TODAY.AZ / Politics

Turkey shamed, shocked by slaying of journalist

20 January 2007 [14:30] - TODAY.AZ
Turkey's press conveyed the nation's sense of shock, shame and self-reflection on Saturday at the assassination of journalist and Armenian community leader Hrant Dink at the entrance to his bilingual Turkish-Armenian newspaper.

The killer and motives for Friday's murder were still unknown early Saturday, and Interior Minister Abdulkadir Aksu said that no suspects remained in custody. Istanbul's governor said, however, that authorities possessed evidence that would allow them to solve the case.

Dink, 52, who gained notoriety after he was put on trial for saying that the mass killing of Armenians at the beginning of the 20th century was genocide, was shot and killed Friday in broad daylight. He had received numerous threats before his murder, and wrote in his last newspaper column that he was so worried about attacks that his head swiveled like a pigeon's as he moved around Istanbul.

Many Turkish papers ran a photograph of what was said to be the killer, a man wearing a coat and captured on a merchant's security camera from behind. But the image revealed few details about the man's appearance.

Turkey's press was unanimous Saturday morning in claiming as their own a man whose life in Turkey was largely defined by his being labeled a traitor and an enemy to his country.

"Hrant Dink is Turkey," ran the headline in the daily Milliyet.

"The killer is a traitor to his nation," Hurriyet said.

"The greatest betrayal," Sabah newspaper said.

Turkish officials promised to expose the details of the killing, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan went on national television at least three times to speak about the murder.

"The bullets aimed at Hrant Dink were shot into all of us," he said Saturday. Within hours of Dink's murder, the prime minister had sent his interior minister and justice minister to Istanbul to lead the investigation. They remained there on Saturday.

The state-owned Anatolia news agency reported that Istanbul's chief of police and other unit chiefs spent the night at police headquarters.

Most Turks assumed the shooting was a reaction to Dink's public statements that the mass killings of Armenians around the time of World War I constituted genocide. Nationalists see such statements as insults to the honor of Turks and as threats to national unity.

Whatever the motivation, the killing made it clear that Turkey remains a place where people speak freely at their own peril, despite generations of Western-looking liberal reforms and the nation's commitment to joining the European Union.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said Turkey was the eighth deadliest country in the world for journalists, with 18 killed in the past 15 years for their work. Turkey's Zaman newspaper said 62 journalists have been assassinated in the nation's 84-year history.

Dink was one of dozens of journalists, writers and academics who have gone on trial for expressing their opinions here, most under the infamous article 301 of the penal code, which makes it a crime to insult Turkey, its government or the national character.

In the most famous case, Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk faced jail time last year for insulting Turkey by saying Turks had killed a million Armenians. His case was dropped on a technicality.

In the past few years, Turks had come to know Dink well, mostly because of the high-profile cases opened against him. In late 2005, Turks saw him lose his composure, crying on television as he discussed his latest court case and what it was like to live amid people who hated him.

A Turkish citizen, Dink said he would stay in the country, however, in the hopes that cases he opened at the European Court of Human Rights would be resolved in his favor, and do something to improve his country.

Turkey's relationship with its Armenian community has long been fraught with tension, controversy and painful memories of a brutal past. Much of Turkey's once-sizeable Armenian population was killed or driven out beginning around 1915 in what an increasing number of countries are recognizing as the first genocide of the 20th century.

Turks vehemently deny that their ancestors committed genocide, however, and saying so is tantamount to treason here. In the 1970s and 1980s, tensions were further inflamed as dozens of Turkish diplomats were killed by Armenian assassins seeking revenge.

Turkey, which is 99 percent Muslim, and Armenia, which claims to be the first country to officially adopt Christianity, share a border. But the border is closed, and the two countries have no formal diplomatic relations.

Dink's killing will likely come to many as a final warning of the consequences of failure in Turkey to come to terms with a painful past and to create an atmosphere of tolerance of differing views. Dink's last column suggested he wasn't optimistic, but that he believed the struggle was worthwhile.

"For me, 2007 is likely to be a hard year," he wrote. "The trials will continue, new ones will be started. Who knows what other injustices I will be up against." The Associated Press

/The International Herald Tribune/


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