‘We’re Still Here’: Protesters Enter Day 31 of Camp Armen Occupation

ISTANBUL (A.W.)—Protesters entered day 31 of a live-in demonstration at Camp Armen, the former Armenian summer camp located in the Tuzla district of Istanbul on June 5. After weeks of protest, the current owner of the campground, Fatih Ulusoy, said he would sign the transfer of the property over to the Gedikpaşa Armenian Evangelical Church Foundation; so far, the deed has not been transferred.

A banner reads ‘This is the beginning, continue to struggle!’ in Turkish, and “We were, we are, and we will remain,’ in Armenian at the entrance of the camp (Photo: Nor Zartonk Facebook page)
A banner reads ‘This is the beginning, continue to struggle!’ in Turkish, and “We were, we are, and we will remain,’ in Armenian at the entrance of the camp (Photo: Nor Zartonk Facebook page)

“For the past three weeks we have been told that the deed will be transferred. Week after week we wait for the return [of the camp], but nothing has happened so far,” Nor Zartonk member Sayat Tekir told the Armenian Weekly. Tekir said that the reports claiming the deed for the camp had been returned to the foundation were false and only a ploy to garner votes in the run-up to Sunday’s parliamentary elections.

On May 23, Ulusoy said he would sign the transfer of the property over to the foundation. Ulusoy’s statement came after weeks of protests by local activists on the camp grounds, demanding that the site, which faced demolition, be returned to its Armenian owners.

“Today, we entered the 31st day of our resistance. People must know that the struggle is ongoing and that the reports of any return are false. Unfortunately, some of these lies are spread in an effort to win votes,” Tekir said.

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

3.Uraz Kaspar and Sayat Tekir of the Nor Zartonk Youth Movement in a press conference on June 4 (Photo: Kamp Armen Yıkılmasın Facebook page)
Uraz Kaspar and Sayat Tekir of the Nor Zartonk Movement in a press conference on June 4 (Photo: Kamp Armen Yıkılmasın Facebook page)

Tekir says that negotiations are ongoing between the government and Ulusoy to agree on a price for the “donation” by the owner to the Gedikpaşa Foundation. Tekir says the Turkish government is in favor of resolving the issue outside of the courts, as a trial would set a precedent for other confiscated properties.

“There are many other seized assets throughout the country. If the problem were to be resolved through the right channels, the judicial system, it would set an example for people to demand other confiscated assets,” Tekir said. “The government will do its best to avoid that.”

Morale is high among the demonstrators, who have remained on the campground for a month now. “Around 40-50 of us have been here full-time, from the beginning. During the week, we have between 100-150 supporters joining us—and well over 500 on the weekends,” said Tekir.

A count of the number of days of occupation (Photo: Kamp Armen Yıkılmasın Facebook page)
A count of the number of days of occupation (Photo: Kamp Armen Yıkılmasın Facebook page)

“While we are here, we have also been busy maintaining and renovating the camp,” said Tekir, adding that they have run electricity throughout the camp and set up plumbing since occupying the grounds.

“Renovations can get expensive, but people who support us have been willing to help. We’ve had a lot of tradesmen come and lend their talents to us.” About a third of the camp had been demolished, he said, and activists have helped to clear the unsafe areas.

Tekir remains hopeful that the camp will be returned to the Armenian community, but says we shouldn’t celebrate too soon. “We have suffered so much in the past that we’re quick to rejoice at the slightest hint of good news. We’ve been deceived and cheated many times because of this,” said Tekir. “This time is different, though. From the first day of the occupation we promised that we will stay here until the deed is transferred, and that hasn’t changed. We’re still here.”

 

 

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Rupen Janbazian

Rupen Janbazian is the former editor of The Armenian Weekly. His writings primarily focus on politics, human rights, community, literature, and Armenian culture. He has reported from Armenia, Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh), Turkey, Canada, the United States, and Western Armenia. He has served on the local and national executives of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) of Canada and Hamazkayin Toronto, and served as the administrator of the Armenian National Committee (ANC) of Toronto. Janbazian also taught Armenian History and Creative Writing at the ARS Armenian Private School of Toronto, and has worked on several translations.

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