November 9, 2015 | Quote
Turkey’s Armenian Community Gets Back Children’s Camp
Turkey’s Armenian community finally won back Camp Armen last week. The Gedikpasa Armenian Protestant Church in Istanbul now owns the deed to the former orphanage and children’s camp, offering a ray of hope to Turkish Armenians and other non-Muslim minorities. The episode, however, illustrates the many obstacles that non-Muslim foundations in Turkey must overcome to re-acquire their lost properties or buy new ones.
At one level, the story is the sort that deserves a “life is beautiful” tagline, a tale that restores one’s faith in humanity. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Tuzla children’s camp on Istanbul’s Asian side served Turkey’s Armenian community both as an orphanage and summer camp, bringing together some 1,500 children from all over the country with the aim to strengthen their cultural and communal ties.
In a beautiful and romantic twist, Camp Armen was also where Turkey’s legendary public intellectual and social activist Hrant Dink (who was killed in 2007 by an ultranationalist for advocating peace and reconciliation between Turks and Armenians) spent some of his formative years and met his wife, Rakel. Not surprisingly, many focused on the sentimental aspects of the camp’s return. While the Turkish Armenian newspaper Agos wrote that “Camp Armen belongs to the children once again,” Garo Paylan, an Armenian member of parliament with the Peoples’ Democratic Party, said the return of the camp “would please Hrant Dink’s spirit.”
Freedom of religion brings us to questions of citizenship in a Muslim-majority country that still pretends to be secular. Aykan Erdemir, nonresident fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington and a former member of the Turkish parliament, told Al-Monitor, “The slow pace and the arbitrariness of the restitution of minority properties is one of the key challenges to institutionalizing equal citizenship in Turkey.”
He said, “So far, the restitution process has worked haphazardly, often dependent on the discretion and ‘good will’ of public officials.”
“Each act of restitution is a positive step forward,” Erdemir said, adding, “The arbitrariness of the Turkish state's restitution policy ends up reinforcing discrimination and exclusion of Turkey's non-Muslim citizens. Turkey's minorities do not demand compassion or tolerance from the government — they simply want their rights, just like Muslim citizens of the country.”
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