Even though the demolition has been halted due to the public protests over the past week, five bedrooms, the camp director’s room, the chapel and some of the surrounding fences have already been demolished. Garabet Orunöz (55), who grew up in the orphanage, told Today’s Zaman that the decision to halt the demolition is only for show in order to calm the people who strongly oppose it.
“Tuzla Municipality must immediately cancel the permission it gave to the property owner to destroy the place. This orphanage was illegally given to an individual by the state in 1974. Under these conditions, building luxury villas and hotels on this area is impossible. But this is Turkey and nobody knows what is going to happen tomorrow,” said Orunöz.
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 the former owner, despite legal action taken by the Gedikpaşa Armenian Protestant Church, which owned and operated the camp. The ownership of the land has since changed hands several times.
“I was brought to the orphanage late in 1967. The second floor of the building had not yet been constructed then. I and several friends of mine carried sand from the seaside so the construction could be completed. Hrant Dink [prominent Armenian-Turkish journalist who was assassinated in 2007] was also with us. My sister was given up for adoption when she was a baby and I found her here at the age of 16,” Orunöz added.
Many activists quickly convened at the camp last week, blocking access to the location of the former orphanage founded by the Gedikpaşa Armenian Protestant Church and once home to nearly 1,500 orphans after it was built in 1963, partly by the young orphans who were housed there.
“A person named Ethem Erhan Aydınlar currently owns this place. This person knows that this place was an orphanage. If he has a conscience, he should donate this place to us without a moment’s delay so we can restore it and open it to use for orphans,” Orunöz said.
Turkish Armenians are a minority population in Turkey, estimated to amount to 50,000-80,000 citizens. The population of Armenians living in the Turkish Republic dropped drastically after the expulsion and massacre of Armenians in 1915 as the Ottoman Empire collapsed. These killings have been labeled “genocide” by many Western countries and international organizations. Armenians who have continued to live in Turkey have been subjected to widespread discrimination.