The Brave Armenian: Hrant Dink
[January 29, 2007]
In Istanbul on January 19, 2006 at about 5 p.m., a sixteen-year-old Turkish boy named Ogun Samast gunned down the 52-year-old editor of the newspaper Agos and well-known Turkish-Armenian public figure, Hrant Dink.
One might have considered this crime by a teenager to be an accident or a mistake if Hrant Dink had not been at the center of attention of the international community over the last three years. He attained fame for a simple reason – he tried to oppose to Turkish laws and public opinion. He had the imprudence of criticizing the Turkish national anthem, supposed to be the anthem for all citizens of Turkey including national minorities, by objecting to a line in it that says “smile upon my heroic race,” saying the emphasis on race was a form of discrimination. He also criticized the oath that all children irrespective of their ethnicity are required to take in the Turkish schools: “ I am Turkish, I am righteous, I am industrious.” And lastly, he dared to talk about the Armenian Genocide, for which he was convicted and given a six-month suspended sentence under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code on the denigration of Turkishness, the Republic, and the foundation and institutions of the State, the same Article renowned writer and 2006 Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk had been charged with for speaking about one million Armenian victims.
Dink wrote a series of articles in which he called on Diaspora Armenians to stop focusing on the Turks and focus instead on the welfare of Armenia, and he told Armenians that their enmity toward the Turks “has a poisoning effect in your blood.” The court took the phrase out of context, wrongly assuming it meant that Turkish blood is poison. And this turned the Armenian journalist into a target for the nationalistic segment of the Turkish state and society culminating in the January 19 th tragedy. “I have never insulted and will never insult any nation,” Dink would say. “An Armenian cannot do such a thing. We are not insulting; we are seeking our right. That's what I'm talking about – that I'm seeking my right, the right of my ancestors.”
Hrant Dink was held in great respect within the progressive and democratic circles of Turkey, for they realized that Turkey-Armenia relations and the recognition of the Genocide, in particular, was an issue for Armenians and Turks which should not become an object of speculations by the big powers.
In a speech in Frankfurt Dink said, “Europe played a very significant role in the 1915 tragedy by speculating on the Armenian question and is still using it for its own objectives.”
He began publishing the Turkish-Armenian weekly newspaper AGOS in 1996 to establish a bridge of communication and understanding between the larger Turkish population and the Turkish-Armenian community. In an interview with the television channel A1 Plus, he explained his weekly's purpose: “In the past we communicated with the Turkish government and state officials by means of letters and petitions, but we need to speak not only to them but to the Turkish people as well. And we can speak to them only through the press and in their language.”
The Turkish-Armenian journalist was convinced that the Genocide had to be recognized and that Turkey had to recognize it under the pressure of the Turkish society, and not through the political games of Europe or the United States. He believed that many people in the Diaspora were blinded with the hatred and guided by emotions alone. “They believe that Turkey is unable to undergo changes, but everything changes in the world. Problems are not solved by slamming the door. Just the opposite,” Hrant Dink said.
Unlike public figures in Armenia and in the Diaspora, he was a staunch supporter of Turkey's admission to the European Union, for he viewed the issue of the rights of the Armenians within the context of Turkey's democratization. “I have lived my life in Turkey, spent my childhood there. I don't believe in coercive solutions; I believe more in dialogue. Let the accession talks start. It is the best means for unrolling democracy in Turkey.”
He believed that a refusal to admit Turkey into the European Union would amount to a defeat for Turkish democrats and the end of democracy in the country. Dink was also concerned about such a scenario's negative consequences for Armenia: “What will happen if Turkey locks itself up?”
Outside pressure and coercion might one day lead to the recognition of the Genocide by Turkey but this, according to Dink, “would not change much in the mentality of Turks.” He believed that Turkey would not turn democratic by acknowledging the Genocide. In his opinion, the country had to become democratic and it should be the demand of Turkish democracy to recognize the Genocide of the Armenians and their rights. “The recognition of the events of 1915 by a non-democratic Turkey will not offer much to us, the Armenians.”
Hrant Dink was generally reserved about Armenian efforts to make the world recognize the Armenian Genocide, and the French law making it a crime to deny the Armenian Genocide was unacceptable to the man who had faced Turkish courts several times for using the word “genocide”. He believed that rather than imposing democratic values on Turkey, the French were appropriating its misguided laws. “If this draft becomes a law, I will be among the first who will travel to France to try to break it. And let Turkey and France compete over who's going to throw me in jail first.”
As a journalist and editor, he valued freedom of speech extremely highly, even if that freedom meant being considered an enemy by a sizable segment of the population and, ultimately, putting his life in danger.
Hrant Dink had said on many occasions that if the Turkish court didn't acquit him of the charges it would be honorable for him to leave the country but in his last article, published after his tragic murder, he refuted himself, saying, “It is not for me to escape to heaven by abandoning the fires of hell. I want to turn this Gehenna into heaven.”