Istanbul: Kamp Armen returned to Armenians

also Hrant and Rakel Dink lived there

The Armenian community of Istanbul marked a major achievement by saving from demolition Kamp Armen, the former orphanage and childrens camp located in the suburb of Tuzla, on the Asian side of the city, and obtaining the return of the building to its rightful owner, the Gedikpaşa Armenian Protestant Church Foundation.

The struggle to regain the former orphanage was led by the Nor Zartonk Initiative, a civil society group created by Turkey’s Armenian young people to fight discrimination and hate crimes, supported by other activists and citizens, that from May 6th for over twenty days occupied the area with a sit-in blocking the bulldozers, which had begun to demolish the building.

Kamp Armen has great symbolic value for the Armenians, because in addition to receiving more than 1,500 orphans, it had kept alive the Armenian culture, language and identity for two decades after its opening in 1963. Its guests included Hrant Dink, the Turkish journalist of Armenian origin, founder and editor-in-chief of the bilingual weekly Agos and advocate of the dialogue between Turkey and Armenia for the mutual understanding of the two cultures and histories, who was killed in 2007. Hrant Dink had spent his summers at the Tuzla Camp as a child, after his parents were separated, there he met his future wife, Rakel, and together they took over the administration of the camp, until it was closed and confiscated by the State, under the accusation of breeding Armenian militants. Rakel Dink has been at the forefront in the demonstrations in the past weeks to demand the restitution of Kamp Armen to Armenians.

This is a historic victory because the action carried out by young Armenians and other groups, to claim the return of a property that had been taken from the Armenian community, was strongly supported by many people. And the event occurred right in the centenary of the Armenian Genocide, celebrated around the world with solemn ceremonies.

The reasons and the goals of the protest spread rapidly from Tuzla to the whole city, thanks to the help of the social networks, somehow as it had happened, on a larger scale, in 2013 with the struggle of the environmentalists for Gezi Park. Also the battle for Kamp Armen has become a national case and has stirred the political circles. After some members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) showed their solidarity to the protesters, the Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu interfered in the matter to urge a quick solution to the case. Faced with these pressures the land owner, Fatih Ulusoy, gave up on the project to build luxury residential property in place of the orphanage and agreed to donate the plot to the Gedikpaşa Armenian Protestant Church Foundation, “in order to contribute to the thoughts and sensitivities of our Armenian citizens, and social peace and unity in our country…at this time, when the sensitivities of our society are being provoked via various speculations related to the year 1915", said Ulusoy in a statement to the Anadolu news agency.

Kamp Armen had been opened in 1963 on the initiative of the Gedikpaşa Armenian Protestant Church, which previously housed in its premises a home for orphans and poor children, that also provided the teaching of the Armenian language and culture, as in Anatolia at the time there were no schools for the Armenians.

The Turkish State in 1987 seized the ground, on the basis of an amendment of the Law of Foundations in 1936, which denied the non-Muslim foundations the right to acquire real estate and paved the way for subsequent confiscations, and was given back to the former owners. The land and the building were then resold several times, ending up in a state of neglect, until the current owner decided to tear the camp down to build luxury houses.

The goal of the Gedikpaşa Armenian Protestant Church now is to demolish what's left of the old building and build a new one, as soon as they receive the license. The new Kamp Armen “will host not only Armenian children but its doors wil be open to children from all nations”, Pastor Krikor Ağabaloğlu told Turkish daily newspaper Hürriyet.

3 June 2015

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