1. General Historical Background
The incorporation of the Propontis islands into a historical description of Asia Minor results from the conceptual framework that defined the constitution of the Asia Minor Greeks as a subject of historiography. The islands may be regarded as part of Asia Minor mainly because of the conventional criterion of the history the Greeks living there had in common with the overall Greek-Orthodox population of Asia Minor, which is marked by the experience of the forced migration of 1922-1923, and not because of objective historical and geographical criteria. Of course, reference should be made to the communication and to some common socioeconomic characteristics between the islands and the nearby coasts of Asia Minor mainland, particularly the peninsula of Cyzicus.
Already from the Byzantine years the Propontis cluster of islands was under a special ecclesiastical authority, the archbishopric of Proconnesus (or Proikonnesos), which included the island of the same name (Prokonnisos, widely known as Marmara Island), the largest of the cluster, as well as the neighbouring islands of Koutali (Ekinlik), Aloni (Paşalimani) and Afyssia (Avsa). The Ottoman conquest does not seem to have affected the survival of the above ecclesiastical province throughout history. The relative security of the sea border effectively protected the Christian population of the islands from decline during the conquest, while it later became a deterrent against the ethno-religious changes taking place in the mainland (Islamisation, settlement of Muslim population).
A first clue as to the favourable conditions in the province of Proconnesus as compared with the provinces of the main Asia Minor comes from the 14th century, the period of the major crisis and disintegration of the Orthodox Church in the East. When a synodal resolution in 1324 determined the annual contribution of local ecclesiastical authorities to the Patriarchate, the archbishopric of Proconnesus was considered quite robust and contributed the amount of 72 hyperpyra (gold Byzantine coins), in a period when no other metropolis of Asia Minor was included in the list of contributions, apart from the metropolis of Cyzicus (contribution of 200 hyperpyra) and the archbishopric of Lopadion (contribution of 24 hyperpyra).1
The archbishopric of Proconnesus does not seem to have suffered the problems that generally tortured the ecclesiastical provinces of Asia Minor until the 17th century with respect to their active operation and the regular presence of a prelate. The archbishopric entered the list of bishoprics of the 15th-16th century in the first position among archbishoprics,2 although it did not appear in the patriarchal berats of the years 1483 and 1525.3 This absence could imply that the province was inactive, as the situation was in several Asia Minor provinces of the time. However, this comes in contrast to the special historical background of the Marmara Island and the rest of the Propontis islands (continuous presence of Christian population that was sufficient for the maintenance of the archbishopric). The absence of a relative reference in the two beratsmay be interpreted by analysing the documents as regards their institutional content. The appointment of the Orthodox Church as an institution of the Ottoman State brought about the respective institutional incorporation of the ecclesiastical ranks. According to the berats, the hierarchical structure of the ecclesiastical province was adopted, including dioceses, archbishoprics and bishoprics, while it is clear that berats concerned dioceses only. The absence of all bishoprics and archbishoprics, not only from Asia Minor but also from the entire Ottoman territory, explains the absence of the archbishopric of Proconnesus from both documents. The ecclesiastical province of Proconnesus appeared in the subsequent beratof 1662,4 where archbishoprics were included as well, while it uninterruptedly appeared in the following beratsand syntagmatia.
The promotion of the archbishopric of Proconnesus to a diocese in 1823 was the natural outcome of its century-old autonomy under the Patriarch as an ecclesiastical province. The relatively long delay in its promotion may possibly be interpreted as the result of the relatively small number of Christians in the province.
