Demolition of Camp Armen halted

The demolition of a former camp for Armenia 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. 

According to the source, around 10:00 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.

When people heard of the demolition, politicians – including Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) parliamentary deputy candidates Sezin Uçar, Beste Kaplan and Garo Paylan, of Armenian descent – and activists from the Nor Zartonk initiative as well as former resident of the camp, Garabet Orunöz, visited the site to oppose the destruction.

The camp was opened by the Gedikpaşa Armenian Protestant Church Foundation in 1963 and was built in part by the orphans who were at 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.

The camp’s most famous resident, who was later a camp counselor, was Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was assassinated in 2007.

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