By Gabriella Gage
WATERTOWN — The numbers six and 17 played a symbolic role in the January 20 talk delivered by Ümit Kurt during a post-service program hosted by the Friends of Hrant Dink at St. James Armenian Church. These numbers served as a reminder of the loss of the Turkish-Armenian journalist — six for the number of years since Dink’s assassination and 17 for the number of assailants who have yet to be punished for taking his life.
Close to 200 people gathered after church services for the coffee hour. Parishioners, members of the community, Dink family members and those seeking justice for Dink communed for a memorial tribute and discussion of Dink’s legacy, six years after his death.
Dink, an influential Turkish-Armenian journalist and advocate for freedom of speech and recognition of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey, was assassinated on January 19, 2007, in front of his office at the Agos newspaper in Istanbul.
Rev. Arakel Aljalian, pastor of St. James, opened with a blessing, saying “May his [Hrant’s] memory be eternal in anyone who believes in justice.”
Friends of Hrant Dink Vice President Zadik Ozcan introduced the featured speaker, Kurt is a graduate student in the Genocide Studies program of Clark University under Prof. Taner Akçam.
During his talk, Kurt spoke of Dink’s legacy and his unfinished work. He asked, “How much more would have happened had he lived?”
Kurt shared his own journey of discovering that his hometown of Aintab, Turkey, was once home to Armenians. When he was 22-years-old, Kurt met a friend at a coffee house with unique architecture and unknown script around the door. “Who made this? Who had been here before?” were questions he was suddenly confronted with.
Kurt would come to find out that the entire neighborhood had once been Armenian. “I had no idea that this place in my own hometown was [once] Armenian,” Kurt said of this discovery. Though Turkish, Kurt mentioned that he has also begun an investigation of his own family history to see if there is any unknown Armenian heritage.
As the talk progressed, he discussed the oppressive nationalism in Turkey, saying, “We are being killed by this nationalism everyday.” He spoke about the current problems facing Turkey and why there is hope despite the immense challenges ahead. “It has been six years since his death when he was taken from us in front of Agos… It has been six years and lawlessness has never been more commonplace in this country [Turkey] … Because in Turkey to express something is forbidden.”
Kurt also provided the audience with a clearer picture of the events surrounding Dink’s death, the elaborate assassination plot and the latest developments in seeking justice for Dink.
Although the original court decision had ruled that Dink’s murder was not part of an organized criminal plot, an appeals court recently disagreed and ruled that the murder was part of a full-fledged “deep state” organization. Kurt said that a new trial would begin in Turkey soon involving those responsible for Dink’s murder.
Kurt noted progress regarding Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, the controversial law punishing “insulting Turkishness,” and the same law for the violation of which Dink was prosecuted. The prosecution of Article 301 offenders has moved under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice in Turkey, thus making Turkish officials far more hesitant to pursue convictions and effectively eliminating such cases, he said.
Kurt ended by addressing those 17 conspirators who still walk free six years after Dink’s death. “You took his life [but] You couldn’t touch his spirit. You couldn’t even reach him,” he said.
In his closing remarks, Ozcan said of Kurt’s work, “This is the fruit of his [Dink’s] legacy… Hrant wanted to lift the black curtain in Turkey… Hopefully Hrant’s legacy will shed some light on these issues.”
Fellow Friend of Hrant Dink, Varujan Gulderian, spoke of plans by the organization to host a future event in an outdoor and highly-visible public forum, in order to broaden their outreach and spread Dink’s message. “The larger global community — not just Armenians — need to know what happened. We need to go public if want to get justice for Hrant,” Gulderian said.
Izabel Keremian, an audience member from Lexington, shared her reason for attending the event and the importance of Dink’s legacy to Armenian-Turkish relations. “I’m from Turkey. To have him represent Armenians in Turkey is huge for me and his memory,” she said.
Kurt is currently researching the confiscation of Armenian properties and the role of local elites in Aintab during the Armenian Genocide. His dissertation topic is, “The Emergence of the New Wealthy Social Strata between 1915-1922: The Local Elites’ Seizure of Armenian Property in Aintab” and he is the Agnes Manoogian Hausrath Fellow in Armenian Genocide Studies, 2010-2013.
He said he plans to remain in the US for the foreseeable future and to eventually teach on this subject.
For more information on Friends of Hrant Dink and upcoming events, visit http://www.friendsofhrantdink.org/.