Though people said Hrant had been “shot,” it was on that day that I came to understand that “shot” really meant “dead.”
He fell to the ground. He was heading to the bank. He had a hole in his shoes, which was revealed in photographs from the scene. He was a poor orphan when he was a little boy. Hrant was shot by a youth wearing a white beret. People near the scene of the murder covered Hrant’s dead body with some sheets of newspaper. Candles were placed where the shooting occurred and lots of people went to the spot to visit.
In fact a surprising number of people came. They cried. There was a mixture of fear, protest and hope. Scores of people loudly insisted, “Hrant was my brother.” It was clear that this murder needed to be pursued, that the truth would be illuminated in the end. We all saw the youth wearing the beret on the news who asserted, “He was an Armenian; I killed him.” Later this same youth became some sort of hero, with people photographing him standing in front of the Turkish flag. Some even called him a “dutiful son.” Many people wrote about him. Some said we had shot ourselves; there was much talk of the great loss. But there were also those who said, “That man [Hrant] said we committed genocide, and while people attend his funeral, they don’t go to the funerals of our fallen soldiers.” There was so much said, so many voices talking. As he lay there on the ground, they covered him in newspapers. We waited for things to be illuminated. Five years passed. Nothing was illuminated.
When the bill accepting the term “Armenian genocide” arrived in the French Parliament in the mid-2000s, Hrant was very persuasive in arguing that it had to be dealt with, saying, “I will break this law in France.” At the same time he began to use the word “genocide” on television programs to which he was invited as a guest, and he also wrote long texts on how Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s adopted daughter was an “Armenian.” As Fethiye Çetin once noted, “It was as though the outlines of this case were drawn from the very beginning.” And the truth is that it was clear what would happen even before the murder. In fact, the İstanbul deputy governor called Hrant to his offices to warn him sharply. At the governor’s office, two National Intelligence Organization (MİT) agents -- one of whom was a woman -- casually threatened him. Later, these people were never asked to account for their actions. Hrant was also convicted under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) before he died. He received countless letters threatening him. In an interview I conducted one month before he was killed, he said he had been picked as a target by the “deep state.” And he was, in fact, killed.
The Dink case never went forward
Despite the passage of time following Dink’s murder, the case itself never moved forward. Even though there were great efforts to add two more suspects to the 18 who were originally on trial, only the 18 were punished when the case came to a close after five years. And somehow there was no success finding the very force that actually ordered the trigger to be pulled as part of this murderous plan, whose foundation was so filthy. Despite this, there was some hope at the beginning because this murder was unlike previous ones that took the lives of quiet journalists, and it was also unlike any base plot to massacre “some Armenian.” It was an engineered project, the structure and very existence of which endangered both the government and the system. And this time the government was not an extension of the state to which we were accustomed, but rather a direct victim of the system itself.
The government was aware of the traps set for it and so this case could have gone forward. But it did not. Around the time when Hrant was killed, many people were threatened. There were coup plots made against the government and weapons that had been buried underground were being discovered. It was the exact same period of time when the secretive and “deep” mentality that had been imposed on real political will for so long needed to be uprooted, and the transformation we thought had begun in the country needed to be finished. As we were filled with hope that the system we wanted to believe in would be changed, the system actually wound up changing our beliefs. There were no ties found between organized terror and those who had been arrested as suspects for the murder of Hrant. And so the case surrounding a murder which we are meant to believe was carried out by three brainwashed youths took five years to come to an end.
While the case proceedings and hearings were rather hopeless, it was never as shocking as the actual final result. “Institutions” were protected, MİT agents were not questioned, and telephone records were never delivered to the court, with the exception of some very sparse recordings. At the request of the İstanbul Public Prosecutor, these tapes and the conversations they contained were examined, but nothing was found. Still, Hrant Dink’s lawyers did what they could and presented to the court evidence showing that on the day of the murder, at the time of the murder, five different telephone numbers located in that district made contact with the actual triggerman. The prosecutor was sure that the murder had been carried out by the Trabzon leg of Ergenekon, and that case was combined with the main case, but still nothing was illuminated.
There was no investigation of Ergenekon, nothing and nobody was really uncovered. Political will did not make all institutions available to illuminate this case. With this murder, there was a desire to finish off, to drown it in the Ogün Samast-Yasin Hayal-Erhan Tuncel axis of evil, and that is what was done. The sheer surprise and shock at seeing this much effort put into ensuring the trial only revolved around these three triggermen -- and nothing more -- is incomprehensible.
