Row over Istanbul Armenian orphanage site rumbles on

Armenian campaigners in Istanbul are calling for the “unconditional” return of a historic building at the centre of a demolition row, Anadolu Agency reports.

Now the Council of Europe could become embroiled in the dispute which has revived issues regarding Turkey’s minority groups and their property rights.

This is despite claims from the landowner that he intends to return the building to the religious foundation from which it was expropriated in the 1980s.

Kamp Armen, a historic building in the Tuzla district of Istanbul, has been the site of vigils by activists for the last 30 days. The protests are aimed at stopping a possible demolition of the historic structure.

“We demand Kamp Armen to be returned to its real owners … unconditionally and urgently,” Sayat Tekir, a spokesman for the Nor Zartonk campaign group, told reporters in Istanbul on Thursday.

His remarks came after attempts to partially demolish the building on May 6. The work was suspended after protests held by activists and leading figures from the Armenian community.

“Our resistance for the camp will continue till our demands are entirely met,” Tekir added.

Kamp Armen was constructed in 1962 by Istanbul-based Gedik Pasa Armenian Protestant Church and School Foundation. At one time it was home to around 1,500 orphans.

Important one-time residents included Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink — who was assassinated in 2007 — his wife Rakel and pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party deputy Erol Dora. In 1987, the camp was expropriated under old legislation which deemed ‘inactive’ religious trusts to be forfeit of their assets.

The Nor Zartonk members have also rejected reports circulating in some media organizations recently claiming that the camp had been returned to Armenians.

“Neither the camp has been returned nor any victory gained,” Tekir told reporters.

Ankara-based Human Rights Association is preparing to apply to the Council of Europe on the grounds that the case violates minority rights and property rights, Istanbul branch member Meral Cildir said at today’s press conference.

After the press conference, landowner Fatih Ulusoy, speaking to Anadolu Agency, said that he had submitted a petition to the Armenian foundation to transfer the building to them.

“The process has lengthened out because of the official transaction process and workload,” he said, adding: “It will start in the coming weeks.”

Last month, Rakel Dink wrote an article for Armenian-language newspaper Agos, running a photo of herself and her husband, together with other children.

“The biggest wish of my husband was for Kamp Armenia to survive,” she wrote.

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