Saturday, December 1, 2012

Turkey’s Last Armenian Schools

English: Ortaköy Mosque, along the Bosphorus, ...
Ortaköy Mosque, along the Bosphorus, in Istanbul, Turkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Aziz Oguz, Le Monde Diplomatique:

Aziz Oguz is a journalism student at François-Rabelais University, Tours, France.

Turkey has never banned the Armenian schools that teach the community’s language and culture. But its support is marginal and the schools, like the language, are losing their place.

“Don’t close the door,” Mari Nalcı, who has been head of the Tarmanças school for 25 years, told me as I went into her office; she seemed not to trust me. Armenians in Turkey are cautious, especially when you ask questions about education.

“The problem of security for schools has become very important, especially since Hrant Dink was assassinated,” Garo Paylan, an Armenian schools representative, had told me. The murder of this well-known Armenian journalist by a Turkish nationalist in 2007 revived old fears (1).

Mari Nalcı’s school bristles with CCTV cameras; there are bars on the windows and a security man, Attila Sen, at the door. Sen is friendly, but as intransigent as a prison guard: nobody gets in without an appointment. “We’ve never had a problem,” he said, “but some local people are suspicious of the school. Fortunately, prejudices disappear when they get to know us.”

The school is in Ortaköy, near the Bosphorus Bridge that links Istanbul’s two halves. Ortaköy used to be one of the most cosmopolitan districts of the Ottoman Empire’s capital, and was home to many Jews, Greeks and Armenians. There are two mosques, four Christian churches and two synagogues.

Today Kurds have replaced the Armenians, and only a few Armenian families remain. The school’s 500 pupils are ferried here by minibus from all over the city.

There are 16 Armenian schools in Turkey, five of them secondary schools, with around 3,000 pupils in all. They are all in Istanbul, where most of Turkey’s 60,000 Armenians live. The only admission requirement is that pupils must have at least one parent of Armenian origin.

These schools date back to the Ottoman Empire, when every community was responsible for organising its own education system and there were thousands of Armenian schools.

After the Armenian genocide of 1915-16, in which one to 1 to 1.5 million people perished (nearly two-thirds of the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian population), and later massacres and exoduses, there are relatively few Armenians in Turkey, and just these 16 schools.

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