by Tatevik Shahunyan
Istanbul Armenians build first school since 1923.
Mesut Ozdemir, chair of the Surp Asdvazsazin Church Foundation, tours a construction site which will be home to a groundbreaking new Armenian school in Istanbul.
In terms of architecture, it is not much different from other schools. Yet it is still unique: it is the first school that Istanbul’s Armenian community is building in Republican Turkey within a legal framework.
"After decades of legal hurdles, we began the construction a year ago. It takes time and money to complete it, but the fact that we were able to build it makes us happy," Ozdemir tells Anadolu Agency.
In Istanbul, there are 22 minority schools; five of them belong to the Greek minority while one is Jewish.
These schools are regulated by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, the founding document of the Turkish Republic. According to that treaty, Greek, Armenian and Jewish minorities have a right to open their own schools. The state should allocate money for those schools and although the curriculum is determined by the state, the schools can offer education in Turkish and their own languages.
Over 3,000 students currently attend Istanbul's 16 Armenian schools. The Bakirkoy neighborhood on Istanbul’s European side houses one small school that was constructed 170 years ago by an Ottoman official, Hovahannes Dadyan.
Across the decades, the Armenians of Bakirkoy depended on that one school but, as their numbers increased, capacity became a problem. Now the school has to accommodate 400 children -- more than enough for the old building.
Luckily, right in front of the school, the park belongs to Ozdemir's church foundation. The foundation needed rezoning of the land to build a school and, with the help of municipality and state officials, they achieved that. Moreover, Bakirkoy municipality exempted the foundation from legal fees for rezoning and building. “Members of local council unanimously voted in favor of that exemption. Bakirkoy and our Armenian community embraced the school,” Ozdemir stated.