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Satellite image of İmrali island in Turkey.
Imrali location.jpg
Location Sea of Marmara
Coordinates 40°32′N 28°32′E / 40.533°N 28.533°E / 40.533; 28.533Coordinates: 40°32′N 28°32′E / 40.533°N 28.533°E / 40.533; 28.533
Area 9.98 km2 (3.85 sq mi)
Coastline 19.4 km (12.05 mi)
Highest elevation 217 m (712 ft)
Highest point Türk Tepesi
Region Marmara Region
Province Bursa Province

İmralı is a small Turkish island in the south of the Sea of Marmara, west of the Armutlu-Bozburun peninsula within Bursa Province. It measures 8 kilometres (5 miles) in the north-south direction with a width of 3 kilometres (2 miles), and has an area of 9.98 square kilometres (3.85 sq mi). The highest peak is Türk Tepesi at an altitude of 217 metres (712 feet) above sea level. It is currently a prison island, so it is prohibited to fly over the island or fish near its shores.


The Roman authors Pliny the Elder and Strabo called the island Besbicus (Greek: Βέσβικος).[1] It was later known as Kalonymos (Greek: Καλώνυμος) and Kalolimnos (Greek: Καλόλιμνος).

The island name derives from its conqueror, Emir Ali, one of the first Ottoman admirals. The island was the first captured by the Ottomans and enabled control of the Sea of Marmara with a naval base established on it, cutting the Byzantine Empire's connection to Bursa.

In 1913 the island had 250 houses, a school, three monasteries, and 1,200 residents, all of whom were Greeks. The economic activity of the island's residents consisted mainly of fishing and farming onions, with most of the grown onions sold to Istanbul. There were three Greek villages on the island until the Turkish War of Independence (1919–1923), engaged mostly in growing grapes, winemaking, silk production and fishing. The island was mostly uninhabited from the 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey until 1935, when a semi-open category prison was built. The prisoners earned money by working in agriculture and fishing.

One well-known islander was Kimon Friar who emigrated to the United States and became a scholar and translator of Greek language poetry.[2]

There is also a military base on the island, and the area around the island is a forbidden zone. It served from 1999 until 2009 as a maximum-security prison island for its only inmate, Abdullah Öcalan the leader of the PKK which has been declared a terrorist organization by the USA and the EU. The other prisoners on the island were transferred elsewhere so that Öcalan would be the island's sole prisoner. In November 2009, several other prisoners were transferred to a newly constructed prison building on the island, where Öcalan is also incarcerated.

Notable inmates of the prison 1935–present[edit]

  • Billy Hayes, American author, who wrote the book Midnight Express and was the subject of an episode of "Locked Up Abroad: The Real Midnight Express".[3] He was serving a life sentence for drug trafficking until his escape.
  • Abdullah Öcalan, founder of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Serving a life sentence for treason since 1999.

Three former politicians were executed on the island in 1961: