ISTANBUL—The Gedikpaşa Armenian Protestant Church and volunteer lawyers are initiating a legal campaign for the return of Camp Armen, a former summer camp for Armenian orphans in Istanbul. The orphanage, it was recently revealed, has been marked for demolition in order to make room for luxury residential buildings. Lawyers plan a new appeal to stop the demolition planned for the end of May.
Among the Armenian Community’s properties seized by the State, the Tuzla Children’s Camp, also known as Camp Armen, is among those with the most powerful symbolic meaning. When Anatolia was left devoid of Armenian schools following the Genocide of the Armenians in 1915-23, orphaned and impoverished Armenian children who made their way to Istanbul received their education at this camp. The camp, once home to around 1,500 children, including the late Hrant Dink, his wife Rakel and member of parliament Erol Dora, is now abandoned and in a derelict state, and faces the threat of demolition.
Legal campaign fruitless
The land of the camp, purchased by the Gedikpaşa Armenian Protestant Church Foundation, was returned – along with the facilities constructed on the site with the efforts of the children who studied there – by the State to its first owner on the basis of a 1936 declaration, and the seizure process of the camp was completed when the Court of Cassation approved the decree of the local court in 1987.
The foundation administration tried all legal means for the return of the camp, however the efforts remained fruitless. Even the cases filed for compensation for the facilities built on the land were inconsequential.
When in 2011, a change in the Law on Foundations triggered a process for the return of seized foundation properties; an application was made to the Foundations General Directorate for the Tuzla Children’s Camp as well. However, the Foundations General Directorate, on the basis of the legal cancellation of the sale of the Tuzla Camp, did not treat the file as a ‘seized property’ file, and thus the return of the camp or the payment of compensation did not take place. The demolition of the camp will begin within the month of May.
The Gedikpaşa Armenian Protestant Church Foundation and volunteer lawyers are now initiating a new legal campaign for the return of the camp, or the compensation of losses. A new application will be filed for the amendment of the decision for the cancellation of the sale, and the prevention of demolition.
The ‘Atlantis Civilization’
Hrant Dink had described the Tuzla Children’s Camp where he grew up, met his future wife, and later assumed its administration along with his wife Rakel Dink as “the Atlantis Civilization.” This reference specifically underlines the contribution of the children’s own labor in the creation of the camp.
The history of the camp is as follows: the Gedikpaşa Armenian Protestant Church Foundation, when the population of its orphanage began to increase, decided to purchase a plot of land for the relocation of the orphanage that was in the basement of the church.
In 1962, the Church Foundation administration, after receiving the necessary permissions from all relevant State institutions like the Foundations Regional Directorate and the Istanbul Governorate, purchased the land plot of the Tuzla Camp from Sait Durmaz, and registered the deed in the foundation’s name. Then, the children at the orphanage worked an entire summer to build the camp where hundreds of children would eventually attend.
How the camp was seized
Meanwhile, on 6 July 1971, the 2nd Civil Chamber of the Court of Cassation, by unanimous vote, approved the recognition as foundation vouchers of the 1936 declarations of community foundations that had no foundation voucher. This served as a legal provision to prevent community foundations from acquiring real estate properties directly or through inheritance.
When the General Assembly of the Court of Cassation approved the decree of the 2nd Civil Chamber of the Court of Cassation on 8 May 1974, the legal precedent was set. In cases filed following this approval, the great majority of immovable assets community foundations acquired after 1936 were seized.
On 23 February 1979, the Foundations General Directorate applied to the Kartal 3rd Civil Court for the cancellation of the deed held by the Gedikpaşa Armenian Protestant Church Foundation and the return of it to its former owner. At the end of the case that lasted four years, the court ruled for the return of the property to its former owner. Thus, Sait Durmaz, retook the land he had sold in 1962 as an empty plot, without paying a single penny, and with the camp facilities built on it in the meantime. The Armenian Protestant Church Foundation was forced to return a property it had purchased years ago by fulfilling every manner of legal procedure to its former owner as if it had stolen it in the first place.
‘A disgrace of the State’
The Gedikpaşa Armenian Protestant Church Pastor Kirkor Ağabaloğlu states that the condition of the Tuzla Camp is a disgrace of the State, and adds, “A property of our church is in the State’s hands. It was clearly seized from us. It is a disgrace, and the State must relieve itself from this disgrace”.
Ağabaloğlu says that they tried all legal paths following the seizure of the camp, but that the case was not included within the scope of the new regulation brought to the Law on Foundations in 2011, adding that the State had to bring a new legal regulation regarding the matter.
Ağabaloğlu relates the struggle so far in the following words: “We are told the site will be demolished, but there has not been an official notification as of yet. We are hurting inside, we are anxious. For years, under difficult conditions, we tried every possible path. After Hrant Dink wrote an article on the subject, the person who at that time was holding the deed, wanted to contact him. We went and met with him. He paid 1 million dollars for the site at that time. “I did not know it belonged to orphans. Pay me the sum, and I will sell it to you,” he said. He had good intentions, but we find it offensive to have to purchase for the second time a property that already belongs to us. It is the State that must pay them this sum. The legal regulation introduced in 2011 proves in actual fact that the State admits its crime. The status of the Tuzla Camp lies in a legal vacuum. This vacuum can be filled with a court decision.”
Ağabaloğlu also stated that they welcomed all manners of legal support.