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Murder in Istanbul (January 2007)

Hrant Dink His murderer, Ogun Samast
Hrant Dink - His murderer, Ogun Samast

On 19 January 2007, Hrant Dink, founder and editor-in-chief of the weekly Agos, was assassinated as he returned to the offices of his newspaper at 3pm in the Sisli district of Istanbul. Dink was an ethnic Armenian. He had founded Agos, a newspaper in Turkish and Armenian, in 1996. It had become one of the voices calling for change in Turkey, not just for Armenians, but also for liberal Turks and other minorities. It had also called for improvements in relations between Turkey and Armenia.

Dink had been a target of nationalist circles for many years. He was repeatedly prosecuted under article 301 of the Penal Code, acquitted the first time in February 2006. He was convicted in October 2005 for denigrating Turkishness and received a 6-month suspended jail sentence. Nationalist lawyer Kemal Kerincsiz, who heads the Great Union of Lawyers, appealed, demanding "a more severe punishment". Dink was acquitted of another charge in February 2006 and in September 2006, he was charged for a third time with 'denigrating Turkishness' – charges that were still pending at the time of his death.

Dink had received a number of death threats. He had told friends that he felt especially intimidated by Veli Kucuk, a former general and radical nationalist who would appear at his trials together with Kerincsiz. However, as Dink wrote in his final article, he didn't believe that his life was really under threat. "Yes, I may perceive in myself the spiritual unease of a pigeon, but I do know that in this country people do not touch pigeons." On this point, he was tragically mistaken.

Following the assassination, hundreds of people gathered in front of Agos. For the first time "We are all Armenians" became an expression of solidarity.

Following the assassination, hundreds of people gathered in front of Agos. For the first time "We are all Armenians" became an expression of solidarity.

At Dink's funeral on 23 February, the coffin was brought first to outside the Agos office, where his wife Rakel gave an emotional speech: "Unless we can question how this baby grew into a murderer, we cannot achieve anything." Remembering her husband she said: "You have left your loved ones, but you have not left your country."

Dink's coffin was then driven to the Armenian Patriarchate, followed by a huge crowd.

Dink's coffin was then driven to the Armenian Patriarchate, followed by a huge crowd. Hurriyet described the scene on 24 February 2007:

"Following the 11:00 ceremony for Dink at the Agos offices, the long slow cortege of perhaps one or even two hundred thousand people began the 8 kilometer march behind the hearse carrying Dink's coffin."

It was a demonstration of a size never seen before by supporters of the Turkey that Dink had been fighting for, with Turks, Kurds, Armenians and other groups side by side.

Policemen posing with Ogun Samast in Trabzon.

But there is another Turkey, too, and it also showed its face. The murderer Ogun Samast, a 17-year old from the Black Sea city Trabzon, was soon arrested on 20 January 2007 in the Black Sea town of Samsun. However, according to Radikal newspaper (2 February 2007) and other media, he was treated as a hero at the gendarmerie station in Trabzon, with police lining up to have their photos taken beside the murderer and the Turkish flag. Later, nationalist groups in Istanbul gathered in a counter-demonstration on 4 February 2007, shouting "We are all Turks, we are all Mustafa Kemals". The white beret that Samast wore when he assassinated Dink became a symbol for his sympathisers.

The murder trial began on 2 July 2007 in Istanbul, with 18 defendents. The case is ongoing.

On 20 March 2008, two soldiers appeared in a Trabzon court to testify that they had been clearly warned about a plot to assassinate Hrant Dink and that they had informed their superior, Trabzon Provincial Gendarmerie Commander Ali Oz. However, nothing was done. After the murder, they had been pressured by their superiors to deny that they had been aware of the plot.

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