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.”


UN Yemen envoy pushes Security Council for robust truce monitoring

Updated 58 min 33 sec ago
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UN Yemen envoy pushes Security Council for robust truce monitoring

  • Griffiths called for deployment of UN monitors to observe the implementation of a cease-fire in Hodeida and the withdrawal of Houthi militia
  • Saudi Arabia says it is committed to reaching a political solution that guarantees the security and stability of Yemen

JEDDAH: A robust monitoring regime is urgently needed in Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah to oversee compliance by the warring parties with an agreed cease-fire in the region, United Nations Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths told the Security Council on Friday.
The Iranian-aligned Houthis and the Arab Coalition-backed Yemen government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi agreed on Thursday to stop fighting for Houthi-held Hodeidah and withdraw their troops, the first significant breakthrough for UN-led peace efforts in five years of conflict.
“A robust and competent monitoring regime is not just essential, it is also urgently needed and both parties have told us they would very much welcome it and indeed depend on it,” Griffiths told the 15-member council, adding that UN officials were already planning for such a deployment.
Such a monitoring mission needs the backing of the Security Council in a resolution, diplomats said.
Griffiths said in a video briefing that retired Dutch Major General Patrick Cammaert had agreed to lead the monitoring component of the agreement, which took effect on Thursday when the deal was published. He said Cammaert could arrive in the region within days.
“Being present in the field soon is an essential part of the confidence that needs to go with the implementation of this agreement,” Griffiths said.
The council was already discussing a British-drafted resolution to enshrine five requests made by UN aid chief Mark Lowcock — one of which was for a truce around facilities needed for aid and commercial imports — and diplomats said that would now be reworked to endorse the agreement reached in Sweden.
“We hope to be able to work expeditiously with colleagues to bring about a Security Council resolution which will give the firmest possible support to what has been achieved so far,” British UN Ambassador Karen Pierce told the council.
“As requested we will of course want — with colleagues — to address the monitoring requirements,” she said.
“The UN will take on a leading role in supporting Yemen Red Sea Ports Corporation in management and inspections at Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Issa,” Griffiths said. “The UN ... has developed a plan seeking specific support from member states in the port.”
Meanwhile, in a statement by Saudi Arabia's King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Kingdom backed “the agreements reached in Sweden in UN-sponsored talks between a delegation of Yemen’s legitimate government and the Houthi rebels,” the official SPA news agency reported.
“The Kingdom remains engaged in the search for a political solution in Yemen which guarantees the security and stability of the country,” the statement said.
The statement also called on the Iran-aligned Houthis to “embark on this path” toward a political solution.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry also said on Friday that it welcomed the agreement between Yemen’s internationally recognized government and the Houthi militia. 
The ministry said that the Kingdom was committed to reaching a political solution that guarantees the security and stability of Yemen.
The handing over of the port of Hodeidah to the control of the United Nations will help to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people, the ministry stressed.