Historic quarter of Istanbul once populated by Armenians fears the future
Suleyman Karaman has long been caretaker of an ornate Armenian Orthodox Church built more than 100 years ago in Istanbul’s Yali quarter – an area now under threat from the city’s relentless expansion.
The softly-spoken custodian, who lives with his wife in a cottage on the grounds of the Surp Tateos Partogomeos church, is among hundreds of Yali residents watching with mixed feelings as their historic district transforms before their eyes, Reuters reports.
Once home to Armenians and Greeks who bequeathed the elegant buildings, the area fell into disarray after its original inhabitants abandoned the city amid anti-minority policies.
By the time most of the Armenians had left – to be replaced by Kurds from the southeastern province of Mardin – Suleyman Karaman had also headed west from the province of Batman and become caretaker of the Surp Tateos Partogomeos church.
Apart from Karaman and his wife, today there are just 10 Armenians living in the neighborhood.
“Usually, around 10 or 15 people show up [to church], but if there are those coming from Bakırköy [a district with a large Armenian population] there are as many as 50,” Karaman said, lighting a rolled cigarette from a small tin box emblazoned with a photo of Istanbul’s iconic Galata Tower
Another local, Mehmet, 51, rents out a building he owns in Yali and lives elsewhere, but he still prefers to spend his days in the quarter where he lived for decades and where he once restored the former home of the priest at the Armenian church.
He is unhappy at what he says is the suffocation of the neighborhood by the urban projects going on around it.
“We can’t breathe,” he said. “But we’ve been here 50 years. Where else will we go?”