Istanbul’s historic orphanage awaits salvation

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This Saturday, July 21, 2018 photo, shows a view of the 6-floor timber building that once served as an orphanage for children of the minority Greek community, in Buyukada, (AP)
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This Saturday, July 21, 2018 photo, shows a view of a damaged room inside the Prinkipo orphanage, a 6-floor timber building that once served as an orphanage for children of the minority Greek community, in Buyukada. (AP)
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This Saturday, July 28, 2018 photo, is an aerial view of the 6-floor timber Prinkipo orphanage, that once served as an orphanage for children of the minority Greek community, in Buyukada, the largest and most popular of the Princes' Islands in the Sea of Marmara near Istanbul. (AP)
Updated 09 September 2018
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Istanbul’s historic orphanage awaits salvation

  • The Prinkipo orphanage became home for about 5,800 minority Greek children from 1903 until 1964 when it was forced to shut down
  • “Every day, a piece of the building falls out,” laments Baytas, the building’s caretaker

BUYUKADA ISLAND, Turkey: Each morning, Erol Baytas checks for further damage on the imposing but derelict timber building on an island off Istanbul that for decades housed orphans from the minority Greek community.
The scene on the hilltop on the island of Buyukada, the largest of the nine Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara, looks more like the shattered remains of a horror movie set than the majestic hotel and casino complex that it was originally intended to be. Parts of the roof have caved in, wooden panels are missing and the kitchen stoves have rusted.
It’s quite a fall from grace for the 120-year-old building.
“Every day, a piece of the building falls out,” laments Baytas, the building’s 56-year-old caretaker.
“When it is raining, I go inside to survey the extent of the damage. Water will flow through every hole and it hurts me so much. I call them the building’s tears. I get emotional because it is my home, and before me it was the home of thousands of children.” 
The building over six floors was originally designed by architect Alexandre Vallaury for the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, the company which also ran the famed Orient Express. But when it was built in 1899, Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II withheld his permission for it to operate as a hotel and casino.
The wife of a Greek banker later purchased it and donated it to the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which then ran it as an orphanage.
The Prinkipo orphanage became home for about 5,800 minority Greek children from 1903 until 1964 when it was forced to shut down, a victim of political tensions between Turkey and Greece over the east Mediterranean island of Cyprus.
The building later became the subject of a drawn-out legal battle between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Turkish government, which confiscated it in 1997. It was returned to the Patriarchate following a European Court of Human Rights ruling in 2010.
Earlier this year, the cultural heritage organization, Europa Nostra, included it on a list of seven endangered monuments, but its fate remains unknown. The Patriarchate has said it wants it turned into an institute for environmental issues.
“Prinkipo is a very important part of the culture and heritage of Istanbul, of the Greek population of Istanbul, or the Rum population rather,” said Burcin Altinsay, chairperson of Europa Nostra Turkey, referring to the Greek Orthodox community of Turkey. “It is an important part of our cultural heritage and it is really in danger.”
A team from Europa Nostra and from the European Investment Bank Institute is expected to prepare a report on what needs to be done to save the building. The report will be ready by end of the year, according to the European Investment Bank Institute.  
Istanbul — once Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire that was dominated by the Orthodox Church — was captured by the Muslim Ottoman Turks in 1453. Istanbul’s Greek population has dwindled to less than 3,000 in recent years, but the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the seat of the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, remains in the city.
Sitting under the shade by the St. Nicholas Orthodox church in Istanbul’s Yenikoy neighborhood, 80-year-old Vitleen Magulas still has vivid memories of Prinkipo, where she lived with her sister, from 1945 to 1951.
“At night, when the moon came up, it was as if you could hug it. We had very beautiful nights there,” Magulas said. 
“We had a beautiful life there, better than in our own homes,” she said. “We were happy with everything, our clothes, our food ... At that time, there were many Greeks in Istanbul and many benefactors. They gave donations to the orphanage. We had everything. They were taking good care of us when I was there.” 
Baytas fears that the structure, which suffered a fire in 1980, may not last much longer.
“I do not know how they will repurpose the building but it does not matter, as long as it is saved,” he said. “The building has been decaying for years but recently the deterioration has accelerated. This year it will not survive another winter if nothing is done.”


