Commentary: Hrant Dink Remembered as the Symbol of Human Rights


By Edmond Y. Azadian

On January 19, 2007, as I was watching CNN News at the editorial offices of Azg daily newspaper in Yervan, a “breaking news” headline was flashed on the screen followed by a shot of Hrant Dink, fallen on the pavement in a pool of blood with his oversized shoes facing the camera. I was overwhelmed by disbelief and I felt that Hrant would rise again and walk in those shoes. That walk was never to be. Instead, his memory and his name walked in the streets of Istanbul, with thousands chanting “We Are Hrant,” “We Are Armenian.”

I had flashbacks of him during our meetings when I used to ask him jokingly: “Hrant, how come you are not in jail?” and his serious answer would be, “Turkey is changing.” Yet Turkey did not change soon enough to save his life.

Hrant had become a legend during his lifetime and he turned into an icon after his demise, symbolizing human rights in Turkey and the world over.

Hrant Dink was known for a long time as a human rights advocate. However, in the repressive atmosphere of Turkey, any word about human rights would bring about the label of a leftist, or Communist in order to discredit the person and his ideas. However, in Hrant’s case, those ideas became concrete threats to the Turkish nationalism when he began publishing his bilingual weekly Agos in 1996, with unprecedented circulation figures for an Armenian publication in Istanbul. Through his courageous stand and with the contributions of prominent Turkish writers, Agos catered not only to the young generation of Armenians — who are mostly Turkish speaking — but also a large number of Kurds and Turkish intellectuals.

He was not only persecuted by Turkish nationalists, but also by the Armenian community’s establishment and was envied by his Armenian colleagues, because he was a non-conformist and was brave enough to stand for new ideas. He was walking off the beaten path.

Three years after Hrant Dink’s assassination, Turkey’s human rights record is not any better.

An investigation into the aftermath of his assassination turned up evidence that a group of ultranationalists was behind the murder. Strong evidence suggested that some members of the group had ties with the police department of Trabzon, the hometown of the plotters. The attorney Fethiye Cetin, who represents the Dink family in the trial, had announced on a talk show in 2008 that some people who have been arrested as a result of the Ergenekon operation had been very active in the process leading to Dink’s murder. However, three years have already elapsed but the investigation into the murder has yielded no conclusion. The Turkish legal system moves slowly, if it ever moves at all.

The investigation is supposedly continuing, but new threats are being directed at Hrant’s family members.

A proposal to name a street in Istanbul after Hrant Dink was turned down by the authorities, who gave ludicrous excuses, whereas a street has been named commemorating liberal journalist Abdi Ipekci, assassinated by Ahmet Agca, who also had attempted to kill Pope John Paul II.

On the third anniversary of Hrant Dink’s assassination, the Turkish daily Zaman has interviewed the current editors of Agos, namely Sarkis Seropyan and Pakrat Estukyan. Asked who killed Hrant, the latter answered: “It was an official collective will that killed Hrant…the moment he was killed, 72 million people in Turkey knew that he was killed because he was Armenian. Why him and no other Armenian? Because he was telling the truth.”

On the other hand, Seropyan believes that “Turkey’s democratization process has been directly linked with Hrant’s murder.” He further believes that Hrant would have been overjoyed witnessing Ergenekon’s ultra-nationalist members unmasked.

Ergenekon is the organization with an extremist agenda that has been linked to the police, the army, the judicial system and the mafia. It was correctly called the “Deep State” or “government in the government.”

Turkey’s democratization process can be measured with the degree of cleansing that the Erdogan government can carry, eliminating those vicious moles infesting the entire ruling system of Turkey.

During the last three years, human rights activists in Turkey have been speaking out louder than ever, sometimes at their own peril.

On the anniversary of Dink’s assassination, rallies and seminars are organized in Europe and America, not only featuring the human rights issue in Turkey but also discussing the genocide of Armenians and Assyrians, as well as repression against the Greeks, Jews and Kurds.

No matter how much Mr. Erdogan denies the Armenian Genocide, the issue will haunt him and his government forever.

By murdering Hrant Dink Turkey could not obliterate his cause, nor silence his voice.

Three years after his assassination, Hrant Dink walks over the globe in giant steps in his oversized shoes and oversized persona as a human rights symbol for Turks, Kurds and all the oppressed people of the world.