Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1280, (28 January - 3 February 2016)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1280, (28 January - 3 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Memories of a dove

The ninth anniversary of the assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink fell this week, and he was remembered across the world by Armenians and Turks, writes Nora Koloyan-Keuhnelian

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Last week, I came across a poem and letter by former editor of the Boston-based Armenian Weekly Khatchig Mouradian. Mouradian wrote the poem on the day Hrant Dink, editor of Agos, a Turkish-Armenian newspaper based in Istanbul, was assassinated in January 2007.

 

Mouradian addressed Dink in a heartfelt, yet beautiful, letter that brought frustration and bitterness to everyone who read it, especially the generations after the Armenian Genocide. In his letter, written nine years ago, Mouradian addressed Dink as an intellectual who had been taken from the Armenian nation by force to join his martyred colleagues in the Genocide committed by the Ottoman Turks in 1915.

 

Turkish gendarmes arrested a first wave of 250 Armenian intellectuals from Constantinople, deported and eventually brutally killing them, some of them having their heads smashed with stones. This action, taking place in 1915, has been described by historians as a “decapitation stroke” that was intended to deprive the Armenians of their leadership and capacity for resistance, achance to freely express what those intellectuals would have been witnessing of Turkish barbarianism and putting into words had they surviced the genocide.

 

The letter runs as follows:

 

Dear Hrant,

 

I believe by now the water has found its crack. You have found in the Great Beyond those whom we lost 92 years ago.

 

Hrant, I have some favours to ask you.

 

Embrace Krikor Zohrab for me. Tell him I have been reading and rereading his short stories ever since I discovered them.

 

Give Daniel Varoujan my best. Tell him he enlightened my youth with his poems and that he continues to inspire my soul.

 

Hrant, do not forget to chant songs of survival with Siamanto. Tell them the songs are on our bookshelves, they are on our classroomtables, their words are on our lips and in our hearts. And tell them I believe – I'm sure you do too – that one day they will be on the bookshelves, classroom tables, lips and hearts of Turks as well. One day their statues, and yours, will also adorn Istanbul.

 

Do not forget to pray with Komitas, and tell him that one day Armenian women will sing again in the villages of Anatolia.

 

Please find my grandparents. Tell them we carry their names and their love to the land they never left, the land we never saw.

 

Hrant, kiss the blessed foreheads of each and every victim of the Medz Yeghern [great crime]of 1915.

 

Tell them we shall continue to walk on the road of their dreams. Because their dreams are our dreams.

 

Tell them we shall make the deserts flourish with the scent of their memory.

 

Tell them that from Talaat to Samast, we are the survivors.

 

Tell them we are all Zohrab, Varoujan, Siamanto, Komitas and Hrant.

 

Khatchig Mouradian

 

Last week commemorations in memory of Hrant Dink were held in Istanbul, Ankara and Bursa on the occasion of the ninth anniversary of his death. In Istanbul, tight security measures were in force in the street where the Agos newspaper is based and where thousands gathered for the memorial.

 

A large poster of Dink was hung on the newspaper building and carnations and candles were laid on a placard near the entrance where he was murdered. The crowd shouted “We have been closely following the case,” implying that it has been going on for far too long.

 

“Unfortunately, the ninth anniversary of Hrant Dink’s murder was misused in the struggle between the different factions in the presidential palace,” Ragip Zarakolu, a Turkish human rights activist, journalist and 2012 Nobel Peace Prize nominee told Al-Ahram Weekly. “There are many cases of Turkish intellectuals being murdered in the 1990s by military groups or radical Islamist groups. Until now there have been no clear answers about those who were responsible for the murders. Hrant Dink’s case is one of these.”

 

Hrant Dink, 52 when he died, was a prominent Turkish-Armenian journalist who was assassinated on a Friday at 3:05 pm in front of the headquarters of his newspaper on his way back to the office. A day after the assassination, the police announced that the assassin had been identified in video footage. A witness, the owner of a restaurant near the newspaper, said the assassin had shouted “I shot the infidel” as he left the scene, having shot Hrant Dink three times in the back of the head.

 

On the same evening, photographs from the video footage were released to the public, and the Turkish police urged citizens to help with the investigations. Muammar Güler, the Istanbul governor at the time, said that special investigations committees were analysing ten thousand phone calls made from the vicinity of the crime scene.

 

The killer was identified as Ogün Samast, an Ankara University student who was 17 at the time and a resident of Drabizon (Trabzon).

 

A day after the killing, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s prime minister at the time, confirmed that Samast had been captured with the weapon used still on him. According to Samast, who confessed to the crime, the act was a “personal one” and had no wider agenda. He did not regret it, he said, as “Dink had insulted the Turks.”

 

Dink’s funeral turned into a demonstration in which hundreds of thousands of citizens marched in protest at the killing. The crowd carried banners reading “We are all Armenians, we are all Hrant Dink” in Turkish, Kurdish and Armenian.    

