While reactions to the demolition of Camp Armen mount, and the vigil at the camp site against demolition continues, attempts for a solution have also begun. The matter is on the government’s agenda, and AKP parliamentary candidate Markar Esayan has stated that he has spoken with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on the issue, and that has work towards a solution has begun. The Armenian community is hopeful yet cautious. The demand is not for expropriation but for the return of the camp deed to the Church Foundation.
Following the blocking of the demolition attempt, a meeting was held on the evening of May 12 with the initiative of Düşünce Platformu (The Thought Platform). Attendants to the meeting included, on behalf of Nor Zartonk and the vigil holders at the camp, Alexis Kalk; Gedikpaşa Armenian Protestant Church Religious Leader Kirkor Ağbaloğlu and church foundation administrators; on behalf of the lawyers of the Armenian community Sebu Aslangil; Harut Özer from Düşünce Platformu; Foundations General Assembly Minority Foundations Representative Toros Alcan; on behalf of those who studied at the camp, Garabet Orunöz; and AKP Istanbul parliamentary candidate Markar Esayan. AKP Istanbul Provincial Director Selim Temurci also took part in the meeting via telephone. The meeting continued for around 4 hours.
The view that stood out at the meeting was, rather than expropriation and the allocation of the camp to the foundation, was for the government to display its political will and return the camp to its rightful owner. Kamp Armen is not within the scope of the temporary Article 11 of the Law on Foundations that stipulates the return of minority foundations seized by the state. The government does not want the formula that will be developed for Kamp Armen to violate existing laws and provide a legal precedent for future cases. At the meeting, AKP Istanbul Provincial Director Selim Temurci stated that collective meetings would be held to develop a formula for a solution. In coming days, AKP Istanbul Provincial Director Selim Temurci, İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality officials and Markar Esayan will hold a further meeting. Tuzla Municipality is also expected to annul the demolition permit issued to the current owners of the property.
Speaking to Agos, Esayan related the developments on the government front with the following words: “The Foundations General Directorate is seeking a solution. The evening before, I spoke to Prime Minister Davutoğlu regarding the matter. He said he would personally intervene. Minister of Environment and Urban Planning İdris Güllüce, Istanbul Metropolitan Mayor Kadir Topbaş and AKP Istanbul Provincial Director Selim Temurci were at the same table. The matter was discussed collectively. Prime Minister Davutoğlu issued the order, and Mayor Kadir Topbaş assumed responsibility. Contact will be established with the owners and a formula will be found. Whether by paying the cost or through expropriation, a formula is sought.”
The camp can no longer be demolished
Esayan emphasized that it was no longer possible to demolish the camp, and added: “It is no longer possible to demolish this place. The current owner received a demolition permit by stating this was an abandoned building that posed a threat. In a sense, he tricked the municipality. The Tuzla Municipality has received a directive from the highest level to stop the demolition. But we are nevertheless trying to also have the demolition permit annulled, in accordance of the foundation’s wish. I also pleaded with AKP Istanbul Provincial Director Selim Temurci. We are trying to obtain an official statement from Tuzla Municipality. These are bureaucratic details; there is no longer a risk of demolition. We are trying to bring a full solution.”
Esayan said it was significant that the Prime Minister had personally issued a directive, adding, “The foundation has neglected certain procedures as well. Some lawsuits were not filed when they should have. A higher political will is necessary. The government will solve this. It may take time, but the Metropolitan Municipality will solve this issue.”
Alcan: We have red lines
The Foundations General Directorate also held a special meeting on Kamp Armen. Foundations General Assembly Minority Foundations Representative Toros Alcan, who brought the matter to the assembly, stated that the Foundations General Directorate agreed that this procedure had been unjust, and that bureaucratic steps would be taken.
Alcan said: “We are now at the implementation stage of the solution. Prime Minister Davutoğlu is aware of the problem, and has displayed a will to solve it. However, we also have red lines. We do not want money; we do not accept a solution that stipulates a payment of compensation. We want the return of the deed. At the moment, the easiest and fastest solution is for the Metropolitan Municipality to either purchase or expropriate the camp and allocate to the foundation for 30 years. However, we want a full solution, in other words, the return of the deed to its rightful owners.”
Alcan also pointed out that the demolition permit issued by the Tuzla Municipality had to be cancelled at once to prevent further problems.
Aslangil: Camp deed must be returned
Lawyer Sebu Aslangil, attending the meeting on behalf of the lawyers of the Armenian community, stated that a legal solution was not possible in the short term. Aslangil is against the allocation to the foundation of the camp if it is expropriated.
Aslangil said, “A political solution is necessary. At the moment, the meetings are focusing on a political solution. A legal solution is not possible in the short term. Political will can secure the cancellation of the demolition permit. However, the allocation to the foundation of the camp if it is expropriated is not a secure method; it could be reversed at any time. That is why the deed must be returned unconditionally.”
Özer: We won’t accept favours
Harut Özer, a member of Düşünce Platformu, who has sought to make contacts to find a solution since the demolition began, is hopeful yet cautious regarding the solution of the problem. Özer said: “We first focused on legal solutions. However, legal paths are for the long term. We sought to establish contact with the various sides. The number of those who graduated from the camp, and now live across all corners of the world, reaches 10 thousand along with their families. Any solution must first satisfy them. We want to start talking about the future of this camp.”
Özer emphasized that a solution to this problem would be a milestone, adding, “For the first time, we will have won together, collectively”.
Özer also explained that the return of the camp would reinforce the sense of belonging in the Armenian community, and underlined his anxiety regarding the solution: “We will accept a solution as long as it is fair. We will never accept any solution which appears to be a favour.”
Paylan: Promises are not enough
HDP Istanbul parliamentary candidate Garo Paylan, who continues his efforts against the demolition of the camp, is also cautious about talks with the government. Paylan underlined how the government is pursuing delaying tactics regarding many matters, including first and foremost foundation elections, and added: “Making promises on the eve of a general election does not solve the problem. They made the same promises regarding minority foundation elections. This is a process that will progress step by step. Our most fundamental demand is the full return of the forcibly seized property to the foundation. The most urgent issue here is the expropriation of the camp so that it is no longer private property.”
Demolition permit issued due to ‘security threat’
One of the most urgent steps on the list of demands for Kamp Armen is the annulment of the ‘demolition permit’ issued by Tuzla Municipality. The ownership of Kamp Armen has changed hands several hands since it was seized from the Church Foundation. The deed of the camp is registered since 2008 under the name of Erhan Aydınlar. However, in statements he has made recently, Aydınlar has said that he has sold the property to Fatih Ulusoy.
Although the camp has changed hands several times, there has been no development on the land or the facilities for around 30 years. The camp plot is registered as ‘administrative facility’ in the zoning plan. Celal Erkol on behalf of Erhan Aydınlar made the first application for the demolition permit of the property on 4 February 2015 to the Tuzla Municipality. The application features the claim that, although there have been no complaints in the last 30 years, that the camp is abandoned (despite people living at the camp) and that it ‘poses a threat to the security of the neighbourhood’. The municipality cut the water, electricity and natural gas supply connections of the building and on 31 March 2015 issued a demolition permit.