Eight years ago, the assassination of journalist Hrant Dink became a crucial moment in the last decade of Turkish public life and a symbol of intolerance against freedom of speech.
Dink was born in Malatia on September 15, 1954. At the age of five, his family moved to Istanbul. Due to the separation of their parents, he and his two brothers were sent to the kindergarten of the Armenian Evangelical Church of Gedigpaşa as boarders. The three brothers continued their education at the elementary school of the same church in Incirdibi and went to its summer camp in Tuzla. Hrant went to the Bezjian School in junior high and to the Surp Khach Tbrevank in high school, and graduated as a senior from the public school of Şişli.
At summer camp, he met Rakel Yagbasan, five years his junior, who was born in Silopi and came from the Varto clan. In 1972 he entered university and engaged in the Turkish leftist movement, which he left four years later, when he got married. Hrant and Rakel Dink had three children. He completed his degree in zoology, but could not finish his second bachelor degree in philosophy.
In 1979 he opened a bookstore with his brothers, which they ran successfully. From 1979-1984, he and his wife also ran the Tuzla summer camp, until the Turkish government seized it after a five year legal battle.
In the 1990s Dink was a contributor to Marmara newspaper, reviewing Turkish books about Armenians with the pen name “Chutak” (Violin). On April 5, 1996, he launched the first bilingual (Turkish and Armenian) weekly in the history of Turkey, Agos, which he edited until his death. Agos spoke loudly against any unfair treatment of the Armenian community in Turkey, covered human rights violations and problems of democratization in Turkey, carried news of developments in the Republic of Armenia, with special emphasis on Turkey-Armenia relations, published articles and serials on the Armenian cultural heritage and its contributions to the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, and criticized malfunctions and lack of transparency in Armenian institutions.
Dink was also a commentator for Turkish periodicals. He wrote about the establishment of good neighborhood relations between Turkey and Armenia, the opening of the borders, support of Turkish democratic processes, and the Armenian genocide. He also lectured in many countries about Armenian identity and Turkish-Armenian relations.
His views and his outspokenness started to discomfort many people. He was prosecuted three times for denigrating Turkishness, pursuant to article 301 of the Turkish Penal Court. He was taken to court for statements during a lecture in Urfa (2002), but acquitted in 2006. A second trumped-up charge, stemming from the purposeful misunderstanding of a statement, resulted in a six-month suspended sentence (2005) that Dink, after ending all avenues in the Turkish judicial system, had appealed to the European Court of Human Rights at the time of his death. The ECHR concluded in 2010 that Turkish authorities had violated his freedom of speech. A third trial came in 2006 after he declared to Reuters that what happened in 1915 was genocide. The latter was dropped after his death, but Agos general director Arat Dink (his son) and publisher Sarkis Seropyan were sentenced to one year of prison.
The actual witch hunt had started in February 2004, after the mainstream Hurriyet daily reprinted a news piece from Agos, published in September 2003, claiming that Sabiha Gökçen, one of the adoptive daughters of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was actually an Armenian orphan of the genocide. The press release from the office of the Chief of General Staff stated on February 22, 2004: “Whatever the reason, opening up such a symbol to public debate is a crime against national unity and social peace.”. Dink was called to the governor’s office in Istanbul and given a warning by two people whose identities remained undisclosed. Afterwards, a virulent campaign started in the press that continued until his death. The well-known journalist Mehmet Ali Birand wrote, “We are the real murderers of Hrant. We have brought up our murderers in an atmosphere and mentality created by Article 301.”
On January 19, 2007, Hrant Dink was killed outside the offices of Agos by seventeen-year-old Ogün Samast. His burial ceremony became a demonstration of more than one hundred thousand people protesting the killing and claiming, “We are all Armenians. We are all Hrant Dink.” His assassin was condemned to 22 years and 10 months in prison in 2011, while another suspect, Yasin Hayal, convicted of ordering the murder, was sentenced to life imprisonment.
However, it has become clear that justice has not been served yet. The Turkish top court ruled in July 2014 that the investigation of the killing was flawed, and recent arrests of policemen for “negligence” in the inquiry of the murder have shown that there is still a long way before closing the books on the assassination of the brave Armenian journalist.