Hrant Dink, an Armenian-Turkish journalist who won fame and notoriety for challenging Turkish nationalism, was shot dead in Istanbul yesterday.
If you’re not following events in Turkey closely, you might not have heard of Hrant Dink. Briefly: he was an ethnic Armenian but born and raised in Turkey. The genocide didn’t kill or expel all of Turkey’s Armenians, quite; there are still about 50,000 of them, mostly living in or around Istanbul. Dink was the editor of the Armenian community’s newspaper, Agos, and also its most prominent public intellectual.
Dink got into trouble with Turkish authorities for two things: he insisted on the reality of the Armenian Genocide, and he openly discussed the ambiguous position of ethnic and religious minorities in the Turkish state. Dink wrote about how, as a boy, he had to sing the Turkish national anthem every day in school: “I am a Turk, I am hard working and honest… happy is he who calls himself a Turk… great is our race.” It made him think, he wrote: who am I? If not a Turk, then what?
“As a child, I didn’t know what it meant to be Turkish or Armenian. At Armenian boarding school in Istanbul, I recited the Turkish credo every morning, but I was also told I should preserve my Armenian identity. I never came across my own name in school books â€“ only Turkish names. As an adolescent, I heard the word ‘Armenian’ used as a swearword. As a Turkish citizen, I saw high-court decisions that referred to Armenians as ‘foreigners living in Turkey’. The Armenian orphanage that I worked so hard to establish was confiscated by the state.”
“Even if you flee from that sense of history”, he adds, “history doesn’t let go of you. In Turkey, you face so many attacks against the Armenian identity that you find yourself in a defensive position whether you want it or not. During the 1970s, there was news of the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (Asala) and the killing of Turkish diplomats. My identity was always other, and often belittled. I saw again and again that I was different. Many people who were like me were leaving this country, but I didn’t want to leave â€“ I wanted to stay and fight for what I thought was right.
“In the end, I decided that how they defined me wasn’t important. I had to define myself. I am an Armenian of Turkey, and a good Turkish citizen. I believe in the republic, in fact I would like it to become stronger and more democratic. I don’t want my country to be divided, but I want all the citizens to be able to live fully and contribute their diversity to this society â€“ as a source of richness.”
Dink was convicted last year of “insulting Turkishness”, in a decision that most observers agree was highly dubious. His conviction received relatively little publicity, partly because he got a suspended sentence. However, in the year or so since the conviction, he had been receiving death threats almost every day. He seriously considered leaving the country but decided to stay on; it was, after all, his country.
On the plus side, there has been an outpouring of public grief and outrage in Turkey, among Turks as well as Armenians. The Prime Minister has publicly condemned the killing and there have been several large, well-attended memorial services and protests.
R.I.P. a brave man, Hrant Dink.