenical Patriarch - with perseverance, with Turkey’s European perspective and the efforts of its leaders, we are confident that those long desired results will one day arrive".

The Interior Ministry condemned the episode and ordered the magistrate of Imvros to carry out prompt investigation for the arrest of those responsible.

Such acts demonstrate that there are still strong pockets of intolerance towards minority groups in Turkey there, which seek to undermine the openings of the government towards them. An executive which, in turn, despite having the wind in its favour, lacks the necessary political will to solve the problems of minorities, preferring to defer them indefinitely.

As noted in Istanbul, Turkey's European perspective should not only consist in claims for rights, but also the immediate application of the Union’s rules.

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