Dink Commemoration a Tribute, A Call for Reform and Action


WATERTOWN, Mass. — An event honoring the memory of assassinated Turkish-Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink, took place Saturday, February 2, at the Armenian Cultural and Educational Center (ACEC). The program, which marked the first anniversary of Dink’s death, was sponsored by the Society of Istanbul Armenians of Boston.

Titled “Commemoration Lectures,” it featured Dr. Taner Akçam, Turkish historian, Khatchig Mouradian, editor of the Armenian Weekly and Stephen Kurkjian, Pulitzer Prizewinning reporter formerly of the Boston Globe as speakers.

The evening was a tribute to Dink’s courage and commitment to justice, a call for reform and change in Turkey and an exhortation to promote Dink’s principles in the future.

The evening began with a video of the funeral procession and service for Dink in Istanbul.

It was a day when as many as 200,000 Turkish citizens took to the streets shouting, “We are all Hrant Dink, we are all Armenians.”

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Vartouhi Cholokian, chairman of the Society of Istanbul Armenians, welcomed the audience of 200 and said, “We remember Hrant for who he was — a husband, a father, an Armenian hero.”

Kurkjian, the first speaker, acknowledged that he had never met Dink but said he felt “a special kinship with him because of their shared Armenian heritage and shared profession.”

Kurkjian traveled to Istanbul to cover the funeral for the Boston Globe, and said he saw Dink’s blood still on the sidewalk in front of the offices of Agos, the newspaper that Dink edited.

He also saw that Turkish government and military officials attended the funeral, sitting with Armenian and American officials.

Kurkjian returned to Istanbul later to find out more about who Dink was and to investigate further the circumstances of his death.

At first, said Kurkjian, there were signs that the assassination would lead to changes in Turkey’s policies and laws. “President Erdogan visited Dink’s widow and promised her to catch those responsible for her husband’s death.”
Erdogan also vowed the attempt to bridge the differences between Turkey and Armenia.

US Ambassador Ross Wilson expressed hope about the investigation and said, “In this tragedy, there are opportunities. It depends on how the Turks handle the investigation and how they handle their relationships with
Armenia, the Armenian people and the diaspora.”

“But,” Kurkjian concluded, “the follow-up has been disappointing. The Turkish government has not met expectations. Article 301 has been revised to some degree — it is now only the government that can bring charges for ‘insulting
Turkishness,’ not individuals.” However, Kurkjian said, there have been more prosecutions than ever before since Dink’s death against those in Turkish society who have acknowledged the Genocide. Hrant’s son has been charged with “insulting Turkishness” and has left the country. Two-dozen people, including the 17-year-old alleged assassin, have been charged with Dink’s killing, but, said Kurkjian, “The indictments say nothing about the political
underpinnings of the assassination. The police in Trabzon knew that Hrant had been targeted. It was recognized that there was an ultra nationalist, right-wing group operating inside the country.”

Noted Kurkjian, “Hrant was a true Turkish citizen and I would hope the Turkish government would realize what a hero he was for Turkey, for espousing democratic rights, freedom of speech and the protection of minority rights.”

Concluded Kurkjian, “I hope that we as Armenians use this commemoration to rededicate ourselves to pride in our heritage, a belief in the goodness of the Armenian and Turkish people and faith in the Bible. A week before he
was killed, Hrant asked himself whether he should remain in Turkey or leave. The Bible tells us to serve God and serve the people. By staying, he lived up to that testament.” Mouradian sounded a note of skepticism.

“When I saw all those people chanting and marching at the funeral, I had to ask: ‘Where were you when Hrant stood alone? Where were you when Hrant was trying to bridge the gap between Turks and Armenians? Why were you not all Armenians then?’”

Added Mouradian, “It’s easy to mourn a great crime. It’s much harder to believe and work for change. If people had stood up in 1915, there would not have been a Genocide.”

Concerning the amendment of Article 301, Mouradian said, “The real litmus test of Turkey’s commitment to change is not amending Article 301, not even amending other laws.

It has to come from the determination of the Turkish people to change something here.”

Mouradian suggested that Turkey should honor Dink by “naming a square or putting up a statue to Hrant Dink, a person who was so dedicated to making Turkey a better place. Hrant deserves to be commemorated in Turkey. That would go beyond the government’s simply issuing a statement.”

