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Razing of Armenian orphanage in Istanbul halted amid outcry


map_of_turkeyThe controversial demolition of a former Armenian orphanage in Istanbul has been halted after a public outcry and protests from activists, reports said Thursday.

Bulldozers on Wednesday started to raze Kamp Armen, a former summer camp in Istanbul’s Tuzla district, in order to build a luxury apartment complex.

However work had to be halted after dozens of protesters, including prominent members of Turkey’s Armenian community, as well as opposition lawmakers turned up at the site, Milliyet newspaper reported.

The community has long argued that the orphanage — where murdered Turkish Armenian journalist Hrank Dink spent part of his childhood — had been illegally seized by the state.

The Armenian weekly newspaper Agos, which Dink edited until he was shot dead outside his office in 2007 by a teenage ultranationalist, said five rooms and the orphanage’s chapel had already been demolished.

Activists on Thursday said they would stay at the site all night to prevent any further destruction.

The incident sparked widespread outrage on social media, with #KampArmen and #StopDemolitionofKampArmen becoming trending topics on Twitter.

The camp was opened in 1963 by Gedikpasa Armenian Protestant Church Foundation and was built in part by impoverished and orphaned children who arrived from various parts of Anatolia.

It was once home to 1,500 children, including Dink and his widow Rakel.

The Turkish state seized the orphanage in 1987 based on a 1936 law preventing minority foundations from owning property.

It has since changed hands several times before it was bought by its current owner, a wealthy businessman. Gedikpasa Church has long been fighting a legal battle to win back the camp.

In a statement in Agos Rakel Dink decried the demolition as “murder” saying: “They killed the lives, they killed the souls.”

Garo Paylan of the Association of Friends of Hrant Dink said the construction workers decided to halt the demolition after learning about the “heart-breaking” stories of Armenian orphans who stayed at the camp.

“The orphanage is of historical value to us,” he wrote on Twitter.

The remnants of Turkey’s Armenian minority numbers around 70,000 and often complains of being considered second-class citizens.

Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their forebears were killed in a genocide in 1915-1916 as the Ottoman Empire collapsed. Turkey however categorically rejects the term genocide and claims 500,000 died in fighting or from starvation.

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