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Was the Turkish state involved in Hrant Dink’s murder?

Burcu Karakas
March 4, 2021

The assassination of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink in 2007 shocked Turkey and the world. Dozens have since been charged with being involved. The verdict is due on Friday but the family has few expectations.

Hrant Dink seated in his office
Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant DinkImage: AP

On January 19, 2007, Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was assassinated on a crowded street in Istanbul, Turkey, in front of the offices of the weekly Agos newspaper which he had founded in 1996 and of which he was editor-in-chief. Sorrow and anger spread around the country and well beyond its borders.

Dink had often come under attack for his articles and speeches warning about the rise of nationalist forces. He had even been prosecuted several times. In 2002, he took part in a symposium where he told those in attendance he refused to define himself as a Turk. "I am not a Turk, but an Armenian of Turkey," Dink said. He was subsequently convicted of "insulting and denigrating Turkishness."

Rakel Dink, the wife of the murdered Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink
Rakel Dink, the wife of the murdered Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant DinkImage: Reuters/O. Orsal

Widespread criticism

Two years later, Dink was widely criticized for an article he wrote which included passages from an interview he did with a woman purporting to be a relative of Sabiha Gokcen, the famous adopted daughter of the founder of the modern Turkish state, Kemal Ataturk. The article asserted that Gokcen was an Armenian orphan. Gocken was the world’s first female fighter pilot and is considered an untouchable national icon. Many Turkish nationalists, particularly those with links to the military, claimed that Ataturk's legacy had been smeared.

Ultranationalists repeatedly gathered in front of the building where Agos had its offices, chanting slogans including "love this country or leave it" and making threats such as "we could turn up suddenly one night."

In response, Dink published an article in his own newspaper titled 'Why I was targeted.' He reported receiving regular hostility and threats. "I have always faced danger in my life, and now I am, once again, on the edge of a cliff," he wrote. 
A week later, he was murdered.

'We are all Armenians'

On Friday, January 19, 2007, Dink was shot dead as he stepped out of the Agos building to run an errand. Learning of his death, people poured onto the streets to show their solidarity. Outrage swept through much of the Turkish public. The slogan: "We are all Hrant, we are all Armenians," quickly spread through the streets. 

Protesters gather in front of the Agos newspaper office during a demonstration to mark the fifth anniversary of the killing of Turkish-Armenian editor Hrant Dink
Scores of people took part in a silent march in memory of Hrant Dink in 2012Image: REUTERS

Three men were taken into custody and later convicted: 17-year-old Ogun Samast, who allegedly pulled the trigger, as well Erhan Tuncel who supplied the weapon and Yasin Hayal, who is believed to have instigated the killing. 

Was the 'Deep State' in the know?

The investigation into Dink's death later showed that certain state officials were aware of the assassination plans but did not take any steps to protect Dink. 

To this day, his relatives vehemently demand the state officials be prosecuted. "Despite the threats against Hrant Dink and concrete evidence he could be murdered, they did not implement any measures to protect him," the family's lawyer Hakan Bakircioglu said. "The group which carried out the murder was not prevented from operating. But according to the original charges, no state official was involved in the murder."

Lawyer Hakan Bakircioglu
Lawyer Hakan Bakircioglu is representing the Dink familyImage: Privat

What role did the Turkish state play?

The murder trial opened in Istanbul in July 2007. I was not until 2011 when self-confessed killer Ogun Samast, who was a minor at the time of the crime, was sentenced to 22 years and 10 months in jail. A year later, in a separate trial, Yasin Hayal was given a life sentence for ordering Dink's murder, while Tuncel, along with 17 other defendants, were acquitted.

In July 2016, dozens of police officers as well as members of the paramilitary gendarmerie of the Black Sea province of Trabzon and Istanbul were charged with being complicit in organizing the murder. The verdict in that case is due on March 5, 2021.

Agos newspaper's current editor-in-Chief Yetvart Danzikyan
Agos newspaper's current editor-in-Chief Yetvart DanzikyanImage: privat

A free and fair decision

However, relatives do not expect a fair ruling when a judgement is handed down on Friday. Bakircioglu, the Dink family's lawyer, said that the case had not been examined properly and that at the last hearing on February 10, 2021, defendants against whom there were serious charges had not been sufficiently questioned. He also claimed that the "Istanbul governorship and officials of the state intelligence service MIT had not been investigated at all" although they were suspected of being involved in the murder.


Dink's legacy lives on in the newspaper that he founded. "He gives us strength even after his death," said Agos editor-in-chief Yetvart Danzikyan. "Especially to Armenians in Turkey who are beginning to lose hope for peace and justice."

This article was translated from German.