By ZEYNEP KARATAŞ / ISTANBUL
The Nor Zartonk, a civil society group representing Turkey’s Armenian community, condemned false reports that the deed for a former Armenian orphanage widely referred to as Camp Armen has been returned to the Gedikpaşa Armenian Proestant Church Foundation and called the false reports a ploy for votes in the run-up to Sunday’s election during a press conference held in İstanbul on Thursday morning.
Thursday marked the 30th day of Nor Zartonk’s occupation of the land in an effort to prevent the demolition of the camp, preserve its historic symbolism and protest the continuation of the unjust seizure of property from minorities by the state. The camp was opened by the Gedikpaşa Armenian Protestant Church Foundation in 1963 and built in part by the camp’s orphans. 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. The ownership of the land has since changed hands several times.
“We are in the 30th day of our Camp Armen resistance, and we wanted to share [our experiences] of these 30 days, for there have been several false reports circulating in the media regarding the camp. […] It’s unfortunate but some of these lies are being produced in an effort to win votes [for the upcoming June 7 general election], and this includes Armenian media outlets. To gain these votes, there are reports being produced stating that the deed to the camp has been returned to the Gedikpaşa foundation, but unfortunately, this is not true,” said Sayat Tekir, spokesperson for Nor Zartonk, during Thursday’s meeting.
What Tekir was referring to was the latest issue of Paros monthly magazine, an İstanbul-based magazine that focuses on the local Armenian community. The magazine published an article about the camp with the headline, “Camp Armen has been returned to the foundation” on one page and a full page ad for Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputy candidate Markar Esayan, who is also a prominent columnist of Armenian descent, on the adjacent page. In addition to falsely stating that the title to the property had been returned to the foundation, the article described Esayan as “the one who has undertaken the coordination for the Armenian orphanage to be returned to the foundation,” portraying Esayan as being at the forefront of the resistance to the demolition. The members of Nor Zartonk openly criticize Esayan for using the Camp Armen resistance to promote the AK Party. In addition to the Paros article and Esayan’s statements on Twitter, he also penned a column in the Sabah daily last month entitled “A new formula for the Tuzla Armenian Orphanage” in which he falsely stated, “When the current owner began demolishing the building upon a court order, the government intervened and stopped the demolition process.” In fact, it was former resident of the orphanage Garabet Orunöz who mobilized local Tuzla residents to the site and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Armenian parliamentary candidate Garo Paylan who halted the demolition. In the same column, the parliamentary candidate noted, “Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is personally involved in the case. Also, İstanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş has promised to resolve the problem.”
According to Tekir, there are ongoing meetings taking place with the government and the owner of the property which are widely suspected to be ongoing negotiation processes to agree on a price for which the owner will agree to “donate” the property to the Gedikpaşa foundation. Tekir told the press that while the owner of the deed on paper is a man named Erhan Aydınlar, the actual owner of the property is Fatih Ulusoy, who has been engaging in the negotiations.