“HIS DREAM WAS A TURKEY AT PEACE WITH ITS PAST, AND A TURKEY WITH FREE SPEECH”
I borrowed this headline from Turkish journalist Yavuz Baydar, because to my mind he gave the most concise and accurate formula of what Hrant Dink aspired for in his journalistic and public activities. The assassination of the chief editor of a modest Istanbul newspaper became probably the hottest topic for the world media for a whole week. As eye-witnesses note, his funeral became the mass action of the biggest scale that the largest Turkish city has had during the last 25 years. Thousands of people took part in manifestations and marches in Yerevan.
The body of Hrant Dink has been committed to earth, and after the first reaction – the grief, the shock, the indignation – it becomes expedient to understand the personality of the journalist, the reasons and the possible consequences of his assassination, the broad and varied response to the crime in the world, in Turkey, in Armenia.
The 17-year-old Ogun Samast who shot at his selected victim explained his deed, saying the journalist had insulted Turks. In his article, published a year and a half before he was killed, Hrant Dink called on the representatives of Armenian Diaspora to “replace the poisoned blood associated with the Turk, with fresh blood associated with Armenia”. The Turkish justice accused the journalist of having called the Turkish blood poison, qualified it as an insult of Turkishness and applied to Hrant Dink the notorious Article 301 of the Penal Code. Meanwhile the journalist implied that the hostility of Armenians towards Turks has mastered their national consciousness and hinders them from concentrating on Armenia’s prosperity. The media continued snatching Hrant’s words out of context, distorting them and imparting a strong stereotype to the audience: this Armenian called the Turkish blood poisonous, unclean! This very phrase was recalled by Ogun Samast, when he was explaining his revenge…
One of the slogans of protest actions following the murder was “Article 301 killed Hrant Dink”. Yet, actually, the hand of the killer was directed also by unconscientious journalism, manipulating the national sentiments of people…
The manipulations continued after Dink’s death, too. Reputed journalists of Azerbaijan were quick to see the plot of Armenian secret services in the backstage of the tragedy, aimed at inciting more negativism in European Commission and USA Congress towards Turkey. In Turkey itself some people took Hrant Dink’s death to be a sufficient pretext for “reminding” the world that the Genocide is an invention of Armenians themselves. In Armenia certain circles found some special pleasure in referring to the traditional cliche of “Turks will be Turks!” and volubly called the Turkish government the “murder client”.
One can hardly think of a way that would be better than these statements in burying Hrant’s memory, the memory of Hrant as he was in reality, and the principles that he followed. Everyone who followed the public appearances and publications of the journalist knows that he always thought himself to be a full-fledged and full-righted citizen of his country and dreamed of seeing it more open, civilized, democratic. However numerous the disappointments and hardships were, he believed in the European future of Turkey and the reconciliation of Armenians and Turks. In this regard his stance was quite revolutionary and contradictory of the traditional viewpoints of the Armenian community of Istanbul. The credo of the community have been caution and abstaining from interference in inner political issues of Turkey, unless they dealt with preservation of their language and culture, the protection of Armenian churches, schools, newspapers. Timidity was easy to explain, taking account of both the tragic pages of history and the existence of national minority discrimination elements in Turkey. But Hrant thought it was time for the community to leave the mental ghetto and, together with all the citizens of the country, to fight for democratic reforms that allow solving the Armenian question, too.
Unlike most of his Armenian countrymen, he bravely spoke about Genocide, believing that a country claiming democracy can have no taboos. At the same time he had certain tensions with representatives of Armenian Diaspora of other countries that prioritizes the international recognition of the Genocide. It was of prior importance for Hrant to achieve not the official recognition, but to convey the historical truth to the Turkish society, bringing down the wall of incomprehension between co-citizens of various ethnicities. The death of the journalist is a certain challenge to both Armenian and Turkish conservatism. Will the Turks understand that clauses like Article 301 are a survival of times past, or will they try to go ten years back in time, when one could not as much as hint at the Armenian tragedy, but journalists of Armenian decent were not killed, either? Will the Istanbul Armenians take this murder to be a sign for them to have more active involvement in the Turkish matters or as a forewarning to behave that requires heed?
