Attacks on Elderly Armenian Women in Turkey Awaken Fears

ISTANBUL — The man in the ski mask struck in the twilight of late afternoon, strangling the elderly woman from behind, beating her senseless and leaving her for dead. He ran off with 50 Turkish lira, about $30, and her engagement ring, a last memory of her long-dead husband. Ms. Asik was left bruised and blinded in one eye. Her beating is thought to be the first of a string of attacks in the last few months on elderly Armenian women in Samatya, Istanbul’s historic Armenian quarter. Until recently in Samatya, a neighborhood of wooden houses built long ago and centuries-old churches, residents left their doors unlocked. As brutally as she was beaten, Ms. Asik was lucky. One victim of the attacks died from her wounds.

Along the crooked streets of Samatya, where a conquering sultan resettled Armenian Christians after capturing Constantinople in 1453, and in its teahouses, churches and social clubs, the attacks have awakened fears — rooted in past episodes of repression that residents say had waned in recent years as Turkey became more accommodating toward its minorities. “The community is always living with fear because the Armenian community has always been under pressure,” said Rober Koptas, the editor of Agos, an Armenian newspaper here that has devoted several issues to coverage of the attacks. “We were always regarded as foreigners, as second-class citizens.”

Armenians and other minorities were once widely discriminated against in modern Turkey, subject to violent attacks by nationalists and shut out from prestige professions like the army officer corps. In Samatya, Armenians were typically artisans and merchants, many toiling in the maze of stalls at the nearby Grand Bazaar. But in recent times their lot has improved, thanks to reforms brought on by Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union, a process that has lately stalled. Mr. Koptas, the newspaper editor, said younger Armenians like him — he is 35 — are speaking and writing “side-by-side with our Turkish compatriots.”

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