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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)
Highest elevation 217 m (712 ft)
Highest point Türk Tepesi

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 (Βέσβικος).[1] It was later known as Kalolimnos (Καλόλιμνος).

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

Until the Turkish War of Independence (1919–1922) three Greek villages existed on the island. The islanders were engaged mostly in growing grapes, winemaking, silk production and fishing. One well-known Greek from this island was Kimon Friar who would emigrate to the United States and become a scholar and translator of Greek language poetry.[2] Following the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923, the island was mostly uninhabited until 1935, when a semi-open category prison was built. The prisoners were allowed to earn money by working in agriculture and fishing.

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 organisation by the USA and the EU. 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: