A campaign for the restitution of an historic Armenian orphanage in Istanbul is highlighting a shift in attitudes in Turkey toward greater tolerance for long-persecuted, non-Muslim communities.
On October 27, lawyers for the Gedikpaşa Armenian Protestant Church Foundation announced they had reacquired the deed to Camp Armen — once part of a boarding school and orphanage for poor ethnic Armenian children — 32 years after it was ostensibly confiscated by the state.
The return of the property, and its rescue from demolition, came after intervention by Turkey’s Islamist-rooted government, as well as a grassroots campaign that reached far beyond the ethnic Armenian community and culminated in a 175-day occupation of the site by protesters.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Silva Özyerli, a former Camp Armen pupil who closely followed the restitution struggle. “For the first time, we tried to get our own rights, and we got them with everyone supporting us — atheists, Muslims, Kurds. As a Turkish Armenian, it makes me so proud.”
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Alexander Christie-Miller is a freelance reporter based in Istanbul.