207-year-old Khorenyan Armenian Primary School in Istanbul faces disappearance

The 207-year-old Khorenyan Armenian Primary School in Ayvansaray in Istanbul's Balat district is disappearing.

Many of the old Armenian properties were destroyed or faced extinction, since no restoration was made despite them being historical buildings. One of these Armenian buildings is the Khorenyan Armenian Primary School in Balat.

The Khorenyan Armenian Primary School is located in Ayvansaray, next to the Ferruh Kethuda Mosque, one of the works of Mimar Sinan, and the Balat Ağa Bath, one of the first baths of Istanbul. The primary school belongs to the Surp Hıreşdagabed Armenian Church Foundation, which is right across the street. For this reason, the primary school building cannot be taken over officially.

Khorenyan Armenian Primary School was built in 1816 and started education in 1866 with 80 students. The building, which was used as a school until 1925, was emptied after it became unusable in a suspicious fire. Students continue their education at the Surp Hıreşdagabed Armenian Church. Together with the school, the seminary land and the Armenian cemetery were destroyed in this fire. The school was closed for education, while the Armenian cemetery and the seminary were emptied by the government of the time. After a while, the school building is rented by the Armenian Church as a tobacco warehouse. After the 1942 Wealth Tax in Istanbul and the 6-7 September attacks, many Armenian families had to migrate to other places, and the number of students decreased, especially in the Balat region. The school officially closed in 1977.

It was used as a tobacco warehouse until the 1990s, and then for a short time as a soap factory. The school also served as the Mehtap Summer Cinema for a while. After the closure of the summer cinema, the garden of the building was used as a parking lot, while the building itself was used by the homeless. The area around the building was used as a waste paper warehouse for a while after the closure of the parking lot in the mid-2000s and was a shelter for both the homeless and drug addicts. It closed in 2018. Buildings were built in the area where the Armenian cemetery is located next to the school, and that area was opened to settlement.

Application for restoration went unanswered

The application made by the Surp Hireşdagabed Armenian Church, Khorenyan School and Armenian Cemetery Foundation for the restoration of the building, registered as a first degree historical building by the General Directorate of Foundations, in 2014, went unanswered until 2021. In a statement to the Armenianhaber website in 2018, the director of the foundation, Aram Kuran, said: “We rented the building to a private enterprise for 18 years. They are considering making it a hotel. We waited for the next permit for the building, which has the status of a first-degree historical monument. The application has not been answered for 4 years."

Another director of the foundation, Zeki Öcal, announced that the High Council of Monuments had approved the restoration in 2021 and that Fatih Municipality will transform it into a cultural centre. In the same year, Fatih Municipality mayor confirmed the decision. Despite this, no restoration work was carried out on the building, which continues to vanish.