Hrant Dink: Towering Symbol of Human Rights

By Edmond Y. Azadian

Hrant Dink was a mountain of a man, both in terms of physical stature and idealistic mind. His mission was larger than himself. Like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he engaged himself in a campaign whose end result could not be anything other than martyrdom.

The German people came to terms with their history and made amends to the Jews, because they were determined to rejoin the community of civilized nations and let their sins be cleansed by the light of the day.

Successive Ottoman and later Turkish governments refused and have refused to acknowledge their genocidal deeds, locking themselves, instead, in the dark age of denial, depriving their country of any measure of true advancement and ability to join enlightened nations.

It was an overwhelming challenge for an individual to assume the mantle of transforming a society. He was prophetic in this challenge because he was aware of the undercurrents of history, boiling under his feet on Turkish territory. He knew deep down in his soul that his vision was ready to inflame the imagination of the masses in Turkey and today, seven years after his martyrdom, he is vindicated. Turkey is going through a transformation, taboos are broken and the issues, which were once on the backburner, are now part of a hot political debate in Turkey.

Hrant believed that the campaign outside Turkey would not result in Genocide recognition. Only developing awareness among Turkish people would lead to that recognition. The Turkish people, he said, don’t know the truth and they are defending the truth they have been taught. Some people in the government know the truth, he often said, but they have been hiding it from the Turkish people. What the diaspora needs to do, he said often during speeches, is encourage the Turkish people to develop awareness. That is the only way the recognition of the Genocide can be achieved in Turkey, he said.

Hrant was born in Malatya and was brought up in an orphanage. He was a virtually self-made man who proposed to remake the society in which he grew up. Ultra-nationalism, backwardness, intolerance, discrimination against minorities were the order of the day when he was growing up and yet, Turkey aspired to join the family of civilized nations in Europe. Like all other civil rights activists, Hrant Dink envisioned the fulfillment of Turkey’s aspirations only through transformation and he knew that the marginal dividends of that transformation would be the emancipation of the minorities, including the Armenians, from the tyranny of fear even so many years after the Genocide.

To magnify his human rights activities, he decided to publish the weekly Agos (translated furrow), starting in 1996 and he realized that the furrows would be irrigated only with blood to bear any fruit and that his blood was the first sacrificial source of those fertile furrows.

The fact that Agos was being published mostly in Turkish shook the conservative Armenian community in Istanbul; first it marked a retreat in the use of the Armenian language and second, Hrant, with his bold ideas, not only shook up the Armenian establishment but also challenged the broader Turkish society.

But soon the new generation of Armenians, which has lost its proficiency in the Armenian language, rallied around Agos. The newspaper and its influence kept growing, eventually becoming the voice of the voiceless for other minorities, especially the Kurds. Prominent Turkish intellectuals also joined Hrant’s mission to render Agos a standard bearer for the human rights movement in Turkey.

Hrant also encouraged hidden or Islamized Armenians who were living undercover as Turks or Kurds to come out in the open and claim their ancestry. Today, the Dink family and Foundation, which continue Hrant’s mission, have organized symposia about the state and the fate of Islamized Armenians.

In his daring campaign to uncover Turkey’s mysteries, Hrant Dink hit some raw nerves as he revealed that Ataturk’s adopted daughter and Turkey’s first female pilot, Sabiha Gokçen, was an Armenian orphan, whose parents died in the Genocide. That revelation was considered a sacrilege for the ultra-nationalists and perhaps that also sealed Hrant’s tragic fate.

He was gunned down seven years ago, on January 19, in front of the newspaper’s editorial offices, touching off a popular reaction throughout Turkey, resulting in an unprecedented funeral with 200,000 participants carrying signs such as, “We are all Hrant Dink” and “We are all Armenians.”

Following his assassination, a series of inconclusive and Kafkaesque trials took place and verdicts were pronounced burying the truth rather than administering justice. Ogun Samast, who had pulled the trigger, was sentenced to a prison term of 22 years and 10 months but the court concluded that there was no conspiracy, no organized plot to silence the Agos editor, a verdict which defies all the relevant facts around the murder.

The family lawyer, Fethiye Cetin, and other groups have been requesting further investigation to divulge the truth.

In 2013, the Peace and Democracy Party filed a motion to launch a parliamentary inquiry into the murder.

Yasin Hayal, who was convicted on charges of complicity in the murder of Dink and masterminding the killing, according to documents, was also planning to kill Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk. He also confessed about the role of Erhan Tuncel, who worked as an informant at the Trabzon Police Department who was arrested after the murder, only to be released. He was found not guilty.

In order to figure out how the wheels of justice turn in Turkey, a few facts have to be brought to light.

In 2012, the former Turkish Appeals Court Judge Nihat Omeroglu, who was a member of the Supreme Council that ratified a verdict finding Dink “denigrating Turkishness,” was elected Turkey’s first public ombudsman. It was that verdict which triggered the death threats against Hrant in 2006, leading to his murder the following year.

Ergin Dinc, the former Trabzon intelligence chief who has been accused of obstructing justice in the Dink case, was appointed as the new police chief of Turkey. In other words, the Turkish political system continues business as usual, all inquiries for further investigations notwithstanding.

The police had warned Hrant that his enemies would be “teaching a lesson” to him, but in the meantime, he believed that he had become a “scared dove.” People love to protect doves in Turkey, he believed. But the jackals preempted the doves and Hrant is laid to rest on lands which he believed belong to his people for thousands of years.

If Turkey has undergone some transformation, Hrant has played a crucial role in it. Yet, further transformation is necessary in order to bring out the whole truth about his martyrdom.

The issue of the Genocide is no longer a taboo. Hidden Armenians are coming out of their hiding in a tribute to Hrant’s Messianic mission. Turkey is more liberalized than when Hrant embarked on his mission.

Today, requests are on the Istanbul Mayor’s table to rename Ergenekon Street to Hrant Dink Street. That will be the ultimate tribute to a man who stands high as a symbol of human rights in Turkey and around the world.