Activists occupy Camp Armen to prevent demolition of Hrant Dink’s former home

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Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) parliamentary deputy candidates of Armenian descent, such as Murad Mıhçı and Garo Paylan, who said the owner is now open to offers for the land, have shown their solidarity to resist the destruction of the former home of Dink, who was assassinated in 2007.

Many activists rushed to the scene on Wednesday morning to the distant, isolated location of the former Armenian orphanage founded by the Gedikpaşa Armenian Protestant Church, which once served as the home for nearly 1,500 orphans after its construction, in 1963, partly by the young orphans who were housed there. The orphanage was shut down in 1983 due to financial difficulties and a court decision in 1974 from the Appeals Court that required minority foundations to return land they had acquired to their previous owner.

In 2011, a decree that allows minorities to register confiscated property with the land registry within 12 months was mandated. In addition to buildings, other edifices, such as fountains or cemeteries, were to be returned to religious foundations. The treasury or relevant general directorate is to repay the market value of property expropriated or sold to third parties to the original owners. Despite measures taken to have the parcel of land returned to the church, the property in which the camp lies is in the hands of Fatih Ulusoy.

Paylan said through his Twitter account on Thursday that he has spoken with Ulusoy, and that the decision to destroy the building has been delayed for now, with Ulusoy open to suggestions over the next step.

Bulldozers arrive for Wednesday morning demolition

Bulldozers arrived on Wednesday morning and successfully knocked down some areas of the camp, including five bedrooms, the camp director’s room, the chapel and some of the surrounding fence. Though construction workers were initially not willing to stop the demolition, Garabet Orunöz — one of the Armenian orphans who helped to build and lived at the orphanage for years — explained the importance of the place for him and the efforts he put in to help construct it. Only after hearing this news, Orunöz told Today’s Zaman, did the bulldozer operators discontinue their work. “If this was really built by Armenian orphans, then I cannot destroy this,” Orunöz said a construction worker had told him.

Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrıkulu also called for the demolition to cease in a statement to the press on Thursday in Ankara.

That night, activists from several organizations arrived at the scene, with members of solidarity groups from various districts of İstanbul rushing to set up camp. Leading the resistance was the Nor Zartonk Initiative, a civil society group created to fight hate crimes and discrimination and represents Turkey’s Armenian community. While participants of other solidarity groups, such as the Caferağa Solidarity group, the Say Stop to Racism and Nationalism Association (Dur De) and the People of the Tuzla HDP branch, joined the occupation.

Today’s Zaman arrived at the scene on Wednesday evening to witness activists congregating and expertly hosting forums on the necessary measures needed to be taken.

“We saw that the bulldozers arrived to demolish this area on social media this morning, especially from Garo Paylan’s posts, therefore, we began to mobilize. … At 7:00 p.m., the HDP organized a march to the camp from the Tuzla neighborhood to here, which took about half-hour. That’s when we really grew in numbers; there were about 150 of us,” said Özdeş Özbay from Dur De.

Asked whether such growth in numbers would have been possible before the nationwide Gezi Park protests of summer 2013, which incorporated the widespread use of social media for activism, Özbay said he believes that people wouldn’t have been able to gather so quickly and know what to be prepared for. In the aftermath of the protests, neighborhood solidarity groups grew throughout İstanbul and many still remain active. On Wednesday night, many of the demonstrators arrived bearing water, food, paint and camping equipment. Some were also carrying posters, which read, “We’re here, brother,” in a mark of respect to Dink, and “Take responsibility for cultural history.”

Orunöz said that the activists would continue to stand on duty and host people at the site, with a film screening scheduled for Saturday.