Monday, 4 June 2007
Not all tourists realise that Lesvos is geographically surrounded by Turkey. From the south, the east and the north, the island faces Turkey: the regions of Izmir, Balikesir and Canakkale. The small town of Ayvalik is opposite the North eastern part of Lesvos. This town, which used to be inhabited mainly by Greeks, until the Greek-Turkish war of 1919-1922, can be visited on a day trip from Lesvos. When you are in the north of the island and look to the left, it seems that Turkey ends there. But just around that corner lies the famous old city of Troy. The city of Izmir, also known as Smyrna, is further to the south, nearly at the same latitude as the neighbouring island of Chios.
According to a recent public opinion poll, 60% of Greeks think that parts of Turkey should belong to Greece: Anatolia, Izmir and Constantinople (Greece has never recognised the new name of Istanbul). If you did this poll on Lesvos, the outcome would probably be even higher, because many inhabitants of the island are from Turkey, or have parents or grandparents who come from the other side.
Centuries before Christ, Smyrna used to be an Aeolian city. Then it became an Ionian city. In 545 BC it was destroyed by the Persians, in 300 BC it was rebuilt by Alexander the Great. So much for its Greek history.
The Turkish conquered the city for the first time in 1076. In 1122 it was retaken by the Byzantines. Then the Ottomans and Genoese fought over it. In 1425 the city finally became definitely Ottoman. The Ottoman Empire ruled over many different peoples. In the 17th century there were Greeks, Turks, Jews and Armenians living in Smyrna, alongside powerful merchants from Holland, England, Italy and France. Izmir became an international trading city.
In Greece you learn that the Greeks especially were the greatest merchants in Smyrna. In many a book you will see pictures of proud Greeks in the once prosperous city. This idyllic international life came to an end with the Greek-Turkish war in 1922. When the Greeks lost, not only was the Greek army expelled from the Ottoman Empire, but also most of its Greek inhabitants. Izmir is known for the bloody slaughter when Greek people tried to flee from the harbour to the Greek islands. The city was burned to the ground and when a year later Kemal Atatürk founded the state of Turkey, not much was left of the once prosperous trading city.
There are 7 cities that claim that Homer was born within their borders: Salamis, Argos, Athens, Rhodes, Colophon, Chios and Izmir. As most people think that Homer was born in Ionia, this means that Homers birthplace must be Chios or Izmir. The most famous refugee to escaped from Izmir in 1922 was the wealthy shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. Also the parents of Haris Alexiou were refugees from Izmir. This very popular Greek singer visited the country of her grandparents for the fist time after the earthquakes of 1999. While in Greece she had been popular for nearly 40 years, she then conquered Turkey as well.
It is obvious that Turkey is part of many a Greek family history and therefore it is not surprising that some Greeks think that a part of Turkey should be Greek.
About two months ago the government of Lesvos surprised its inhabitants by saying it wished to buy the Turkish island of Garip, which is located in the Aegean not far from Izmir (see: www.garipisland.com). The island is best known for a battle in 406 BC, between Spartans and Athenians.
Now it is a private island of a Turkish family who wish to sell it for some 11 million euro. A little after it became known that the government of Lesvos was interested in the island, the Turkish state said that the island could not be sold to Greeks.
Well, it was too good to be true. Instead of making war, buying your property back. Although I always doubted that if Lesvos had managed to buy the island, the Greek flag would have been allowed to fly on Garip...
Copyright © Smitaki 2007