Turkey: Death of human rights activist marked

Hrant Dink.

Thousands of people marched through the streets of Istanbul on January 19 to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the killing of journalist and human rights activist Hrant Dink.

Dink’s murder symbolises the rising wave of nationalism and chauvinism in Turkey in recent years.

Dink was an Armenian-Turkish journalist, human rights activist and a prominent member of his community. He was 51-years-old when he was murdered by a 17-year-old right-wing assassin on January 19, 2007 — gunned down outside the office of Agos, a bilingual newspaper that he edited in Istanbul.

Dink campaigned for Turkey to confront the mass killings of Armenians during the World War I. His stance caused him to be branded as a “traitor” among nationalists from both Turkish and Armenian backgrounds.

He criticised the Turkish government for not recognising the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 by the Ottoman Empire. But he was also in conflict with Armenian diaspora for his opposition to using the genocide to pursue what he considered identity politics.

Dink was prosecuted under the article 301, which deems it illegal to insult Turkey, the Turkish nationality or the government. He was sentenced to six-months jail in 2005 and faced court again in 2006 for insulting Turkish ethnicity.

Dozens of intellectuals have been prosecuted under the same law, including the Nobel Prize-winning writer Orhan Pamuk.

Dink began receiving death threats from various groups. He was publicly threatened a number of times.

After his assassination, it emerged he had notified the authorities about the threats and the government failed to protect him. The media also contributed to his death by turning him into a hate figure, labelling him an enemy of the Turkish republic.

Many hateful headlines and television news items added to the atmosphere that led to his death.

Dink’s assassin was Ogun Samast, an ultra-nationalist who was arrested 32 hours after the assassination. He confessed straight away, saying he had no regrets of killing an Armenian.

Some newspapers reported that he was treated by many as a “hero” and published his photo smiling with Turkish police in front of a Turkish flag.

In October 2010, Samast was tried in juvenile court since he was a minor at the time of the killing.

Dink’s family has made many allegations that evidence has been covered up by officials. They said punishing those who encouraged Samast to pull the trigger and protected him is more important than the jailing of a single person.

In September 2010, The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Turkish state had failed to protect Dink, violated his freedom of expression and failed to properly investigate his murder. It ordered Turkey to pay compensation to Dink’s family.

Dink’s assassination caused a shock wave among many people from different ideological backgrounds, who were brought together into a movement for justice. Thousands joined demonstrations under the same slogan: “we are all Hrant, we are all Armenians”.

Dink’s widow Rakel sad: “Our suffering made us relatives.”

In his last article, published on the January 19, 2007, Dink said he was being psychologically tortured and physically attacked: “I am just like a dove, equally obsessed by what goes-on on my left and right, front and back. My head is just as mobile and fast …

“Yes, I can feel myself as restless as a dove, but I know that in this country people do not touch and disturb the doves.”

For many, Dink was a dove that carried the messages between Turkish and Armenians. Unfortunately, fascism chose to harm that dove.

If you like our work, become a supporter

Green Left is a vital social-change project and aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. With no corporate sponsors or advertising, we rely on support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month get the Green Left digital edition in your inbox each week. For $10 per month get the above and the print edition delivered to your door. You can also add a donation to your support by choosing the solidarity option of $20 per month.

Freecall now on 1800 634 206 or follow the support link below to make a secure supporter payment or donation online.