The Hrant Dink School in the basement of the Gedikpaşa Armenian Evangelical Church where students from Armenia whose families have come to Turkey to work study under difficult conditions is waiting for the support of the Armenian community.
Since 2008, the education problem of students from Armenia, whose families have come to Turkey to work, has sought a solution and various methods have been tried. The Gedikpaşa Armenian Evangelical Church opened its doors to the students, and they now receive education in the basement of the church. After extended meetings, the Istanbul Provincial National Education Directorate recognized the de facto existence of the school and permitted its activities. Most recently, a support of supplies provided by the Foundations General Directorate further legitimized the school’s status. We saw this development as an opportunity to draw attention to the difficult circumstances of the school. The Hrant Dink School where currently 150 students study in a congested environment without daylight is waiting for the support of the Armenian community. During the full day we spent at the school, we listened to this call from different voices.
Small classrooms dispersed across various rooms in the basement of the church. In fact, it is difficult to call them classrooms; the rooms in the basement have been converted into makeshift class rooms. Those who at the moment face the most difficult circumstances are those in the fourth-year class. In this congested environment, they have to make do with a corner of the dining room. This is the Hrant Dink School. Hrant Dink and his brothers had also passed through the basement of this church, which through history has opened its doors to children who migrated from Anatolia to Istanbul for one reason or another. In this school that was created in 2008 out of nothing, children from Armenia study today.
School Principal Heriknaz Avakyan says that the number of students increases in direct proportion to the number of migrants coming from Armenia. The already inadequate conditions of the school of 150 students have now been forced well beyond capacity. Avakyan says they try to do their best despite everything so the students can get the best education possible: “We have two nursery classes for 4 and 5-year old children, and we provide education up to 8th year. We have a total of 16 employees. Of our 14 teachers, 3 are nursery class teachers. We do not have art, music or physical education teachers. Each of our teachers tries to compensate for the lack in the fields of art and music. The main reason parents send their schools to the Hrant Dink School is their desire to return to Armenia after a certain period. The Ministry of Education and Science of Armenia officially recognizes our school. A student that returns from here to Armenia can continue his or her education there after passing an exam.”
Support necessary for expenses
The greatest support to the school so far has come from the international aid organisation Caritas. However, when after 2011, there was a big increase in the number of migrants coming to Turkey, the aid was cut. The most important development that has given the school hope was the official visit of Deputy Patriarch Archbishop Aram Ateşyan. The School Principal says, “The visit was very important for us. Ateşyan’s visit means we are accepted as a part of the Armenian community here”.
Avakyan states that the financial difficulties the school faces continue, adding, “We receive a monthly payment of 60 dollars from parents who have the means. However, this is only enough to pay the salaries of the cook and the caretaker. Therefore, our need for more support towards our expenses continues”.
Even the smallest invitation from institutions creates excitement. Avakyan summarizes the situation: “We do not have the chance to organise dinners to raise donations, so we have to go to each philanthropist separately and explain our situation. But we have to make that effort to sustain our existence.”
‘We have begun to dream this dream’
The family of almost every student at the school has a story. They all came to Turkey with great expectations. Lusine, whose two daughters study at the school, is one of them. The young woman, whose mother and father have been in Istanbul for over ten years, came from Armenia four months ago. She works in the jewellery sector, and she is one of the few lucky migrants who can practice her own profession. She will soon receive a work permit as well.
Lilit Boğosyan, the Armenian language teacher of the fourth year class, which is stuck in a corner of the dining room, shares the following striking words: “My childhood was during the Karabagh war. I studied under bombardment in the Goris village on the Karabagh border, so it is similar for the children here.”
Boğosyan is also a parent. Her duties are not restricted to teaching. The only reason she came to Turkey in 2011 was the Hrant Dink School, she has done nothing else since: “There will always be political problems. One problem may be solved one day, but another may arise the next day. At the moment, the thing that I focus on most is what I can do for this school. I am an optimist. If I weren’t aware of the beautiful aspects of life, I couldn’t spend so much time with children. I believe that one day we will see a hero we only see in fairy tales will come to our school. I believe that day is near. All these difficulties will become a thing of the past.”
A dream one of Boğosyan’s students had therefore seems to sum up everything: “The day we set up class in the back of the dining hall, we were studying with the fourth-years, and a student of mine recounted a ream. It was about a school, a school with real classrooms. It even had a sports hall, and all the class was playing volleyball and football. There was even a patch in the corner of the courtyard where the students could plant flowers and vegetables. Well, we have already started to dream that dream. I am sure that a hero who will transform this dream into reality exists in real life.”
The Hrant Dink School is waiting for its heroes that will come from within the Armenian community.