17 April 2014, Thursday
Today's Zaman

Time to recall the story of the Tuzla Armenian children’s camp: a story of seizure

21 June 2009, Sunday /EMİNE KART
Article 38 of the Lausanne Treaty says, “The Turkish Government undertakes to assure full and complete protection of life and liberty to all inhabitants of Turkey without distinction of birth, nationality, language, race or religion.”

And Article 42 of the same treaty says: “The Turkish Government undertakes to grant full protection to the churches, synagogues, cemeteries and other religious establishments of the above-mentioned minorities. All facilities and authorization will be granted to the pious foundations, and to the religious and charitable institutions of the said minorities at present existing in Turkey, and the Turkish Government will not refuse to provide, for the formation of new religious and charitable institutions, the necessary facilities which are guaranteed to other private institutions of that nature.”

The time now seems ripe to reread the treaty in order to decide whether the aforementioned articles are being fairly implemented as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has recently become Turkey's first head of government to acknowledge publicly that a “fascist approach” had been displayed in dealing with minorities in the past.

“For years, these things were done in this country,” Erdoğan said. “People of other ethnicities were driven from the country. Did we gain anything because of that? This was the result of a fascist approach.”

A March report by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) revealed clearly that non-Muslim Turks still face “anti-democratic practices.”

“Only a short while after the Treaty of Lausanne, it became obvious that the state did not intend to implement the rights it was supposed to give,” lawyer Kezban Hatemi, a co-author of the report, then said, citing other discriminatory laws and practices. The most detrimental one was the 1936 Declaration, in which non-Muslim foundations were given the status of “affiliated” foundations and placed under the guardianship of the Directorate General for Foundations (VGM), which “played a crucial role in implementing repressive policies” imposed on non-Muslim foundations.

“More than 30 [pieces of fixed property] of the Armenian community were seized, on the unlawful basis that they were acquired after 1936. The Tuzla Armenian Children's Camp is one of the most striking and heartbreaking examples of the seizure of properties from the Armenian non-Muslim foundations,” Hatemi said then, pointing out that Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist murdered in 2007, was among the first group of children who built the camp, which he later managed with his wife for many years.

‘Humanity is continuity’

“… If there was a continuity of that thing which was created … if it served a purpose, I wouldn't grieve this much. All in all, humanity is continuity; a human being can utilize what another human being created. Nay, there is no such thing, either. They left it just like that, as a wreck,” says Dink in a 2007 documentary titled “Swallow's Nest,” which explains the story of the Tuzla Armenian Children's Camp -- an actual story of confiscation.

The elegiac documentary shot by Bülent Arınlı shows Dink walking around the wreckage of the camp where this chivalrous man and his wife Rakel grew up. The couple once took over the administration of the Tuzla Children's Camp and began looking after countless Armenian children. The camp underwent difficult times under the accusation of “breeding Armenian militants” and was finally confiscated by the state in 1983. Following the closure of the camp, Dink was taken into custody and arrested three times due to his political views.

Since then, ownership of the camp has changed hands five times, and nothing new has been built on the land where the wreckage of the camp stands. Apparently, Dink had started feeling like an exile in his own country after this camp was seized by the state.

Rakel’s dear Chutak

Lawyer Fethiye Çetin, also representing the Dink family in the ongoing murder trial, underlines that a certain camp tries to legitimize the wrongful approach towards non-Muslim minorities by referring to the founding members of the Turkish Republic.

“This is definitely not true. Until the 1970s, non-Muslim foundations were somehow able to maintain properties. The mentality surviving in the main opposition Republican People's Party's [CHP] petition to the Constitutional Court against amendments on the Law on Foundations is based on the infamous 1974 decision of the Supreme Court of Appeals that upheld this discriminatory policy and provided it with legal legitimacy,” Çetin told Sunday's Zaman.

Now the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is facing yet another test of sincerity after Erdoğan's recent remarks.

“In order to get rid of this shame, the state can expropriate the land of the camp; build a nice orphanage; and name it after Hrant Dink, and we will do our best to help the state in such situation,” Çetin said, when asked what could be done to honor this chivalrous man.

In a preface written for a book titled “Armenian Children's Camp of Tuzla: A Story of Seizure,” the second edition of which was published last year, Rakel Dink asks whether it is Armenians' fate to have their belongings seized by others, to be made unable to live in a place they themselves had built, inhabited and given life to.

“How can anyone's heart bear this? Neither the tears shed, nor can the suffering of the heart fully describe this injustice. In the Holy Bible, Zacchaeus, known to be the collector of unfair taxes, says to Jesus, ‘If I have taken anything more than the law allows or if I've defrauded anyone I will restore four times as much.' Then Jesus answers: ‘Salvation has come to this house today.' Salvation will come to Turkey the day it confronts its past and says no to discrimination; that day will be the day when it will prosper and roses will grow there instead of thorns,' says Rakel Dink.

“We couldn't see our grandchildren eat the fruits of their own trees and those who, for this reason, decided not to plant trees any more. Can this story of seizure make any sense to anybody?” asks Rakel Dink. “My dear Chutak [violin in Armenian], you say ‘I am not dead yet,' in the documentary titled ‘The Swallow's Nest,' telling the story of our Tuzla camp. You may be taken away from us physically but, yes, you aren't dead and you will never be. You are born anew in many people's hearts and in their aspirations and will continue to be so,” she tells her Chutak, Hrant.

“They ruthlessly cut short the epic telling the story of the corridor where we played five stones, the stones that we painted together, the so-called ‘soup of ninety-nine foods' we used to make with the remains of various foods to economize and many more precious memories. They didn't give us the chance to watch our children running down the same corridor and to be happy together there. They didn't give us the chance to have our hair grow grey on the same pillow either. No, they didn't. …”


  Hrant Dink (L) a Turkish-Armenian journalist murdered in 2007, was among the first group of children who built the camp, which he later managed with his wife for many years.




Tuzla Children's Camp underwent difficult times under the accusation of “breeding Armenian militants” and was finally confiscated by the state in 1983.
  Hrant Dink (L) and his wife also worked to repair the children’s camp.
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