"Today, there is nobody left. In the old days all the children grew up together, Armenian and Turks. They played together on the streets and used to visit each other."
When Fatih Sultan Mehmet brought Armenian stone adepts to Rumeli Hisari on the shores of the Bosporus to build a fortress between 1451 and 1452, prior to his conquest of Constantinople, some Armenians settled in what later became the village of Rumeli Hisari. They also built a church, and until today some of their descendants are living here. In the 1950s there were about 500 Armenians still living in Rumeli Hisari. This was when Berc Abrahamoglu also came to Rumeli Hisari.
Berc Abrahamoglu administers the small Armenian Church, which was built on the original spot in Rumeli Hisari. It is hidden in a beautiful garden with olive trees overlooking the Bosporus. In recent decades Berc has seen the number of Armenians living here decrease continuously. Today, he tells us, there are only 25 Armenians left:
"People still leave because their wooden houses wear out and rot, and they cannot afford to repair them. Apart from that, people get old and do not want to live alone in the big wooden houses. […] Migration abroad became very common. Many Armenians migrated to America, France and other places as well."
Until the 1940s there was an Armenian primary school in the building next to the church. Today, Armenian families settle closer to the centre of Istanbul, where they can send their children to Armenian schools.
"We speak Turkish in our home because we do not speak Armenian very well. In order to learn the language one has to go to school, otherwise you forget it. I attended the elementary school until the 4th grade. After that I had to work, so I could not finish the school. The circumstances we were in forced us to work."
The Armenian cemetery belonging to the Armenian church is today surrounded by a former gecekondu above Rumeli Hisari and kept by a Muslim farmer, Mehmet Eryigit. Anatolian migrants started to settle in that area in the 1960s.
"They have come here and settled, built their shatter houses and lived there. We have nothing to do with it. We just watched them. Here there were strawberry gardens, fields and a dairy. All these have become informal settlements."