Greek foreign minister visits Imvros, meets Patriarch

Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis on Friday vowed that Greece will support the ethnic Greek community of Imvros and backed Turkey’s European Union ambitions saying full membership ?would be good for Greece, Turkey and the broader region.?

Lambrinidis has visited the northeast Aegean island — granted to Turkey via treaty in 1923 — to attend events marking the 50th anniversary of the ordainment of Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios who is also on the island.

The Greek foreign minister praised the Istanbul-based Patriarch, the spiritual leader of the world’s 250 million Orthodox Christians, for ?not succumbing to the difficulties, but living up to the holy duty that you have undertaken.?

He also praised the few remaining ethnic Greeks of Imvros for withstanding the difficulties of the previous decades and pledged Greece’s support.

?We stand next to you and we shall not forget you,? the foreign minister said, while acknowleding Turkey’s steps toward improving bilateral ties between the two states.

?The government of [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan has made some positive steps over the past few years. The rapprochement between the two nations is taking place with cautious steps. We shall continue this effort so that the warming of bilateral ties… can translate into tangible results,? Lambrinidis said.

The socialist politician reiterated Greece’s support for Turkey’s membership of the 27-member bloc, saying that it would also benefit everyone on the island.

?Your future as Turkish citizens of Imvros lies in Europe. Turkey’s full EU membership, provided it fulfills all the necessary conditions, will be good for Greece, Turkey and the broader region. It will be good for our peoples,? Lambrinidis said.

Brussels has repeatedly said that Ankara must improve its treatment of minorities if it wants to join the European club.

Imvros, which had a 95 percent Greek population, came under Turkish control in 1923 after Greece and Turkey signed the Treaty of Lausanne.

According to the 1927 census, there were 6,555 ethnic Greeks and 157 ethnic Turks on the island, but the Greek population dwindled to just 300 by the 1990s following decades of aggressive policies of settlement and turkification by the Ankara establishment.

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