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Turkish education minister makes surprise visit to Armenian foundation

23 May 2011 [12:40] - TODAY.AZ
Education Minister Nimet Çubukçu paid a surprise visit to the Surp Pırgiç Armenian Hospital Foundation and held an exclusive meeting that lasted for roughly half an hour with the foundation’s president Bedros Şirinoğlu on Saturday afternoon.

Despite objections to such meetings from certain quarters within Turkey’s Armenian community, Şirinoğlu claimed there is underlying sympathy within the Armenian community toward the ruling AKP for its role in passing new laws about minority foundations.

"All visits to the hospital are [normally] scheduled from many days ahead, whereas Minister Çubukçu’s visit was quite abrupt. Frankly that was quite a surprise. We primarily spoke about the election process," Şirinoğlu, the foundation’s president and a businessman, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

After the meeting, Çubukçu also spent some time with the occupants in a retirement house that operates under the hospital foundation and distributed flowers to them. The minister did not make any comments regarding her conversation with Şirinoğlu.

"Turkey is undergoing a process of change. The Turkish people want to know more about the peoples they are living together with. As of course, there is also some curiosity within political parties, [and] that is very favorable," said Şirinoğlu, who met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on March 26 and told the Daily News at the time that he was warm on the idea of running for a seat in Parliament. Şirinoğlu, however, also said he was not going to declare himself a parliamentary candidate unless the AKP made an official proposal to him.

The Surp Pırgiç Armenian Hospital Foundation in Istanbul’s Kazlıçeşme neighborhood is only second to the Armenian Patriarchate in terms of its protocol status in Ankara. Political party leaders, however, have paid frequent visits to Şirinoğlu over the past year, rather than going to the Patriarchate itself.

These visits were quite natural, frank and sincere, said Şirinoğlu, despite occasional objections arising from the Armenian community.

"I have difficulty understanding why [the Armenian community] reacts [to these meetings.] If it were not me but some other foundation president, these appointments would still have been granted. Unfortunately, I end up having to give the same explanation to the community on each occasion. Our protocol status in Ankara ranks in second place after the Patriarchate. These visits, therefore, are paid to the foundation president, and not to my person as such," said Şirinoğlu.

New laws passed during the AKP’s rule have allowed the Armenian community to reclaim their foundations through lawsuits in recent years. These gains have created sympathy for the ruling AKP, according to Şirinoğlu.

"It will be easier to maintain the community’s balance thanks to the property we retrieved due to the changes enacted in laws pertaining to foundations. All community institutions are kept through donations," said Şirinoğlu and also added they were holding cordial meetings with the government in Ankara to retrieve the currently occupied area across from the hospital.

Şirinoğlu further said they were hopeful about regaining the area and that another fully equipped Armenian hospital was also in the works; if such a hospital is opened, it will be the third in the Republic’s history.

/Hurriyet Daily News/

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