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'Justice for Hrant Dink'

January 17, 2012

Five years ago Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was shot dead in Istanbul. He had had the courage to address a taboo subject in Turkey: the massacre of Armenians in 1915.

A man lighting candles in memory of Hrant Dink
Hrant Dink was shot dead outside his office in 2007Image: AP

"I come from Turkey. I am an Armenian. I belong entirely to Anatolia. I've never even contemplated leaving my country to shape my future in the West," Hrant Dink once wrote in one of his columns. He was an Armenian journalist who dreamed of a democratic, free Turkey, in which all religious and ethnic minorities would enjoy equal rights, in which everyone would be allowed to express their opinions without fear. This dream cost him his life.

Five years ago, on January 19, 2007, Hrant Dink was shot dead on a street in Istanbul, directly in front of his newspaper's offices. On Tuesday, the verdict in the trial against those who allegedly masterminded his killing is set to be handed out.

Back then, the whole country was in shock after the murder. People asked themselves with mixed feelings: "Who? Why? What for?" The attack hadn't come completely out of the blue; in the months before his death, Dink had received a number of death threats.

Reproached for offending Turkey

Dink's funeral
Thousands of mourners turned out at Dink's funeralImage: AP

In 2005, Dink was taken to court because of the views he'd expressed. He was accused of offending Turkishness and was given a six-month suspended sentence.

More charges followed a year later, as well as new trials. In his last article, which was published on the day he died, he wrote: "2007 will probably be a tough year for me. I feel like a dove, cautious, timid and almost too awake, but I know that in this country they don't hurt doves."

Demands to come to terms with history

His words were a thorn in the flesh for the right-wing nationalist ruling powers - one of the main reasons why he was threatened. Dink was an Armenian, who thought that people in Turkey should speak more openly about what happened in 1915 and that Turkey should come to terms with its own history, that's to say with the history of the Armenian people in Anatolia.

He wrote: "I know what my forefathers came up against. Some like to call it a massacre, others genocide, expulsion or catastrophe … My ancestors, in their Anatolian way, called it a 'butcher's shop.' But I call it 'devastation.' And I know that if such things hadn't happened, my country would be a much more livable, much more beautiful place."

'We are all Armenians - We are all Hrant Dink'

The Turkish public reacted with shock to Dink's death. Over 100,000 people attended his funeral. They were all carrying black signs that read: "We are all Armenians. We are all Hrant Dink." The crowd was silent.

Hrant Dink
Hrant Dink dreamed of a fairer TurkeyImage: AP

The perpetrator was quickly captured. He was a 17-year-old from Trabzon, a town in northern Turkey. At his trial, he justified his crime as follows: "I read his articles on the Internet, and what he said angered me, so I decided to kill him." He claimed it was his decision, that he had planed it all on his own, and that there were no accomplices. But later Ogun Samast changed his statement and said that he had been incited by Yasin Hayal, a right-wing extremist from Trabzon.

In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that the Turkish government was partly to blame for Dink's death for failing to do enough to protect him.

Last year Ogun Samast was sentenced to 22 years in prison. But because the judgment was handed down by a youth court, he will probably only have to serve two-thirds of that sentence. Lately, his alleged accomplices have also been on trial. Among them are his two suspected backers: Yasin Hayal, who is said to have incited the murder and Erhan Tuncel, a former police informant in Trabzon who is said to have organized the attack.

Criticism of the trial

Rober Koptas, the current editor of Agos, is disappointed with the trial. "We and the Turkish public are all aware that a number of state officials both before and after the murder assumed important roles in all this. There were security officials - both in the police and the army - who were either active in helping to plan the murder, or who knew about the plans but did nothing to hinder them."

In addition, Koptas says, "Bureaucrats and lawyers tried to cover up the truth. Unfortunately all our requests to interview these people were denied. That's why we don't believe in a fair verdict. It was not a trial based on the search for justice."

Following Dink's death, a group was formed called "Hrant Dink's friends." The members of this group were present at the trial, in front of the court building, carrying banners that read "For Hrant Dink. For justice."

They are convinced that the main people who were pulling the strings remain at large. One of "Hrant Dink's friends" is journalist Aydin Engin: "Even if it takes us 95 years, we will not give up the search for the real killers," he stresses.

Rober Koptas believes that the Dink trial has led to an awakening of democratic consciousness in Turkish society. However, the state's mentality has not changed in any way. Koptas says that the same conditions still exist in Turkey which led to Dink's murder five years ago.

Author: Basak Ozay / ji
Editor: Gabriel Borrud