By Raffi Bedrosyan
Only a few months after the long-delayed election and appointment of Archbishop Sahag Mashalian as the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul) in December 2019, the Istanbul Armenian community is again in crisis. The latest turn of events brought forth the unpleasant realities in the leadership of the Istanbul Armenian community, or the lack of it.
It all started on May 15, 2020 with the firing of the two long-serving and popular principals of Esayan High School and Esayan Middle School by the director of the charitable foundation in charge of Esayan. Esayan School in Taksim, Istanbul, was founded in 1895 by two brothers, Mgrditch and Hovhannes Esayan, and is one of 17 Armenian schools left in Turkey, all of them in Istanbul, compared to more than 800 schools in Ottoman Turkey prior to the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
This historic and prestigious institution has a primary school for boys and girls, a middle and high school for girls only. Both my wife and I are graduates of Esayan Primary School. Every Armenian school in Istanbul, as well as every Armenian church, is directed and controlled by an Armenian charitable foundation, accountable to the General Directorate of Charitable Foundations of Turkey.
And now, time to review the contents of Pandora’s box. Esayan School is controlled by the Holy Trinity (Surp Yerrortutyun) Charitable Foundation, which also controls the church of the same name. It is one of the wealthiest charitable foundations, with significant real estate assets, including 26 office buildings, numerous apartments and more significantly, the historic Tokatliyan Hotel which at present operates as an office building. The monthly revenue of the charitable foundation is estimated to be over a million dollars, even with mismanagement and inability to utilize the real potential of the assets.
Although the foundation is supposed to have a board of directors of at least seven members elected every four years, the Turkish government has not allowed elections for the past seven years. Due to deaths and resignations, there are only two directors left in control of this vast real estate empire, school and church, accountable to no one. And the senior of these two directors, a lawyer by profession, unilaterally decided two weeks ago that the two dedicated and popular principals of Esayan School had to go.