Commentary: Hrant Dink: A Martyr to His Cause


By Edmond Y. Azadian

Hrant Dink proved to be a figure larger than life. His frame, while slender, cast a giant shadow. He inspired confidence and radiated power and determination. He used to suck the air out of the room as he entered a place. But his legacy came to match and surpass his attributes while he was living.

He was gunned down five years ago on January 19, 2007. He was silenced at that moment but his message resonates even louder today throughout Turkey and beyond. His assassination was a spectacular event, but what followed was even more spectacular, although unexpected; thousands of people demonstrated in Istanbul in protest, chanting “We are Hrant Dink,” “We are Armenian.”

He was an iconoclast of sorts. When he began publishing his weekly, Agos, in 1996, he had to break certain traditions. He had to overcome certain established modus operandi in the community and then even more so throughout the rest of Turkey.

The Armenian press was at a critical point in Turkey when he founded Agos. The major dailies, Marmara and Jamanak, were losing readership, not necessarily because of a decline in quality but mainly through the retreat of the Armenian language. To switch from Armenian to Turkish, or to any other language, was considered a betrayal, but in the meantime, because of the language barrier, the Armenian youth was deprived of the message. Someone had to take bold action to reach out to the youth. The media in the US had encountered that dilemma in the 1930s when English-language publications appeared to keep the community informed and cohesive, through a lingua franca.

It was Hrant Dink who took that bold initiative and began publishing Agos in Turkish, reserving some pages for the Armenian section.

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His message was so powerful that it went beyond the Armenian community; Kurds, Alevis, other minorities and Turkish intellectuals subscribed to the paper, but they also began to contribute to it. It was a historic and critical period when taboos were crumbling down and Turkey, in its bid to join the European Union, appeared ready to make major yet painful compromises.

Hrant Dink promoted a philosophy that saved not only the Armenian cause (which the traditional media served timidly) but also the emancipation of Turkish society. In a way his message went against the traditional thinking; he opted to educate Turkish society instead of blaming it. His position was that Germany came to terms with its past because it is a civilized nation, thus Turkey had to be educated first in order to be able to accept the past more objectively. His ear was to the ground and he could hear the footsteps of the future.

Five years in the making, his message has gained tremendous ground; the Turkish media, scholars and political activists today are discussing freely the issue of the Armenian Genocide as well as a host of historic injustices perpetrated against the minorities. The Genocide issue has become an agenda item for national discourse in Turkey, penal code article 301 not withstanding. At the present time, there is a tug-of-war between the liberal society and a reluctant government, which is resisting the inevitable avalanche of change. Everyday quantitative change is being converted to qualitative change. The thrust of Dink’s message has come to transform the entire Turkish society.

As if Armenians had not given enough martyrs, Hrant Dink came to add one more to the number of the 1.5 million sacrificial lambs, but this has been one sacrifice which is poised to bring justice to all the previous martyrs.

The “deep state” in Turkey was implicated in Dink’s assassination. Right after the journalist’s murder, the police had glorified the 17-year-old gunman, Ogun Samast, snapping photos with him in front of the Turkish flag. That already indicated how deep the “deep state” went. The subsequent trial also demonstrated that they had received tips on the plot to kill Dink long before the deed and had not acted on time. “Five years after the assassination of Hrant Dink, evidence related to the real perpetrators of the crime is still being covered up,” the Dink family lawyer, Fethiye Cetin has said.

The assassin was not a lone gunman; there was certainly an organization behind him, whose tentacles extended into the different agencies of the Turkish government. The fact that the police could not find any phone records between the plotters of the murder, and that it has fallen on the shoulders of the Dink family to discover 14 phone calls with the suspects Mustafa Ozturk and Salih Hacisalihoglu, is an indication that seeking justice is an uphill battle in the Turkish judiciary. Attorney Cetin has also made the accusation that the police “intentionally obscure the evidence.”

More revealing is the confession of another suspect, Yasin Hayal, who has said, “I have been used by the Turkish Republic and now they want to eliminate me. My life is in danger and the state will be responsible if anything happens to me.”

He has made other incriminating confession: “I never knew Tancel [another suspect] was a state agent. I respected him because he was the head of Alperen Ocaklari [an extreme right-wing group]. I met him in 2002 and he introduced me to a lot of figures, including police officers.”

The trial seems to go nowhere. The developments in the upcoming days might be a new beginning instead of the end. According to the Dink family’s lawyers, bureaucracy and institutions resist solving the murder in its entirety because there is a lack of political will to move the investigation along.

Another indication of government’s reluctance to bring all the facts into light is the jailing of Nadim Sener, who had published a book investigating the government’s handling of Dink trial.

The evidence that the courts, attorneys and journalists are pushing forward in this case is moving ahead inexorably despite all the machinations the state institutions bring against the truth and the people unraveling it. No one could imagine such development in Turkey five years ago.

It is destined that great causes require great martyrs. Socrates, Christ, Joan of Arc and Galileo paid with their lives to uphold their messages. Their blood proved to be the necessary nutrient to help germinate their philosophy. Dink prematurely believed that Turkey hand changed enough to accept his mission. However, it was not the time yet, but his martyrdom will certainly bring that change, when we commemorate his death on the centennial of Genocide in 2015, along with 1.5 million Armenian martyrs.


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