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Hrant Dink
Hrant Dink. Photo: tog.org

"I challenge the accepted version of history, because I do not write about things in black and white. People here are used to black and white; that's why they are astonished that there are other shades, too."

Hrant Dink

Hrant Dink was best known for advocating Turkish-Armenian reconciliation and human rights in Turkey. He criticised both Turkey's denial of the 1915 Armenian Genocide and the Armenian diaspora's aggressive campaign for its international recognition.

Hrant Dink was born in Malatya in 1954 and grew up in an Istanbul orphanage. Dink, together with his wife Rakel, later ran an Armenian Children's Summer Camp near Istanbul. The camp was confiscated by the state in 1984.

Hrant Dink was one of the founders of the weekly Agos, the only newspaper in Turkey published in Armenian and Turkish, and served as its editor-in-chief from its founding in 1996 until his assassination. Agos started with a circulation of 2,000 and currently has about 6,000. It has become an important voice of liberals of Armenian and non-Armenian origin.

While at Agos Dink was prosecuted three times for "denigrating Turkishness" under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. He received numerous death threats from Turkish nationalists and once complained that he was threatened by the governor of Istanbul. Dink and his lawyer Fethiye Cetin deplored the authorities' indifference to this atmosphere of terror, though to little avail at the time.

On 19 January 2007 Dink was assassinated in front of the Agos office building in Sisli. The murderer, the young nationalist Ogun Samast, was arrested soon afterwards. Though the trial is still pending, a separate investigation has led to reasonable suspicion that Ergenekon, an underground nationalist network, was involved in Dink's assassination. Many of Ergenekon's alleged members, including Veli Kucuk, have been present at Dink's trials. A week before his assassination Dink wrote in Agos that he felt "nervous and afraid" because of the hate mail he was receiving:

"I see myself as frightened, the way a dove might be, but I know that the people in this country would never harm a dove."

On the day of Dink's murder, hundreds of people gathered in front of the Agos office building. The slogan "We are all Armenians", an expression of solidarity, was heard for the first time. More than one hundred thousand mourners marched at Dink's funeral on 23 January 2007. His wife Rakel delivered an emotional speech:

"Unless we can question how this baby grew into a murderer, we cannot achieve anything. […] You have left your loved ones, but you have not left your country."

About a year earlier, Dink had penned an article on Turkish-Armenian relations for "Open Democracy", an online forum. Having cited an emotional story of a woman who travels to Turkey to recover the body of her Armenian mother for burial, Dink closed with the following lines:

"A lady at the Istanbul conference implied that remembering the dead meant coveting territory. Yes, it is true that Armenians long for this soil. But let me repeat what I wrote soon after this experience. At the time the then president of Turkey, Suleyman Demirel, used to say: 'We will not give even three pebblestones to Armenians.' I told the story of this woman and said: "We Armenians do desire this territory because our root is here. But don't worry. We desire not to take this territory away, but to come and be buried under it."

In "Two close Peoples, two far Neighbors", a posthumously published book on Turkish-Armenian relations, Dink writes:

"Both sides stance towards each other is restless and unhealthy […]. The Armenians with their trauma and the Turks with their paranoia are like two clinical cases. For the identity of both, the 'other'ness of the other is indispensable."

Armenians, he writes, are "the most other, the deepest other".

The syndrome of land loss underlies each side's paranoia. "Even today the "Armenians want our land" syndrome lives on as the most distinct reason for what has been experienced in history."

"The loss of land from the Ottoman Empire with the independence of nations was also the loss of an order and a unity. […] It was the inevitable fate of the Empire to constantly lose blood […]. Armenians paid the price of all the other peoples who separated from the Ottomans."

August 2009

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