Ronny Heiremans

extension#The Red Palace
extension#The Red Palaceextension#The Red Palaceextension#The Red Palaceextension#The Red Palaceextension#The Red Palaceextension#The Red Palace

During my residence in Istanbul (2006 & 2007) I came across a very interesting case of disputed private property, exemplar for a fierce competition for cultural hegemony between two age old rivals.
The Greek orphanage – also known as the Red Palace – on Büyükada (Prinkipo) the largest of the Princes' Islands in the Sea of Marmara, is an imposing 8-story Levantine building, the largest timber frame in the world. Built originally as a hotel/casino by the renowned French architect Alexandre Vallaury in the 1890s (he also built the Pera Palace Hotel, end stop of the renown Orient Express), it was subsequently bought [on May 21, 1903] and donated to the Patriarchate by Hélène Zafiropoulo-Zarifi, wife of Georges [Iannis] Zarifi, Banker to the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid ll, with the stipulation to be used as the Greek Orphans's Dormitory. The donation received the Sultan’s blessing who sanctioned the move by living formal ownership to the Patriarchate in a donation act of 150 gold lires for charity.
The orphanage was used as such from 1903 to 1964, when the last student completed his final studies. Sadly, since the 1970s and due to an intractable dispute between the Patriarchate and the Vakif, the building is presently derelict, in a deplorable state and in imminent danger of arson and further destruction. The Vakif (Vakiflar Genel Mudurlugu - General Directorate for Foundations) regulates and monitors the activities of non-Muslim religious groups, that is, "outside spiritual matters." Technically, the Vakif has absolute authority over the running of churches, monasteries, and synagogues. In the case of the Greek Patriarchate, the Vakif has legal jurisdiction of all the charitable properties related to (and essentially owned by) the Patriarchate. It ought to be reiterated in this regard that under Turkish law the Patriarch is not a "legal person" and the Patriarchate is not a "legal entity."
In November 2007 the European Supreme Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg has allowed recourse to appeal for the Ecumenical Patriarchate against the Turkish States illegal occupation of the Orphanage, claiming ownership.

The Red Palace is a study in the volatile nature of the concept of private property. Western societies are structured on the idea, connecting private property to the individual, as if a law of nature. The concept of private property however is very fragile, and is rooted in our common history, rather than vice versa. As is shown by this case.
The building remains inaccessible and is guarded by a porter living on the terrain. Through an interpreter I was able to speak to him, but he wouldn’t allow me on the property citing as excuse the danger for fire.