From the mid-17th century the see of the archbishopric moved to the island of Aloni, while in 1900 it moved to the township of Marmara, on Marmara Island, upon resolution of the Holy Synod. However, the metropolitan could spend half of the year in his former see.5 The fact that two sees were concurrently used, noted in other ecclesiastical provinces as well, may be attributed in the case of Proconnesus to both the particularity of the insular area and the administrative representation of Christians, which suggested a more frequent presence of the metropolitan, the supreme representative of the communities, in the seat of the province’s political province, which, in the case of the above islands, was particularly downgraded (the islands were divided into two nahiyes of the kaza of Artaki (Erdek), seated in Marmara and Koutali respectively).6
The geographical particularity of the cluster of islands and the continuous presence of Christian population contributed to the survival of the ecclesiastical province of Proconnesus, particularly during the “difficult” period of the 15th-17th century. However, the small number of Christians and the limited economic development of the area resulted in the indigence of the ecclesiastical authority, as occasionally evidenced from the 17th until the early 20th century.7 Marble production, the main economic activity in the past, responsible for the renaming of Prokonnisos into Marmara (from the Greek marmaro, marble), had declined in the Ottoman period, while agriculture and mostly fishing remained the fundamental economic activities of the island population.8 The isolation of the insular area had contributed to the foundation of a number of monasteries, which were in continuous conflict with the archbishopric, and subsequent diocese, because of the claims of the latter for the collection of contributions. Contributions from monasteries, which remained under the jurisdiction of the prelate of Proconnesus, represented a high percentage of the province’s income. According to records, the diocesan income in 1842 amounted to 13,506 kuruş, 10,076 of which came from villages, while the remaining 3,430 came from monasteries and monasteries’ dependencies (metochia).9 However, the monasteries always wanted to get rid of this contribution, something the monastery of St. Ermolaos had achieved already from the 17th century. According to a synodal resolution of 1678, “the monastery of St. Ermolaos in Proikonnesos is exempted from any kind of payment –even to the archbishop of Proikonnesos– because its monks are in distress and, as a result, the monastery is at risk of being deserted.”10
According to records published by the Athens-based Club “Anatoli” of Asia Minor Greeks with regard to the period of the early 20th century, the ecclesiastical needs of the 21,367 Greek Orthodox inhabitants of the area under the jurisdiction of the diocese of Proconnesus were covered by 26 parish churches and 33 priests.11 The priests were all described as uncultured, while the 15 schools in operation must have been insufficient. Some settlements did not even have a school, which, in combination with the above, reflects the meager financial means of the diocese.
In the First World War the Christian community of Proconnesus suffered the first severe blow. In the summer of 1915 the inhabitants of the islands of Marmara, Aloni and Koutali were forcibly expelled, after they had been accused by the Ottoman authorities of provisioning the allied submarines in the Propontis. According to records, “…the entire Greek population, amounting, at very rough estimates, to 26,000 people, under the use of extreme force abandoned their homeland within a few hours and were carried by special steamships to Panormos [Bandırma], where they scattered to the towns and villages of Kermasti, Michalitsi and Apollonias in the area around the ancient Ryndakos River.”12 According to the same source, the victims of the persecution amounted to approximately 5,000. In the period 1919-1922, when the Marmara islands were under the province of the Entente Powers as a part of the Straits, the expelled population returned and the Greek social and economic activities recovered for a while, although this was abruptly interrupted in September 1922. The Moudania Armistice was followed by the evacuation of the Greek population,13 which signalled the deactivation of the diocese of Proconnesus.
There is no doubt that the ecclesiastical province of Proconnesus, apart from the largest and most populated island of the same name (Prokonnisos or Marmara Island), included the rest of the nearby islands already from the Middle Ages. The incorporation of the islands of Aloni (Paşalimani) and Koutali (Ekinlik) has been evidenced already from the 17th century.14 The seat of the province was in Aloni until 1900. In the Late Ottoman period (19th- early 20th century) the geographical area under the jurisdiction of the diocese is clearly defined and included the four islands of the cluster, that is, Prokonnisos (Marmara), Aloni, Koutali and Afyssia (Avsa), the first two having more than one settlement. The vast majority of the islands’ population was Greek Orthodox, while Muslims inhabited only the Marmara Island (in the early 20th century there were also Jews).