Denial’ more dangerous than we thought
After losing Hrant I began to understand just how dangerous denial really is, and on the day that Hrant’s trial came to a so-called end, I really felt how deeply “denying” things has become a part of us. It feels as though we have lost Hrant once more. After the case was over, I felt I would like to see denial accepted as a crime so we don’t lose more people.
I wonder how many of us are aware of the events that have occurred which led to the law in France, and how many of us can imagine the real despair created by the reflex of denial that we come face to face with in Turkey every day? We must accept that such laws are enforced not only for political reasons, but also to undercut the thesis of “official denial.” There are dirty pages that mark the histories of every country, and bloody-handed leaders whose terms mar the histories of their countries.
But today people have taken steps to release themselves from the weight of their pasts, and they do not cling onto denial like some sort of life preserver. The Socialist Party in France, which itself was the one to prepare the genocide denial law, took an important step by apologizing for the massacre and tossing of the bodies of Algerian protesters killed in Paris in 1961 into the River Seine. This was reminiscent of how the Bulgarian Parliament condemned the assimilation policies imposed on Turkish and Muslim citizens earlier in the century, and how it demanded those guilty for crimes of this nature should be punished.
The milestone for “denial” itself occurred in 1915. And all of the injustices, murders and the roots of the insensitivities we experience today actually go much, much deeper. No one with any sense at all has claimed that “they didn’t kill Armenians in Turkey in 1915,” although there are all sorts of alternative pieces of rhetoric out there. For example, “they died from the effects of the flu while being exiled,” or “they got extremely cold and then they just died.” There is also the claim that “we were provoked and they also killed Turks.” This stance is as far from sincerity and respect for death as a claim that Hrant himself killed a child.
What possible connection could a woman cooking lavash in her village, or a baby sleeping soundly in its crib, have with Armenian gangs out to kill Turks? I won’t even talk about innocent men, as they had their weapons taken away long before the events, and were sent far from their homes.
The first “mechanism of elimination” formed in Turkey began in 1915; the foundations for the very “social engineering” which we decry these days were being laid at that time. The Turkish Republic, the historic heir to the Ottoman Empire, never faced up to history, which would set us all free. And this never-taken step will only continue to wrap itself tighter and tighter around our ankles, while the real killer of Hrant continues to evade justice. And as we continue denial, things will only become more and more tangled and complicated.
In the meantime, no one thinks about how we could heal justice and all the consciences that need healing. Instead, in response to the French decision, people in Ankara are busy preparing bills that propose changing Paris Boulevard in Ankara to Algeria Boulevard, in order to show how we share the pain of the cruelty experienced by our Algerian brothers in the 20th century at the hands of the French. There is also a proposal to switch the name of De Gaulle Boulevard with the name of one of the national heroes of Algeria, and a plan to put up a memorial for the Algerian genocide in a city square somewhere.
Dink was never really loved by Armenians in the diaspora, or by Armenia itself. Perhaps this is because they didn’t understand him, and people tend not to love things or people they don’t understand. At the same time it now appears that the very thought or proposal of putting up a statue or a monument in memory of Hrant -- a man who declared his intention to be buried in this soil, who never thought of running away to another country no matter what threats he received, who challenged other Armenians when he deemed it necessary, who defended Turkey fiercely -- has never been brought to the agenda. No one in Ankara or anywhere else has brought such a proposal to the fore; they found other ways of trying to make the pain felt by their Armenian brothers pass, calling those who had been forcibly relocated “the extremist nationalist diaspora” and accepting quiet minority communities in İstanbul as “harmless Christians.”
We will all bear the brunt of the Dink case coming to this sort of closure, as the country we had always imagined is once more postponed. This business is no longer just an “Ergenekon” or an “anti-Armenian” case, but has been transformed into a matter of reckoning with the conscience. Though it is difficult to say, we have turned into a country whose very institutions, people, stances and consciences have been rusted and blunted. It is now clear that our consciences have actually been damaged for years; the result of this case is official proof of this.
The 100-year story of our denial is being wrapped up neatly. But won’t it pain us at all that the punishments allotted in this case we have followed for five years have been given to just three people, and the second and third links in the chain of crime were so easily hidden and made secret? Are our consciences really that damaged? How will we be able to sleep soundly after this? We still cling to our answers, hoping as we look to the future, and refusing to let go of this hope, even if there is nearly no longer any reason to cling to it. The moment the case closed, the struggle picked up once again, as Rakel Dink noted, and everyone will do everything they can to illuminate the same darkness that created a murderer out of a youth.
*Alin Ozinian is an independent analyst.