KEEPING FAITH IN ISTANBUL: ARMENIAN COMMUNITY STRONG SAYS DINK SUCCESSOR
By Gayane Lazarian

ArmeniaNow.com
03.12.10

Getronagan High School Istanbul, Turkey.

Istanbul-based Armenian Bagrat Estukian visits the shore of Bosphorus
straits each last Sunday of a month to participate in a holy mass,
served in Surp Yerits Mangants Church in the Armenian 'Boyaji Gyugh'
district in Istanbul.

"More than 30 Armenian churches operate in Istanbul," says Estukian,
editor of the Armenian edition of Istanbul-based 'Agos' daily. "After
the massacres, our ancestors came to Istanbul, hoping to find freedom
here. Istanbul used to differ from other Turkish towns then, but the
fact was that it was again Turkey."

Enlarge Photo If people change, the government would also change
after a few generations," says Astukian.

Enlarge Photo "The only proof here that you are Armenian is being
baptized," says Sirvard Kuyumjian.

Enlarge Photo Hrant Dink's office at Agos newsroom.

Enlarge Photo There are always fresh flowers at Dink's office until
now (almost 4 years since his death) preserved the way it was just
before he left and never returned.

Enlarge Photo Aras Armenian publishing house in IstanbulThe generations
of genocide survivors lived under Turkish Armenophobic policy, and
many, not being able to stand it anymore, left Turkey. If at the end of
1915, more than 300,000 Genocide survivors lived in Istanbul, now the
population of the Armenian community in Istanbul is only 60,000-70,000.

The Armenian national hospital Surb Prkich (Church of the Redeemer),
and Surb Hakob (St. Jacob) Katoghike hospital belong to the Armenian
community in Istanbul. Three dailies are released - 'Agos', published
since 2000, with 24 pages (four pages are in Armenian, and 20 pages -
in Turkish; 5,000-6,000 print run); 102-year-old 'Zhamanak' (Time)
(2,000 print run); and 'Marmara', published since 1940 (1,500 print
run).

The only Armenian 'Aras' printing and publishing house in Turkey is
also in Istanbul.

Artashes Markosian, editor of the printing and publishing house says
that the objective of 'Aras' is to preserve the cultural heritage of
Armenians living in Turkey for future generations. It has published
120 titles so far, one third of which are in Armenian. There are also
books about the Armenian Genocide among them, which are not sold at
bookstores in Istanbul. As for Yerevan, books published by 'Aras'
are sold at ArtBridge Bookstore Cafe.

The Armenian community in Istanbul has five high and 14 elementary
schools, where 3,000 children study, however, their number in the
community reaches 12,000. The rest of the children attend Turkish
schools, which unlike Armenian schools, are free of charge.

Getronagan High School, founded in 1886, is one of the Istanbul-based
Armenians high schools. The high school, which has about 230 students
studying in the 9-12 grades, has 50-60 alumni each year; only baptized
Armenians study here.

"At the entrance of the preparatory [of the school], you must prove
that you are an Armenian, and the only proof here is being baptized,"
says Sirvard Kuyumjian, head of Getronagan High School.

The deputy head of the school is a Turk, which is compulsory for an
Armenian school and other schools belonging to national minorities. It
is forbidden to speak about the Armenian genocide at history classes.

Teachers of the Armenian literature try to fill that gap, briefly
touching upon what happened in 1915.

The high school needs specialists and textbooks. They use
50-60-year-old textbooks.

Teacher of the Armenian language Natalie Baghdad says that all those
who have graduated from an Armenian school in Turkey do not have the
right to hold high posts. But they become good linguists, lawyers,
doctors or teachers.

The life of Istanbul-based Armenians was essentially changed after
death of Hrant Dink, editor-in-chief of 'Agos' daily, who was murdered
on January 19, 2007, by Turk nationalist Ogun Samast just in front of
'Agos' office.

"The appearance of hidden Armenians incredibly ran up. They came and
said that Hrant had been killed for being an Armenian. "We are also
Armenians; let them kill us, too," they said," Estukian recalls.

Employees of 'Agos' editorial house say that they have no forbidden
theme in their daily. Yet when Dink was alive they used the word
"genocide" and paid an extremely high price for it. Now all the more,
they have no reason not to use it.

"Our daily always tried to speak about genocide through telling about
it, through presenting the historical fact, because today's Turkish
people do not know what the Genocide is, it's a closed topic here,"
Estukian says.

Since the 1990s Dink had tried to break through the limitations of
the closed topic.

"It was important to us to make sure that Turkish people know about
it. The position of the government [of Turkey] would hardly change,
if people do not change. If people change, the government would
also change after a few generations. This is a great struggle,"
Estukian says.

Istanbul-based Kurd lawmaker Ufuk Uras has entered the Turkish
parliament with the help of the vote of national minorities. Last
year he visited Armenia with President of Turkey Abdullah Gul.

The Kurd lawmaker joined the signature collection campaign of Turk
members of intelligentsia, where they apologize to Armenians for
the genocide.

"Turkey has not been cleansed of massacres' blood yet. We and Armenians
have many things in common. There is no need to look for historical
events in the diplomatic labyrinth. I appreciate this signature
collection even more than whether or not U.S. President Barack Obama
will pronounce the word genocide on April 24," Uras says.




From: A. Papazian