The records from the Club “Anatoli” of Asia Minor Greeks that refer to the early 20th century estimates the Greek Orthodox population of the province of Proconnesus at 21,367.15 According to another source referring to the period before the persecution of 1915, the population amounts to about 26,000, with 5,000 of them considered lost in the subsequent persecution.16 Finally, Kontogiannis refers to information from 1921 and talks about a total number of 17,500 Greek Orthodox people (the 1,200 inhabitants of the village of Afthoni are described as Albanian-speaking) in contrast to 1,370 Turks and 200 Jews.17
The archbishopric and subsequent diocese of Proconnesus was the administrative ecclesiastical institution of the almost exclusively Greek Orthodox population of the four islands that uninterruptedly and actively operated throughout the Ottoman period. However, the relatively small number of Christians and the limited economic development of the area affected negatively the economic opportunities and prospects of the diocese and hindered any particular distinction in social, educational and cultural fields.
1. Miklosich, F. – Müller, J., Acta et Diplomata Graeca Medii Aevi. Sacra et Profana, vol. Ι (Vienna 1860), pp. 127-128.
2. Darrouzès, J., Notitiae Episcopatuum Ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae (Paris 1981), p. 420.
3. Ζαχαριάδου, Ε., Δέκα Τουρκικά Έγγραφα για τη Μεγάλη Εκκλησία (1483-1567) (Athens 1996), pp. 114-115.
4. Κονόρτας, Π., Οθωμανικές Θεωρήσεις για το Οικουμενικό Πατριαρχείο. Βεράτια για τους προκαθήμενους της Μεγάλης Εκκλησίας (17ος-αρχές 20ού αιώνα) (Athens 1998), p. 232.
5. Γεδεών, Μ., Προικόννησος. Εκκλησιαστική παροικία, ναοί και μοναί (Constantinople 1895), p. 156.
6. Κοντογιάννης, Π.Μ., Γεωγραφία της Μικράς Ασίας. Φυσική σύστασις της χώρας, πολιτική γεωγραφία, φυσικός πλούτος (Athens 1921), p. 268.
7. Γεδεών, Μ., Προικόννησος. Εκκλησιαστική παροικία, ναοί και μοναί (Constantinople 1895), pp. 159, 192· Ξενοφάνης 6 (1909), p. 21.
8. Γεδεών, Μ., Προικόννησος. Εκκλησιαστική παροικία, ναοί και μοναί (Constantinople 1895), p. 159.
9. Γεδεών, Μ., Προικόννησος. Εκκλησιαστική παροικία, ναοί και μοναί (Constantinople 1895), p. 192.
10. Αποστολόπουλος, Δ.Γ. – Μιχαηλάρης, Π.Δ., Η Νομική Συναγωγή του Δοσιθέου. Μία πηγή και ένα τεκμήριο (Athens 1987), pp. 149-150.
11. Ξενοφάνης 3 (1905-1906), p. 190.
12. Βαλσάμης, Ε. – Λαμπαδαρίδης, Ν., Προκοννησιακά Ιστορικά (Athens 1940), p. 205.
13. Βαλσάμης, Ε. – Λαμπαδαρίδης, Ν., Προκοννησιακά Ιστορικά (Athens 1940), p. 207.
14. Γεδεών, Μ., Προικόννησος. Εκκλησιαστική παροικία, ναοί και μοναί (Constantinople 1895), pp. 156-159, 192.
15. Ξενοφάνης 3 (1905-1906), p. 190.
16. Βαλσάμης, Ε. – Λαμπαδαρίδης, Ν., Προκοννησιακά Ιστορικά (Athens 1940), p. 205.
17. Κοντογιάννης, Π.Μ., Γεωγραφία της Μικράς Ασίας. Φυσική σύστασις της χώρας, πολιτική γεωγραφία, φυσικός πλούτος (Athens 1921), pp. 268-270.