Icaria: Greek Paradise in Turmoil

If you search any popular social media outlets for posts on Greece, you’ll likely be met with two very conflicting themes: Greece as an idyllic paradise and Greece as a country consumed by political and economic turmoil. Pictures of sunbathing tourists stand in stark contrast to images of violent riots. It’s difficult to imagine these separate worlds exist in the same country, but the content on Twitter and Tumblr suggest otherwise.

On the Greek island of Icaria, off the coast of Turkey in the Aegean Sea, the chaos of the mainland is intruding on what would otherwise be an idyllic paradise.

Agios Kirikos, Icaria

Agios Kirykos, capital of Icaria, used under Creative Commons licensing.  

Icaria is home to some 10,000 Greek Nationals. According to Dan Buettner, a researcher with National Geographic and AARP, Icaria has the world’s highest percentage of 90-year-olds, with nearly one in every three individuals surviving into their nineties. Icarians also have a 20 percent lower rate of cancer, a 50 percent lower rate of heart disease and almost no dementia. This island is largely (and historically) self-sufficient, but it has been a part of Greece since 1912.

Long a disputed territory because of its advantageous positioning in valuable fishing waters, Icaria broke free of the Ottoman Empire in 1912 and signed a 100-year treaty with Athens granting Greece political control over the island. The treaty expires this year and many residents of the island are none-too-eager to remain in the hands of debt-addled Greece.

According to an article published in an Italian newspaper in July, the people of Icaria do not wish to extend their Greek status. Rather, they are interested in pursuing a contractual relationship with another European country with less debt and a more stable political system. A local politician has suggested Austria as a potential suitor for Icaria. 83 percent of Austrians, when polled by an Austrian daily paper, were in favor of annexation (and of increased access to picturesque Aegean beaches).

The Greek government, as you might expect, is none too keen on this idea of Icarian annexation. When news of the desire for annexation emerged back in July, the Greek Embassy in Vienna released a press release rife with hostility, asserting that “Icaria is an inseparable part of Greek territory, and there is no expiring agreement between the Greek government and the island” and that the Treaty of Lausanne from 1923 “confirms that the islands of the East Aegean, including Icaria, belong to Greece.”

For an island that prides itself on the health and self-sufficiency of its people, I can only imagine that being dragged down or held back by Greece’s debt crisis is vexing at best. While I am certainly no expert in Greek treaties and in no position to question the veracity of the Greek Embassy’s claims about Icaria’s right to annexation, I certainly don’t blame the people of Icaria for wanting to try something different.