ISTANBUL—The demolition of a former camp for Armenian orphans has been halted due to public protests with activists preparing to spend the night at the site to prevent further attempts to demolish the building, Today’s Zaman reports.
Around 10 a. m. on Wednesday, bulldozers entered Camp Armen — a former summer camp for Armenian orphans in the Tuzla district of Istanbul — to demolish the building in order to build luxury residences in its place.
According to a news report from the Armenian weekly newspaper Agos, the construction machines have already demolished five bedrooms, the camp director’s room, the chapel and some of the surrounding fences.
However, demolition work was halted with the intervention of concerned citizens including Garo Paylan and Sezin Uçar, parliament candidates from the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and Ali Çelik, the Tuzla district head of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Hurriyet Daily reports.
Paylan underlined the spiritual significance of the building and their determination to prevent the razing.
“The demolition had already begun but we arrived here and stopped it. They will now call the police to remove us. However, more people are arriving by the minute; we will resist,” he said.
“The orphanage is of historical value to us. Some 1,500 children lived here and learned about their culture. We are struggling to prevent its destruction for a second time.”
The issue received widespread attention once the news broke out on social media, with #KampArmen immediately becoming a trending topic.
Kamp Armen is also significant because of its construction, which many of its orphan students took part in.
The camp was opened by the Gedikpaşa Armenian Protestant Church Foundation in 1963 and was built in part by the orphans who attended the camp.
A high court ruling issued in 1974 stated that “minority foundations cannot own property.” In 1983, the camp was closed and the deed to the land was returned to its former owner, despite legal action taken by the Gedikpaşa Armenian Protestant Church, which owned and operated the camp, to prevent its closure. Ownership of the land has since changed hands several times.
The camp has made attempts to regain legal title to the property but have been unsuccessful as have lawsuits filed seeking compensation.
Earlier this month, activists visited the location and tended to the abandoned building and garden. They have continuously been working to find ways to save the historically significant location and now speak of occupying the site as they see no other remaining options.
Camp Armen was home to countless Armenian orphans from the Armenian Genocide and continued to serve as a place of education and recreation for Armenian orphans for many decades after. Armenian activists and lawyers vowed to fight for the return of the Camp to the Armenian community after news of its planned destruction came out.
The camp’s most famous resident, who was later a camp counselor, was Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was assassinated in 2007. Turkish Armenians are a minority population in Turkey, estimated to be some 50,000-80,000 citizens. The population of Armenians living in the Turkish Republic was decimated after the expulsion and massacre of Armenians in the Armenian Genocide of 1915 as the Ottoman Empire collapsed. Armenians who have continued to live in Turkey have been subjected to widespread discrimination, which Dink battled in part through his role as editor-in-chief of the Turkish-Armenian weekly newspaper, Agos.