The courtyard of Holy Savior National [Armenian[ Hospital]

COVID-19 Strikes Armenians in Istanbul, Citizens of Republic of Armenia Begin to Return Home

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ISTANBUL (Agos, Jamanak, Nor Marara, Arevelk.am, RFE/RL) – At least six Armenians have died in Istanbul from the coronavirus from the end of March till April 9. Two floors have been reserved for the treatment of COVID-19 patients at Surp Prgich (Holy Savior) [Armenian] National Hospital in the Yedikule quarter of Fatih district in Istanbul, and they are full of patients. The hospital possesses 16 ventilators. Some of the medical staff of Surp Prgich Hospital have been infected. Furthermore, there are Armenians being treated at other hospitals of the city.

On Wednesday, April 8, there were 812 deaths in all from coronavirus and 38,226 cases of infections, according to Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca.

The 44-year-old former chairman of Yeniköy’s Kiud Dpoy Sourp Asdvadzadzin Church Hagop Baltayan, who has two children, has died of the illness, as has Zhamnur Teller, similarly leaving behind two children while her husband also fights against the sickness in a Sisli hospital. Two Armenians from Armenia, mother and daughter, have also died in Turkey in April. The first death of an Armenian at Surp Prgich from the disease, prior to the above two individuals, was of 76-year-old Bedros Sahakian during the first weekend of April. The first death of an Armenian in Turkey from coronavirus was that of Avedis Ustaaramoglu and it took place in a non-Armenian hospital.

According to Bedros Sirinoglu, chairman of the Armenian hospital’s board of trustees and chairman of the Turkish Armenian Foundations [Vakif’s] Union, the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul is helping the needy in these circumstances, and other Armenian organizations

Boxes of aid for the needy assembled by the Beyoglu Armenian Parish Council

are only participating when their assistance is being requested. One example is the Parish Council of Beyoglu. Its chairman, attorney Simon Çekem, and his colleagues managed to send the assembled 210 boxes of food and other necessities to needy parishioners on April 6 despite the coronavirus restrictions due to the help of some young volunteers.

At the end of March, the Patriarchate initiated a campaign to contact the elderly via telephone to make them not feel alone. Approximately 20 volunteer women initially used a list of 170 telephone numbers. Additional Armenians who wished to benefit from this service were told to apply through their local churches.

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The Istanbul Armenian community participated in the Turkish state’s “We Are Sufficient unto Ourselves” fundraising campaign for coronavirus aid and, according to Sirinoglu, donated 500,000 Turkish liras through their benevolent organizations. The Patriarchate itself donated 100,000 Turkish liras. On April 8, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan telephoned Patriarch Archbishop Sahag Mashalyan and Sirinoglu to thank the community for this.

During these conversations, Erdogan remarked that he has facilitated the return to Armenia of citizens of that country living in the Republic of Turkey and foresaw sending medications to help the Republic of Armenia to help in the battle against the coronavirus. He told Sirinoglu that similarly the state would provide the hospital with medications for coronavirus. However, the Armenian Foreign Ministry reported that it had not received any such official notification.

The coronavirus crisis has led to the unemployment of many Armenians from the Republic of Armenia living in Turkey. The date when this crisis will be over is uncertain and the cost of living in Istanbul in particular is great. Consequently a group of Armenian volunteers helped to organize their return. The volunteers included Kakig Musheghian, Garabed Tarpinian, Anna Ghugasian and Ardiom  Gharaghazarian.

The committee quickly got in touch with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia, which within five days issued updated travel documents for the Armenian citizens who needed them. As Turkey does not maintain diplomatic relations with Armenia the return had to be orchestrated via Georgia. Four buses were prepared to take 102 Armenians to the Georgian border, but some at the last minute declined to leave for the time being, leaving 72 to depart. They arrived on April 9, but some returnees who owed fees or fines faced some financial difficulties in doing so, while others had issues with their documents.

The two buses which were supplied by the Republic of Turkey turned back at the Georgian border but an additional bus had been sent to meet them by the Republic of Armenia. The group then had to travel through Georgian territory in two buses without stopping until it reached Armenia. When they arrive, they will be placed under a 14-day quarantine. While on their journey, the travelers were given masks and gloves to use on the buses.

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