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A Man Who Changed Turkey


Standpoint of Armenia


A Man Who Changed Turkey

Anush Hovhannisyan


Anush Hovhannisyan

Oriental Studies Institute of the National Academy of Sciences, Turkologist, Senior Researcher

The headline of this article has been chosen on purpose in the aim to highlight the defined evaluation of an outstanding diplomat and historian Baskn Oran in regards to Hrant Dink. According to the restatement, made by an honorable professor, this has been a challenge to understand and present the entity of an Armenian through the perspectives of a specialist in the area of Turkish Studies.

I first met Hrant Dink in 2005, and unfortunately it turned to be the last meeting. It was in Yerevan, at “Treason Felony, the Most Serious Challenge; Human Rights and the Genocide” International Convention, devoted to the 90th Remembrance Day of the Armenian Massacre.  Hrant Dink was among the other representatives, namely Murad Belde, Baskn Oran who arrived from Turkey.  At the panel discussion entitled “Though Separated by History, Geographically United”, Hrant Dink made a speech stating, “Most people in Turkey do not know the truth. How could they know? Since for 90 years it was forbidden to speak about that. Armenian parties should teach the Turks the reality and only then, strategies to recognize the Massacre should be conducted”.  He mentioned that the people who are informed about the Massacre are those who reside on the territory of Historical Armenia, and most of them are either ‘turkized’ or ‘kurdised’ Armenians who remember the felony against their ancestors. “Armenian case was touched side by side with the Kurds’ Cause. The first were the Kurd intellectuals who raised the matter, testifying that the Kurds were also among the massacres”, added Dink.  The Turkish community does not refer to the official preaches with reservations any more, and part of the community reflects on the Genocide ignoring the obstacles, under the pressure of official authorities.

According to Hrant Dink’s analysis, the reason why Turkey persists in rejecting the case, on one hand, could be explained by keeping ‘the image’ of Ankara in the world, and on the other hand, it is the fear that could raise the consciousness of the national awareness. Concerning the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, Hrant Dink had his personal standings: “The best way is the democratization of Turkey, when the need will rise from the ‘bottom’, the society will confess without pressure, and will admit the fact of Genocide. Armenian-Turkish relations need to be pulled out from the 1915 meter- deep well”, with these words he summed up his impulsive speech. Hrant Dink kept loyal to that claim throughout all his smart, but short life.

Denying the fact that the Massacre and its rooted consequences have affected the destinies of the Armenians and the Turks, they also had the great impact on the process of further development of the formation of these two nations. The 90- year period following the Massacre is defined as years of ‘silence’ and ’forgetting’. The epoch of Kemal gave ground to switch the despising mechanisms, at the same time blocking out “hard-hearted” memories of the defeat in the World War I, the downfall of the empire and the Massacre.Outlooks of “betrayal”, “conspiracy against Turks”, “internal enemies” are set, actively disseminated and promoted by official mass preaches. The Turkish State used to have and has a decisive and controlling role in the formation of collective memory, since the sources of the past are generally introduced selectively and single-handedly, consequently, only these sources approve the outlook and standing of the state. ‘Confidential’, alternative sources have never been accessible. The matter of the Armenian Massacre was not touched at the public discourse of the First Republic, not even the problems relating to national minorities were considered. The ‘taboo’ of the Armenian Genocide was considered a ‘taboo’ by itself.

Until mid-1960s, the 50th year of ‘Remembrance’ of the Genocide, people marched in protest both in the diaspora and in Soviet Armenia claiming up. Overlooking the fact, the Turkish Government directed the neglecting pointer towards foreign and external world. The silence related to the Armenian Cause was broken by ASALA actions. The Turkish State had no choice but to explain to the people the motives of those tragic actions. Meantime, in the framework of “Our Good Armenians” and “The aggressive, mean, provoking and Turk –hating Armenian Diaspora” patterns appeared to form a public opinion. I find it worth to mention that the beginning of the 1980s was noted as the dawn of international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. After the silence for decades, overwhelming public discussions about the ‘devilized’ image of the diaspra made part of the on-going process. Undoubtedly, the Armenians living in Istanbul appeared in a very unpleasant aura.

The 1990s could be defined as years when obvious cracks appear on ‘the wall of silence’.  These steps were promoted by global challenges, namely ‘the end of the cold war’, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Independence of Armenia and the Recovery of the Armenian Statehood, respectively the upraising of the Armenian Cause on one hand, and the ambition of Turkey to join the EU, the developments of domestic policy in Turkey, including the Kurds’ Cause, the intensification of Islam, discussions around Turkish identity etc. on the other hand. The establishment of “AGOS” newspaper in 1996 was an important asset in this context, which served a ground to raise the issues touching the interests of Armenians in the scope of general democratization of Turkey.

