Turkish-Armenian writer shunned silence

January 19, 2007
Source: BBC News (London)

By Chris Morris

Hrant Dink spoke with quiet intensity about Turkey's most controversial issue. He wrote about it openly and bravely. His murder is another challenge to the forces of modernisation in a country locked in a bitter internal debate about how it should deal with its past. Dink was very clear about had happened to his ancestors in 1915, in the fading years of the Ottoman Empire. He called it genocide, and said the word did not need to be accepted by other Turks for it to remain true in his mind. The Turkish state admits that hundreds of thousands of Armenians were killed in 1915 in widespread fighting on the eastern front of World War I. But it disputes the genocide charge, and the suggestion that the death toll was well over a million. Dink broke taboos by discussing the killings of 1915 so openly. He also challenged other pre-conceptions - it was his newspaper for example that reported that the adopted daughter of Turkey's founding father, Kemal Ataturk, was in fact an Armenian orphan whose father had been killed in 1915.

No bitterness

But he lacked some of the visceral bitterness towards modern Turkey that can be found within the Armenian diaspora. Many Armenians say Turkey should be punished, that it should pay huge financial compensation, for the actions of the Ottoman leadership. Hrant Dink's view was that Turkey needs to come to terms with its history, and accept that enormous wrongs were committed in the past. But he also had Turkish friends and supporters. In one interview he said the difference between him and Armenians abroad was that he was living with the Turks of today, while they were still living with the Turks of 1915. In fact there are tens of thousands of Armenians in modern Istanbul - they have their own churches, their own schools. As long as they do not raise the past too publicly, as Hrant Dink did, they are left to get on with life. It is in eastern Anatolia, in eastern Turkey, that the Armenians and their culture have all but disappeared. Where there were more than a million Armenians 100 years ago, there are only a few scattered families left. Silence has brought a degree of protection to Turkey's remaining Armenian communities. But Hrant Dink refused to be silent. It brought him into constant conflict with the law. And in some eyes it made him a traitor.


In a newspaper column written just this week, Dink said he had received many death threats by e-mail, his computer was full of them, and that he was scared. Tragically, he was right to be so. Political leaders in Turkey have been quick to condemn the murder. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called it an attack on national unity. All too late for Hrant Dink, who said he had received no protection from the authorities despite his complaints. Dink ended his last column by predicting that 2007 would be difficult, but that he would survive it. "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."