We recently made several visits to the school housed in nthe basement of the Armenian Evangelical Chuch in Gedikpasha where children from families from Armenia receive a education, of sorts, that is not officially recognized.
Seventy kids attend classes there – 30 in kindergarten and 42 in the in grades 1-6.
Many families from Armenia would like to get their kids enrolled there as well, since the parents are out working all day and the children would be placed in caring hands for at least a few hours.
The pre-school is full to the rafters however and there aren't enough teachers to extend the school beyond the 6th grade. After that the kids are forced to go out and work.
Director Heriknaz Avagyan said that since the school was founded in 2003, there hasn't been any official from Armenia that has visited the school while in Istanbul. .
The only official was Armen Voskanyan, a former assistant with the Black Sea Economic Cooperation organization.
"I've brought books back with me from Armenia on two occasions. Last summer, I also participated in a conference of diaspora teachers organized by the RA Ministry of Education and Science. Everybody was very helpful, said Director Avagyan.
Recently, RA Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobyan was in Istanbul on a visit.
While here, she made the time to visit the Armenian hospital a few cemeteries and churches. Minister Hakobyan never made it to the school.
When I asked the school director why, she said that was a question I should direct to the minister if I ever had the chance.
"We're just average folk here. I don't think that she would ever...Yes, it's best that you ask her personally," Director Avagyan said.
Herkinaz Avagyan is married to a local Istanbul Armenian and is a citizen of Turkey.
"My love of Armenia has never waned. We must take the good and the bad. But what's wrong with us Armenians. We can't have a normal president or prime minister. Sure the president talks a good talk but look at what's happening there. All those places they are building in poor Armenia," she said. "It's very sad. I would like these kids to be b back in Armenia."
Luisa, a Gyumri native and mother of one of the kids at the school, lost her home during the Spitak earthquake. She overheard our conversation and seemed irritated.
"Oh yes, they ask us if we aren't ashamed to be living in Turkey. But why should we be embarrassed? Let the government of Armenia feel ashamed. Let the government do something positive so that people don't leave. Do you think it's a pleasure for us living with these Turks? Don't you think we'd like to be back in Armenia sleeping soundly in our beds?" Luisa told me. "We're still waiting to get on the waiting list for a house in Gyumri."
Director Avagyan said that Armenian officials see no benefit in speaking about illegal Armenians in Turkey. In a word there's no glory in raising the issue even if Turkish PM Erdogan exploits it with exaggeration.
Arayik, another of our new acquaintances we met at the school, is from Armenia and has been living in Istanbul for the past 11 years. «The police know all about us and this school,» he said.
Against this backdrop, the recent remarks of Minister Hranush Hakobyan, to her collegaues that, « Come September, they will allow our children to attend Armenian schools. They just haven't said anything pub;licly so that the migration authorities don't expell them», sounds more than a bit naieve.
At the time, Minister Hakobyan also said that her office had some ideas on the issue but they too weren't publicizing them.
One wonders what these "secret" ideas are.