Mouradian said some have raised the question of whether, over the past year, there have been too many tributes to Dink and too much attention paid to him.

“I do not believe too much attention has been paid,” said Mouradian. “Was the assassination of Hrant Dink just the assassination of one person or one journalist? I think you would say no. It is also about what happened to others before him, the deaths of the intellectuals on April 24, 1915. Hrant Dink represents all those who were killed on April 24. There is a valid connection between Hrant and the Genocide.”

Said Mouradian, “We need to think every day that we are all Hrant Dink. Otherwise, nothing has meaning. A couple of months ago, Erdogan was able to say that the Turks treated the Armenian deportees in 1915 well, even giving
them pocket money. The general spirit needs to change. The day we walk in Istanbul and see a square or statue dedicated to Hrant Dink, I believe Turkey will be a better place.”

Akçam, a visiting professor of history at the University of Minnesota, is well known as the first Turkish scholar to acknowledge the Genocide. A close personal friend of Dink’s, Akçam said, “For me, I have lost my best friend.
What made the city of Istanbul have meaning for me is now gone.”

Akçam, who has lived in exile since the 1970s, often visited Dink in Istanbul and stayed with him.

“I first met him in 1994, and he was very frustrated with the Armenian community. He wanted them to come out and say ‘we have a right to live here free of fear.’ Agos was calling for a new definition of Turkishness, a new way of
being a Turkish citizen. He spoke out against the government’s racist policies against Christians. Dink was a thorn in the side of the criminal complex, which we call the ‘deep state.’”

Some of Dink’s plans for the future are taking place in Turkey, according to Akçam. “We are establishing an institute for the study of Armenian culture, and setting up a publishing house that will publish memoirs from the 1930s and 1940s that document the Genocide.”

When Akçam visited Dink in early January 2007, the criminal investigation of Agos was already underway and Akçam begged him to go abroad. “I was very concerned but my friend was prepared to face his destiny,” he said. “At
that time, he had three main ideas.”

One was to set up a conference in the Armenian Diaspora that would be a free and open debate.

“He had discussed this with the European Parliament. What bothered him is that he felt the diaspora was indifferent to what was happening in Turkey. He wanted the diaspora to make a distinction between the Turkish state
and the Turkish people. He felt that the diaspora ignored the democratic tendencies in Turkish society.”

Dink’s second goal, said Akçam, was “to create a Turkish civil society initiative that would create diplomatic relations with Armenia. Dink didn’t think 1915 was the defining factor in the animosity between the two countries. He felt the real tension is not knowing how to proceed with each other today, Dink felt the problem was Ankara, where the government uses history to block normal relations. We have to work to normalize being a Turk and normalize being an Armenian. A resolution can be found in our current relations.”

His third goal was to use his defense at his trial as a referendum on the historical facts.

Although Dink avoided using the word “genocide,” he knew what happened, said Akçam.

“He was going to argue point by point that there was a genocide.”

Concluded Akçam, “His legacy is not only in his ideas but in the way he reached out to his listeners. His heart and home were in Istanbul, a place where we will build a city of peace and understanding. Hrant loved his Armenian people and all the people of Turkey. He wanted most of all to bring them together.”

During the question-and-answer period, Akçam defined the term “deep state” and explained that term refers to the military,bureaucratic complex within the government, a group that is not elected by the people yet controls
all policies. Said Akçam, “Governments come and go but the policies remain the same.”

He also insisted again that there is a difference between the Turkish society and the state and that Turkey was capable of the moral act of recognizing the Genocide, especially if the United States supports the democratic movement in Turkey. “The best thing would be the day that a memorial to Hrant could be erected on Turkey’s border, and the gates would open,” he said.

Kurkjian urged the audience to do more than simply remember and honor Dink. “There are so many organizations, especially here, that promote Armenian culture and history like NAASR [National Association for Armenian Studies and Research], Project SAVE and ALMA [Armenian Library and Museum of America]. Go and visit them, see their collections that remind us of the past.”

And Mouradian reminded his listeners not “to forget the political aspect. The Armenian Genocide is an issue that profoundly touches all of us. Work with an organization, espouse action and individual initiation. Each and every
day, Armenians must make an effort to work for change.”

The evening concluded with a reception.

Copies of Dink’s newspaper, Agos, and Akçam’s book, A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility, were on sale in the lobby.

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