By Leonard Bektas
Today is a sad day for Turkey’s Armenian community and the Turkish-Armenian diaspora. The 19th of January marks 15 years since the death of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.
Dink was born in Malatya, central Turkey, to Armenian parents. He knew well the reality of being an Armenian in Turkey, facing discrimination and prejudice because of his ethnicity. For instance, during his military service, he was the only one in his platoon who was denied a promotion, simply for being Armenian.
This treatment was not an isolated case, but was experienced by the broader Armenian community. On a personal note, it reminds me of when my grandfather would tell me about his military service in the 1960s. He would be called “gavur” – Turkish for infidel – by some Turks serving in his platoon.
The unconventional national hero
In the 1990s, Dink founded the Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos. Its mission was to publish texts in both Armenian and Turkish, proving that living together was indeed possible.
In a 2005 article, Dinkt revealed that Sabiha Gökçen – one of Atatürks adoptive daughters– was actually an Armenian who had been orphanaged during the 1915 Armenian genocide. Gökçen was the first female aviator in the world and a Turkish national icon.
For his activities, Dink came under fire from the Turkish government for “insulting Turkishness”, which is illegal according to Turkish law. Nonetheless, he remained firmly anti-racist. Dink believed racism to be “the greatest crime in the world”; he also believed that Armenians were to have their place in Turkish society. The journalist also stated that living side by side with Turks helped heal the wounds of the past.
The previously mentioned Sabiha Gökçen’s article brought Dink meant that Hrant Dink lived in ever increasing danger. During the last two years of his life he received numerous death threats from ultra-nationalist Turks. In the morning of January 19th, 2007 he was shot dead in the street outside Agos’ offices by a far right nationalist. Turkey was in shock. A lot of people started questioning whether even them were safe, since this happened in broad daylight.
A message for all
The funeral was attended by thousands of Turks, Kurds and Armenians. People took to the streets with signs saying “Hepimiz Hrant’ız” and “Hepimiz Ermeniyiz” (which roughly translates to “We are all Hrant Dink” and “We are all Armenian”). At the ceremony, his wife Rakel Dink held a speech to the masses. I quote:
“Whoever the assassin may be, whether he was 17 or 27 years old, I know that he was once a baby. My brothers and sisters, one cannot accomplish anything without first questioning the darkness that creates an assassin from such a baby…”.
In loving memory of Hrant Dink
Leonard Bektas is studying the peace and development program at Uppsala University. He is also a board member of the Liberal Youth Party’s International Committee. In his spare time, Leonard plays football, studies conflict in the Middle East, and listens to Arab and Turkish music.