We can say that the essence of Armenian ‘taboo’ started to degress since 2000. I find it important to emphasize those publicly held inter-Turkish discourses of the Armenian Cause make part of the procedure leading towards democratization and formation of civil society. The leaders of this movement uphold matters that challenge the State. And today we can proclaim the sustainability of progressive parties of the state and society. In regard to Genocide the sustainability means freedom from the shapes of official reports, access to alternative sources and public-wide discourse.

The assassination of Hrant Dink became a turning point in the Turkish community. The essence of the official thesis was best described in Ahmed Altan’s words: “Nothing has been changed –they were murdered in 1915, they were assassinated in 2007. They said, “They killed us and we killed them in return”. What were you supposed to say then; Hrant murdered us and we did assassinate him in reply”.  The Armenians’ ‘hidden’ identities started to unmask themselves, to proclaim their rights, even in those cases when they confessed that they “never felt themselves as full members of the community”. Since 2010 the ceremonies of the Remembrance Day, April 24, have been recorded as precedents never faced before: they were as a set of ceremonials, like joining in with apologetic signatures via network, candle lightings in the Taksim Square, or seated demonstrations at the Haydarpasha station, etc.

The stronger the international, and particularly, the domestic pressure became, the more powerful got the efforts of the state to desist the opposing demonstrations. If the vector of the neglecting policy of the Turkish Government was pointed towards the external world before, now the other point has been directed towards the domestic world, in the aim to struggle against the personalities who have opposite standings in the official thesis matters. We can say that due to the disclaiming policy the Turkish Government has become a hostage among the Turkish people without realizing that they are becoming part of the same denial transgression.

Hrant Dink was the fighter against the disintegration of the Armenian Cause. Due to the facts that he advocated and raised the awareness of the Armenian Cause, undoubtedly would lead to the importance of the Armenian-Turkish Dialogue, and consequently, towards the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Hrant Dink was threatened and pursued by Turk Nationalists, and was often and regularly forced to face the police. He never left Turkey, as he used to state that he was an Armenian born in Turkey, and was a member of the Turkish Community that would never wish to escape… Although the truths which were advocated and highlighted by Dink, were assessed as threats on behalf of the Government, looked like unlocking the ‘Pandora Treasury’. In Turkey it is insecure to be a journalist advocating the truth, especially an Armenian by origin. Hrant Dink was assassinated on January 19, 2007 in the center of Istanbul, next to “Agos” publishing house. According to the official Turkish version the assassinator was a seventeen-year- old Oghyun Samast, who was arrested and admitted his guilt. However, six years have passed since the assassination of Hrant Dink but till now those who ordered the assassination have not been revealed. Fethiye Çetin, the lawyer, who represents the interests of Hrant Dink's legal successors, argues that the armed forces of Turkey were aware of possible assassination of Editor-in-Chief of “Agos” newspaper, but did not take any action to prevent the very crime. “If we really want Turkey to move democratization forward, it is necessary to define the role of the police, the military police and civilian bureaucrats in the Turkish society”, said Fethiye Çetin.

At present, the Turk Nationalists are opposed by the free democratic powers. But how big is the influence of the latter on the current Turkish-Armenian processes? To what extent does the state denial policy reflect the public opinion of the Turkish community? These are the questions to which the Turkish public must find answers on their own.

Within the scopes of this article we touched upon only one issue of Turkish-Armenian relations, trying to understand Hrant Dink's phenomenon. Ten years ago Turkey was exasperated by the fact of assassination of the Armenian intellectual. Hrant Dink’s death shocked the country. On the day following his death thousands of Turks, Kurds and Armenians with candles, flowers and Dink’s photos headed for the place of assassination from Taksim Central Square. They had posters in their hands, which run: “We are all Armenians, we are all Hrant Dink.”

They say Dink chalenged Turkey by means of his sacrifice. After the year of 2007 Armenians became more self-organized and raised the issues they were interested in. Hrant's Armenian and Turkish friends continue his mission and those, who think and act with the same system of values as Hrant did, join this group, though few in number yet. For instance, when recently old Armenian women have been murdered and subject to violence in Samatia district in Istanbul, in spite of the passive behavior of the authorities, a number of civil institutions in Istanbul raised their voice in protest and set a 24-hour security guard in the mentioned district, thus, ensuring safety of their Armenian neighbours. Turkey is the country of contradictions. “Turkey may have both the Turks who assassinated Hrant Dink and the Turks saying, “I am Hrant Dink” after the assassination”, said Sayat Tekir, the member of Nor Zartonk organization.

And today, if it is possible to say “No” to hatred to the nation and the Armenians in a loud voice, then it is due to Dink’s phenomenon. He did change Turkey to some extent.