Armenian migrants in Turkey: Secured life, uncertain future

Armenian migrants in Turkey: Secured life, uncertain future

Photo: Gayane Mkrtchyan/

Children’s recitation in Armenian is heard from the windows of the cellar of the Armenian Evangelic alChurch, (built in 1914) in Kumkapı the oldest Armenian district of Istanbul, Turkey. Seventy children of Armenian immigrants get an education there. They can't attend other Armenian schools in Istanbul, because their parents stay illegally in the country.

The photos of the president of Armenia and the Catholicos of all Armenians, as well as the flag and coat of arms of Armenia are hung on the wall of the narrow classrooms there.

“The existence of the school is very important; do not forget that this is Turkey,” says founder of the school, pedagogue Heriknaz Avagyan, who left for Turkey from Armenia in 2002, expecting to find a job here.

“I was working as a babysitter at an Armenian family in Istanbul for more than a year. Then the issue of getting an education for the family’s child was raised. Parents from Armenia were concerned that their children do not get an education there. So, the idea of founding an Armenian school was born and we turned to the Armenian Evangelical Church, and we were given this space,” Avagyan says.

According to the ‘State of Armenian Migrants Working in Turkey’ research held by the Eurasia Partnership Foundation (EPF) 96 percent of Armenians illegally settled in Turkey are women and 4 percent are men. The reason is that there are more jobs designed for women here than those for men. About 72 percent of Armenian women work as charwomen and babysitters. They earn on average $1,000 monthly. Men are mainly shoemakers and goldsmiths.

Artak Shakaryan, specialist in Turkish studies, coordinator of Armenian-Turkish projects at the Eurasia Partnership Foundation, says that Armenians prefer Turkey (to reside), because it is closer and less expensive than other countries; a visa costs $15, and a bus ticket costs $80.

“Armenian immigrants say that their return to Armenia is connected with the improvement of social-economic situation in Armenia,” Shakaryan says.

According to research, there are 15,000 illegal Armenian immigrants in Turkey. Currently there are 600-800 children of illegal immigrants living in Turkey.

There are two types of schools in Turkey – special and regular. The education in regular schools is in Turkish. Special schools include the schools of national minorities, and a child must be registered as a member of a national minority in order to be able to attend such schools. They do not have even documents proving they are Armenians.

“We started with seven children, now their number is 70. The Turkish government is aware of our existence. The issue of getting a legal status for the school is voiced at Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, but the issue is still unsettled,” Avagyan says.

The school is working with the curriculum of public schools in Armenia; textbooks are also received from Armenia. The school provides a five-year education.

Armine Hayrapetyan’s, 28, cheeks are wet. Her children attended school for two years in Armenia, and this year – in Istanbul.

“The dream of Armenia is different - September 1, school yard… Here we bring our children to school afraid not to be arrested. By the time we passed this territory I was sweating because I do not have a citizenship,” Hayrapetyan says. “We fled from Armenia ten years ago; we were living in very poor conditions. Here we lead a good life; both my husband and I have a job.”

Hayrapetyan cleans houses in Istanbul (15 houses), her husband works at a silver factory. Their monthly family budget is $1,800. Three Armenian families have joined to share the renting of an apartment, paying $500 per month all together.

Elementary school teacher Klara Beburyan arrived in Turkey from Armenia in 2005. She worked at the Gyumri School No. 1 for many years.

“We came here with our whole family, we will go back by all means. I will stay here as long as this school needs me. I am happy that we are given this right,” Beburyan says.

The school also has pre-elementary classes, a free of charge canteen will also be open soon thanks to funds provided by philanthropists.

The principal of the school says that in the beginning, philanthropists sponsored them for five months, and later students’ parents started paying fees.

“Parents kept the school. In the beginning the fee was $25 per month, it increased year by year, and now it is $60,” Avagyan says.

After graduating the fifth class, teachers consult with students’ parents and advise them to send their children to Armenia to continue their education.

“However, very few return. Young men go to work at the age of 13-14, or they go to learn a trade, especially goldsmith. As for young ladies, they are occupied with self-education at home,” Avagyan says.

This year the school is renamed after Hrant Dink. Since 1915 many orphans have been taken here with the efforts of Constantinople-based Armenians from Anatolia and later. Dink also attended that school.

Part of the compensation paid by the Turkish government to Dink’s family, according to the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, will be given to the school.