Egypt begins vote on extending El-Sisi’s rule

Updated 20 April 2019
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Egypt begins vote on extending El-Sisi’s rule

  • El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital
  • Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms.

CAIRO: Voting began on Saturday in Egypt in a referendum on proposed constitutional amendments that would extend President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi's rule.
El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital, state television showed.  

Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms. Critics say they fear that the changes will further limit the space for dissent. 

An amendment to Article 140 of the constitution extends the presidential term to six years from four. An outright bar on any president serving more than two terms will change to a bar on serving more than two consecutive terms. An additional clause extends El-Sisi’s current term to six years from four currently since his election victory in 2018, and allows him to run for a third term in 2024. 

The amendments provide for the creation of a second parliamentary chamber known as the Council of Senators. It would have 180 members, two-thirds elected by the public and the rest appointed by the president. 

Article 200 of the constitution on the role of the military is expanded, giving the military a duty to protect “the constitution and democracy and the fundamental makeup of the country and its civil nature, the gains of the people and the rights and freedoms of individuals.” 

The amendments also create the post of vice president, allowing the president to appoint one or more deputies. 

They task the president with choosing head judges and the public prosecutor from a pool of senior candidates pre-selected by the judiciary. They further create a quota setting women’s representation in Parliament at a minimum of 25 percent. 

Who is behind the amendments? 

The amendments were initiated by the pro-government parliamentary bloc known as Support Egypt, and according to the Parliament’s legislative committee report, 155 members submitted the initial proposal. On Tuesday, 531 out of 596 members of Egypt’s overwhelmingly pro-El-Sisi Parliament voted in favor of the changes. Parliament speaker Ali Abdelaal has said that the amendments were a parliamentary initiative and that El-Sisi may not even choose to run again. 

“This suggestion came from the representatives of the people in gratitude for the historic role played by the president,” the legislative committee report said. 

Proponents of the changes have argued that El-Sisi, a former army chief, came to power with a huge mandate after mass protests in 2013 against President Mohamed Mursi’s one year in office. With macro economic indicators improving, they say El-Sisi deserves more time to build on reforms. The legislative committee report said religious, academic, political and civil society representatives expressed strong overall support for the changes during a consultation period ahead of the Parliament’s final vote. 

What do opponents say? 

The legislative committee acknowledged some opposition to the amendments from members of the judiciary and two non-governmental organizations. Just 22 members of Parliament voted against the amendments. They and other opposition figures say a central promise of the 2011 uprising that toppled then-President Hosni Mubarak is at risk: The principle of the peaceful transfer of power. They say the amendments were driven by El-Sisi and his close entourage, and by the powerful security and intelligence agencies. They also fear the changes thrust the armed forces into political life by formally assigning them a role in protecting democracy. 

“If you want your children and grandchildren to live in a modern democratic country with peaceful transition of power, I do not think this is the amendment we would want,” one of the opposition MPs, Haitham El-Hariri, told Parliament this week. 

While Abdelaal said a wide range of views were given a hearing during the consultation period, opposition figures and activists say genuine debate on the amendments was impossible due to a far-reaching crackdown on political dissent. 

Egyptian officials deny silencing dissent and say that Egyptians from all walks of life were given a chance to debate the amendments, adding that all views were factored into the final proposals. Abdelaal also denied that the amendments prescribe a new role for the military. 

He told Parliament that the armed forces are the backbone of the country and Egypt is “neither a military or a religious state,” state-run Al Ahram newspaper said. “This is part of (El-Sisi’s) consolidation of power,” said Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent US-based think-tank. “From an institutional perspective, Egypt’s counter-revolution is largely complete.” 

What happens next?

Egyptians abroad start voting on Friday, while the vote inside Egypt begins on Saturday, meaning Egyptians have less than four days to read and discuss the changes following their approval by Parliament. Election commissioner Lasheen Ibrahim, who announced the dates of the referendum on Wednesday, did not say when the votes will be counted or the results announced. More than a week before Parliament’s final vote, posters and banners sprung up across the capital Cairo urging people to “do the right thing” and participate, some calling directly for a “yes” vote.