There is a lot to ponder about for us in Armenia, too. All of a sudden we found numerous fighters for freedom of expression… in Turkey, who think that the murder of Hrant Dink gives them grounds to make arrogant assessments of democracy in the neighboring country. By some “amazing” coincidence most of these “fighters” keep mum when contract killings occur in their own country, when an independent TV channel is shut down, journalists are beaten, intimidated and bought, with the last tiny slots that can let criticism of authorities in being mured! The problems that Turkey has in terms of media freedom and other democratic institutes are obvious, but is it not better to leave the concerns with it to the citizens of Turkey and to those who have already solved these issues in their countries? Shall we not concentrate on our own matters – and the field for work here is extensive, with the forthcoming parade of national elections.
Actually, Turkey this year faces parliamentary and presidential elections, too. Under the current government of moderate Islamists the political background in Turkey and around it has changed significantly. The “shadow” power of secular, military and bureaucratic elite has somewhat subsided, official negotiations on accession to European Union have started, under the pressure of EU radical reforms are being implemented, even though tormentingly slowly, the discussions on the Armenian, Kurdish problems have become more open and intensive. The party of Prime Minister Erdogan receives torrents of criticism from different directions: almost all the positive signs listed above have their reverse side, too. The weakening dictatorship of “secularists” and the democratic processes in a Muslim country mean untying the hands of radical Islamists. The tough terms that European Commission poses, incomparable to those posed before other candidates that have already joined the European Union, stings the pride of Turks, give rise to stereotypes of “hostile Christian Europe” – illustrated by the not very hospitable reception of the Pope and the killing of a Catholic priest (also by a teenager and in Trabzone, the native town of Ogun Samast) that had preceded it. The slow pace and the inconsistence of reforms causes the natural impatient annoyance of progressive intellectuals, who see real prospects for faster processes of Europeanization. The talks of the historical guilt of Turkey before Armenians are taken with rage by people, primarily young ones, who received the idea of impeccable greatness of their state and nation from their schools and families.
The murder of Hrant Dink added a storm of emotions in the pre-election controversy, particularly since he had a strong civil position on all main issues of the political agenda in Turkey today. The Istanbul tragedy provided arguments too all subjects of political debate. Yet, the operative arrest of the killer helped the government to oppose blows from the right and the left. Further investigation of the crime and the public response to it will show which wing will be at advantage and which – at disadvantage before the ballot.
This is the international and domestic context of shots by the editorial office of “Agos” newspaper. Orhan Pamuk, Elif Safak, Hrant Dink – these are the names that impersonate the most current public and political processes in Turkey, its relations with the outer world and its own history. Hrant was a certain nerve of the modern Turkish society, and this is why the response to his assassination was so painful and loud.
Unlike many important (or thinking themselves important) persons, he had no shaveheaded bodyguards armed to their teeth, limousines with armored glasses and escorting Jeeps. Even the description of the teenager, shooting at him, was taken from CCTV cameras of the bank next to the editorial office (certainly, “Agos” had none of these). This fact – in the context of grief and distress that the world felt on January 19 – once more makes on think of the true and false values. I am addressing this not because I want to join in the criticism of Turkish authorities, who did not ensure the security of the journalist despite the frequent threats he had been receiving, and not because I call to provide special security to all freely thinking intellectuals – God forbid! I just hope these tragedies will at some point teach the human kind to be more careful with the lives of those who speak the truth, whether we like it or not, or at least to value properly and adequately their spiritual legacy.
The shock of the crime and the euphoria with the unification of people close in spirit and mentality that followed have an enormous charge of good and common sense. Turks, Armenians, Kurds during the mourning ceremony in Istanbul bore 30 thousand banners saying “We are all Hrant Dink”, “We are all Armenians”. But the farther we are taken away by time from the day of funeral, the more we shall see of other displays: the triumph of radical nationalists that seem to have stepped aside in the view of mass solidarity with Hrant (the provoker of the killer Yasin Hayal has already made threats to Orhan Pamuk), the cold-blooded calculations of politicians and politicos, petty interpretations of the tragic event, the personality and the ideas of the journalist. All these trends have already revealed themselves. Will they win, as it often happens, or will Hrant Dink achieve by his death what his lifetime proved too short to achieve?