 

DEFENDING HUMAN RIGHTS:Dink was well known for his efforts at reconciliation between the Turks and the Armenians and his support for human and minority rights in Turkey. He was often critical of both Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide and of the Armenian Diaspora’s campaign for its international recognition, for which he was prosecuted three times for “denigrating Turkishness” under article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code.

 

He was acquitted the first time, but convicted and received a suspended six-month jail sentence the second time, which he appealed against at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). At the time of his death, the Turkish prosecutor’s office was preparing to press charges in a third case.

 

The first charge stemmed from a speech Dink had delivered at a panel hosted by a human rights NGO. In his speech Dink had said that “since my childhood, I have been singing the national anthem along with you. Recently, there has been a section I cannot sing any longer and I remain silent. You sing it. I will join you later. It is: ‘Smile at my heroic race.’ Where is the heroism of this race? We are trying to form a concept of citizenship based on national unity and a heroic race. If it were ‘smile at my hard-working people,’ I would sing it louder than all of you, but it is not. Of the oath that I am ‘Turkish, honest and hard-working,’ I like the ‘honest and hard-working’ part and I shout it out loudly. The ‘I am Turkish part’ I try to understand as meaning I am from Turkey.”

 

The charges were also levelled at Dink’s son, Arat Dink, as the executive editor of the newspaper, while the case against his father was dropped five months after his assassination. The Dink murder trial opened in Istanbul six months afterwards, and on 25 July 2011, Samast was convicted of premeditated murder and the illegal possession of a firearm and was sentenced to 22 years and 10 months in prison, meaning that he could be eligible for parole in 2021 after serving two-thirds of his sentence.

 

A panel of judges sentenced him to life imprisonment, but commuted the term because he was a minor at the time. In 2010, the ECHR ruled that Turkey had failed to protect Dink despite being warned that ultra-nationalists were plotting to kill him. As a result, several cases were launched alleging deliberate negligence by police officers in the Dink murder case. Those officers were arrested and questioned in a still ongoing court case.

 

The editor of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos had long survived threats by Turkish nationalists as a result of his statements on Armenian identity and the Armenian Genocide. He regularly received emails threatening his life. He complained about the indifference of the Turkish government to his security. “Do you know the price of making someone as scared as a dove,” was his answer to one of the emails he received as a threat.

 

In his final column that appeared in Agos on 10 January 2007, nine days before he was killed, Dink wrote, “it is obvious that those wishing to alienate me and make me weak and defenceless have reached their goal. Right now, they have brought together a significant circle of people who are not few in number and who regard me as someone who is ‘insulting Turkish identity’ due to false information.”

 

Zarakolu believes that Dink’s murder could have been prevented. “The murder was planned, and the government knew about it. Information regarding the murder could have been revealed before the murder took place. I hold the government at the time responsible for this crime,” Zarakolu told the Weekly.

 

According to Zarakolu, the murder was supposed to be used in the “cleansing process” of a Political Islam group, but certain investigations prevented this from happening, saving the groups responsible for the plan. These people are close to the present government. “The prosecutor who tried to interrogate those involved in the plan was fired last week,” Zarakolu informed the Weekly.

 

DINK REMEMBERED:Dink was remembered in Armenia, Germany, Sweden and Canada this week, and France will commemorate his memory next week. A joint event entitled “Being a Journalist in Turkey: The Value of Truth” will be held in Paris, which Rakel Dink, wife of Hrant, will attend. Among the figures who will also attend is the wife of the editor-in-chief of the Turkish Cumhuriyet newspaper, Can Dündar, who was arrested in November 2015 after his newspaper published footage showing the Turkish State Intelligence Service (MİT) sending weapons to Syrian Islamist fighters.

 

The son of Turkish investigative journalist Uğur Mumcu, assassinated in 1993, will also attend the event. Zarakolu believes that the commemorations in these different countries should help reveal the truth. “We should work on bringing the truth to light. We should organise more events and meetings about Dink and other Turkish intellectuals arrested or killed. We are demanding justice, only justice,” he said.

 

According to Zarakolu, the situation of intellectuals in Turkey is getting worse. “It is terrible. There is no freedom of expression. We cannot criticise the government’s policies, and hate speech against us is free while our criticisms are considered defamatory. Over 30 journalists are in the prison. There is a growing hegemony of Political Islam in education and the media. All the TV channels support neo-Ottomanism.”

 

“Democracy is not only about going to vote in elections. It doesn’t mean that the majority can do as it likes. Religious and political minority groups also have rights. It is very dangerous for societies to use religion as a political instrument, and in Turkey there have been efforts to build the so-called ‘International Muslim Brotherhood.’ The result will be war throughout the Middle East, in Syria, Yemen and Libya. Turkey and other countries are in danger too,” Ragip Zarakolu, Turkish human rights activist, journalist and 2012 Nobel Peace Prize nominee told the Weekly.

 

Hrant Dink never imagined that the country where he was born would give him such hard time, despite of the threats he received. “I see myself as frightened, the way a dove might be, but I know that the people in this country will never harm a dove,” he once expressed.

 

 

                                            

 

 

 

 

 

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