By Vercihan Ziflioğlu
ISTANBUL (Hürriyet Daily News) — Children from Armenia are attending classes and reading smuggled textbooks at an illegal school in the basement of a building in Istanbul. Forbidden to attend Armenian minority schools under the Lausanne Treaty and the Special Education Law, these children could not go to school even if the Turkish-Armenian border is opened, unless the law is changed.
Tzsonivar is 8 years old and she misses her father and siblings who live in another country. Six-year-old Serge hopes to be president of that country some day. But for now, they are stuck in a legal twilight zone, unable to attend Turkish schools, studying in illegal elementary classes with smuggled textbooks and volunteer teachers.
Serge and Tzsonivar are Armenian. Unlike Turkish Armenians who can attend community schools established under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, these children are citizens of Armenia. Unlike expatriates who often send their children to private foreign schools, Serge and Tzsonivar are poor. The tuition for a private school would be more than their undocumented parents can afford. Most parents would prefer their children to be educated in the Armenian language, even if they could afford to send them to private foreign schools in Turkey.
Even if all the problems between Turkey and Armenia are resolved, Armenian-born children currently studying in an Istanbul basement would still not be able to attend the country’s Armenian minority schools.
A change in Special Education Law would be required for those children to reclaim their right to an education. Only children with Turkish citizenship who are from the country’s Greek or Armenian minority are allowed to attend the minority schools in Istanbul, under the terms of the Lausanne Treaty.
The Hürriyet Daily News visited an illegal school several times over two weeks with the promise of keeping the students’ names and the neighborhood a secret. There were almost 20 children ranging in age from 5 to 14 at the school. Their greatest fear is that their location will be exposed; every knock on the door makes them afraid that the authorities are raiding the school. There are other illegal schools like this in Istanbul.