Activists, Rights Groups in Turkey Continue to Block Camp Armen Demolition

ISTANBUL (A.W.)—Protesters entered day 14 of a live-in demonstration at Camp Armen, the former Armenian summer camp located in the Tuzla district of Istanbul.

The camp had been marked for demolition to make room for luxury residential buildings. Yet, soon after the demolition began on May 6, work was halted when concerned citizens intervened; these included Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) members Garo Paylan and Sezin Uçar, as well as Ali Çelik, the Tuzla district head of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

The Nor Zartonk Armenian youth movement of Istanbul has led a campaign to occupy the grounds of the camp since bulldozers first arrived to demolish it.

A scene from the live-in demonstration at Camp Armen (Photo: Nor Zartonk)
A scene from the live-in demonstration at Camp Armen (Photo: Nor Zartonk)

Speaking to the Armenian Weekly, Nor Zartonk member Sayat Tekir said that Camp Armen should not only be protected as a site of great historical significance for the Armenian community, but also as an important green space in Istanbul. “Several green spaces in the city continue to be destroyed to make room for commercial and residential buildings. We are here and will continue to stay not only because it’s our camp, not only because it’s historically and culturally important to us, but also because we stand up for the ecology of our city,” said Tekir.

Sign at the entrance of the Camp reads ‘Camp Armen has been returned to the Armenian People’ in Turkish (Photo: Nor Zartonk)
Sign at the entrance reads, ‘Let Camp Armen be returned to the Armenian People’ in Turkish (Photo: Nor Zartonk)

Nor Zartonk released a statement last week calling on the Armenian community of Turkey and civil society at large to join their efforts in helping to stop the destruction of the camp.

“We urge you to stand together and join the efforts and witness the battle for hope in testimony for the history, the pain, and the history of loss for Camp Armen,” read a part of Nor Zartonk’s strongly worded statement, which called the destruction of the camp a continuation of the genocide. “The attempt to demolish Camp Armen is the most effective evidence that shows that the genocide in Turkey is not over; in fact, it shows quite the opposite—that the politics of annihilation is violently continuing,” the statement read.

On May 14, Turkey’s Agos newspaper reported that Justice and Development Party (AKP) parliamentary candidate Markar Esayan had spoken with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on the issue. According to Esayan, the matter is on the government’s agenda and work towards a solution has begun. Turkey’s Minister of Environment and Urban Planning Idris Gulluce, Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş, and the head of AKP’s Istanbul chapter, Selim Temurci, who were present at the discussion, pledged to contact the owners of the building to find a solution.

A count of the number of days of occupation (Photo: Kamp Armen Instagram)
A count of the number of days of occupation (Photo: Kamp Armen Instagram)

Eight Turkish human rights organizations and political parties (including the Human Rights Association of Turkey, Ankara Freedom of Thought Initiative, the Ankara Chapter of the HDP, and Ankara Freedom of Thought Initiative) and 140 activists, journalists, writers, scholars, and politicians in Turkey (including Sur Mayor Abdullah Demirbaş, publisher Ragip Zarakolgu, and scholars Sait Çetinoğlu and Taner Akcam) released a statement this week calling on the state to return the camp to the Armenian community.

“The state dispossessed the Armenian foundation’s property…without paying any money—by force. Now, the state must buy this place from the owner by means of expropriation and must give it back to the foundation,” read a part of the statement.

The state seized the camp from the Gedikpaşa Armenian Protestant Church Foundation in 1987, after the Turkish Court of Cassation approved a decree by the local court. The state later gave the land to a previous owner on the basis of a 1936 declaration.

The camp was once home to around 1,500 children, including the late Hrant Dink, his wife Rakel, and Parliamentarian Erol Dora. It had been left abandoned for years following its seizure.

Rupen Janbazian

Rupen Janbazian

Rupen Janbazian is the editor of Torontohye Monthly. He is the former editor of The Armenian Weekly and the former director of public relations of the Tufenkian Foundation. Born and raised in Toronto, he is currently based in Yerevan.
Rupen Janbazian

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  1. This sit-in makes me think back to demonstrations that Armenian political groups put on in Constantinople in the 1890s and later. Turks would sometimes respond with large-scale massacres.

    This has happened in more recent times in Turkey with the riots of 1955, and the various massacres since then of Alevis and Kurds.

    Can’t happen again because Turkey is more civilized and “reconciliationist” now?

    Who is going to stop Turkey? The U.S.? Russia? The EU?

    When Armenians demonstrate, is this a “provocation” of which future Armenian softliners will ask, “Did we provoke Turkey when we did the sit-in? Maybe we should have remained quiet.”

    Easy to go back and judge, is it not?

    • At the moment, there is enough world attention that I don’t think the government would allow anything as bad as progroms to happen. The future however, may turn out different.

  2. Since Armenia has been moving steadily to the Russian sphere of influence and away from the West is there no Faith in your Russian friends”?

  3. Bruce, this is not a Russia vs USA Cold War thing. Turks have been abusing Armenians and others for over a 100 years. My family had to hide their identity in Turkey because they would be attacked. I’m thankful and happy to be an American. Standing up to Turkish racism is not a statement about Russia.

    The Turks will pay, not just for the genocide but also because they have continued their psychotic policies to this very day. They could have been made peace with the past so many times – but instead they choose to continue to do evil.

    • {“Turks have been abusing Armenians and others for over a 100 years. “}

      Turks have been abusing Armenians and others for about 1000 years, not 100, since the Seljuk Turks first ‘appeared’ in our parts around 1000AD.

      The Islamized nomads brought nothing but backwardness, misery, death, destruction, looting, theft, murder, massacre – and finally Genocide of the indigenous Christians 100 years ago.

  4. Bruce, Do not change the subject. Don’t take it to a different direction. Do not try answering with another ….. IF you do not have any sensible contribution, it is better you stay SILENT at this time, PLEASE.

  5. Disagreement is not changing the subject. It is merely seeing a direction that can be a dangerous road for the nation to follow.

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