By Tuncay Kayaoglu
ISTANBUL (Anadolu Agency) – Mesut Ozdemir has one month left to achieve his life-long dream: to open a new school for the Armenian community in Istanbul. “I am very delighted to see the school is almost done. Moving to a new building after 171 years makes us all happy,” Ozdemir, who is chairman of the , said.
Construction on the project began three years ago. From the outside, 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. The community opened schools in previous decades but these were dependent upon special permission granted by prime ministers.
There are 22 minority schools in Istanbul; five of them are Greek, one is Jewish and the remaining 16 are Armenian.
What made this latest project possible was a 2008 legal reform brought forward by the government and pushed through parliament. The changes allowed minorities to acquire and renovate properties. The Turkish government also began returning previously confiscated properties to minority communities.
Such changes were welcomed and supported at the local level. Bakirkoy Municipality exempted the Armenian school from certain fees to smooth construction. “Members of the local council unanimously voted for the exemption,” Ozdemir recalls. Despite such help from the municipality, Ozdemir says that financing was challenging for the community. The foundation depended on several fund-raising efforts to finish the job.